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Aliens

Cognisant

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How would differences in alien biology/psychology affect their culture?

What would an alien's culture tell us about their biology/psychology?

What if aliens can't vocalize like we can?
What affect does having one, two or more genders have?
Would carnivores and herbivores be noticeably different?
What traits might make a race more peaceful or militaristic?
Is it possible to develop technologically without hands?
etc...
 

Auburn

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I like this question.

Recently I've been watching biology/species videos and it's blown my mind away with the diversity that already exists in this planet.

There are some species with 3+ sexes, or with no sex, and there are all sorts of different male/female mechanisms already here on earth. Same with smart animals (dolphins) without hands. We have them here already.

Same with peaceful and war-like animals. Same with carnivores, herbivores and everything in between. All of it (and more) is already here on earth - without needing to go to an alien world.

So then the question might be better reframed as an engineering one: of what kind of biological solutions can create sentient aliens? Kinda like... "how many ways are there to get off the planet?" Physics limits our options. So too, with any sentient life form.

So it's not the diversity on other planets that we have to worry about. Surely other planets have all sorts of species too, but most wouldn't be advanced. "What does it take to be an advanced life-form" might be a better question, and then work out the "form" that is suited to that... in a kind of reverse-engineering exercise.

Just off the top of my head, some things I'd wager being present:

  • Complex Neural Networks ("brains")
  • Dexterity (sorry dolphins)
  • Mobility (no sentient sponges, sorry)
I also suspect a social/tribal species may be necessary, since it seems to me that our evolution (and brain size) increased exponentially due to a spike in social selection we underwent in the last ~million years. This appears to be happening in dolphins, too.

(If dolphins regrow their vestigial fingers, they might be in the business of a technology revolution someday.)
 

Cognisant

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Generally speaking a species can't be too big or otherwise tool use is impractical, the properties of materials don't scale up, a 2cm diameter 2m long dowel scaled up to 4cm in diameter and 4m long isn't a lever that can move masses twice as large.

Likewise a species can't be too small because for many complicated reasons the metabolisms of smaller animals tend to be faster so they live shorter lives and although intelligence itself isn't totally dependent on brain size (corvids are very smart despite their small brains) you do need lots of neurons to store memories.

I think there's a goldilocks zone for various things and that intelligent tool using races outside of that zone are going to be quite rare, but at the same time I think attractive humanoid aliens are just as unlikely given the diversity of simians on Earth none of which appear attractive to us, then again we supposedly fucked the neanderthals out of existence so maybe that's why there's no attractive simians.
 

Hadoblado

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Movement is a prerequisite for evolution of brains in the first place, let alone advanced ones. So yes, mobile.

I like Cog's thinking about an upper limit to plausible size. However, I think it's only a soft rule. Given the right environment I think megafauna could become civilised, though yes the tool use would be more limited. I've been thinking about how small a scale a civilised species could be. Are the metabolisms issues a hard rule? I thought there were species smaller than us that lived longer (jellyfish, tortoises, some sorts of birds?).

I think warmbloodedness helps in that it allows exposure to diverse environmental pressures, which selects more for intelligence. Reptiles get a huge bonus to their metabolism but essentially avoid these vital selective pressures.

I think language is necessary for intelligent life, but it need not be vocal. You could plausibly have an intelligent species that is completely silent despite a complex language.

I think genders would speed up development of intelligence, as it creates an in-built diversity to the social environment, which is also likely required for intelligence.

Sorry... just blobbing out thoughts.

Oh, also, apparently there might be a cost to dynamic memory storage and retrieval for development of intelligence. Chimpanzees (I think?) have been shown to outperform humans on some aspects of memory.
 

Cognisant

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Are the metabolisms issues a hard rule? I thought there were species smaller than us that lived longer (jellyfish, tortoises, some sorts of birds?).
Square-cube law, smaller creatures retain heat less effectively so their bodies have to work harder to maintain a functional core temperature, conversely smaller creatures can increase their metabolic rate without overheating and being more energetic is generally advantageous. Smaller creatures sort of grow faster, partially due to their generally faster metabolisms and in part due to the square-cube law, a baby elephant may be proportionally the same to an adult elephant as a baby mouse is to an adult mouse but a mouse can reach maturity in 6-8 weeks whereas an elephant takes 8-13 years just to reach adolescence, remember these proportions are a multiplication of volume, adding a few hundred grams of mass is a lot easier than adding a few thousand kilograms.

Then there's the environment and lifestyle to consider, tortoises can live a long time because they've got a relatively slow metabolism for their size (being cold blooded herbivores) but a sentient tortoise seems unlikely, they just don't have the energy to spare. Jellyfishes have astoundingly slow metabolisms but they don't nervous systems to feed, indeed the distinction between jellyfishes as single organisms and colonies of microorganisms is still under debate, in any case a sentient jelly seems extremely unlikely.

Sorry if I'm a bit incoherent, it's a broad subject and I'm covering a lot of ground to make my point: There are creatures smaller thank humans that live longer than humans but usually the reason why precludes intelligence, in gaming terminology they're going for an eco/efficiency meta whereas intelligence is a high stakes high energy consumption sort of thing, a creature that was sentient and relatively sedentary isn't impossible but it seems unlikely.

I think language is necessary for intelligent life, but it need not be vocal. You could plausibly have an intelligent species that is completely silent despite a complex language.
I think animals have a contextual language that we're largely ignorant to, like when a cat makes its "I want something" meow near its food bowl it's saying it wants to be fed without actually having words for "feed me". It's all context and feeling, there's no vocabulary, even saying that there's a "I want something" meow is misleading because there's no actual meaning to it, there's just an expression of emotion that only has meaning in context.
 

Niclmaki

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There have been multiple things that evolved independently from each other on Earth, so I would wager complex life elsewhere actually wouldn’t look super differently from ours. There IS quite the diversity already here though, so shrug.

If they were complex enough to traverse stars though, I can’t imagine they would be hostile at all. Their technology could cater to anything they’d want, and if they were hostile among themselves they would never get to that point, technologically.

I am a fan of the “Prime Directive” answer to the fermiparadox though. The one way you could get around the two points above is if a species was uplifted. I imagine that’s a big no-no.

Edit: oh, there is another way. Like Grey Goo. Or some sort of AI. That’s a whole other discussion though.
 

Cognisant

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There's undeveloped civilizations here on Earth which we mainly ignore unless their remote island/region has some resource that's of interest to us, their cultures may be novel but they don't interest us as much as our own diversions.

By the time we encounter aliens it may be the case that with the variety of transhumans, posthumans and genetically modified humans about actual aliens may seem passé, consider us for example, a bunch of bipedal hairless monkeys, is that worth traveling interstellar distances for?
 

Auburn

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Here's a tentative hypothesis:

- Complexity (intelligence) in life is high-cost, and only happens as a result of selective pressures favoring higher processing power and flexible solutions. Homeostasis is more ideal, where a species survives just fine in its present form for billions of years, as we've seen with some here on earth. If a species isn't challenged, it won't grow.

- Challenging selective pressures favoring higher processing and flexible solutions require... mobility, dexterity, and a computational matrix (i.e. brain). A tree doesn't have that many problems to solve. But a dynamic species does, as it tracks food/resources, predators, etc. Problems. Problems.

- This gets us up to ravens and cuddlefish. These kinds of creatures have dexterity, mobility, and processing. So they're very clever about how they innovate to get food. HOWEVER... they are capped, imo.

- Dolphins are a step up from ravens and cuddlefish because of the social aspect. Why? Because the social aspect is another --even more computationally taxing problem (just ask an aspie!) -- that requires a lot of abstraction. So I see socialization as one of the most likely additional factors that works as a selective pressure for a species to solve complex problems.

Essentially, at some point the "abstraction" has to detach itself from the environment. Humans interface with ideas, as if ideas were objects in the world. We "problem solve" in a conceptual space, simulating scenarios that don't exist.

I can't think of another selective pressure that would catalyze that sort of abstraction, aside from socialization and language-development, which go hand in hand. Language development is what allowed us to abstract concepts, and we developed language to communicate with each other.

So I would add: language (which implies socialization) as a fourth criteria, giving us:
  • mobility
  • dexterity
  • processing
  • language
What do you guys think?

edit: of a higher nuances than "meow"
we need to be able to relay very specific information ("i put the spear under my tent, go get it, we need you to hunt with us").
 
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