Thursday, February 11, 2016

Would Aliens Like Star Travel?

This is a trick question. You are supposed to think of your concept of star travel, chosen from whatever science fiction you found most appealing, and see if you would like it. Then you can address the attributes of that imagined travel, and really ask yourself if you would like it, with all the factors that your science fiction story contained. And that gives you insight into whether aliens would like it. But that’s not remotely the point here.

As far as we can tell, star traveling would be feasible, but extremely difficult, and very expensive. And if an alien civilization was thinking, collectively, as to whether they should fund it and have a star travel project underway, one question that might be thought to be relevant is whether they would like star travel. If a large majority of the aliens in some particular civilization liked it, they would support it, and they would authorize a huge project to go do some. The only problem with this is that it underestimates aliens. Aliens with the capability to perform some star travel are not like they were when they evolved from apes or platypuses or dinosaurs or whatever alien species led to intelligence. They became a civilization and learned technology, and then followed through on that technology until they reached the point where they could travel to other stars. But that’s not all that technology provided them. Technology at some point begins to feed back upon the aliens themselves. It develops means for better teaching, so they can learn more easier. It develops means to make gene modifications, of all types, so they become better at everything, and fairly uniform in attributes involving capabilities. It develops a deep understanding of their minds, and how they work, and what influences them, and how they develop such things as likes. It teaches them ways to evaluate options, and they have the calculational skills to figure out whatever they want to. So they are not like smart primates or platypuses. They are like healthy, athletic, very-well educated geniuses. If someone told them there was going to be a poll to see if enough aliens liked star travel to fund a large project for it, it would be a joke. They already control what they like through the training they get and through the various other influences, such as social organizations, media, and anything else that could affect an associative neural network, which we assume they have.

When the alien civilization learns how their own brains function, that gives them the capability to have those brains tailor-made to live in the society. Brains develop likes not out of a puff of smoke or a whiff of breeze. The alien brain develops likes from the experiences the alien has, and they all will know just how that works. They know where their likes come from, and how to have them come from something else. They understand their own brains; why wouldn’t they? The alien brain is certainly complicated, but given enough research, it too will fall under the umbrella of known science. Once brain operations are understood, does it make sense that the civilization would not use that knowledge? Given a choice between random influences patterning likes and dislikes in an alien brain, and planned and organized influences putting down patterns that make each alien into an ideal citizen, what would they do? Go for randomness because it is more interesting? Divide the population into two and have each half have different likes and dislikes so they could argue over them? No. First of all, arguing over likes and dislikes would be recognized as silly, because they are not something logical or reasonable or debatable. They are simply an accumulation of experiences, processed in clever ways by the brain. Since they know just how that works, why would there be any argument over a like? One alien who liked something could point out the experiences he/she/it had that produced it, and another alien who didn’t could point out the experiences he/she/it had that produced the opposite. Why argue over something that is understood and where the origins are traceable?

It should be kept in mind that this discussion pertains to alien civilizations which have reached asymptotic technology, including asymptotic neurology. Earlier eras might have likes and dislikes, and they would not understand their origins. In these earlier days, there might be some aliens who like the idea of star travel, and others who don’t, but it would make very little difference as their technology would not be up to it anyway. By the time that there is a wide understanding of all the factors that go into sending a vessel to another star, they would be at or near asymptotic technology.

So in order to answer the question, we have to circle around and go back to the alien categories. Those categories that have made a decision favoring star travel would be able to maintain social calm and happiness concerning expenses for star travel by making sure that everyone liked it. Of course, every alien would know that likes and dislikes are certainly not very useful in making decisions, and decisions should be made on the basis of clear calculations about benefits and costs. Memes are the term we have used in this blog to denote the choice a civilization makes about specific things, such as star travel. Once the meme is set and fixed, the alien citizens live in accordance with it.

There is a hidden value to the title question, however. Who sets the memes? Recall that they are set in the interim between grand transitions, principally between the industrial one and the genetic one. The likes and dislikes of the aliens at that stage may play a role in making the decisions as to what memes will be encoded into the social structure of the civilization. So the question, elusive yet critical, is actually how do the influential aliens at the cusp of development of their civilization, prior to universal intelligence but after the options for their future can be laid out, make the decision about whether their civilization will venture into interstellar space.


  1. Yes, but you are looking at it from our viewpoint now, how many horsepower do you have under your car's hood. When was the last time you took a carriage to work? How long did it take you to walk five miles when your car ran out of gas? I think any aliens visiting us would probably play games, just like you play with your cat or dog. They know we are smart, and I think they would respect that, but would you let your dog drive your car?

  2. This blog deserves a legendary award and very wonderfully composed blog.

    1. Thank you very much. Writing it is a very enjoyable experience and I hope you continue to follow it.