Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Is it time?

Are we ready for First Contact with an extraterrestrial civilization? Our planet is divided into a multitude of cultures, religions and nations. Our actions towards each other are quite often aggressive. We have used technology to build weaponry that allows us to kill millions in seconds. We expend resources at an alarming rate. The environment has been damaged by our pollution and waste.

And yet-

We express an incredible range of emotions in words, art and music. We strive for ways to reduce human suffering. We connect through technology to draw each person closer. We have formed unions among nations and a world body to represent the planet. We act to increase freedom and self-determination. We use science to further our understanding of the universe and everything of which it is composed. We search the stars for signs of intelligent life.

The world has grown remarkably smaller in the last 100 years. Our technology has allowed us to develop a relatively complex system of communications. Television, wireless telephone and the internet now join nearly every spot on the planet. It is possible for a single message or image to be transmitted to the entire globe in a matter of minutes. While not every human has the means to afford this technology, it is at the very least in close proximity for most people. The internet has allowed human communication to develop into a multifaceted, dynamic information structure that grows daily in both scope and complexity.

The United Nations is now an established entity, with sets of policies and procedures to allow nations to settle grievances and speak in a representative fashion. More nations have joined into large blocs which represent common interests and economic needs. The world economy is joined in ways never previously seen.

So is it time?

Let us assume that an extraterrestrial civilization has been waiting and watching. What signs would they look for to decide if First Contact made sense? Technology would be one of the first issues. Communications ability, a subset of the technology question, would be important as well. World unity through government and economy would also be critical factors

However, there may other huge issues to consider. How would we handle such contact? Would it be beyond our comprehension and reason? Would our social structures be able to handle such an event? Would our religions collapse? How would we handle it psychologically?

There are two things that provide hope. The majority of people in most surveys believe in the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Of course, this means everything from simple biological life on another planet to extraterrestrial civilizations landing in your neighborhood park. The number of people who believe in the possibility of extraterrestrial life is rising though, and has done so throughout the last 50 years. The contemplation of such possibilities has been a popular subject in books and movies for many years. Perhaps we have been preparing ourselves. The second piece of hope is the resiliency of humans. We are able to handle massive upheaval from war and natural disasters and still manage to recover and prosper. This has been proven throughout history. It may be that this resiliency would allow us to cope with the major information earthquake that would be the result of First Contact.

So, if you were an extraterrestrial civilization would you contact us?

Perhaps not. Why not just let the soup simmer for a little longer? We could perhaps build a better system of world government. We might stop killing each other at such alarming rates. Our technology will continue to improve. Why make overtures now? It would seem the main reason would be to help save ourselves from ourselves. You can imagine extraterrestrials examining our planet and watching so many things improve and so many things deteriorate. Will changes in our environment cause major problems in our lives? There is already some evidence of that occurring. If scientists are correct we may be altering our planet in ways that may not be reversible. We may be heading towards a massive shortage of natural resources in the next couple of generations. In all likelihood these shortages will destabilize governments and tax our achievements in technology. The result of these scenarios is potentially millions of deaths, massive relocation of populations and general social chaos; maybe to the extent of undoing so many centuries of positive developments.

If you were an extraterrestrial could you just stand by and watch that happen? Especially when you know there are enough nuclear weapons on the planet to destroy much of the life on earth? It’s kind of like watching a drunk driver weave in and out of traffic on a highway. At what point do you stage an intervention and how drastically do you do it?

We have the ability now to deal with First Contact. The structures are in place, the technology and communications ability are robust enough to handle it. We could really use the help right now; even if it was just a way to help restore the atmosphere to reduce global warming.

Most people believe governments would try and keep First Contact a secret. They see the actions of government as running counter to the needs of the people. In a recent BBC survey more than 80 percent of people in Britain thought that their government would try and keep First Contact a secret.

It is clear that if First Contact occurs it should happen in a direct way between an extraterrestrial civilization and the people of planet Earth. This is possible now through the media and communications technology.

So, it begs the question. Just how should it happen?

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