My Theory: Vegetarians, Omnivores and Carnivores

I guess anyone who knows me, knows that I have a number of theories I like to share. And I am sorry to say some of my theories haven’t been received as well as I would like perhaps.

Anyways, I sometimes think of advanced civilizations. And this could be added to Fermi’s Paradox too, I think.

Advanced ET’s who are carnivores by nature would be just too violent. And I think they would nuke themselves to death before they ventured beyond their solar system. (I have to tell you that I have noticed cats [known carnivores] are pretty nice, at least in my experience. But they have clearly been ‘domesticated’.)

Vegan ET’s would be much more merciful I think. But sometimes that is not always a good thing. Plus they might overpopulate.

But omnivores make the hard decisions and get stuff done. They are merciful when the situation calls for it. But they also know when it doesn’t. They kick ass, if you’ll pardon my French.

Am I wrong? And what do you think of my theory? And I just have to ask: has anyone else ever come up with a similar theory?


Larry Niven

No, the kzinti were carnivores who were space-faring, which is the opposite of the OP’s theory.

Looking beyond domesticated species, dolphins, for example, are highly intelligent (though obviously not at superhuman ET levels of intelligence) obligate carnivores with robust social systems that are not generally known for being “just too violent”. I think you’re taking too much for granted when you assume that carnivory has to correlate with high levels of intra-species destructiveness.

What makes you think that a superhumanly intelligent vegan ET culture would be more likely to “overpopulate” than a different kind of superhumanly intelligent ET culture? Are you maybe mixing up superhumanly intelligent ETs with herbivorous terrestrial species such as sheep and rabbits, which have to spend a large portion of their time accumulating nutrients from fairly low-nutrient-value plant sources, and which excel at reproduction but not so much at intelligence?

This seems to me like a naively sentimental conflation of dietary patterns with social ones. For instance, looking again at terrestrial species, are the herbivorous rabbits actually more “merciful” and less aggressive among themselves than the carnivorous dolphins? I don’t think so.

You’re apparently equating inter-species predation behavior with intra-species aggression behavior, and imagining that a blend of herbivory and carnivory will produce just the right amount of both “mercifulness” and “ass-kicking”.

Meanwhile, you seem to be ignoring what AFAICT is the fundamental link between omnivory and intelligence, which is more nutritional than behavioral: When animals have a wide variety of nutrition sources that they’re able to utilize, including calorie-dense ones, the energy surplus makes it evolutionarily feasible for them to invest resources in more powerful brains. Then their increased brainpower enables them to exploit available nutrition sources still further, which provides resources for still more powerful brain development, and so on.

So it’s not that omnivorous intelligent beings are more likely than carnivorous or herbivorous ones to be behaviorally suited to developing advanced civilizations, IMO. Rather, it’s that being omnivorous helps give a species a better chance of becoming highly intelligent in the first place.

I think you’re wrong and your theory is silly, sorry.

Well, it seems to bear [heh] a strong resemblance to a central premise of the well-known story of Goldilocks: “not this extreme or that extreme, but something in the middle that is Just Right”.

And Pierson’s Puppeteers are herbivores who are space-faring (when strictly necessary). But the OP might be interested in reading about them.

How to Serve Man

I believe in the expanded Known Space canon, it was established that the Kzinti did not develop space travel on their own because they were too combative. A space faring race used Kzinti as fighters; which was a poor decision because the Kzinti ended up overthrowing and destroying that race.

I think it was fairly well established that the kzinti were too violent for their own good. Their over-violent tendencies tended to be their Achilles heel.

Not to the degree Jim_B posits such that they can’t even survive as a species to the level of advanced tech, but it was still an issue.

Overall, I can’t say anything better than @Kimstu did. What we eat is (mostly) interspecies behavior. How successful we are as a species is (mostly) down to intra-species behavior.

Those two things are not necessarily related.

Yes, Niven’s Known Space books did include the carnivorous Kzinti and the herbivorous Puppeteers, but they were the only known non-omnivorous spacefaring races in the Galaxy. So the core idea was certainly there.

But yeah, I think there’s a lot of anthropocentrism here. We’re omnivorous, so we assume other sophonts would also be omnivorous. Well, maybe. But then again, we don’t even have a particularly strong reason to believe that the carne/herbe distinction would even be meaningful in an alien ecosystem: “Animal” and “plant” are terrestrial taxonomic categories.

I read a short piece by a famous biologist (Goodall, perhaps) who hypothesized that human intelligence is at least partially rooted in the (assumed) fact that, in the wild, we are prey animals (i.e., not at the top of the food chain). We had to develop elaborate strategies to evade someone else’s lunch. In theory, top-tier carnivores have much less pressure to become intelligent because nothing is chasing them.

Of course, that could suggest that non-top-tier creatures with a fully or predominantly carnivorous diet might well develop abstract intelligence – they just have to be motivated to form complex language. And there really is no reason at all that precludes herbivorous (prey) creatures from abstract sentience.

Just what I would have done in their place as well, kudos to them.
And of course I believe in the expanded Known Space canon too! How could you not believe in that!

That doesn’t seem right to me. I’d think that hunting prey requires a lot more problem-solving and social abilities than simply running away, or breeding faster than predators can eat you, which is how most prey animals survive. Hunters act, while prey just react. I’m no biologists, but of the top of my head, all of the species I think of as relatively “smart” - canines, dolphins, crows, octopuses, etc. - are either carnivores or omnivores.

Elephants are herbivores and they’re generally regarded as one of the more intelligent species.

Plus they can eat based on what’s plentiful e.g. more meat when crops are less available. Thus a more consistent caloric intake.

Well ET from the movie ate Reese’s Pieces, potato salad and Coors Banquet beer. No meat, and he made an interstellar communications device from a Speak and Spell, an umbrella, and a circular saw blade.

Actually there were also the Pak. The intelligent Pak were herbivorous, and incredibly intra-species combative. However, they did develop space-flight and (possibly) Ringworld environments.

I.have a theory about cats. They are cooler than dogs.

Reddit calls these ShowerThoughts. They are not theories and they don’t really rise to the level of hypotheses. There is no possibility that these thoughts are testable or falsifiable. They are vague notions not actually related to science, which requires much more structure. Perhaps that’s why you get no traction with them.

Well, you need to glue those little decorative thingies to the tub.