Thursday, March 03, 2011

Babylon 5 and the "Ant Analogy"

At its best, science fiction can serve as a populist springboard for ideas, and new ways of thinking. Babylon 5 is among the best science fiction series ever made, and in this excerpt from the episode "Mind War" in the first season, Ambassador G'Kar offers an analogy about extraterrestrial intelligences that mirrors my own thoughts on any ET that may be out there, and how we would stand in comparison to them... thoughts that have been expressed by many others with a far higher "scientific pay-grade" than me, including Michio Kaku when I saw him speak in London in 2009.

Paul Kimball


Dia Sobin (Araqinta) said...

Hi Paul! It's nice to see OST up and running in earnest again.

I have heard Dr. Kaku mention the "ant analogy" in the past but I didn't see this Babylon 5 clip before. It's intriguing but I don't know that the analogy is really apt. Have ants evolved at all in any meaningful way over thousands of years? Are they even capable of evolving? Is there, for instance, an individual ant who's come along and changed the ant's playing field? An Einstein ant, or a Tesla ant or even a Walt Disney ant, a Michio Kaku ant, etc., etc.?

Then again, why is it that so many assume any ET civilization out there must have a few million years on us and imagine that our consciousness bears no resemblance to theirs?

Just wondering...

Thanks for all your recent posting!

Paul Kimball said...

Hi Dia,

You wrote:

Have ants evolved at all in any meaningful way over thousands of years?

That's a good question, but here's what I think is a better one:

"Have we evolved at all in any meaningful way over thousands of years?"

I'm not talking about technological advancement - I'm talking about advancement within, which I think is the point that G'Kar (and Kaku, in how own way), are making.

I a person today, in terms of their awareness of the world around them, appreciably different than someone 2,000 years ago?

Or, to use a practical example, is a US Marine any different than a Roman Centurion?

We like to think that we've progressed, but to a race that could travel the stars, I have a feeling that we would still look like ants.


Red Pill Junkie said...

While I do love the ant analogy, I also wonder if the exact opposite is true: meaning, that an alien civilization could be so far advanced, and has reached such an unparalleled understanding about the nature of the Universe —and the probable role Consciousness plays in it— that they attained a Buddhist-like respect and admiration for all manners of life forms. Specially sentient ones.

Like that line Arthur C. Clarke wrote (probably the best thing he ever did):

"And because, in all the galaxy, they had found nothing more precious than Mind, they
encouraged its dawning everywhere. They became farmers in the fields of stars; they sowed, and
sometimes they reaped.
And sometimes, dispassionately, they had to weed."

Dia Sobin (Araqinta) said...


I do know where you're coming from and in many ways would tend to agree, but I don't think it's possible to totally divorce technology from consciousness... in that the two are probably more integrated now than they have been at any time in the past; specifically in regards to the transference of information and the unique challenges it represents.

Your Roman Centurion, for example, didn't have access to a land phone, let alone a cell phone, Facebook and/or Twitter. Nor could he entertain the idea of nuking his enemy into a mere vapor. Then again, if he was injured, he'd be more likely to die then walk around with a prosthetic leg. While my examples seem superficial in terms of the kinds of civilizations portrayed on Star Trek, I don't think they're insignificant.

I think the mere fact that we have already managed to get humans off this planet is likewise significant... then, too, I think our creativity across the board elevates us from the insect world. So, no, I don't agree that an advanced species would would view humans as how we perceive ants.

Then again, speculation of this sort is probably entirely moot, but the mere fact that we do speculate must mean something! :-)

Dia Sobin (Araqinta) said...

Red-Pill Junkie, love the quote - thanks! :-)

xarx said...

Lets say an society becomes technically so advanced they can scan time-space and find the soul of an dead person and transplant it into an artificial brain, they can effortlessly travel between solar systems and they heave an enumerable number of colonized planets. I think that tends to get boring after an few billion years. So they eventually get interested in stuff they previously thought ow as irrelevant … like in as humans, for example. They might think ow our environmental pollution and military conflicts as being fascinating, because its something new to them.
And why would they stoop us from doing these things. They have seen successful societies before, but our brutish proceedings make us stand out.