extraterrestrial intelligence, more advanced than us
If other intelligent races exist in space, the chances are high that some of them will prove to be much more scientifically and technologically advanced than we are ourselves. The astonishingly rapid progress made, for instance, in the development of computers over the past few decades shows what dramatic strides can be achieved by a technologically ambitious race in a relatively short period of time. Given another century or so, humankind may have acquired capabilities in genetic engineering, nanotechnology, life prolongation, artificial intelligence, space propulsion, and other fields that, at present, we can barely imagine. As Arthur C. Clarke once wrote: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
Nor can we be sure of the general direction that other intelligent species might take in their development. We tend to measure progress and advancement on a scientific and technological scale – by the sophistication of our inventions and our knowledge of the physical universe. Yet there are and have been societies on Earth which have not given such high priority to the pursuit of rational understanding or the development of technology. In cultures that place more value on intuition, the direct experience of nature, spiritual fulfillment, and transcendental modes of awareness, a remarkably different view of the world seems to prevail. It may be that we shall encounter in the future alien races whose technological accomplishments are relatively modest but who have explored to depths beyond our comprehension the nature and potentialties of consciousness. It is difficult to come to terms with the possibility that despite all of our achievements we may still, comparatively speaking, be close to the bottom of the ladder of development.
There is also a difficulty for Western religions with the concept of aliens who may be more spiritually advanced than ourselves. This problem stems from a common assumption, made by many theologians, that God works through an historical process. As E. A. Barnes put it: "If God only realizes Himself within an evolutionary process, then elsewhere He has reached a splendor and fullness of existence to which Earth's evolutionary advance can add nothing."
The notion of a kind of cosmic spiritual ladder, on which we may be close to the bottom rung, provokes speculation about where our race, and others in the universe, may eventually be heading. This question has been addressed in science fiction by Olaf Stapledon in his Starmaker, Arthur C. Clarke in Childhood's End, Isaac Asimov in The Gods Themselves, and others. Both Stapledon and Clarke, for example, envisage a future union of individual sentient minds into a single "Overmind" (to use Clarke's term). A similar prediction of the emergence of a single cosmic super-being (essentially a conscious universe) stems from extreme speculation based on the anthropic principle.
Related category EXTRATERRESTRIAL AND NON-HUMAN INTELLIGENCE
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