archive: Re: SETI The Drake Equation - Probability One

Re: SETI The Drake Equation - Probability One

Brian Straight ( (no email) )
Wed, 19 May 1999 11:37:43 -0500

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Date: Tuesday, May 18, 1999 7:57 PM
Subject: Re: SETI The Drake Equation - Probability One


Thanks for the constructive reply. It has stimulated interesting thoughts!

>All animals, even humans, must respect the power of Darwin's evolutionary


>Intelligence seems to have evolved as a survival strategy, to avoid
becoming >food.


>Intelligence itself, and the creation of tools, seems to have negated the
>neccessity of biological adaptation.

Agreed. You said it much better than I did.

>Now we can create nearly unlimited
>physical and intellectual structures to magnify our abilities.

Yes. Where our difference lies, I suspect, is in our confidence in
the continuation of the evolution of such structures.
Your argument (as I see it) is that there is an in-built imperative
to continue this adaptation--a kind of technological teleology.

I appreciate this position, but I can't help looking at the stagnation
that persisted for centuries in many cultures here on earth.
The following points, are , of course, massive generalizations,
but here goes.

I would argue that most cultures seem to reach a level of appropriate
technology and then cease further adaptation. That is, if the
technology satisfies most subsistence needs, many cultures
stagnate--especially those blessed with mild climates and fertile soils.

In some cases, such cultures may stimulate scientific inquiry (ancient
Greece, for example). But more often, development may take a
more mystical route, where the culture elaborates an increasingly
philosophically complex universe, usually at the expense of technological
advancement (for example, the Pacific Islands of pre-Western contact).

On earth, Western civilization is characterized by a desire to subjugate
the environment. Its notions of progress and its desire to dominate
other cultures arise in large part from certain interpretations of
Judaeo-Christian philosophy. The imperative used to be a desire
to know the mind of God through understanding his works. Such
desire led directly to the Enlightenment, and the eventual triumph
of scientific methodology as the privileged method for understanding
the world.

However, what gave this its irresistable power was the melding
of the evolution of knowledge and technology with the spiritual
imperatives of the Western interpretation of Judaeo-Christian
beliefs. This led to the desire to 'enlighten' the world. In contact with
the Pacific Islanders, Missionaries spent a great deal of time
convincing the inhabitants to be dissatisfied with their almost
idyllic existance. In this sense, the concept of Original Sin
may have been as powerful a force on technological development
as anything else.

The Church, as much as the state, therefore drove this process--
appealing both to sprituality as well as to rationality: much early
development in Astronomy, for example, came from the desire
of the Church to calculate the date of Easter. Would we have
had Copernicus or Kepler (or even Von Braun or Sagan) without
such an imperative?

In other words, is the catalysing spark that moves civilization from
appropriate technology to an aggressive, questing technology, a
much more rare thing than we might imagine? Or is it, as you say, John,
an inevitability of evolutionary pressure?

I believe the former, but I hope for the latter.