Thursday, June 30, 2016

Variations on the Genetic Grand Transformation

The genetic grand transformation is the combination of the research on genetics that entirely unravels the genetic code and anything that affects it, together with the development of engineering know-how as to the modification of any existing organism, or the creation of any new organism that is within the realm of possibility. It includes all the supplemental engineering that is needed to bring any new or modified organism into existence, industrially or via some biologically created mechanism for making new life. On an alien world, there might not be the exact same division between plant and animal that obtains on Earth, but there must be some division between those organisms specializing in using stellar photon energy sources and hydrocarbon or other chemical energy sources. It seems likely that the origination mechanism for these two would be distinct, but it is not necessarily so. On Earth, the two kingdoms are separated because of the potential damage that energy transformation media can cause to the organic machinery of the cell, as well as the advantages of making this transformation as efficient as possible. Hence, chloroplasts and mitochondria evolved. The basis for this separation seems to be strong, but possibly some combination not seen on Earth has evolved on some alien planets.

The variations to be considered here in the genetic grand transformation relate to the application of the genetic tools and tricks to the alien species itself. This application can range from virtually zero, in which perhaps only very significant genetic defects are corrected or eliminated, up to speciation and a departure from evolutionary types of gestation, as well as the development of chimeras. The alien civilization has to make this choice, and perhaps a consideration of such variations might be useful.

Recall that memes for star travel are likely to be chosen during the early part of the genetic grand transformation, as that is when intelligence will receive the benefits of genetic engineering and training will be undergoing a somewhat simultaneous transformation, so that both ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ will be pushed to their optima. But memes from prior eras will likely be around at this point, and while older memes will not likely relate to genetic transformations, whoever in the alien civilization has the role of interpretation of these memes might decide to apply them in such a way that genetic engineering of the aliens themselves is subject to some controls, and the controls may limit the extent that the alien species is itself affected by the genetic revolution.

Recall also that one of the principal dangers to the alien civilization, insofar as it will not continue to progress and will regress instead, is that of Malthusian idiocracy. The genetic grand transformation as applied to the aliens themselves was seen as the only pathway through this threat. If the genetic grand transformation is affected by the older memes and their interpreters, this same fate may be awaiting the alien civilization in this situation. The key tipping point is the use of genetic knowledge to improve intelligence, as that is what is gradually lost in the process of falling victim to idiocracy. This means that anywhere the limiting line is drawn, if it is before intelligence improvement on a wide scale, the battle is lost and anywhere after that point, the threat is moot as the old memes will give way to the onslaught of new generations able to rethink the memes they want their civilization to utilize and base its decisions on.

Possible stopping points prior to the intelligence bump-up are: no changes to the alien genome, only severe genetic faults corrected in any embryo or for an embryo possessing such faults to be aborted, appearance changes allowed in the genome of a embryo, or health-related faults repaired or health improvements allowed, the same for athletic traits, the same for sensory traits, or the same for expressive or mobility-related traits. Perhaps some other classes of improvements exist, but these categories enumerate what would appear to be most likely.

It is convenient to label such a limit as the intelligence bar in genetic transformations. Larger, later transformations, such as the replacement of the alien species by some improvement on itself, does not seem compatible with an intelligence bar, so the lesser changes listed above might be the whole range of possibilities for alien societies with an intelligence bar.

It might be possible to ask why would an alien civilization adopt an intelligence bar? Before answering that, think through the ways in which an intelligence bar could be implemented. It could be implemented by restricting research into intelligence genes, but that seems to be unlikely to be able to be enforced, once the entire genome is known for all aliens. Simple comparison algorithms should be likely to single out those genes which, working together, produce a capability for high intelligence that can be brought into existence with the proper training.

So the how is likely to be known, but the restrictions of the intelligence bar are applied, and somehow enforced, to some portion or all of the alien new generations. If there were a division of the population into those who would receive these improvements and those who were not, and this was enforced for multiple generations, there would almost be a speciation effect, without the loss of cross-breeding ability. Some group is selected for high intelligence, and the remainder is selected for a gradual descent into idiocracy. This might immediately be ascribed to a choice by those with power in the society to use yet another tool to cement their position. It could be done in many ways, such as high cost for such improvements, government regulation as to the recipients, or the introduction of new memes or the adaptation of older appropriate ones to eliminate the demand by the non-recipients for these improvements. This bifurcation of an alien society might limit its ability to engage in star travel, or possibly not. The question of this star travel limitation is largely concentrated on the Malthusian limits of the non-receiving population. Do they continue to increase in numbers and therefore demand on resources, or does the alien society somehow determine a method to solve this problem, uncoupling Mathusian tendencies from the automatic occurrence of idiocracy. This type of stabilization might happen via the introduction of memes related to reproductive self-limitation. The immediate reaction to this is that idiocracy, once it continues for generations, debilitates the population subject to it from responding to memes or any other policies promoted by the civilization in general.

Cost might be used for reproductive control, but this is a rather brutal method and might not be easily countenanced by the intelligent segment of the bifurcated society. There may be some technological solution to the problem, however, imposed by the intelligent segment on the non-intelligent segment.

The percentage of population in the two segments may be an important factor in determining if the alien world which chooses this bifurcation will advance to the star travel stage. Another factor is the physical separation of the two populations. It seems apparent that a small fraction of intelligent controllers of society might have difficulty in implementing their designs for society, and a wholly intermixed population would make it difficult as well, unless there was some social rules for stratification that were enforceable.

At this point, such a situation does not appear impossible, and does not appear to be an impenetrable barrier to the achievement of space flight. More details need to be thought through to understand just what an alien society can get away with re idiocracy and still be able to visit Earth.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Questions of Evolution

Evolution’s details remain a puzzle as the problem of archeogenetics, the figuring out of the pathway that evolution took from simply chemicals to advanced organism, is extremely complicated. Over the billion years or two or three that it took, there were literally hundreds of thousands or even tens of millions of mutations which were compared using a wide variety of fitness tests. Almost all of the losers have disappeared, leaving no trace, no fossils even, as all organic chemicals are decomposed in short periods compared to the length of evolution. To determine what came first, what came second, and what came hundred and sixtieth is a challenge that no one has figured out how to solve. Yet, it may well be that one or more difficult hurdles for life was met and passed on our planet, but for one reason or another, it was failed on most other planets. Without knowing what these hurdles were, it is hard to know if it was planetary conditions that limits the number of aliens visible from Earth, transmitting signals hither and yon, coming to visit us, or leaving monuments here for us to find when we evolve far enough to recognize them. We don’t know if instead it was some evolutionary jump that is just so rare that only we have made it, unknowingly, that allows us to approach so close to star travel, a few centuries perhaps, and the other hundred million planets in the Milky Way to be nowhere near as lucky.

One more aspect of evolution is that it proceeds by small steps. To get from chemicals to roosters, evolution cannot do five or ten mutations to some genetic coding and then we hear the cocks crowing. Each mutation makes a small change in the total picture of a cell or an organism, and it has to be compared, in whatever fitness competition exists for this cell or organism, so that the older original one can be displaced and the new version take over. If the cell is numerous, say quadrillions or quintillions of them exist, and that mutation occurred in one of them, how long is it going to be before all the quadrillions and quintillions are the new version? This of course is a multiple of the generation time, but remember that those original cells were doing just fine, surviving and propagating well enough to produce stupendous numbers of copies, and they are all not going to just up and go extinct because somewhere there is one cell which is better in some way than they are.

Thus there are two key times for each mutation, one is the time it takes for some cosmic ray or chemical mutagen or coding error to get lucky and make this specific change, and the other is the time for the fitness competition to eliminate the old versions in favor of the new. Recall that fitness is chancy, and the first cell might just happen to get eaten before it had a chance to even make its first copy, and evolution would have to wait the same time, all over again, for a second shot at this particular mutation. There are many perils facing any individual cell, and any one of them can do an extinction event on a just mutated version of a cell.

As for the elimination process, in most cases it is not the new version taking on the original version, vanquishing it and eliminating it, and them moving on to the rest of the quadrillion copies. Instead, it is a multiplication rate question coupled with a limitation on total numbers. In a situation where there was bountiful supplies for both the original and the mutated version of the cell, there is no fitness competition, and both just keep merrily producing descendants of their own particular type. Only if there is some limit to the number of them does fitness play a role. In that situation, the rate of multiplication of one has to be just a bit larger than the other. Perhaps this single mutation puts the replication rate of the new version at a tenth of a percent higher than the old version. This is a tremendous advantage. In less than a hundred thousand generations, the old version will disappear. If the cell is in an environment where it can make a copy of itself in a day, this is zero time in the evolutionary time scale. Even if the environment is harsh, and it takes a year, it is still zero time. But if the mutation is not so great at changing the replication rate, so it is only a ten-thousandth of a percent difference, then evolution doesn’t last long enough for the mutation to successfully displace all the old version, at least in more difficult environments.

This means that if we want to make some progress in unraveling the mystery of archeogenetics, we need to think about fitness comparisons and the time taken in the competition, and about mutation rates. Either a very rare mutation or a very slight increase in replication rate could mean that some mutation here doesn’t happen on all other planets where life is trying to evolve.

For mutation rates, mutagens are working all the time, but perhaps on planet X there are not nearly so many cosmic rays, because of some stellar magnetic shielding, or because of the galactic environment. Mutations from this source are needed to penetrate into some nook of the genetic code to make a change worse. So, do we have skyscrapers and hydrofoils here because of our cosmic ray dosage and planets without it do not? For fitness comparisons, is the replication rate closely linked to temperature or salinity or the presence of magnesium ions or something else in the oceans, which just happen to happen here and nowhere else? We get a hundredth of a percent for some critical change and everybody else gets a hundred thousandth of a percent change? Again, those skyscrapers and hydrofoils are only going to be on Earth.

The first thing that has to be done is some overview of evolution, so that a comparison of which mutations are important and which ones are incidental can be made. Then perhaps some insights might be generated on only those important ones, and a bit of progress in the evolution mystery can be obtained. Then, it might be possible to make some good guesses as to whether evolution has any chokepoints for alien worlds, or whether it just works everywhere like a well-oiled machine and doesn’t provide any distinction between Earth and other solo planets.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Why is Mars So Small?

If we are going to be thinking about where to find life, starting with solar systems, we should first think about the sizes of planets. Mars is much smaller than Earth and has lost almost all of its atmosphere. If there was life there, it likely died out with no source of carbon dioxide to get carbon from. Exposure to near vacuum evaporates water, so that essential component is missing. Protection from hard photons is not provided, so life would have difficulty on the surface.

If the life origination theory promulgated here, organic oceans, is correct, there was likely none of that here. Too small a planet means no life. But the question remains, why is the planet so small? Why didn’t it collect enough mass like Venus and Earth to provide the right gravity and therefore the possibility of the right atmosphere, provided temperatures were tolerable. The Liquid Water Zone could have been right around Mars, but it would have been to no avail.

This doesn’t seem to be a ‘why question’ that is commonly asked. Perhaps the basic concept going around is that planets just form with whatever material is around them and some planets are in dense areas and some planets are is sparse areas, and it’s just too bad for some planet that originates in a sparse area. It has no chance for life.

But for a minute, think about the planetary disk and the processes that shape it. Perhaps the why question is ‘why was that part of the planetary disk sparse?’ The answer may not be that it was just random luck. The answer may be that Jupiter is a mass thief, and took mass, not just from Mars, but from the asteroid belt and even a little from Earth.

Consider the opposite hypothesis. The gas cloud that formed the planetary disk was nice and uniform, stretching out from close to where the star will form out to beyond where the major planets form. It was uniform because rare areas collect more gas over time and become more like other areas. When that cloud starts forming a star somewhere near the center, it begins to shrink from the gravitational pull, but that pull is uniform and should not make these sparse areas that are suggested.

As the gas cloud shrinks, rotation keeps it large in the radial direction, perpendicular to the total angular momentum of the cloud, as it shrinks in the other. It becomes an oblate spheroid, and then the center collapses into the star, being closer, while the remaining doughnut gets thinner as it shrinks in radius. It speeds up as it condenses, maintaining its angular momentum. Still nothing has happened to make the region around Mars and Ceres sparse.

Instead, the density of the cloud forms a smooth curve. Faster infall toward the center provides a thinning toward the center, and slower infall at the edges means the gas thins out there. There is some distribution curve of gas density, if it were projected down onto its central plane, that starts smaller in the center near the newborn star, gets larger to reach some peak, and then declines down to almost nothing out at the farthest edge. Still a smooth curve.

Now local gravity begins to dominate, and at the heaviest area, planetary clumps of gas form and begin the infall of dust to make the cores. In our solar system, probably both Jupiter and Saturn, the two heavyweights among planets, get formed and become to look like planets with metallic cores and huge atmospheres, still condensing. They interact with one another in an interplanetary resonance, where they move around two radii with periods in some ratio of small integers. There is wobble around the resonance radii, but the two giants have formed a stable situation. Resonance radii do not depend on the mass of the planets, so this would work in any solar system for giant planets of any ratio of mass between each other.

Other planets try to form at other resonance orbits corralled by the pair of giants. These resonant orbits are stable, but not deeply stable because a large deviation will send a proto-planet out of resonance, drifting toward the radius of the nearest giant planet. The closer the resonance orbit is to the giant planet, the stronger is the perturbing force. The larger the giant planet, the smaller the region of stability. This means that gas and dust from the closest resonance orbit drift into the capture zone for the nearest giant, and there is less mass left to form a planet at that resonance.

In our solar system, Jupiter has eliminated the chance for a planet to form at the asteroid belt. There is simply not enough mass there to collect into a planet. So instead, the small clumps of condensed matter, mostly dust, simply keep flying around as they are perturbed in orbital parameters by the two gas giants. The perturbations are large, which is another problem with forming a planet there, even if most of the mass had not been subtracted.

For the resonant radius where Mars is, this process was weaker, and did not remove enough mass to prevent a planet from forming, but only from forming a large one. Mars is so small because of the vulnerability of planetestimals to having their orbits perturbed enough to leave the resonance and go to being captured by Jupiter, or perhaps going into an unusual orbit elsewhere in the solar system.

Earth is closer to the peak area of the original disk that is Venus, and so it should be larger, and it is, but only slightly. Earth, if it had not been subjected to the perturbation forces from the gas giants, would likely have been larger than it is, which might have been a bad thing for life. Mars would have been bigger than Earth, and the asteroids would have collected into an even larger planet. But Jupiter was there, and we got what we see.

On the other side of the orbits of the two gas giants, distances are much larger and the effects are not so great. The inner planets are the ones which feel the largest effect. Thus, there is no surprise in the mass ratios of the planets. In other solar systems which form two large gas giants, instead of one, something similar might happen, meaning the depletion of mass from gravitational collection by the giants, on the inner side of the giants.

If the Liquid Water Zone is near the orbital radius of the innermost gas giant, there is probably no use in mounting a large search for an Earth-sized planet in the LWZ, and instead it would be good to push onward to a different solar system. In general, finding planets would be facilitated by looking near the resonance radii of the gas giants, so even if the two of them are inside the LWZ, if there is a principal resonance in the LWZ outside the outermost of them, life might start up there and it would be worth looking for the planet and checking its mass.

We haven’t finished the story about the formation of planets, but most everyone knows it. When the star gets going, it starts to blast a solar wind outward, which drives remaining gas, but not so much the dust, into the far reaches of the solar system. Out there, the material which is not scooped up by planets and satellites on its way outward winds up in the Oort Cloud, a region where the solar wind has long since died out and left what has been pushed out there to condense into multiple icy blobs, which can play with each other and possibly merge. However, there is not much point in looking for life out there. It is far beyond the LWZ, and there is simply not much energy for any exotic form of life to use, even if there is some exotic form which can find a niche in an icy region such as this.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Devil's Advocate on Origin of Life Theories

Suppose you were interested in tearing holes in some origin of life theory. Where would the weak points be? Let's attack the Early Origination aka Organic Ocean theory.

The theory supposes a certain condition for life to originate, specifically, that there were two types of oceans on the early earth, immiscible mutually, a water one and a mixed organic one. To have an organic ocean, there has to be lots of organic compounds that are immiscible with water. Is it realistic to assume that these could be produced? There may have been a lot of methane in the gas cloud that condenses, but methane is too volatile to condense in the LWZ (Liquid Water Zone). So is ethane. There is carbon dioxide are in the gas cloud, but what is the mechanism by which large quantities of heavier organics are made?

Lightning is one source, proven in the laboratory. Satellite data on the current Earth show there are about 3 million lighting strokes per day. Over a hundred million years, that is about 10^17 stokes. Each stroke has about 5000 MJ energy in it, which is about as much as 100 kg of gasoline. So if there was a 1% energy conversion of lighting energy into organics in the plasma that is created by the lighting and the surrounding hot gas, plus the shock, there might be 10^17 kilograms made. This is only enough for about 1 cm of ocean, so it would be necessary to assume that the early Earth had 10 or 100 times as much lightning as the current Earth. This is a bit of a stretch, but not a ridiculous amount.

The atmosphere on earth has 5 x 10^18 kilograms in it, and if we assume the early Earth had 100 times as much, that is, five times as much as Venus now has, that would be 5 x 10^20 kilograms. If 0.2% of this was heavier organics, that would be 10^18 kilograms, enough for a meter or so of organic ocean. Not too much of a stretch, but no grounds for the assumption exist.

Volcanoes are another source, and each volcano has enough energy so that 1 every ten days or so is the same as the current energy release of lightning, so there would need to be 1 a day somewhere on the planet for a 1 m deep ocean, or 10 to get a 10 m deep ocean. For the chaotic world of early Earth, not too much of a stretch.

Another cause is planetesimal impact. The energy release in the Chicxulub asteroid impact alone is about equal to the energy of a hundred million years of lighting. That is one asteroid, and over a hundred million years in the early Earth, there would have been a large number. These are visible on the face of the moon, which has preserved the records of some early impacts. If we assume there were a hundred thousand of them, this would be more than enough for a deep early ocean. There are about two hundred thousand craters on the moon over 1 km in size, and the Earth is a larger target than the moon.

One source which is not quantifiable is the proposed impact of Theia, the planetesimal which formed the moon. Because the masses are so much larger, there is no way to scale this. But the proto-Earth would have its crust ripped, and huge gushes of magma would have been released. How long the heating from the mantle or even the core would continue to be released is open to question. But a lot of energy is available here.

To sum up this first probe, it appears quite reasonable that asteroid bombardment would produce the amount of heavier organics needed for an organic ocean of sufficient depth, and lighting, volcanoes, and the formation of the moon would add in more. Not a deal-breaker. And we have not covered the conversion in the ocean of miscible organics into immiscible ones.

Another question is, given the existence of the organic ocean, is whether any ambiphilic compounds would form? Numbers on this are scarce, but the point to note is that the meniscus is the boundary between an ocean full of lipophilic molecules and an ocean full of hydrophilic molecules. Any energy-containing molecule at this interface that expended its excess energy on forming a compound with something from across the boundary would be forming an ambiphilic compound. Compounds with excess energy do not act like time bombs ticking and waiting to go off, but instead go about seeking a suitable partner, which is decided on the basis of polarity and geometry. If there are energy-rich compounds on the organic side which need a polar molecule to trigger their chemical reaction and the only place they might find it is at the meniscus. Similarly for energy-rich compounds on the water side. There seems to be no reason to assume ambiphilic molecules will be scarce in a dual ocean situation, when the processes which made the organics were all high temperature, rapid cooling ones, which could be conducive to producing energy-rich compounds.

The next question might be, given a meniscus with ambiphilic molecules in abundance, are there any that will form membranes? This is not a question of whether ambiphilic molecules would join together with intermolecular forces, in alignment, because we have the example of current biological molecules which do that to make up cells. These are unique molecules, however, and it is necessary to ask if there would be any such molecules that could be made up of the components available in the two oceans. Recall that solubility is dependent on like molecules having a mutual attraction. This is what causes surface tension and what decreases volatility. Any molecule whose pure solution has surface tension would attract itself. Any solution with a low volatility would have molecules which attract each other. This is not a substantial objection.

This question might be better phrased as, given a meniscus with ambiphilic molecules in abundance, are there any that will form membranes solely with identical molecules? This question is a red herring, as it is quite possible to have a mixture of molecules in the ambiphilic membrane, and still have all the subsequent steps of replicator formation follow. Perhaps it would even be easier.

Going any further in this series plunges us into chemistry questions that have not yet been posed or answered. So, it might suffice to say that the obvious devil's advocate questions do know knock out the early Earth, organic ocean hypothesis for the origin of life.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Corruption in Alien Civilizations

Positive feedback loops are often a very bad thing, for the survival of the system in which they are embedded. If there is a limiting threshold, after which some other factors serve to block the induced growth from becoming too large, that's fine as long as the threshold is not so high as to disrupt the functioning of some essential part of the system. If there isn't, the only possible outcome is the quantity having the positive feedback growing so large that the whole system collapses. This is of course a very elementary observation on how systems work, but it doesn't seem to be commonly discussed in dealing with socio-political-economic systems.

One positive feedback loop that has already been discussed in the idiocracy one, or Malthusian idiocracy if you enjoy pleonasms. In a situation where sustenance is provided, idiocracy is when those less likely to reduce population growth continue to expand as a relative fraction of the total population, which serves to further increase the absolute numbers of population. Without any external control or moderation of the growth effect, the numbers must grow until the sustenance limits are reached. Then there is a question of what happens, and how hard the sustenance limits are pressed. Does this pressure result in a lowering of living standards and how pervasive is such a lowering? After a lowering limit is reached and living standards, for whatever reason, cannot be pushed down, does maintenance get cut in lieu of sustenance? Obviously this is the recipe for collapse of the alien civilization.

Another positive feedback loop occurs in the distribution function, measuring how sustenance and other items of production are distributed to the population. The group on the high end of the distribution function can divert some of their income to a corruption of the system, meaning a change of the rules for distribution, so that more goes to the high end recipients. This will provide them with more wherewithal to corrupt the system more, resulting in another change in the same direction, and on and on. Again, if there is no compensatory effect that comes into play at some threshold of distribution shape, perhaps measured by the difference between the mode and the mean, the distribution function will continue to peak toward the high end, until the curve looks like a spike at one end with the rest almost flat. By this point, the characteristics of the civilization have drastically changed, and another possible mechanism for collapse, via positive feedback, exists.

The corruption feedback loop has some interesting aspects that militate against an easy social solution to it. It matters very little what the social limitation is that works to stop the distribution function from increasing its peakedness. Whatever they are, sustenance or income can be used to work against these limitations as well. The feedback loop is so strong, that it bulldozes through social barriers that are set up to control it and to introduce some other feedbacks that limit the rate of growth of the peakedness. Whether it be by government action or political activity on the part of citizens, sufficient application of income to the problem reduces its effect, making more income available to those involved in the corruption loop.

The word corruption, as applied to an alien civilization of undescribed governance and customs, may seem to be inappropriate. What is meant that rules and regulations regarding the distribution function are written by alien citizens, who are also seeking additional income, and who can obtain it corruptly by changing the rules or regulations or covertly violating the customs. It is no matter whether there is one type of governance or another, or whether there are multitudes of laws and regulations or whether everything is done on the basis of customs from long ago. Income is like an acid which dissolves social barriers to tampering with the distribution function.

If the seemingly inevitable result of this positive feedback result is collapse, that means that alien civilizations, or parts of them in the period before they are unified, will be going through cycles of slow growth and rapid collapse, all mediated by a rather simple to understand positive feedback loop of their system of distribution of production. Will the collapse, or collapses in that earlier ununified period, interfere with the development of technology so much that technology will stop at some point and simply freeze or even retrogress? The question seems to revolve around the resiliency of the alien civilization to mitigate or recover from collapse.

In the early ununified period, it may be that collapse is local and confined to one region of the planet. In the later, unified period, the whole civilization may go through the cycle. Is technology abandoned because there is simply no way to continue to divert resources or sustenance to those who maintain it and who develop it further? This would depend on the depth of the collapse. As noted above, it is the infrastructure which suffers and causes the collapse. So the depth of the collapse would be mirrored at the extent of the infrastructure needed to maintain the civilization which ceases functioning. It is likely that different parts in different civilizations might fail first. On one alien civilization, during one collapse, the energy infrastructure might be the first to go. In another alien civilization, during one collapse, the food infrastructure might go first. The reaction of the alien population might depend on which type fails first, and whether it fails slowly or suddenly. Either alternative can be contemplated. Slow failure leads to efforts to evade the consequences, or to reduce them, or to find ways of bypassing them, or other coping mechanisms, on a civilization-wide scale. Fast failure eliminates the possibility of coping mechanisms, and calls for means of ensuring survival on the part of the population. Fast failure may mean a restructuring of the alien civilization, and an involuntary reduction of population. Either one of these modes could mean that technology development goes on hold, and the application of technology is reduced in extent and in magnitude.

If the corruption positive feedback loop were the sole cause of a collapse of an alien civilization, there could be a multi-generation delay in the progress of technology, but technology has its own positive feedback loops, operating on a longer scale perhaps, and so would regenerate. The death of the civilization, in terms of its ability to reach the stars, might happen via both of the two positive feedback loops operating here, either simultaneously or sequentially. The idiocracy effect does eliminate technology progress, and it could be facilitated by the corruption effect causing a partial collapse, and thus a relaxing of the controls on idiocracy.

If alien civilizations naturally have failure modes, and these failure modes grow larger as the effects of technology force a unification of the civilization, thereby eliminating the recovery mode offered by other regions being isolated from the collapse of one region, then one reason for having no aliens here could be written on our imaginary whiteboard: corruption interacting with idiocracy; either one being solvable, but both being too much for the civilization.