What will ET look like when we meet him/her/it?

Posts tagged ‘Prime Directive’

Prepare to be Assimilated


English: Capt. Jean-Luc Picard as Borg Locutus...

English: Capt. Jean-Luc Picard as Borg Locutus Česky: Kapitán Picard jako Borg Locutus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


For most people, I think the scariest thing about the Borg was the whole “Resistance is Futile” bit.  Most people like choices.  It’s why Americans are so obsessed with the idea of freedom (whether Americans actually have freedom is a political discussion).  We also like the underdog and winning against impossible odds, so when Jean-Luc Picard survived assimilation we all felt good.  On my part, I was most intimidated by the loss of individual expression.  I mean being forcibly inducted into an extreme example of a technocratic society would be bad, but not being able to do your own thing afterwards?

That’s really bad.



Americans and most Western Europeans are naturally biased against collectivist cultures.  Our societies are largely individualist and we favor individual achievement, individual expression and individual freedoms.  Other cultures are generally more collectivist, favoring the achievement of the whole society and harmony over the freedoms of the individuals.  Neither culture is wrong (Prime Directive, Prime Directive, Prime Directive) but knowing which culture you belong to allows you to analyze your own biases.  It makes sense that an individualist culture would create a villain of a collectivist culture.  Of course, as I previously mentioned, I think most people were creeped out by the whole forcibly inducted bit.


The most extreme example of the collectivist culture requires instantaneous, probably telepathic communication between all members of the culture.  Any idea that occurs in the brain of any individual is immediately transmitted to the rest.  I might have an idea, Fred might carry it out with the will of the culture as a whole.  It’s a nice idea.  I’m an idea person.  I have gobs and gobs of ideas, which are sometimes impractical, sometimes simply impractical for me, and sometimes require a time scale and level of effort that my procrastinating self can’t deal with.  It would be nice to know that somewhere someone is carrying out my Great Idea.  However, I’m also a proud person.  I like knowing that I achieved, I created, I made.  I want credit for my Great Idea, and in the most extreme collectivist culture, that doesn’t happen.



Another way to look at collective thought was posed in the book I just bought.  The book is called This Will Make You Smarter, New Scientific Concepts to Improve your Thinking, edited by John Brockman.  The essay is called “Collective Intelligence” by Matt Ridley.  The gist of the essay is this “Human achievement is based on collective intelligence – the nodes in the human neural network are the people themselves.”  We are all of us individually incapable of constructing societies, making scientific discoveries, or even creating art without other people.  We need the people around us to inspire, motivate, encourage, etc.  We do not need to have instantaneous communication when we have writing, language and an internet connection.  Of course, the reason we seek to achieve is we get credit (and usually money) for our achievements.


If you do not buy that we already possess collective intelligence, the next question to ask is: Could extra-terrestrial intelligent species have collective intelligence, Borg style?  IMO, absolutely!  The idea of a collectively intelligent society is everywhere in science fiction.  It’s in Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and the computer game Sins of a Solar Empire.  And of course, there’s the Borg.  Not only that, but it’s in the natural world as well.  Bees and ants (also naked mole rats) have a society where only the queen breeds with the males.  Aside from

Books I've Read: Ender's Game

Books I’ve Read: Ender’s Game (Photo credit: Myles!)


the queen and the males, all other individuals in the colony are sexless drones.  In some ways, the queen selects the direction of the hive and gets all the credit (evolutionary credit is expressed as genes passed on!) while the drones do all the work.  Les Fourmis (Empire of Ants in English) is a speculative fiction novel about ants and collective intelligence.



I think it’s time to wrap this post up.  Its gone on so long!  My conclusions are: The Borg are still scary, collective intelligence is not, and an alien society with collective intelligence is more than possible!




That shelf is MINE!

I have new housemates.  Mostly, they’re cool.  They’re mostly other science types, researchers of other subjects, good people to have a beer with.  However, they’re a little more mainstream, they like hunting and they don’t read for fun as much as I do.  I feel a little weird telling them all about my blog discussing alien life.  I also don’t feel comfortable telling them to take out the damn recycling and stop crowding my shelf in the refrigerator.  One of my pet peeves if people crowding my space.  Conflicts of this kind are inevitable with new roommates, so common in fact that I call it the “new roommate phenomenon” and most people know what I mean.

This got me thinking.  Are conflicts inevitable on any scale?  Is the current culture clash between many Muslim countries and the USA inevitable? Is conflict with aliens inevitable?  Obviously, this last is the most important question in the context of this blog.

One of the main concepts in ecology is the competitive exclusion principle.  This principle states that any two species that fill the same niche will compete until one of four outcomes occurs: Species A out-competes Species B, Species B gets wiped out; Species B out-competes Species A, Species A gets wiped out; Species A and B fall into an unstable equilibrium which eventually results in one of the previously mentioned outcomes, somebody gets wiped out; Species A and B fall into a stable equilibrium which eventually results in niche partitioning and everybody lives happily ever after.  On Earth, we have many more examples of the first three outcomes than of the last outcome.

David Weber is one of my favorite science fiction authors.  In a couple of his series (Mutineer’s Moon, Safehold), aliens seek to wipe out humanity because they (the aliens) occupy the same type of planet as humans and they do not want anyone to wipe them out through competition, which is an extreme expression of the competitive exclusion principle.  In fact, these alien cultures are wholly based upon this goal.  When meeting aliens for the first time, we obviously want everyone to live happily ever after.  Query: Could it be possible for intelligent life to create a stable equilibrium, even if one species is clearly better able to compete on Earth-like planets?

Answer: The Prime Directive!  In the Star Trek universe, Starfleet is prohibited from interfering with the development of alien civilizations.  In Star Trek, this was phrased as allowing for cultural self-expression.  However, the reality is that removing the threat of being wiped out for cultural and biological differences allows for the possibility of niche-partitioning.  The Prime Directive allows everyone to live happily ever after.

Holy cow, I just used Star Trek to answer a problem presented by David Weber! Is that even legal in sci-fi?

Sometimes Star Trek people ran into problems when they didn’t recognize other civilizations as such or when they broke the taboos of a civilization they were exploring.  Enter the “new roommate phenomenon”.  What do we do about that?  I have no idea.  What do I do about my new roommates? Content myself with dealing with the recycling more often and tell them about my blog.  I’ll also be labeling my refrigerator shelf!  You hear me, roommates?  That shelf is MINE!