My thoughts on Neil deGrasse’s “A fascinatingly disturbing thought”

I love Neil deGrasse Tyson. I love his ideas, I love his candor, I love his enthusiasm. What I like most about his public speaking is that it almost immediately provokes discussion. Take this particular video:

The Panspermia stuff is really, really interesting. I wouldn’t call it abiogenesis explanatory, but I would call it freakin’ awesome and potentially evolution explanatory.

The “hyper intelligent aliens” premise is also cool, and I thought I would put in my two cents based on a handful of principles I’ve picked up along the way. deGrasse Tyson suggests that there is the potential for aliens to exist who are so mind-numbingly intelligent that they can intuit astrophysics even while very young, comparable to how toddlers intuit sign language, erstwhile the second most intelligent animal on earth (Chimpazees) has its most advanced member able to do some sign language. Pretty scary, and I certainly don’t have a modicum of answers for the conundrum. Nevertheless I’ll throw in my two cents.

To begin with, one could postulate that such hyper intelligence is evolutionarily unfeasible. I make this statement if we are to assume carbon-based life (or possibly silicon-based) then it is fair to assume evolutionary paths follow somewhat similar tangents; that is, a “plant like” class, a “predator” and “prey”; deGrasse Tyson himself points out why this probably is the case.

Sapience is barely feasible, given the sapience to species ratio we’ve observed, but has allowed humanity to dominate planet earth, and almost certainly intellectually dominate all life light years in every observable direction. DeGrasse Tyson in another video, as well as the Drake equation postulates that sapient life emerges very rarely even out of life abundant planets (estimates put total number of sapient, surviving species in the universe at 10). This sapience, and not hyper sapience, has also pushed humanity into essentially putting evolution in its place with extraordinary advances in medicine, farming etc. With space travel on the horizon, it is simply not necessary to develop intuitively hyper sapient minds. It is probably impossible anyway. Frontier science as it stands requires enormous computational power, deriving measures derived from measures, derived from machines observing reflective shadows etc. Casual observation, even by sensory organs a million times more sensitive than our own would not generate enough data to produce better-than-modern-earth-science results. In an evolutionary environment, there would be very little advantage to such awesome sensory power, given the energy required to wield it.

One could argue a Red Queen hypothesis, in the rare circumstance that two warring species developed powerful sapience, and both were capable of rapid evolutionary improvement; the two competing superpowers, provided that their antagonism was unchecked (unlikely, given enhanced intelligence) could be in an intelligence arms race. However one side creating a single weapon of mass destruction even a technological earth year or two ahead of the other would end the arms race permanently. Even if there was no intellectual difference, the two sides would blow each other up. Even if the two sides did not war and were competitive in other methods, there is an upper limit to any advancement, and computational power, like what we did, would probably be adopted.

Computational power is a different thing, and attaining the singularity would mean that other races would be far more powerful than current day Earth’s. They could quite readily destroy us in nanoseconds, beam themselves across the universe in the blink of an eye, visit other dimensions, like the one where everyone love butterscotch ice cream. They would leave us in the technological dust. But the issue here is that while their technological is hyper advanced, their actual sapience is not– rather it might be a bit smarter (or dumber, depending on how much they depend on computers) than humans. This means they would have an ability to converse with us, maybe, if they were generous (and given the progressively more peaceful Earth has become due to advancement it seems likely) share their tech in a manner not dissimilar from the Mass Effect universe.

The last possibility that I really feel is possible is using those same computers to boost their own intelligence. This is fairly reasonable, but I doubt that any species would willingly disassociate themselves from their original sapience completely given the fairly unlimited power an easier singularity would offer. Synthetic life might behave like that, but that of course works on the assumption such life is possible.

Well that’s my conjecture out of the way. More zombie stuff in a couple of days I promise!


~ by freeze43 on May 9, 2012.

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