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


25.1.3  Universal Thermoethical Principles of First Contact

There is little doubt that Dr. Fasan’s approach represents a significant and welcome step towards the synthesis of a workable set of metalegal rules of conduct, valid a priori for all sentient beings in the universe. However, Fasan’s Metalaws appear to have a single serious flaw which calls into question the validity of several of the derived principles. That flaw is the Categorical Imperative itself.

When Kant promulgated his Imperative involving maxims of general legislation, he entirely ignored the possible existence of a sentience of a qualitatively higher order than that possessed by humanity. In Kant's view, creatures are either rational or they are not -- there are no other alternatives. Fasan, by adopting the Categorical Imperative as the basis for his metalegal formulations, falls into the same anthropocentric trap. His discussion of the physical nature of extraterrestrial beings makes it clear that he too regards human-style intelligence as "the highest possible level of life."372

Many xenologists today believe that multiple orders of higher sentience are quite possible. As the author suggested in Chapter 14 (and see below), there may exist a series of successively more sophisticated intellectual emergents in the evolution of sentience -- plateaus of intelligence perhaps keyed to the data processing efficiency of alien minds. Individuals comprising extraterrestrial societies may possess simple reactivity (such as plants on Earth), or personal consciousness (as in humans), or they may exhibit yet higher orders of awareness not possessed by humans which we have labeled, for convenience, "communality," "hypersociality," "galacticity" and "universality." Kant’s Categorical Imperative cannot be valid for interactions among beings of qualitatively different orders of sentience, any more than it can be used to guide human dealings with beehives or termite mounds.

Let us try to repeat Fasan's analysis of a priori metalaw, avoiding entirely the notion of Categorical Imperative and relying instead solely upon considerations involving entropy. That is, we shall attempt to formulate a set of metalegal principles working solely from the basis of what the author has termed "thermodynamic ethics", or thermoethics.

The basic organizing influence in the universe is life. Life involves the utilization of a flow of energy to draw order from chaos and build internal complexity with an accumulation of information. Living beings thus are anti-entropic, or negentropic, entities. The principle of negentropism is, in a manner of speaking, the "natural law" applicable to all living (matter-energy) beings located anywhere in the universe, regardless of their size, shape, biochemistry, sentience, or culture. (Fasan unwittingly devised a "natural law" applicable to all Homo sapiens, the Natural Law of Man. This is nothing more than what E.O. Wilson might call "mammalian law."3198)

Hence we may state the Principal Thermoethic as follows:

All living beings should always act so as to minimize the total entropy of the universe, or so as to maximize the total negentropy.

In other words, living beings should always act to further the mission of life in the cosmos, which is to reduce the universe to order by building the maximum complexity into the mass-energy available. Note that the Principal Thermoethic defines the optimum relationship between an individual and his universe, rather than between individuals. It is fundamental to all thermoethical decisions that one's actions are judged against a cosmic, not local; standard. Consequently it may be ethical to do some act which decreases local order, if the net result is an increase in the total order of the universe.

How does the Principal Thermoethic apply to contact interactions between intelligent extraterrestrial races? In this universe there may exist many different kinds of creatures with widely varying levels of sentience and cognitive awareness. Some societies will possess more information than others; some beings will process information faster or more efficiently than others. Thus there is a natural ordering or continuum of all living things. Those entities which are more negentropic are better serving the mission of life in the universe, hence they are inherently "more ethical." Those beings which engender the same negentropy as others are "equally ethical." Therefore, we may state the Corollary of Negentropic Equality, which follows directly from the Principal Thermoethic, in this way:

All entities of equal negentropy have equal rights and responsibilities; the more negentropic an entity, the greater are its rights and the deeper are its responsibilities. (See Cocca,358 Fasan3407,372 Haley,382,693 Nicolson,3215 and Rhyne.3398)

As ecologist Eric Pianka has pointed out, there are only 3 basic kinds of interaction which can take place: Detrimental (-), neutral (0), and beneficial (+). According to the Principal Thermoethic, detriment is equivalent to a loss of information, an increase in the disorder of the universe. Detrimental (-) acts violate the Principal Thermoethic, and hence are unethical. Neutrality (0) implies that information is neither created nor destroyed, but merely maintained. Since there is no law of conservation of information analogous to the conservation of mass-energy, a positive act is required to preserve order in the cosmos. Such acts are thermoethical; failure to so act is unethical. Finally, beneficence (+) is equivalent to a gain of information, a decrease in the total disorder of the universe. Beneficial acts which affirmatively generate negentropy fulfill the Principal Thermoethic, and hence are ethical.

Summarizing, we see that three distinct duties devolve upon all thermoethical entities in the cosmos, following directly from the Principal Thermoethic. These may be called the "duty to avoid harming", the "duty to preserve," and the "duty to create." The duty to avoid harm must necessarily take precedence over the other two, since it is useless to create and impossible to save information if it is simultaneously being destroyed. Similarly, it would be wasteful (and thus entropic) to garner new information if one is incapable of preserving it.

These three duties may be cast in the form of three fundamental thermoethical Canons, applicable to the interactions between all living beings in the universe a priori:

Canon I: Any act which increases the entropy (disorder) of another race should be avoided. (See Fasan,3407,372 Freitas,2001 Haley,382,693 Korovin,3404 McDougal, Lasswell and Vlasic,252 Miller,1204 Moskowitz,3396 Rhyne,3398 Sagan,3448 Vitoria,3410 and Human Rights.3486)

Canon II: Each race holds its negentropy (information) in trust for the entire living universe, and should do the utmost to preserve it. (See Fasan372 and Haley.382)

Canon III: Any act which increases the negentropy (order) of another race should be carried out. (See Bueckling,3403 Fasan,3407 Greenwood,1181 Lindsay,3013 McDougal, Lasswell and Vlasic,252 Smirnoff,3411 Spiegelberg,3404 and Vasquez.253 Compare Fasan,372 Freitas,2001 and Human Rights.3484)

To satisfy the Principal Thermoethic the duties imposed by Canon I should be obeyed. If this is done, then the duties imposed by Canon II should be completed. Finally, if the Principal Thermoethic, Canon I and Canon II do not prohibit it, the duties imposed by Canon III may be carried out.

We may rephrase these duties in somewhat less technical language as a hierarchical code of behavior for all living beings, as follows:

Canon I. Destroy not. (Avoid harming, if it is at all possible.)

Canon II. Preserve, if in preserving you do not destroy.

Canon III. Create, if without harm and the creation may be preserved.

Each Canon may be used to generate a number of specific metalaws to guide interactive behavior in particular situations.

For example, from Canon I we have Metalaw I-1, the Entropic Censorship Rule: "In any first contact situation, the Contactor should never give the Contactee any matter-energy or information inputs that may cause the Contactee entropic harm." (See Boyce,3663 Bova,1400 Campbell,3241 Davis,171 Fasan,372 Haley,693,382 Hogan,3518 Hoyle,62 Kuiper and Morris,2608 LeGuin,2895 Miller,1183 Molton,3629 Nicolson,3215 O'Neill,2710 Reynolds,3423 Robinson,1079 Saunders,2611 Smith,1206 Stover,1539 Stern,389 Strong,50 and Zhukov.317)

Next might be Metalaw I-2, the Entropic Defense Rule: "Every race has the right to defend itself against entropic (disordering) acts perpetrated by another race, provided the entropic cost of such defense is less than the loss of negentropy sought to be avoided." (See Bova,1400 Brownlie,3399 Cocca,358 Drake,3280 Faria,3406 Fasan,3407,372 Freitas,2001 Haley,382 Smirnoff,3411 and Vázquez.253)

Metalaw I-3, the Biosphere Preference Rule, might read as follows: "Every race is presumed to be entitled to the biosphere which it occupies." (See Anderson,63 Fasan,372 Human Rights,3483,3485 Hyman1525,385 and Vázquez,253 but compare Verplaetse.386)

Then there is Metalaw I-4, the Free Egress Rule, which holds: "Living entities have the right to travel to any biosphere, subject to the restriction that they must not entropicate (disorder) indigenous living systems." (See Faria,3406 Haley,382 Stern,389 and Vitoria.3410)

Canon II similarly gives rise to a number of specific metalaws, applicable to relations between extraterrestrial races so long as no metalaws associated with Canon I are violated.

For instance, we have Metalaw II-1, the Preservation Preference Rule: "The preservation of one race must have priority over the development of another race." (See Niven and Pournelle,668 and Fasan,3407,372 but compare Friedman.694)

There is Metalaw II-2, the Infinite Sinks Rule: "Every race has a duty to avoid infinite information sinks or, in other words, no race should demand or submit an impossible request." (See Fasan.372)

We have Metalaw II-3, the Rule of Restitution: "In case of entropication of one race by another, the race causing the damage must restitute the living universe for the loss of information." (See Fasan.372)

Then there is Metalaw II-4, called Pacta Sunt Servanda: "Metalegal agreements and treaties must be honored." (See Fasan,372 Joseph,1474 and Rhyne.3398)

If the proscriptions and duties imposed by Canons I and II are observed, then sentient beings may work with metalaws derived from Cannon III.

For example, there is Metalaw III-1, the Rule of Submission: "Every race should willingly submit to negentropic acts effectuated by a more negentropic race, provided the information gained by such acts is greater than the total entropy suffered." (Compare Fasan372 and Moskowitz.3396)

Then we have Metalaw III-2, the Negentropication Rule: "Each race should perform whatever positive actions are necessary to assist in the development of beings of higher negentropy than themselves." (See Anderson,3491 Anvil,2162 Lee,22 Vinge,634 and White.2442)

Also we have Metalaw III-3, the Rule of Permissible Suicide, which goes as follows: "Any race may commit a suicidal act if the local entropication suffered thereby is exceeded by the universal negentropy gained. (See Haley,3397 Herbert and Busby,3273 Lunan,1001 and Ritner,1550 but compare Fasan.372)

A more moderate version of the same principle is Metalaw III-4, the Self-Jeopardization Rule: "Any race may risk entropication of any of its component parts if the probable negentropy to be gained thereby exceeds the probable entropication." (See Harrison,1537 LeGuin,97 and Oliver.1560)


Last updated on 3 May 2010