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


22.4.3  Science and Paradigmology

Will alien cultures have science? If by "science" we mean a rational comprehension of the universe which excludes consideration of the extra sensory and supernatural, many xenologists would answer with a qualified "yes." The general trend of sociocultural and technological evolution on Earth has been toward increasingly rational explanations of natural phenomena. As Sir James Frazer attempted to show earlier in this century, the course of the human worldview progressed from magic to religion to science as society and the technical skills of mankind became more sophisticated. Science in the form of objectified rationality should be common though by no means universal throughout the Galaxy.

Countless astronomical factors may combine to impede or to encourage the emergence of the "scientific method" on other worlds. For instance, galactographic position may be important. Planets circling stars near the Core of the Milky Way may have an immense number of nearby stellar neighbors and a superb view of the tumultous central galactic regions. This could spur the development of astronomy, astrophysics, and other hard sciences, as well as the technologies of electromagnetics and spaceflight.

On the other hand, highly isolated worlds may experience no such in centives.3048 A culture on a planet near the Galactic Rim may find itself hundreds of light-years from the nearest stars, and accumulations of inter stellar dust and gas clouds will block all but the external regions of the Galactic Disk -- a comparatively uninspiring sight. However, if the Rim world is located high above the Milky Way rather than lying in the galactic plane (admittedly an unusual situation), then the contrast between the stark void of intergalactic space and the beautiful whorls of the Galactic wheel may provide sufficient philosophical inspiration to compensate the isolation effects.

Stellar characteristics may also be significant. For example, a civilization which depends on a class F sun may realize their star is about to die. Since the end is nearer, the prospect of interstellar travel may greet a more welcome audience than humankind on Earth. A K star civilization, though the effect should be much less pronounced, may adopt a stay-at-home take-it-easy attitude once they realize their sun will survive literally for hundreds of billions of years.

What about binary star systems? A close binary should have negligible effects on the rate of cultural development, but things may be different for societies inhabiting a planet orbiting one member of a distant binary. One writer suggests that two suns in the sky will mean almost perpetual daylight, so ETs rarely will see stars and astronomy will advance only very slowly.77 Others have argued that the greater the number of celestial objects moving around in the sky, the more the curiosity of intelligent observers will be stirred and the less likely they will come to an erroneous conclusion (such as the crystal spheres in Greek astronomy). In this view, the presence of moons, planets, even multiple stars in the night sky will promote the advance of science.2049,2362

Xenologists suspect that intellectual discord and environmental corn plexity will speed scientific development as a general rule. A suggestive hypothetical example of such an intellectually fertile situation has been provided by astronomer Carl Sagan in another context (with reference to our own planet Mercury):

Mercury has a highly elliptical orbit. There is a commensurate relation between how long the planet takes to turn once around its axis and how long it takes to go once around the Sun; this ratio is 3:2. Suppose you stood at one particular place on the equator of Mercury. During the course of a day you would observe the Sun do the following. You would see it rising small, moving toward the zenith and swelling as it does. Then, one degree past the zenith, it stops, reverses its motion in the sky, stops again, then continues its original motion, shrinking, moving more rapidly, and then zipping below the horizon. That takes something like 88 of our days; their day, of course, is twice that. Now, if you lived at a place 900 away in longitude along the equator you would see something quite different. You would see an enormous Sun rise very slowly, stop, and then set. Then it would rise in earnest, shrink, moving faster, zip through the zenith, swell, slow down, and set. Then it would pop up again to say goodbye and sink again. If there were any beings on Mercury, you can imagine that the cosmologies developed by those astronomers who lived at the one longitude would be extremely different from those cosmologies developed at the other longitude. Eventually, two astronomers, each from a different longitude, would meet, and one would say to scornful disbelief, "Let me tell you what the Sun does."2053

Extraterrestrial astronomers inhabiting Earthlike planets in close orbits around K or M stars may experience similar "observational dissonance," to the probable benefit of their science.

What if the planet inhabited by sentient aliens is cursed with a perpetual cloud cover? Does this necessarily imply a static science? No simple answer is possible. Certainly the lack of starsight will have some negative effects, as one writer suggests:

Imagine the picture of the Cosmos formed by a lifeform bred in a gas planet like Jupiter. Since the energy source is internal, the background noise level is likely to be extreme, and most of the electromagnetic signal from outside is overwhelmed or defocused by the time it has penetrated the cloud tops. Such a lifeform is hardly likely to think of crossing space, though it might conceive of a vacuum as a philosophical abstract.1618

Still, terrestrial philosophers must be wary of what might be termed "astronomical chauvinism": The belief that the only route to basic science is through astronomy.445,1550 It is certainly true that the Copernican Revolution sparked developments in physics, with chain reactions and spinoffs into many other fields. But any natural science will do to set in motion the process of scientification -- geology, oceanography, hydrology, meteorology, biology, and so on. One wonders what elementary physical laws Sir Isaac Newton might have devised starting from, say, a geological rather than an astronomical basis. Perhaps the laws of thermodynamics and diffusion might have predated the laws of kinematics and gravitation. Alien physical sciences could have a wholly different orientation or basis from our own.

There is the equally exciting possibility, first suggested in 1972 by the Russian scientist L.M. Gindilis of the Shternberg Astronomical Institute at Moscow State University, of so-called "nonintersecting systems of knowledge."25 Others have traditionally assumed that because we share the same physical universe with extraterrestrials, and must confront similar problems and natural forces, our sciences and systems of mathematics should at least be comprehensible to each other.49 While this probably will be true in many cases, our brief examination of alien logics has already demon strated that each form of reasoning must be both unique and incomplete. Gindilis suggests that despite the ubiquity of the physical cosmos, extremely diverse approaches and conclusions about reality may still be possible. J. Robert Oppenheimer stated the problem is a slightly different way in 1962 when he noted:

Will we be able to understand the science of another civilization? Our science has concentrated on asking certain questions at the expense of others, although this is so woven into the fabric of our knowledge that we are generally unaware of it. On another world, the basic questions may have been asked differently.3016

Many kinds of science are possible. Magoroh Maruyama, professor of systems science at Portland State University, has coined the term "paradigmatology" to refer to the science of sciences, or, in his own words and more generally, "a science of structures of reasoning which vary from disipline to discipline, from profession to profession, from culture to culture, and sometimes even from individual to individual."895 A paradigm is a way of knowing, an epistemology, a cognitive structure by which know ledge is assembled and regularized. In essence, Maruyama is attempting to found a sociology of knowledge.

As summarized in Table 22.4, Maruyarna provisionally has identified three "pure" paradigmatical forms and four others which are mixtures of the three. Scientific and philosophical thought among alien races could conceivably be organized around any of the following knowledge systems:

1. Unidirectional Causal Paradigm -- traditional axiomatic human science. One-way flow of influence from a "cause" to an "effect"; there is nothing in the "effect" that cannot be traced back to its "cause." Past and future can be inferred from the present if we have a complete knowledge of the present.

2. Random Process Paradigm -- basis of information theory and probabilistic action in which all events are independent of all others. Purpose of random process or "stochastic science" is to identify the amount of information, types of coding and decoding and modes of transmission in living and artificial systems, and to maximize efficiency and economy as well as maximum use of channel capacity. Causation is probabilistic, entropical, thermodynamic.

3. Mutual Causal Paradigm -- complex patterns can be generated by means of simple rules of interaction. "Cause" and "effect" do not really exist; rather, events are merely the focus of a confluence of forces and other events. There is a nonhierarchical network of action, rather than a hierarchical causal chain. Reasoning is contextual, symbiotic, and synergistic rather than absolutist and isolational.

4. Probabilistic Unidirectional Causal Paradigm -- there is a one-way flow of influence from the "cause" to the "effect," but the influence occurs with some probability rather than with certainty. Complete information can never be obtained because the act of measuring disturbs the phenomenon, but "causes" may still be inferred from "effects" with some associated probability.

5. Deterministic Mutual and Unidirectional Causal Paradigm -- not all causal relations are mutual. There are some unidirectional causal relations mixed with mutual causal relations.

6. Probabilistic Mutual Causal Paradigm -- the same conditions may produce different results. Different conditions may yield the same results.

7. Probabilistic Mutual and Unidirectional Causal Paradigm -- has some of the characteristics of each of the three "pure" paradigms.895


Table 22.4 Examples of Paradigms
(after Maruyama895)

CULTURAL ELEMENT Unidirectional Causal Paradigm
Random Process
Mutual Causal
Science Traditional "cause and effect" model Thermodynamics; Shannon’s information theory Post-Shannon information theory
Information Past and future inferrable from present Information decays and gets lost; blueprint must contain more information than finished product Information can be generated. Nonredundant complexity can be generated w/o preestablished blueprint
Cosmology  Predetermined universe Decaying universe Self-generating and self organizing universe
Social Organization  Hierarchical Individualistic Nonhierarchical interactionist
Social Policy Homogenistic Decentralization Heterogenistic coordination
Ideology  Authoritarian Anarchistic Cooperative
Philosophy  Universalism Nominalism Network
Ethics  Competitive Isolationist Symbiotic
Aesthetics  Unity by similarity and repetition Haphazard Harmony of diversity
Religion  Monotheism Freedom of religion Polytheistic harmony
Decision Process  Dictatorship, majority rule or consensus Do your own thing Elimination of hardship on any single individual
Logic  Deductive, axiomatic  Inductive, empirical  Complementary
Perception  Categorical Atomistic  Contextual
Knowledge Believe in one truth. If people are informed, they will agree. Why bother to learn beyond one’s own immediate areas of interest? Polyocular: Must learn different views and take them into consideration.
Methodology Classificational, taxonomic Statistical Relational, contextual analysis, network analysis
Research Hypothesis and Research Strategy .  Dissimilar results must have been caused by dissimilar conditions; differences must be traced to conditions producing them. There exists a probability distribution; find out what the probability distribution is.


Dissimilar results may come from similar conditions due to mutually amplifying network; network analysis instead of tracing differences back to initial conditions.
Assessment "Impact" analysis What does it do to me? Look for feedback loops and for self-cancellation or self-reinforcement
Analysis Pre-set categories used for all situations
Limited categories for the
individual’s own use
Changeable categories depending on situation
View of Community People Ignorant, poorly-informed, lacking in expertise, limited in scope Egocentric Most direct source of information, articulate in their own view, essential in determining relevance
Planning By "experts", either keep Community people uninformed or inform them in such a way that they will agree Laissez-faire Generated by community people
"The difficulty in cross-disciplinary, cross-professional, and cross-cultural communication lies not so much in the fact that the communicating parties use different vocabularies or languages to talk about the same thing, but rather in the fact that they use different structures of reasoning. If the communicating parties remain unaware that they are using different structures of reasoning, but aware of their communication difficulties only, each party tends to perceive the communication difficulties as resulting the other party’s illogicality, lack of intelligence, or even deceptiveness and insincerity. Each may fall into an illusion of understanding while being unaware of his misunderstandings, or all communicating parties may fall into the collective illusion of mutual understanding -- each party may wonder later why other parties do not live up to the "agreement" they have reached.

"There exist many different paradigms, and there will undoubtedly be many more paradigms in the future which do not exist yet. The three paradigms above are illustrative of the use of paradigmatology. These examples are not meant to be exhaustive, nor are they mutually exclusive. There are mixtures and overlappings between these three paradigms as well as between these and many other paradigms."895


Extraterrestrial sciences may exemplify these and many other paradigmatical structures of reasoning.


Last updated on 6 December 2008