Beliefs, superstitions, religions, philosophies, sciences

We’ve always wanted to make sense of our world. The more society has evolved, the more complex our view of the world has become.

We started with simple beliefs and superstitions that evolved into complex systems. They further became religions. And, with them, we started to have a reason to live, a way to live, values to cherish, good ways to die and even good ways to live the afterlife.

Thing is, religion had a tendency to put us on a pedestal, a bit more favored that other creations, the chosen ones, the center of the universe. This, made us more arrogant. Yes, eastern religions were less prone to do it, but still, man was superior.

Technological advancement lead to a scientific golden era (that we still experience). And science started to challenge religion. While science seams to provide better explanations for how the world works, in terms of values, we still go back to religion. But not only religion, philosophy, modern ideologies.

It strikes me how we still have a tendency to see man as superior. Yes, we are the most evolved living organism we know, intelligence is a rare trait among the living and life is superior to inorganic matter; but still, we are just a step in evolution.

In latter years, we started to be more concerned about the “inferiors”, the animals and the environment (seen as a blend of living and inorganic). But I believe that the future will bring us a true challenge as we face the next step in evolution. At some point, our children will stop resembling us in body. Artificial intelligence and digitized minds will be the children of man.

I hope we will be able to teach them tolerance and love. Otherwise, hatred and arrogance will give them the manners of a caveman.

Let me share with you one of my favorite movies Edward Scissorhands:

Alien Civilization – Do they watch us ?

Are they already here ? Watching us, learning about us, even, governing us ? Is it plausible a scenario where an alien civilization would interact with us in such a way.

The answer starts with us. If we would find a civilization at the level of, say, the neanderthals, what would we do ? History says we would try to trick them, take their resources and brutally intimidate them if the trickery doesn’t work.

I like to believe that in the future resources won’t be so scarce and that, after enough solitude, we will better appreciate a new form of intelligence and help it advance at a rapid pace.

As always, things will be somewhere in the middle. Resources will always be limited, but after some other experiences with alien intelligent life forms, we can organize in order to preserve and help such a “natural reserve”. And we would do our best not to get noticed.

Even if I don’t believe ours is the case, the scenario is plausible.

Multitasking

I’ve just seen Robocop again, just for amusement and I realized there is a flaw in the way we imagine robots. Most robots are not depicted as ambidextrous even if that capability can be easily achieved due to the multitasking capability of current computers and softwares.

The only exception I remember of is the robot in “I, Robot” who could draw using both hands at the same time. I guess our own nature is the one to limit our imagination since we can usually use effectively only one hand at a time.

Furthermore, robots can use more limbs and an usefull adittion would be wheels. Multitasking will enable a much better motricity, and many other things we now only begin to imagine.

The face of God

Usually science and religion don’t mix, but in the end they are both a good explanation for reality. They are both philosophies, ways of seeing the world. Where science ends it’s the place where religion begins. It’s normal, science discovers the rules, but who else, if not God, gave those rules ?

Isaac Asimov’s “Last question” is the science fiction version of religion.  I find it simple and armonious. Creation of this world is the ultimate event we might witness. Perhaps we will be around that time to see the face of God.

Specialization in society

Complex specialization is the mark of an advanced society. The first form of specialization comes with the advent of the sexes. It developes with the species in which not only does the mother bare children and defends them, but, also, the father provides food.

Complex specialization starts with the developement of tools. Some are better at fabricating the tools, some are better at using them. As tools and trades become more numerous, specialization gets more complex.

The more advanced the society, the more complex the specialization. The harder to understand the society also. It’s what happened with Europeans when they came into contact with the Chinese and the Japanese.

Specialization will apply to more advanced societies then ours, human or otherwise…

Hive civilization or individualism

Some science fiction stories describe hive type civilization.  Hive species have certain advantages but they cannot become a technological civilization, thus reducing drastically their chances to become dominant species, not to say spacefarers.

A hive has the advantage of an absolute ruler. Thus, it’s actions as a group are coherent and disputes never get in the way of a task.  Individualism tends to get in the way of accomplishing group tasks. But exactly the centralized decision making model is the main limitation of such a civilization.  There is no competition, thus progress is slow, adaptability is reduced.

A hive civilization could dominate a continent or even a planet without the help of very advanced tools. This very domination will inhibit progress. It’s easier to inhibit population growth when you can control every individual of the specie. Population growth is the main drive of expansion.

At the other extreme, purely individualistical civilization cannot form. The lack of cooperation takes care of this part. A civilization requires cooperation and specialization in order to progress.

Space feudalism

A recurring idea in many Science Fiction works is that, during space conquest, planets will form a kind of feudalistic system, each governed by a sort of monarch or noble. I believe that won’t be the case despite some interesting premises that say otherwise.

Large distances will mean independence from the home planet and also a different path of evolution. Also, new planets, won’t have a large population from the beginning. This means a lot of fragmentation and isolation and feudalism thrives in such conditions. Also, terraforming  or simply building infrastructure at a planetary level requires large resources and a lot of political will, presumably easy to achieve if both are in the same place.

But I believe such systems will not form. I don’t think people will give up democraty so easily, politics and elections will continue. We see that local politics get more attention (more people vote at the local level then at the state level).  Resources will come from economics, a more efficient way to gatter them. Political will, at the local level, will be more focused and variation will ensure that no excesses appear.

Alien Civilization – Contact

Regarding the event of a contact with an alien civilization, we usually have 2 scenarios: war or salvation for whatever problem we have. Both are extreme, but the outcome is quite simple: Change. A change that has both of war and of salvation.

War requires an aggressive civilization. Aggressive civilizations can’t maintain themselves for long periods of time, they tend to get devised and to resent technological, political and social advances. In the immensity of space, it’s hard to believe that aggressive civilizations will always find foes to conquer in order to maintain their aggressiveness. Long periods of peace are required in order to advance sufficiently for space exploration. Peace has a tendency to soften aggressiveness.

Salvation requires a civilization with vast resources that has nothing to gain or to lose. Yeah, right. Such a civilization cannot evolve, it has no reason to evolve. In the end it becomes just as conservative as an aggressive civilization.

An alien civilization will have it’s aggressiveness, will be prosperous and will have economic interests, They won’t conquer us, but any contact with a more advanced civilization (and a civilization capable of space flight is more advanced then we are) will mean the absorption of their values and the loss of some of our values. We will lose some resources, but probably those resources we don’t know how to use.

All in all, we will win more than we will lose. We will learn faster what we have lost, than we would usually had, see, it’s a win.

Isaac Asimov’s Foundation – Robots

I’ve just finished Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. It’s a very engaging story from a writer with strong roots in natural science. I believe Asimov’s work is extraordinary for his time, but some flaws are visible today.

Four major flaws, in my opinion, are the assumption that robots will remain metallic in essence, human in appearance and thinking, bound by laws to obey and protect us; and that they are a temporary stage in the history of humankind. It’s obvious to us that biosynthetic materials are a much better alternative to metals. It’s strange that a biochemist couldn’t foresee such an alternative.

The human appearance isn’t a must, and creating complex machines for simple tasks is inefficient. I believe a robot connected to several simpler machines makes much more economical sense. Therefor, the human appearance has more of a romantic charm. Human forms will exist, and even other natural forms (like pets), but they won’t have the same autonomy and complexity as a central operating computer. Robots will become more hive thinking.

“The Three Laws of Robotics” is an ideal. The complexity of the concepts of good and bad are beyond comprehension even to us. It’s a matter that even Asimov hits in the second Foundation Series were Daneel can’t decide witch of the possible alternatives is the best for humankind: First Foundation, Second Foundation or Gaya. In themselves, these laws are the charm of the Robots Series because of their relativeness.

The forth flaw is a more “psihohistorical” matter. It’s hard to believe humankind will stop using such a help. In all his history, humankind has used some sort of help in order to do his job. It’s our distinguishing mark. We used clubs, bows and arrows instead of our hands. Horses were our alternative to feet. Engines were just their replacements. Computers are our replacements for calculations and routine tasks, perhaps for thinking all together . Robots are the natural next step.

Galactic battles

Laser flashes, interceptors with skilled pilots dodging them, gigantic explosions… Star Wars. All heroic galactic battles, to live for, to die for… Aaaah! Nope. Galactic battles will be pretty boring.

War has always had an aura of heroism, adventure, mystery, last stands, great victories and great defeats. Lately, things changed. The main battles are fought at distance, combatants rarely see each other. Infantry is used almost exclusively to pacify areas already conquered. This will change even more for space battles.

Distance will be the main issue for any conquering campaigns. Long range weapons will be the key to vanquish the enemy. There is no advantage in attacking the enemy using small interceptors, the main ship is still in danger and without it, how will the interceptors go home ?