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jonsills' Thought Experiment on Sapience

brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
From another thread,
jonsills wrote: »
There are, however, a number of species trembling just on the verge of sapience so far as we can tell, held back by the fact that in their particular evolutionary niches, sapience wouldn't give them any particular advantages. Dolphins and chimps are the obvious candidates, of course, which is why those were the first two species uplifted by humans in David Brin's Uplift universe (and a good thing, too, as when we discovered the civilization of the Five Galaxies, it turned out that they didn't believe sapience could occur naturally, and your rank as a species was determined by who your Patrons were and how many other species you had uplifted. Humans have no known Patron race; what kept us from being forcibly adopted into a hundred thousand years of servitude by an older species was the fact that we had two client races of our own already). However, the behavior patterns of raccoons, corvids, and coyotes shows that they're also right at that ragged edge of becoming sapient.

It's an interesting thought experiment - if we humans manage to keep other life forms on this planet alive when we (seemingly inevitably) go extinct, who's the front-runner for the next sapient species on Earth?

If I may, I'd like to continue this thought without derailing the other thread.

Racoons are too well adapted for their niche, I think. The best thing in their favor is the likelihood that humans will alter their environment to the point where survival demands long-term planning and teaching of the young. In fact, I believe it was exactly this which created homo sapiens from Australopithecines. Around 2 or 3 million years ago the environment began to radically change as Earth began its long slow march into our current Ice Age. Forests became savannas, inland seas dried up, seacoasts moved out, in many places for hundreds of miles. Protohumans had to adapt.

Raccoons are adaptable, have hands, and can think and use makeshift tools. They also teach their young. I am not aware that they have cultures which differ from region to region.

Dolphins and other whales may already be sapient, but we're not smart enough to figure out their language. Dolphins are reported to have localized cultures, which is evidence of teaching young. Right Whales are song-writers, but whether there is meaning in their songs or if it's just a courtship behavior is unknown. We know the song evolves over a season and the next season begins with the song of the previous season, but why is a mystery still. (To us anyway. The whales presumably know what they are doing.) In any case, they'll never be technological species because they lack manipulating appendages.

Squid and octopuses might be contenders for the sapient league. Though trapped by biology to never becoming fire-users, they are known to have at least simple communications. There is no evidence they learn from one another, but octopuses have consistently out-smarted the humans who try to test their intelligence.

Rats are a contender. While not currently showing signs of sapience, they are adaptable survivors. Then there are parrots, especially African Greys and those chubby guys from New Zealand.

Scientists are learning every day that animal intelligence is far more complex than it at first appears. Fish migrate thousands of miles to enjoy a bounty of baby sea-birds learning to fly, somehow remembering a year later that the event is about to begin. Elephants appear to be born with a map of their lands including routes to watering holes and grazing. Coyotes and wolves famously cooperate with crows.

The animal kingdom is filled with surprising glimpses of intelligence, and which species becomes the next sapient one is open to debate. It may be that it's already out there and we don't recognize it yet.
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    starkaosstarkaos Member Posts: 11,556 Arc User
    I have come to believe that sentience and sapience are on a spectrum. So it is possible that chimpanzees are already sapient, but they are only at the low end of the spectrum compared to most humans. The same thing could be said about individuals within a species. Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking were far more sapient than the average human.
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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    Agreed.

    But I can't see tool manufacturing and specialization of labor being only something humans develop. And the beginning of technology is the passing along of lessons learned to a new generation.
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    artan42artan42 Member Posts: 10,450 Bug Hunter
    Unless you can describe the environment in which humanity goes extinct then you can't begin to predict which current species would be best suited to take advantage of the now open niche.​​
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    starkaosstarkaos Member Posts: 11,556 Arc User
    artan42 wrote: »
    Unless you can describe the environment in which humanity goes extinct then you can't begin to predict which current species would be best suited to take advantage of the now open niche.​​

    True enough. The only valid way to figure out which species would be best suited in replacing humans would be to have humans die through some virus that only affects humans. Other methods of humanity going extinct would eliminate some or all species capable of replacing us.
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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    There is the possibility that humanity is the environmental factor which pushes evolution of intelligence.

    Example: the racoon

    A member of Carniovora, the Racoon is probably the most omnivorous of the group, and is highly opportunistic. My personal experience with raccoons is that they are smarter than dogs, by a wide margin, although I have not performed any scientific studies of raccoon intelligence. I have observed raccoons luring dogs so that a companion could raid the food dish, as an example. (my old hound fell for that one every time.)

    Raccoons have learned to open garbage cans, and putting a locking device on it only teaches them how to unlock the locking devices. They escape from cages, and enter chicken cages at will. They learn about traps and avoid them or become bait-thieves. None of these things would be possible without human interference with their natural habits.

    They purposely teach their young. Even to the extent that a male kit who was found by a friend of mine at the scene of a roadkill and subsequently hand-raised has taught one of his first daughters to come to the shop where he was raised to get free cat food. She has taught her kits to do so as well, (though she chases them off when they get old enough.) They readily identify known humans and unknown ones. I can't get within ten feet of Blackie or Mama, but both will walk right up to my friend, even when food is not involved. Again, human interference is at play.

    Suppose the survival of the fittest selects those who are best at figuring out human behavior and adapting to it, and the resulting feedback is that the better they adapt to human ways the better they are at surviving, with a key factor in that selection being intelligence? How many generations between semi-aware and fully sentient?

    With humans it happened fast. 2 million years ago upright apes started using fire and crude tools. 200,000 years ago they began refining tools for single purposes. 100,000 years ago they began to follow patterns and make similar tools repeatedly, indicating a sharing of knowledge of tool-making, and it is around this time that division of labor began with, presumably, the tool-maker being a prestigious position in society. 25,000 years ago tools became complex and highly specialized, with fish hooks designed for particular fish, bows and arrows, and varieties of other weapons and tools intended for specific game beginning to appear. 10,000 years ago metalworking becomes a thing and tools get really complex.

    You have to realize how incredibly fast this is by evolutionary standards. Two million years is an evolutionary blink of the eye, but the real change came within the last 100,000 years. If we can jump-start the raccoon's development toward intelligence, even by accident, who knows what they can do in 2 million years?

    I'm not saying the 'coon is the best candidate. After all, there are other primates waiting in the wings, and we know at least some of them can learn language and teach it to their offspring. We don't have to get out of the way to create a niche: evolution finds the niches, wherever they may be, and rewards success, by whatever means it is achieved.
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    ryan218ryan218 Member Posts: 36,106 Arc User
    Another, lesser example, is cats. Cats teach their young the same standards of domestication we teach them (I.E. Using the litter tray). They pick up on our habits and behaviour and learn to use those patterns to manipulate us. In fact, cats have learned to purr on the same frequency as a baby's cry to exploit human maternal-paternal instinct. My History lecturer once said "you never own a cat; the cat owns you".
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    starswordcstarswordc Member Posts: 10,963 Arc User
    edited January 2019
    Here's what I think are probable qualities for species that can become technological:
    • High ratio of brain mass to body mass. In terms of Earth animals, parrots, corvids, and apes to name a few are very high on the scale, and humans are so far up that curve we're practically outliers (about 2% of our body weight is our brain, which is a lot).
    • Social animals. Navigating interpersonal relationships beyond "I'm the baddest TRIBBLE in this 5 km radius, go find your own" requires intelligence, and bigger social groups can accomplish greater tasks, like killing larger prey animals to fuel that big brain. Which leads to...
    • Carnivorous, or preferably omnivorous. To borrow a line from Larry Niven, "How much intelligence does it take to sneak up on a leaf?"
    • Ecological generalists, able to adapt quickly to changing climates and migration.
    • Features manipulating appendages.
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    starkaosstarkaos Member Posts: 11,556 Arc User
    starswordc wrote: »
    Here's what I think are probable qualities for species that can become technological:
    • Carnivorous, or preferably omnivorous. To borrow a line from Larry Niven, "How much intelligence does it take to sneak up on a leaf?"

    Originating from a prey species is a possibility. So it is possible to be a technological herbivore especially if they have to deal with very nasty carnivores on their planet.
    starswordc wrote: »
    • Features manipulating appendages.

    Manipulating appendages are not a necessity just manipulating the environment in some manner. It might be possible for an alien race to naturally generate magnetic fields to create tools.
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    starswordcstarswordc Member Posts: 10,963 Arc User
    edited January 2019
    starkaos wrote: »
    starswordc wrote: »
    Here's what I think are probable qualities for species that can become technological:
    • Carnivorous, or preferably omnivorous. To borrow a line from Larry Niven, "How much intelligence does it take to sneak up on a leaf?"

    Originating from a prey species is a possibility. So it is possible to be a technological herbivore especially if they have to deal with very nasty carnivores on their planet.
    You know, come to think of it, I might drop that criterion: I can't remember if gorillas eat meat or bugs at all, or if they're straight herbivores.
    starkaos wrote: »
    starswordc wrote: »
    • Features manipulating appendages.

    Manipulating appendages are not a necessity just manipulating the environment in some manner. It might be possible for an alien race to naturally generate magnetic fields to create tools.

    Possible but exceedingly unlikely. For one, only three elements are magnetic to begin with (even things like "neodymium magnets" are actually iron alloys), so that kind of manipulation would be next to useless and therefore not likely to help an organism survive to reproduce. (Sensing magnetic fields is completely plausible, though, and many fish have that feature.)

    In fact, fundamental chemistry gets in the way of a lot of the really out-there notions that sci-fi writers have come up with, such as silicon-based life (or germanium-based in the case of the Hur'q): they are both in the same periodic table column as carbon, but they don't naturally form the kinds of complex molecules that carbon does (don't ask me why, organic chemistry isn't my strong suit). Water-reliant life is similarly likely since water is very common and one of the best solvents around, and it probably involves oxygen in its biochemistry somehow as well.
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    angrytargangrytarg Member Posts: 11,001 Arc User
    Regarding the 'teaching the young' thing: aA large part of animals teaches their young. We have long since learbed that 'instinct' is not a adequate explanation any more abd animals don't become fully functional automatons when they mature. Many species pass the mirror test and display complex social structures and habits, not only primates or whales but also many birds (raven like and parrots mostly), pigs, cattle or sheep.

    We can't adequately measure sapience and make lots of assumptions based on convenience.
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    starkaosstarkaos Member Posts: 11,556 Arc User
    starswordc wrote: »
    starkaos wrote: »
    starswordc wrote: »
    • Features manipulating appendages.

    Manipulating appendages are not a necessity just manipulating the environment in some manner. It might be possible for an alien race to naturally generate magnetic fields to create tools.

    Possible but exceedingly unlikely. For one, only three elements are magnetic to begin with (even things like "neodymium magnets" are actually iron alloys), so that kind of manipulation would be next to useless and therefore not likely to help an organism survive to reproduce. (Sensing magnetic fields is completely plausible, though, and many fish have that feature.)

    In fact, fundamental chemistry gets in the way of a lot of the really out-there notions that sci-fi writers have come up with, such as silicon-based life (or germanium-based in the case of the Hur'q): they are both in the same periodic table column as carbon, but they don't naturally form the kinds of complex molecules that carbon does (don't ask me why, organic chemistry isn't my strong suit). Water-reliant life is similarly likely since water is very common and one of the best solvents around, and it probably involves oxygen in its biochemistry somehow as well.

    We only have experience with our world and how chemistry works on Earth so we don't have a clue about all the possibilities where life or more importantly where technological life can exist. So manipulating appendages is too specific for a definition of technological life. Hands and tentacles might be used by the vast majority of technological races, but there will always be exceptions unless all technological aliens look just like us.
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    mustrumridcully0mustrumridcully0 Member Posts: 12,963 Arc User
    starkaos wrote: »
    starswordc wrote: »
    starkaos wrote: »
    starswordc wrote: »
    • Features manipulating appendages.

    Manipulating appendages are not a necessity just manipulating the environment in some manner. It might be possible for an alien race to naturally generate magnetic fields to create tools.

    Possible but exceedingly unlikely. For one, only three elements are magnetic to begin with (even things like "neodymium magnets" are actually iron alloys), so that kind of manipulation would be next to useless and therefore not likely to help an organism survive to reproduce. (Sensing magnetic fields is completely plausible, though, and many fish have that feature.)

    In fact, fundamental chemistry gets in the way of a lot of the really out-there notions that sci-fi writers have come up with, such as silicon-based life (or germanium-based in the case of the Hur'q): they are both in the same periodic table column as carbon, but they don't naturally form the kinds of complex molecules that carbon does (don't ask me why, organic chemistry isn't my strong suit). Water-reliant life is similarly likely since water is very common and one of the best solvents around, and it probably involves oxygen in its biochemistry somehow as well.

    We only have experience with our world and how chemistry works on Earth so we don't have a clue about all the possibilities where life or more importantly where technological life can exist. So manipulating appendages is too specific for a definition of technological life. Hands and tentacles might be used by the vast majority of technological races, but there will always be exceptions unless all technological aliens look just like us.

    Chemistry on Earth is only special in the sense of what temperature and pressure ranges it might usually involve. But in experiments, we can also use unusual temperatures and pressures and see how chemicals act. We also have ideas on how common the various elements tend to be, partially also be cause we know how they are created.
    So we definitely have clues, and they point us to saying that cabon-based life is far more likely. If it's the only feasible one is another matter.
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    jonsillsjonsills Member Posts: 10,397 Arc User
    Carbon forms bonds more easily than any other element, in a wider range of conditions, and at lower energy levels. Silicon can form many varieties of bonds, but within more limited conditions and requiring more energy in the initial reaction. Thus, while silicon-based life isn't impossible, not in the same way as, say, neon-based life, it's less likely.

    That being said, "carbon-based life" on Earth includes everything from humans to lobsters to octopuses (the largest creatures with copper-based blood, or "hemocyanin"!) to bacteria to trees. It's not really much of a limit on possibilities.

    On the third hand, it seems unlikely that any creature with no ability to manipulate its environment would evolve intelligence - that's a pretty considerable investment of biological energy, and with no purpose for its existence, it would almost certainly be selected against evolutionarily. Technological advancement would almost certainly require the ability to harness fire, or at least some form of heat energy useful in smelting metals, so a purely aquatic intelligence would probably not develop complex technologies; further, beings living underwater, and never seeing the sky, would probably not feel any particular desire to swim between stars they cannot see.

    So, for technological intelligent life-forms that might eventually be contactable by a Federation, an interstellar government with a non-interference directive, we're "limited" by probability to creatures that might look like us, or like dogs, or like reptiles, or like birds, or like mobile birch trees, or like kudzu, or like spiders only with lungs, or unlike any of the above. James White's tales of Sector General have a pretty good cross-section of aliens, and the story "Countercharm" has an amusing example of how that, combined with "Educator tapes" that imprint the donor's entire body of knowledge and ideas upon the recepient's brain, can lead to... unexpected results. (Conway took a tape from a Melfan doctor, essentially a giant crab, to teach Melfans how to implant an artificial pancreas-equivalent. One of the Melfans was female - and highly attractive, as giant crabs go. Fortunately, Conway was already developing a relationship with Murchison. That helped.)
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    jonsillsjonsills Member Posts: 10,397 Arc User
    After more coffee it occurred to me I'd gone a bit astray above, so back to topic - personally, I think the best bet for the next dominant life-form on Earth is raccoons, as they've already developed hands of a sort and seem to be quite clever at figuring things out. Corvids, however, are another strong possibility, at least if they evolved to be more like their therapod ancestors so they could use their wings as manipulators (there's only so far that wielding things in your beak is going to get you).
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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    Then there was the D&D race of intelligent birds who lay on their backs to manipulate things with their feet. The fore-paws need not be the manipulative appendages.

    Most rodents have hands and manipulate things with them, squirrels being a notable example. Rabbits are the odd ones out in that family in not having hands, as raccoons are the odd ones in the carnivora family by having them.

    Opossums have hands, but I don't rate them very high on the intelligence scale.

    All primates, of course, have hands. Most have four. Imagine the benefits of having an extra hand while doing auto-maintenance!

    I think some very smart creatures are too well adapted to their environment to attain sapience. Baboons come to mind. They are exceptionally intelligent, but I don't see them making the leap without a push, which an environmental catastrophe could cause.

    There is an old trope in science education that intelligence is always a positive factor in evolution, and thus natural selection will always favor it. This doesn't seem to be the case. Intelligence appears to be a high-maintenance trait which requires an abundance of energy. It seems that there must be a positive feedback between intelligence, the exploitation of new and richer food sources, and an environmental push away from the conditions in which the original creature evolved.

    Humans, for example, were pushed out onto the savanna by dwindling forests, and had to compensate for the lost sugar of a fruit-rich diet with fat and bone marrow. Intelligence allowed them to go from scavenger of kill sites to bullies of kill sites, driving away the hunters which brought down the game, to actual hunters in their own right. It was a case of positive feedback, in that the stupid and unlucky were eaten by the carnivore, while the smart ended up getting fat.

    But without fat and bone marrow, humans would be about as bright as brain-damaged chimps. It was the loss of their primitive foraging terrain which forced the dietary change to 'brain-foods.'
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    mustrumridcully0mustrumridcully0 Member Posts: 12,963 Arc User
    I figure the ability to use tools also made us more "efficient" hunters. A tiger or wolf has to attack his prey at close range, and if it fights back, it risks being hurt, which even when seemingly minor can be deadly, absent of antibiotics and tetanus vaccines and what not.

    If you can instead build and throw a spear or even use a bow, you can attack at a range where you are relatively safe from your prey, and can attack much larger and tougher enemies than if you had to rely on hand-to-claw/hoof/teeth combat.
    So even if the "smart" brain requires more "power" to be supported than a "dumb" brain, it can create a comparative advantage, and the advantage might be bigger than spending the same "power" on better muscles. Of course, there is more than jsut "brains" at work here - also hand-eye coordination and the necessary appendages.

    Poisons or, say, the ability to create electric shocks, can do something similar, but they aren't linked to intelligence, since no tool use is involved.

    What I am not so sure is that intelligent and tool-building water life is so much out of the questions. Not being able to make fire is certainly a limitation, but couldn't there be alternatives to use natural heat sources perhaps? Or is that just to inflexible?
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    starswordcstarswordc Member Posts: 10,963 Arc User
    edited January 2019
    What I am not so sure is that intelligent and tool-building water life is so much out of the questions. Not being able to make fire is certainly a limitation, but couldn't there be alternatives to use natural heat sources perhaps? Or is that just to inflexible?

    To be perfectly frank, there just aren't many natural heat sources that can get hot enough while still being semi-safe to use. To burn off the oxygen and slag in iron ores to get pure(ish) iron, you have to get the ore up to roughly 1250°C (2282°F).* Then you have to factor in the relatively high specific heat of water: the reason it works well as a cooling mechanism is because it takes a lot of energy to heat it (even though it has a relatively low boiling point).

    The hottest thing underwater would be a deep-ocean geothermal vent, but aside from the difficulty in getting to one (never mind that it heats the surrounding water, not all animals can handle the water pressure), the water coming out isn't hot enough (in the range of 400°C). But a good campfire can hit 1100°C, which is hot enough to smelt tin. From there, a pottery kiln can be used to smelt copper, which alloys with tin to make bronze.

    Addendum: There's another problem, too: really advanced tech needs electricity. And to quote Charles Stross's The Jennifer Morgue, Monsieur Volt and Herr Ampere are not your friends when you're surrounded by seawater.
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    starkaosstarkaos Member Posts: 11,556 Arc User
    starswordc wrote: »
    What I am not so sure is that intelligent and tool-building water life is so much out of the questions. Not being able to make fire is certainly a limitation, but couldn't there be alternatives to use natural heat sources perhaps? Or is that just to inflexible?

    To be perfectly frank, there just aren't many natural heat sources that can get hot enough while still being semi-safe to use. To burn off the oxygen and slag in iron ores to get pure(ish) iron, you have to get the ore up to roughly 1250°C (2282°F).* Then you have to factor in the relatively high specific heat of water: the reason it works well as a cooling mechanism is because it takes a lot of energy to heat it (even though it has a relatively low boiling point).

    The hottest thing underwater would be a deep-ocean geothermal vent, but aside from the difficulty in getting to one (never mind that it heats the surrounding water, not all animals can handle the water pressure), the water coming out isn't hot enough (in the range of 400°C). But a good campfire can hit 1100°C, which is hot enough to smelt tin. From there, a pottery kiln can be used to smelt copper, which alloys with tin to make bronze.

    Addendum: There's another problem, too: really advanced tech needs electricity. And to quote Charles Stross's The Jennifer Morgue, Monsieur Volt and Herr Ampere are not your friends when you're surrounded by seawater.

    A water technological race is possible provided that it is based around organic technology. There would be absolutely no need for metallurgy or electricity.

    There is also the possibility of spacefaring alien races genetically modifying alien creatures close to sapience to provide the ability of technological development.

    It would be interesting to see if natural robots are possible. We already know that self-replication is theoretically possible with nanotechnology. So it might be possible that self-replicating nanobots were created through natural means.
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    markhawkmanmarkhawkman Member Posts: 35,231 Arc User
    jonsills wrote: »
    After more coffee it occurred to me I'd gone a bit astray above, so back to topic - personally, I think the best bet for the next dominant life-form on Earth is raccoons, as they've already developed hands of a sort and seem to be quite clever at figuring things out. Corvids, however, are another strong possibility, at least if they evolved to be more like their therapod ancestors so they could use their wings as manipulators (there's only so far that wielding things in your beak is going to get you).
    It's very interesting to consider how much of Raccoon behavior is learned and not instinct. It's part of what makes them domesticatable actually. You can teach them to act in ways their parents wouldn't teach them to act.

    I forget where it was, but something I saw a long time ago had parrots that had four feet and used their feet as hands.
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    mustrumridcully0mustrumridcully0 Member Posts: 12,963 Arc User
    starkaos wrote: »
    starswordc wrote: »
    What I am not so sure is that intelligent and tool-building water life is so much out of the questions. Not being able to make fire is certainly a limitation, but couldn't there be alternatives to use natural heat sources perhaps? Or is that just to inflexible?

    To be perfectly frank, there just aren't many natural heat sources that can get hot enough while still being semi-safe to use. To burn off the oxygen and slag in iron ores to get pure(ish) iron, you have to get the ore up to roughly 1250°C (2282°F).* Then you have to factor in the relatively high specific heat of water: the reason it works well as a cooling mechanism is because it takes a lot of energy to heat it (even though it has a relatively low boiling point).

    The hottest thing underwater would be a deep-ocean geothermal vent, but aside from the difficulty in getting to one (never mind that it heats the surrounding water, not all animals can handle the water pressure), the water coming out isn't hot enough (in the range of 400°C). But a good campfire can hit 1100°C, which is hot enough to smelt tin. From there, a pottery kiln can be used to smelt copper, which alloys with tin to make bronze.

    Addendum: There's another problem, too: really advanced tech needs electricity. And to quote Charles Stross's The Jennifer Morgue, Monsieur Volt and Herr Ampere are not your friends when you're surrounded by seawater.

    A water technological race is possible provided that it is based around organic technology. There would be absolutely no need for metallurgy or electricity.

    There is also the possibility of spacefaring alien races genetically modifying alien creatures close to sapience to provide the ability of technological development.

    It would be interesting to see if natural robots are possible. We already know that self-replication is theoretically possible with nanotechnology. So it might be possible that self-replicating nanobots were created through natural means.

    But how do you develop organic technology? If you don't have animals that suite your purpose already, would you have to run long, selective breeding processes until they are how you want them to be? Would that mean your species' technological advancement would take millions of years?
    Genetic Engineering is pretty difficult if you don't have tools to actually look or manipulate DNA and cells, and optical or electron- microscopes require non-organic technology.
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    starkaosstarkaos Member Posts: 11,556 Arc User
    starkaos wrote: »
    starswordc wrote: »
    What I am not so sure is that intelligent and tool-building water life is so much out of the questions. Not being able to make fire is certainly a limitation, but couldn't there be alternatives to use natural heat sources perhaps? Or is that just to inflexible?

    To be perfectly frank, there just aren't many natural heat sources that can get hot enough while still being semi-safe to use. To burn off the oxygen and slag in iron ores to get pure(ish) iron, you have to get the ore up to roughly 1250°C (2282°F).* Then you have to factor in the relatively high specific heat of water: the reason it works well as a cooling mechanism is because it takes a lot of energy to heat it (even though it has a relatively low boiling point).

    The hottest thing underwater would be a deep-ocean geothermal vent, but aside from the difficulty in getting to one (never mind that it heats the surrounding water, not all animals can handle the water pressure), the water coming out isn't hot enough (in the range of 400°C). But a good campfire can hit 1100°C, which is hot enough to smelt tin. From there, a pottery kiln can be used to smelt copper, which alloys with tin to make bronze.

    Addendum: There's another problem, too: really advanced tech needs electricity. And to quote Charles Stross's The Jennifer Morgue, Monsieur Volt and Herr Ampere are not your friends when you're surrounded by seawater.

    A water technological race is possible provided that it is based around organic technology. There would be absolutely no need for metallurgy or electricity.

    There is also the possibility of spacefaring alien races genetically modifying alien creatures close to sapience to provide the ability of technological development.

    It would be interesting to see if natural robots are possible. We already know that self-replication is theoretically possible with nanotechnology. So it might be possible that self-replicating nanobots were created through natural means.

    But how do you develop organic technology? If you don't have animals that suite your purpose already, would you have to run long, selective breeding processes until they are how you want them to be? Would that mean your species' technological advancement would take millions of years?
    Genetic Engineering is pretty difficult if you don't have tools to actually look or manipulate DNA and cells, and optical or electron- microscopes require non-organic technology.

    Organic technology would require weird biochemistry. Either some advanced alien race genetically engineers them or evolution plays some weird trick. Retroviruses are capable of modifying DNA so an alien species that can create customized retroviruses would be capable of organic technology. Then there is the fact that our ancestors have genetically modified domesticated animals to some success over the centuries. So an aquatic alien species might be more successful at it.

    The Zerg from Starcraft were originally modified by an ancient alien race to create organic technology while the Bugs from Starship Troopers seem to naturally be able to create organic technology.
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    jonsillsjonsills Member Posts: 10,397 Arc User
    starkaos wrote: »
    starkaos wrote: »
    starswordc wrote: »
    What I am not so sure is that intelligent and tool-building water life is so much out of the questions. Not being able to make fire is certainly a limitation, but couldn't there be alternatives to use natural heat sources perhaps? Or is that just to inflexible?

    To be perfectly frank, there just aren't many natural heat sources that can get hot enough while still being semi-safe to use. To burn off the oxygen and slag in iron ores to get pure(ish) iron, you have to get the ore up to roughly 1250°C (2282°F).* Then you have to factor in the relatively high specific heat of water: the reason it works well as a cooling mechanism is because it takes a lot of energy to heat it (even though it has a relatively low boiling point).

    The hottest thing underwater would be a deep-ocean geothermal vent, but aside from the difficulty in getting to one (never mind that it heats the surrounding water, not all animals can handle the water pressure), the water coming out isn't hot enough (in the range of 400°C). But a good campfire can hit 1100°C, which is hot enough to smelt tin. From there, a pottery kiln can be used to smelt copper, which alloys with tin to make bronze.

    Addendum: There's another problem, too: really advanced tech needs electricity. And to quote Charles Stross's The Jennifer Morgue, Monsieur Volt and Herr Ampere are not your friends when you're surrounded by seawater.

    A water technological race is possible provided that it is based around organic technology. There would be absolutely no need for metallurgy or electricity.

    There is also the possibility of spacefaring alien races genetically modifying alien creatures close to sapience to provide the ability of technological development.

    It would be interesting to see if natural robots are possible. We already know that self-replication is theoretically possible with nanotechnology. So it might be possible that self-replicating nanobots were created through natural means.

    But how do you develop organic technology? If you don't have animals that suite your purpose already, would you have to run long, selective breeding processes until they are how you want them to be? Would that mean your species' technological advancement would take millions of years?
    Genetic Engineering is pretty difficult if you don't have tools to actually look or manipulate DNA and cells, and optical or electron- microscopes require non-organic technology.

    Organic technology would require weird biochemistry. Either some advanced alien race genetically engineers them or evolution plays some weird trick. Retroviruses are capable of modifying DNA so an alien species that can create customized retroviruses would be capable of organic technology. Then there is the fact that our ancestors have genetically modified domesticated animals to some success over the centuries. So an aquatic alien species might be more successful at it.

    The Zerg from Starcraft were originally modified by an ancient alien race to create organic technology while the Bugs from Starship Troopers seem to naturally be able to create organic technology.
    Neither example, however, is exactly serious science fiction. (The pseudo-arachnid Klendathu in Heinlein's novel Starship Troopers used the same sort of technology as the humans did, from Cherenkov-drive starships to portable energy weapons; their expansion was slowed primarily by the fact that they were subdivided into roles more strictly than a Terran anthill, from unarmed and low-intelligence Workers to aggressive Warriors to high-intelligence Brains to the Royal castes that directed their colonies.)

    And the selective breeding of dogs has taken, so far as we can tell, somewhere in excess of ten thousand years - and they're still not exactly tools, as anyone who's tried to figure out what a specific dog will do based on its breed can tell you. "Organic technology" simply doesn't work that well, absent a tech basis capable of deliberately manipulating individual genes and reliably predicting the outcome thereof. (We've achieved the first part, and learned in the process how very wrong we had been about the second.)
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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    Ants and termites and their cousins have done a wonderful job of differentiation based upon function. and it's only taken them about 400 million years to get where they are now. Give them another 400 million years and who knows what arthropods will do!
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    markhawkmanmarkhawkman Member Posts: 35,231 Arc User
    jonsills wrote: »
    And the selective breeding of dogs has taken, so far as we can tell, somewhere in excess of ten thousand years - and they're still not exactly tools, as anyone who's tried to figure out what a specific dog will do based on its breed can tell you. "Organic technology" simply doesn't work that well, absent a tech basis capable of deliberately manipulating individual genes and reliably predicting the outcome thereof. (We've achieved the first part, and learned in the process how very wrong we had been about the second.)
    If we're looking at tech based, the various ways people have modified plants would be a better analogy. But the flaw with this entire argument is that it assumes the aliens would use the same methods. There's no reason to assume that.
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    mustrumridcully0mustrumridcully0 Member Posts: 12,963 Arc User
    jonsills wrote: »
    And the selective breeding of dogs has taken, so far as we can tell, somewhere in excess of ten thousand years - and they're still not exactly tools, as anyone who's tried to figure out what a specific dog will do based on its breed can tell you. "Organic technology" simply doesn't work that well, absent a tech basis capable of deliberately manipulating individual genes and reliably predicting the outcome thereof. (We've achieved the first part, and learned in the process how very wrong we had been about the second.)
    If we're looking at tech based, the various ways people have modified plants would be a better analogy. But the flaw with this entire argument is that it assumes the aliens would use the same methods. There's no reason to assume that.

    However, if you can't offer something else that they could do to develop organic technology, it's baseless speculation and we could also say that aliens might be Unicorns. We need a bit more than that.
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    starswordcstarswordc Member Posts: 10,963 Arc User
    jonsills wrote: »
    starkaos wrote: »
    starkaos wrote: »
    starswordc wrote: »
    What I am not so sure is that intelligent and tool-building water life is so much out of the questions. Not being able to make fire is certainly a limitation, but couldn't there be alternatives to use natural heat sources perhaps? Or is that just to inflexible?

    To be perfectly frank, there just aren't many natural heat sources that can get hot enough while still being semi-safe to use. To burn off the oxygen and slag in iron ores to get pure(ish) iron, you have to get the ore up to roughly 1250°C (2282°F).* Then you have to factor in the relatively high specific heat of water: the reason it works well as a cooling mechanism is because it takes a lot of energy to heat it (even though it has a relatively low boiling point).

    The hottest thing underwater would be a deep-ocean geothermal vent, but aside from the difficulty in getting to one (never mind that it heats the surrounding water, not all animals can handle the water pressure), the water coming out isn't hot enough (in the range of 400°C). But a good campfire can hit 1100°C, which is hot enough to smelt tin. From there, a pottery kiln can be used to smelt copper, which alloys with tin to make bronze.

    Addendum: There's another problem, too: really advanced tech needs electricity. And to quote Charles Stross's The Jennifer Morgue, Monsieur Volt and Herr Ampere are not your friends when you're surrounded by seawater.

    A water technological race is possible provided that it is based around organic technology. There would be absolutely no need for metallurgy or electricity.

    There is also the possibility of spacefaring alien races genetically modifying alien creatures close to sapience to provide the ability of technological development.

    It would be interesting to see if natural robots are possible. We already know that self-replication is theoretically possible with nanotechnology. So it might be possible that self-replicating nanobots were created through natural means.

    But how do you develop organic technology? If you don't have animals that suite your purpose already, would you have to run long, selective breeding processes until they are how you want them to be? Would that mean your species' technological advancement would take millions of years?
    Genetic Engineering is pretty difficult if you don't have tools to actually look or manipulate DNA and cells, and optical or electron- microscopes require non-organic technology.

    Organic technology would require weird biochemistry. Either some advanced alien race genetically engineers them or evolution plays some weird trick. Retroviruses are capable of modifying DNA so an alien species that can create customized retroviruses would be capable of organic technology. Then there is the fact that our ancestors have genetically modified domesticated animals to some success over the centuries. So an aquatic alien species might be more successful at it.

    The Zerg from Starcraft were originally modified by an ancient alien race to create organic technology while the Bugs from Starship Troopers seem to naturally be able to create organic technology.
    Neither example, however, is exactly serious science fiction. (The pseudo-arachnid Klendathu in Heinlein's novel Starship Troopers used the same sort of technology as the humans did, from Cherenkov-drive starships to portable energy weapons; their expansion was slowed primarily by the fact that they were subdivided into roles more strictly than a Terran anthill, from unarmed and low-intelligence Workers to aggressive Warriors to high-intelligence Brains to the Royal castes that directed their colonies.)
    And the Xel'Naga from all indications modified the zerg using conventional "bits and bytes, volts and metals" technology.

    Okay, so their stuff involves crystals rather than printed circuitboards. That's still a far cry from the kind of thing you see from, say, the Yuuzhan Vong in Star Wars Legends (who have been at it for so long they can't even remember beyond mythology why they even left their home galaxy, so it's completely possible they used non-living technology a very long time ago).

    Even Babylon 5, which used organic technology with the Vorlons, Shadows, and Ikarrans (extinct), treated it as an advancement you made after developing non-living tech.
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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    I could see a creature with developed chemo-sensing organs learning organic chemistry long before developing fire-use, while a psionically endowed species might be able to 'mind-read' very small organisms as proxy-microscopes.

    Then there are the organic computers from Larry Niven's Simon Ausfaller novels which serve to tie in the old Known Space books into a single narrative.

    But speculative fiction was not the intent of this thread, as interesting as it might be, because none of Earth's creatures as of yet possess the potential to do anything like what the Zerg or Bugs do. Of course, it might be a few hundred million years before technological sapience arises again on Earth, so anything might happen in that time.
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    starkaosstarkaos Member Posts: 11,556 Arc User
    brian334 wrote: »
    I could see a creature with developed chemo-sensing organs learning organic chemistry long before developing fire-use, while a psionically endowed species might be able to 'mind-read' very small organisms as proxy-microscopes.

    Then there are the organic computers from Larry Niven's Simon Ausfaller novels which serve to tie in the old Known Space books into a single narrative.

    But speculative fiction was not the intent of this thread, as interesting as it might be, because none of Earth's creatures as of yet possess the potential to do anything like what the Zerg or Bugs do. Of course, it might be a few hundred million years before technological sapience arises again on Earth, so anything might happen in that time.

    Organic technology is the only way for Dolphins and Whales to create a technological society without humans messing around with them like giving dolphins robotic limbs with a neural interface.

    Or another sapient species will replace us like Planet of the Apes. If we develop a drug that increases intelligence, then we would first give it to chimpanzees rather than skip animal testing and go straight to human testing.
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    markhawkmanmarkhawkman Member Posts: 35,231 Arc User
    jonsills wrote: »
    And the selective breeding of dogs has taken, so far as we can tell, somewhere in excess of ten thousand years - and they're still not exactly tools, as anyone who's tried to figure out what a specific dog will do based on its breed can tell you. "Organic technology" simply doesn't work that well, absent a tech basis capable of deliberately manipulating individual genes and reliably predicting the outcome thereof. (We've achieved the first part, and learned in the process how very wrong we had been about the second.)
    If we're looking at tech based, the various ways people have modified plants would be a better analogy. But the flaw with this entire argument is that it assumes the aliens would use the same methods. There's no reason to assume that.
    However, if you can't offer something else that they could do to develop organic technology, it's baseless speculation and we could also say that aliens might be Unicorns. We need a bit more than that.
    Mmm... all sci-fi is based on speculation. The real question is how much :p
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    mustrumridcully0mustrumridcully0 Member Posts: 12,963 Arc User
    brian334 wrote: »
    I could see a creature with developed chemo-sensing organs learning organic chemistry long before developing fire-use,
    Well, many animals have "chemo-sensing" organs - that is what the senses of smell and taste are.
    But can we think of a plausible evolutionary path where this sense of smell or taste could develop to a creature's benefit so much further than what we've seen already? Especially since "sensing" is not the same as targeted manipulation.

    Chemical manipulation of course happens in our bodies, as we change the food we ingest into materials we can use to our benefit. We do all this unconciously.
    Are their animals that can conciously decide whether they rather use their body chemistry to produce Protein X or Protein Y? Maybe we could at least posit there could be, and this might be a basis for such an organic process that could evolve further?

    So, we might have an animal that ingests, say, grass and other plants, and with its internal chemistry and spit or whatever it can use this as "building material" for its nest, and traps for other food. The more complex its nests and traps, the better it can survive, so that would be an avenue where intelligence becomes more useful to survival. At the same time, the more different building materials it can create, the better. Maybe if it can ingest plants together with their roots, and does not kill them in the process, it could start growing its food and building resource systematically. If another mutation allows it to change the plants it eats in some way to better benefit its purposes... Well, it's a long route, and I am not sure the jump to fully fledged genetic manipulation is really plausible. It might involve some co-evoution, like some plants rely on being planeted and pollinated by this animal, and this strengthens selective breeding. If it could also somehow apply this to aniamls to domesticate them, it would be useful, too.

    Still, that seems more like a more fancy way to breed wolves into dogs and wild plants into corn and wheat. And while this has undoubtedly very effective, there isn't a way to breed dogs further so they can fly us physically into space, for example. We can select mostly for traits that are already there, and not go too far from the base template.
    while a psionically endowed species might be able to 'mind-read' very small organisms as proxy-microscopes.
    But what are psionic, how do they evolve, and why? Or is this just "magic"? And do very small organism have minds to read?
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