Thursday, June 8, 2017

Is There a Gulf between Electronics and Genetics?

It is difficult to know which characteristics of an alien civilization to isolate and concentrate on when trying to figure out if they will attain the capability and desire to travel between stars. Sociology has simply not developed sufficiently to indicate what might go wrong, much less to provide some explanation of why or how common it might be. So it is necessary to fall back on some very basic principles.

Here is one scenario. Technology develops and civilization follows right along, with the initial result of technological advancement being that the basic needs of society are better and better met, followed by some more superficial ones. The basic needs of society are simply the basic needs of the population, or at least the portion of the population that has some power or influence over what happens in the civilization. What might happen to a civilization when the basic needs of the population are increasingly met for little effort on their part, owing to increasing use of industrial and later electronic means of boosting productivity? In previous discussions, the closeness in time of the genetics grand transition, when intelligence improves along with almost everything else, to the industrial grand transition provided the rationale that there would be a uplift in society in general, owing to the availability of personal intelligence, creativity, artistry and so on, along with materials and leisure time to take advantage of that.

However, there is a gap in time between these two grand transitions, and is it possible that an alien civilization, or all alien civilizations, could undergo some sort of collapse? The collapse would not be of the productive economy, but of the spirit of the society. To paraphrase it, when work almost disappears, what might replace it in the daily lives of the population? Note that some equivalent of work has demanded the time of the population since before the agricultural grand transition. There is no previous interval of time in which these demands have abated. There certainly must have been for all alien civilizations, at some time and place on their planet, good intervals where the demands for work have been reduced. An example would be when a clan moved into a new area with abundant game and gatherable foods. But population always expands to take advantage of available resources, and eventually these good intervals would be replaced by a long period when population pressure keeps the demand for effort for sustenance high.

After the industrial revolution, population pressure still exists, but it does take some time to exert itself. In addition, however, is the pressure for improved life situations, meaning higher consumption levels of energy and resources. As this becomes as much of a demand as the demand for sustenance, there is again the same situation, where work takes up as much time of the population as possible. The underlying premise is that work would be available. The alternative possibility is that without the genetics grand transition and the tremendous social and psychological changes this would bring about, work to increase living standards might not be available for some slice of the population.

Thus there are two threats to this period, the gulf between the late industrial revolution and the full-blown genetics grand transition. One is the Malthusian idiocracy which was discussed at length in previous posts. The other, introduced here, is the dislocation of society, or rather a different slice of society, in which there is no opportunity for work, simply some sort of sustenance arrangement.

To make this gulf more obvious, consider an alien civilization which has developed robotics and AI, and the cost of it is so low it is used everywhere. What does the population do? This is assumed prior to the great population-wide improvement in intelligence that is one part of the genetics grand transition. Everyone from CEO’s down to the lowest clerk is easily replaced, and they are. Some arrangements have to be devised so that the benefits of all this automated productivity are distributed, and they could be of a wide variety. With no one working, there is not even a shred of justification for inequity in distribution, but inequity in distribution of society’s products has been a driving force for individual motivation since clans broke up with the agricultural transition. Will the typical alien civilization figure out some way to broker an inequity in distribution of production, based on some sort of competitive tourney?

Another alternative, at least in the first portion of this gulf, is that legacy arrangements will be allowed to remain. An economy is based on past events, resulting in some privileges or rights or ownership or some other label, and on present events, where the actions taken by some individual member of the alien civilization does something, which we might call work, and receives rights to production from that. The gulf we are discussing is one in which present actions are of less and less value on the average, and eventually become of negligible worth. So the past is the only thing differentiating alien members of the civilization from one another. This might seem to be tolerable for some time, but it would become less and less so the further the society gets into the gulf.

There are some very important questions to be raised about this gulf between grand transformations. One is to ask if a typical alien civilization will cross the gulf and not allow it to damage the civilization, its infrastructure, its directions, or its progress. There seems to be some possibility of this damage, as there is no precedent for a society’s organization in the gulf, and it must be devised from a blank sheet of paper. The second question flows from the first. What modifications of the civilization are inevitable as it crosses this gulf, and what effect would these modifications have on its interest and willingness to make an interstellar space voyage? It would be most peculiar if the real reason there are no aliens visiting us is that their civilization inevitably will have to modify itself into something unlike anything we have imagined, and that the resulting arrangements, governance at the least but possibly much more, lead to a non-interest in space voyages, or perhaps even to a lack of interest in the prolongation of the culture at all.


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  2. Thank you very much for your comment. It is also so much fun to figure these things out and write about them.