Monday, May 10, 2010

The Nature of Extraterrestrials: Take Two

The Stephen Hawking ‘be afraid of the aliens’ statements have generated a fair amount of media attention in the last couple of weeks. It’s great that his ideas have sparked new thought about extraterrestrial First Contact. Most of the commentary is trash of course. The fringe media has used his words to call for a reopening of UFO abduction reports. Others have made fun of the animated aliens as represented in the Discovery TV show which started the entire discussion, called “Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking.”

There are some intelligent takes on the issue, though. Probably one of the best coming from Robert Wright in a New York Times online commentary:

“Technology has drawn groups of people into more and more far-flung “non-zero-sum” relations — relations of interdependence; increasingly it has been in the interest of one group to acknowledge the humanity of another group, if only so the groups can play win-win games.”

“If I’m right, and we generally grant the moral significance of other beings to the extent that it’s in our interest to do so, then why wouldn’t we, in 100 or 200 years, do what Hawking imagines aliens doing — happen upon a planet, extract its resources through whatever brutality is most efficient and then move on to the next target? Absent cause to be nice, why would we be nice?”

“Well, you could make a case that, though our moral “progress” to date has been driven largely by self-interest, with only a smidgen of true enlightenment, the role of enlightenment will have to grow if we are to venture beyond our solar system a century from now.”

Wright cites Peter Singer’s 1981 book called “The Expanding Circle.”

“Singer notes the striking moral progress we’ve seen since the days when citizens of Greek city-states treated citizens of other Greek city-states as subhuman.”

So, is there hope for extraterrestrials? Might they have gone through an evolutionary process that developed cooperation and respect for other life? We can only hope.

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