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Establishment of the first space colonies and the likelihood of contact between alien cultures

The Rise and Fall of Star Faring Civilizations in Our Own Galaxy

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BACK to The first spark of life through the first starships...

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6. The star farer filter

As mentioned previously, it appears likely that sea-based life would have enjoyed a substantial advantage over land-based life during at minimum the last 200 million years (and perhaps much longer), due to its typically better protection against waves of radiation of various sorts, and the stronger possibility such a species might be further spread over a world than just a single region or even hemisphere when a particular threat to its existence materialized. Sea-based life might also often enjoy greater mobility in many cases than landlife, where such is necessary for survival.

But just how much of a long term survival advantage might sea-life enjoy over land-life? Is it quantifiable?

Mounting evidence indicates that gamma ray bursters of more than a few hours duration may pretty much destroy all complex life on a planet, down to half a kilometer undersea or underground. This would make for a severe case of mass extinctions throughout those portions of the biosphere conducive to large and complex life, setting such life back at least 10 million years in evolution, if not more.

-- Extinction is eons overdue by Michael Brooks; Weekly Mail & Guardian; August 07, 1998, and other sources

-- Inherent speed limit governs how quickly life bounces back after extinction, UC Berkeley research shows; 2-Jan-2002 Contact: Robert Sanders 510-643-6998 University of California - Berkeley

But for many radiation hazards which fall short of the threat posed by gamma ray bursters, sea-life would seem to enjoy a significant advantage over land-life-- and therefore possibly not be beset by as many 10 million year setbacks in evolution.

Apparently ocean life is well protected from the vagaries of cosmic and climate related mass extinctions. It appears Earth sealife overall has suffered major blows only twice in 450 million years: once around 251 million BC and again about 65 million BC. Both these instances appeared to be related to impacts by comets or asteroids. Some important differences in effects between these two impacts suggest significant differences in size of the impacting objects, and/or differences in strike locations.

One very interesting effect upon sealife evolution from these two events was mobility. Prior to the first event, around 66% of all sea life was for all intents and purposes immobile: they were dependent upon food either swimming up to them or currents carrying food to them. Upon recovering from the first mass extinction, sealife reduced its ratio of immobility to about 50%-- as such immobility proved a liability when catastrophe struck. Then the second event occured. Upon subsequent recovery, sealife had further reduced its immobility to only 33%, which is where it stands today.

-- Ocean ecosystems only altered following two great mass extinctions; EurekAlert!; 13-May-2002; Contact: Richard Bambach 617-495-7602 Virginia Tech; as well as other sources

Unfortunately, sea-life may suffer one substantial disadvantage to land life-- in regards to the threat of comet and asteroid strikes. That is, large impacts of such objects which occur in the seas of a given world may kill a majority of sealife from the physical and acoustic shock waves alone.

Likewise, sufficient dissolved mineral and gas poisons in the water from volcanic venting in the sea bottom could also do enormous damage to ocean life, if heavy flows came about.

In both cases severe heating of entire oceans could also take place, killing much of whatever complex life remained.

The above scenarios would apply to worlds similar to Earth where the majority of the planet was covered with only one or two large oceans, and little in the way of barriers to keep certain types of catastrophe like massive chemical poisoning, thermal energies, or physical shock waves from perpetuating over an entire hemisphere or more of the body.

In the wake of impacts, a nuclear winter effect in the atmosphere would add to the devastation by blocking sunlight for months or years, killing those organisms dependent upon photosynthesis, and then those living things that fed on them, and so on up the food chain.

By contrast, land life might enjoy some protection from certain of the effects of impacts. For example, a gaseous atmosphere would not be capable of carrying nearly as much energy in its shock waves as water-- especially not acoustic-wise. The gaseous atmosphere would also cool faster than water. Subterranean shelters might suffice for protecting some land life (like burrowers) from certain of the threats posed.

Thus, all things considered, it may be that neither sea-life or land-life has a decisive edge in surviving all the threats a hostile cosmos might toss at them.

Apparently ocean life is well protected from the vagaries of cosmic and climate related mass extinctions. It appears Earth sealife overall has suffered major blows only twice in 450 million years: once around 251 million BC and again about 65 million BC. Both these instances appeared to be related to impacts by comets or asteroids. Some important differences in effects between these two impacts suggest significant differences in size of the impacting objects, and/or differences in strike locations.

One very interesting effect upon sealife evolution from these two events was mobility. Prior to the first event, around 66% of all sea life was for all intents and purposes immobile: they were dependent upon food either swimming up to them or currents carrying food to them. Upon recovering from the first mass extinction, sealife reduced its ratio of immobility to about 50%-- as such immobility proved a liability when catastrophe struck. Then the second event occured. Upon subsequent recovery, sealife had further reduced its immobility to only 33%, which is where it stands today.

-- Ocean ecosystems only altered following two great mass extinctions; EurekAlert!; 13-May-2002; Contact: Richard Bambach 617-495-7602 Virginia Tech; as well as other sources

Study finds Earth suffered at least 2 mass extinctions; February 24, 2001; Agence France-Presse/Nando Media/Nando Times ;

An astonishingly large lava flow in Siberia around 249 million BC may have been instrumental in the worst mass extinction ever known to have happened on Earth. Gases released from the lava flows may not only have poisoned the seas, but blocked out sunlight globally, cooling the planet and lowering sea levels as huge amounts of water turned to ice.

-- More evidence for mass extinction by PHILIP BALL; 7 June 2002; Nature News Service

About 250 million BC: Lava a mile in depth and spread over a region 50% the size of Australia is flowing over a period of millennia (maybe hundreds of millennia) in Siberia. The flows may have ebbed and flowed over time, thereby hammering global lifeforms again and again over a long period as they tried to recover. Perhaps 90+% of sea species and 70+% of land species expired during the period.

-- Ocean of lava caused widespread extinction, scientists say By PAUL RECER; AP Online /Nando Media/Nando Times; June 7, 2002

It looks like in at least some cases asteroid or comet impacts coincided somewhat with terrestrial volcanic events to produce the overall mass extinction effects indicated by the fossil records.

There appears to have been around 400 large objects struck the Earth during its existence. 40% of these likely struck continents, and the rest sea bottom.

-- Scientific American: Science and The Citizen: Volcanic Accomplice: March 2001 by Naomi Lubick

Curiously, the predecessors of the dinosaurs (a group of burrowing reptiles) somehow survived an extinction event around 251 million BC which was apparently much worse than the impact which later killed the dinosaurs themselves in 65 million BC.

But perhaps the earlier event was worse on sea life than land life, for some reason.

-- How reptiles survived the big one By Helen Briggs; BBC News Online; 25 September, 2001

-- Scientific American: Science and The Citizen: Deeper Impact: May 2001 by Sarah Simpson

The sometimes large fluctuations in global sea levels over millions of years, along with the migration of shallow water sealife which necessarily accompanies them, has resulted in somewhat inconsistent fossil beds which may lead to an exaggerated view of what mass extinctions did take place, and notions of other extinction events which may never have occured at all. The bottomline is that there may have been fewer actual mass extinction events in Earth's past than we believed in the late 20th century.

-- Mass Extinctions May Be A Myth, Claim Scientists; Nov 13, 2001; TerraDaily;

And what of other considerations? Like evolutionary opportunity? From our own planet's history the sea does not seem as fertile a spawning ground for star faring intelligence as the land. The reasons are unclear, but may have something to do with the survival advantages imparted from incremental genetic changes offering less of a survival profit margin on average than comparable changes on land.

How could this be? Well, the sea environment appears to be a more homogeneous mix than the land environment, for one. Land-based life may lead a more discrete and isolated existence than many sea-based forms might. Particular ocean temperatures and chemical compositions tend to command larger regions of the sea, and for more prolonged periods of time, than comparable climates/weather and air/ground/water compositions on land. In the sea a single sound may travel astonishing distances, compared to usually much more restricted range over land. The levels of sunlight penetrating the sea depths over millennia remain highly consistent over a wide area of the Earth, while land surfaces may change dramatically over a relatively short time in such light exposure, due to climate changes transforming rainforests to grasslands to deserts and back again, rising mountain ranges disturbing climatic patterns, mile thick glaciers forming and then melting again, and more.

-- Are We Alone? By Seth Shostak, from "Sharing the Universe: Perspectives on Extraterrestrial Life", ABC,, found on or about 7-12-99

-- Oceans Could Be Common In Our Solar System And Others; 20-Dec-2001; UniSci; citing PHYSICS NEWS UPDATE, the American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News Number 569, December 14, 2001, by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein, and James Riordon

It appears Earth sealife overall has suffered major blows only twice in 450 million years: once around 251 million BC and again about 65 million BC.

-- Ocean ecosystems only altered following two great mass extinctions; EurekAlert!; 13-May-2002; Contact: Richard Bambach 617-495-7602 Virginia Tech

And there's also the much deeper three dimensional nature of a buoyant undersea environment to consider-- it is necessarily more robust and demanding information processing-wise, compared to the largely two dimensional territory over which land-based life (excepting birds) roam, and so may also have something to do with the slowness of sea-based intelligence to evolve, compared to land intelligence-- the sea life simply has more overhead to cope with, thereby reducing the surplus capacity in information processing which may be necessary to allow a lifeform to begin thinking beyond the moment, beyond the next meal, and start considering tomorrow, or next week, or next year.

(Note that true naturally flying life forms living on land might face similar problems overhead-wise-- thereby perhaps making avian-based star farers a rarity as well.)

To sum up, it might be reasonable to assume that sealife requires a longer gestation period than land-life to culminate in something we would perceive as a human comparable intelligence (in areas deemed necessary to star faring).

Two or three times longer might be conservative estimates, judging from Earth's own history.

Of course, if sea-based intelligence required too long to emerge, it might miss the deadline imposed by the lifespan of its own star. Stars like our Sun only play nice to daughter planets like Earth for around 5 billion years before aging turns them deadly to same. Ergo, if it turns out sea-based intelligence lags too far behind land life in development speed, POOF! there'd turn out to be no or very few sea-based civilizations ever appear.

It may be that planets like Earth, hosted by stars like the Sun, enjoy only around 5 billion years of existence within a life-friendly region around their star in terms of heat and light, before changes in that star moves the region further out, dooming the planet to become much less hospitable to life.

-- Earth's oceans destined to leave in billion years, 20 FEBRUARY 2000, EurekAlert! Contact: A'ndrea Elyse Messer,, 814-865-9481, Penn State

Another relevant factor to sea-based intelligence development might be termed "the Jared Diamond effect". Diamond pointed out how human civilization's own development was shaped in large part by the respective size and latitudinal orientation of a given population's native continent, and the diversity and suitability to domestication of its plant and animal species. In brief, greater local diversity of species gave human beings more resources to work with, while climatic homogeniety allowed those early resources (domesticated plants and animals) to be readily applicable over a wide area and large population, once the initial breakthrough in domestication was made. A critical mass in land area and population allowed more intense competition for resources between varying organizational efforts than occured elsewhere. In a nutshell, this largely geographic and species diversity difference between continents is what allowed eurasians to dominate the rest of the world in human development up through the 20th century.

It would seem that "the Jared Diamond effect" would work in overdrive in regard to sea-based life-- at least once such a civilization got started in the first place. Because any seas similar to Earth's would offer vastly larger and more homogeneous environments for the spread of domesticated animal and plant life throughout an alien civilization, as well as likely offer a critical mass of sentient population rather quickly and easily too. But on the flip side, it would appear such an environment might not offer the same magnitude of differences in species diversity or heterogeneous environments found on the dry land of Earth-- except perhaps under extraordinary circumstances such as the highly unusual explosion in biological diversity which occured early on in Earth's own history...

But anyway, in this edition of Contact we will assume the net effect of this phenomena on sea-based civilizations as compared to land-based cultures to be a wash (negligible).

-- "Why Did Human History Unfold Differently On Different Continents For The Last 13,000 Years? A Talk By Jared Diamond", The Third Culture, found on or about 1-2-99 on the web

In light of all the above, let's say that perhaps some 30% of all intelligent races originate in the seas of their homeworlds. And these usually do so on worlds where the seas are more broken up by natural barriers than the Earth's, or other local conditions serve to better compartmentalize the potential havoc wrought by cosmic impacts and volcanic venting, than Earth's own ocean design does. Numerous and various other divergences in undersea conditions on such worlds might help the watery environment be more like that of Earth's land theater, thereby serving to speed the development of sea-based intelligence. For example, perhaps large regions of the alien seas are sufficiently shallow that land-based predators frequently hunt sea-life in such regions, thereby helping to drive evolution.

But just how likely are sea-based civilizations to become star farers-- either in physical mobility or communications?

It may depend on how much like landlife they become over time.

For instance, any alien civilizations composed of something like Earth whales and dolphins would obviously need a much longer time to recognize the existence of outer space, compared to that required by humanity. And even longer to work up the desire or ability to explore it. After all, dolphin and whale type aliens would still have an entire dry land mass frontier on their planet to exploit first in many cases, that would offer challenges near as great as the vacuum of space itself. This same argument could likely be applied to other forms of intelligent sealife too. There would be not merely one entire new realm of existence between sea-based intelligence and space, as was the case with man (the atmosphere), but two: the dry land masses and the atmosphere (I'm ignoring sentient sea life emerging from worlds with negligible dry land area for reasons expressed earlier, about how such worlds might amplify the mass extinction effects of cosmic collisions throughout the ocean medium).

Intelligent sealife would likely have to substantially conquer the dry land of their homeworld first, before venturing into outer space. If our own puny efforts at conquering the sea are any indication of the process in reverse, even 20th/21st century tech level intelligent sealife would be only beginning the job of exploiting and colonizing their dry land masses-- with serious space excursions likely to be centuries or even millennia delayed, compared to our own history.

Of course, requiring a few centuries or millennia to get into space after achieving a rough equivalence with late 20th/early 21st century represents a problem for sea-based intelligence. Namely, the 600 year barrier.

I theorized earlier in this work that in general technological civilizations should have a good chance at expanding quite a bit beyond their native solar system within 600 years or so of achieving an equivalent of human technology circa 1900 AD. But that this same 600 year period could be filled with dire threats to a race's survival. I therefore set 600 years as a benchmark of sorts to separate the successful star farers from the failures.

This moves me to question the viability of sea-based star farers. For the need for them to make the sea-to-land transition before they make the land-to-space transition, and do both these during what is certainly the most dangerous period for them in terms of technology and social upheaval, would appear to make their failure more likely than not. Indeed, much more likely than not.

So for this edition of Contact I'm going to project that the number of sea-based lifeforms which successfully make it to long term civilization status is only about one in six (approximately 17%). And these survivors typically end up among the perpetually struggling civilizations, rather than the super powers.

First Space Colonies and Contact Between Cultures Contents

So what might be the shape and characteristics of naturally evolved, non-human, sentient biologicals in the galaxy?

First off, we will assume here an overwhelming likelihood of potential star faring species stemming from animal sources rather than plants or fungi.

This is not to say that intelligence could not arise from plants or fungi-- just that the development period for such would seem to be far longer than that already postulated for sealife in general, and so intelligence of too high a plant or fungi content would virtually always lose the survival competition on a given world to more robust and mobile animal forms, under most imaginable conditions.

There's also the issue of gamma ray bursters to contend with. In the history of our galaxy thus far, the far greater development time required for intelligence to arise in plants or fungi as compared to animals would seem to simply prohibit such exotic forms from getting anywhere near the status of a civilization-- for they'd be repeatedly zapped back to square one by gamma bursters.

-- Are We Alone? By Seth Shostak, from "Sharing the Universe: Perspectives on Extraterrestrial Life", ABC,, found on or about 7-12-99

It also seems likely that purely biological aliens would not naturally become much more complex genetically than pure biological humanity. So any alien race we come across will likely have possessed roughly the same level of accumulated genetic complexity as ourselves, when they began their own stint as a technologically advanced civilization with a 1900 AD human equivalent technology base.

-- Acid test By Matt Ridley; 26 Sep 2000; Daily Telegraph, Issue number 45188; Telegraph Group Limited;

-- The human immune system may limit future evolution; EurekAlert!; 1-Jul-2002; Contact: Tony Stephenson 44-20-7594-6712 Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine

Of course, even just a one or two percent difference in genetic complexity between our form and an alien's could make for a big difference in intrinsic physical and mental capacities. For example, only some 1.5% difference exists between the DNA of modern humans and chimpanzees.

20th century humanity shared 98.5% of its DNA with chimpanzees, 97.9% with gorillas, and 50% with yeast.

-- "Chimpanzees Offer Window In Time On Human Genes" By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent, Reuters/ News June 1 1999, and Mankind Pursues Forbidden Fruit, Via Computer JAY BOOKMAN; COMPUTER NEWS DAILY - NYT SYNDICATE/Cox News Service (, found on or about 4-11-2000

There's evidence that evolution (on Earth) has tried varying vision systems, ranging from complete blindness to something near to three eyes in some species at one point. However, binocular, or two eyed vision, seems to have prevailed across the board in all those species of comparable size and capacities to man. So we might reasonably expect the same thing to occur on many other planets too. In the area of visual light and motion sensitivity, here too nature has experimented, with the result being our own narrow bandwidth of radiation detection (the visible spectrum), and precise, predatory sensitivity to movement. This fact provides some justification for us to expect something similar in whatever alien race we meet. However, in this there could easily come about significant differences in development from relatively small differences in environment. For example, on Earth we've discovered.....

Alternative senses and natural defenses.

The shark has a sensory net finely tuned to the detection of electro-magnetic fields that we humans either utterly lack, or possess in such small amounts as to be negligible. Dolphins and other animals exhibit extraordinary range in their hearing, and dogs superb sensitivity to smell. Cat eyes are far more sensitive to light than our own, allowing them to see better in much lower light conditions than we can.

Note than cetaceans (dolphins, whales) and even large fish predators like sharks and cephalopods like squid and octupi make do without the binocular vision of land predators, due to acoustic or other sensory apparatus being more easily adapted for similar purposes underwater. That is, their eyes are located on the sides of their head rather than facing forward, in an arrangement we mostly see on land in prey animals like rabbits.

Of course, the majority of these alternative senses and defenses are essentially merely improved or heavily modified versions of our own; not radical departures from our own feature set. This means we are unlikely to meet up with any biological entities equipped with natural senses or defenses which we cannot understand, detect, or artificially compensate for with our own devices.

Dolphins and some whales may use sonic stun beams to kill or incapacitate fish they wish to eat, as well as fight off enemies at times. Sound defenses are well suited to water environments, and much more cost effective in terms of sea based evolution, than they are in thin air.

The requirement for surplus energy and a moderate size

Aside from the need for free time to exploit certain physical attributes, there is also the matter of spare energy. Intelligence seems unlikely to evolve in some forms not because of extremes in size, lack of time, or manipulative limbs free of mobility responsibilities, but rather for reasons of excessive energy expenditure or low density nutritional values in available food. Just as small size can dictate too much time is spent eating, intensive energy usage, low energy yielding diets, or an inefficient bodily design for energy use (too large or small an outer surface area related to volume, adversely affecting heat conservation or dissipation) can too. The metabolisms of birds and bats, for instance, demand almost continuous eating, although few species of these creatures reach a size comparable to man. In the reverse instance, too large a body size might impair intelligence development in other ways, by diminishing the flexibility and speed with which an animal may respond to changes in its environment.

-- Are We Alone? By Seth Shostak, from "Sharing the Universe: Perspectives on Extraterrestrial Life", ABC,, found on or about 7-12-99

Another important aspect of energy expenditure is how it may interfere with the advanced development of manipulative limbs and related brain regions, even if adequate time is available for such development. For example, take a very large bat with intelligence potential. It could fulfill many of the requirements for becoming sentient, but its high energy mode of mobility would stop it in its tracks. How? Let's assume a large bat with highly developed hind paws it may use as hands. As the bat's primary mobility is accomplished by flapping its forelegs, the highly developed hind legs are free to progress to full scale hands. But this is unlikely, as simply maintaining a position to use these proto hands is energy expensive for the bat (because it must be supporting itself in the air via flying to use its hind claws in any complex or lengthy fashion). Ergo, advanced development of manipulative organs (and the supporting brain functions) beyond a certain point is prohibitively expensive for the alien bat, and probably won't occur.

What about monkeys and gorillas? They span a range of sizes from not much bigger than a mouse to sometimes larger than a man, and some enjoy not only analogs of hands and feet, but a prehensile tail as well-- or potentially three manipulatory limbs rather than merely two. What about these non-human primates? It can be argued that this line did give rise to an intelligent star faring race-- or is on the verge of doing so. Indeed, there was apparently a surplus of potential in that line; for although only one dominant race-- homo sapiens-- resulted from that diverse and well equipped family, there's much evidence that there were perhaps dozens of intelligent or near intelligent branches which sprang from this group, with the resulting competition killing off all but one (us), and/or forcing a merging of the DNA into essentially a single superior strain through natural cross-breeding and sexual domination.

As for our poorer cousins who were left behind-- the monkeys and gorillas-- why didn't they too evolve further along? Possibly they didn't evolve any further because they didn't have to. By always retreating from the waves of evolving, murderous, and aggressive ancestors of humans over millions of years, they avoided the necessity of changing, while our own ancestors were caught up in the middle of the conflict, forced to evolve or die.

First Space Colonies and Contact Between Cultures Contents

The most likely form factors for intelligent biological life

Quadruped or bipedal locomotion, the binocular vision of meat eaters and bilateral vision of herbiverous land and large aquatic species, the available major limb configurations of four to ten (two forelegs and two hindlegs make four, the prehensile tail of a monkey makes five, the manipulative trunk of the elephant six, the arms of squid and octupi ten and eight respectively), all seem to define the most probable physical forms evolution might choose from in its drive towards intelligent star farers.

The number of limbs/appendages of any intelligent lifeform in the galaxy will likely total somewhere between three to twelve (due to related nervous system complexity), unless a lack of finger-type digits per limb forces more.

-- Are We Alone? By Seth Shostak, from "Sharing the Universe: Perspectives on Extraterrestrial Life", ABC,, found on or about 7-12-99

Sensory apparatus (eyes, ears, nose, mouth) seems predisposed to being concentrated in one area of the body-- the head-- where the primary brain is also housed. Forms much smaller or larger than homo sapiens seem less successful than our own average four to six feet in height, and one hundred to three hundred pounds in weight, under conditions approximating one Earth gravity.

So what about species which evolve under significantly different circumstances from that of Earth? Wouldn't that throw all our assumptions out the window? Not really. Look around. Our own solar system provides examples of significantly different environments from Earth and their results. And that result is effectively zip, so far as complex, large, and intelligent life is concerned. Some bacteria or fungi or very simple plant and animal life may exist in such places, but little else.

OK, you might say, what about simply a slightly dryer or wetter Earth, or hotter or colder, or greater gravity or less, etc., etc.? All these conditions too we have samples of to examine, as the Earth provides many variations on its average environmental conditions suitable for our purposes here.

It seems the conditions of the vast African savannah over the past few hundreds of millions of years or so were the most conducive environment on Earth for the development of a sentient, potentially star faring form. This place teems with life, and is further fed by diversity from creatures occasionally venturing in and out from periphery environments like jungle, desert, sea, and mountains, which largely surround the great plains of the place. Today the savannahs may be a bit dryer and less fertile than they were during humanity's rise. But they are perhaps also less dangerous, with fewer large predators in the field to menace passersby.

The African savannah proved to have a definite edge in the acceleration of evolution on Earth for that period, over all the other environments available, from the open seas to the wastelands of the deserts, both hot and cold (the frigid poles are technically deserts), and even, surprisingly, the moderate temperate zones on Earth, and the richly diverse, beautiful, and dynamic rainforests.

From this it should be safe to say the savannah environment proved the ideal sentience development platform on Earth, with all others trailing far behind in suitability. Some of these other environments would actually prove more comfortable and otherwise preferable to the beings which eventually emerged from the savannahs; but the savannahs were an evolutionary Olympics competition, not a vacation resort.

Under a bit lower gravity than Earth's, sentience would have a better chance of emerging from larger bodies like those of elephants, or more energy intensive forms like large bats.

-- Are We Alone? By Seth Shostak, from "Sharing the Universe: Perspectives on Extraterrestrial Life", ABC,, found on or about 7-12-99

Because the energy burdens for everything on a lower gravity world might be less than what it is on Earth, food (like plants) might grow more prodigiously, creating directly and indirectly more food for all, and thereby reducing the time cost of finding and collecting food as well. Of course, if life were too easy high on the food chain, that in itself could bog down development, in the same way it seems to have done to Earth cetaceans like dolphins and whales-- who today live in a world of lesser gravity than we (due to byouyancy) and seem to easily find all the food they desire to eat, under normal circumstances.

Increase the gravity slightly over normal Earth One Gee, and you get generally slower moving, smaller organisms, with the largest maybe the size of a horse or man, once evolution as settled down to a comfortable groove. Life may be more grim and plodding there, and everything will literally cost more to do than on Earth. This cuts down on diversity and experimentation, as well as the probability of an intelligent animal ever getting the extra time and energy to develop its manipulatory limbs and brain to a higher level; here you have the original dilemma of the elephant and man bat, only more so. How can such beings invest in their future evolution with play, when their present survival demands everything they've got?

Add more water instead of more gravity to the scenario, and you arrive at something like Earth's cetaceans or cephalopods again. Subtract water from the average, and you get more deserts, and less diversity overall, with a harsher environment and many of the same implications as the higher gravity scenario postulated before.

Make the planet a bit hotter, and you diminish the land diversity while possibly increasing sea diversity (cetaceans and marine mollusks again). Make the planet a bit colder, and you diminish diversity both on land and in the sea. And the less diversity, the less chance for a star faring race to arise.

First Space Colonies and Contact Between Cultures Contents

This all leaves us with the following profile for the average intelligent species with star faring potential:

They likely (83%) originated from land-based animal life. The profile of an average being might include a minimum of two manipulatory limbs often free of mobility functions-- which means either a bipedal, upright stance, or a four footed platform with one or both a manipulative trunk-like nose and monkey-like tail (if only the tail or the trunk is present, that limb near the end must split to form opposing appendages, at the very least); a mid-range size-- not so small as to preclude critical mass in brain tissue, not so large that eating takes up all its free time-- so the size is approximately that of a man, bear, horse, gorilla, or lion; probably a biological foundation based on DNA or something very similar; of a shape and form analogous to the few on our own world which potentially meet these requirements, such as a gorilla, smallish elephant, large monkey, roughly man-size meat eating dinosaur with proportionally larger forearms and braincase than has been found in Earth's own fossil records; in other words, a man scale being, that shares many of our own basic personality quirks like aggressiveness, curosity, competitiveness, and tendency towards violence.

-- The Atlantic Monthly; August, 1988; Are We Alone?; Volume 262, No. 2; pages 25-38 by Gregg Easterbrook

1-9-99 Newz&Viewz: Convergence in natural design for star faring species

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Stephen Jay Gould's "Wonderful Life", wherein he offers an opposing view to evolutionary convergence with contingency; that random chance plays a much larger view in evolution than we might think, and therefore if Earth's own evolutionary timeline could be rewound and played back again like a video tape that randomness might well end up with nothing remotely human developing the second time around.

Gould makes a compelling argument. But is he considering the fact that mathematics, geometry, and physics seem to be universal languages for this reality? That fractal geometry seems to define many aspects of geological and other physical forms? That a "Bejan" distribution seems to define those organic elements not encompassed by fractals? All these elements would seem to strongly suggest a tendency towards some sort of convergence in designs-- especially in complex or highly specialized designs for living things. Gould also seems to too easily dismiss the evolutionary advantages intelligence bequeaths onto a species in the survival contest, believing that randomness washes out such advantages over the long term, resulting in the rise of intelligent species being a far less likely possibility than we might wish to believe.

I'm not saying Gould's contingency idea is irrelevant-- indeed, I think it's an essential part of the process of transition between forms, as life strives to determine the most appropriate form for survival in a particular environment.

But contingency seems only a short term fix for a long term problem-- with convergence (and intelligence) being possible long term solutions-- at least in regards to reasonably similar environmental demands placed on a variety of organisms.

-- "When Evolution Creates the Same Design Again and Again" By NATALIE ANGIER, 12-15-98, The New York Times

The remaining intelligent forms are sea-based (17%), and similar to large octupi or squid, six to 30 feet in length, with eight to ten arms, two eyes, and a beak for a mouth. They may or may not house themselves in an armored shell. Or, alternatively, they are dolphin-like, with a more manipulative tongue (relative to Earth cetaceans) to use like an elephant's trunk, or alternatively a much deeper level of cooperation between any two dolphins, which allows a single pair to use beaks, tongues, flippers or tails in combination to manipulate their environment, or perhaps a transformative youth, wherein vestiges of earlier land nativity reveal themselves in the young, enabling second-hand use of hand-like organs by adults as they command young children or younger siblings to perform certain manipulations of the environment on their behalf. These vestiges of land mobility might fade with age, thereby making parent and child or master and apprentice or master and multiple slave relationships highly symbiotic and valuable to the civilization as a whole-- at least until suitably advanced substitutes for these pairings can be devised via technology. Another possible physical form might be something along the lines of a crab or star fish of man-size or larger, with a minimum of two eyes, and suitably finger-like appendages available to them (on the star fish perhaps positioned at the tips of its arms; for the crab, food manipulators in the mouth area might suffice for fine work, and the larger claws for macro-actions).

The civilizations of these beings are typically at least as old as our own, perhaps much older.

The implications? Any organic aliens we meet will most likely resemble a bizarre version of ourselves-- intelligent monkeys with long tails, gorillas, reptilian humanoids, or a mutated version of some other lifeform on our world, such as a man-sized bat, or small and nimble elephantine beings like those from Larry Niven/Jerry Pournelle's novel Footfall.

The chances that we encounter beings resembling something out of a dream or nightmare with an aquatic theme are much less.

Among that 83% of cultures with which we share the most in common, there may well be analogs to the popular large eyed, big headed, pale humanoids so often described in UFO encounters too-- but these are much less likely than the more animalistic forms presented here, for the simple reason that the typical alien description of the UFO crowd depicts a being which would seem hard pressed to have survived and evolved in any real world primitive environment, on its way to reaching the top of the food chain on its respective world.

It is most likely that, beyond a certain point, advanced technology would render civilized beings more robust and capable of independent survival, not less: a likelihood that seemingly contradicts the standard alien stereotype of human fiction from the late 20th century.

Overall, the galactic bias towards roughly human-sized intelligent aliens originating from land-based species such as depicted by Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek television shows of the late 20th century isn't nearly as implausible as some might have thought. However, in terms of the near ubiquitous humanoid shape and huge number and diversity of intelligent races populating the galaxy in Roddenberry's fiction, the story teller has turned out to be way off the mark-- at least in terms of a large number of representatives of what races do exist across the galaxy ever physically meeting face-to-face.

-- Are We Alone? By Seth Shostak, from "Sharing the Universe: Perspectives on Extraterrestrial Life", ABC,, found on or about 7-12-99

The second biggest difference between reality and Star Trek will be the probability that we encounter inorganic alien representatives far more often than we do biological beings; artificial intelligences, robotic probes, and survey craft. It's just too costly and inconvenient for most biological beings to travel the enormous distances of space themselves. So the descriptions above of living beings may better pertain to the sources of the representatives we meet, or communications we receive, rather than the representatives themselves.

-- Revisiting 'Star Wars' science By Alan Boyle; MSNBC; found or about 6-30-02 [A previous, somewhat different version of this article was published in May 1999]

Esteemed SETI astronomer Seth Shostak believed in 1999 that mankind's first contact with extraterrestrial intelligence would be with alien machines rather than alien lifeforms.

-- What Might E.T. Look Like? chat with Seth Shostak; June 30, 1999

First Space Colonies and Contact Between Cultures Contents

Red-lit galaxy

7. Ideological competition

Different ideas and practices naturally well up within intelligent civilizations, and compete for economic, technological, political, and military dominance. This competition may last for thousands of years beyond a culture's first nebulous considerations of space, but the earliest events in the contest may be the most crucial for the race in question, as the culture is at its most vulnerable to catastrophe early on, and the path chosen here could easily lead to either a lengthy Golden Age or fast Armageddon for the culture in question. This period may or may not contain some tentative probes into space, but almost certainly will include highly destructive conflicts among competing factions of a civilization. Competing, well-entrenched religions could contribute much to the instability and danger of this time, if such things are cornerstones of the culture (note that less competitive or non-competitive religions may not present such risks). This critical period may last a few thousand years, with finally one state or small group of states emerging as the de facto leader(s) for the world; eventually the remainder of the planet joins them or is effectively conquered, whether it be economically, culturally, militarily, or via some combination of these.

The results of this stage and others following in this paper, largely determines whether a given civilization will survive through the 600 year bottleneck, as well as what type of civilization it ends up becoming in the event it does survive.

The vast majority of civilizations of course do not survive, but catastrophically collapse or go extinct during this period. Of those which do continue, most will be doomed to struggle to eke out an existence for thousands of years to come, due to great and often irreparable damage or mistakes wrought during the 600 year gauntlet. Perhaps they are largely trapped on a homeworld wracked by pollution and artificially induced climate change, suffering perpetual shortages of food and other commodities. Or maybe they wasted their natural resources in such a profligate manner early on that later they must work hard to try to extract what they can from the refuse of their earlier generations. Or perhaps they didn't invest enough in research and development of new energy sources before the old ones were exhausted, and later they suffer from chronic energy shortages. Alternatively, they may have destroyed their home world in a high tech war, before a substantial fraction of their population had made it into space (or fully mastered the new environment), thereby leaving behind a barely viable population of planetary orphans aboard sub-standard space colonies and craft to fend as best they can.

A tiny minority of the civilizations which survive the gauntlet grow into wise, powerful, and robust cultures, within which perhaps very few citizens ever go wanting for any tangible resource.

The struggling majority of survivors may be made up of a great variety of economic, social, and technological types-- though due to their hardship they may be prone to less democratic and more lazziz faire market sorts of economic environments. Some may be virtual anarchies, some monarchies, some dictatorships and the like. A few may even be hard-bitten democracies. But likely few of these would present an inviting place for outsiders to visit.

The wealthy and sophistocated minority races are likely mostly democracies of a sort-- wherever they possess any significant governments at all. In some cases the political, social, and economic ties which bound more primitive races no longer exist for these folks, as everyone can manufacture or refine or invent on the spot virtually everything they might need or want, with little or no help required from others (and so no cooperation with others needed as well). Their numbers are relatively small compared to the volume of space from which they can select physical locations to reside-- and downright miniscule relative to the virtual environments they usually frequent in preference to the physical variety.

And so individuals and family groups or clusters of friends essentially are masters of whatever domains they choose to inhabit. They work and play in a (for the most part) happy anarchy where virtually everyone is too strong to be easily bullied and too smart to be easily fooled, and so persuasion and negotiation almost always prevail over violence or threats-- in those few cases where interaction between them is desirable for some reason.

If anyone gets too far out of line (or goes mad), a substantial number of the others simply band together temporarily to solve the problem-- and afterwards everyone moves on. There's no need for a military or a police force.

And so we basically see two major classifications of long-lived star faring civilizations here, after the 600 year gauntlet has been passed. A handful of relatively homogenous (in terms of social status and supporting infrastructure) wealthy and powerful elite, in possession of advanced, high quality technologies, and several dozen heterogenous, ill-fated and hard-pressed races of many sorts of stripes, socially, economically, and technologically speaking.

Or the elite few and the desperate many.

Some readers might note the potential diversity within the desperate many, and wonder why that diversity doesn't save them from their harsh fates, as I suggested before such may aid or even enable a race's survival through the 600 year gauntlet at the very beginning of their star farer maturation.

The answer? The diversity of which I speak pertains to the entire group of struggling races, rather then individual civilizations therein. That is, one particular culture within the group may differ drastically from another in several ways. But any particular civilization from this group does not necessarily possess a great diversity of peoples or practices within itself. Of course, it appears they possessed enough internal diversity or other advantages to make it through the gauntlet alive-- just not enough to flourish at it.

Just like some survivors of a sunken ocean liner who might outlive other passengers on the boat, but themselves escape with nothing but the shirt on their back, so too do the desperate many outlive other races they may never ever know of, but their survival is a near thing, with little extra in the secular realm to comfort their futures.

Getting back to the vast majority of technological races which effectively don't survive their own 600 year gauntlet, many wreak sufficient destruction upon themselves to degenerate almost completely back to their animalistic forebears within ten to thirty generations (levels of technology commensurate with that of humanity somewhere between one million BC and 100,000 BC).

As of 2000 many scientists are becoming concerned at the seemingly glaring lack of results from ongoing searches for extraterrestrial intelligence. Something seems amiss. Or else there's something fairly large missing from our current knowledge and speculations about the Universe and/or intelligence itself.

-- Scientific American: NO ALIEN RESPONSE: July 2000

-- Are We Alone? By Seth Shostak, from "Sharing the Universe: Perspectives on Extraterrestrial Life", ABC,, found on or about 7-12-99

Note that even the elite races do not necessarily enjoy a straight and easy path to the lofty plateau their civilization ultimately comes to occupy. It's entirely possible that during their 10,000 year or longer overall span they endure their own temporary setbacks of sorts, even in technological matters. It's just that they never fall back all the way to levels matching that of the deadly 600 year gauntlet, or worse. The elite may also splinter apart into many different factions, long before they reach the stage where an individual may be a state unto themselves. Heck, they may even have their own 'Atlantis, lost civilization' events, both real or mythical, where perhaps at some moment one of their most advanced factions collapses for reasons never to be entirely clear to the others, or else disappears into the vastness of space never to be heard from again.

Some essential ideological conflicts typically encountered early in the 600 year gauntlet

Achieving the proper balance between individual rights, wealth, security, and power, and those of society as a whole, may be one of the key failures which leads to so many potential star farers not surviving the gauntlet.

In theory, allowing a single person or small group to achieve too much power over everyone else could greatly increase the risk of death for a given society (i.e., an insane US president who's brilliant at hiding their true mental state (or enjoys an expert staff who can do it for them), could easily ignite a global nuclear or biological war). (Did you know major leaders of Earth circa 2002 are not normally screened for signs of mental illness?)

Believe it or not, the President of the USA's annual medical examination does not currently, and never has, included even a routine psychiatric examination. Virtually all other personnel expected to endure unusual stresses-- such as FBI and CIA agents, and professional pilots-- must at minimum pass a single such exam to begin their jobs. Not so the Presidency circa 2002, even though psychiatric problems there could literally bring on the end of the world.

-- Their Annual Checkups Should Be Complete ( By Alen J. Salerian; May 12, 2002; Page B03

-- Federal panel urges screening of adults for depression; The Associated Press/Nando Media/Nando Times; May 21, 2002

And yet, keeping the majority of a race's members too ignorant and impoverished may be an even more dangerous scenario. For instance, a lack of adequate health care for two thirds of the world's population would offer a fertile breeding ground for a devastating global plague. Given the proper conditions in an age of world-wide travel measured in hours, and many diseases which require days, weeks, or months to manifest symptoms, everyone-- even the most advanced of the developing nations too-- could suffer horribly from such an event. Other potential scenarios would include such an increase in desperation and hostility towards the 'haves' by the 'have-nots' that one or more terrorist plots end up achieving much the same results as could a mad US president triggering nuclear, biological, or economic holocaust. But comparing the usual number of current US presidents (one) to the potential number of angry terrorists in the world (thousands), may make the consequences of keeping much of the world poor, desperate, and angry at least as likely to result in Armageddon as the mad president model.

Not only does the very survival of a civilization depend upon maintaining a healthy balance between the collective power of society and that of its individual members, but its prosperity and technological progess as well. That is to say, excessive secrecy or lax regulation and law enforcement (or biased regulation/enforcement) will lessen the risk to criminals and reduce accountability in general, thereby inevitably increasing corruption and fraud and reducing security, as well as cutting efficiency and productivity in those sectors so afflicted, while excessive surveillance will stifle healthy disclosures, dissent, and debate, causing many problems to become bigger, costlier, and last longer than they otherwise would, and make it much easier for that civilization to lose its democracy as the group in power at the time can suddenly decide to stay in power indefinitely-- and any signicant opposition can be nipped in the bud via police forces dispatched at the first sign of trouble delivered by the surveillance systems.

The many nefarious ways a combination of powerful surveillance systems and control over police and military forces can be used to neutralize opposition forces to the status quo may often be forgotten or go unrealized by a people who've previously enjoyed decades or even generations of robust democratic government. And so a given democratic society may become ever more vulnerable to such takeover over time, rather than less-- for they may not recognize or believe the warning signs until it's too late.

During much of the gauntlet it'll also be true that uncertainty and confusion in general will be rising among the populace, making the majority ever more vulnerable to political and economic manipulation by a clever few, much like young and/or inexperienced or poorly educated human beings have always been to charismatic cult leaders or con artists. Note that too much uncertainty and unpredictability in one's life can make even the best educated among us feel increasingly vulnerable to events beyond our control, and make us want to seek out a mentor or leader who can make us believe they know the answers and can solve our problems. All too often we'll make judgments under these circumstances based upon emotion, not logic or intellect. And thus play right into the hands of potential despots.

"...the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

-- Hermann Goering, Hitler's chosen successor for ruling Nazi Germany during World War II; quote from the Nuremberg Trials 1945-1946

There'll also be the inevitable empowerment of the common individual in society to contend with, as technology progresses. If such a power distribution is too tightly controlled, only a few elite at the top of society will enjoy astonishing levels of wealth and power, while everyone else remains mired in relative poverty-- and sooner or later such a society will collapse from economic, cultural, and technological stagnation, much as the USSR did during the 20th century. It could be argued that the USSR would have collapsed far sooner if it hadn't been able to steal or buy various ideas, products, and services from the more advanced west to delay its passing. Note that an entire world run like the USSR would have no one from which to get such items, and so would likely not last so long, under many circumstances.

On the other hand, wide distribution of substantial technological power among a large and diverse population can have its own repercussions, if such a distribution is not accompanied or preceded with measures for adequately feeding, clothing, sheltering, educating, and gainfully employing those same masses-- as well as attending seriously to the people's health and medical needs and claims of injustice.

Technological or economic empowerment, unevenly applied, with the exclusion (or inadequate attention to) all the other measures described before, may well be a recipe for disaster. For it will allow those among the impoverished who can acquire such power before their fellows to become despots over many of their countrymen. And while the masses are held down by oppressive local governments, anger and resentment will grow, and sooner or later some of those angry folks will themselves manage to acquire a significant bit of economic or technological power. But rather than using that power as people under less oppressed circumstances might, instead these folks will seek to harm those they perceive to be responsible for their plight, and/or accessible to their particular means of retribution.

Such terrorist nourishment does not bode well for any civilization wishing to successfully traverse the star farer gauntlet.

Often the new technological and economic empowerment of terrorists and simple capitalistic rogues and thieves will stun and shock a civilization's public, much as happened on Earth during 9-11-01, and with regards to massive accounting irregularities at Enron and elsewhere, and many other events both before and after these.

It will often be the immediate instinctive response of democratically elected politicians under these circumstances to pass extremist legislative measures in an effort to prove to their constituents that they are doing their jobs. Again, in the 9-11-01 case cited above, the USA of Earth approved something called the USA Patriot Act in a motion so knee-jerk-like in its passage that many voted it in without even reading the measure. And so was the very Constitution of the only superpower on Earth at the time endangered via astonishingly huge increases in intelligence, police, and surveillance powers over its population. And this occured in what many of the time had previously considered to be the most enlightened, robust, and secure democracy on Earth. So it would appear many democracies among the stars may be startlingly fragile in real terms, when faced with the shock of increasing individual empowerment in terms of technology or economics, which is not suitably balanced with other elements.

This tendency to be easily stunned and alarmed by a course of events largely predictable from easily observed trends, along with the likely democracy-weakening responses from government officials, greatly reduces the chances that a given democratic society will survive the gauntlet. For no matter how well the overall balance of individual empowerment is handled, there will inevitably be at least a few unwanted and spectacular events, either accidental or purposeful in nature, which will serve to cause society as a whole to question how far the empowerment of the individual should be allowed to go.

And yet, this balance is likely far more important to the long term survival and prosperity of a civilization, and more susceptible to grievous harm and related consequences for all, than most politicans or even scholars may realize.

If the ratio between individual empowerment and freedom versus that of society gets too far out of whack, a society will basically collapse or self-destruct, in any number of ways.

But what is the proper balance? That is a question which apparently most civilizations get wrong, and thus are snuffed out early in the game.

We can't of course know for sure on which side most of the now dead civilizations erred-- but if they were anything like us (and the odds seem to be they were), they likely erred by being excessively cautious in allowing personal empowerment for the masses, rather than too severely limiting the power of big government or big business. In other words, most of the extinct races probably instituted some variation of across-the-board surveillance of common citizens (but not their elite or top business and government leadership), vastly increased police, intelligence, and security powers (as well as excessively tightened intellectual property controls) at the expense of individual liberties, and greatly increased the allowable levels of secrecy in their business and government operations.

"...the alternatives to Armageddon aren't automatically blissful. An alien civilization might avoid self-destruction by means abhorrent: global dictatorship, mind control, any number of unpleasant possibilities."

-- Are We Alone? by Gregg Easterbrook; The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 262, No. 2; pages 25-38; August, 1988

It's easy to see how these changes could have later led to the downfall of such races, as such measures would sap the creativity and innovation of their culture, practically eliminate whistle-blowing on business and government inefficiencies, fraud, and corruption, greatly reduce accountability, especially for those in power, cause much greater and more frequent losses of investments and other assets worldwide (thereby increasing risk for everyone and discouraging new business ventures), and much, much more.

On the other hand, when the ratio between individual freedoms and capacities and that of the state is closer to the ideal, most everyone in a sufficiently advanced society is not just theoretically equal under the law, but truthfully so, and in practically every other way which matters as well (self-sufficiency, technology, knowledge, intelligence, wealth, influence, experience, etc.)-- making it much more difficult for con artists to ply their trade, or corrupt business or government officials to get away for long with their misdeeds, or bullies or madmen of whatever magnitude to get their way. Whatever locales of interactive public spaces still exist in such an ideally balanced culture are almost completely transparent in their operations, with any remaining secrets exceedingly scarce and subject to periodic review by an independent authority to continue their existence.

Besides the aforementioned difficulties and expense involved in adequately balancing all forms of individual empowerment worldwide against state and commercial powers in order to maximize benefits while minimizing risk, there are other obstacles to such aims. Such as fear and the perpetual 'generation gap' anxiety displayed by humanity since time immemorial.

In other words, allowing increased power and wealth for others to make them our effective peers is much like that of admitting our children are growing up into adults. Often as not those offspring will strongly disagree with us their parents or predecessors on many issues, and upon establishing themselves in the adult world, will often be beyond our ability to control or dominate forever after. Human parents are often not comfortable with this prospect, just as developed nations may often not be comfortable with obvious signs that once less developed nations are now becoming their equals. Examples of this unease can be found in human history, such as during the 1970s and 1980s, when Japan reached effective parity with the USA in automobile manufacturing and certain other matters. America only grudgingly accepted the rise of Japan to this role, much like parents must frequently be pulled kicking and screaming to the acceptance that their little boys or girls are now all grown up, and going their own way, whether the parents like it or not.

This reluctance to allow or help others to achieve peer status may generate the greatest danger where a small number of states upon a given world manages to reach a point of lop-sided dominance over all the others. At some point technology advances may provide these elite states with the opportunity to forever retard the development of the other states, essentially restricting them to a perpetual form of servitude to the elite few.

The temptation to enforce such perpetual servitude of others may be at its greatest where a single 'superpower' state manages to arise upon a given homeworld, and achieves a clear superiority over everyone else in terms of economic, military, and information processing powers.

Such a superpower may find itself dearly tempted to establish itself as an effective world empire, for a variety of reasons, from primitive nationalistic/tribal/racial impulses, to a simple effort to gain some sort of additional security against perceived threats stemming from increasingly empowered individuals and groups with which the superpower disagrees or doesn't understand.

Whatever the reason, if and when such a superpower gives in to such temptation, the entire planetary civilization may find itself at heightened risk for collapse and even extinction. At least if this event takes place within the 600 year gauntlet, where the available technology may well prevent the planet's peoples from ever recovering from such a mis-step again. It appears likely very few worlds indeed survive empire-building taking place beyond a certain point in the gauntlet. Just the reductions in diversity alone stemming from such an event may be enough to doom a population.

Another factor relating to the balance between individual and state power which may tempt many cultures into excessively limiting personal liberties and capacities is mental illness.

Circa 2002 AD, humanity itself is still learning how to detect mental illness, let alone adequately treat it-- even within a mere third or so of the human race. Beyond this lies the issue of paying for such treatments, and how to balance the protection and well being of society against the rights of individuals who others claim to be ill in this manner. As the empowerment of individuals everywhere ramps up, the threat of substantial, purposeful or accidental damages to society wrought by the immature, the mentally ill, and the malevolent rises as well. When certain spectacular events of this nature stun the public, somewhat hysterical executive and legislative responses may often result (as was the case in the USA after 9-11-01).

Thus, there are and will be strong pressures even for societies generally considered advanced and enlightened democracies to make attempts to exert powerful controls of one sort or another onto the very nature and behavior of individual citizens, as some form of insurance against chaos and uncertainty.

Of course, there's no way to totally prevent chaos and uncertainty from returning to a given environment. There's simply too many variables, and the very laws of physics themselves usually side more with chaos and uncertainty than order. So a civilization could well find itself chasing security goals it has no hope of meeting, with ever more stringent limits on civil liberties and speech, and ever more intrusive surveillance and state and organizational secrecy, until finally the civilization itself becomes enslaved by a despot or oppressive government or corporate state of its own making (i.e., Orwell's 1984), thereby paving the way for eventual collapse of the entire society.

First Space Colonies and Contact Between Cultures Contents

8. The availability of raw resources and the wisdom not to waste the opportunity they offer

Reasonably accessible and adequate quantities of certain elements appear to be essential to developing a technological base such as our own. Lack of these could easily prevent a race from mastering the survival challenges presented by their own planet, much less expanding to the stars. We already accounted for a natural shortage of resources to allow the evolution of intelligent life in the first place. Now we are speaking of mostly artificial but possibly indefinite shortages created by a civilization's unwise use of limited homeworld resources, before the cornucopia of space based resources or technology-based alternatives become available to them-- as well as the starting requirements for a potential star faring race.

A race which made poor or unwise use of the limited resources of its world prior to making the leap to space (or equivalent technological advances to make shortages moot), very likely would at some point wither and die, or else fall back to a very low level of subsistance living for the indefinite future.

What are the chances of a living world possessing these critical materials? And utilizing them efficiently enough to make it into space (or otherwise advance their tech base to get past shortages)? Largely this depends on the dynamics of a world's geology and overall environment in the first place, and the civilization's dominant philosophies in the second-- especially at the very beginning of their technological history: during their 600 year test of star farer maturity. As the geological factors play important roles in the evolution of life early on, it may be safe to assume that only a relatively small percentage of races are burdened with extraordinarily high thresholds to overcome in terms of critical resource accessibility to sustain a fledgling star faring civilization. These cultures, of course, most likely end up among the dead.

This leaves a majority of sentients reaching their own 600 year challenge with adequate resources to start their journey to higher levels of technological sophistocation.

But of these, what portion will prove sufficiently wise to ration their use of resources so that they make it far enough to free themselves of such restraints once and for all? To survive beyond the 600 year barrier?

It may depend on which races consistently possess the most efficient and balanced market systems and societies, throughout the 600 year gating period.

Human experience indicates that a culture with a strong and robust democracy, and moderately (not too much and not too little) regulated capitalistic economy may possess a decent chance at surviving the earliest decades of the critical 600 years. Beyond that human history offers us little to aid our foresight.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: People themselves represent perhaps the most important raw resource of all for a potential star faring civilization. 'Wasting' them by way of 'ethnic cleansing', unnecessary wars, starvation, and disease, racism, sub-standard education and job opportunities, and other measures may be the surest route to collapse or extinction a given culture could pursue. Time and time again people who are arbitrarily harrassed, terrorized, or enslaved by a given culture often prove to have been a potentially vital element of the culture which mistreated them. Just one example would be the astonishing wealth of persecuted Jewish scientific and technological talent which fled (or were expelled) from Nazi Germany during World War II; their flight to the Allies strengthened Germany's enemies immensely, at Germany's expense. One of the most famous of these unwanted Germans was Albert Einstein. To see some recommendations on how to avoid wasting people, please see Civilization's best defenses against war, terrorism, technological stagnation, and economic ruin. END NOTE.

First Space Colonies and Contact Between Cultures Contents

9. The realization of vulnerability and/or negligible gains from contact.

Despite a possibly naive optimism on the part of many civilizations working their way through this and proceeding and succeeding stages of development, which leads to attempts to either locate unknown alien civilizations by listening for or actually contacting same, most races eventually must realize their ratio of vulnerability to the chance of net gains in regards to this subject, and cease any overt efforts to initiate contact.

The enormous unknowns involved in who and what might be 'out there' play a big role here. As a given civilization's knowledge of themselves and the possibilities available in thousands of potential alien races and their technologies expand, it ultimately becomes obvious that the chances of peaceful and beneficial relationships struck with other civilizations across space are less than 50%-- at best. This may be especially true from the perspective of a given civilization's elite, or ruling class-- as maintaining the current status quo of their rule is often an important priority, and contact with an alien civilization would offer way too much uncertainty for comfort in this regard. If verified contact with an alien civilization cannot be avoided or hidden, the elite masters of a given world will likely attempt to cast the aliens as a threat in a bid to strengthen their own hold on power, regardless of the true intentions of such aliens.

And, of course, there's several good reasons why the intentions of any alien race discovered so might not be exactly friendly, benevolent, open, or sharing with those contacting them.

The chances of our successfully contacting intelligent lifeforms are negligible for races with signal or space transport technologies roughly equivalent to our own (or worse), but substantially higher for races with such technologies significantly superior to ours (i.e., more advanced). Another factor important to successful contact will be the longevity of an alien signal-- basically, how long they've been consistently transmitting over time. The longer the span, the more likely we are to detect them. The fewer intelligent species which exist in the galaxy at any given moment, the longer the transmission time would have to be on average from each of them for us to have a good chance of detecting a signal from such people.

Even assuming the galaxy is practically bursting at the seams with alien civilizations would still require that those civilizations on average consistently broadcast signals into the void for a bare minimum of 10,000 years at a time, in order for us to possibly detect such signals any time soon. Thus, there's practically a 100% probability that any aliens we detected by the end of 2010 would be at least thousands of years ahead of us technologically-speaking.

-- Advanced Aliens: Why ET Will Be More Advanced than Humanity By Seth Shostak; 04 December 2000;, inc.

Some star farers may discover intelligent primitives living in systems tens of lightyears or so from their own. Though there is fascinating biological and intelligence research to be had there, most else of the store consists of possibly dangerously infectious alien agents, and various unknown physical risks to explorers from the larger native flora and fauna. Even for purposes of colonization most cultures will find space-based colonies to be the most convenient and efficient, compared to planets at the bottom of gravity wells. In short, while worlds hosting primitive alien intelligence and/or life may be interesting and educational, they also pose significant risks and are likely to be worth little in direct commercial or industrial terms to established star faring civilizations.

It might be expected that any overly aggressive or paranoid star farers who stumble across aliens more primitive than themselves might desire to conquer and enslave them, or possibly exterminate them as a potential long term rival. It would seem however that all these options but extermination are unlikely to be undertaken-- at least more than once by the same malevolent race. Why? The cost and effort would be significant-- and essentially paid for out of the superior world's elites' pocketbook. So if such things take place at all, the cause will likely be a megalomaniacal leader, or internal power struggle within the star faring state itself. And once the full cost of such events became clear, the probability of more would drastically decline (unless the more advanced race's value systems differ dramatically from our own, or their leaders are in the thros of some sort of madness). So in general primitive sentients may be pretty safe from enslavement by moderately advanced star faring neighbors.

Safety from extermination, however, is a different matter entirely. For simple extermination of a primitive sentient or near-sentient race might not be difficult or expensive at all for anyone armed with the equivalent of 22nd century human bioengineering or better. A similar competency in space technology could also achieve the same end, via redirection of a sufficiently large asteroid or comet towards the targeted world. Delivering a pattern of neutron bombs worldwide could also kill off a people (and most other higher lifeforms) most effectively.

A lesser number of civilizations may encounter approximate peer races several times further away-- but on average these meetings may merely amplify the negatives found with the more primitive worlds. If a newly discovered alien culture is only a few centuries (or millennia) behind their own technology-wise, the explorers may be greeted either with fear and worship as gods (which has deplorable long term effects on the lagging culture), or with mostly impotent but annoying efforts at combat, as the lagging civilization attempts to fend off the other, often mobilizing every resource at their disposal-- which again usually does terrible long term damage to the lagging culture itself, likely pushing it into the direction of becoming a non-democratic, innovation-poor, centrally controlled economy, among other negatives.

Where non-democratic, centralized star farers are concerned, discovering approximate peer races would be far scarier than a find involving primitives; so the desire to exterminate or conquer would be greater there. But the relative costs and risks of such to the more advanced aggressors would also be increased substantially. The bottomline? In the worst cases the aggressors might decide on a compromise: they merely set back substantially lagging civilizations by a few centuries or millennia, and pretty much leave stronger ones alone (but for a bit of intelligence gathering perhaps).

There will be exceptions to the above to be sure, but they may be mostly few and far between. Thus, many advanced cultures tend to interact only minimally and covertly with various degrees of lagging or near peer civilizations, or not at all. At least, after their first encounters with same. Keep in mind that all such encounters are likely pretty rare, due to the substantial distances involved. Perhaps certain star farers across the galaxy will encounter different lagging civilizations a dozen times every ten thousand years.

Then there are the occasional encounters with other civilizations which are almost identical to the first in terms of their technological progress. In these cases the politico-economic natures of the two cultures play a major role. In those cases where both are more or less peaceful, confident, and comfortable democracies, at least a small amount of useful economic trade may gradually develop between the two, over many millennia (We're talking about cultures which may be separated by 1000-3000 lightyears or more here). In cases where one is more of a democracy and the other less, trade still sometimes proceeds successfully, although there tends to be more covert intelligence/misinformation campaigns and perhaps even occasional whiffs of military activity between the two (though the vast and costly distances between them tends to make waging a real war all but impossible for the pair). Where a couple of more or less non-democratic states are involved, something along the lines of 20th century Earth's Cold War (and perhaps George Orwell's 1984) is usually the dominating theme for prolonged periods, with each civilization using the other as propaganda to motivate their own peoples towards war readiness and minimal consumerism, while the elites enjoy outrageously lavish lifestyles. Occasional battles of sorts may take place, but mostly the status quo is useful to both unless and until one suffers a catastrophe of some sort which alters the balance of power-- or one or both transform into a democracy. The cost and difficulties of fighting such tremendous distance wars across space tends to constrain such fighting to only sporadic and infrequent but intense battles, usually far from the civilians of either side.

Then there are the very rare occasions when a reasonably mature star faring race contacts or encounters a civilization with a substantial technological advantage of decades, centuries, or even millennia over their own. These encounters and their aftermath are almost wholly unpredictable in their consequences for the lagging state. After much consideration, many star farers will surely decide such encounters are more likely to present negative outcomes than positive ones, and therefore take actions to prevent or minimize such meetings in the future.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Perhaps the potential pitfalls for the lagging state in the final paragraph above are less than obvious. In that case, here's one example. Let's assume the superior state is benign or even benevolent towards the other overall. But the lesser state, still caught up in cruder intrigues and motivations, is at least a bit more like early 21st century humanity. I.e., citizens and organizations are competitive with one another to the point of physical and/or financial coercion and outright violence. The motivations for some elements among the lagging state citizens to get portions of the superior state to prefer them over their fellows would be high. Lagging state enemies could theoretically be exterminated or weakened. Or rendered subordinate by the properly applied largess from the superior beings putting one lagging group ahead of the rest. There's a multitude of possible scenarios here, few of them desirable (except for whatever minority believes they can win the favor of the superior state). END NOTE.

Here our speculations become even more subjective. Of all the long-lived civilizations in the galaxy, both the elite minority and desperate majority, how many and which sort would be prone to continue aggressively seeking contact, after their realization of vulnerability and/or negligible net gains due to previous encounters? It's very difficult to predict what a race will do over a lengthy period of time in regards to such a matter-- but let us hazard a guess anyway. The desperate cultures would surely listen to the heavens, even if they kept a tight lid on their own transmissions, out of paranoia and security concerns alone. Plus, they might regard such information collection as potentially useful in future interstellar invasions or exploitations of others (even if such ambitions have no feasibility in fact). The elite would listen out of curiosity and excess capacities, and perhaps even some optimism about the possibilities.

Both the elite and desperate will likely refrain from overt transmissions after this period of realization, unless they are supremely confident in their own technologies and defenses for some reason we couldn't possibly guess from our present vantage point.

It would appear to be to both groups' best advantage to only receive rather than transmit signals after the realization of vulnerability, at least and until they reach a point whereby they are capable of physically traveling to the sources of signals detected from others. Once this capability was achieved, physical expeditions to signal sources would be far preferable to a signal response from the home region, as a matter of security. Why? Because to send a signal would be to reveal a location, while sending a probe or other vessel could easily be done in such a way as to keep such information hidden, thereby retaining a military advantage, should it be needed or desired afterwards.

In light of these sound, basic survival strategies, it appears that the probability of a culture responding signal-wise to a message from the void is near zero-- at least after they've realized their potential vulnerability. And if ever someone like ourselves received a signal specifically meant for us, it would likely come from an alien craft in or near our system, a source almost certainly nowhere near the home of the sentients themselves, and the sender would be scarily confident of our inability to militarily strike them under any circumstances.

As of 2000 many scientists are becoming concerned at the seemingly glaring lack of results from ongoing searches for extraterrestrial intelligence. Something seems amiss. Or else there's something fairly large missing from our current knowledge and speculations about the Universe and intelligence itself.

-- Scientific American: NO ALIEN RESPONSE: July 2000

Obviously, humanity hasn't yet realized its vulnerability in this respect. We continue to broadcast wildly in all directions, simply as a consequence of unshielded and otherwise careless aim of our commercial and other signals. Beyond this, from time to time we may also be overtly transmitting to star systems we suspect of being home to other intelligences-- in other words, knocking on the doors of our neighbors' homes, to see if anyone's there. Perhaps such risky behavior is common to fledgling star faring democracies

But we are showing signs of soon reining in our wild broadcasts-- by technological coincidence if not rational thought.

-- "The geeks and the aliens; Why are the tech industry's best and brightest so determined to spearhead the hunt for extraterrestrials?" BY JANELLE BROWN, Salon 21st Feature, May 6, 1998

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All text above not explicitly authored by others copyright © 1993-2009 by J.R. Mooneyham. All rights reserved.