Astrosociobiology (also referred to as exosociobiology and xenosociology) is the speculative scientific study of extraterrestrial civilizations and their possible social characteristics and developmental tendencies. The field involves the convergence of astrobiology, sociobiology and evolutionary biology. Hypothesized comparisons between human civilizations and those of extraterrestrials are frequently posited, placing the human situation in the same context as other extraterrestrial intelligences. Whenever possible, astrosociobiologists describe only those social characteristics that are thought to be common (or highly probable) to all civilizations. Thus far, it is entirely theoretical.
Sociobiology attempts to explain animal behavior, group behavior and social structure in terms of evolutionary advantage or strategy and using techniques from ethology, evolution and population genetics. Sociobiologists are especially interested in comparative analyses, especially in studying human social institutions and culture. Prominent sociobiologists include E. O. Wilson, Jared Diamond, and Richard Dawkins.
Astrobiology is the speculative field within biology that considers the possible varieties and characteristics of extra terrestrial life. Astrobiologists speculate about the possible ways that organic life could come into being in the universe and the potential for artificial life.
Astrosociobiologists, like evolutionary biologists and sociobiologists, are concerned with the phenomenon of convergent evolution--the evolutionary process in which organisms not closely related independently acquire some characteristic or characteristics in common, usually a reflection of similar responses to similar environmental conditions. Examples include physical traits that have evolved independently (e.g. the eye), ecological niches (e.g. pack predators), and even technological innovations (e.g. language, writing, the domestication of plants and animals, and basic tools and weapons). Astrosociobiologists take the potential for convergent evolution off-planet and speculate that certain ecological and sociological niches may not be Earth-specific or human-specific and are archetypal throughout the universe.
In order for astrosociobiologists to embark on speculations about the condition and characteristics of extraterrestrial civilizations, a number of assumptions are necessarily invoked:
- Extraterrestrial civilizations exist.
- Extraterrestrial civilizations must in some part resemble our own, both in terms of:
- a) The physical and cognitive characteristics of the extraterrestrials themselves, and
- b) The characteristics of extraterrestrial society.
In other words, astrosociobiologists assume that intelligent life arises from similar environmental conditions and similar evolutionary processes as humanity.
It is currently difficult to tell if these are valid assumptions. For example, the Rare Earth hypothesis and the Fermi Paradox suggests that we might be alone in the galaxy. It's also conceivable that aliens and their civilizations may scarcely resemble our own. Astrosociobiology also involves a fair degree of environmental determinism. Astrosociobiologists counterargue that all of these points can be countered by the Copernican principle and the self-sampling assumption (a variant of the anthropic principle). We shouldn't assume, they argue, that we're unique and we should start from the premise that we are very typical.
Possible extraterrestrial characteristics
Given these assumptions, astrosociobiologists attempt to make predictions about those characteristics that may be common to all extraterrestrial societies. For example, based on human experience, astrosociobiologists conclude very broadly that all civilizations go through similar developmental stages, including agrarian culture, industrialization, democratization, globalization, and an information age. Similar assumptions are made about the development of technological innovations (universal technological archetypes) and scientific breakthroughs (including the rough chronological order in which these advancements are developed).
Astrosociobiologists also speculate about the future of advanced intelligent life, including intelligences that may have evolved far beyond humanity's current stage. The difficultly of engaging in such a discussion, however, is due to its highly speculative nature, primarily because we haven't progressed through these later developmental stages ourselves. Astrosociobiologists currently have no data to support the idea that human civilization will continue on into the foreseeable future. Indeed, in considering the Fermi Paradox, scientists may actually have a data point suggesting a limitation to how far advanced civilizations will develop.
However, with each advancing step that the human species takes, astrosociobiologists will assume that extraterrestrials--both past and present –will have gone through similar stages.
A method for classifying civilization types was introduced by Russian astronomer Nikolai Kardashev in 1964. Known as the Kardashev scale, classifications are assigned based on the amount of usable energy a civilization has at its disposal and increasing logarithmically:
- Type I - A civilization that is able to harness all of the power available on a single planet, approximately 1016W.
- Type II - A civilization that is able to harness all of the power available from a single star, approximately 1026W.
- Type III - A civilization that is able to harness all of the power available from a single galaxy, approximately 1036W.
Human civilization has yet to achieve full Type I status, as it is able to harness only a portion of the energy that is available on Earth. Carl Sagan speculated that humanity's current civilization type is around 0.7.
A major criticism directed at the Kardashev scale is that the difference between a Type II and Type III civilization is ten orders of magnitude and that significant civilization types likely reside within that range.
- On the Importance of SETI for Transhumanism by Milan M.Ćirković
- Astrobiology Magazine
- Astrobiology Web
- SETI Institute
- James Annis
- John D. Barrow
- John Smart
- Frank Drake
- Freeman Dyson
- Nikolai Kardashev
- Carl Sagan
- Milan Ćirković
- Frank Tipler