Wednesday, March 23, 2016

How Can Aliens Be So Successful if We Are So Messed Up?

This blog has had many posts in which an alien civilization is portrayed as a very successful society, with virtually no social problems, except for resource exhaustion, which is a function of the planet, not of the civilization. How is it possible that there could be such an alien civilization without problems when we are ever so familiar with how a normal society, assuming we are normal, have so many? Just to make a list of the problems that Earth civilization faces is depressing: we have maldistribution of resources, nutrients, power, and almost everything; violence abounds; the civilization is divided into factions on every level; there is corruption in governments, patronage, favoritism, and a lack of consideration of merit; education is not excellent everywhere and atrocious in some places; we battle over differences in memes, despite their consistency in behavioral recommendations; and on and on. How could anyone expect that some other civilization would get over all these, and not have their own as well?

The answer lies in technology. Technological knowledge accumulates, and the domain over which it works continues to expand. It gets wider and deeper. Maldistribution problems have a Malthusian component, meaning that if there is a Malthusian population, shortages are a unavoidable response. Malthusian populations would disappear with advancing technology, as reproduction becomes under control, and then later, becomes separated from life as reproduction becomes industrialized. Factionalism is often based on lack of awareness, and technology eventually gets to education and as a bonus, gets to providing later generations with genes chosen for intelligence. With intelligence, and an understanding of neurology, psychology, economics, and other fields that are for us still in ferment, factionalism, corruption, and other denigrating behaviors become clear for what they are. Memes become subject to reformulation and parts of existing memes which lead to unfortunate behaviors would be erased in their intergenerational passage.

The key to understanding this, and to the optimism that underlies the assumption of success for advanced alien civilizations, is technological determinism. Technology continues to progress, and those who are involved with it use the methods of science and engineering in more and more areas, eventually covering all of the domains of life and civilization. What is required is simply a mechanism for recording knowledge and disbursing it, which is a fairly simple technology, and Bacon’s scientific method. Technology just keeps grinding onward, getting more and more powerful. To put it in different words, evolution provides creatures with the desire and capability for solving problems, and technology organizes this and allows it to be accumulated and transferred to others. So, once a problem is recognized, eventually it is solved.

It is somewhat facile to just assume that technology will continue to accumulate in all cases. We on Earth have not seen any stopping or even slowdown of technology progress, or any diminution of the lateral spread of science. But in an alien society, when technology might be seen tending to diminish some preferences that individuals or groups might possess, perhaps it would be different. A post or two as devoted to these ‘minefields on the pathway to asymptotic technology’, and it was questioned as to how technology might be stopped. The answer was that only a very high level of technology would be able to effect such a radical step, and by the time it was reached, it would be unstoppable. Factionalism, before it disappears, would be a vaccine against the halt of technology, for if one group or region of citizens wanted to stop it, other groups or regions could continue its development to obtain a competitive advantage.

The transition from pre-genetic technology, principally mechanics and electronics, to genetics is referred to in this blog as the genetics grand transition, and it is one of the most revolutionary changes that an alien civilization would pass through. The agricultural grand transition was a tremendous change, where hunter-gatherers settle down into the first villages and change their food source. Not only is the food source changed, the whole organization of society has to change as well. The schedule of citizens’ lives changes. The subject of education changes. Free time becomes available and the profession of craftsmen arises. The rules of living have to be altered. As immense as this change, the industrial grand transition is larger. When power sources become available, the activities the average citizen can do, and where they can travel exceed that of the most fortunate of the previous era. Knowledge expands exponentially. And yet the genetics grand transition would be greater. The ability to design living organisms to accomplish any task, to create intelligent creatures able to perform most of the functions of the civilization autonomously, the development of biological factories, the choices for speciation applied to the citizens themselves, and many more breakthroughs all are part of this grand transition. Intelligence of the least surpassing the intelligence of the smartest of the previous era can be expected.

This assumes that there is power continuously available to the civilization. If that is not true, they will not continue to progress, but will decline or even collapse as a civilization. This is one form of scarcity, which is the principal problem that an advanced civilization faces, and one that cannot be avoided. It is the driver of interstellar colonization.

To return to the topic presented by the title, the answer is that our problems can be traced back to a lack of knowledge, in many, many areas, and we have embarked on a seemingly unstoppable pathway to eliminating that lack of knowledge. It is an answer that seems simplistic, but there is no obstacle to it which can be shown to be effective. We do not seem to recognize well where we are going, and probably alien civilizations would not either, but that bit of lack of knowledge will be rectified just as are all others. It is not necessary that we have a plan to become an advanced civilization, just as it is not necessary for evolution to have a plan to produce intelligence. The mechanisms that are in place work without any intelligent governance. They just work.

No comments:

Post a Comment