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  First Contact and Metalaw

According to Dr. Eric R. Pianka, a population ecologist at the University of Texas at Austin, two populations, when they interact, may or may not affect each other. If they do, the influence may be beneficial or adverse. Using these basic notions, Dr. Pianka devised a simple taxonomic technique which xenologists can use to classify all possible interactions between pairs of sentient alien populations.286 Let us designate a beneficial effect with a "+", a detrimental effect with a "-", and no effect with a "0". Where two groups interact with mutual negative effect, Pianka designates the interaction as (-,-); when both benefit, it is (+,+); and so forth. Thus, there are a total of six fundamentally distinct ways in which two intelligent species may interact as outlined in Table 25.1.


Table 25.1 Summary of Interactions That May Occur Between Two Populations
(after Pianka286)
—, —
COMPETITION: Each population inhibits the other.
—, +
PREDATION: The predator population kills and "consumes" members of the prey population.
PARASITISM: The parasite population exploits members of the host population. The host is adversely affected.
—, 0
AMENSALISM: One population is adversely affected by another, but the other is unaffected.
0, 0
NEUTRALISM: Neither population affects the other.
+, 0
COMMENSALISM: The commensal population benefits whereas the host population is unaffected.
+, +
COOPERATION: Interaction is favorable to both populations, but is obligatory for neither.
MUTUALISM: Interaction is favorable to both populations, but is mutually obligatory.


In this classificational scheme, competition (-,-) occurs when each of two populations affects the other adversely. Typically both require the same resources that are in short supply, so the presence of each population inhibits the other. Xenological might include the competition between human interstellar colonizers and humanoid native indigenes on a distant Earthlike planet, or between two Type II stellar civilizations for the matter and energy in the solar system of the same class G star. Competition may be economic, social, political, or even religious. The most extreme form is war.

Predation (-,+) takes place when one population affects another adversely but benefits itself from the interaction. For instance, a predatory alien society may choose to destroy other societies it meets, killing the sentient inhabitants and then preying upon their planetary, stellar, or technological resources. (Predation for food, more common in biological situations, is less likely across interstellar distances but may still occur when alien colonists invade a less-technically-advanced world.) Parasitism, another (-,+) interaction, is similar to predation except that the host population is not killed outright but is exploited over some period of time. Powerful parasitic ET conquerors from advanced stellar civilizations might leave heavily armed garrisons on subject worlds where native populations had been enslaved for the purpose of dismantling the planet for its mass or building huge fleets of warships to be used in a subsequent wave of conquest (perhaps fueled with hydrogen drained from the local star).

Amensalism (-,0) is said to occur when one population is adversely affected by another but the other is unaffected. In the xenological context, perhaps one civilization is so advanced that it regards the other as a mere nuisance, "flicking" it off as we would swat a gnat. Another example of amensalism would be when a technically sophisticated race gives a less-advanced society so much technical information that it either loses spirit and becomes dependent on the superior race, or is virtually destroyed when it tries to use knowledge that it cannot fully understand.

Neutralism (0,0) occurs when the two populations avoid contact altogether. There is no real interaction and neither affects the other in any significant way. Such a situation might obtain if two warring starfaring civilizations agreed to cease hostilities, suspend all mutual interactions, erect a "neutral zone" which each society agrees not to cross, and then continue their expansionistic conquests in other directions.

Commensalism (+,0) takes place when one population benefits while the other is not affected. Familiar examples in biology are the mosses, bryophytes, bromeliads, orchids and other plants that grow on the trunks and branches of trees. The commensal population flourishes at no visible expense to the trees because they occupy the surface of what is in effect protective tissue (whose function is not thwarted by the presence of the symbionts.) An analogous situation between xenological populations might involve a powerful Type III civilization that allowed a puny planetary society to freely wander the corridors of the Galactic Library. The galactic culture would be unaffected, but the planetary culture might be benefited enormously.

Finally we have cooperation (+,+), which occurs when two populations interact in a way that is beneficial for both. This may include trade, cultural exchange, integration of the two societies and the synthesis of a higher level of organization, or joint military ventures of conquest. Mutualism (+,+) is similar to cooperation except that the relationship between the two populations is obligatory rather than facultative. That is, neither race can exist in the absence of the other. An example here might involve a parallel to ants and aphids, where one ET society provides the foodstuffs needed by both and the other provides umbrella military protection from alien predators and competitors.

Some ecologists have claimed that each of the above six classes of interaction may be described mathematically and the exact outcome predicted given certain initial conditions. "Competition theory," for instance, was devised more than fifty years ago by Lotka and Volterra. The Lotka-Volterra Competition Equations describe the growth of two competing species in limited environments, given the specific reproductive rates of the two races and the environmental carrying capacity for each alone. In 1934 Gause experimentally verified the major result of the Equations -- that no two species that are ecologically identical can long coexist.3313 This Principle of Competitive Exclusion, or Gause's Law as it is sometimes called, may be restated as follows: "The maximum competition is to be found between those species with identical needs."3198

The two graphs in Figure 25.1 illustrate the Principle in two competing species of flour beetle. Analogous situations readily may be imagined in the context of interaction between two extraterrestrial civilizations. Mathematical models of commensalism, predation, and the rest may yield similar, insights for xenologists.


Figure 25.1 Principle of Competitive Exclusion

The Principle of Competitive Exclusion states that unless the niches of two species differ, they cannot coexist. In effect, one race saws to the other, "This environment isn’t big enough for the both of us." According to modern population biologists, a pair of very similar species can coexist only if new aspects are added to the environment, so that one part favors one species and the other part favors the second species. Examples in biological ecologies abound. For instance, above are the life histories of two species of flour beetle. In pure flour Tribolium defeats Oryzaephilus (left graph), but when fine glass tubing is added to the flour -- creating tiny shelters to which Oryzaephilus can escape -- the two species can coexist (right graph) (after Wilson et al.3313).


Of course, the commingling of two highly complex alien societies will require a vastly more sophisticated analysis than that provided by the Lotka-Volterra Equation and similar formulations such as "game theory"820,3394,3487 and other models of interaction. Further, the sociocultural data needed to properly evaluate each new situation will necessarily be incomplete and thoroughly ambiguous in many first contact situations. For these and other reasons, many xenologists today eschew attempts to precisely and mathematically model interactions between hypothetical alien societies. Most favor a more qualitative generalized approach. This has led to the emergence of a new subdiscipline in xenology known as "metalaw" -- the study of possible laws applicable to all relations between alien intelligences.689


Last updated on 6 December 2008