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


21.3.3 System Stability

Stability is an ambiguous term in political science. According to some theorists it may be static, dynamic, oscillating or adaptive.585 Others have defined political stability as the absence of such disruptive events as armed attacks and guerrilla warfare, assassinations, general strikes, major governmental crises, purges, riots and revolutions, demonstrations, and other forms of violence.842 Still others require a static structure of government or equate political stability with system maintenance.

In view of its tremendous importance, political scientists have made astonishing little progress in the field of general systemic stability analysis. One of the notable exceptions is a study recently completed by Ronald J. May at the University of Sydney in Australia. After analyzing a number of federated governments throughout world history, May concludes that most of them lack dynamic stability. Looking back on the historical record, he says:

Federal government has not proved to be a very stable form of political organization. Instability is inherent in the structure of federal decision making in a dynamic context. Although for a time a balance may be achieved between the forces of separatism and centralism, in most cases federal systems either succumb to separatist tendencies, in which case either they disintegrate or they are held together by the coercion of the weaker by the stronger units, or national integration proceeds, in which case the original federal form becomes increasingly irrelevant to the political actuality.850

May suggests that the ultimate outcome is a function of a number of factors such as initial differences between units, the original format of federation, the extent of interdependence among member sovereignties, the urgency of the need for unity, and so forth. Relative wealth and size of the component political units may exert a controlling influence, however.2971 According to May:

The evidence suggests that, in general, when large, rich units are ranged against small, poor units there is some chance of federation being preserved, but the likely outcome is centralization with large unit dominance; in the extreme case federalism may yield to a unitary state. When small rich units are ranged against large poor units, on the other hand, there is a strong tendency for the small units to secede.850

While there have been several other attempts by political theorists seriously to engage in systemic analysis (see Hurwitz,845 Merritt,975 Russett,843 and Wright585), few sufficiently generalized results have emerged that are directly applicable in xenology. Thus xenologists turn once again to cybernetics theory for guidance.831,1867

In the field of stability, perhaps one of the most useful ideas is the concept of feedback. Feedback is a flow of information that has a reciprocating and moderating influence on organizational behavior. Information generated by the system and presented as output is fed back in as input via a "feedback loop." The system thereby keeps an eye on itself and becomes better able to establish and maintain a state of homeostatic equilibrium.827 Sudden stimuli applied randomly to the system and wildly oscillating inputs are quickly "damped" out.

Theoretically a well-designed extraterrestrial governmental organization possessing no time delays in feedback should be capable of instantaneous response to disruptive influences and should exhibit perfect dynamic stability. However, time delays are inherent in all real physical systems, and this problem will be further exacerbated in the case of interstellar systems because of the comparatively large lag times in transportation and communication between the stars. And whenever delays exist in any system, any variation by one of the quantities moderated by the feedback loop may be perpetuated indefinitely.833 In other words, without multiple control loops certain disturbances introduced in one corner of a galactic empire could propagate throughout the system, reverberating in continuous oscillations instead of settling down. According to systems analysts, galactic governments should be designed to be "resilient" with "soft failure modes" (nonlethal), When unexpected events occur, a well-designed xenopolitical system will not collapse but rather will degrade gradually.

Tim Quilici of Rockwell International has devised a very simple "systems" model of an interstellar economics system to illustrate the basic concept of feedback (Figure 21.5). Using a single loop mechanism, a socialistic alien government attempts to hold stable the price of some valuable trade commodity -- say, "positronic brains" -- by controlling supply. The "brains" are manufactured on the Capitol World, a center of industrial development and political control, and are shipped to Outback 10 light-years away. Communication is via microwave, but interstellar freighters can only make 25%c. Demand for "brains" (to control the agricultural and mining robots on Outback) has remained virtually constant for the last century at 100 units per year. Suddenly, in 2400 A.D., due to poor weather and a series of unusually violent seismic tremors, demand begins to fall. Over a decade it drops to 50 per year, at which point it levels off and holds steady. What happens to the price of "brains" that Capitol World is trying to control?


Figure 21.5 A Simple Systems Model of Interstellar Economics

The demand for positronic brains on planet Outback is normally 100 units at the going price of $3 106 each, delivered F.O.B. from Capitol World. The government at Capitol wishes to hold the price constant by controlling supply. In the figure at left, demand on Outback drops precipitously from 100 units/year to 50 units/year, due to bad weather. This causes the price to fall to $2 106. By halving the number of shipments of positronic brains to Outback, the Capitol World government can force a return to the old price level.


Above is a block diagram of the proposed systems model of Outback economics. P(t) is the price of positronic brains on Outback. Q(t) is the quantity supplied to Outback by the Capitol World government. C(t) is the consumer demand on Outback for positronic brains. Since Outback is 10 light-years from Capitol World, messages travel at 100%c, and interstellar freighters travel at 25%c, the communication delay dc is 10 years and the transportation delay dt is 40 years. The system thus may be de scribed mathematically as follows:
P(t) = e•Q(t-dt) + e•C(t)

Q(t) = P0/e - P(t-d0)/e + Q(t-dc-dt)

where e is elasticity, equal to 20,000 $/positronic brain.


In 2400 AD, Outback’s demand drops from 100 to 50 units in a single decade. Demand remains at 50 units for the next century.


When demand for positronic brains on Outback falls, so does price. The Capitol World government finds out 10 years later, by microwave communication. Shipments are immediately cut in half, but since 40 years’ worth of cargo is already en route, the effects of the cutback are not felt on Outback until 2450 AD. By 2400 AD, 60 years after the change in demand, price has returned to normal. 


As we see from Figure 21.5, the decrease in demand on Outback causes an immediate price reduction there. Suddenly there is a glut on the market. The price remains low as too many new "brains" continue to pour in from Capitol World -- which has not yet had time to react to the changed circumstances. The situation, in this simple model, is not fully remedied for 60 years following the initial disturbance. This suggests some of the difficulties inherent in interstellar commerce and government. Systems theory should allow similar modeling of the dynamic behavior of vastly more complex galactic organizations, provided their modes of operation and multiple feedback loops can be precisely and quantitatively specified.

Dr. James G. Miller, pioneer in systems science and president of the University of Louisville in Kentucky, has developed what is probably the most comprehensive and far-reaching general systems theory devised to date. Miller claims that his theory, and the principles which emerge from it, are applicable to all living systems from cellular lifeforms to organic societies. Xenologists expect that this work may profitably be extended to considerations of xenopolitical systems as well, primarily because of its general and universalistic approach to systems analysis at all scales of organization.

In his fascinating 1100-page monograph entitled Living Systems,3071 Miller considers living systems at seven different levels of complexity: Cells, organs, organisms, groups, organizations, societies, and supranational systems. Based on fundamental notions of evolutionary unity, he then derives nearly 200 cross-level hypotheses which he asserts may be general characteristics of any living system. The following are six of these hypotheses which xenologists believe may have relevance to the problem of stability in xenopolitical systems at all cultural scales:

Hypothesis 5.2-2: The greater a threat or stress upon a system, the more components of it are involved in adjusting to it. When no further components with new adjustment processes are available, the system function collapses.

Hypothesis 5.2-10: Under equal stress, functions developed later in the phylogenetic history of a given type of system break down before more primitive functions do.

Hypothesis 5.2-11: After stress, disturbances of subsystem steady states are ordinarily corrected and returned to normal ranges before systemwide steady-state disturbances are.

Hypothesis 5.2-12: More complex systems, which contain more different components, each of which can adjust against one or more specific environmental stresses and maintain in steady state one or more specific variables not maintained by any other component, if they adequately coordinate the processes in their components, survive longer on the average than less complex systems.

Hypothesis 5.2-13: Under threat or stress, a system that survives, in the common good of total system survival, temporarily subordinates conflicts among subsystems or components until the threat or stress is relieved, when internal conflicts recur.

Hypothesis 5.2-19: The greater the resources available to a system, the less likely is conflict among its subsystems or components.3071

One last point about xenopolitical systemic stability. A few cyberneticists have suggested that really complex networks with intricate webs of feedback and feedforward loops "may include processes of consciousness of internal monitoring of certain states of the net."822 Galactic organizational systems which have accumulated vast quantities of information may perhaps in some sense be viewed as having memory, will, consciousness, and various other sentient life functions.3071,827 Intergalactic contact between two such entities would truly be "a meeting of cultures," and would almost certainly be incomprehensible to any single individual or race of individuals.236 How such communication might effect the equilibrium and stability of each of the two "conscious" networks is unknown, but the implications are many for the sextillion or so sentient beings involved.


Last updated on 6 December 2008