Thursday, August 27, 2015

Extraterrestrial Contact: Economic Turmoil and First Contact

The recent global economic turmoil has been interesting to watch. It shows that there are hidden dangers in global interdependence. In reality the word "hidden" is probably too strong. Much like the U.S. housing bubble and mortgage craziness a few years back, the Chinese economic crisis was hiding in plain sight. There were many top economists and journalists talking about the China bubble for several years now. I even mentioned their concerns on this blog a few years ago. ( I also mention in that post that global economic turmoil could be a reason for altruistic aliens to make contact.)

I missed this Huffington Post article a while back that showed that world economists are considering what might happen in the wake of First Contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. These are not UFO hunters, but rather serious social scientists. It may be one of the first times I have seen the issue of economic impact of First Contact considered in a thoughtful fashion.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in 2013 was the setting. The group called extraterrestrial contact one of the "unheralded dangers that sneak up on us." The type of economic turmoil would, of course, depend on the type of contact. If we discover evidence of life on far-away planets and that life is not capable of communication, that is one situation. Communication with an extraterrestrial civilization is another. The length of time to communicate with such a civilization is also a factor. With our current science communication with far-off planets would take many years. The amount of information shared, and the speed with which it is shared, will have a big impact on the economic reaction on Earth.

The WEF makes a call for social scientists to take up the issue in a serious fashion. Some global institutions are willing to brave controversy to make a stand. The United Nations should take notice.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Extraterrestrial Contact: Gearing Up for First Contact

We have the tools

-A planet-wide communication platform

-The ability to reach all humans with messages quickly

-The technology to interact with each other on a global-basis

-A planet-wide learning platform

We have the expectations

-Humans want to know more about the universe around them

-Humans want to know what is happening on their own planet

-People want that communication to be objective in nature

-People expect to be engaged

-Humans want to listen to each other and then form opinions of their own

We have the mental ability

-Humans can handle rapidly changing situations

-People can digest a great deal of information quickly

-We are resilient

-We can learn new things quickly

-We can update our global perspective when presented with new information

Is all of this enough to enable humans to handle alien First Contact with a positive outcome? That can certainly be debated. What is clear is that we didn’t have many of these tools or attributes even twenty years ago. We are changing in ways that we could never have imagined. First Contact, in this environment of massive change, would be simply new challenges and opportunities for humanity. Perhaps we are ready.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Extraterrestrial Contact: The Impossibility of Human Consensus

I often speak of the importance of wide spread human involvement in the decision making to resolve issues raised by contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. I am not advocating that everyone be directly involved in the process- clearly that is not practical on any level. But I do suggest that humans in countries big and small, and from all over the planet, be represented in the process. The easiest way to accomplish this would be to use the already existing system of representation in the United Nations.  

It’s a hard topic to discuss without an example. Let’s consider the possibility of an extraterrestrial civilization reaching out to humans to make First Contact. In a signal based communication scenario, the most obvious questions would be: what do we do next? Do we send a message back? What should that message say? The message the aliens send us would, of course, be the primary factor driving our decision making process. For this example let’s have the aliens simply say hello and ask- would you like to trade information with us? Do we say hello back and beam out the contents of Wikipedia, as has been suggested by some researchers, and let them sort out who we are? Or do we send a simpler, targeted message?
The debate already rages in some circles. Recently the issue was brought up at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in California. Even before a session on active SETI (sending a signal to outer space) was held, some scientists spoke out against such actions. Those feelings of caution and concern are held by some well-known researchers, including legendary astrophysicist Stephen Hawking.

Scientists, governmental leaders, diplomats and academics will likely be leaders in determining actions to take in the wake of a First Contact event. Hopefully, they will look to opinion polls to see how humans in various locations across the globe feel about such responses. There will be fringe elements vigorously espousing their views in public and in the media. Those views will need to be considered, as well.
It has been suggested that a group of scientists and other leaders might make such decisions on their own. I think that would be unwise. Such important considerations deserve the global reach of a group such as the United Nations.

The decisions made are unlikely to make everyone happy. The final decisions could even go against popular sentiment on the issue. Governmental leaders and others would probably argue that decision making on a global scale cannot be decided by opinion polls. In the end, hard decisions will need to be made. Humans will need to accept this result and do so without violent or disruptive protest. We will have to have faith in our institutions. This may be tough to swallow for some humans. It could be especially tough for humans living in countries without democratic-style representation. Would leaders of a totalitarian regime consider opinion polls of their countrymen when deciding how their UN representative should vote on a First Contact issue? It seems unlikely.
The entire process would be a considerable challenge, because we have nothing to compare it to. Usually the United Nations operates relatively quietly and out of the scrutiny of the popular media. Most of the publicly noticed action seems to come in the Security Council. And First Contact issues may start out there. However, it would be important for the larger issues to reach the General Assembly for a vote, to ensure greater international participation in the decisions.

There will be many differing opinions about First Contact, along a spectrum that would include those opposed to a relationship with extraterrestrials, to those actively encouraging such a relationship. Not everyone will be happy with whatever is decided in terms of response. But the debate would be important to the future of humanity. As long as many differing viewpoints are considered, and most humans have some sort of representation in the process, the results should help us move forward in a safe and positive and way.
What do you think? Give your opinion in a comment here or visit the Alien First Contact Facebook page.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Extraterrestrial Contact: Cheer and Fear

In my last entry I spoke of the importance of the sensible majority- those humans who will have a moderate reaction to First Contact and carefully consider the decisions necessary for humans to make in the wake of First Contact. I also mentioned the Cheer and Fear groups: the poles likely to be found on either end of the human reaction spectrum. The Cheer group would be people enthusiastically positive about First Contact, and thus more likely to want open relations with extraterrestrials. The Fear group would be the polar opposite: they will advocate for little, if any, contact with extraterrestrials.
I think the sensible majority will ultimately have to speak up and be heard. But there is also an important role for the fringe groups: they will spark conversation and highlight important concerns in alien contact. The fringe groups should not be ignored. They will make many valid points. Eventually, once the debate has progressed, it will be up to the sensible majority to sort out the issues raised by both poles and come to some sort of moderated response plan.

The Fear group may be the more interesting of the two. They will include people who are resistant to change, who follow strict religious and culture rules, who worry about personal freedoms and cultural freedoms, and those who are generally wary of new things. This may include people who are paranoid or militaristic in nature. It may also include human leaders who are worried about losing their power in the wake of First Contact. As with any fringe movement, there will be a lot of hyperbole mixed in with sound arguments. The sensible majority will have to sort out the results.
A little paranoia can go a long way in self-protection. Fear is an important part of human survival. It keeps us from rushing into potentially dangerous situations. It can also render us unable to move in new directions. Fear would be a reasonable reaction in a First Contact situation. It will be impossible for us to verify what aliens tell humans about their history of interaction with planet Earth and their intentions in contacting humans. They may tell us one thing and do another. It is likely that aliens would think quite differently from humans. Concepts such as honesty and truth may not be a part of their alien psychology. However, if extraterrestrials, even ones very different from us, have done their homework, they will understand that concepts such as honesty and truth mean a lot to humans, even if we don’t always practice them ourselves.

If aliens are interested in having a safe and productive relationship with humans they will have done extensive homework. It would be easy enough to plug into the human Internet and do all sorts of research about how we behave in various situations. From this research, aliens could develop a game plan for contacting humans and maintaining a relationship with them. In that respect, any alien civilization that has been planning the best way to talk to us will have a huge advantage. They can know quite a bit about us and we will know nothing about them, until they tell us.
The process of listening to the fringe groups in an extraterrestrial contact situation will not be easy. The debate is likely to be lively at best and vociferous in some circumstances. It may appear at first as chaos and hype on all sides. The sensible majority will need to listen and not rush to judgment. Governmental and institutional leaders would also be quite important in this process. Academics, civic leaders and scientists will need to help the public make sense of the arguments and sort out what is a legitimate concern and what is not.

Perhaps the most important group in this process will be the media. First Contact with an extraterrestrial civilization will have to be the finest hour for the world media if humanity is going to move forward and prosper from alien contact. The only analogy I can find is the media response to the 9-11-2001 attacks in the United States. The media spent several days in a state of heightened awareness- rooting out rumors before reporting on them, and generally engaging in sober and thoughtful reporting. The world media would need to follow suit in a First Contract situation and such sober and careful reporting would need to continue for many months. The 9-11 history is also instructive for how things could go wrong with media coverage. In the ramp-up to war, as a result of 9-11, the American media suspended much of its critical reporting and became cheerleaders for war, with disastrous results.
We will actually need to listen to each other and consider opposite view points in the wake of First Contact. When it’s apparent that people are reacting out of political or other gain, we will need to take that into account. We will need to be on the lookout for opportunists hoping to use First Contact to build their own power base by using fear or intimidation.

First Contact will be a tough time for humanity. There will be much to do and a whole number of possible decisions. We will all have to be at our best.  I think we’re up to the challenge.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Extraterrestrial Contact: What First Contact Could Mean for You

Most people would expect a flurry of government, science and media activity if alien contact does occur someday. But what would First Contact mean for you, the individual human, without any ties to those institutions? Your primary role would be spectator. Alien contact would likely have people across the globe glued to their TVs. That may be the only involvement for the vast majority of humans. But there is another role that could be critical: a vocal member of the sensible majority.

What is the sensible majority? It’s the group that tends to take a more measured response to controversial issues. You can call it moderate or middle-of-the-road. It describes a set of humans at the center of a reactionary scale. At either pole are the fringe groups. For alien First Contact one would imagine that these fringe groups will be comprised of those who are very enthusiastic about extensive contact with members of alien civilizations and those who are against any contact. You could call it the cheer and fear dichotomy. The sensible majority would have feelings of excitement about First Contact, mixed with concerns about First Contact. The result might be cautious optimism. How can we make such assumptions of human reaction based on an event that has no equal in human history? I think such a continuum of reaction is a part of human nature. Some of us react quite strongly to issues and divide into opposite poles and others tend to weigh both sides and find value in both. The degree to which this occurs would of course be dependent on how First Contact occurs. If it’s a scary and mysterious First Contact you could expect human reaction to be weighted towards the fear pole. If it’s a transparent and positive event, one would expect reaction to be weighted towards the cheer pole.

What does this matter? Human reaction would be the most critical part of First Contact. Fear would provoke a set of actions by governments and institutions. Cheer would produce a different set of actions. This is important, because those governments and institutions will need to make decisions in the wake of First Contact that could impact humanity for many generations to come.

Once again, it seems important that the sensible majority be heard in such a situation. But there is a problem: the sensible majority tends to be quiet. Moderates are not usually found marching in the streets. That behavior is reserved for people at either end of the spectrum. The problem is that media coverage focuses on the actions of the polar groups. It’s tough for the media to put human reaction to issues in a moderate context, because the moderates are quiet and don’t create “newsworthy” events. The only hope moderates have is to be heard through opinion polls, which can show the moderate viewpoints much better than media stories.

First Contact would likely fall into a similar scenario. Fringe groups on either end of the spectrum would be quite vocal, and perhaps violently so. The media will rush to cover the excitement and the result will be a lack of context. This could be quite dangerous. If governmental policy is shaped by fringe groups, poor decisions could be made. First Contact would require careful and thoughtful decision making. Unfortunately, those decisions will also need to be made quickly. It will be a real challenge.

So, what can the sensible majority do in the wake of First Contact? The answer is simple: stand up and be heard. Don’t allow the fringe groups to garner all the attention. Humans across the planet will need to make sure their voices are heard. Governmental leaders will be watching human reaction closely, looking for cues. The sensible majority will need to get out on the streets and show their numbers. This won’t be easy. The fringe elements will have religious, political and social groups to guide their actions. The sensible majority has no such organizations. It will be up to individual humans to make their voices heard through social media and public activities.

Am I advocating a chaos of protests and counter-protests? Certainly not. I am suggesting peaceful demonstrations of views and attitudes for those who represent moderates in the First Contact conversation.

You may be wondering if any of this will be necessary. You may think that human reaction will muted and well-considered. I wish this would be the case. It may be in the first days and weeks after First Contact. But if humans react as they have for thousands of years of human history, it seems likely that the fringe groups will eventually form and the debate will rage. Be prepared to stand up for what you believe or expect to be drowned out.

Join in on the conversation on the Alien First Contact Facebook page.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Extraterrestrial Contact: Human Space Wars and Visiting Extraterrestrials

An extraterrestrial pilot, hoping to land a spacecraft on the planet Earth, would have to be quite stealthy. The various orbit zones around Earth are watched very closely by a number of nations and agencies. The reasons for that monitoring are varied. Some groups keep track of asteroids and other natural objects that have the potential of getting close to the Earth. Others plot man-made space debris, down to minute sizes, left in orbit around the Earth. And still others are keeping an eye on satellites and satellite movement. Those concerns are primarily military in nature. Satellites do important work for humans these days: GPS, communications, weather monitoring, spy surveillance and missile monitoring.  The importance of space to the U.S. military was highlighted in a recent 60 Minutes report. It showed the degree to which military powers in several nations, including the U.S., China and Russia, are involved in a military space race of sorts. While active weapons are still banned from space, as part of a 1967 UN treaty, the 60 Minutes piece showed the extent to which the U.S. military is working to protect U.S. satellites and plan for a retaliatory strike against opposing satellites and platforms in space.

It’s safe to assume that if extraterrestrials decide to visit Earth some day, that they will have quite advanced technology. The very fact that they could send a craft to Earth would make them more technologically advanced than us. It would also be easy to assume that their technology would allow extraterrestrials to sneak through our Earth orbit monitoring systems. But it would be quite the feat. The signature of a spacecraft engine would be something noticeable to amateur astronomers, NASA and other groups, well before it ever reached Earth orbit. In far Earth orbit, a visiting spacecraft would have many agencies, in several different nations, watching its progress closely.

One of those agencies would be U.S. Air Force SpaceCommand.  They recently came out in a public statement declaring a new mission to use satellites in geosynchronous orbit to monitor other satellites. They call the mission the Space Surveillance Network. It’s a bold statement, most likely designed to send a message to China and Russia. The 60 Minutes story pointed out that China recently sent a missile into space to destroy one of its own satellites in a test. This is something Americans have done, as well.

How much of a threat this monitoring would be to alien visitors would depend on the technological prowess of the extraterrestrials. While it is true that any extraterrestrial civilization capable of traveling to our solar system would have a technological advantage over us, it is pure speculation to say that alien technology would have the ability to overcome human space monitoring and missile deployment. Human technology would be most likely be very different than alien technology. If the aliens had just arrived in our solar system, that could be problematic. It could take years of study for visiting extraterrestrials to understand the complexity of human systems. After all, human systems were designed from the human perspective, using human senses. It’s quite possible that alien perspective, and senses, would be much different than ours.

Aliens without stealth technology would be advised to phone ahead, so to speak. They would want to communicate their intentions in a way that humans could easily pick-up and decipher. This would at least assure that all space-monitoring agencies were aware of a visit and would be less likely to have a hostile reaction. The biggest risk in a surprise visit could be confusion. If the United States was to perceive that an alien craft was a threat to U.S. satellites, and that the spacecraft in question was deployed by China, there could be retribution. Conflict in space could lead to conflict on the ground.

It all comes down to human vulnerabilities. We have much of our technology based on satellite assistance. We feel quite vulnerable in space. It is an area in which visiting extraterrestrials would have to use great caution. Humans are a jumpy lot and despite smiling faces here on Earth among our politicians, in space, decades old hostilities remain quite fresh.

What do you think? Give your opinion in a comment here or visit the Alien First Contact Facebook page

Monday, April 6, 2015

Extraterrestrial Contact: The Problem with Abduction Reports

Claims of alien abduction are the foundation of a robust subculture in human society. Whether those claims are true or not, the issue of possible alien interference in human lives is something that would need to be addressed in the wake of Direct First Contact. By Direct First Contact I mean an alien civilization that has traveled to our solar system and communicated with us. Such a situation would raise an obvious set of questions: have these visitors or other visitors come to Earth in the past? Did they conduct biological experiments on Earth? Did those experiments involve humans? Exactly when and where did such contact occur?

Security would be a major concern in the wake of a Direct First Contact event. Due to the very nature of the situation- space-faring aliens in our solar system – there is a possible threat to humanity. We would need to be very protective of our celestial neighborhood and certainly Earth itself. We would have many questions. Hopefully, visiting aliens would come in peace, but it would be wise for us to be cautious and security minded at every step. And I don’t think a military attack of some sort is the only danger. Interference in human politics and governance could be quite harmful. Perhaps the most likely concern should be un-intended consequences of contact with aliens: disruption to the world economic markets, political disturbances and other purely human problems.

We would need to set up guidelines for contact immediately. I have outlined these basic Human Rights that could apply to any alien contact situation:

1. Humans have the right to self-determination.

2. Humans have a right to not be manipulated by other civilizations.

3. Humans have a right not to have the pillars of human society manipulated by other civilizations, including economy, technology, and civic arrangements.

4. The planet Earth is the sacred home of human beings.

5. Life on Earth should not be interfered with or manipulated by outside beings.

6. Humans have a right to determine how First Contact proceeds.

7. Humans can determine how much information and what type of information they decide to receive about the outside universe.

8. The resources of the planet Earth are the property of citizens of Earth.

9. The solar system of Earth is the property and home of citizens of Earth.

10. Earthlings can decide which beings can enter the solar system and under what conditions.

11. Earthlings can decide which beings can enter Earth atmosphere and under what conditions.

12. Humans will enter into the larger known universe as productive and responsible citizens.

13. Humans will decide exactly how that entry into the larger known universe proceeds.

14. Humans will expect honesty from all parties interacting with the citizens of planet Earth.

15. Humans will demand honesty and forthright disclosure of any past interactions between alien civilizations and people of the planet Earth.

I believe that the final point would require a series of interviews or hearings of some sort. A visiting alien civilization would likely be much older than ours, and thus may have had contact with humans in the past. It would be important that visitors lay out a clear history of their actions in our solar system.

We also must consider the possibility that multiple alien civilizations have visited our solar system in the past.  This would make things more complicated. Perhaps visiting aliens would say- “we’ve never done anything bad to humans, but there is another civilization out there that you should know about.” Or perhaps there was a change in alien policy in terms of interaction with humans? Consider how often policy changes occur for governments here on Earth. Is it a stretch to think such problems might occur in an alien civilization?

I personally don’t believe that aliens have visited Earth in our lifetime or that they have abducted humans. But I have no evidence one way or another. There would be plenty of questions to ask in the wake of any First Contact situation.

Some of you may have issues with this post. Please, feel free to post comments on the blog. I appreciate you reading.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Extraterrestrial Contact: The Elite, The Disenfranchised and First Contact

A small number of scientists are leading the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. From that research-based scientific inquiry, a few have also been considering the challenges that would come from alien First Contact. These questions include the process that should be used to inform the public of such a discovery, and how a response to alien contact would be developed. These scientists have been primarily astrophysicists and astronomers. In recent years, though, through the efforts of groups such as the SETI Institute and the NASA AmesResearch Center, biologists, anthropologists, sociologists and religious experts joined the conversation. Most of the effort is still focused on the scientific inquiry. That makes sense. Without the discovery itself, the rest of the issues are moot. But there is a growing realization that we are not prepared for what might happen after First Contact. Do we reply? What do we say? Who makes these decisions?

The International Academy of Astronomics (IAA) and the International Astronomical Union (IAU) have suggested that scientists would be heavily involved in such decisions. Certainly, in a case of Indirect First Contact- the reception or interception of an extraterrestrial signal or message- scientists would lead they way. They would be the ones who made the discovery and it makes sense that they would be the ones that the world would turn to for advice on what to do next. The good thing about indirect First Contact is that it would likely give us time to ponder such decisions. There could be a healthy debate and, hopefully, then a consensus about how to proceed. These very scientists have attempted to get the United Nations to consider the issue. There would be a great need for international leadership in the wake of First Contact and a coalition of scientists and international leaders would be a good start for developing responses to First Contact. Unfortunately, the United Nations has yet to take substantive action. 

Just last month scientists at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting discussed the issue of sending intentional human messaging into space in hopes of making contact. The arguments ranged from those favoring the approach to those warning of dire results if we make contact.

But what about Direct First Contact- contact that happens within our solar system and leads to the possibility of direct communication? Suddenly, the issue of time becomes a primary concern. Rather than waiting for our signal to reach an extraterrestrial civilization light years away, the communication time frame is much more immediate. That means that decisions would have to be immediate. Direct First Contact also poses a greater risk for humanity. It’s not just the dangers of attack or interference, but also the impact on humanity from what we learn from an extraterrestrial civilization. If communication is near immediate and the aliens willing to share, there could be dramatic revelations for humanity in the areas of science and technology. How do we handle such opportunities and threats?

Initially, in the wake of Direct First Contact, a coalition of scientists and international leaders, perhaps under the umbrella of the United Nations would also make sense. But that umbrella would need to expand quickly. Astrophysicists and astronomers would need to be joined by, not only the above-mentioned biologists, anthropologists, sociologists and religious experts, but also by political scientists, and economists. The potential disruption to human civilization would be a primary concern in the wake of Direct First Contact. The amount of information shared would ramp up those concerns.

But there is another fact that we would have to face in such a situation. Scientists, academics and international leaders are part of an elite segment of our society. I know the word elite, especially concerning academics, has been used as a political club for ideological bludgeoning recently in America, but nonetheless, there is a valid point to be made. Can those in the top income brackets and the higher leadership circles in human civilization, necessarily speak out for the rights of the larger, poorer, majority of humans?

I think that bodies formed in the wake of First Contact should include people who represent third world nations and humans who live in poverty. Governments of those nations could be involved through representation in the United Nations. They would need to have a role. As I have pointed out previously, it would be easy for humans to let the most powerful nations run the show. That would be a mistake. First Contact response should be developed with a wide range of ideas and opinions. That cannot be gained from just a few powerful nations. I would suggest that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that represent those in poverty, from third world nations, would be a good place to start. Someone will need to advocate for the needs of the less powerful humans on planet Earth. First Contact cannot be the province of elites. The voices of middle and lower class people, and especially those living in poverty, need to be considered.

Would such an approach make things more complicated in the wake of First Contact? Absolutely. Adding more debate to already divisive alien contact issues would not be easy. It would make it tougher to develop a response. If not carefully managed it could lead to chaos. It is a problem worth managing. All segments of human society have a right to be heard when it comes to First Contact response.

This is the process that must be developed. We should be thinking about it now, both in the context of Indirect, signal-based Contact and immediate communication based Direct First Contact. Alien contact may not occur for many years or decades. It may never occur at all. But the implications for humanity are huge. We must be ready to act with at least a very basic plan of response. A little thought now into the development of that plan, and methods to help all humans be involved, would help tremendously. 

Join in on the conversation on the Alien First Contact Facebook page.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Extraterrestrial Contact: Who Controls Alien First Contact?

It’s a simple question and a question for which there are probably no simple answers. In many respects, though, the question of who should control alien First Contact comes down to whom you trust more- individual governments or humans as a whole. That may sound like a generalization and I agree, those are very broad terms. But at the heart of the issue is a simple philosophy that would be the subject of great debate: I believe that all humans should participate in alien First Contact. How could this happen? Through international representation and vigorous debate.

Government control is the most popular scenario in books and movies. It seems to stem from 1950’s post-nuclear fears. In the movies, we humans look to the military for expertise and leadership in the wake of alien contact. Interestingly, in many of those plot lines, the military leaders eventually screw-up the mission, by trying to exert too much control. And that’s the problem. We would likely have some degree of anxiety in alien contact and having the military in charge is a way to protect ourselves. But eventually we could question the motives of the military. Will they keep the event secret and try to gain technological advantages though alien contact? Will the government deem alien contact too dangerous for the public to know about?

These are simplistic scenarios, but I think they do mirror our fears and concerns. We want someone to be in control and to protect us, however we worry about what that might mean in the long-term.

This is something astrophysicists involved in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence have been considering for some time now. The most well-known protocol comes from the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA).

The protocol calls for scientific confirmation of the signal discovery before any public announcement is made. The next step involves notifying other scientists of the discovery and confirmation. The next level is scientific associations and governmental leaders. The United Nations is listed, as well, with perhaps the strongest role in the protocol and the specific mention of a UN Committee- the Committee on the Peace Uses of Outer Space.

Such a protocol is relatively straightforward. It is supported by well-regarded scientific associations and it follows procedures that might be used for other astronomical discoveries. There is a ready-made system for the first level of extraterrestrial signal detection. Best of all, the instruments (radio telescopes) used for such signal detection are controlled primarily by scientists and academic institutions. There is a certain amount of openness built into their usual process of communication.

Direct First Contact would be different. In such a case, the most likely first responders would be law enforcement and the military, in whatever jurisdiction a craft landed or made direct contact with humans. That provides a level of institutional control. The authorities may support transparency and public observation of such an event. They may also choose to hide the event and subsequent interaction.

That’s why I suggest a sudden, media-based First Contact scenario. If done correctly, transparency and openness would be an integral part of the event. Institutions could seek to gain control of the situation, but the media scrutiny would create pressure on law enforcement and the military to be transparent in actions and accountable to the public.

There is no doubt that First Contact needs to be led by someone. It could be a coalition of scientific, governmental, and academic groups, as suggested in the IAA protocol. The obvious group to lead such an effort would be the United Nations, as it is the largest and most robust international agency on the planet. The UN provides a system of representation for the great majority of nations on Earth. It has built-in systems of bureaucracy that could be applied to First Contact. Most importantly, it is a body that is designed to foster discussion and debate among nations. That exists nowhere else on the planet to such a degree.

Direct First Contact is an unlikely event, due to the vast distances of space and the constraints of physics, as we understand the field currently. It is not, however, entirely out of the realm of possibility. If it were to occur there will be an inevitable conflict between the public right to know and the governmental mission of protection. There will need to be careful thought given to each and every step.
Join in on the conversation on the Alien First Contact Facebook page.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Extraterrestrial Contact: The Human Opportunity

If alien First Contact does occur someday, we will focus our attention to the wonders of the wider universe. Whatever we learn about other extraterrestrial civilizations and the nature of our universe will in turn help to expand our perspective. Of course, how much we learn depends on how much extraterrestrials might be willing to share. Once the wonder dies down the perspective change could also provide a catalyst for human self-examination.
I’m not suggesting that we need to act like aliens or incorporate an alien way of thinking. Learning about other civilizations does not mean becoming like other civilizations. The knowledge that we are not alone in the universe, in and of itself, could help us to make changes here at home. These would be purely human decisions about how to make our world better for everyone. Why should we care? First Contact would present something that we never had to consider before. If another civilization exists, suddenly we have competition in the universe- perhaps not immediate competition for resources or status, but competition nonetheless. We would want to consider our strengths as a civilization and that means coming up with ideas for improving on our weaknesses.

Global Decision-Making

There would be some immediate needs in extraterrestrial contact. We would need a global body to make decisions and take actions regarding alien contact for the entire human race. This could be a newly created group representing all nations or it could be a United Nations committee. The group would need to consider the contact process and what messages should come from humans.

The need for speaking with one voice would make overall global decision-making suddenly much more important. And it would force us to consider a basic fact about our current global relations: they’re dominated by a few powerful nations. In the wake of First Contact, who would be working to ensure that the people of Belize have their voices heard? Who would stand up for the concerns of citizens of Uzbekistan?

Some people might argue that the largest and most powerful nations have the most at stake and the best scientific resources, and thus should lead the effort. But I think that allowing that current system of global inequity to continue would be a mistake. It could also lead to power struggles amongst those power nations. Truly soliciting input from smaller nations, and actually acting on that input, could prevent the power struggles, by adding additional voices to the mix. It could also bring about ideas that we might not have considered.

Powerful nations should view First Contact as an opportunity to lead, not dominate. True leadership comes from recognizing the value of all of the parts of the whole. This will not be easy for the United States, China and Russia. Current politics makes the quest for dominance part of the international agenda. This, however, leads to conflict and in the end, weakens all parties. How so? Just look at the interdependence of economies. We live in a world where economic problems in China can lead to economic problems in the United States. When we quietly applaud as the Ruble falls in value in Russia, we forget that interdependence. Russian economic turmoil may seem like a positive thing for Western nations in the short term, especially for those upset by Russian international aggressions, but in the long-term, Russian financial issues could have a negative global impact for multi-national companies and that has an impact on economies all over the world.

Racism, Sexism and Culturalism

Meeting alien beings should make it quite apparent that differences in human skin tones, facial features and cultural beliefs, are slight when compared to extraterrestrials. We could use that perspective shift to push for a new understanding between human cultures. We are all brothers and sisters. We are all related. We know this. Alien First Contact would take that knowledge beyond the intellectual level and give it new primacy. We are all humans. We live on this tiny planet with many other creatures and organisms. We need to take care of each other and take care of our fragile home.

The entire planet suffers from the consequences of sexism. Women are nearly half of all humans and yet they often do not have the same opportunities as men. This includes education and employment. There is no greater need for positive change on Earth. All women should have opportunities for self-betterment and the ability to make their own choices.

A renewed focus on human concerns could also have a downside. Some people may attempt to use fear to build xenophobia towards aliens. This would be a natural tendency, especially if the aliens look and act much differently from us, which seems likely. Promoting a stronger human alliance does not have to lead to such xenophobia. But the struggle to keep it from becoming so, and thus influencing our decision making in regards to alien contact, will likely be with us for the rest of human history.


A sudden First Contact event could help us realize that things can change quickly. Perspective controls much of what we do. If our perspective on the universe can change so quickly, and without much physical action, than why couldn’t our perspective on human issues change, as well?

Much of the progress made in the American civil rights struggle came relatively quickly once the world focused attention on the plight of African-Americans in the South. Media attention and the leadership of some key individuals helped to change something in the American consciousness. Perspective is an incredible thing.

I’m not suggesting that the civil rights movement didn’t come from years of incredibly daring and dangerous work on the parts of so many. What I am suggesting is that there can be a tipping point in human consciousness where one state of affairs quickly becomes unacceptable due to publicity and leadership. What other areas might we be able to improve human conditions based on a new perspective brought on by First Contact.

What about violence? It’s easy to say that humans will be humans and violent conflict between humans is inevitable, but in the wake of First Contact we could realize that human violence is a choice, not an inevitability. We make such choices each and every day. Clearly, the key to preventing human violence starts with solving the problems that lead to violence and that is extremely complicated.  But a perspective change could allow us to climb out of the trenches, where we are surrounded by those complications, and achieve a wider view. The catalyst of First Contact could lead to a change in how humans resolve conflicts.

The Environment

It would be interesting to hear the alien perspective on climate change as a result of industrial growth. Perhaps such problems are endemic in growing civilizations? We could desperately use some new input on the subject and that would perhaps encourage us to take our environmental decisions more seriously, and, in turn, prod us to make the many changes needed to respond to the growing crisis.

Technology and attitude changes have made a difference in pollution and waste in the United States. But Americans have the furthest to go, as we are among the biggest consumers. Emerging nations need to pay better attention to environmental issues. China may seem like an extreme example now, with widespread pollution in its large cities, but India, Malaysia and Latin American nations are not far behind. As economies grow, consumer pollution and waste increases. Could a new perspective help us to take bolder actions to preserve the health of our atmosphere and ultimately our planet?


Humans have a propensity to support economic systems that keep other humans in poverty. Human development is closely watched by the United Nations and other international agencies. In some parts of the world, such as Asia, it has improved greatly in the last 30 years. In other locations, most notably sub-Saharan Africa, it has improved marginally at best. The UN calls people in poverty “vulnerable” because it defines a whole range of impacts, from employment to health. Could we see humans differently in the wake of First Contact and make significant changes to help those humans who are most vulnerable?

I know that these are rather grand pronouncements. When it comes to human change the devil is always in the details. Real change comes from individual struggle each and every day. But that struggle for positive change could be energized by the change in perspective that would come from extraterrestrial contact. If First Contact does occur some day, we will likely be slack-jawed in wonder for a time. Once we get back to reality, we should use some of that wonder and turn our attention back to planet Earth. Alien First Contact could be a catalyst for positive human change unlike anything we have ever seen. That catalyst could also be ignored and it could be business as usual on planet Earth. That decision will be ours to make.

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Friday, December 5, 2014

Extraterrestrial Contact: Nurtured Life on Earth

If contact with an extraterrestrial civilization occurs someday, there will be an immediate question: has the extraterrestrial civilization been in contact with humans previously? This question wouldn’t just come from those who claim alien abduction or envision some vast alien conspiracy. It’s a basic question with huge implications. There is one particular category that might be important to explore now: has life on Earth been nurtured by alien intervention?

Nurturing life on Earth could come in many forms. In the most dramatic, writers have suggested that ancient earth societies had interaction with aliens and even benefited from that interaction. Many of these theories have been debunked as historians have learned how the pyramids were built or the Nazca lines in Peru possibly created. But nurturing life on Earth doesn’t have to mean such drastic interaction. Life itself is widely accepted to be a rare creation, due to the formidable obstacles faced in the formation of life. Asteroid strikes and atmospheric imbalances are just a couple of the events that could render most of life on a planet extinct. Intelligent life, due to its complexity, would likely be at high risk for extinction from naturally occurring events. And, of course, atmospheric imbalances could also be a byproduct of technological development, as is becoming an issue here on Earth.
But what about less dramatic intervention? Humans face a risk from the effects of coronal mass ejection.  Highly energetic particle bombarding the Earth could cause a massive disruption to the electrical system and even health risks for humans. But highly energized electrons are streaming towards the Earth on a regular basis.

Scientists recently announced in the journal Nature that they have discovered a force field of sorts about 7,200 miles above the Earth that stop most of these energized electrons from reaching Earth. This is part of the overall study of the Van Allen Belts, two radiation belts that surround the Earth. NASA has probes that have been studying the belts. They hope to use them to further analyze this “puzzling phenomenon” as it is described by the co-author of the study, Daniel Baker from CU-Boulder. This is a Huffington Post article describing the results.

None of these folks are suggesting that the phenomenon is something that was intentionally created. But it does provide an opportunity to raise the question: what if life on Earth has been nurtured? Perhaps there are many aspects of our planet that were engineered to better suit the development of life? If so, what does that mean for us? If we find out that aliens have been helping us along, does that mean we are beholden to them? Are they our Gods? That probably seems an offensive thought to most of us. And if it was true that we had help along the way, do we ask for more help? Do we sit back and ask to be spoon-fed alien science?

The human race has struggled for thousands of years. Struggle is part of our way of being. We need to keep struggling to survive. And doing so will make us more technologically advanced and, hopefully, wiser in our human relations. Taking away the struggle, even with some simple technological assistance from an extraterrestrial civilization, could be detrimental. If we do find out that we have had help along the way, I think we would want to make sure that we are not get spoon-fed anything involving technology or culture. Learning from aliens about their culture and other aspects of the universe would be an exciting and welcome benefit of First Contact. We would need to make sure we placed controls over the information shared, so that we continue to struggle in our science and development, without outside help.
Okay, let’s take a deep breath again. The Van Allen Belts electron shield is probably just a natural phenomenon that we don’t understand yet. Scientists will put in the hard work and analyze data and help us come to a new understanding about our world.

But I go back to my original point- we will have legitimate questions to ask a visiting extraterrestrial civilization in the wake of First Contact. And if it ever does occur no question will be too outlandish. The alien abduction folks will have just as much a right to an answer as anyone else. Until we know the truth, anything is possible. There will be many questions to ask in the wake of First Contact. Perhaps most disturbingly, at least at first, humans would be unable to verify what aliens tell us about their history with the planet Earth. Do we trust their answers? That’s why it doesn’t hurt to consider these general issues now. A little forethought could be a valuable thing if First Contact ever does occur someday.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Extraterrestrial Contact: Religious Reaction Expanded

Religious reaction to First Contact with an extraterrestrial civilization is important, primarily because it could be a driver for overall human reaction. Vanderbilt University Astronomy Professor David Weintraub has a new book out called “Religions and Extraterrestrial Life: How will we deal with it?”

I appreciate the straight to the point title. While I have not read the book yet, from the articles and reviews describing the work, he seems to cover more ground in his book than most articles or surveys have done. Particularly interesting for a quick view is the overall survey of different religions put together from his book by the Boston Globe. Weintraub says that the revelation of extraterrestrial life could actually bolster the spirits of Muslims, who have long believed that other worlds with intelligent beings exist. Perhaps most importantly, Islam doesn’t say that human religious systems have to apply to extraterrestrials, but that each world would have its own prophets. That would allow wiggle room that many other religions on planet Earth, including fundamentalist Christian sects, could not provide. It’s those fundamentalist Christians that Weintraub seems most worried about in terms of reaction.
That’s an interesting perspective. From a purely religious text standpoint, such reactions seem relatively easy to figure out. What worries me is the nexus of religion, politics and government. It is here where the real impact of religion can be felt and especially in extremist religions. Will world leaders find religious reasons to oppose First Contact with extraterrestrials? Will they try to use religion to sway public sentiment in one direction or another, in issues important to extraterrestrial contact? It seems likely, considering that such actions combining religion and political control are taken each and every day here on Earth currently and involve just about every religion on the planet. Religion does not exist in a vacuum. It is just part of the fabric making up our institutional quilt of society. All sorts of people: religious leaders, politicians, and even military despots and terrorists, pull on those strings to get their way.

I look forward to reading Weintraub’s book. Here is a Huffington Post article about it in his own words and a You Tube video.
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