Sunday, January 27, 2008

Alien Technology - 3. Theology Part I: the rise of abstract thought

image credit:
"The Hive" ©
In speculating about alien species, one area that is the most speculative would probably be theology (with sociology/culture running a very close second). On Earth, theology seems to be restricted to humans only. While other animals on the planet exhibit varying levels of intelligence, as well as social structures, none seem to have any concept of theology or religion (jokes about cats thinking they are gods, while dogs think we are gods notwithstanding). It seems of all the species on the planet at present, humans are the only ones that seem to have a drive, a need even, for some kind of spirituality, for some kind of theology.

Why do humans have a theological drive? Is it a fluke or is it a natural result of the development of advanced sentience?

Primitive, simple creatures will have primitive, simple awareness. For a creature to develop complex awareness, it will need the means to acquire more data, and then to process this data, especially on an abstract level. For instance, an amoeba does not have the capacity to acquire data beyond its immediate environment. It doesn't have much need to be aware of more - it would be a precious waste of energy and resources, and may actually be counter-productive. It is a simpler system, with simple needs.

But as creatures evolve complexity, the need for more awareness becomes more important. A deer needs to be very aware of its environment compared to an amoeba. An amoeba reproduces asexually and rapidly, hunts more by random chance than by design, and because it is a simple structure, can roll up into a protective ball (cyst) until favorable conditions return. It lives in a small environment.

The deer, however, being a larger and more complex system, reproduces sexually and much more slowly, thus it is more important for the individual to survive for the species to survive. Its energy needs are high, and so it needs to be more systematic in finding food. It lives in a much larger environment, replete with more complex obstacles and conditions, including rocky terrain, mud, heat, cold, and rain.

Thus, the deer needs the ability to process more information from its environment to be able to find and fight for mates, food, and to detect intelligent predators as well as to decide how to escape or deal with a complex environment. And it needs to be able to communicate with others of its kind, even if just to warn of danger, mark a territory, or to find a mate. Things an amoeba does not need to worry about.

Some feel that intelligence is not necessarily a natural result of evolution. However, first it seems that as biological systems become more complicated and move into more complex environments, the more there needs to be intelligence to survive.

And at some point, that intelligence finally reaches a point where the creature begins to be able to deal with abstract thoughts - invisible concepts of time for instance. And as the mind evolves to take in concepts of mathematical laws, quantum physics (the last two necessary for the ability to become a technological society), and faraway stars and galaxies, as well as a deeper awareness of death, does a need for philosophy naturally arise? And from philosophy, theology?

Continued in Part II.


Unknown said...

Religion has been central to human societies for perhaps a quarter million years. The "Religious experience" involves the reported receipt, by people upon this planet, of meaningful messages, from other-worldly beings. Ipso facto, Religion on earth, amongst mankind, can be construed, as hundreds of thousands of years, of communicative contact, with an advanced Alien, possessing advanced space communication technologies, capable of communicating directly to people (with no need for humans to build radio receivers). Advanced Aliens, "talking down to humans", with some sort of "space satellite phone", could account, for the reports, of Religious leaders (Shamans, Priests, Prophets), throughout human history.