What Are Aliens Like?

Over at Cato Unbound, I respond to Jerome Barkow’s survey of possible influences on the evolution of alien culture and intelligence, as clues to the kinds of aliens we might meet. Alas, Barkow assumes that alien styles are largely determined by the specific biological environments in which particular alien species originally evolved. However:

This might make sense for aliens who are a thousand years more advanced than humans are today. But it makes far less sense for aliens who are a million or a billion years more advanced – far more likely timescales. Given how much adaptation could have taken place over such times, we should expect to see older aliens selected far more by their final environment than their initial environment.

I then offer five predictions about older aliens:

First, … [they] should be very well adapted to their final physical environment. … Advanced aliens are physically similar across the universe, unless significantly different social equilibria are possible and have substantially different physical implications.

Second, … sexual reproduction is quite unlikely to last. … This doesn’t mean signaling will end. …

Third, very old aliens should be accustomed to very low levels of growth and innovation. …  We’d [not] have much general information of use to such aliens. …

Fourth, … very advanced aliens should not be either generically friendly or generically hostile to outsiders. Instead they should be very good at making their friendship or hostility appropriately context-dependent. … Such aliens would ask themselves in great and careful detail, what exactly could humans eventually do to help or hurt them?

Fifth, advanced aliens should be well adapted in both means and ends. … Advanced aliens will be very patient, but also very selfish regarding their key units of reproduction, and quite risk averse about key correlated threats to their existence. (more)

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