Re: Why Would Aliens Hide?

Robin Hanson (
Wed, 24 Nov 1999 10:29:39 -0500

Robert Bradbury wrote:
> > It seems that you assume that:
> > Virtually all advanced creatures in the universe care essentially
> > only about their *individual* longevity.
>... If current models for evolutionary
>systems and natural selection are "typical", traits promoting individual
>survival are strongly prefered over group trait selection. You only
>have to look at the #'s of species (millions) where individual selection
>rules over the few species (perhaps a few collective species such as bees,
>ants or termites) where group selection may play a role.

The thread titled "Longevity" has over the last week or so has described in great detail how evolution has *not* selected for longevity above all else. Creatures such as mice have evolved to trade individual longevity off against other features which promote reproduction. And humans have been known to make great sacrifices, including longevity sacrifices, in order to help their children prosper. People do not buy the safest possible car, or avoid driving except in emergencies; they clearly trade off the risk of death against other things they value. So do animals. Advanced creatures who think of colonies as their children should be willing to make great sacrifices to help them.

> > You seem to want to allow these creatures to place a small value on
> > things like art, but if you allow that, I can't see why you don't
> > also allow them to place a small value on colonization, ...
>I probably would argue that the creation of art "internally" (virtually)
>makes more sense than "externally" (rearranging stars into constellations,
>etc.) because it is less expensive. ... Virtual colonization could be
>cheaper than real colonization. You create an internal "solar system",
>send off a virtual probe and see what happens.

These could only be cheaper if the creatures want only the "sensation" of art or colonization. If what they want is to *really* colonize, a simulation won't do. Similarly, I'll bet many artists on this list would *not* be satisfied to only manipulate bits in their heads. Part of their passion for art probably includes desires to construct real things out there, and to have other creatures out there react to their creations.

>... a personal maximization perspective. I do have to assume that
>a potentially colonizing species would recognize this as one very
>valid, perhaps even dominant, developmental path for ETC. In that
>case, colonization becomes a limited and/or stop-n-go effort.

Even a slow stop-n-go colonization can be enough to colonize the universe. Even if, 5 billion years ago, the average spacing between powers willing to try the colonization approach was 5 million light years, then an average expansion rate of .1% of the speed of light is plenty enough to colonize the universe by now.

>... would Columbus have voyaged to the new world if he knew that it
>might be populated by Indians armed with AK-47's?

Even if the old world assigned a 99% probability to this possibility, someone would have surely ventured to the new world sometime in the next ten thousand years after Columbus. The costs of voyaging would have fallen, and the benefits of success, even at low odds, would have been enough to tempt someone. Heck, eventually orbiting satellites would have told us the AK-47 story wasn't true.

You can't have it both ways. Either virtually every star we see is guarded by a power which would prevent others taking it, or a great many of them aren't so guarded. If they are all guarded, there is the question of why they don't use the resources of the system they guard. If many are not guarded, then surely other great powers with those super-telescopes you imagine would be able to figure this out.

>It seems to me that the discussion of colonization must rest upon
>a relatively strong guarantee that you will be occupying "unowned"
>resources. If you can't guarantee that, then sending a probe or
>a star ship makes no sense. You had better go there with all
>the intelligence, mass and energy you can muster. That means
>you take the entire SI.

Plants today suffer a very large chance that any given place they might want to colonize is already occupied. Yet they do not follow the strategy you advise. Instead, they send out multitudes of cheap seeds. The chance that each seed will take root is small, but the cost of a seed is small enough to make the strategy work. Advanced creatures can take a similar "shotgun" approach to colonization.

> > But if you think there are theoretical reasons for us to think
> > your assumption plausible, you need to clarify them. All
> > creatures valuing only longevity is not implied by these
> > creatures being conscious, nor is it implied by an evolutionary
> > selection of creatures.
>No, but conscious (intelligent) creatures valuing longevity *will*
>become the dominant population over time due to simple selection
>effects. Sooner or later the creatures/species that don't have this
>as a value will have fatal accidents. Even if the traits of
>"maximizing personal longevity" and "intelligence" are very
>rare, over time they should come to predominate.

I challenge you to offer some more evidence or analysis in defense of this claim. Plants, animals, and humans today sacrifice longevity for helping their children. Computer simulations of biological systems show similar effects. We even have simulations of galactic colonization which show selection for tendencies to send out colonies. We have lots of mathematical theory of evolution that show similar effects, and I have a math model of selection among interstellar colonization that shows this effect directly. What evidence do you have to counter all this contrary evidence?

Robin Hanson Asst. Prof. Economics, George Mason University MSN 1D3, Carow Hall, Fairfax VA 22030
703-993-2326 FAX: 703-993-2323