Saturday, January 16, 2016

Joy in Alien Civilizations

One of the grand transitions is the neurological grand transition. It involves the accumulation of knowledge relating to the alien mind, and the details are therefore specific to each alien civilization. But if the hypothesis made in the blog is correct, that associative neural networks are the way all (or most) planets evolve intelligent creatures, then there would be a lot in common between different alien civilizations. Maybe one type of aliens would not have a cerebellum, or another would have more lobing, or a third might have less brain volume devoted to visual processing, or a fourth might have another sensor with brain areas devoted to it, like magnetic sensing or atmospheric pressure sensing or whatever. But the basic mechanism by which information is processed within alien brains is an associative neural network.

Perhaps later someone will figure out that is too limiting, but for now, let’s use it as a working hypothesis. That means some analogies from human brains can be made, albeit carefully.

This post talks about joy, which is an English word with many meanings. Joy here is meant to signify an extreme amount of happiness. Joy happens when the brain gets positive associations going all over it. Happiness can be pretty small. Joy is large. This means that some event or combination of events happen to trigger lots of happy memories, at about the same time. An example of joy could be that emotion caused by the reuniting of a lost friend with someone. The lost friend is connected to many memories of times enjoyed together, in other words, with small blocks of happiness, which all get associated when the lost friend reappears. Seeing the lost friend again after a long absence doesn’t pull all those remembered memories into the visual cortex for revisualization, but it does connect with the associations between the friend and many small happiness events in the past, and therefore triggers a flood of reinforcement neuro-chemicals. To be somewhat blunt, the presence of the friend is a learned association with happy events of many kinds, connected to all the positive experiences that these friends shared, and like Pavlov’s dog’s bell, the connections are all triggered by the friend returning and hence the flood of neuro-chemicals. But the difference between the friend and Pavlov’s dog’s bell is that the association with Pavlov’s dog is solely with the dog’s meal being delivered. With a friend, all sorts of associations are made, and therefore many more parts of the brain can deliver the signal for neuro-chemicals to be generated. Joy is achieved by a wide association with positive events in the past.

Repetition doesn’t play the same role with this type of association. Unlike the dog, which had to have many experiences in order to build the association in its brain, single events can cause association in a higher order brain. A single event can be remembered, and in being remembered, the emotional effects are linked in. Perhaps associations with more fundamental things, like eating, have to be done more than associations with complex things that can pull in more connections on lower levels.

So, if you were wondering if an alien civilization would be pretty boring, very calm, not too exciting, very day-to-day, in short, dull, the answer is that it would not be if they wanted it not to be. With the neurological grand transition providing clear explanations as to how to create multiple joyful moments for each alien, it would be far from dull. They could make it pretty exciting.

If an alien civilization wanted to generate joy in its members, on an occasional basis rather than some mass joy event, it could do it. They would understand how joy is produced, as the details of how each alien brain worked would be understood during the neurological grand transition, and with that knowledge, it is only a matter of arranging society so that this type of event happens, maybe even frequently.

This is not to say that they make friends disappear, and then show up after a long time. That could be one event, but it is a rather pedestrian one, and certainly an alien civilization which had figured out everything about the brains of its members, and had control of their environment, could do better. Recall that any long-term alien civilization has to avoid scarcity of resources by doing extensive recycling, and the efficient way to do that is to have living spaces be largely in large cities, where the flows of materials could be done easily. If the aliens are living in large cities, their environment is almost wholly an artificial one. Furthermore, their activities are governed by the arrangements in the city, and therefore these could also be structured so that joy events occurred.

Let’s also recall that, assuming the genetics grand transition occurred before or simultaneously with the neurological grand transition, young aliens are produced in an industrial manner, perhaps biologically industrial, but in a common setting, and training and education are as well. So then, with the brain understood, it would also be understood how to add into training and education all the necessary associations that could be involved with joy events later. For example, learning to make friends has to be done in a young alien in order to allow him/her/it to make friends later in their lives. If the governing body, the master AI or whatever it is, wants to have it be possible for all members to have some glorious times in their lives, they would include making friends as part of the very early training.

To generalize all this, the point is that alien civilizations will have the power, the knowledge and the opportunity to make their members’ lives not just satisfactory, but really, really happy. Would they want to? Why wouldn’t they want to?

How does this relate to space travel, you certainly are asking. Well, if they adopt early on a meme for space travel, perhaps because of some inspirational leaders in the pre-genetic transition period of their history, they would also make it connected with the likes of the members of each generation. What this post says is that they could also make space travel a source of joy for their members, again increasing the chances that they would accomplish it. But this sword cuts both ways. If their meme says no space travel, then they would dislike it, and possibly even strongly, in the opposite emotion to joy.

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