Sunday, December 19, 2021

Sapience in the cosmos - and the 'Great Filter'

I don't know which is more amazing, the fact that you and I are members of a civilization that does incredible things like this... or that you and I are members of a civilization that lets its morale get pummeled by fear merchants, when we have things better than every generation of our ancestors... or that anyone who is a member of a civilization that creates things like this spacecraft could ever say "we can't."

I feel that people all over the world badly need perspective. The perspective of 6000 years of macro human societies that were 99% brutal, feudal despostisms, against which our island of enlightenment has been... and remains... blindingly bright, by comparison...

... the perspective of a million years of human evolution, in which the normal pattern for male mammals got genetically modified enough so that half of us can actually behave according to the high standards of decency now summoned from us... 

... and especially the perspective of a huge - possibly the biggest - question of all...

Is there life out there? How would we know.... 

== How to communicate? ==

In Why intelligent extraterrestrials are more likely to be artificial than biological, UK Astronomer Royal, Lord Martin Rees points out, "I’d argue it would even be worth looking for traces of aliens in our own solar system. While we can probably rule out visits by human-like species, there are other possibilities. An extraterrestrial civilisation that had mastered nanotechnology may have transferred its intelligence to tiny machines, for example. It could then invade other worlds, or even asteroid belts, with swarms of microscopic probes." 

... which is one of the plot lines explored in my novel Existence.

Perhaps they are everywhere? British physicist Terry Rudolph believes aliens could be communicating through starlight, by hiding messages in modified light that would appear like random blinking to anyone else listening in. Now mind you this is in the Daily Mail and hence guilt by association!  Still, the basic idea is solidly founded in “steganography” – the fact that secret information can be hidden in innocuous images or photographs, needing a key to even know it’s there.  The quantum entanglement portions of this concept seem ornate and questionable. But hey, sci fi authors have worked with far less! 

"Would we recognize an extraterrestrial message if we received one?" This essay by D. Oberhaus and C. Early pushes the idea that limited human beings would be inherently incapable of understanding… or even defining as intelligent… any signals from advanced alien civilizations. 

 I call this yet another example of ‘humility chic,' and while it’s good to goad ourselves that things change (a century ago folks spoke of communicating with Mars via controlled forest fires) the core point of the article is pure drivel. 

(1) Most scientists share the values of the article's authors, constantly questioning the envelope of perception. And hence, where do these fellows get off, lecturing as if they are the inventors of assumption-questioning? 

But more importantly…

(2)… the question is not what humans can perceive, but whether more advanced beings would find us interesting. And if some of them did find us interesting… even some subclass of them who are as rare and exceptional as human entomologists fascinated by ant colonies… they would thus do the heavy lifting of figuring out how to communicate with us. 

Moreover, newly sapient tech species are not common as ant colonies on Earth! 

Again, the most frequent possible rate of appearance of new sapients like us in the galaxy is in years, per. Hence mathematically, it is almost impossible for the only sapient tech species to erupt in any galaxy during a specific century not to be interesting and worth study by super-rich, super-advanced beings. 

Again, we study ant colonies... not all of us and not all ant colonies… but if a new insect colony only showed up on Earth once per century? Then some humans would rush to study it.

== More about the ‘Great Filter”? ==

Robin Hanson, Milan Circovic, Anders Sandberg and others have issued a paper - If Loud Aliens Explain Human Earliness, Quiet Aliens Are Also Rare - proposing a variant on the Fermi Paradox, suggesting that humans on Earth are very early, as Breakout Sapient species go. 

“If life on Earth had to achieve n 'hard steps' to reach humanity's level, then the chance of this event rose as time to the n-th power. Integrating this over habitable star formation and planet lifetime distributions predicts >99% of advanced life appears after today, unless n<3 and max planet duration <50Gyr. 

"That is, we seem early. We offer this explanation: a deadline is set by 'loud' aliens who are born according to a hard steps power law, expand at a common rate, change their volumes' appearances, and prevent advanced life like us from appearing in their volumes. 'Quiet' aliens, in contrast, are much harder to see.

I have commented on this, that there are many factors often overlooked: I have long held that the top candidate for most-rare event along the Drake sequence is the appearance of a successful technological civilization. Among the following reasons, only #1 is widely discussed:

0 - Life itself is arguably an easy step since it appeared on Earth soon after the seas cooled. Metazoan-complex life took another 3.5 billion years, so that qualifies tentatively as a hard step.

1- Across 4+ billion years that life flourished on Earth, 'breakthrough sapience' in which a species is capable of rapid self-reprogramming of its operating system only appeared during the most recent 50,000 years. (I argue preceding humans were not organically capable of this.)

2- In contrast, "pre-sapience" of a level attained by apes, sea lions, parrots, crows, cetaceans, elephants and many others would seem to be extremely common.  Environmental over-exploitation is also seen among many species (e.g. goats). 

3- If these two trends were augmented by basic tools like fire or weapons, human style environmental exploitation/degradation could easily burn out a planet without any of the human self-critical awareness that led humans to environmentalism, just 10,000 years after becoming environmentally dangerous. If most sapients come to that awareness more slowly, they might degrade their worlds long before achieving technological breakout. (In fact, it is still an open question whether we will do that, even with our quick ascent to insight.)

4- Earth skates the very inner edge of Sol's circumstellar habitable zone (CHZ). This had two consequences:

-(4a) a Gaia balance with extremely low CO2 levels and likely low sea levels for a watery world, hence more continental land area,

-(4b) less time for a homegrown sapient race to achieve breakout, as the sun gets hotter, pushing out the CHZ (Earth may only have another 100My before runaway greenhouse ensues.)

Option (4a) suggests that Earth was more likely than average - for an open sky* water world - to develop sapients with hands and fire. Meanwhile, (4b) suggests that Earth made us barely in time, and that other open sky water worlds would have more time, but higher sea levels, less land and more CO2.

5- The inherent attractor state of male reproductive strategy - stealing reproduction from other males - is seen across the animal realm. In humans after 12,000 BCE it manifested in rampant feudalism, dominating 99% of agricultural societies and at some level nearly all tribal ones. 

The rare exceptions - mostly "Periclean enlightenments" - are vastly more productive in science, technological advancement and governance, as well as environmental awareness. But these exception/attractors are also difficult to maintain, requiring sapience and satiability levels that may be rare out there. Hence, feudalism - accompanied always by rampant mal-governance - seems likely to be a near-lethal attractor across the cosmos. 

I deem this likely to be a huge part of the overall Great Filter vs. successful sapience. I could go on. There are many more aspects seldom examined.  But I look forward to seeing the paper.

     *Most of the likely water/life sites are "roofed worlds" like Europa. They probably pervade the cosmos.


And - if aliens are identified....NASA recently issued a Call for a framework for reporting evidence for life beyond Earth, noting "it is essential to open a community dialogue about how to convey information... that has a high potential to be sensationalized."

And yes, people continue to discuss and argue about my alternative hypothesis for UFO/UAP phenomena as 'cat lasers.' 


Mike said...

I wondered what you thought of this book:

Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe Paperback – December 10, 2003
by Peter D. Ward (Author), Donald Brownlee (Author)

David Brin said...

I've debated Ward.

reason said...

I think someone stole your idea David

scidata said...

Not sure what the "this spacecraft" links points to, I'm hoping it's something like Valley Forge. I'm probably 'humility chic', but I like to say, "We just don't know enough yet". NASA's call for a reporting framework is in the great tradition of Citizen Science, going back to Hans Bethe's 1800s sensibility.

Larry Hart said...

I've debated Ward.

Who won? :)

scidata said...

I meant links/points to, but I use an English/French keyboard that often sends punctuation to Cygnus X1.
I'm not bilingual, but like most English Canadians, I speak enough French to get me into trouble. I have both English and French copies of a great BASIC programming manual. It's my Rosetta Stone; gosh I loved that mission because it was largely written in FORTH. I suspect that if it had been entirely done in FORTH, it wouldn't have crash landed.

Re: Manchin
I say floor the bill now and call for a recorded vote. Stranger things have happened -- conversions can be very dramatic:
I think it wiser, moreover, not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.
Robert E. Lee

Larry Hart said...

From the same article I linked last time regarding "freedom from domination" vs "freedom to dominate". Glad to see Abraham Lincoln agrees with me. This is the money shot:

In April 1864, as the Senate moved to approve the 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery, Abraham Lincoln spoke to a crowd in Baltimore about this question of freedom, liberty and democracy. “We all declare for liberty,” he said, “but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing.” With some, he continued, “the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor, while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor.”

Alfred Differ said...


I don't understand why you consider that such a triviality in the discussion.

It's not. There are many devils in those details. For example, I still object to 'special power granted to corporations'. Far better for the assembly to simply state its existence, pay to register under a certain category, and assume the powers until someone demonstrates in court they have abused them.

Think about common law marriage between a man and a woman. It really doesn't take much for two people to live as if married and wind up being treated legally as if they are. It's far better for them to state their intent up front and file the paperwork, but a court might still decide they are married later even if they don't. It most likely WOULD if the two said they saw it that way in front of a judge later.

Why bring marriage into this? Because a marriage is technically a general partnership and I HIGHLY object to licensing them. Registering them is fine as that makes intent transparent. No grants. Simply recognition. A general partnership of humans who produce children brings that partnership under the broad domain of family law without any charters, grants, or any way for others to hinder the liberty of those engaged in it.

By extension, I'm inclined to treat a lot of corporate law the same way. Transparent intent is VERY useful and should be encouraged so much so that we do away with licenses and charters.

There ARE corporation types that do not shield income. Close held types (S-corps) don't hold reserves as if they were 'persons'. They are applicable for a lot of what people want as they avoid the double taxation bugaboo. They don't work for everything, though, especially large entities with many owners.

You can assemble with whom you want without interference by the state, but the individuals assembling can't grant themselves exemptions from legal constraints at will.

Why not? If the structures are set up in advance, we'd simply register our intent and declare it done. That's essentially what I did when I married. I signed the paperwork and politely ignored the 'stamp' that said a license was granted. I entered into a general partnership with my wife and brought myself within reach of family law when I got her pregnant. How is that NOT me choosing which legal constraints apply to me?


You seem to be in agreement with chief justice Roberts…

There is a huge historical precedent behind all that. They aren't people and they are… at the same time. Personally, I think the most accurate description is 'juridical person' in the same sense as a slave. They are 'owned persons' for whom we can chose to recognize some limited rights. What we can't chose are the fantasies that they are 'designed like a tool' or 'something separate from humans'. They are aggregates of human beings (with rights) choosing to work together. The only fair questions before us are which rights we choose to recognize as extensions of those assembled.

…we as parents and as society do put constraints on what children are allowed to do…

Ha! You are a parent I believe. How well did that work? We both know children aren't designed.

…then they cannot also be legally constrained to put maximization of profit ahead of any other consideration.

I'm inclined to agree, but recommend we strengthen transparency laws. The reason for that constraint is that majority shareholders can really screw minority holders essentially stealing their property by directing the corporation to behave in ways that harm the minority. It is like joint ownership of a slave who is given a gun and told to point it at the victim minority holder considering an under-valued buy-out offer.

Case law is what really rules in corporate conflicts. The wise owner hires for the best advise helping them avoid the Court all together.

Alfred Differ said...

Regarding positive and negative definitions for 'liberty', I am of the opinion that only the negative one is morally defensible. The positive one requires government support of a minority intent on coercing another group of people.

It's bad enough when a majority coerces a minority, but we can at least TRY to arrange for our government not to support (actively) minority actions* against others. That's the whole point of 'limited powers'.

* Some are going to happen anyway. We are better off breaking this rule than breaking the part of our social contract where the Rule of Law is reasonably expected AND expected to be applied evenly. We obviously aren't there, but it is an ideal we can hold before us when considering which powers must be granted and for how long.

Alfred Differ said...

My suspicion for when our brief window for 'life as we know it' on Earth closes is when the sun finally warms enough to require too much CO2 removal from the atmosphere causing land plants to suffocate. Everything retreats to the oceans after that leaving warm, acidic seas and possible coastal refuges. Eventually something catastrophic happens and the methanogens take over again.

The C3 photosynthesis method will die out before that leaving C4 to rule. RuBisCO process optimization is the point. You can concentrate the CO2 to avoid respiration with O2 if I understand the chemistry right. It might be a slow death, though, since reducing O2 partial pressure also helps the C4 plants.

Relative to primate species lifespans, though, this won't happen until the unimaginably far future.

Relative to civilization lifespans, though, speciation won't happen until the unimaginably far future.

So, the feudal attractor is the real danger to us. Likely a much bigger danger than asteroid impact, GRB BBQ, and all that other stuff. 8)

Robert said...

If most sapients come to that awareness more slowly, they might degrade their worlds long before achieving technological breakout. (In fact, it is still an open question whether we will do that, even with our quick ascent to insight.)

I think we have. The question is whether we have degraded it too much to keep our technological breakout running.

David Brin said...

Robert of course that is a key question. We must act as if I am right and there's still time.

Alfred, don't forget my plat to move the Earth!Lift the Earth! an entertainung video- - and the numbers behind the idea:

Catfish 'n Cod said...

To the OP topic, there is a major question I think is a blind spot on Drake Equation correspondence to date, not just here but everywhere. It starts with recognizing The Hindsight of Epimetheus.

In Greek mythology, Zeus delegated the crafting of Earth's animal life to the brothers Prometheus (foresight) and Epimetheus (hindsight). The legend claims that Epimetheus, having no ability to plan ahead, used up his supply of physical abilities on the non-sentient animals, leaving none for Prometheus' great project: humans. This was Prometheus' motive for stealing fire, from which many more legends sprang.

The classical Greek myth, however, is wrong; and it was a classical Greek whose epic achievement became our watchword for it. We do have a few physical traits at which we excel, though it is neither a unique ability nor our most prominent: we are very good at long-distance, endurance running. While the hypothesis that this was evolved for hunting has been mostly rejected, it's still a striking ability that none of our cousins possess. The capability, whether an accident of evolution or not, makes us unusually interested (among land animals) in the far horizon beyond our home territory. Swimming and flying creatures are often evolved for navigation; those who must walk are less so. In most creatures, migration follows set patterns dictated by geography. Cycles following seasonal changes, or varying between feeding and breeding locations, are common. Picking a direction and exploring, not so much. Some species classed by OGH as pre-sapient possess this skill: wolves, cats, elephants, dolphins. Others not so much.

Are we right in presuming that exploratory drive and long-distance curiosity is common among sentient species? Our wishes are so strong that we were undaunted by our homeworld's oceans and wastes, or by our poor adaptation for long-distance swimming; very few amenable habitats were empty of humans before the invention of writing. We were only slowed, but not stopped, by our total lack of innate flight ability; by the vacuum of space, or the distance to our Moon. And our wishes persist for even greater leaps, to other planets and moons and even to other stars. Even knowing that great resources, or great advancements, or both will be required for these leaps -- we are not dissuaded. The notion just won't go away.

I suggest there might be a species-wide blind spot here. Why do we assume ET wants to find us as badly as we want to find them? What if we are unusually motivated to bridge the gaps?

scidata said...

All this utopia-or-extinction talk ignores the history of sapiens or even that of all Terran life. Perhaps that binary mindset is one of the great filters.

Catfish 'n Cod said...

@Larry: I saw that article too, and looked into the author being memorialized. It fits well, but not perfectly, with my own private construction -- which extends beyond the racial angle to encompass class issues from the Merrimack to Sinclair's Jungle to the warehouses of Amazon.

Catfish's Fundamental Theorem of American History: American history is driven by the conflict between two perceived purposes of public liberty, that is, freedom from government control of human behavior:

Mutual liberty is the philosophy that public liberty both provides, and is sustained by, universal and reciprocal positive-sum reinforcement of private (or individual) liberties. Mutual liberty underpins the concepts of equal protection, due process, and the social mutualism ideas of Progressivism. It is also the justification for regulation in defense of liberty: restriction of a small set of freedoms to provide far greater freedoms for everyone. Mutual liberty was the vision of Lincoln and the passion of John Brown. It underpinned early socialist and trade-union movements, and remains the core of progressive theory. Better implementations of mutual liberty were and are the goal of all civil rights efforts in the United States.

Privileged liberty is the philosophy that public liberty exists to remove as many restrictions as possible from all acts of individual liberties... including, and especially, those acts that restrict other peoples' individual liberties. Private tyranny, in this philosophy, is both natural and encouraged; the public liberty exists to prevent interference in zero-sum or negative-sum liberty relationships as much, if not more, than positive-sum relationships. Gaining more freedom for yourself and your faction by taking away others' freedom is not only permitted in privileged liberty; it is expected and encouraged. Under privileged liberty, any restriction of private action by public action is tyrannical by definition; in contrast, private action to restrict public action is deemed salutary. It is mostly from the Tories of the UK, with a sizable helping of Spanish hidalgoes, that America gets its notions of privileged liberty.

The Confederates fought for their privileged liberty; the actual Union cause was a mix of privileged and mutual liberty. Abolition was a secondary goal at most for the average Billy Yank; it became seen as necessary to stop the encroaching collapse of their own liberties. Union soldiers didn't think freedmen were their equals; but they did think there was a floor below which no one's liberty should sink, lest everyone's liberty lie in peril.

The robber barons and the would-be lordlets of the Gilded Age were a Northern expression of privileged liberty just as much as Confederatism was a Southern expression. Freedom of contract was the watchword of their implementation: vast populations' private liberties could be subsumed by the private liberties of a very few, and the government was forbidden to interfere, domestic tranquility be damned.

And always lurking about was the zealots' privilege: the right to restrict cultural liberty supposedly granted by 'superior' faith, or dogma, or culture, or capability, or unity, or whatever convenient factor seemed expedient at that moment. The conquistadors and Puritans alike told tall tales of how missionary enterprise justified their tyranny. It was the original excuse for introducing chattel slavery into an English-derived society that lacked any such concept; it was the story told as Natives were chivvied into reservations and boarding schools that tried to suppress any culture except the dominators'; it was the doublethink that permitted advocates of free speech to also demand book-burnings.

All three of these strains are combining in our current age. The toxic combination is more corrosive than any of the three alone. This is what we fight, and why we fight.

Alfred Differ said...


I consider lifting our world outward a plausible idea technically, but I don't think anything remotely human will ever do it. We will be something else before long.

I'm not arguing for singularity. It's just that this version of homo sapiens is brand spanking new and on the knife's edge between being giga extinction event or leaping for the stars. If we fall back to feudalism, I think we get extinctions that will make what we've done so far look tame. If not, we become geo-engineers and something else in short order.

Obviously, I want us to break out. We will take a fraction of Mother Earth with us everywhere no matter what happens to her back home or who is here to help her.


In case I get wrapped up in family (quite likely) over the next few days, I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season. Time for me to do a little Santa Claus role playing. 8)

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

"You can assemble with whom you want without interference by the state, but the individuals assembling can't grant themselves exemptions from legal constraints at will."

Why not? If the structures are set up in advance, we'd simply register our intent and declare it done.

Then the setting up of the structures is where something analogous to the Laws of Robotics would be applied. To insure that the structures are more useful than dangerous. As a ridiculously simple example, there should not be a pre-arranged form for establishing a corporation dedicated to the overturning of a legitimate election.

Why bring marriage into this? Because a marriage is technically a general partnership and I HIGHLY object to licensing them. Registering them is fine as that makes intent transparent. No grants. Simply recognition. A general partnership of humans who produce children brings that partnership under the broad domain of family law without any charters, grants, or any way for others to hinder the liberty of those engaged in it.

Heh. I actually considered using marriage as an example myself. I will mention a few counterpoints to your use of the institution.

Even before same-sex marriage, people have always married for reasons other than child-rearing, even those incapable of conceiving.

There are grants of powers and responsibilities to married couples which are not available to non-legally-married ones. Immunity from testifying against each other. Hospital visitation. Tax favorability, although in many situations it is actually tax-unfavorability. My point being that you can't truly claim that marriage is a simple registration without legal consequence to the partners and to society.

"…we as parents and as society do put constraints on what children are allowed to do…"

Ha! You are a parent I believe. How well did that work? We both know children aren't designed.

Worked out rather well all told. She never burned her hand on a hot stove or ate dog poo (as far as I know). She learned to drive very well, and that was most certainly not by letting her act without constraint the first time behind a wheel. And without coercion from me, she want from complete un-interest in politics to being a good liberal Democrat.

One vivid memory of when I failed to do my job as a parent was when I let her run up the down escalator at a mall when she was 3 or so. Inevitably, she ended up falling and hurting herself. At a later time, when she insisted to me that "Your job is to make sure your child is happy!", I was able to counter that no, my job is to make sure she is safe, and I used the above as an example of what happens when I do that job badly. She actually got the point, which shows what a precocious 3-year-old she was.

You are also a parent. You're not really contending that the best way to bring a child to adulthood is to allow the child complete freedom of action at any stage of development, are you?

Paradoctor said...

I think the degradation and the advance are in tune with each other. The degradation spurs the advance, and the advance allows the degradation. It's a feedback loop, it's an arms race, it's a fire ecology; it grows, and burns, and grows back. There's nothing like the occasional disaster to create accelerated evolution; and there's nothing like accelerated evolution to create the occasional disaster.

Along these lines: I predict that the hominins of the far future will be far superior to us in intelligence, intuition, empathy, adaptability, physical resilience, emotional resilience, disease resistance, sales resistance, creativity, and critique; and they will possess those superhuman traits from early childhood. That's the good news. The bad news is that they will need all of those superhuman traits to survive long enough to reproduce.

It's Nature's way. That ought to satisfy both David Brin and Treebeard.

David Brin said...

scidata no openminded person seriously claims it is all or nothing. But if we don’t double down on the Enlightenment alternative attractor condition, in which competitive lateral accountability finds and addresses most errors, then the alternative faced by 99% of ancestors… rule from above by obligate and delusional cliques… will almost surely bring dystopic collapse.

Catfish, there are a few other standout human physical traits, e.g. spectacular ability at THROWING. And musical tonality as good at any songbird. A running animal who retained substantial climbing ability.

Unmatched temperature regulation through both sweating and stealing/using the fur of other creatures, removable at whim. And legendary hand-finger-eye coordination.

Only later did we gain speech and large brains… and only maybe 60,000 years ago an added mutation (my crackpot theory!) A facility for reprogramming operating systems through language.

scidata said...

Dr. Brin: will almost surely bring dystopic collapse

Of course, I get the urgency (I work nearly full time for the Enlightenment). What I was saying was that collapse is not permanent defeat (extinction). Some small measure should be devoted to recovery post-collapse (eg CollapseOS). Analogous to the 10-th man rule.

matthew said...

Goodbye TCB.

I'll miss your voice here, as will our host. His ego needs liberal punching-bags.

And our small community gets even smaller.

David Brin said...

I miss TCB already. I am saddened by his declaration and I hope he will rethink it.

The one accusation I refuse is that rough banter is the same thing as 'disrespect.' It is - rather - the opposite.

I do note, however, that he did nothing about my suggestion he answer even one of my splitter challenges. We share a desire to crush the oligarchic putsch represented by Fox and the GOP! Our side is weakened by those who look for any excuse to shrug and walk away from the only coalition that stands a chance to make that happen.

But good luck Mr. Buckner.
Thrive & persevere,

Alan Brooks said...

Will try to take TCB’s place to the best of my somewhat limited ability.
What I like about colonizing Mars is that if a big asteroid should (and eventually one will) hit Earth, it wouldn’t affect Mars; and an asteroid hitting Mars wouldn’t affect Earth. Since Mars is further out, solar flares wouldn’t be as much of a threat.

Paul451 said...

[Humans are explorers]
"Why do we assume ET wants to find us as badly as we want to find them? What if we are unusually motivated to bridge the gaps?"

Fermi is solved by any version of "we are unique" (or at least so unusual that we're functionally unique in our own light-cone.)

Whether it's unique-Earth or unique-intelligence or unique-civilisation. "Unique something" (or a cluster of uniques) is what the "filters" and especially "great filters" are referring to.

Any debate is limited to whether your particular filter passes the smell test as a likely scenario. IMO, the fact that you've already identified species on Earth other than hominids that combine intelligence and exploration, strongly suggests that not only is it not a very universal rule, but the opposite may be more universal.

I suspect that exploration is just a subset of curiosity. And that there's a high correlation between general purpose intelligence and curiosity. If so, you can add the intelligent birds to your list of exceptions; large parrots and corvids. That spreads the trait amongst multiple classes. If you throw in octopuses, you can generalise the rule beyond phyla.

Can you have a technological intelligence that lacks curiosity? How does problem solving work without curiosity?

Moreso, even if you can separate curiosity/problem-solving from the tendency to explore, if there's any variation in "explorerness" amongst a newly emerged intelligent species, then due to simple statistics, the first to colonise any new areas will be the subset of that species with the most "explorerness". Unless lack of "explorerness" has an evolutionary advantage that outweighs the survival advantage of simply existing in more places, I can't see how this statistical effect wouldn't be universal.

[An added issue for behavioural filters is the behaviour must not only tend to be absent from all other intelligent species, but also from groups within that species. It's not enough that on average, almost all species tend towards or away-from a particular behaviour, it's that their behaviour also has to restrict the outliers within their own species.]

Robert said...

Question for Americans…

Why is PenceNews so obsessed with Alex Baldwin? They are positively gloating in his troubles over the shooting on set.

David Brin said...

Paul451, Sagan said 'aggressive races will self destruct; those who tame themselves and survive will expand much more slowly." Fermi? Done!

Except um... rabbits spread like mad. Species proliferate because those members of the group who do seek new niches and expand will be the ones with more descendants in more places. "Curiosity" is a subset of expansionism.

Robert, Alec Baldwin mocked Trump very often and hence is a figure of hate on the right.

philcycles said...

Didn't Fred Pohl once write a story where the cold virus turns out to be a Martian invasion?

Larry Hart said...


Why is PenceNews so obsessed with Alex Baldwin? They are positively gloating in his troubles over the shooting on set.

I don't know what PenceNews is, but right-wing media in general don't like Alec Baldwin because of his on-the-mark, devastating portrayals of Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live.

Larry Hart said...


In War of the Worlds, it was the other way around. The technologically invincible Martians fell to the common cold.

At least that's how I'm remembering the original story. In Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen version, the virus that beat the Martians was genetically engineered by Dr. Moreau.

matthew said...

Off-topic but here is a very illuminating blog post on how the Pentagon reacted to 1/6 coup attempt. It pulls from publicly available data (interviews, books, etc.) to hazard a guess at why the National Guard were so slow to react to the attempted coup.

I disagree with some of the conclusions but there is a lot of meat to it. Good stuff.

Robert said...

I don't know what PenceNews is

I can sign you up…. :-)

Daily newsletter supposedly from Mike Pence's organization. I ended up on it, along with Jim Banks' newsletter list, because another chap with my name in America doesn't realize that his email isn't first dot last at gmail dot com, because I've had that email since gmail was invite-only.

I also get NRA circulars, his Amazon receipts for a while, etc.

The last was interesting, as it means I know where he lives. Indeed that was how I let him know he made the mistake — by sending him a letter. (Without a return address — I'm not silly.)

Tim H. said...

In news of the clean world:
(Tip of the hat to
It amuses me that the launch is scheduled for the time of year when the pagans were sure the sun was coming back and they could party. They might've even found the entire enterprise a suitable tribute to the sun.

duncan cairncross said...

Re Joe Manchin

His recent behavior has been very extreme - why?

I suspect our hosts idea about blackmail gives a clue

I wonder just what incriminating evidence the GOP has

David Brin said...

While Manchi is certainly milking theater and enraging the left, I am still not certain this isn't choreographed. Yes, my odds on that have shrunk. Top money is sucking up to WVa sentiments and local mandarins.

If the result is a January 1.5T$ bill we can live with that.

But sure, if that doesn't happen, then my money is on blackmail.

duncan cairncross said...


Similar names

On Facebook I looked at the full listing and found to my horror I was Duncan Cairncross 2!

So I looked up Duncan Cairncross - and there is another Duncan Cairncross living in England

I had thought that like Tigger I was the only one

Der Oger said...

Re: Manchin & Build Back Better:
There was an article about that vote in the Zeit (one of our liberal flagship newspapers) noting that 1/2 of the members of Congress are millionaires, and that Manchin drives a Maserati.

Just for understanding: How much, personally or culturally, does it bother you that rich people govern and show their status objects? I am quite sure that those two facts mentioned above were inserted to play to German sensibilities (I will explain that if wanted), but how it emotionally affects you?

Der Oger said...

Re: Fermi Paradox:

One idea I had in the last weeks was They could, but don't dare. Imagine a sufficiently advanced species which are not in immediate need for resettling to another system. After they have gone through the same dark sides of scientific possibilities as everyone else (like nuclear fission and it's military uses), they slow down, but not because of corrupt oligarchies or religious systems, but because they have understood that every scientific advance has side effects and unwanted repercussions, so everything has to be tested and simulated a hundred thousand times more often than we do before a new tiny piece of progress is allowed. Maybe they see dangers in interstellar colonization we don't see (and it could branch into the Berserker and Dark forest theories) or they have even found a way to conduct FTL travel - but deem it too dangerous to use it. Or simply lack the drive to do it because they already have a stable, peaceful and enlighted society, why should anyone want to leave?

matthew said...

Manchin will try to remove any climate change provisions that would hurt fossil fuel in the US. This was *always* his red line. Everything else is posturing.
He'll have to be bought out somehow to change his stance. Watch the continuing negotiations for this. His wife being on the $20B Appalachian slush fund was a down-payment to him.
Still a decent chance that *something* like BBB gets done, especially after all the heat he is getting for going back on his word. A politician's word is a very heavy legacy. If Manchin's word is no good, then he's as useless as Ted Cruz. Being called out by the WH for lying to POTUS is *not* what Manchin wants his legacy to be. It ruins his ability to cut a deal and makes him a lot less valuable to his real constituency - the US fossil fuel industries.

Manchin will pay back Biden for the broken promise by letting a voter-bill filibuster exemption happen in January, I predict.
Sinema will be the stumbling block there on voting, not Manchin. She needs to be bought off with a combo of good press, good committee assignments, and an infusion of cash into her re-election fund. Hell, tickets to "Hamilton", Disneyland, and a spot in the Ironman Triathlon. Throw it all at her.
If she is not bought, she will be the lone "no" vote on breaking the filibuster for voting-rights, and then she'll leave the party for the GOP, I suspect.
Sinema knows that she could not get re-elected as a Dem in AZ (underwater in Dem AZ polling by *79%* last I saw), not without a huge change in legacy. Her price will be lots of money and the ability to change her AZ polling.
Sinema is also a prime blackmail candidate. She does not have the built-in conflict of interest with BBB that Manchin has. Her change once in office has been striking.

Larry Hart said...

duncan cairncross:

So I looked up Duncan Cairncross - and there is another Duncan Cairncross living in England

Well, to be fair, where else would he be living?

(Ok, I would have actually guessed Scotland)

scidata said...

The winner of the most incongruous SF name ever: Duncan Idaho
It's as if the author was trying to confuse Yanks and insult Scots.

scidata said...

No diss to Idaho intended, potatoes have long been used to ridicule the Scotch-Irish, that's all I meant.

"If I were not French, I'd choose to be Scotch" - Wilfred Laurier
Laurier was an early Canadian Prime Minister, who's on our fin like Lincoln is on the US's. Much Canadian sociology and history is encapsulated in that one quote. There's nothing as touching or as powerful as one tribe's fondness for another - the mark of a nobler time.

Alan Brooks said...

Duncan Idaho. Not bad.
Btw though banal, this might interest some Brits here, as Lee Child is British. His character, Jack Reacher got his name because Child’s wife would get him to reach up to the top shelves at markets. “You’re a good reacher.”
Reacher is almost a SF superhero. At any rate, if ETs are aware of us, wouldn’t they dislike us, owing to all the gruesome wars we have fought? They might think we’re not only the highest apes—but also the worst.

Robert said...

[Sinema's] change once in office has been striking.

She's always been politically flexible, sticking to no principle but what's best for her own political career. 'Prada socialist to corporate donor magnet' according to the headlines. The question is why she thinks opposing the bill is good for her career — or maybe which corporate donor(s) convinced her it was.

Tim H. said...

Senator Manchin isn't the first politician to heed the "Vox pecunia" over the less discernible "Vox populi", most people really don't mind, as long as their interests overlap enough. With BBB, I think the long term interests of the wealthy align better with it's passage than without. It should increase the discretionary income of their customers.

Tim H. said...

Back to science/medical news:
My guess is that team believes they've found an immune-accessible feature common to all corona viruses. I believe Moderna is working that angle also, wouldn't surprise me if there were others also.

Don Gisselbeck said...

All the mammals I have encountered are at least occasionally curious. I am especially struck by the behavior of primates that is appearing on my Facebook feed.

Jon S. said...

I dunno, Don, a lot of the primates I've seen on FB are terribly incurious. You can present them with information all day, and all they'll do in response is parrot the latest official line from their Republican cult leaders.

David Brin said...

Jon S that is why I say demand wagers over a specific thing they parroted. Glom on and don't let them move on to the next thing. Make it a matter of 'the credibility of your sources; If you lose five such bets in a row, will you admit you should change channels?"

David Brin said...