Friday, July 29, 2016

The Vacuum of Motivation

Is asymptotic technology a cliff over which an alien society that reaches it must fall? Here is the dilemma: as technological progress proceeds, one of its benefits is that average intelligence and the ability to use it would increase. The big jump up would be the availability of genetic modification to the alien new generations, which would increase their intellectual capability. Complementary to this would be the development of neurology, specifically, how training an intelligent brain should be done to make it capable of thinking critically and creatively in the fullest way. So here are all these intelligent and educated aliens, inhabiting their planet.

Previously, the escape hatch that was touted was that earlier generations, which had grown up with imperfect training, were highly motivated in certain directions, and they were the ones who directed the design of the universal training that the newer generations would receive. It was postulated that the training would be sufficiently effective in inducing the newer generations to continue to be motivated in whatever directions the earlier generations had chosen for them.

Would the enhanced intelligence of the newer generations make them all like Euripedes, who orginated the phrase: “Question everything” or would the asymptotic neurology make training so irrevocable that the newer generation would not question some of the most fundamental memes that they were programmed to accept. If the latter is the case, then if we assume some of the older generations were enamoured of the idea of space travel, visiting other stars, preserving the civilization by migrating or colonizing, and so on, then the newer generations would keep this up. But if the former is the case, that neurology meets its match with sufficiently smart young aliens, then they question their memes and perhaps drop them in the dumpster.

Recall the well-known origin of motivation. A young alien, or human, or anything with a vacant neural network for a brain, develops associations built upon the few primary ones that come wired in. One of these is affection, and the young brain develops positive associations with whatever happens to accompany these instances. Perhaps they associate receiving compliments with affection, because that's how the older generation acted around them. Then, whatever compliments they receive are stored as a potential origin of positive feelings. The youngster is complimented on eating some new foods, and maybe gets physical affection for it, and as it ages, it associates new foods with positive feelings, more explicitly, its brain generates good-feeling neurochemicals when the person/alien/whatever eats new foods. Affection related to caring for a pet while very young may lead to a desire to raise animals, or become a veterinarian, or pet store owner, or whatever pops up in an alien planet relating to caring for animals. And so it goes, with a thousand possibilities and a thousand associations and a thousand motivations, spread throughout the population.

This is the basis of the methodology of training memes into the younger generation on an alien world with asymptotic neurology, except it is done much more technically and more professionally, most likely by robotic or automated teaching equipment. The more fundamental the association, in other words the more closely connected the association is to the underlying instinctual desires, whatever they happen to be in an alien species, the more firmly it would be held and the more difficult it would be to dislodge.

But let's just suppose that Euripedes beats the teaching robots. What happens? What happens is that the memes of the former generations are called into question and perhaps rejected. Once the mind recognizes an inserted meme for what it is, not something philosophically required nor something demanded by the universe, but just an accident of neural network training, it can be rejected. The feelings will not go away, as neural networks, at least the ones we have, do not erase associations, but their effects can be overridden by some decision-making in whatever part of the alien brain the central part of the frontal lobe of the cortex in humans relates to. They don't do what it proposes they do. They think about what they should be doing, instead of just responding without critical thought. And of course, they find the vacuum that exists.

Everything is arbitrary. Nothing is dictated by nature. Intelligence reveals that all choices can be made and there are only consequences, not values. Young aliens grow up, prior to rationality dawning, learning to please their parents, tutors, or whoever trains them. Then, when the brain develops sufficiently for reason to be available, if there is sufficient intelligence, the alien young person realizes what motivation is, and wonders if it should be followed, or something else should be. And then they find there is nothing else mandatory, but the original memes can be adopted as is, changed, ignored, replaced by others of a rather arbitrary nature, or held in abeyance until some other events lead to a choice for a selection.

This is the vacuum of motivation, and is it the last obstacle that an alien civilization faces before they make a leap into space and travel between stars? If training overwhelms Euripedes, this is not the case, but if they do find the vacuum staring them in the face, or whatever they have for a place to hold their sensors, then there might be no star travel, no probes to nearby planets, no giant telescopes, no learning how to build a starship, nothing in this vein at all because they simply have no interest in it. Their interest evaporated, as a liquid in a vacuum would.

Thinking a bit creatively, one completely different solution to this that an alien society might adopt, to avoid being lost in the vacuum of motivation, is not to make the large majority of their youngsters that smart. Just keep them smart enough to follow the guidance of those VIPs who run the governance, or follow the teaching of the elders of society, the former VIPs who figured out not to grant universal intelligence because it is so deadly to the society. Would an alien society be capable of directing its technology away from those things necessary for universal intelligence, or would it develop the technology and administratively refuse to allow it to be implemented except for a small minority of its citizens, who incidentally might be a liability.

It may be time to think about the inevitability of asymptotic technology in an alien society that is already smart enough to realize that there may be some unpleasant results for figuring everything out.

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