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View Full Version : Nick Bostrom's Fermi Paradox article



Binho
24-10-2011, 10:28 AM
I was just reading it (http://www.technologyreview.com/printer_friendly_article.aspx?id=20569), and I realised that these sorts of discussions are always based on one assumption: That technology inevitably progresses.

Which is patently not the case. Technology is very much the result of specific social conditions. It is absolutely unessecary for survival. Biologically Homo Sapiens is 200,000 years old. We only started making tools/using language about 50,000 years ago. So already, for 3/4th's of it's existence, intelligent life was 'non-technological' - although as we know, many birds and primates which we don't consider sentient use tools, and many animals use basic forms of 'language'.

Modern technology (electricity/steam) has only existed for just over 1/500th of those 50,000 years of tool making and language use. And more importantly, it only arose once: in western Europe. It was us who spread the technology around.

I mean, rewind a bit and think about it. 'Civilisation' (In terms of farming, cities, complex art and architecture, and large populations all in one) only arose independently in the Mediterranean, in China and in Mesoamerica. Even in those cases, other socities which they had contact with did not automatically adopt civilisation or their technology (Only the choiciest bits, generally). Northern Europe at the fall of the Roman Empire wasn't any more technologically advanced than it had been 2,000 years before, even though they had extensive contact with the Romans, both peacefully and otherwise.

In North America, South America, most of Africa, Oceania, extreme areas of Northern Europe (ie. the Saami in Finland) and large swathes of Asia "technology" and society never really evolved much further than a mesolithic/neolithic level. In some cases, like the Australian aborigines, it can be barely termed paleolithic. I do believe in some areas of Scandinavia technology actually actively regressed for awhile during the middle ages. Yet, none of those societies were or are less intelligent than Western Europeans.

Not that technology is a pre-requisite or a result of civilisation even. The Mesoamerican's weren't that technologically advanced: They didn't have draft animals, the wheel, and the only metal they knew how to work was gold - yet they still managed to develop large cities, construct impressive structures, and create complex art and sculpture. There is no guarantee that if we left them there for another 10,000 years, they would have developed electricity.

The Great Filter, as Nick Bostrom calls it, might simply be the social proccesses which initiated our technological progress. I mean, it's our belief in the powers and superiority of technology and Science - combine with a healthy dose of luck - which drive these advances, not some natural inevitable process. I view technology as a random result of various factors, much like evolution. It is not progressive, or a natural goal for intelligent life.

Lots of socities today still actively reject all our advances, and much prefer living a la-paleolithic. Some scientists and archaeologists believe in some respects that is a healthier lifestyle (In fact, one of the less talked about results of civilisation is the rise of disease epidemics. Being so tightly packed together makes it really easy for disease to spread quickly.). Of course, then you can also get in to what constitutes sentinence and intelligence. There are some highly intelligent crows (http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2007/10/05/crows_ani.html?category=animals&guid=20071005130000&dcitc=w19-502-ak-0000) and primates, and many intelligent mammals.

In any case, I rather like my technology. I don't much care for hunter-gathering, pastoralism or horticulture. And I love Science. :P But it is a point worth making, I feel.

acidtestportfolio
24-10-2011, 02:42 PM
one second i have to pound my head against the brick wall

Lukasz
24-10-2011, 02:55 PM
I was just reading
Which is patently not the case. Technology is very much the result of specific social conditions. It is absolutely unessecary for survival. Biologically Homo Sapiens is 200,000 years old. We only started making tools/using language about 50,000 years ago. So already, for 3/4th's of it's existence, intelligent life was 'non-technological' - although as we know, many birds and primates which we don't consider sentient use tools, and many animals use basic forms of 'language'.

Modern technology (electricity/steam) has only existed for just over 1/500th of those 50,000 years of tool making and language use. And more importantly, it only arose once: in western Europe. It was us who spread the technology around.
Steam and electricity were discovered thousands of years before... and steam at least twice before (in egypt and in greece as far as i know)
so about that you are mistaken but it does prove your point that tech. is the result of specific social conditions.
or
in my opinion, results of necessity.

[url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hero_of_Alexandria]Hero of Alexandria[/quote] could not find a proper use for his tech. Couldn't market it properly. It was not needed and was therefore forgotten.

In stable population without pressure, dangers, need to develop tech. is nonexistent. When someone comes up with a steam power but it really has no use as slaves would be cheaper then that tech will be forgotten. and the technological level will stay the same or can even regress like it happened after western roman empire fell. no need for fancy buildings, no need for concrete, roads, postal system...

gundrea
25-10-2011, 09:08 AM
Lots of socities today still actively reject all our advances, and much prefer living a la-paleolithic. Some scientists and archaeologists believe in some respects that is a healthier lifestyle


I'm sure those scientists can point at the long life expectancies those people enjoyed as validation of their beliefs.

Binho
25-10-2011, 05:24 PM
I'm sure those scientists can point at the long life expectancies those people enjoyed as validation of their beliefs.

Yes actually. Paleolithic life expectancy was higher than that in early agricultural societies. They were also in many ways healthier. Communal behavior, nomadism, low population density, and a more varied diet meant they were less affected by infectious disease (transmitted by close contact with humans, domesticated animals, and rotting waste) and rarely suffered from malnutrition. Of course, there where other dangers which increased their mortality rate, but they seemed to have been less exposed to disease. In contrast, Early agriculture and sedentism meant less variety in food (and consequently increased malnutrition), constant proximity to waste, animals (which were the original sources of TB) and other humans. It also increased infant mortality. Since cereals and agriculture provided more calories, the population increased and consequently so did the vectors for infectious disease transmission. Modern life expectancy is much higher than in the paleolithic (by a few decaded) mainly due to better sanitation and healthcare, though industrialisation brought along increased risk of chronic and degenerative disease. And now, many diseases are evolving immunities to drugs (partially due to antibiotic overuse). Source:

Emerging and Re-Emerging Infectious Diseases: The Third Epidemiologic Transition
Ronald Barrett, Christopher W. Kuzawa, Thomas McDade and George J. Armelagos
Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 27, (1998)*(pp. 247-271)


In regards to steam, etc. I know the greeks knew about it, but knowing about something does not mean it could have been turned in to a usable technology at the time (or ever). When I meant technology, I meant usable technologies. There is a lot of stuff we can do in a lab now, but there is no guarantee we can use it on a practical scale (ie. Fusion).

Edit: stupid iPhone autocorrect

Nalano
25-10-2011, 08:47 PM
Yes, it doesn't take much to get a human to survive until s/he's old enough to reproduce.

That being said, please take a look at population trends of humans to see what technology has wrought:

"nobody nobody nobody nobody a couple folks holyshitlookatallthesepeople!"

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b7/Population_curve.svg

DigitalSignalX
26-10-2011, 01:11 AM
While OP raises a good point, I think a flaw would be the rate of progress. Since the main article deals with space and time largely in a geological sense, even a Mesolithic/Neolithic culture would still incrementally evolve - it's inevitable. Especially over tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of years. I can't picture a lifestyle where someone wouldn't be the first to do something new, to make some task even slightly easier by modifying some tool etc - that over the course of hundreds or thousands of years wouldn't be the foundation for scientific principles or higher math/physics.

Which brings us full circle into the discussion of a universe seeded with cultures, even at various rates of progress, over the span of billions of years should still have left a signature for others to find.

Nalano
26-10-2011, 01:51 AM
While OP raises a good point, I think a flaw would be the rate of progress. Since the main article deals with space and time largely in a geological sense, even a Mesolithic/Neolithic culture would still incrementally evolve - it's inevitable. Especially over tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of years. I can't picture a lifestyle where someone wouldn't be the first to do something new, to make some task even slightly easier by modifying some tool etc - that over the course of hundreds or thousands of years wouldn't be the foundation for scientific principles or higher math/physics.

Which brings us full circle into the discussion of a universe seeded with cultures, even at various rates of progress, over the span of billions of years should still have left a signature for others to find.

Assuming, of course, that said new method of doing something or new tool actually, y'know, gets communicated over generations and/or over distances past one's immediate community. It's not like we all work by osmosis.