Thursday, December 27, 2007

Science fiction: the meme of universal cooperation

One of the classic science fiction answers to the Fermi Paradox is that any advanced technological civilization would decide that competitors are just too risky to tolerate.

So they would inevitably seed the galaxy with self-replicating machines designed to strange rivals "in the cradle".

This was the same line of argument given for preemptive nuclear attacks on Russia before it acquired the capacity to retaliate. More recently the argument is used to justify preemptive attacks on Iran.

It's easy to imagine an six-headed alien version of Dick Cheney arguing for the annihilation of the earth. After all, the planet Earth contains Dick Cheney!

But, in the spirit of the Solstice celebrations, we might ask whether a competitive rival strategy might emerge...

Even in simple game theory exercises, the 'initial friendship, then return as given' strategy can win. In a more complex universe, might one imagine a winning strategy of reciprocal alliance building?

What would be the characteristics of entities, large and small, that are able to build stable, growing, alliances and collaborations with very different entities and cultures? Tolerant, forgiving, compassionate, curious, patient, "turn the other cheek", "do unto others ...", etc.

Iain Banks trod some of this ground in The Culture novels. I've recently come across another variant. During my recent holiday time I managed to read a series a friend had sent, which I reviewed for Amazon ... Divergence: Books: Tony Ballantyne

... Ballantyne adroitly recycles a good range of science fiction, tossing in a one or two new ideas that I'd had on my private list of science fiction novelty. (So they're not original to me after all, Ballantyne thought of them too.)

So, a good read but nothing remarkable -- except for the last book.

In Divergence Ballantyne, who volunteers with special needs adults, is the very first science fiction writer to make "handicapped" adults first class characters. Indeed disability and fairness are revealed in the last book as core themes of the entire series (though I wonder if he knew how it would end)...
In addition to an almost unique role for disabled persons in his novel, Ballantyne also explores the idea of an aggressively cooperative culture, and they way they enforce their values of collaboration and fairness upon the universe.

So, Banks and Ballantyne (Banks is the better writer btw) have both touched on this meme. I wonder who else has covered it.

An encouraging thought as one contemplates the stars. Sadly it doesn't fit that well with the FP problem ...

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