Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Why Study Alien Civilizations? Part 1

Isn’t it rather frivolous to spend time studying alien civilizations? A large part of human time is spent on frivolous activities, so doing something frivolous isn’t bad at all, but entertaining. As a matter of fact, alien civilization study is extremely entertaining, but it isn’t all frivolous amusement.
Putting aside for a moment the question of whether the study of alien civilizations is totally frivolous, consider the side question of just how interesting it is. When you say, ‘Let’s think about alien civilizations’, you have opened up the door to thinking about virtually anything you can think of, as an alien civilization would have everything in it that our Earth civilization does, but lots more. In the later stages of an alien civilization, after they have passed asymptotic technology, they have inventions we can only imagine, have faced questions we have not yet thought of, much less asked, built themselves a world and maybe clone worlds in forms we have to stretch our minds to conceive of, and live according to rules that might seem strange or mis-directed to us.

Alien civilizations may be the most broad subject anyone could conceive of. It includes the origination of alien life, which means that any astronomical feature that might influence the origination of life are included. We don’t exactly know how life formed, so there are few limits here. The influence of various astronomical oddities on life is included. Then it’s time to think about the evolution of life, which we don’t understand too deeply as well, so many of our own assumptions about how it happened can be challenged. Once evolution gets to a particular point, the evolution of intelligence can be discussed, along with just what it means, during the evolution stage and later. Then comes city building, and how that happened. Then comes technology, and how that happened. Then comes star travel, and how that might be accomplished is included. Then comes asking what would they do once they achieved star travel. Also included is how they might go extinct.

So, for a frivolous area to think about, there are none more broad or even more deep. Anyone who likes to think through any of these fields, and connect them, or seize on alternative explanations for one or more of them, or try to understand things that are not discussed elsewhere, this is the place. For someone who likes to solely collect information, this field may not be so interesting, as it involves perforce connections between different areas. One of the guiding principles of the investigation of aliens in this blog, technological determinism, is predicated on the strong connection between the details and levels of technology as it exists in a civilization and how the civilization organizes itself. Technology thinking permeates thinking about many other areas of alien civilizations, and might be said to be the starting point. This means, as a frivolous topic, anyone interested in a broad range of technology and its interaction with a society, alien civilizations is the best bet.

Thinking about alien civilizations is also quite unconstrained. It is certainly possible to hypothesize some type of world, and ask what could live on it, or why anyone would want to visit it, or what resources it could provide. Alternatively, any aspect of society can be investigated and thoughts given on how it might be different than we commonly think, and then more speculation and deductions can be taken from that point onwards. Areas of technology that are not deeply understood here can be thought through, as an overview, and their impact on society can be researched, in a top-down sense. Laying out plans for how an alien civilization might accomplish a task assists in figuring out if it could be done, or what would be the biggest problems to face that civilization in doing it. Pitfalls can be looked at.

Astronomy can be brought in to investigate aspects of perils that might face the alien civilization, and maybe some quantitative estimates can be done to understand their frequency or their inevitability. Sociology, as much as we know about it, economics, the same, philosophy, the same, education, the same, and every other field can be brought in to see how it might be adapted in an alien civilization or even to see if it might exist, be divided, or merged with other fields.

In short, alien civilizations is an immensely broad field, that is interesting for anyone who has interests in science and social science that cover the entire spectrum of possibilities. Studying them, to the extent possible, poses intriguing questions.

The study of alien civilizations is also amusing for anyone who is interested in how a scientific, or quasi-scientific, or a wannabe-scientific field develops the foundations for itself, and the rules by which further investigations can be done. Studying alien civilizations is not like studying physics or materials science, where one can go to a laboratory and make some precise measurements, go back to the office and come up with some tentative theories to explain them, and then do a comparison and a winnowing out of theories and data. There is zero information about aliens available to us, and none is likely to be available in the near future. Zero.

It might be compared with people on a planet with a permanent cloud cover, and no capability of flying above it, figuring out what the rest of the universe looks like. (By the way, this sounds like a good question to think about.) How would this cloud-bound civilization determine that they are on a planet orbiting a star? They might develop science on the ground, understand energy, and figure out there must be some source of it. They could figure out gravity in the same way Newton did, by looking at things fall here, and then o so laboriously figuring out the laws that govern it. Then they might hypothesize a star.

We are cloud-bound for aliens here. But we can figure out some necessities for their civilizations, some timescales, some limitations, and more. Anyone who is into the frivolity of thinking long and hard about possibilities like this is certain to want to be aware of the study of alien civilizations. And this is just for the frivolous among us.

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