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Predator and Prey Models - Part III

From: Terry W. Colvin <fortean1.nul>
Date: Fri, 27 Feb 2004 19:48:07 -0700
Fwd Date: Sat, 28 Feb 2004 11:03:24 -0500
Subject: Predator and Prey Models - Part III


If this material can be used to project Extraterrestrial
intentions, an examination of group behavior among monkeys, apes
and humans reveals some rather disquieting social trends.
Indeed, according to recent authorities, the adumbrated altruism
and cooperation that was to characterize social life appears to
have roots in a rather ominous social calculus. Smith has argued
that the exigencies of social life provide a powerful stimulus
for increased intelligence, the capacity for symbolism and the
ability to abstract patterns: "...an animal would have to think
of others as having motivations similar to its own, so that it
could foresee their future behavior, and it would have to
communicate symbolically" (Smith 1984: 69).

However, the question remains as to what end these abilities are
directed, and a recent collection of essays suggests that
Machiavellianism is evolutionarily adaptive:

...in most cases where uses of social expertise are apparent,
they are precisely what Machiavelli would have advised!
Cooperation is a notable feature of primate society, but its
usual function is to out-compete rivals for personal gain.
[However,] ...it seems likely that the later course of human
evolution has been characterized by a much greater emphasis on
altruistic uses of intelligence. (Byrne and Whiten 1988:vi)

Unfortunately, the authors also note that the weight of
evolutionary evidence supports an argument that our intelligence
evolved principally from "a need for social manipulation."
(Ibid.) Basically, it seems it is in the individual's interest
to take advantage of others, as long as doing so does not
jeopardize social standing, mating possibilities, and access to

If the nature of in-group dynamics seems a somewhat unpromising
suggestion of what Extraterrestrial contact might hold, the
character of out-group relations is even less encouraging. The
Nobel laureate, Konrad Lorenz (1963) has argued that inter-group
relations among many species are characterized by aggression and
that this agonistic behavior has a positive function. He
suggests that intra-group aggression serves as a spacing
mechanism to promote a dispersal of populations throughout the
environment, thereby facilitating a more efficient utilization
of resources (Ibid.). He notes that such behavior is
particularly true for members of the same species and for those
others that exploit the same resources.

In instances of confrontations between carnivores, Lorenz
believes that there are instinctive inhibitions on the use of
deadly force. He suggests that these have evolved because
carnivores are too well equipped for damaging each other. Thus,
the result of an aggressive encounter would probably mean the
death or maiming of both parties. Instead, intra-carnivore
contests, rather than extending to deadly action, are limited to
displays of ferocity. However, herbivores and

omnivores are less well equipped to seriously injure one another
and, as a consequence, are presumed to lack instinctive checks
on the display of intra-species aggression. Indeed, since both
parties can survive the encounter, it is thought that intra-
species aggression among non-carnivores may help to select for
increased intelligence, as more intelligent organisms avoid
contests they are apt to lose but initiate ones where they are
likely to win (Cheney and Seyfarth 1988, Harcourt 1988). This
would increase mating opportunities and inclusive fitness.

According to Borgia (1980) who has examined human aggression as
a biological adaptation, individuals will participate in
aggression when it improves their inclusive fitness relative to
other behaviors in which they could engage. Thus, an accurate
assessment of complex social circumstances where aggression may
be directed toward others or toward oneself is a highly adaptive
skill, and one that also places an emphasis on and selects for

Intra-species behavior ranges from Machiavellian to agonistic
according to whether the principles are members of the same or
of different groups, and in consideration of other relevant
social variables. However, inter-species behavior displays a far
narrow set of behaviors. Simply put, with the exception of some
symbiotes, the record of inter-species behavior is clearly one
of competition and aggression (Byrne and Whiten 1988, Hinde
1974, Lorenz 1963). It seems that the only consideration that
tempers inter-species aggression is self-interest. Thus, some
predators limit their kills and increase their territories in
order to preserve the availability of prey (Lorenz 1963).

Thus, whether a specie derives its intelligence from tool use,
territorial exploration, an adaptation to complex social life,
or some combination of the three, there seems to be no reason to
anticipate the evolution of an intelligence characterized by
beneficence. On the contrary, it would seem that one of the
functions of intelligence is to promote a more efficient
exploitation of the environment, an environment that contains
other organisms, including members of one's own group.


 I confess to having begun the research for this paper in a mood
of optimism, anticipating that Extraterrestrial intelligences
would be at least as likely to display benevolence as
malevolence since they would have mastered a complex technology,
survived their own evolutionary challenges, and learned
sufficient cooperation to make high civilization possible. The
result of my research has led to a reevaluation of my original
expectations and, to the extent that these models are applicable
to future encounters with Extraterrestrials, a much more somber

Obviously models such as these, which are grounded in the
particular nature of earth organisms, especially mammals, cannot
presume to anticipate all possibilities. It is possible, though
not probable, that an Extraterrestrial intelligence would be
telepathic, hive oriented or significantly different in a
variety of ways (Hanlon and Brown 1989, Wasserman 1989). In such
circumstances, models such as those proposed here may be assumed
to have limited utility. However, several authorities believe
there are good reasons to anticipate a sentience significantly
different from our own but sharing sufficient characteristics to
enable communication (Raybeck 1992, Sagan 1973, Sagan 1977).

I have not argued that a species must be a carnivore to be a
predator. Indeed, some omnivores, such as ourselves, are truly
formidable predators. Neither have I argued that a species must

exclusively a predator to be influenced by selective pressures
appropriate for a predatory evolutionary scenario. However, if
predation is a major means of environmental adaptation, then the
presumed result is a simplistic world view representing a
consistent usPthem dichotomy in which us are fine ... but them
are dinner.

The assessments of non-predator forms of intelligence, while
more complex and somewhat more encouraging than the models
suggested by a presumed intelligent predator, still imply a
rather unpromising set of circumstances. As noted earlier,
intra-group behavior among non-predators seems best
characterized by Machiavellianism rather than by disinterested
altruism. As for inter-group relations the likelihood of
violence seems greatly increased. Still worse is the
prognostication for inter-species violence which would seem to
approximate that suggested by the models for predator behavior.

If these scenarios seem too pessimistic, we should recall our
own recent history and current state of affairs. As an omnivore
with a rather predatory past, our treatment of our own species
has not generally been characterized by an enlightened altruism.
Slavery, colonialism and inter-ethnic violence have marked our
history and continue to mar our present. This is not a necessary
state of affairs, as there are societies, such as the Semai,
where war and even interpersonal violence are effectively
unknown (Dentan 1968, Knauft 1987). However, when humans compete
for limited resources inter-group violence is a common, and
often predictable, response (Ferguson and Farragher 1988,
Harrison 1973, Montagu 1968). Indeed, competition within groups
can, in several social settings, also readily yield agonistic
behavior (Chagnon 1983, Meggitt 1977). Thus, it would seem naive
to anticipate better behavior from Extraterrestrials than we
manifest ourselves.

While the speed-of-light limitations on space travel make it
unlikely that any Extraterrestrial could readily visit us, such
things are within the realm of possibility. The best analogy
might be with early European exploitation of Southeast Asia. The
distance was impressive, communications haphazard, and the risks
great. Nonetheless, a small European power, Portugal, managed to
enslave populations, devastate property and destroy small
states. It also lead to Portuguese control of the spice trade,
and to Portuguese ascendancy back in Europe (Hall 1955, Harrison
1968, Swearer 1984).

Despite the rather negative conclusions of this study, I would
not counsel the abandonment of SETI or any reduction of the
current efforts to listen in on intelligent Extraterrestrial
life forms. On the contrary, I think we would be well advised to
be as informed as we can concerning the possibility of other
sentients. Indeed, in light of the behavioral significance of
differing gustatory patterns, I would particularly like to know
what they had for dinner. I would feel much more comfortable
entering into discussions with a salad- eater than with an
entity that derives its nourishment from higher on the food
chain. Nonetheless, as I have suggested, it is just these latter
entities that we are most apt to encounter. What then?

The potential benefits to be gained from interstellar
communication are too great to be ignored or avoided. Certainly
the listening should continue but, as I have suggested, the
potential danger of attracting the attention of an
Extraterrestrial sentient is also too great to be ignored. I
would recommend carefully assessing the location of any future
Extraterrestrial communicants, and gathering whatever
information about them might be possible, prior to

contemplating an active exchange of messages. Finally, if we do
find reason to send forth a message, I recommend we break with
the model established by Pioneers 10 and 11, which included a
detailed representation of our solar system and some hints on
how to get here. At the minimum, we should try to avoid
including a return address.


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"Only a zit on the wart on the heinie of progress." Copyright
1992, Frank Rice

Terry W. Colvin, Sierra Vista, Arizona (USA

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