Saturday, August 16, 2008

Alien Superiority Complex

In the last post I mentioned the Popular Science article "Could Robot Aliens Exist." In it, NASA astrophysicist Steven Dick wonders if postbiological aliens, in their superior advanced bodies and computer minds, would not be interested in us because either our minds may be too primitive for them to be able to communicate with us, or " they might consider meatheads like us too primitive to warrant their attention" (83).

Maybe. But I still think they would be interested in us.

On our planet, there are many primitive minded creatures that we do, on a limited basis, communicate with. Our pet dogs understand commands and have been shown recently the ability to map language, which is something that was thought to belong only to the province of humans. Chimpanzees and apes have shown the ability to communicate by sign language. Sure, we can't debate philosophical questions with Fido or Koko, but it is technically communication nonetheless. Not all humans care about this. Likewise, there may be some, even only a few, of the superior aliens who may be fascinated in just how much communication can occur between them and humans. And maybe they will be a little surprised at how much communication can occur.

However, I wonder if it is a fair analogy to begin with. While dogs and apes are self-aware, like humans, they re not aware that the area the live in is but a small part of a planet which is circling a sun in a galaxy that is in a universe with many dimensions, and are not increasing their awareness. However, we are aware. And, as a species overall, are continually increasing our awareness. Sure, we don't understand - yet - the nature of it all, and continually find more questions than answers, but that doesn't mean that we are to the aliens like apes, dogs, or ants are to us. We have the capacity to understand much more than we do at the moment - and we will understand more than we do at the moment. That they are ahead of us in knowledge and experience does not make us impossible to communicate with.

Even if they are aware of something that is as beyond the universe as the universe is beyond the local awareness of an ape - the earlier analogy still does not work. We know the ape cannot be made to understand that there is an awareness beyond their local awareness. But we can be made to understand. We can work with analogies and the abstractions and can be told by advanced aliens that there is yet a greater awareness beyond what we are cognizant of. We may not, at present, be able to wrap our heads around that greater awareness, but we may be able to wrap our heads around the fact that there is a greater awareness beyond what we are presently capable of. And as we head toward the Technology Singularity we may, sooner rather or later, be capable of wrapping our heads around that greater awareness (Some predict the Technology Singularity will arrive as soon as 2040, others by 3000).

And even without the Technological Singularity, human beings of today are aware of and working to wrap their heads around, incredible concepts (11 dimensions any one?) that human beings of 10,000 years ago were not even remotely aware of. Our brains, as primitive to postbiological creatures as they may be, are still remarkable organs - they can be rewired, they can make new connections, and they can achieve greater awareness. Plus, our brains may not be static - there are evolutionary pressures on our brains to evolve further as we advance technologically and culturally (though the latter seems to lag behind the former). There are limits to how far the brain can evolve on its own - thus the need for the Technological Singularity and postbiological life (or technology enhanced biological life).

So the analogy of "aliens are to us like we are to dogs" such that the aliens just won't be able to communicate with us is not an appropriate analogy. Dogs do not have anywhere near the same potential to increase their awareness as we do (if we give them a few million years to evolve further, maybe then).

I think a more appropriate analogy would be modern human to a Neanderthal or Cro-magnon. The aliens would most likely have to greatly oversimplify the smilies used to teach us, or introduce the idea of, advanced concepts, and thus would definitely have to skip the details, but some limited communication regarding the advanced awareness could occur. Communication may be slow, difficult and, at times, frustrating for both parties, and details will have to be left out, but they would be able to communicate with us. And we would strive to increase our understanding. OK, not all of us individually, but overall, as a species, enough would be.

OK, so say they can, with difficulty, communicate with us. But are we still "meatheads" and thus too primitive to warrant their attention? Why? Are sentient species only interested in what is at their level? I doubt they got to their level by that kind of narrow thinking. Exploring the universe, gathering knowledge and experience, discovering new aspects and new questions along with finding the occasional answer is what will most likely drive a species to push their intellectual evolution in the first place.

If humanoid sentient creatures like Earthlings are common or if not common, then at least common enough that they've already encountered beings rather similar to us at least once before, the aliens may not believe we warrant their attention.

But let us say that Earthling like creatures are not common. There is probably one large rainbow of possibilities for life, including sentient life, in the universe. We may warrant attention because they've never seen anything like us. One of yet another unique worlds in the galaxy, adding new data, new knowledge, and, possibly, new questions for the aliens to consider. And one way to learn about these wacky Earthlings, besides observation, is to communicate with them - even if it is an everyday level of communication, or alien kindergarten level of communication.

Also, keep in mind that we are growing, we are working our way toward their level. And that alone may warrant curious, or cautionary, attention from the aliens.


"Could Robot Aliens Exist?"
Popular Science. Sept. 2008: 83. Print.

Kurzweil, Ray.
The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. New York: Penguin, 2006. Print.

Vinge, Vernor. "The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era." San Diego State University. 1993. Web. 16 Aug. 2008. <>.


^_^ said...

Indeed, I believe your data to be partially accurate, but there really is no conclusion. If there is/are intelligent life in the universe, they would not use the vast amount of resources that would enable them to travel the vast expansion of space, to visit a small blue planet that orbits a star that is ignited hydrogen combined with helium exactly 75/25, stacked full of incompetent curds that would rather flip on there noise boxes then to study the box itself. If a superior species where to visit the planet earth it would not be to stop by and have a slice of apple pie, it would be to conquer and enslave, gathering the 1 part hydrogen 2 parts oxygen which covers 80 percent of the globe.

Anonymous said...

Aliens may have different technological prioritations, thus being hyper-advanced in some areas and extremely primitive in others. This is one reason why I think the Prime Directive is nonsense. There is no linear ladder of technology. Everyone have something to learn from everyone.

Mr. David Michael Merchant said...

Good point Anonymous. Lately I've been reading Steam Punk, and it has me thinking about alternative technological paths the world could have taken (and thus, by extension, that other worlds may have taken). Also, I'm reading Seth Shostak's Confessions of an Alien Hunter, and he talks a little about aliens possibly having different priorities or paths in technological developments and how that may affect our search for them as well as our ability to communicate with them.

In addition, we have to consider how different biology/physiology and different environmental conditions affects technological paths and choices. For instance, beings evolving on a water covered planet will have different technology paths, most likely, than beings evolving on a mostly rocky planet.

Anonymous said...

One scientific reason why nothing can be to humans what humans are to apes, dogs or ants. Altough Thomas Huxley were dupied into believing the hoaxed measurements of racial differences in brain size, he still concluded that it did not matter for intelligence because all peoples still had such an abundance of neurons that such differences in brain size said nothing about intelligence. Those fake measurements closely approximate true brain sizes of extinct species of cavemen. Additionally, research about dementia shows that it is possible to delay the first symptoms by brain exercise, but then the mental degradation goes faster when it really begins, and that the limit where cognitive degradation can no longer be prevented by brain exercise is somewhat below half the normal number of neurons. Anthropologists traditionally draw the line between Australopithecus and Homo somewhat below half modern human brain size. Brain size matters for intelligence in animals but not in humans just like money matters for happiness to the poor but not to the rich. This means aliens and future supercomputers will never be able to look down at humans as mere animals. Humans are already past the limit where further increase in brain capacity does not affect intelligence.

Anonymous said...

Also, to be intelligent a computer would have to be non-binary. Even the simplest animals understand things that binary computers do not. Some experimental non-binary computers exist in expensive labs. They cannot be programmed like normal computers, they have to be trained like living beings. Such non-binary computer-robots can, for instance, figure out how to get around obstacles for themselves. Furthermore, Noam Chomskys povety of the stimulus argument is based on the spurious assumption that the brain should need absolute evidence to learn things. It is scientifically proven that real brains do not use binary code. This does not mean that, for instance, dogs can learn language proper, just that the only reason why they cannot is that their neurons are to few.