Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Food after Asymptotic Technology

Life in an alien civilization that has reached asymptotic technology, that is, one which has essentially finished all the science and engineering that is possible, and has organized it and put it to use, is something of a mystery to us. It is a mystery not only because it is a situation that we have not experienced, but one that we have no guidelines to figure out. In a civilization where anything is possible, anything is possible. What would the typical alien civilization choose?

Food might be an example that can elucidate the problem. What would aliens eat? With abundant resources, in other words, in an alien civilization that was not facing resource scarcity, they could produce anything they wanted. They would be able to produce anything likely in a variety of ways, using robotics or using genetics, using different raw materials for input.

If we think like humans in the twenty-first century on Earth, we might just assume they would have a wide variety of meat, fish, vegetables, fruits and so on. Rather, the alien equivalent of these, as aliens might not divide up their world of food in the same way we do. But this assumption falls apart upon further examination. When we say asymptotic technology, we do not mean just some simple advances on what we on Earth have now. We mean the ultimate in science. They could have things that were digestible foods that come from any source, either grown, or simply fabricated. Think of meat. They could grow any kind of it using some biological tricks, in industrial facilities, without there having to be animals. Or they could make some genetic concoction that produced animals that were simple to raise and were mostly edible meat. Or they could make a different genetic concoction that produced meat from plants. So the opportunities for creation of anything at all cover a wide range. What would they choose?

These questions miss a main point. The aliens themselves would be modified genetically. They could make their lives extremely simple by simply designing their own taste mechanisms to prefer only one type of food, one which was easy to produce. They could arrange so that this one food would make their taste sensors produce great satisfaction, and nothing else would. Then their questions of what to produce and how to produce it are all moot. Every alien likes the same, single food, and they just devote some minimal floorspace in each city to produce it, and delivery is likewise simplified. No alien has to look at a menu and be faced with choices. No one has to worry about whether guests would like what they serve. Restaurants, or whatever serves food publicly, are pretty much identical.

The food chosen would have to meet all the biological requirements of the aliens, but since their digestive systems can be genetically designed as well as their taste sensors, it could all be done at once. The single food could meet every requirement, as its ingredients were matched to what the designer teams put into the alien genetic code for themselves.
There would be no food fads, no chefs, no preparation details, no recipes, no ingredients, nothing at all except some factories or the alien equivalents which make this one substance. Would they want to have a civilization in which a major form of activity, that related to food, was eliminated? Would they opt for simplicity or would they opt for diversity?
The questions raised here about food are the same that might be asked about other aspects of life. And they are not simple questions. In the two alternatives, diversity of foods and simplicity of food, the aliens adjust their genetics so they are very happy with either choice. Happiness is not something that is hard to come by in an alien society. It is built into the genetics, and the training, that each alien has. If the alien civilization figures every alien should be happy, they will be, as the technology will exist to make sure this happens. So one conclusion that can be immediately drawn in that happiness of the aliens is no criteria to use in trying to figure out how they would design life in their civilization.

In place of happiness, what would the decision-makers of the alien civilization use as a criteria, or a methodology, to design their society? One that comes to mind is efficiency, which means that they would make choices that use less resources, less footprint, less energy, less wear and tear, or less whatever. This means they are trying to make their civilization last as long as possible on the home planet, or the home solar system, by running out their resources as slowly as possible. This puts off the decision to leave for another solar system as long as possible, and conserves the resources necessary to make the interstellar transition when the time comes. It does seem somewhat strange that the decision on how to feed the members of the civilization is intimately tied into the meme for star travel, but that is what appears to be the case. Perhaps the entire civilization is affected by the choice of star travel memes, in other words, everything revolves around this fundamental choice made by decision-makers early in the genetic grand transition.

Consider other alternatives. They cannot be looking to design society so that there is more creativity, as that is already a maximum. They have completed science and figured out how to use it, so that cannot be a goal. Exploration of their solar system, if it has economic payoffs, would already have been done or else well within the existing capability of the civilization to do whenever in their history they chose to do it. Art is already expanded to the maximum and as far as novelty goes, none is left to do. Virtually everything that can be done on their home planet has been researched, understood, done, and wrapped up. Other than space travel, there is nothing left to challenge the civilization.

This puts interstellar travel in another perspective: it’s the only thing they haven’t done yet. If and when they do it, if their memes do not have it as a major goal of the civilization, it will become another thing, perhaps the last thing, that the civilization decided to accomplish, and then promptly forgot about it. So, we may need to add to the list of motivations for interstellar travel one thing: another challenge for a civilization that has a meme for accomplishing difficult goals and overcoming obstacles.

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