Directions for next four questions analyse the following passage and provide appropriate answers:
We can answer Fermi’s Paradox in two ways. Perhaps our current science over-estimates the likelihood of extraterrestrial intelligence evolving. Or, perhaps, evolved technical intelligence has some deep tendency to be self-limiting, even self-exterminating. After Hiroshima, some suggested that any aliens bright enough to make colonizing space ships would be bright enough to make thermonuclear bombs, and would use them on each other sooner or later.
I suggest a different, even darker solution to the Paradox. Basically, I think the aliens forget to send radio signals or colonize space because they’re too busy with runaway consumerism and virtual-reality narcissism. Once they turn inwards to chase their shiny pennies of pleasure, they lose the cosmic plot.
The fundamental problem is that an evolved mind must pay attention to indirect cues of biological fitness, rather than tracking fitness itself. This was a key insight of evolutionary psychology in the early
1990s; although evolution favours brains that tend to maximize fitness (as measured by numbers of great-grandkids), no brain has capacity enough to do so under every possible circumstance. As a result, brains must evolve shortcuts: fitness-promoting tricks, cons, recipes and heuristics that work, on an average, under ancestrally normal conditions. Technology is fairly good at controlling external reality to promote real biological fitness, but it’s even better at delivering fake fitness-subjective cues of urvival and reproduction without the real-world effects.
Fitness-faking technology tends to evolve much faster than our psychological resistance to it. With the invention of Xbox 360, people would rather play a
high-resolution virtual ape in Peter Jackson’s King Kong than be a perfect–resolution real human. Teens today must find their way through a carnival of addictively fitness-faking entertainment products.
The traditional staples of physical, mental and social development – athletics, homework dating – are
neglected. The few young people with the self-control to pursue the meritocratic path often get distracted at the last minute.
Around 1900, most inventions concerned physical reality and in 2005 focus shifted to virtual entertainment. Freud’s pleasure principle triumphs over the reality principle. Today we narrow-cast human-interest stories to each other, rather than broadcasting messages of universal peace and progress to other star systems.
Maybe the bright aliens did the same. I suspect that a certain period of fitness-faking narcissism is inevitable after any intelligent life evolves. This is the Great Temptation for any technological species – to shape their subjective reality to provide the cues of survival and reproductive success without the substance. Most bright alien species probably go extinct gradually, allocating more time and resources to their pleasures and less to their children.
Heritable variation in personality might allow some lineages to resist the Great Temptation and last longer. Some individuals and families may start with an “irrational” Luddite abhorrence of entertainment technology, and they may evolve ever more self-control, conscientiousness and pragmatism by combining the family values of the religious right with the sustainability values of the Greenpeace. They wait patiently for our fitness-faking narcissism to go extinct. Those practical-minded breeders will inherit the Earth as like-minded aliens may have inherited a few other planets. When they finally achieve contacts, it will not be a meeting of novel-readers and game-players. It will be a meeting of dead-serious super-parents who congratulate each other on surviving not just the Bomb, but the Xbox.
Among the following options, which one represents the most important concern raised in the passage?