Barkow seems to assume that alien styles are largely determined by the specific biological environments in which particular alien species originally evolved. This … makes far less sense for aliens who are a million or a billion years more advanced [than us].
Actually, no. Evolutionary change is a product of differential reproduction and so can be relatively rapid or glacial – when something works very well, then there are no selection pressures to change it. Sharks have been around for 450 million years, after all. Our own species appears to have changed our basic psychology minimally if at all. … It is not time that changes a species, it is selection pressures, differential reproduction. Could extraterrestrials choose to change their evolved psychology, using some form of eugenics? Sure, but if they are like us then the last thing they will seek is fundamental change. … If our species is still around in a million or so years, … I bet their lives will still revolve around sex and status and the complex symbolic paths we follow to achieve these goals. Advanced technology means that a species need no longer be selected by environmental pressures – it can adapt the environment to themselves, not the other way around. But why would it occur to extraterrestrials or ourselves to change their core psychology in any fundamental manner?
On my “sexual reproduction is quite unlikely to last”:
Why would extraterrestrials choose to alter their core psychology, so that their offspring, their successors, would be aliens to them?
On my “advanced aliens are physically similar across the universe”:
If they evolved at the bottom of an ocean they will not be physically similar to air breathers, and if their gravity is very high they will be a lot lower to the ground than extraterrestrials that evolved on a relatively low gravity environment.
On my “very good at making their friendship or hostility appropriately context-dependent”:
In many human cultures, age is associated with wisdom. … [Hanson] projects it onto our extraterrestrials – because they are very old they should be wise. Sorry, it does not follow.
Yes of course it is not time that directly causes most evolution; it is a changed environment. But that includes changed tech, and I can’t imagine that Barkow doesn’t envision overwhelming gains in our abilities over the next millions or billions of years. The biological life we see now is intricately and finely adapted to the techs it has for moving, hitting, shielding, assembling, disassembling, detecting, signaling, computing, talking, threatening, and coordinating. Since all of these techs will greatly improve, surely creatures well adapted to them would also greatly change.
For example, in a million years there probably won’t be oceans or air, or even planets, unless that happens to be the best way to arrange all those atoms. In a billion years there may not even be a galaxy as we know it. Better tech for detecting, talking, and coordinating would give better-adapted social behavior, which could look to us like “wisdom.” Yes, the ancient process of sexual recombination of DNA to evolve our designs has been too slow to allow much redesign of human psychology during last ten thousand years of rapid cultural and technological change. But new technologies of assembly and design should allow for far faster evolution. And a billion years is a very long time.
This Barkow claim seems the key to our disagreement:
Advanced technology means that a species need no longer be selected by environmental pressures – it can adapt the environment to themselves, not the other way around.
The limited abilities so far of individual creatures to change their local environments haven’t prevented strong selection pressures on them. And even when each creature has far broader control, this won’t prevent selection from favoring creatures who better use their controls to survive and reproduce. No, what is required to stop selection is very broad and strong coordination. As I wrote:
Yes it is possible that a particular group of aliens will somehow take collective and complete control over all local evolution early in their history, and thereby forever retain their early styles. … Such collective control requires quite advanced coordination abilities. … Anything less than complete control of evolution would not end evolution; it would instead create a new environment for adaptation.
My guess is that even when this happens, it will only be after a great degree of adaptation to post-biological possibilities. So even then adaptation to advanced technology should be useful in predicting their behaviors.