Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Big Memes in an Alien Civilization

This blog is interested in why aliens have not paid a visit to us here on Earth, but it was soon realized that since we understand very little about what are the real possibilities for alien civilizations in the Milky Way, our speculations about why aliens are avoiding us lack a solid footing. The blog is designed to try and rectify that, by thinking through just what type of civilizations might have emerged on other planets.

Since star travel is the core idea for aliens visiting Earth, some of the posts here have discussed alien memes relating to star travel. Alien civilizations were divided up into categories based on what choices they had made relative to colonizing other planets or otherwise traveling through the Milky Way. It was realized early on that there is no purpose that any alien civilization could find from physics or astronomy or biology or anything else, and they would have to make a decision based on something inherent in their own civilization. But once they passed the genetic grand transition, and bestowed a universal high intelligence on all of their members, the idea of figuring out something and making it stick, generation after generation, would not work. Reason and rationalism does not come up with the answer to questions which have no answer. The only way out of this dilemma was to have a decision based on the earlier phase of the history of the alien civilization, before mass intelligence started to erode anything that was not based on reason. Back in those early days, if there was a person or group who had influence over a substantial part of the population and who had goals for having his/her/its civilization travel to the stars, there was a way to do it.

If you want to make rational citizens believe and support something arbitrarily chosen, you have to make them believe it, deeply, before they become rational. The only avenue for embedding star travel memes into the alien civilization is to make it part of the training for young aliens. Rationality comes later, and neural associative networks do not have erase buttons. What goes in early stays in.

Star travel is a large subject for memes, but there are larger ones. Other posts have indicated the role that resource scarcity would play in how an alien civilization’s history plays out, and there are two choices that the society has to have made in order to determine its response to scarcity. One relates to the choice of three things: population, duration of the society, and living standards. For a finite stash of resources, a combination of the population count and the translation of living standards into a resource consumption figure show how long it is before scarcity takes its toll on the civilization and they must say goodbye to their golden age. Half the population and double the duration. Drop living standards so that half of the resource consumption is needed and again, the duration is doubled.

Again, physics and chemistry and other sciences provide no answer to the question of how much population should be maintained. There is nothing that can be gleaned from genetics or astronomy about how well the alien civilization should treat itself. These are arbitrary choices, and in analogy with the star travel choice, have to be made prior to the dispersal of the advanced intelligence genes to the whole population. There is no value that can be compared between an alien living at some living standard and two aliens living at half that living standard. Which is better? Neither.

Another choice is analogous to this one, but centers on the individual level. With genetics at the end of its progress, where everything that can be done is understood and can be done by the civilization. They can design the genetic code of the citizens to give them, say, fifty years, or a hundred, or a hundred and fifty. What this means is that the birth rate of new aliens has to be adjusted inversely to adhere to the proper population count. Nothing in science or anywhere else tells the civilization that two aliens living for fifty years is worth more or less than one living for a hundred years. Each generation can rethink the choice of inherent lifespan, but if it is written into their memes, it is much harder to promote a change, especially since there is no rational reason to choose one or the other.

How the choice of lifespan is accomplished is not defined. Old age could suddenly set in at forty nine or thereabouts, or healthy adults of age fifty could voluntarily choose not to live any longer to make space for new aliens. The method the society chooses does not change the mathematics of the choice. This is the way memes are implemented in a civilization. They are interpreted to provide the details of the implementation. There is nothing but rationality once the memes are chosen. Figuring out the best coding of genes to promote early and sudden aging is an engineering question, and can be figured out and put to the test, either simulated or real-life. Only the memes themselves are arbitrary. A society full of brilliant members would not miss any opportunity to improve their science or engineering if some small gap were found.

There are a thousand choices that derive from the selection that the memes make. Every detail of life can be put under the microscope of reason and examined to see if it contributes to satisfying the memes or if there are different details which might do it better. Once memes are set, the whole civilization can make all the choices it needs to make in order to define just how they live their lives, how they govern their society, how they impose the mandatory needs of society such as recycling on every citizen, what they allow for travel, and so on and so on.

The two memes discussed here, population count and living standards for one, longevity of individuals for another, together with the star travel meme, serve to specify many of the choices that an alien civilization has to make. Perhaps there would be a science meme. There may be more, and perhaps a complete set has five or ten or more, but these choices are not large in number like a thousand and even a hundred or two seems like overkill.

There is a problem that the society faces if the initiators of the meme set did not figure out in advance how to deal with any conflicts that arise. Direct conflict is not possible and could not even begin to be taught in standardized training, but minor conflict in some situations could occur. Prioritization or interpretation would have to be done to deal with such conflicts. Otherwise the concept of memes providing the fundamental basis of the alien civilization falls apart, under the scrutiny of countless brilliant minds.

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