This week, 4 athletes marched under the Olympic Flag. 4 Athletes whose countries were not able or allowed to enter the Games, Three of them from a municipality of the netherlands, and the fourth is a refugee of Sudan. 4 Athletes competing not for any one country, but instead to prove their worth on a global stage, under a global flag. The Olympic foundation, for all of its faults, provides a way to bring the world together for a fair competition. Even more than that, for a peaceful competition. Makes one wonder.
Maybe dreaming of world peace is not as childish and useless as we thought. Oh, I know, we all dream of utopian society, and of somehow creating a completely fair and just world, but we are taught from a young age to be afraid, and to put up with injustice, because its just the way things work sometimes. In fact, any discussion of world peace is dismissed as childish immediately because we are taught that such things are the product of either totalitarian rule, or the wet dream of a freshman poli-sci major.
We assume the world peace means that everyone is well fed, all wars are over, and unicorns shit their rainbows across the sky. But realistically, is there such a thing? Is the dream of world peace too far fetched? Or can world peace mean something different?
So lets abandon our central term, first off. World peace has too many negative connotations and doesn’t quite accurately portray the goals included. So lets toss something more definable into the mix. how about Mutual Self-Interest?
Thats in interesting set of words. Self-interest implies a small portion of selfishness that cuts far short of greed or malice. By making it mutual, the self-interest is for the entire group, not just the one. Society in any species is spawned around groups of Mutual Self-Interest. Dolphins have pods, Wolfs have Packs, and Humans, in any situation, will group with like-minded individuals to create a system of Mutual Self-Interest.
This started with packs. Humanity exited Northern Africa and grouped into packs, finding that having many trumped having few. Then we settled down, built cities, built nations, and populated a world. In fact, in most species, behavioral evolution occurs far before physiological evolution, societies develop and regulate themselves as a course of behavioral evolution. And as Ecological Boundaries expand, it could be safe to say that humanity will regress to its older societal modes. That is: maybe what we need to enter into Mutual Self-Interest, as a planet, is to have something vast out in the distance. Something to make us stand next to a stranger and say, “I guess we have a lot to get done, now.”
So I’m a little obsessed with the fantastical and speculative, I admit. Just bear with me, here. I have talked a bit about scope, and I think I should expand on that idea a bit.
An author once mused that the human organism was just a collection of like-minded cells conspiring for survival. He went on to say that the earth was exactly the same thing. The earth, being a collection of specialized organisms (for cinematic value, these could also be called cells), is alive. The earth is a collection of like-minded organisms conspiring for survival. Now here is where it gets weird (read: Awesome). Imagine a thriving galactic economy with hundreds or thousands of species, thousands of small component cells, all conspiring for survival. Suddenly an entire galaxy is a form of life, much like a coral reef. Its a geographically massive life form filled with Cells conspiring for their survival.
Life ascends from the microscopic, to the macroscopic, to the massive. But, as we are not interacting with any other theoretical life in the galaxy, we are one singular ecological entity.
At this point it might be helpful to descend into metaphor. When I say organism or ecological entity, there is an assumption that I am saying that the earth has an inherent intelligence, and can make decisions. The earth in itself is a simple organism, a small bacterial colony.
So imagine, if you will, your stereotypical Protean Sludge-pool. Filled with anywhere from 2 to millions of types of simple cells. Every single one of these cells is vying for a few things: Food, Sunlight, and biological dominance. This process will continue for a while, often with the majority of other cell types dying out as one type gains dominance. Throughout this process, cells will become more complex, adapting as best as possible to their environment until one gains the ability to travel to the next Protean Sludge-pool.
If you haven’t figured it out, this protean sludge-pool is earth. Big twist, I know. Organisms will vie for dominance within their given ecological boundaries until they are developed enough to expand their ecological boundary. A bacteria will escape its pool, a fish walks out of the ocean, man walks on the moon.
This has led me to somewhat of an interesting thought. Intelligence is not a necessary precursor to expanding ecological boundaries. The truth is, the more complex a cell is, the less hardy it becomes. My first thought goes to extremophiles. Small, nearly indestructible cells living in ice, acid, and right on the edge of the earth’s mantle. A meteorite from mars was found to have fossilized organisms on it. These may have been introduced to it after impact, but it brings to mind another method of jumping the ecological boundary.
So lets introduce a hypothetical organism to this exercise. Take star system BI5ht. A yellow sun, with a decaying asteroid belt, and a small planet with a thick water based atmosphere, and a high presence of sulfur, methane and silicon. This planet develops cellular life, and about 2 billion years into their evolution, when complex cellular life starts to develop, the asteroid belt starts to decay into the planet, kicking up chunks of this small life-bearing planet into the solar system. among them, a small plant-like organism that uses sunlight and feeds on water. This small organism takes to its new home in the decaying asteroid belt, spreading with each new asteroid collision until it has populated any piece of rock that has any bit of ice on it.
So we now have a scenario in which an organism has expanded its ecological boundary to the solar system. This is not assuming an direct control of the process, something that only intelligence gives to expansion (and only barely). Is it possible for such an organism to spread to the galactic level? with a little bit of luck, yes.
Our galaxy is populated by a vast number of comets, asteroids, and free-floating planetoids that have been tossed from a solar orbit into the vast darkness of space, and all it will take is for one of these to pass through our BI5ht system, and through another system, then all of a sudden, our hardy little parasite has increased its ecological boundaries.
So moving out to the big picture, we realize how big this picture actually is. Evolution is a mechanism for an organism to grow beyond its ecological boundaries, and adapt to them. Intelligence is a feature of this. We needed the ability to analyze situations and pass down knowledge. We made tools to adapt our environment to our needs, and then we learned to create clothes and used other methods to react to swift environmental change. Then we expanded our reach, made complex societies to better deal with the world, then these societies did what any organism with multiple variants does, they battled for dominance. Then we started to expand our grasp, seeking resources like simple cells search for sunlight or food. Now, with any luck, we are starting to find our ecological balance, becoming a complex ecosystem.
Expansion is just part of our evolutionary imperative. We must go on to find new resources, to continue building. If we are lucky, ecological balance is also an evolutionary imperative, and as society evolves there is less infighting, and a greater need for mutual self-interest.
Most first contact books centralize around a large mysterious alien force landing on, and subsequently enforcing whatever laws they choose on planet east. That, or we declare war against them. This assumes 2 things. First: that humanity is not in the forefront of technological or martial technology, and Second: That technology is the only factor that would be considered in measuring a nation’s wealth.
So lets turn the tables, assume instead that we are discovered by an alien civilization who reveres us, instead of wanting to conquer or assimilate us. a complex culture, such as ours, is not necessary for the creation of an advanced building civilization. Which could leave our little sphere of pyramids, dragons, flood myths and epic heroes a rarity among many thousands of galaxies with an unspecified number of civilizations. There is no doubt in my mind that we are not the only life in this universe, or even in this galaxy. The question arises when we consider what form of life other building civilizations will take.
At this point I should define some terms. Civilizations can take different forms, and always contain at least one of the following (this goes above and beyond the necessities for an organism to evolve into a civilization, this list merely defines the types of civilization that could arise):
Civilizations that will focus on creation and building. Imagine the mayans or egyptians. Usually rich in resources, and will supplement the building through another means, be it cultural, martial, or acquisitional
THe huns, for instance. These tend to be very short-lived civilizations, as they only bond together with a central martial figure. Without any martial figure, there will be significant in-fighting.
Though this is a broad and over-arching term, many civilizations will create and uphold an undefined resource known as culture. these civilizations are often very focused on their own sociological system, and the bio-forms that inhabit it.
Civilizations in a resource-rich environment without outside mitigating factors will stagnate. many stne-age tribes are this way, having had no reason to change, or any major change in environment.
THese civilizations depend on the acquisition of other civilizations to spur change. This is often a modifier to another factor. Egypt was a cultural civilization, but was acquisitional. It didn’t resist cultural change by outside means. Martial civilizations, found for instance in the early days of the first Islamic Empire, conquered many different places, but did not too much force a cultural change, it assimilated the result into the empire.
So how does this effect the types of civilization we might see, or how they react to us? At this point, lets look at something called sociological scope. Where does a society stop thinking about things. THose stone age societies never consider the world outside of a 20 mile radius, and anything outside of that is reduced to myth and legend. Our nation, as a society, thinks on a global scale. Recently, we have started to think in terms of our planet, and its satellite, which we proceeded to land on. Then, as a civilization, or sociological scope got larger we sent things to mars, and then to other planets in our solar system. Scope is best represented by the furthest direct source of information discernible by the society. Our scope, as a global society, extends as far as Voyager, but is aware as far as sight extends. However, due to the speed of light, the visual information we see is outdated, and does not count as active informational data.
So what causes a civilization to extend its scope? For building civilizations, this is quite easy. Resources are depleted, and more can be found beyond the boundaries of the planet or solar system. Often exploration is performed for the sake of exploration, which could be indicative of a cultural civilization. Expansion via space travel is also found in any civilization that has outgrown its mother planet, and needs to continue populating a separate area.
Acquisitional and martial civilizations will not expressly take to exploration unless their scope grows to include another civilization worth interacting with.
It is also worth mentioning that no civilization perfectly follows an archetype. Every civilization will change over the years, and has tendencies that relate to each archetype. You also cannot assume any alien civilization is completely homogenous. It is very likely that any sufficiently advanced civilization will evolve so that it is as diverse, if not more than, ours.
There is a certain stigma that comes with discussing the ins and outs of first contact. Belief in some sort of alien life is not only toted by the odd roswellite, intent of the fact that they were probed. Many respected scientists know it is possible, and even likely. There was even an equation made (Look up the drake equation, folks), that attempts to determine the likelihood of intelligent life. But the question has to be, when we do make first contact, how will they look at us. and what will they see.