Friday, December 25, 2015

Would Intelligence Be Abandoned?

This whole blog has a conceit. It pretends to know that intelligence is somehow the goal of all alien civilizations and they would all strive to gain as much of it internally as possible, and then keep it. All of society is affected by the gradual change in intelligence, and technology is just a fallout effect of it.

Is this true? Perhaps when aliens get to a certain level of intelligence, they decide it is not necessary, or some aspect of it is not necessary, and they simply decide to let it decay, or they take deliberate steps to remove all or part of it. This is an underlying assumption of everything written here, and it is about time it was discussed.

Let’s use one of the common thinking tools available for highly uncertain situations, bounding, and see what it says. Suppose we are looking at an alien civilization that has passed the genetic grand transition long ago, has achieved the maximum possible in the intelligence of each member of the civilization, has also achieve the ability to create whatever creature they want to with the specific characteristics they choose, and is living in a stable situation. They decide to review the goals that their civilization chose long ago, but with one difference. They decide to figure out if they want to continue their species as an extremely intelligent one, or change it to a lesser intelligent one, or even change it more dramatically.

If their civilization is one which has a meme, a credo which is designed to be self-replicating across generations, that says go spread out to the stars, obviously intelligence is useful to accomplish it. More generally, if their civilization has some mission, however defined, that involves the use of technology, intelligence is a critical asset and cannot be abandoned. If their civilization’s goals is to maintain a highly advanced technological civilization on their home planet, without spreading to the stars, but just staying at home and loving it, they need intelligence for maintenance and problem-solving. Whatever the mission, if it includes technology, it presumes intelligence.

What if they do not have such a goal, but have one of maximizing the enjoyment of their lives? Designing creatures to be happy to the maximum possible is a complicated task, but it might not require that those creatures be intelligent in the same way as their creators. Here on Earth we often talk about happiness, and maximizing it on an individual basis. People say they want to be happy and they also say they want those they care about to be happy. The latter part of this is simply a reflection that happiness or some surrogate goal in an individual may be triggered by observing happiness in certain others.

Weird splitting of the brain into two competing portions has been observed in some individuals, and perhaps the most dramatic examples are named masochists. They achieve happiness in one part of their brain, the dominant part, by arranging for pain to be felt in another part. Strange, but observable. Milder examples exist, where someone will choose a life of deprivation, such as a hermit, to achieve happiness in another portion of the brain. But by and large, brains of us humans are not split so clearly, and we look for happiness where we can find it, subject to social constraints or learned constraints.

Happiness is neurologically understood as part of the reinforcement mechanism for learned information. We get these feelings, caused by neurochemicals, when the neurochemicals are being generated to reinforce learning in a situation where we have satisfied some primary or secondary desire. We learn how to do this repeatedly, and the feeling of happiness is a side effect.

So, if aliens in this advanced civilization we are discussing get to the point of realizing that life is pointless, that nothing in the universe they have found cares about them as a species, and nothing they do will have any permanent effect, they might just say, let’s do some deliberate evolution of our own selves, into creatures that will have the best chance to be happy, outside of a technological civilization. Perhaps they are clever enough about neurology to understand that some alien citizen who is extremely intelligent cannot be extremely happy. In other words, designing the brain to learn and learn and think and think more or less excludes so much opportunity for happiness that they regret doing it, from a solely happiness-oriented point of view.

The obvious alternative is they could say that happiness is not worth the effort, as it is solely the result of some trace amounts of neurochemicals, and how important can that be? The options are: transform themselves into happier creatures, ones who are designed to find happiness in the maximum from all sources, social, environmental, artistic, or whatever else maxes out happiness, or stay intellectual and keep thinking of great things, and enjoying hard-to-appreciate art or develop social rituals that produce intellectual satisfaction, or something totally different.

One aspect of this discussion involves technology. Perhaps living in a technological world, totally synthetic, is not able to produce as much happiness as living in an ecological world. Thus, it is not intelligence that might put an obstacle in front of the maximization of happiness, but the application of intelligence to tool use. Tools, whether they are stone axes or rocket ships, might be interfering with the achievement of happiness. An alien civilization, omniscient in the most practical way, would be able to figure out how to make such an evaluation.

So, to label the extremes of their choices, travel the stars or enjoy life in the outdoors. Are these exclusive? Can they build their civilization to achieve happiness, even with a level of technological use that is asymptotic in degree, the maximum that is useful and affordable, for part of the time and then for part of the time experience the more primitive and evolutionary type of happiness?

It is good to ask these questions, even though we lack the information to answer them, as knowing their existence allows us to see the choices facing an alien civilization, including those choices which would interfere with them ever visiting us. So, this post says that one reason no aliens ever show up on Earth might be that they all turn themselves into some happy creatures at home, like dolphins perhaps, and get rid of the technology they developed.

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