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


16.1.1  Intelligence Amplification

People have long been astounded by the feats of so-called "human calculating machines." An 18th-century Englishman named Jedediah Buxton reputedly could multiply three 6-digit numbers in his head almost instantly, but his mind was otherwise dull and he remained a day laborer all his life. Zerah Colburn, a rather shy Vermontian born in 1804, attracted even more attention as a child by solving involved mathematical problems. Taken to London at the age of eight, he gave math professors instantaneous answers to such questions as raising 8 to the 16th power and extracting the cube root of 268,336,125. Another mental marvel, Johann Martin Dase, was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1824. Dase once correctly multiplied together two 100-digit numbers in his head in only nine minutes.

Since there really was nothing unusual about the upbringing of any of these individuals, the simplest explanation is that their abilities were congenital in origin. Through some odd shuffling of the genetic deck, some gene or sequence of genes produced a brain of incredible calculational capability rivaling at least that of early-generation electronic computers. If ETs encouraged the spread of some similar hereditary pattern throughout their own gene pools, their entire population could become a race of arithmetic wizards.

Other aspects of intelligence similarly may be upgraded. One well-known case of fantastic memory was Elijah of Vilna, a Lithuanian rabbi, who during his lifetime read more than two thousand treatises. He could recall any sentence on any page in any book at will, without error, and was unable to forget anything he’d read -- an ability the rabbi regarded as a curse. His memory represented a storage capacity of at least five billion bits of information -- again, a capacity comparable to the large magnetic disk memory units used in modern computers.

It is entirely possible that aliens, by judiciously selecting specific constellations of genes, could arrange to give themselves and their offspring total-recall eidetic memories, fast arithmetic ability, and a host of other genius-level mental qualities.

In a series of experiments, Dr. Allen L. Jacobson of the University of California showed that RNA functions as a carrier of memory in the mammalian brain. Jacobson taught rats and hamsters to retreat into a feeding box at the flash of a light or the sound of a click. The conditioned animals were sacrificed and the RNA carefully extracted from their brains. This material was then injected into untrained animals of the same species, who subsequently proved far easier to train than their predecessors. One unexpected finding was that the transfer of learning worked cross-species: Untrained rats benefited from injections of trained-hamster RNA.

If these results can be confirmed, the implications of such "memory molecules" are staggering. Injected directly into the bloodstream, synthetic viruses consisting of nothing more than a central core of nucleic acid (commonly RNA) surrounded by a sheath of protein could be used to "infect" a brain with knowledge. Remarks one writer:

We would be able to learn French, or algebra, or anything else whose code we knew, by injection. One can imagine education by mass inoculation, or the use of bacteriological warfare techniques for beneficent purposes by spraying entire populations with "good" viruses. The teaching of many subjects would become obsolete).1860

Drs. Alexandre Monnier and Paul Laget, French geneticists, have suggested that these coded forms of knowledge be written directly onto the original genetic specifications. Like the social insects, who carry a plethora of pre-programmed knowledge in their genes, humans of the future or extraterrestrials of other planets might be able to arrange to be "born smart." Each infant could carry the genes to manufacture RNA information equivalent to several university doctoral degrees. Much basic knowledge -- the ability to walk, to speak in many tongues, to swim and dive, to pilot a spacecraft, to perform intricate mathematical calculations using established techniques, to play a piano -- could be incorporated directly into the nucleus of the fertilized egg so that the organism would possess all these abilities without ever having to learn them.

The evolution of physically larger brains by deliberate breeding and selective gene transplantation is another practical option for ETs seeking intelligence amplification. "Is it very rash," asks Dr. Jean Rostand, "to imagine that it would be possible to increase the number of brain cells?" His answer:

A young [human] embryo has already in the cerebral cortex the nine billion pyramidal cells which will condition its mental activity during the whole of its life. This number, which is reached by geometric progression or simple doubling, after 33 divisions of each cell (2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and so on), could in turn be doubled if we succeeded in causing just one more division -- the 34th.2645

Many neurologists remain skeptical of such suggestions, claiming that normal birth would be quite impossible with a head so large. According to Dr. H. Chandler Elliot:

The man of the future was depicted by early fantasy writers with a huge head to house a superbrain; but this picture is discarded by modern sophisticated science fiction as naive and implausible, even for inhabitants of other worlds.90

But as Rostand has pointed out, the supercranial fetus could be produced in an artificial womb. Since the opening could be made as large as required, the impossible-birth consideration is largely irrelevant.

It is impossible to rule out the possibility of genetically amplified, bioneered aliens, possessing memory, mental acuity and speed of thought com parable to some of the finest computers available on Earth today.


Last updated on 6 December 2008