Friday, March 25, 2016

Left-Behind Populations in Alien Civilizations

Technology marches on, and society follows along. On Earth, we have seen how civilization is transformed by the agricultural grand transition, when a group becomes a civilization by starting a city. At some point in human history, everyone was part of a hunter-gatherer clan, and there were no cities. Then knowledge about growing plants and husbanding animals accumulated, and one group, somewhere, was able to fix their location and make permanent dwellings.

Knowledge traveled slowly in that era, and change to a social order much more slowly than that. At some time after the first group settled down, a second one did, and then a third, and the idea of living in a city became well understood and gradually became widespread. Does that mean that at some point in human history, everyone everywhere was living in a city? Of course not, there were holdouts and there still are. The numbers of those on planet Earth still living in hunter-gatherer mode is almost vanishingly small, but it is non-zero. A thousand years ago, the fraction was probably substantial, and two thousand years ago, maybe a majority was still in the older mode.

The numbers are somewhat deceiving, as the birth of civilization and the use of agriculture allows population to grow larger than a hunter-gatherer population living in the same territory. To give an example, if there were a million humans living on the planet at some time T, and then some groups of them formed cities so that only 900,000 humans were living as hunter-gatherers, and if the 100,000 that switched to urban living expanded over a few generations to 900,000 humans, up a factor of nine, it would be possible to say half the humans were living in cities and half were not. But only ten percent made the switchover, not half.

When the industrial revolution happened, the same phenomena ensued. Some group of humans adopted some industrial technology, and the rest slowly learned about it and a fraction of them were interested in copying it and were able to. This fraction slowly increased. As the different stages of industrial technology were passed, the fraction increased more rapidly, but there were still a large number of those who were left behind, living at the agricultural subsistence level. The same kind of numbers illusion happened as well.

Alien societies must go through these grand transitions in the same order, as one is a prerequisite for the next one. Ones who have advanced further have gone through the genetic grand transition, and again there would be those populations which did not jump on the bandwagon at the first possible time, but ignored it at least temporarily. What would happen to them?

On Earth, those populations which formed cities initially did not go out evangelically trying to convince all other populations to form cities immediately. Rather, it was the opposite. As long as the cities were run in good order, they could take advantage of the non-agricultural populations through trade and other means. It was the same here for the industrial grand transition. Alien populations might be surmised to have done the same on their planets.

The genetic grand transition is more overwhelming and quite different in character. True, it results from a increase in knowledge in a specific area, and then engineering begins to utilize this knowledge to affect the living standards of the population affected. One of the principal effects is the provision of genes promoting intelligence. More or less attached to this are other associated changes, such as industrial or artificial gestation, neurological relief from misbegotten goals and priorities, training and education that can match the increase in intelligence, and a general transforming of society into something for the better, just as the former two grand transitions did.

What about the left-behinds, the populations which are not in on the genetic research and do not have immediately accessible the technology level that would allow the exploitation of these breakthroughs. What happens to them?

One possibility is the one touted in this blog, that the transition gradually affects more and more of the population, and everyone pretty much gets on board. But a possibility that has not been discussed in any detail is the one where those who participate in the genetic grand transition, and live in a portion of the planet where its fruits are realized and taken advantage of widely, stop caring about the rest of the population. The genetic technology could certainly continue to disperse among the population, but is the upper limit of its spread equal to the entire population? The alternative is that there will be a left-behind population, and the most interesting thing about this phenomena is the great gulf that will quickly appear between the accepting population and the left-behind population. There was certainly a great gulf between those populations that invented and lived in cities and the left-behind hunter-gatherers, and between those populations that grabbed onto industrial technology and those who decided to be left behind in this transition, but the gulf will be even greater for the genetic grand transition.

Genetics will affect almost every aspect of alien life, and not just affect, but transform it. Reproduction will no longer be done the way evolution provided. Nutrition will become industrial. New species of animals and plants will be simply an engineering essay. The nature of the population themselves will change as they doctor their own genes. All the questioning of how to live life that arises because of ignorance or rather lack of intelligence will disappear. How do you compare a civilization of healthy, athletic geniuses with a random population of whatever mixture of genes evolution provided?

What effect on the aspirations and intentions of the top level of the alien population would the existence of substantial numbers of left-behind aliens have? Note that there is no population explosion resulting from the genetic grand transition as there would be from the agricultural and the industrial grand transitions, so the number ratio would not be distorted by the change in ability of the sector of civilization to support population increases. The left-behinds may outnumber the top level innovators. The ratio may even be large. Would this have an effect on their ability to conduct star travel?

If there is a disconnect between these two factions of the population, they might start seeing themselves as different species, which they almost are, and if the top level innovators decide to change their species, they would be different. But without a large numbers ratio, the top level innovators may not have the wherewithal to organize a star travel venture. So here we have yet another possible obstacle to alien star travel and yet another explanation why aliens have not visited us here: asymptotic technology was not universally accepted.

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