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


21.2.1  Sentience

Probably one of the most important determinants of the nature and scope of alien governments is the type of sentience of the individuals who represent the social units comprising the political system. We have briefly examined the question of extraterrestrial intelligence and consciousness in an earlier chapter, so we may now proceed to analyze the effects of different minds upon the mode of governance.

In Chapter 14 we found that a central characteristic of intelligence is its ability to handle increasingly generalized classes of information. Below is an oversimplified list of "mental types" above mere reactivity, in order of ascending negentropic efficacy:

1. Genetic sentience;
2. Reptilian brain sentience;
3. Limbic brain sentience;
4. Neocortical brain sentience;
5. Communal sentience;
6. (higher-order sentience...).

(Genetic sentience involves a society that is aware of itself but whose members lack individual awareness. Brain conscious creatures have individual awareness but no societal consciousness. Beings with communal sentience will possess a visceral self-awareness both of the individual and of the society.)

Creatures with genetic sentience are preprogrammed to operate independently of all other units for the good of the society, so such lifeforms might theoretically survive at any cultural scale. Brain-sentient ETs likewise capable of independent action because of their individual awareness, probably also may aspire to any cultural scale. But communal sentients may be somewhat more restricted. Science fiction writer Charles Sheffield has hinted at this problem among humans with biocybernetic implants -- a kind of electronic telepathy. He describes what might happen when such communal creatures attempt to expand their cultural scale:

Can you imagine how men with implants would react if they were taken to a place where they were light-years, or light-hours -- or even light-minutes -- away from the supporting memory banks, and the shared data? I don’t think they could take it. They’d go insane. It’s pretty obvious that the worst punishment you could inflict would be to disable a man’s implant. Like being in solitary confinement, but probably a lot worse.2962

The effects of mental type on class of leadership are equally surprising. Without personal self-awareness, genetic sentients cannot recognize any leadership at all. Chaotic government is most likely. Brain sentients may have systems of governance ranging across the entire leadership scale. But communal sentients, with their social viscera and dualistic insight, should strongly tend toward pantisocracy because the mechanics of rule by all will be enormously simplified through electronic telepathy. It may be that only communal beings are capable of forming truly successful anarchs.2979 Similarly, genetic minds might lack concepts of reciprocity -- with no sense of the self there can be no empathy for the selves of others. Communal beings should tend toward the opposite extreme, choosing a highly symbolic exchange system that everyone agrees "feels" right.

Centralization may be a concept unique to brain-sentient races. Both genetic and communal sentients will have strong social senses which are missing in brain sentients. It is quite possible that federation and empire are organizational forms that can exist only when individual awareness is present and social awareness is not. Similar considerations may obtain with regard to economic systems -- perhaps only brain sentients can conceive of a system of production and distribution responsive more to individual than to societal needs. Perfect communism may be possible only among genetic or communal sentients.

As for sociopolitical freedoms, genetic-sentient aliens have no individuality and thus should be the natural totalitarians of the universe. As sentience becomes more generalized, libertarianism should become possible. Communal ETs theoretically are capable of adopting any level of freedom, depending upon the relative emphasis on self-awareness versus social awareness in the existing sociobiological and cultural milieu.

In summary, increasingly generalized sentience should favor smaller cultural scale, broader classes of leadership, more symbolic systems of exchange and more libertarian forms of government. Centralization and individual economic freedom may be concepts unique to brain-sentient species.


Last updated on 6 December 2008