Science, Science and Society

What would we do when the aliens land?

According to Nature, we’d be in trouble…

radio telescope

I love it when serious publications take a walk into the slightly more whimsical.  Let me clear, here - I firmly believe that there is intelligent life out there.  I also firmly believe the hallmarks of their intelligence are that they haven’t contacted us (in the same way that one does not hang out with a revolting teenager for fun), nor are they currently involved in any activity involving probes, crop circles, or anything else.

Ahem.  Moving on.

So, Nature says that no government actually has any serious plans set in place for what to do should Xr’aHG and his mates come calling.  SETI (whose  SETI@home was the first distributed computing app I ever played with back in university) have the only framework, it would seem, for what do in the case of contact (of the distant kind, not the ‘they’re actually heeeeerrrreeee’ kind).  It suggests caution and restraint.  Of course.

Many believe that the aliens might not necessarily be friendly.  Says the article:

“Palaeobiologist Simon Conway Morris of Cambridge University, UK, warned of the possible consequences of detecting extraterrestrial life. He cited examples of convergent evolution in the Earth’s biological history as evidence that there are a limited number of solutions to sensory and social organizational problems. Alien senses could be similar to human senses, he told participants, and social life elsewhere could be as violent as on Earth, where leaf-cutter ants pillage and plunder, and humans wage war. “If the phone rings,” he says, “don’t pick it up.””

I’ll admit I’m skeptical, but fair enough.  Certainly it’s something to consider.  And the subject put me in mind of this article, which I read years ago, on much the same subject - although more oriented to the actual visitation thing.

I still tell people how amused, appalled, and yet completely unsurprised I was at the tactics that would be used should someone with different bits pop round for a beer, a light snack, or perhaps the recon for imminent world domination.  Said tactics include having the vehicle in question confiscated and removed as far as possible, on the assumption it’s nuclear powered; and having our visitors handed not one single gift, but instead handcuffed by an FBI agent in a serious biosafety suit and then carted off to a lab to ensure he/she/it doesn’t have anything gross or potentially infectious (my knowledge of microbiology suggests this would be extremely unlikely, but yes).

I’ve no doubt that these tactics would be unlikely to endear us to our visitors.  On the other hand, one assumes they would have checked us out a little before coming to see us, and so would not be overly surprised. Then again, who knows?

Perhaps they’re just biding their time until we’re ready to be a bit more mature about the whole thing…

Postscript: A little box underneath the original PM article talked about a ‘taskforce’ which had been put together comprised of interesting people who’d be assembled in the case of contact, having among their ranks mathematicians, physicists, biologists, linguists, and of course Carl Sagan.  I still wish I could be the exobiologist that gets to say hello (in the nicest, least vivisectionist of ways) to any visitors…

  • fugue137

    If they’re much like us, then I’d have to assume that the first ones to land will probably be intrigued by the uniqueness of a whole new planet, and interested in understanding us. Only after word gets back to the major powers will the rest of their society start wondering about how much richer they could be if they exploited us.

    On the bright side, my first assumption seems highly unlikely. Our greed, xenophobia, complete disrespect for the biosphere, etc., may be what brought us to the top of the food chain, but they are also probably going to prevent us from surviving for long enough to go interstellar. Therefore I’d have to assume that any race that does make it to the stars probably has to be a little wiser and more respectful than humans. Hopefully, rather than just eradicating us in order to save 99.99999% of all species here, they’ll just manage our population down to sustainable levels, fitting us back into the Sheldon spectrum or some such.

    (This can’t be the first time anyone’s made that argument but I don’t know who got there first)

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