“Observe the Razorbeak as it tends so carefully to the fungal blooms; just the right bit from the yellow, then a swatch from the pink. Follow the Glow Mites as they gather and organize the fallen spores. What higher order guides their work? Mark my words: someone or something is managing the ecology of this planet.”
— Lady Deirdre Skye, “Planet Dreams”
Centauri Empathy is a third-tier exploration technology that requires Centauri Ecology and Secrets of the Human Brain to research. It has many useful in-game effects for the faction that discovers it, with the most obvious being that it enables the faction to construct tame mind worm boils using minerals. Before this, only the Gaians could use mind worms against their enemies, and only then after capturing wild specimens. This is such a significant breakthrough that the game presents a small short story from the perspective of the faction leader and a trusted subordinate charged with the project when the first boil is built.
Next, it lets the faction create units with the Empath Song ability. This gives the unit a substantial bonus to psi attack. Since it is much better to be the psi attacker than the psi defender, this is a lot better than the corresponding Hypnotic Trance ability to psi defense. This is the key ability that enables a few designated defenders to protect a vast empire from mindworm incursion.
In addition to this, it enables the construction of the Biology Lab base facility and the Empath Guild secret project. The first gives a labs multiplier to energy in the base and increases the size (and thus morale) of any mind worms built by the base, while the second gives free infiltration into all the other faction’s datalinks (which would otherwise require some exploration and spying) and grants a significant bonus to votes in U.N. Council elections.
Finally, it lets the faction adopt the Green economic model. This is the latest “basic” political/economic model to appear on the tech tree, as it is third-tier while all of the others are unlocked by second-tier technologies. It represents an society-wide attempt to minimize the ecological impact of humanity on the new planet through working with the existing native ecology on Planet wherever possible and emphasizing efficient energy use. The consequence of this is a reduction in population growth, as a Green society seeks to ensure long-term sustainability of the population at a level that will avoid a Malthusian boom and bust.
The quote itself, though, is where all the action’s at. In this, we learn that Lady Deirdre is convinced from observation of the native ecology that there is some sort of intelligent design driving Planet’s ecology. Coming from another leader, we might be inclined to take this with a grain of salt. Or, perhaps, to chalk it up as anthropomorphic poetic license.
But Deirdre is the premier biologist on Planet. She is certainly well acquainted with evolutionary theory and is an expert on the workings of two different planetary ecosystems. So it’s quite interesting that she’s absolutely convinced that she thinks the best explanation of what she sees is not merely a series of effective, evolved adaptations to the conditions of life on Planet. There’s something deeper going on.
Now, put this quote into the context of all the other things that are unlocked by this technology: mind worms; increased planet social engineering leading to a chance to capture wild worms; Empath Song; and The Empath Guild. Centauri Empathy isn’t just a better understanding of the natural world: it’s fundamentally psychic. Understanding the strange powers of the alien mind worms has led to a deeper understanding of how to read and manipulate minds, be they human or alien. And when Deirdre applies it to the global ecology, she comes to the radical conclusion that there’s something resembling a strange alien mind out there.