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.

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