Sunday, February 11, 2018

Invasive Species on Alien Worlds

Invasive species are simply those species that are transported from one region to another region with a similar environment, where they can out-compete the native species. This usually means they can eat what is available if it is an animal, but there are no predators for them among the native species. They have free rein to survive and multiply fast, and even to drive some native species into extinction. Plants colonize some areas, spread rapidly, and choke out native plants.

Since it takes a long time for a predator for these plants and animals to evolve from native species, or for the prey to develop means of surviving them, there is often a large overshoot of population, which is what leads to the extinction of the prey species, or the pushing out of native plant species from whichever type of habitat the invasive plant can occupy. This invasion of non-local species has probably been going on for billions of years, but recently mankind became involved, by being the vector by which the animals or plants travel to their new location. They might go on ships or airplanes, or be brought as decorative plants or pets, or via many other human interactions.

Humanity’s response to noticing this is to sometimes try to eliminate the invasive species, which rarely but occasionally works or at least serves to keep down the population of invaders. Mostly it is simply given up as a hopeless problem. Maybe someday there will be some robotic or genetic technology to restore an ecology to the way it was before mankind introduced the invasive species, but for now, there is none. People just see it as a sad situation.

Invasion can also occur at the microbe level, but that would be mostly invisible to humans. The exception is when the bacteria or virus involved preys on humans. The “Black Death” in Europe, killing off a large fraction of the population, was an invasive bacteria transported by trade from Asia, where it was endemic. Similar die-offs happened when diseases common in Europe arrived in the Americas. We also see these invasions in our food crops, where some monoculture is affected by a fungus or a virus or something else microscopic that lived in some wild area, but found the monocultured crop to its liking. Because of the immense investment in food crops, these invasions are often met by the best killing techniques technology can offer, or alternatively genetic alteration of the monocultured crop to resist the invader.

On any alien world where tectonics has divided up the land mass into regions, or climate has, there is the same possibility. An alien civilization would seem to be likely to make the same introduction of non-local species and see the same result. If the civilization had passed the agricultural grand transition, their food crops might be affected, leading to occasional widespread famines. If, later on, they were interested in preserving natural areas, with native plants and animals, they could easily find themselves victimized by some invasive species from another part of their world. Perhaps they would have found some solution in a bit higher technology that we possess or perhaps they would be forced to regard the problem as much too expensive to cure. Being able to build robots that can hunt down some invasive predator and kill it might mean too much expense on these robots, or side effects might happen. They might just have the same response that we do: sadness and resignation, and a set of techniques or preventive methods to minimize the number of occurrences.

When an alien species becomes intelligent and climbs the mountain to asymptotic technology, the ultimate stage of technological capability and knowledge, and generates for itself the ability to travel to other solar systems, will this experience affect their thinking? Will they ask themselves: Do we want to make ourselves into an invasive species? This is the exact opposite viewpoint that nations have used when exploring other parts of our world. "We are bringing our culture to new regions." Is that what the alien civilization would want to do, or would it instead just stay at home, trying among myriad other projects, to keep some of its remaining natural areas undespoiled by either its own intrusions or by invasive species from wild areas in other parts of the globe?

Recall that, if technology becomes available to travel to other stars and start a civilization on other planets, exo-planets (to the aliens – it might be Earth to us), the question as to where to go and if they should go becomes one of culture-wide philosophy or psychology. We on Earth can’t easily deduce what answer they will come up with, as we have stalled in our search for asymptotic philosophy, the end-all answer to philosophical questions. We are still circling around trying to figure out what philosophy is and what questions it should answer and how to integrate our knowledge of the universe into it, and many, many other aspects which we haven’t elucidated yet. It seems weird to say that we should be studying philosophy in conjunction with harder technologies if we want to coherently answer the questions of alienology, which is figuring out in the abstract what an alien civilization would do, as well as how it would develop.

The question that would face a potent alien civilization of whether they want to become a conquering people or an invasive species, which is exactly the same thing just with different points of view, or they want to stay home until something happens to exterminate them, is an essential one. We already have deduced that this question would be asked and answered in an alien civilization around the time it was passing through the genetic grand transition, because in conjunction with that would be a set of breakthroughs in neurology and training. These breakthroughs would enable those having the most influence on the alien civilization’s path forward to cast their opinions into the repetitive training that new generations would receive, and have these teachings, which we call memes here, preserved for very long periods into the era of asymptotic technology.

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