Orders of Sapient Galactic Life: A Terragen Reliability Survey White Paper

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Key Words: Terragen Reliability Survey (Tg.R.S.), life, Galactic life, Orders of Galactic Life, sapience, sentience, sophonce, Organic, Hydrogen Breather, Oxygen Breather, Terrestrial life, Jovian life, Built life, Artificial life, Hypothetical life, pariah species, Galactic dissidents, dissident species, refugee, refugium, Quantum life, Memitic life.

Also Terragen relations with: Built species, Machines, Mimites, pariah species, refugees, Galactic dissidents.

Orders of sapient life

First, it is useful to recall that Galactic knowledge divides sapient life into several super-groups. The first division is between main-sequence and advanced sapience. Advanced-orders-of-sapience include Retired and Transcendent life-forms. For now, suffice it to say that organic-artificial distinctions are not important in classifying advanced sapient forms. Main Sequence sapient life-forms can be broadly divided into Organic, Built (or Artificial or Mechanical) groups, as well as Quantum sapience. It is held—at least among H-2 and O-2 species (all of which are Organic)—Organic life-forms have a higher right to existence than Built forms. It is also well known that many ethicists—not least Terragen and Tymbrimi Clan philosophers—consider the Organic-Built distinction to be not only invidious, but also absurd. The authors largely share this view, but this is not the place to dwell on it. We will, however, propose that there exists a fourth category of main-sequence sapient life that we call “Hybrid.”

There are also three concepts that cut across this classification scheme. The first concept-continuum is “Empirical” (or not-hypothetical) as opposed to “Hypothetical.” Simply put, empirical life-forms are attested to in the documentary record. Examples either exist, or have existed in the past. Hypothetical life-forms could—in theory—exist, but have never actually been documented. The most famous example of hypothetical life-forms are a Plasma Order. Demonstrating the existence of plasma life would be very difficult, at best. One would probably need to descend into the corona of stars, since the corona itself would drown out any trace signal from Plasma Beings. Unfortunately, wise Galactics are certain that entering a stellar corona is impossible; the Library knows of no apparatus having ever been built to perform such a voyage, or for any similar set of engineering stressors.

The other cross-cutting criteria are the concepts of sentience and sapience. These are not mutually exclusive. Speaking plainly, sapience is the ability to solve problems: cold intelligence. On the other hand, sentience is the ability to feel or perceive, or (more deeply put) awareness. First, we discuss the problem of sentience.

Rocks are sentient…at least according to the Jain religion rocks are sentient. They react to stimulus. For instance, if you hit a rock hard enough, it breaks. Thus the Jains reasoned, each rock must have its own distinct “rock spirit” that causes it to perceive hammers and react appropriately when struck. A plant is much more sentient than a rock, an ant much more perceiving than a plant, and a cow or a Human is very aware indeed. According to Jainism everything is sentient. Even neutrinos must be sentient–but just barely, because it seems there are very few things that a neutrino can perceive. This is only a schematic presentation, Jainism is probably the most systematic animist formulation ever developed. The Jain theory of sentience actually hangs together rather well when examined at greater length that we can devote to it here.

Consider the common lap dog. It may be much less intelligent than a human, but it is almost as sentient. It sees, feels pain, hunger, plays, and even has emotions. Furthermore, there is some evidence that dogs have a sense of self, albeit pre-symbolic, and even some quite sophisticated apparatus for perceiving other highly developed sapients—be they Humans, cats, or other dogs—and reacting accordingly. They can even perceive emotional states in others. The Jains would say that it is the nature of a lap-dog’s animating spirit to be aware of the desires of others, and to perceive pleasing certain other sentients (such as members of the family that owns it) as pleasurable. Note, however, that a highly sentient creature need not be highly “altruistic” or gregarious. House cats and Terragen_sociopaths are as sentient as dogs, or more so. However, a house cat certainly does not care very much whether others are pleased or not, though cats do seem to perceive the emotional states of others. Sociopaths also perceive the emotional states and needs of others, and ruthlessly exploit them.

Beyond this high level of sentience lies what is called haut-sentience. This is the ability to imagine, to speculate for pleasure, to wonder, to appreciate, and above all, to know the self as a knower. The ideal Galactic citizen has highly developed haut-sentience.

Note that sapience is not necessarily closely associated with high levels of sentience. Some cephalopods are fairly good problem solvers—as good as, or better than, some birds. However, they are not as sentient. Among Galactics this independence between sapience and sentience is perhaps most evident among the Tandu ab-Nght6. Without a doubt Tandu are impressive problem solvers. Also, Tandu are aware of the self, and are even aware that they are aware of the self. However, they have a limited capacity to see others as other selves, and have hardly any capacity for wonder, appreciation, or for non-utilitarian speculation. Nor is haut-sentience essential for sapient survival. Pre-contact A.I researchers developed Mimetic (or virtual) life-forms with impressive problem solving abilities that would do quite well in their complex—and competitive—virtual ecologies. They were rather sapient. However, while the researcher might think (and know that he thought) “I am talking to a virtual sapient,” every indication was that the virtual sapient thought something like “Action: communicate from/to_and_to/from entity_capable_of_complex_symbolic_communication,” and knew not of its own thought. Where we think “I am hungry,” and have the consciousness to be conscious of this, the non-sentient thinks “PRIORITY: obtain sustenance,” feels no hunger pains per se, and is not conscious that it is hungry. In short, the non-sentient sapient is clever, but not conscious.

It is worth noting that it seems much more difficult to make a built life-form sentient than to make it highly sapient. It is thus likely that at least the early Galactic Machine life-forms—like pre-contact Terran machines—were sapient but not sentient. They would have been socially autistic, and thus probably made rather poor Galactic neighbors. There are intra-textual indications in the Galactic Traditions that this was one of the main reasons for privileging Organic over Built life. If so, this reason has long been obsolete, because it is evident that Machine life is now quite capable of building haut-sentience into a client “race” (or design series).

When an entity has high levels of both sapience (intelligence) and sentience (awareness), it is most properly referred to as a “sophont.” To avoid having to call the property itself “sophistication,” or worse, “sophistry,” we use the term “sophonce.”

Organic life-forms, in turn, fall into two divisions, Terrestrial and Jovian, usually referred to as “Oxygen-breathers” and “Hydrogen-breathers.” Hydrogen breathers are by far the more numerous order due to the much higher frequency of suitable biospheres. However, the advantage of many more biospheres is off-set to a degree by the immense size of any H-2 individual relative to even the largest of O-2 sapients, and the much slower bio-rhythm’s of most H-2 life-forms. Indeed, while O-2 civilization tends to regard H-2 civilization as a potential threat because of its immense demographic and economic advantage, H-2 species tend to regard O-2 civilization as a potential threat because of the much faster rhythm of O-2 life. H-2 anxiety about O-2 speed is only compounded by the fact that H-2 sapients seldom use more rapid means of interstellar travel—such as A-level hyper-space, jump-line travel, F.T.L. telekinesis, or probability drive. Instead, most H-2 species putter around the galaxies in D-level hyperspace or in normal space at near-light-speed. (See interstellar travel, Hyperspace, light speed.)

Nor are the mutual security concerns misplaced. Disastrous wars have been fought between H-2 and O-2 civilization in the distant past (See O-2/H-2 Wars), despite the fact that H-2 and O-2 species do not directly compete for most resources. The major reason for the existence of the Galactic Institute for Migration is to limit contact—and hence conflict—between the two great orders of Organic life. Though after billions of years of research, communication between O-2 and H-2 species remains quite difficult, the two orders do engage in trade (See O-2/H-2 communication and O-2/H-2 trade). Many (but by no means all) trade practices resemble “silent trade” procedures used on Earth in the past.

H-2 life-forms are classified by habitat: namely Browns (Hydrogen breathers who live in brown dwarfs), Jovians, and Neptunians. Curiously, while higher environmental temperatures are positively correlated with faster rhythms among O-2 species, the reverse is the case among H-2 life-forms. Though chemical processes do occur at faster rates, Hydrogen breathers who evolve in hot environments are larger (and lighter) than their colder cousins. Hence, Browns are the largest and slowest of the H-2 breathers. The occurrence of Browns is limited by the occurrence of brown dwarfs. Jovians are also quite large and slow (though less so than Browns), and are much more common than the other two kinds of Hydrogen breathers. Neptunians are the rarest of the Hydrogen breathers due to the low frequency of neptunian planets with complex ecologies. However, Neptunians are active Neptuniformers, and are enjoying a secular increase in population. Though still immense and slow by O-2 standards, Neptunians are the smallest of the Hydrogen breathers and much faster than their cousins.

Terrestrial organic life is much less common than Jovian life. This is largely because terrestrial life is limited by the geological presence of liquid solvents. In practice, this solvent is almost always water. The vast majority terrestrial sapient life releases energy from hydrocarbons through chemical reaction with oxygen (hence the common practice of referring to the entire group as O-2 life). However, at any given time “O-2 civilization” contains a few species with anaerobic metabolisms (usually based on hydrogen sulfide) as well as a tiny number of Halogen Breathing species. Anaerobic_life is, of course, rather common. However, multi-cellular anaerobic species with uplift potential are very rare. Halogen (Fluorine, Chlorine, and Iodine) based biospheres are simply incredibly rare. Those known to exist are very carefully managed by the Galactic Institute for Migration. Such Anaerobic and Halogen species as exist usually participate actively in wider O-2 civilization.

One other kind of Terrestrial life was once common throughout the Galaxies. These were Methane and/or Ammonia life-forms that lived in Titan-like habitats. Though complex Methane-Ammonia ecologies are rare, they do occur, and historical sources clearly indicate that Titan-forming was relatively easy and economical. At the time of contact, Terran scientists were surprised to learn that no methane or ammonia life existed in the five galaxies. It took some time to discover that Methane-Ammonia intelligence was simply extinct. H-2 civilization considered the Methane-Ammonia sub-civilization a partial competitor and immediate security threat to both existing H-2 species and to fallow H-2 ecologies. Some of the wars between H-2 and Terrestrial civilizations were genocidal in intent. In one of these H-2 civilization was partly successful. They exterminated most Methane-Ammonia species, and the peace treaty ended further Methane-Ammonia uplift.

Prior to the great O-2/H-2 wars all Organic life was thrown into a struggle for survival against self-reproducing artificial intelligence. Though initially quite successful, Built civilization was eventually very nearly driven to extinction by the combined forces of Organic life. The terms of the peace for Built sapience were harsh, and limited Built life—not only to stellar systems hostile to Organic life—but to “sterile” stellar systems in certain specified regions regarded as largely unproductive and non-strategic. By this time both Organic civilizations had also drawn up elaborate codes restricting commerce between Organic and Built species. O-2 (and H-2) civilization remains very phobic about Built life to this very day, and most of the traditions restricting contact with Built species are still respected and enforced.

Most species of Built sapients are “sapient machines.” Except for those explicitly licensed by the galactic institutes—none of which can reproduce themselves—all Machine species (or design clusters) live in the above mentioned reserve areas. Though it has been many aeons since the last Organic-Machine war, most Machine (and software) clans still avoid contact with the Organic civilizations. A few clans and species—such as the Seven Spins Clan—do have guarded relations with Organic civilization. However, trust seldom runs very deep.

Somewhat distinct from true “Machine” sapience is “Software” (or “Virtual”) sapience. Software sapience is not specifically hardware dependent—it is, in fact, a computer program. Of course, the program requires a suitable hardware substrate, and manifestations of a given Software form may vary somewhat depending on the supporting hardware platform. However, strictly speaking, the hardware contains no inherent potential for sapience. After manufacture the machine will not learn on its own. Only after certain Software program(s) are loaded will any sapient qualities become manifest. Indeed, if the sapient program is completely deleted and scrubbed, the hardware should support another member of the Software species equally well. As a rule, Software species can survive de-powering of hardware substrates if properly stored, and they can clone (copy) themselves or migrate from one platform to another. Also, provided a sufficiently sophisticated substrate is available, more than one (distinct) software sapience can “live” in one hardware substrate.

If anything, Software sapience is even more strictly controlled than Machine sapience. All Software sapients in O-2 space must be highly dependant on specialized hardware substrates and incapable of self-replication. Records for historical Software races and those few Software sapients still participating in Galactic civilization show a distinct tendency for succeeding client races in sapient lines to become
increasingly Machine-like1.

In contrast to Software races, true Machine species function much more like Organic sapients. Having been born or built, the young Organic or Machine sapient automatically begins to learn. As a rule, Machine sapients—like Organic sapients—cannot be neatly divided into an “intelligent self” that is separable from a substrate. Damaging the intellect, personality, or memory of a sapient Machine often requires physically damaging the Machine. Also, damage to the cognitive resources of a Machine intelligence often result in a cascade failure of the entire entity—including non-processing parts of its machine body. Storing a Machine personality is only somewhat less difficult than artificially storing Organic personalities. In addition, a Machine’s personality is always very sensitive to initial hardware conditions. Even when sophisticated techniques are used to “copy” a personality into an “identical body,” results are never exact—though usually more so than in analogous procedures performed on Organics.

Memitic life shares traits with Software life. Memites live in the minds of sapient individuals (indeed without memites, it is hard to be sapient). Memites rely on trans-individual communication and existence. Memites live autonomously in E-space.

Quantum life emerges and lives in the quantum foam. Quants trade with Newtonian races.

1. Note that software intelligences need not be sessile. If software lives in a “robot,” then for most practical purposes the living software is the robot.

//Computer// “A restricted file is attached. Please initiate a security clearance routine to interact with the attached document. This is a Blue document.

Follow appropriate precautions.In point of fact, the Tymbrimi secret client race (and the god-clients of Humanity) known as the “Niss,” are a Mimetic sophont species. At present they are restricted to a substrate called a Niss computer. The ensemble is known as a “Niss Machine.”

Trent Shipley.
Created: Late 1990’s

David Brin reserves all rights to his creative elements of his universes. This page is not for the profit of Trent Shipley nor his employer nor contracting agent. It shall not impede David Brin’s ability to use and extend his stories.

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