Serious treatment of alien civilisations?
November 30, 2017 6:54 AM   Subscribe

Where can I find serious investigation into what alien civilisations could be like, assuming they exist?

I have a vague understanding that the speed of light will be a barrier for them as it is for us, that there's not enough energy in the universe for them to create wormholes willy-nilly even if they wanted to, that there are theoretical limitations on computation, that the odds are they'd be much older than us, and so on. Where can I learn more about these kinds of topics? (And does this study have a name?)

I am aware of the Future of Humanity institute at Oxford, but unless I am not seeing the right papers they're not doing quite what I have in mind. I'm imagining mostly academic or think-tank sources, but open to hard science fiction also.

posted by StephenF to Science & Nature (7 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
You could do a lot worse than check out the Centauri Dreams blog link.

It deals in lots of questions like this - interesting commentary and research on exobilogy, planet science, front line research in interstellar travel, as well as results from Kepler, Cassini etc and what they imply for the possibility of the existence of life both in our own back yard and further afield.

It's fascinating stuff and all very hard science based. Maybe a bit too science-y for what you're after but there's a booklist on the blog that might help.
posted by 5imon at 7:31 AM on November 30, 2017

I would start by reading about the work of Jeremy England, which proposes an entropy-defined driver underlying the evolution of life. If it's right, it has implications for the long-term direction of evolution on a planetary scale. I don't know if anyone has explored these implications in writing, but it seems like a natural thing to think about.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 8:26 AM on November 30, 2017

I suspect the terms you're looking for are xenology and xenoarchaeology (or some prefer the exo- prefix instead of xeno-). Both linked-to Wikipedia articles have references of varying quality and relevance.
posted by tempestuoso at 8:48 AM on November 30, 2017

If you're ok with science fiction, the Jack McDevitt series that starts with "The Engines of God" is all about xenoarchaeology and is very realistic, in my opinion. They're a ton of fun as well.
posted by Slinga at 8:52 AM on November 30, 2017

It's not an alien civilization, of course, but I'd also look into pre-Columbian American civilizations, like in the book 1491. It gives some hints about the intrinsic diversity of large civilizations within the same species, since the American civilizations developed without significant interactions with European/Asian/African ones.
posted by Schismatic at 10:10 AM on November 30, 2017

I'd look at the alien civilizations on earth - whales, dolphins, squid in water, and birds in air. Also, insects, an other non-mammal species. They represent alternate evolutionary paths. Evolution and mutation seem likely to exist on other planets, though our adaptations are specific to carbon, nitrogen, silicon, water, all being abundant, and in a specific temperature range.
posted by theora55 at 12:32 PM on November 30, 2017

The book Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence edited by Carl Sagan might be useful to you because speculating about ways to communicate with aliens necessarily involves some speculation on what those aliens are like. The book covers the proceedings of a conference that was held in 1971 and includes discussions and ideas from a range of disciplines.
posted by CarolynG at 12:02 AM on December 1, 2017

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