Monday, March 14, 2016

What Would Aliens Like?

There probably is a word in all alien languages for 'like'. This assumes that aliens all evolve brains using neural networks, which is the only kind we know of or have thought of, except for robots with computer chips for brains.

The reason for investigating what aliens would like is because many people here on Earth make statements like 'aliens would do this' or 'aliens would do that', based not upon logic or reasoning, but because they like the 'this' or the 'that' and assume everybody of high standards would. Aliens are of high standards because they have lived a long time or have become very intelligent. This blog is full of statements about what aliens would do, but it is not based on liking, but on what physics or chemistry or neurology or resource shortages force them to do, or on what is the most efficient thing to do, which is coupled to the assumption that they have become both aware of efficiencies and prone to use them.

There is a large chasm between thinking aliens are smart like myself and all my friends, and therefore they would have my opinions on politics or economics or whatever, and thinking aliens are smart and therefore figure out good strategies for living and efficient ways to conserve their resources. Maybe this chasm can be portrayed by thinking about the word 'like'.

Before turning to the dictionary, let me first say that stating 'aliens would do this' because some author or commenter likes 'this', does not mean they do not 'like this'. It simply means that making analogies to the author's likes is not a sufficient basis for concluding it. There has to be some more firm grounds for the contention.

A person 'likes' something when there positive associations with that something in his/her/its brain. A layered neural network, such as all mammals on Earth have, is a wonderful device that evolution has bestowed upon us to save us coding humongous amounts of information in the genome. Lesser animals are largely programmed with fixed neural codes, so their behavior is fixed: a stimulus happens and a response is dictated. Slight amounts of flexible storage is possible, but virtually nothing.

Humans are at the extreme of non-programmed neural networks. Human babies are perhaps the least capable young of the mammals, yet the power of associative programming of the brain leads them to become the smartest of the mammals, provided there is enough education. Associations are laid down to prior associations, until down to the first and lowest layers, where they connect with the few instincts we have, such as suckling or the desire for affection. When something associates with a previous layer that is in the positive bin, it is logged and if repeated or sufficiently impressive, is remembered as something that is 'liked'. This isn't what the dictionaries say, but they do not tend to bring contemporary neurology into their definitions.

This means that if someone grows up in a monarchy, and has a great time under it, everybody being positive about it, they will like monarchy, and possibly think aliens would also. If someone grows up under an oligarchy, and has a great time under it, everybody being positive about it, they will like oligarchy, and possibly think aliens would also. If someone grows up under a caste system, and has a great time under it, everybody being positive about it, they will like a caste system, and possibly think aliens would also. If somebody grows up under a … pick your own preference here and continue the paragraph.

The same argument goes not just for the high-level style of government, but also the various rules by which a society operates under. If you had grown up in ancient Athens, you might like democracy with the franchise limited to adult males who were not slaves, and you might like the institution of slavery as well. If you had grown up in imperial Rome, you might like dictatorship moderated by a small board of elite advisors. If you had grown up in late imperial China, you might think having an emperor with absolute power is ideal, plus a court of thousands of eunuchs. If you had grown up in Scandinavia during the Viking era, you might think raiding is an ideal occupation. If you had grown up during Mayan times in Central America, you might think that independent theocratic city-states were the best way to organize, but if you had grown up eight hundred years later a bit north, in the Aztec empire, you might not think city states were good at all, but a single central authority was best.

What you associate with good things depends on where and when you live, assuming you have a good station within the existing social arrangements. None of these qualify as a 'must-have' for alien civilizations. To figure out what aliens would 'like' instead of our 'likes', we need to conceive of how the alien civilization operates, how it evolved, and what threats it would face.

A few basic principles assist in figuring out these details. One is technological determinism. Technology determines the outline of social organization, and much of the details of it. Another is asymptotic technology, the end state of science and engineering. If we can conceive of it, we can picture an alien civilization's, as it will be identical with every other alien civilization's technology, at the limits. With the technology understood, social organization can be addressed.

Once this is appreciated, the realization comes that technology will continue to change society, leaving all our ideas of social organization in the dust-bin of history. New ways of organizing will become available, and will be the ones that an alien civilization would have. And they will all be rather similar, as their technology will be.

The principal threat that faces an alien civilization that has conquered all fields of science and engineering is straightforward: running out of things. Nothing continues forever, and the inputs that an alien civilization needs are limited. Facing this universal threat, there are a few solutions they can take, and this will provide more details as to how their civilization has to be organized.

As for 'liking' things, their society will understand neurology and the brain, and will inevitably figure out how to make what is in society and what the citizens like converge. In other words, they will like what they need to like, as society can be more efficient with all citizens aware and concurring on the decisions that have to be made. We have a lot of amateur efforts on Earth involved with getting humans to like one thing or another, in fact a tremendous amount of it. It will become a science, and get better and better. It is not much of an assumption to state that aliens will do this better than we do, in a more organized way, and with fewer repercussions and contradictions. Thus the answer to the title question is that they will like their own society's unique social arrangements, not ours, either current or historical ones.

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