Sunday, March 27, 2016

Genes Supporting Memes

One of the basic ways in which the discussion of alien civilizations moved forward in this blog was the categorization of alien civilizations according to their desire for star travel. Each category could be discussed independently, and a picture of the whole spectrum of possible alien civilizations was obtained. One point in common was that there was a common credo for many aspects of the civilization, including behaviors, interpersonal actions, goals, and many other aspects of life, as well as about what the aspirations of the civilization were. The credo was referred to as a collection of memes, which are concise directions that each generation teaches the next one. The memes embody, among other things, the view that the civilization has toward star travel.

It was also noted that the genetic grand transition was the time when these memes were solidified and unified, and the early portions of the duration of the transition were the times when they were chosen and turned into transmissible guidance. This period is when the knowledge of biology and genetics was raised up to the level of physics and chemistry, meaning, that anything that could happen, could be done under direction. This transition represents perhaps the most dramatic in the history of an alien civilization, and we here on Earth do not yet have much of an idea about the extent of it nor what the civilization would look like after it was over. So we explore it.

During this interval, genetics is being totally unveiled. This works in both ways. Any genetic code existing in any living being will be understood, so that each gene's function is clear. The other way is that, in the design of any living being, the way to code some requirement into a genetic code is determined. No doubt there are many ways to create genetic code for any function or any ontology, and during this period, all of these possibilities will become known.

Think for a moment about the latitude in behavior that the neural network we humans and likely advanced aliens have. There is a very little determined by genes; everything beyond basic instincts is determined by experience. Lower creatures do not have this luxury. The behavior of insects, for example, is much more genetically controlled than in mammals. Evolution figured out how to provide behavior to a mobile creature long before it figured out how to not provide it, but to let the creature develop its own patterns.

Here's the gem. Since genetic coding can be used to program behavior, perhaps specifically or perhaps just preferences, into a mobile organism, scientists during the genetic grand transitions would be able to backtrack a bit and program some behaviors or some preferences into the genes of their own species. So when the inventors of the memes of an alien civilization were deciding on the future course of their species, besides concocting memes to carry this direction forward, they could even promote some support for it in the genes.

If this can be done, and if it is done, the alien civilization where it is done would find itself much more strictly bound by the memes. Something coded into the brain of the aliens in later generations would recognize these memes as the right ones to have.

If the memes or credo of the civilization were worked out in an organized and efficient manner, so that larger goals of the civilization could be supported, then having additional support for them is not a bad thing. There is of course a benefit to independence, and as the genetic grand transition works its way to the end, and high intelligence becomes available to all citizens, independent thinking must accompany it. It is possible to have too much independent thinking and choices, however, and so an antidote placed into the genes might be what the civilization needs to continue to function efficiently.

As an example, consider the most obvious requirement in an alien civilization: recycling. In order to extend the time that their civilization can last, a high level of recycling is needed, and this in turn, in order to be able to efficiently accomplish it, requires life in dense cities, among other things. A preference for contact or a distaste for large personal spaces might be coded into the genes to help this meme set along. It is hard to imagine exactly how a genetic coding for particular behaviors could be done that was so specific it supported, directly, recycling activities, but given the advanced state of genetic knowledge an alien civilization is expected to obtain, perhaps it is possible.

Here is another reason why the genetic grand transition is a Pandora's box of surprises. If it is possible that geneticists can learn from the coding of behavior in more primitive creatures and translate that knowledge into something that affects the brain structure of aliens themselves, then this is a huge power that can be utilized to move the alien civilization in the direction chosen by whoever or whatever has control over these settings.

This concept implies that that group of individuals, living at the time of the genetic grand transition, who somehow gain influence over what memes will guide their civilization forward for centuries and even millennia, can cement their control over their civilization's future choices by extending their influence to the genetic coding given to the new generation of aliens. They would already have had to extend their influence over the teaching protocols that newly hatched/born/grown aliens would be taught by, and going even further into the genetic coding choices seems not too far-fetched.

This means that understanding the predilection for star travel in different alien civilizations requires an understanding of how control might be captured and maintained during the middle phases of the genetic grand transition. Furthermore, what is needed is the likelihood of these controlling groups to prefer star travel as opposed to staying and becoming extinct in place. We might be able to make some good guesses about this as the aliens at this stage will be the final generation to have evolved brains, rather than ones chosen for some sort of optimality.

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