Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization

First Edition

© 1975-1979, 2008 Robert A. Freitas Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Robert A. Freitas Jr., Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization, First Edition, Xenology Research Institute, Sacramento, CA, 1979; http://www.xenology.info/Xeno.htm


14.2.3  Communal Sentience

Cultural information storage is clearly the most efficient and well-integrated technique available to biological lifeforms. As the graph indicates, it represents as great an improvement over brain-dependent systems as the brain represents over genetic systems. Sentience based on an internalized sociocultural awareness must be equally advanced beyond our own.3329

Beings with genetic sentience are physiological and social specialists. Both body and mind are strictly "mission-oriented." Individual initiative is stifled and behavior is. stereotyped.

Brain sentient individuals have cast off the shackles of biological specialization. Members of these species are more or less physiologically generalized. Such creatures, of which humans are a typical example, are nevertheless forced to retain their social specialization patterns -- pecking orders, dominance hierarchies, governments, etc.

Extraterrestrial species that have achieved communal sentience will be both physiological and social generalists. Not only will physical form be roughly equivalent throughout the society, but each individual member will be capable of handling virtually all sociocultural tasks with ease.

While the individual members of a genetically sentient group are totally unconscious, and brain sentient humans are aware of themselves but not of their society, communal sentient aliens will have a well-developed, very real sense of their community as well as of themselves. Individuality need not be sacrificed: A new level of awareness is simply tacked onto the old. Somehow -- perhaps by electronic telepathy or psychological synchronization -- each creature can sense what is good for society just as a human knows that it is good to eat when he is hungry or to scratch when he itches. The alien feels personal anguish at offenses against the community, and perhaps even views it as a real, physical extension of his own body.

One wonders what such a race might think of us. To them, humanity would appear at best partially conscious. Our continual relapses into states of war, our dependence on elaborate, formalized and highly specialized institutions, and our lack of empathy with others would seem pitiful and barbaric. Just as humans can train a dog to perform certain useful tasks for purposes incomprehensible to the animal itself, perhaps communal ETs could teach us a few sociopolitical "tricks" to enable us to live together in harmony -- though we understand them not at all.

The distinctions between the communal and genetic modes of sentience should perhaps be made more explicit. In a differentiated genetic society, the individuals are physically different from members of other castes and perform only very specialized physical and social tasks. In comparison, the communal society consists of individuals with similar bodies (no castes) and who perform highly generalized physical and social tasks. In the former, the individual member has no self-awareness whatsoever; in the latter, the individual has a deep and abiding (almost visceral) understanding both of his own self and of the corporeality of his society.

Communal sentience is difficult for human beings to imagine. Just as insects can only be dimly aware of the implications of their tiny brains, we humans can only vaguely appreciate the plethora of historical forces and sociocultural processes which circumscribe our social existence. The idea that alien beings may exist who can sense the pulse, the hunger and the mood of their community as easily as we can of our physical bodies is a mysterious and alluring possibility.


Last updated on 6 December 2008