The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'aliens'
The Flake Equation, or XKCD's (quite plausible) explanation of why alien sightings are to be expected.
In the latest advance in cosmotheology, the Vatican's chief astronomer has stated that extraterrestrial intelligence may exist—and may even be free from original sin.
The Fermi Paradox is the observation that it is highly probable that, somewhere else in the universe, intelligent life would have arisen and made its presence known by now, and yet Earth seems to be alone in the universe. Since the paradox was first posed in the 1940s, a number of solutions have been proposed, many of them not cheering, and many reflected the Cold War era they originated in: perhaps any species that reaches a certain technical level inevitably develops the means to destroy itself, and does so. Perhaps in a universe of aliens competing for resources and having little means of achieving agreement, any species that broadcasts its presence is doomed to be preemptively annihilated by others, lest it develop the means to do so. Which means that all those broadcasts of Malcolm In The Middle we're carelessly sending out to space could be responded to by a barrage of planet-killing projectiles travelling at close to light speed.
Now evolutionary psychology has suggested a new possible solution to Fermi's Paradox: perhaps it's not so much a case of sentient species wiping themselves out upon attaining the means to do so, as of turning inwards and devoting all their energy to video games and virtual reality, things much more immediately gratifying than doing battle with the real universe:
Basically, I think the aliens don't blow themselves up; they just get addicted to computer games. They forget to send radio signals or colonize space because they're too busy with runaway consumerism and virtual-reality narcissism. They don't need Sentinels to enslave them in a Matrix; they do it to themselves, just as we are doing today. Once they turn inwards to chase their shiny pennies of pleasure, they lose the cosmic plot. They become like a self-stimulating rat, pressing a bar to deliver electricity to its brain's ventral tegmental area, which stimulates its nucleus accumbens to release dopamine, which feels...ever so good.
The result is that we don't seek reproductive success directly; we seek tasty foods that have tended to promote survival, and luscious mates who have tended to produce bright, healthy babies. The modern result? Fast food and pornography. Technology is fairly good at controlling external reality to promote real biological fitness, but it's even better at delivering fake fitness--subjective cues of survival and reproduction without the real-world effects. Having real friends is so much more effort than watching Friends. Actually colonizing the galaxy would be so much harder than pretending to have done it when filming Star Wars or Serenity. The business of humanity has become entertainment, and entertainment is the business of feeding fake fitness cues to our brains.This comes down to the reward mechanisms that served our ancient ancestors' genes well being far too slow to adapt to technological hacks that short-circuit these reward mechanisms:
Fitness-faking technology tends to evolve much faster than our psychological resistance to it. With the invention of the printing press, people read more and have fewer kids. (Only a few curmudgeons lament this.) With the invention of Xbox 360, people would rather play a high-resolution virtual ape in Peter Jackson's King Kong than be a perfect-resolution real human. Teens today must find their way through a carnival of addictively fitness-faking entertainment products: iPods, DVDs, TiVo, Sirius Satellite Radio, Motorola cellphones, the Spice channel, EverQuest, instant messaging, MDMA, BC bud. The traditional staples of physical, mental and social development--athletics, homework, dating--are neglected. The few young people with the self-control to pursue the meritocratic path often get distracted at the last minute. Take, for example, the MIT graduates who apply to do computer game design for Electronics Arts, rather than rocket science for NASA.The author posits the idea that all intelligent species that develop the technology to create computer simulations of this sort go through the "Great Temptation", and subsequently die out, and that this is happening to humanity, with our only hope of survival as a species would be to develop a puritanical opposition to virtual reality, a sort of biological fundamentalism:
Some individuals and families may start with an "irrational" Luddite abhorrence of entertainment technology, and they may evolve ever more self-control, conscientiousness and pragmatism. They will evolve a horror of virtual entertainment, psychoactive drugs and contraception. They will stress the values of hard work, delayed gratifica tion, child-rearing and environmental stewardship. They will combine the family values of the religious right with the sustainability values of the Greenpeace left.
This, too, may be happening already. Christian and Muslim fundamentalists and anti-consumerism activists already understand exactly what the Great Temptation is, and how to avoid it. They insulate themselves from our creative-class dreamworlds and our EverQuest economics. They wait patiently for our fitness-faking narcissism to go extinct. Those practical-minded breeders will inherit the Earth as like-minded aliens may have inherited a few other planets. When they finally achieve contact, it will not be a meeting of novel-readers and game-players. It will be a meeting of dead-serious super-parents who congratulate each other on surviving not just the Bomb, but the Xbox.
Scare meme of the day: if bird flu, al-Qaeda weaponised ebola or a meteor strike don't get us, alien computer viruses exploiting Seti@Home to take over Earth's computer systems just might. Assuming, of course, that the aliens understand enough about our puny earthling computer architectures, operating systems and library vulnerabilities to write a useful exploit and encode it the right way in a radio signal.
(via bOING bOING)
Asterix, the plucky French cartoon hero and original icon of Gallic resistance to foreign hegemony, is now taking on the Americans. Of course, since they didn't have America two millennia ago, they appear in the form of familiar-looking aliens from outer space:
In the book, the 33rd in the bestselling series, the diminutive warrior and his brave chums find themselves facing alien invaders from the planet Tadsylwien - an anagram of that unassailable US icon, Walt Disney.
The ruler of the alien world is called Hubs - I'll leave you to work that particular puzzler out for yourself - and, according to one invader with more than a passing resemblance to Mickey Mouse, Hubs has sent them to Earth in a futile search for the Gauls' "stockpile of lethal weapons".
Putting paid to the clichés of alien god-emperors or insectile hive minds, a Professor of Psychology in California reckons that alien civilisations would have democracy. Prof. Albert Harrison of the University of California Davis claims that any civilisation having developed the technology to send signals into space is likely to have evolved to democracy, or something like it. Though I suspect that that involves too many assumptions of the aliens being humanlike, and not all that far from saying that they're likely to have reality TV, fast-food franchises and sports-utility vehicles, because we do.
I'd also doubt the assumption that democratic alien civilisations would be likely to be friendly and peaceful towards Earth if we ever make contact. Democracies aren't automatically peaceful; in fact, in the appropriate conditions, a democracy can become an irrational mob baying for the blood of real or imagined enemies. If enough of the alien populace was persuaded (by a pliant media or an influential orator, or some equivalents thereof) that Earth posed a threat, I suspect they'd be likely to vote to asteroid-bomb us out of existence before we do the same to them.
Of course, how alien psychology and decision-making (including perception of risks, aggression, altruism and such) would work would depend on the evolutionary conditions that shaped their neurology, much as human psychology depends on the hunter-gatherer condition.