I Want Alien Contact!

I want aliens to come to earth.

It’s going to be a very long time (if ever) that we go traipsing around the galaxy visiting others. If we do, of course we’ll be the aliens (which has made for some good SF stories and a recent cute film). Our tech is a long way from a galactic bus, so that’s one thing. Another thing is that we have no idea where to go. So far SETI hasn’t SEEN; for all we know we’re alone in the local universe.

You may have heard of the Drake Equation, which starts with the huge number of stars and calculates that even if a fraction of a fraction of a fraction (and so on, several times) of them have the conditions necessary, there are still many possible worlds with intelligent life. On the other hand, I have also heard the idea that the fractions are far too generous. It may be that each galaxy contains only a few places where intelligent life evolves. If that’s the case, we’re all the further from being–or receiving–visitors. (And if it’s as low as one per galaxy, we’re effectively alone in the cosmos. The distance to the nearest star is peanuts compared to the distance to the next galaxy!)

But still.  I want alien contact.

If other civilizations exist, there’s some chance they’re more advanced than we are and may have solved the problems of intergalactic travel. If not, then they’re stuck on their planet as we are on ours. But if so, then they could be traveling around, and there is some possibility (however small) that they could show up here.

Make no mistake. I’m not claiming they already have. I don’t believe in UFO stories or crop circles or pyramid-builders. (I suppose you can’t entirely rule out a highly advanced civilization that is secretly watching us in some fashion. But you’re talking about a vast commitment of energy and time to just hide in the bushes.)

Maybe someday aliens will present themselves to us, and there are several scenarios concerning what happens then.

In some movies, aliens are raving, maniacal beasts of some kind. I suppose it’s possible that raving, maniacal beasts could cross intergalactic space, but it seems unlikely. Crossing space is hard and requires smarts (and energy and time).  So a basic question is whether alien visitors would be more likely to be friendly or hostile.

One can argue that any race capable of crossing the void, and willing to do so, is likely to have good intentions. Advanced tech doesn’t necessarily imply advanced morals, but advanced intelligence might. If morality has a rational basis, and if intelligence correlates to rationality, then high intelligence may imply high morality.

But even the best intentions are not always enough. Steven Hawking has pointed out what happens on earth when societies with more advanced technology met societies without it. Things usually don’t go well for the latter. The question here is if a civilization advanced enough to cross intergalactic space might not be also advanced enough to handle first contact successfully. Certainly seems possible.

They may even have their own form of Star Trek‘s Prime Directive. We thought of it for a TV show decades ago; seems possible aliens might come up with it, too. (It’s interesting to note that in the earlier, more cowboy-like show, Kirk often, notoriously, did an end-run around the Prime Directive, but by the time Picard came around, our sensibilities had him honoring it. What might we think by the time we actually do achieve space travel?)

So, bottom line, I think aliens might be benign.  The scary possibility is that they could be harvesters.

There are certain elements that planets have limited amounts of. Iridium, Gallium, Helium, and lots of other ums. Mine it, refine it, use it all up, and there’s no more. Even if you recycle effectively, your civilization can grow to a point where it needs more of the material.

Then it can become an ‘us’ or ‘them’ problem, and sometimes intelligence is pretty good at rationalizing that ‘they’ aren’t ‘us,’ so therefore ‘they’ don’t really matter.

Plus… we really need that Iridium.

So if we ran into harvesters, that could be… bad.

One science fiction theme is that of getting caught in a galactic war of some kind. (If galactic politics is anything like ours, getting sucked in to that seems much worse.) One just has to think of small villages caught up in a war between two countries to imagine how that would go.

Another theme, ala The Day the Earth Stood Still, is that aliens come here to deal with a potentially dangerous species or to save us from ourselves or protect a few specimens of humans before we kill ourselves off. Or are wiped out to make room for an inter-galactic hyper-space bypass.

It’s also possible aliens will turn out to believe in God. And why not? It works both ways. If the universal apprehension humans seem to share is based on our psychology, that outlook may well be shared with alien races.  Why wouldn’t they share the perception of their small place in a big universe that begs us for purpose and meaning? Conversely, they may share the same real apprehension we do of an actual purpose and meaning. So if they do believe in a God, it won’t really answer anything either way.

The aliens in one of my favorite first contact stories, Contact, believed in God. They found it just as mysterious and wonderous as we do. The movie version, with Jodie Foster, is pretty good and very faithful to the book, but as is usually the case the book is much better. In fact, my favorite part of the book never made it into the movie. That’s the part about finding, deep, deep, deep in the digits of pi, a raster pattern of a circle.

Now that would appear to be God’s signature on His creation. That would tend to put an end to the question once and for all. Since pi is nothing more than the ratio between a circle’s radius and circumference, only controlling the creation and laws of the universe would scribe a message there.  (If you’ve read the book you know it turns out He actually treated His creation like a graffiti wall!)

Another idea from science fiction is finding a message in our “junk” DNA (as opposed to just finding a message in our junk). That message need not be from the Creator; it could just be from the Ancestors. (You have to admit, some Ancestor race seeding all those planets does nicely explain why all those alien species looked so very humanoid. So very human, in fact, that their women looked quite sexy!)

Let it also be said that aliens might also say, “Oh, that God stuff… haven’t outgrown that, yet, eh? Here, we can show you a few things that will clear that right up.”  Advanced knowledge comes in all sorts of packages. One can only hope that, along with definitively finding the “God Maker Circuit” in our heads, we also find the “Morality Determiner Circuit” as well.

So aliens could show up any day (or that SETI signal might finally come), and who knows what the outcome would be.  Certainly there are bad scenarios, and human experience this far might lead one to imagine the worst (Hawking seems to have). But I can also see it working out okay for us.  And it would sure break the monotony of life on our third rock.

So I want aliens!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

3 responses to “I Want Alien Contact!

  • I Want Higgs Contact! « Logos con carne

    […] said a while ago that I wanted Alien Contact. Of course, that does have the potential to go badly for us,… but it might not. It would be one […]

  • The Color of Lila

    Wyrd, to my understanding, our solar system is located roughly 2/3 of the way out from the center of the Milky Way. The center of the galaxy is more densely packed with stars, so it occurs to me that basically, we are in the sticks out here. I sometimes wonder if the “core worlds” (to use a Star Wars term) might already have contact with each other, while we hicks out here, practically on a “rim world,” haven’t even been noticed yet.

    To make matters worse, we are messing up our planet big time (as you note in your article on global warming). Between human population growth, extinction of other species, and misguided tampering with food species, I kind of picture a day when somebody from a core world does show up, only to find nothing here but humans and some lame-ass GMO corn. They will call us the Corn Planet and we will be the butt of numerous galactic jokes. No one will take us seriously. Oh, we might get a little tourism at first, but nobody is going to want to fly all this way just to see corn and humans.

    With nothing of interest to trade, we won’t be participating much in the galactic economy either. Oh, perhaps a few of us might be able to ditch the Corn Planet by signing on as crew members on the few alien ships that occasionally pass through, but by and large, most of us will be stuck here.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Ha! Or… You never know… maybe corn never evolved from its grassy origin anywhere else in the galaxy, so we’ll become a galactic hit. Aliens will be blowing up Galactic Twitter with pictures of their ‘corn on the cob’ from that little outback planet. (It is true that sometimes you find really great eating at little out of the way places.) 😀

      [In some stories, Earth turns out to be admired (or feared) for its creativity and imagination. If you ever saw the wonderful comedy, Galaxy Quest, you saw a small part of that idea in play. A race of aliens who have no concept of performance art, no concept of fiction.]

      The irony is that being so far from galactic center may be in our favor. Just as there is a “Goldilocks zone” — a habitable zone — only a certain distance from a star (not too close, not too far, just right), we think there is also a habitable ring in the galaxy. Further in, radiation and orbital perturbation are an issue. Further out metal is poor.

      which leads to the problem that, if life turns out to be rare in galaxies, there’s good odds suggesting when it does occur, it’ll be spaced out in that habitable ring. Maybe our potential corn fans are on the other side!

      Of course, if they’re only going to end up laughing at us, maybe it’s just as well.

      I wonder sometimes if there are intelligent races out there watching, waiting, (laughing?) and hoping we grow up. What if we get out into space… and find a fence!

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