Sunday, January 17, 2016

Depression in Alien Civilizations

Would depression be allowed to exist in an advanced alien civilization? Would it be avoidable and inevitable?

Depression is a feeling, an emotion, and is an exaggeration of unhappiness. Depression is long-lasting, as deep unhappiness that quickly fades is not associated with the word. Would deep long-term unhappiness be allowed in alien civilizations?

Depression is also associated with being debilitated. Unhappy people might still work. Depression interferes with it, as the negative feelings pervade all aspects of life. Slightly depressed people can still work, but without enthusiasm. A brain cannot have both lots of positive neuro-chemicals operating in it and lots of negative neurochemicals operating in it. They somehow don’t coexist.

Deep emotions, as discussed in the post on joy, come from multiple associations with a single trigger, but in depression the associations are negative ones, associated with suffering, such as due to age, illness, death, or deprivation. Those are the four categories of bad feelings that Buddha chose. Others could choose a different categorization, but the basic idea is that something triggers lots of these.

It is likely possible that depression could be triggered by some genetic problem, or some nutritional deficiency or a toxic substance being ingested, or even other things. Let’s simply not be concerned with those varieties or causes at this point, but deal with the emotional ones, generated solely by events or perhaps memories or thoughts or even conclusions.

Recall that a brain can have an association with things in the past, or in the near-present, or in the future, sort of. Some alien can sit around and think of some nice times they experienced, and be happy. Just pulling the memory out of storage and re-visualizing it or using whatever symbology their individual brain prefers, can potentially trigger the same neural pathways leading to the cells that produce the neuro-chemicals. Maybe by far the most common source of happiness, or unhappiness, is observing what is going on presently, either in the vicinity of the alien or via communication channels. Something bad happens and negative associations are triggered. Bad feelings pervade the alien’s brain.

For the future, an alien who thinks about the future, in the sense of making plans, may come to find his/her/its happiness is the imagined future. Much like how a remembered experience can be coupled into the neuro-chemical source cell bodies, so can imagined experiences, and they can be future ones. So, when we say an alien can find happiness in the future, or unhappiness, it means that imagined futures, perhaps by plans they themselves made or by future projections others have made and convinced the alien of their likelihood or even inevitability, can lead to unhappiness.

There doesn’t seem to be any reason than an individual alien could not find happiness or unhappiness in all three time frames. Some alien could recall a pleasant experience and be happy, or notice some dreaded event is happening, such as a close friend dying, or envision a future event which is fortunate. Aliens can be expected to be intelligent, each and every one, after the genetics grand transition, where intelligence genes and all the associated things genetics includes have been discovered and engineering geniuses have figured out how to manipulate cell DNA so that all members can benefit from this discovery. If they are intelligent, they should be able to plan and imagine well different futures, and potentially be happy about them, or sad, as the case may be.

So, in an advanced alien civilization, meaning one beyond the achievement of asymptotic technology, would have their members responding to all three time frames. All three could provide both happy, positive experiences and associations, and unhappy, negative ones.

One example of happiness was used in a previous post involving a close friend. The entity that is the focus of the event that causes the triggering of emotion can be an individual, but it can also be an object, any object, or even an abstract thing.

Perhaps aliens will have pets, and then happiness or unhappiness can be triggered by what happens to the pet. The three time phases would be, in this example, thinking about something that happened to a pet, as it died, or seeing it enjoy itself with something, or learning it had a fatal disease and would die in the future from it. The object might be a robot, or a facility, or a giant plant, or an organization, or anything. Neural networks are flexible enough to make associations, including emotional ones, with anything that the network can recognize. It could be an abstract thing, like some branch of knowledge or some social condition, such as the condition of intellos in the civilization, or some set of regulations. An alien could be happy if a new festival is approved.

One entity that might be associated with emotions is the civilization itself, by which we mean not the current members, but the whole thing, from first cities to the destruction of the last city. It could also mean the alien species, if their civilization was one that chose to put its values smack down on the species they were, as they evolved, or at least close to how they evolved, with some basic gene selections throw in. These two items, the civilization and the species, are foundational items for the different categories of star travel choices that a civilization can make. It is therefore likely that positive or negative associations can be attached to either of them.

For the past time frame, an individual alien might draw happiness from knowing the history of the first city and its successes in growing and then cloning itself. He/She/It might draw happiness from the fine standard of living the civilization was providing to its members. Or the happiness might come from the knowledge that there were no problems directly in front of the civilization, it having solved all of them, at least in the near future.

So where is depression in all of this?

One source is cosmology, as noted in another blog. If the civilization you know and love is doomed, would not depression ensue? If your species is going to become extinct, how is depression to be avoided? Cosmology is not the only peril that faces an alien civilization, and there are others which could take its place. Can any advanced alien civilization, which would recognize its fate was disappearance, inevitably, not be depressed? Would the depression be avoidable? Could the master computer muster up enough festivals and other entertaining occasions to distract all the brilliant citizens from thinking about the fate of their world and any world they migrate to? Would this be enough to discourage them from space travel?

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