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Sunday, 13 June 2010

Should we fear aliens?
S. Hawking says we should.

"Suppose that tomorrow a group of beings from another planet were to land on Earth, beings who considered themselves as superior to you as you feel yourself to be to other animals. Would they have the right to treat you as you treat the animals you breed, keep and kill for food, (and I’d add, pleasure or experiments)?" — John Harris.

Grey. Should we fear aliens like him?
Should we fear
aliens like him?
First of all, what are the odds that there exist alien civilizations other than in our Solar system?

Well, as for me, I stick to the concept of precedent — if something happened once, it’s physically possible, therefore nothing can definitely rule out the probability of existence of intelligent life beyond our planet (in case we agree to consider life on the Earth intelligent!), either in this universe or in parallel dimensions. On the other hand, the mediocrity principle states that Earth is not special, but merely a typical planet, which is a bit far-fetched in my humble opinion.

Actually, the probability is pretty high, which leads us to the Fermi paradox:

How come that while the age of the universe and its vast number of stars suggest that a multitude of advanced extraterrestrial civilizations should exist even in the Milky Way galaxy, we still haven’t seen any evidence such as spacecraft, probes or at least radio transmissions — well, officially. Although, Ufologists do report sightings almost every day.

Here is how the exact scientific wording sounds:

“The apparent size and age of the universe suggest that many technologically advanced extraterrestrial civilizations ought to exist.
However, this hypothesis seems inconsistent with the lack of observational evidence to support it.”

If the assumption that intelligent life would necessarily have to colonise new habitats and therefore expand far beyond their own planet is true, probably we should deduce that our idea of intelligent species is flawed.

Many bright minds from different fields, such as astronomy, biology, ecology, philosophy or astrobiology have put forth a number of ways to solve the paradox that range from proposal that such life could exist without human knowledge to the assumption that intelligent extraterrestrial life does not exist or occurs so rarely that humans will never make contact with it.

One way to find evidence of intelligent extraterrestrial life is to bump into it by fluke, that is, if astronomers suddenly observe some phenomenon that cannot be explained without deus ex machina — intelligent civilization. The other way is to search for it specifically, and that’s how some mad scientists amuse themselves at the taxpayer expense.

Without doubt it’s much more reasonable and morally right to spend millions of dollars on quest for aliens, mars/moon missions and such like instead of helping the needy, investing in plans to reduce industrial pollution that is reaching catastrophic levels, etc, etc, etc. It’s like buying a Ferrari or a diamond necklace while your house is in imminent danger of collapse.

Those who don't belong to the ruling class and still approve of squandering money on searching the universe for green men are a bunch of fools paying for the feast of the few, just like herds of the overworked and underpaid workhorses crowding in the streets to greet royal families etc who live in palaces on their tax money.

For some reason mainstream astronomy and most SETI activists stubbornly presume that any technological species should necessarily be capable of constructing a radio telescope and would be stupid enough to actually build one exclusively to say ‘Hello!’ to us. They, in turn, would easily spot us thanks to unusually intense radio waves emitted by our television and telecommunication broadcasts even if we didn’t send any messages on purpose, it’s like carrying a permanent beacon.

Why do we expect extraterrestrials to have had technological development similar to ours?

 For all we know, physical laws or environmental conditions on their planets could be so different that would not allow the creation of the same kind of devices. It’s so conceited of us to look at alien worlds, i.e. their technology, societal goals etc from exclusively human perspective, besides they’re unlikely to be at the same level of development as we are.

The same goes for the search of life on exoplanets — scientists look for biotic signature gases (methane, oxygen), and, assuming they might turn out to be as dim-witted and evil as us, even industrial pollution — that would be indeed the search for our equals. However, exoplanets aren’t easy to detect — their existence is usually inferred from the effects they have on the star(s) they orbit — and much less to observe directly.
 Methods of detection improved significantly in the last years, which allowed the discovery of the first possibly terrestrial planet within a star's habitable zone in 2007. But then again we expect to find similar to us carbon-based life forms, while their biology could be completely different from ours, based, for instance, on silica instead of carbon, consequently their evolution would’ve taken a distinct path.

Some luminaries proposed to launch self-replicating spacecraft as a kind of probes (von Neumann machine) that would rove around the universe trying to track down any form of life. See, we aren’t satisfied with having cluttered our planet and the space around it with trash, now it’s time to start thinking big and to scatter it as widely as we can. Plus, we feel entitled to program the self-replicating probe so that if it finds evidence of primitive life (or a primitive, low level culture) it will lie low, silently observe, attempt to make contact (this variant is known as a Bracewell probe), or even tamper with or "guide" the evolution of life in some way.
As if anyone could benefit in any way from our guidance! Looks like aliens, in their turn, should fear us.

Mind that this is a benign form of replicators, but remember Stargate’ ? They could be programmed to be or become berserkers on their own that would seek out and exterminate any life forms and life-bearing exoplanets, since they’d be the only intelligent beings capable of travelling the huge distances of space. Although I doubt they’d qualify as intelligent beings. Now, what kind of sick perverts would launch such an abomination? Well, someone like us, that is, a xenophobic civilization, not to mention that we usually do things just because we can, brushing aside ethical or moral issues. Seems to me strong grounds for fearing aliens.

What scares me most is that a benign form could go out of control and mutate into a kind of synthetic super-marabunta, and then the scientists would just say “Ooops! Sorry!”, as usual. Picture the following scenario: a von Neumann ship designed for terraforming processes — making a planet habitable for humans — suddenly runs amok and attacks inhabited planets, kills their inhabitants in the process of changing the planetary environment, and then self-replicates and sends more ships to attack other planets.
We could also make them go mad and use their destructive power to conquer new worlds. Isn’t it what war is all about? Another brilliant and peaceful idea is to send seeder ships that would store genetic patterns of life-forms (including our own) from our planet and sow them on a suitable or terraformable planet where they would be either reproduced (from embryos), or replicated using molecular nanotechnology from local raw materials. Yet another reason for aliens to fear us.

But what if the aliens have already sent such probes to our planet? We haven’t found any evidence yet (officially, although Ufologists insist it’s kept in the Area-51 and/or similar facilities), but they mightn’t be recognisable as such — an advanced race could have means of investigation imperceptible to human beings — exploratory gadgets like bio-engineered synthetic life forms that would presumably disintegrate after accomplishing their mission, leaving no evidence. Alien spy widgets based on molecular nanotechnology (the double whammy: aliens plus nanotechnology) could be all around us at this very moment, completely undetected. Well, we can’t see with the naked eye microorganisms like viruses or bacteria, either. But now I start to watch suspiciously every fly, bumble-bee, butterfly, moth, mosquito and the like buzzing around me for more than two minutes, alley cats that stare at me for no good reason, specks of dust floating in the air longer than usual, birds fluttering by or hovering over my head etc, etc, etc.

UFO crash
UFO crash
Be on alert! Alien eyes may be spying on you everywhere!

In 1959, Dr. Freeman Dyson put forward a hypothesis that since every developing human civilization constantly increases its energy consumption, some day it would need ALL the energy produced by its star. A shell or cloud of objects deployed around the star to suck its energy would be a solution; therefore the Dyson Sphere around would be an indicator of the presence of advanced civilisation on the planet(s) surrounding the unfortunate star.
Evildoers always think the worst of others. What he doesn’t explain is what happens when such civilization needs MORE THAN ALL the energy of its star (because we can’t afford to stop growing economically, can we?), or why any advanced alien civilisation will necessarily be humanoid.

However, due to different emission spectra such balloons would be difficult to detect (thanks God!).

At the opposite extreme, the Rare Earth hypothesis rejects the mediocrity principle and asserts that Earth is unique.

While it might be true for the Earth (deep down I think it is, I can’t imagine any place more beautiful than this planet), but I wouldn’t put my money on humans being unique — like someone said, ‘if it is just us, seems like an awful waste of space.’

While a unique Earth idea has historically belonged in the realm of philosophy or religion, the Rare Earth Hypothesis claims that multi cellular life and Earth-like planets are a result of many improbable coincidences. Which, to my eye, is an argument in favour of the unique Maker — lucky coincidences don’t abound in everyday life, at least for the ruck. Complex life may follow a different evolutionary pattern from that on the Earth, but the fact that we are the only animal species on this planet that stretched the ability to make tools as far as to build efficient weapons of mass destruction backs up the point.

Those who reject the idea of God believe we are a product of arbitrary sexual selection (clearly gone wrong, by the way).
Evolution, they say, does not “strive for a goal but just happens”, opting for the best possible adaptation to a given ecological environment. This led to language-capable animals only once so far, which seems to suggest that this adaptation is hardly ever a good choice and therefore by no means the top of a tree of life. So how come evolution did opt for it at all?
Personally I tend or want to believe that evolution is God’s unfolding plan with mostly preestablished goals for each species.

Evolution of an 'intelligent' species
Evolution of an "intelligent" species.
Evolve all the way from ape to homo sapiens and for what? To carry the Cross!
While the favourable conditions for life might be common in the universe, I never stop marvelling over the inexplicable ability of a complex array of molecules to simultaneously reproduce, extract base components from the environment and obtain energy to maintain the reaction — in other words, abiogenesis or the formation of life itself. The way I see it

Nature isn't a fortuitous concurrence of atoms — an eternal, conscious and evolutionary soul within all things (the matter it’s made up of, to put it more exactly) or, philosophically speaking, the Idea of each thing is a kind of cement that makes them hold together.

Another plausible reason why our next door neighbours aren’t little green men or the Greys is that technological civilizations tend to destroy themselves — oh, this does make sense.

Possible candidates for wiping us off the face of the earth are nuclear / biological war or accidental contamination (like oil spill?!), nanotechnological catastrophe, ill-advised physics experiments, a badly programmed super-intelligence, or a Malthusian catastrophe after the deterioration of a planet's ecosphere. Each with an equal chance and high on my list.

On the other hand, we still have no means of interstellar travel and (let's hope) won’t in the foreseeable future, which means we can only discover civilizations that alter their environment in detectable way, produce effects observable at a distance, in other words, technological civilisations like ours. It seems the only aliens we can come across are creatures like us, and to my eye that’s a good reason why we should fear aliens. It’s about 100 years ago that we became detectable and started to nose around universe, and if we finally bump into some intergalactic psychopaths it'll be us lesser mortals who'll have to carry the can.

What are the odds of aliens visiting or contacting Earth?
Taking into account different factors, here goes a set of other theories about why aliens haven't visited Earth yet along these lines:

• The transition from prokaryotic cells to eukaryotic cells and single-cellular life to multicellular life is extremely rare;

• The lack of convenient energy sources such as fossil fuels wouldn’t allow for technological progress;

• life is an ordered system that can sustain itself against the tendency to disorder, the "external transmission" or interstellar communications may upset its balance, causing the system to become unstable and self-destruct;

• A successful alien species would be a super predator, as is Homo sapiens, therefore if it overcomes its suicidal tendencies, similarly to human nations on the Earth it will see any other galactically propagating species as a kind of virus (and won’t be far wrong).

• Technological extraterrestrial civilizations may exist, but we can’t communicate with them because of differences in terms of scale or of technology;

• Because they don’t want to communicate or psychologically speaking they’re simply too alien to understand the concept of communication; or because human society won’t acknowledge their presence.

• Non colonizing (!) technological alien civilizations exist, but that they are too far apart to get through to each other.

• Our mathematics, language, tool use, and other concepts might be meaningless to them. Their thought processes might be many times slower or faster than ours, so that it would take them years to stutter out “Hello”, or their chirrup might seem like random background noise to us — in both cases easy to overlook.

• Civilizations might be several thousand light years apart, so both could become extinct before any signals reached their destination, although they could also send a kind of Arecibo message.

• Aliens might have visited us in the past, but were taken for Gods by primitive humans of the time, which might account for the emergence of religions and some mysterious monuments (such as pyramids, the Sphinx, Nazca lines, etc).

• Their signals might be too faint for our technology to handle, or we might be looking in the wrong places.

• Their visibility could change or vary just like ours is doing now due to analogue TV being phased out, so they called but we weren’t listening. Or they may communicate without using electromagnetic spectrum at all, by means of neutrinos for example.

• Civilizations may regress technologically after having used up available resources.

• Technological civilizations might reach a post-human, that is post-biological state — a kind of the brain in a vat. Beings that got rid of their physical form and created artificial virtual environments (Matrix), transferring themselves through mind transfer wherever they’d like, totally detached from the external physical universe. (this sounds more like sci-fi than science)

• They might find our intelligence too elementary to waste their time trying to communicate with us (would be like casting pearls before swine).

• Or may-be we are just a big Zoo for some alien civilization that keeps us as a kind of natural reserve either for Safari excursions or animal studies.

Despite all that, our anthropocentric viewpoint makes us expect to find signs of activities similar to ours, but truly intelligent species would most likely avoid this very type of activities, since it’s obvious they are highly destructive.

In our infinite arrogance, we hope there’s no-one more advanced than us in the entire universe, but if aliens show up here someday, it’ll be precisely because they’re superior to us in every way. One thing’s for certain: they won’t be more evil than us, it’s physically impossible.

Why we are so anxious to find life on other planets?

Are we looking for new worlds to sack and enslave or it’s just that we’re bored out of our minds and looking for alien buddies to keep us company?

One more reason why we should fear aliens: look back on human history  Columbus, J. Cook etc. What if aliens or their habitats teem with dangerous viruses or bacteria that could cause lethal pandemic just like Spanish invaders transmitted smallpox and flu to Indian tribes, thus wiping out nearly 90% of their population? Has it ever crossed anybody's mind that extraterrestrials we blithely fancy to meet may turn out to be technologically superior to us but equal in mentality? They might treat us the way the first European "explorers" did Native Americans.
 If an alien race finally spot our planet before pollution (a direct product of "knowledge explosion") has definitely choked us, they’ll almost certainly pass some nasty bugs on to humans and experiment on us (like humans do with animals). I guess for some reason those looking forward to making first contact are sure they would pick everybody else but them. Well, usually people only feel what prick their own hide.
What we expect to be the dawn of a new era for the human race may prove to be as false as the trinkets first European explorers swapped for precious stones with Native Americans (granted, many thousands benefited from the discovery, but for the rest it resulted at best in mixed blessing and at worst in tragedy).
After having flogged to death the example of the discovery of America by Columbus, I feel honoured that S. Hawking and I think alike.

“We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach. If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.” (Stephen Hawking.)

Or maybe the Earth is going to blow up and we’re looking for a new home, although mostly for the rich and powerful?

They are coming! Alien invasion
They are coming!
Alien invasion.
That said, they might as well be already here, but, as I mentioned above, haven’t been detected because they do not want to, we are technically unable to, or because we won’t admit to the evidence (the Ufologists’ version).

We’re so diligently devouring our own habitat without having found any alternatives (as far as I know) that it makes me suspect aliens are goading us into razing everything to the ground through our insatiable greed, waiting to take over when the time is right. They wouldn’t have to sweat much themselves or wage costly wars, would they?

Does the conjecture that last century's technological leap after thousands of years of progress at a snail's pace is actually due to alien technology release into the world, probably meant to make us annihilate ourselves so that they can grab this planet without getting openly involved, sound so preposterous?

If a really superior race had ever visited us in the past or do so in the future, they certainly must have or will cringe away from us in disgust — that’s the feeling we should evoke in really superior beings. We’re basically a stupid depraved destructive belligerent species that can be likened to nothing so well as a virus. I’m afraid we’d sooner attract superior species at worst as a food source or at best as pets, than as worthy interlocutors (unless they turn out to be high-minded and elevated creatures, capable of appreciating our art treasures). I'm not sure, though, whether we should fear aliens more than ourselves.

In fact, technology is the opposite to the evolution of the species: superior beings shouldn’t need too many things outside themselves. In other words, instead of building planes in order to fly, we should be able to fly / levitate without technology; instead of developing medicine, we should evolve to regenerate our bodies by ourselves without any external help or avoid getting ill. Disease free, non-aging, longevous like sequoia tree, living-of-solar-energy-for-food speciesthat’s advanced civilization in my book. We took the wrong turning in our development — instead of perfecting our souls we invent gadgets to satisfy our lowest passions: greed, pride and lust for power.

True progress consists in the evolution of mentality rather than technological toys, organ transplants or silicone implants (if at least organs could be regenerated and in the right place!).

There’re plenty of good reasons why aliens wouldn’t want to contact us.

• They might be such an exalted and noble-minded species that would only think fit to contact the human race once we have measured up to certain ethical, political, or technological standards, like ending poverty and war, or addressing pollution. (THAT would be the RIGHT approach!) 

• They may as well be running an (sadistic) experiment on the Earth that contact would ruin, and continuing with this train of thought we could even suppose that the perceived universe is a simulated reality, something like The Truman Show or Matrix (or simply somebody's idea of a cruel joke).

• Smart ETs would figure out that it is too dangerous to communicate, either for us or for them. The record shows that different civilizations always clashed on Earth with disastrous results for the weaker side (strong grounds for mutual fear), and the same almost certainly applies to interstellar contact — I believe in fractality of the universe and history. So perhaps everyone keeps quiet just in case there’s a good reason for others to do so.

On the positive side, it might seem we would forget our grudges and stand up against a common enemy if hostile aliens showed up here.

‘In our obsession with antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all the members of humanity. Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think, how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.’
President Ronald Reagan, United Nations General Assembly, 21 September 1987

Wishful thinking! Nothing further from the truth — nations and individuals would be pushing and shoving to collaborate or make alliances with the Visitors from the outer space either to snap up maximum profit or to save their butts through bribes, betrayal and treachery.

To sum it up, who goes about looking for trouble usually finds it.

Unless we’re already screwing some primitive indigenous tribes on distant planets, if extraterrestrials grace us with their presence they’ll almost certainly stretch our eyeballs over our arses and make us blink. Considering the way we treat our planet and animals, that’s what we deserve as a species (the individual is a different story). If we didn't have goo for brains, we’d keep low profile and look after our blue globe instead of indulging in quest for a can of worms.

So the answer is:
Yes, we should fear aliens. Don’t say you weren't warned.

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