Saturday, April 7, 2018

Time Horizon Shifting in Alien Civilizations

When alien species initially evolve intelligence, the use of the intelligence is to deal with problems in the present. Food, predators, reproduction, competition all require an intelligent response to maximize success. This predilection for immediate gain or benefits lasts for a long time, as there is nothing in the society to change that. Achieving some short-term benefit brings physical and social rewards, which means that sort of thinking, that time horizon, will be psychologically rewarding. It will stick around.

The long term thinking that might occur during this period is that of leaders or other important people, who want to see their offspring do well, and plan for the early portions of the lives of their offspring, so as to provide them opportunities. If the civilization is divided into warring factions, some long term thinking might go into strategizing how to best secure a good position, or any of a number of other options that arise in warfare scenarios. But there is little thinking about their own species in the long term, as a whole. One faction may be thinking about immediate steps to assure a good future of their faction, but the time scale is likely to be a generation or so.

This type of thinking will lead to the near-total exhaustion of their planet’s resources, or if they are fortunate enough to have a solar system where resources are economically obtainable from one or more other planets, asteroids or satellites, of the whole solar system’s resources. However, if the thinking in the civilization was centered about how to have their species exist for as long as possible, at a high technological level, they would have to have a very different attitude, that of conservation, recycling, reliability and reuse. The switch to this type of long-term thinking, which might have a span of many thousands or even a million years, is an important event in the history of the civilization. The switch over is such an important event in the history of an alien civilization, it should be given a name. Let it be the Horizon Transition.

If the Horizon Transition occurs late in the history of the civilization, when resources have already become scarce and substitutions are occurring to cope with shortages, the result of it will be to prolong the life of the civilization somewhat. If it occurs early, the civilization will have many more resources at its disposal for the later millennia of its existence. Since space travel is a powerful consumer of resources, this means that an alien civilization which is, for some reason, asleep to the important considerations of resource scarcity until very late in their domain of existence, it will not be nearly as likely to be able to travel to other stars, seed life, establish colonies, or any other tasks as one which was very early astute enough to recognize the peril that scarcity is.

Thus, if we find ourselves in a galaxy with many civilizations on other planets, but only a few have even traveled to the nearest solar system to their own, we might attribute that to the blindness that a civilization, coming from an evolutionary past, has toward the Horizon Transition. That means that the question of how a civilization stumbles on this important problem and figures out how to deal with it is an important one for alienology.

It is already clear that all alien civilizations are forced by their evolutionary past to be short-term thinkers when they enter the technology climb. Intelligence gets better and better, and it makes their short-term thinking more and more efficient and pointed. When does the leadership of the civilization state that it is no longer enough for the aliens to worry about what will happen next year or next two years, but instead, they need to consider what will happen in the next five thousand years? Why would they? It represents a tremendous value shift. They would have grown up worrying about their own wealth or status or power or security or something else, or that of people related to them or somehow connected to them, not imagined people of some large number of generations in the future. Why would a leader give up a concern for those whose interests he works for and replace it with a concern for those who will live long, long after all the current aliens have died? It makes almost no sense to think they would.

Instead, resource exhaustion will cause some effects, regulated by whose short-term gain can best be improved by the use of some of the tools to conserve or reuse resources. This means that it will be a piecemeal effort, resource by resource, as they each grow more and more scarce. This type of effort will not result in the substantial prolongation of the civilization’s future. Only a massive switch, the Horizon Transition, can do that, and there are powerful forces that must exist, in every alien civilization, that will prevent one.

How might such a transition occur? If resources are still abundant when living standards reach a high enough level, there will be a diminution of interest in short-term gains. In the spectrum of individuals in an alien civilization, there will be those who can never have enough material goods to satisfy their psychological needs, but the large majority can be satisfied. At this point, if there is some influence, some leader, some call for a Horizon Transition, it might be possible that one could be effected. Thus, if the population of the civilization does not grow as fast as the growth in living standards, as generated by the various technological innovations and revolutions, then living standards on the average can increase. If the alternative is true, population growth, in response to living standards rising, stays high, then this situation cannot arise, and a Horizon Transition cannot happen. This means that, unless population numbers are somehow restricted, it would be much less likely that an alien civilization would be able to afford a major project to travel to another solar system. Thus, the Horizon Transition question leads to a population growth question, specifically, what influences the growth of a population. In other posts, the problem of idiocracy was discussed, and that might be the deciding influence. This is again a topic for further thought.

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