Thursday, 27 November 2014

Organic Automata

I think that this speculation is relevant to Poul Anderson Appreciation. He might even have written a story about it?

My question is: how much complicated social behavior could be entirely unconscious and merely automatic? Imagine a planet where evolution has taken a different course. There are large, complex, sensitive, mobile, social organisms in which reflective self-consciousness has never emerged. The highest level of consciousness is mere sensation and I am trying to envisage a minimum even of that.

Such organisms would:

cooperate and specialize;
gather, hunt, cultivate, herd and fight;
build complex structures for shelter and other practical purposes;
communicate non-conceptually, i.e., exchange complex signals but not meaningful symbols.

They would therefore lack language, religion, myth, philosophy, science, inquiry, experiment, art and literature. Andersonian explorers would arrive, identify a dominant species and attempt contact but, after a while, would realize that there was "no one home."

How possible is this? Could the native structures initially be mistaken for a civilization?


  1. Hi, Paul!

    And Poul Anderson did write at least one short story using the concept of "organic automata" you described: "The High Ones." Anderson's argument in or for that story was that the triumph of the ultimate, "perfect" totalitarian and socialist state on Zolotoy inevitably meant the withering away of self aware intelligence. As one character said, "The holy society, whose very stasis was holy" (quoting from memory). During the last dying age of reason on Zolotoy, one atavistic genius realized what was happening to his people and desperately improvised a computer whose functions would be to make some attempts at handling aliens who were NOT organic automata who found Zolotoy. Either he instituted a set of regulations or simple natural selection was enough to evolve "technicians" whose task was to maintain this computer.


  2. Sean,
    Interesting and relevant. Devolution rather than evolution.

    1. Hi, Paul!

      Exactly! If you set things up in such a way that you don't NEED the self aware mind, then that mind will atrophy and eventually be discarded. "The High Ones" gives us an example of a self inflicted disaster where an intelligent species made the wrong choice, chose the fatal road leading to the total state. PA was also partly inspired in writing "The High Ones" by Roderick Seidenberg's book POST HISTORIC MAN.