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Open Access Publications from the University of California

World Cultures eJournal

UC Irvine

Biocultural Prerequisites for the Development of Advanced Technology


In 1961, astronomer Frank Drake developed an equation to permit the estimation of the number of extraterrestrial civilizations in our galaxy via the quantification of what he felt to be relevant factors. Drake’s equation contains two terms, fi and fc, that refer, respectively, to the fraction of planets that harbor intelligent life and the fraction of those with intelligent life that develops a technology that would allow communication with other worlds. These are two of the most difficult terms in the equation to estimate and, not surprisingly, a relatively wide range of values has been offered for each. Estimates of the values of the terms depend on a number of conjectures and assumptions. These include aspects of embodiment, such as sensory modalities and faculties to manipulate the environment, and aspects of culture that seem to be crucial for the development of advanced technology. However, the only data on technological development that we have available is from Earth. Several terrestrial species use technologies, although all of these are very simple with the exception of those created by humans. Similarly, a variety of species are now also claimed to have culture, depending on how it is defined. The purpose of this paper is to examine how embodiment, culture, and their interaction, based on their Earthly manifestations, might affect the values of fi and fc.

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