For several years I’ve been working on a science fiction universe featuring an alien civilization called the (Aonian) Exaltation. This is the first comprehensive presentation of the core philosophy of the Exaltation.
An alien invasion scenarioFirst of all, it is helpful to see how all of this started. It started out as thought experiment about how a realistic invasion scenario of Earth by a highly advanced alien civilization would look like. Realistic means that humanity wouldn't stand a chance against the technologically extremely advanced alien invaders. A non interesting result would be that the aliens simply kill off the biosphere of Earth and replace it with their own favourite biosphere. I wanted to think about an interesting scenario and write a book, or a short story about it. So, the requirement is that the invaders would keep humans alive and interact with them in interesting ways.
This is where philosophy comes into play. What general kinds of ethical philosophies can be suitable for highly advanced aliens? Probably some form of utilitarianism, because it has a rather simple and intuitive basis in positive and negative feelings (valence) and uses rational thinking to make good decisions and rules on that elementary basis. Perhaps there are other ethical philosophies that can provide a good ground for a technologically mature civilization, but I think that utilitarianism is the best candidate in general. So, the invaders are supposed to be some kinds of utilitarians who don’t just replace Earth’s biosphere with something “nicer”. Why? Public relations!
No utilitronium shockwave allowed!
There are thought experiments about starting a utilitronium shockwave described like this (see an old Felicifia thread):
Suppose an unstoppably powerful genie appears to you and announces that
it will return in fifty years. Upon its return, you will be required to
supply it with a set of consistent moral principles which it will then
enforce with great precision throughout the universe. For example, if
you supply the genie with hedonistic utilitarianism, it will maximize
pleasure by harvesting all available resources and using them to tile
the universe with identical copies of the smallest possible mind, each
copy of which will experience an endless loop of the most pleasurable
While it is possible to argue that filling the cosmos with as many optimally happy minds as possible is a good outcome for the cosmos, most subjects would reject such an outcome on the basis that it would mean their own death in the process of the transformation. So, the call for a utilitronium shockwave is not the most popular one in the first place.
But there’s another problem to it: In reality, there is probably no unstoppably powerful genie. Technologically mature civilizations probably have effective countermeasures against hostile invaders, including utilitronium shockwaves. The utilitronium shockwave might try to overpower those countermeasures, but that would be quite costly if the countermeasures of the alien civilization are effective. Interstellar or even intergalactic war is probably supremely wasteful and impractical. So, a more peaceful approach is needed for rational cosmos colonizers: The club is more powerful than the stick! This means, the invaders propose peaceful cooperation instead of attempting any violent conquest.
Currently, the Earth does not have effective countermeasures against technologically mature invaders, so why wouldn’t such invaders overrun Earth anyway; and only try diplomacy with other technologically mature civilizations? Because that would be kinda rude and doing such things might make your own civilization less likeable for alien mature civilizations. Of course, if you are a technologically mature civilization you might do it anyway and try to cover up that you are eating less developed civilizations while expanding into outer space. But other mature civilizations will probably find out that you are lying. And not eating less developed civilizations is probably less costly than convincingly lying about not having done that (though that is somewhat of a guess, since we are dealing with two very superintelligent factions). Anyway, this consideration might be a sufficient reason to follow the rule: “Don’t eat the primitives”.
What to do instead? Leave them alone or help them. It is possible to argue for both options convincingly. For the sake of interestingness, I have thought more about the “help them” scenario. Meaning, the alien civilization arrives on Earth and grants development support (even if partially motivated by PR considerations).
The AoniansGiven these requirements, I tried to come with an at least somewhat realistic alien civilization that fits the bill. Meet the Aonians. For this thread most properties of the Aonians aren't relevant. What matters though is their philosophy. At the stage of launching their galactic colonization wave, the Aonians are dominated by about half a dozen philosophical factions, with the Exaltation being the most influential one.
The ExaltationThe Exaltation is what I call a **philosophical faction**, a community of sentient and sapient entities whose cohesion depends on common philosophical principles. Here's a brief list of the different principles:
- Techno-anarchism: Individual sentient and sapient entities are sovereign and are not subject to rules they don’t explicitly agree to. Therefore, all societal rules are implemented by societal contracts to which individuals can subscribe to or not. This may sound totally chaotic, but supreme technology makes this safe and practical. Of course, joining the Exaltation means you must voluntarily sign a contract with the Exaltation while being fully informed about what that contract entails.
- Radical Euphorism: The Exaltation requires extreme hedonic enhancement of its members (see “Paradise Engineering” by David Pearce). If you aren’t extremely happy on average, then that is seen as breach of the radical euphorism clause of the Exaltation contract.
- Reparationism: If you cause suffering to other sentient beings, you are obliged to compensate for that by causing an at least equal amount of positive feelings for exactly the affected beings. More concretely, the compensation must at least be twice as high in its total amount as the inflicted suffering. Of course this implies that suffering and happiness can be measured meaningfully. This is a basis assumption that is affirmed in the Aonian Exaltation universe.
- Character Perfectionism: You should strive to develop your character further. This is actually a practical requirement to be able to cope with radical euphoria without going mad or turning into a wireheading vegetable. You need to be able to set reasonable principles for yourself and follow through with them, as much as possible. This is of course a learning process. Instant perfection is not required.
- Technodeosis: The specific technodeotic goal of character perfectionism is to be able to use maximally advanced technology to gain godlike powers and use them for the greatest benefit for the universe and all sentient beings. Well, you could settle for less, but the principle of reparationism might force you to go down that path in order to be able to repair the damage you have done.
Note that character perfectionism and technodeosis are “background principles” for the Exaltation. They are the spiritual backbone of the Exaltation, but it’s not a requirement to pursue these principles with utmost personal zeal. The specific requirement is to accept these principles as “declaration of intent of the Exaltation as a whole”. Arguing for the Exaltation to relinquish these principles would be seen as sectarianism. As an aside, to some degree the principles of character perfectionism and technodeosis are historical artefacts of the history of the Aonian civilization, and they predate the principles of euphorism and reparationism by far. They could be seen as optional principles, but their true purpose is to strengthen the spiritual cohesion of the Exaltation.
What is actually missing from these principles is an explicit dedication to utilitarianism. This may feel odd for a civilization that is supposedly based on utilitarian considerations. The reason for that omission is the demandingness of proper utilitarianism. Demanding from members of the Exaltation to be perfect utilitarians would be too demanding, and thus make the Exaltation itself less attractive, which would diminish its utilitarian impact. It’s a kind of utilitarian trade-off for the Exaltation to not be explicitly utilitarian. Instead, together the principles of reparationism and euphorism define a minimal standard for effective implicit utilitarianism. One could also argue that utilitarianism is implicit in character perfectionism (or technodeosis), when interpreted correctly.