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In yesterday’s post on extraterrestrial intelligence I wrote:
The idea of cognitive extremophiles may prove an interesting way to think about alien intelligence, and it provides a conceptual hook for approaching the idea of what I would call non-peer intelligences, which would presumably produce non-peer civilizations.
There is a principle implicit in the observation that non-peer intelligences would presumably produce non-peer civilizations, and the principle is this: civilization supervenes upon the intelligence that is the source of civilization.
I realized that this relationship of covariance between civilization and intelligence means that the illustration that I recently used in my post Seven Levels of Civilizational Comparability to show the possibilities of how civilizations originating in ETI might relate to terrestrial civilization. I have taken my graphic and altered it as it appears above so that it now reflects possible relationships between terrestrial intelligence and ETI:
Thus we see it is possible to establish a thorough-going parallelism between civilizational comparability and intellectual comparability, as each of the items above is a straight-forward reformulation of the seven levels of civilizational comparability that I first formulated in Seven Levels of Civilizational Comparability.
To return to the issue of supevenience — civilization supervenes upon the intelligence that is the source of civilization — at least initially (from the standpoint of methodological naturalism), the intelligence in question is biologically emergent — or we could even say, biologically supervenient. Once intelligence supervening upon biological organisms gets its start, it can move on to other other physical embodiments and expressions. On Earth, this means that our human civilization supervenes upon the human intellect; beyond Earth, this means that extraterrestrial civilization supervenes upon ETI.
The supervenience of civilization upon intelligence follows if and only if two worlds cannot differ in respect to their civilization properties if they do not also different in respect to their intelligence properties. If you’d like to follow Jaegwon Kim’s terminological shift away from supervenience, you could say that there exists a property covariation between human civilization and the human intellect, and that there would be property covariation between any extraterrestrial civilization and its source ETI.
Civilization is characterized by a cluster of properties, as is intelligence; the covariation of the cluster of civilizational properties and intellectual properties means that there can be no change in the cluster of civilizational properties without a change in the intellectual properties. As an exercise, the reader can formulate strongly supervenient or weakly supervenient accounts of civilization and intelligence, depending on the modality substituted for “necessity” in the necessary (or otherwise) relationship between covariant clusters of properties.
This principle can be brought down to Earth (both literally and metaphorically), and it could be said of the distinct traditions of civilizations on Earth that each is covariant with a particular expression of intelligence. From this it follows that the distinct traditions of civilization on Earth are a consequence of distinct forms of intelligence.
I suspect that this claim would engender strong resistance, since from the time of enlightenment universalism until today it has been the presumption that human intelligence is the same everywhere. Indeed, to argue the opposite has been held to be tantamount to racism or ethnocentrism or any number of a range of intellectual vices that have in the past been employed to dehumanize the other.
Rather than shrink from this conclusion, however, I embrace it, as I strongly suspect that, while the raw processing power of the human mind is more or less identical around the world, and is biologically indistinguishable, that the slow emergence of cognitive modernity in circumstances of reproductively isolated populations has meant that the character of the intellect has varied widely wherever it has emerged on Earth.