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

Posts tagged ‘Science Fiction’

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!




Necessary Evils

neanderthal skulls

neanderthal skulls (Photo credit: leted)

Data entry days are the death of whatever creativity I can claim.  Most days my job happens in a beautiful, wild place. My boss doesn’t even work in the same county so most problems I encounter are my own to solve. I have changed more tires in the past few months than the whole rest of my life combined. The hot air around me vibrates with the sounds of crickets, birds, flies, animals I can’t even name. I love it.  I feel so strong thinking about all I do at work.

Then one of the data entry days happens. My computer sucks the power from my brain as well as the plugin. My chair seems especially designed to cause back aches. My desk, oh God, my desk is the kitchen table and it is not destined to be a comfortable computer stand. Unfortunately data entry is the great necessary evil (aside from grant writing) in the science world. And so I endure, back aches, carpal tunnel, brain drain and all.

The phrase “necessary evil” gets me thinking. What are the necessary evils that helped us along our path to intelligence? Are ambition, dishonesty, laziness, greed, hate, or selective obliviousness necessary for intelligence to develop in a species? Does evolution favor morality? I can see where each of aforementioned traits could come in handy in our struggle to survive. I don’t think we will easily find the answer though. I don’t know that I want to find out whether eliminating Neanderthal competitors was necessary for our survival. Science fiction is full of “be careful what you wish for” stories. What if it’s true? What if when we meet another intelligent life form, their history is as full of atrocity as our own? Could we ever cooperate with a species as terrible as our own?

Even worse, what if there are no necessary evils paired with intelligence? What if we are the boogeymen of the universe? Would we even want to meet another species, knowing what we’ve done to ourselves?

That’s probably enough maudlin -ness to last for a while. I better sign off before you read too much into my woes! Next post will be back to the origins of intelligence! Something more cheerful anyway!!