I’ve done plenty of speculation over the years about First Contact possibilities. One thing I haven’t considered is what I would call the Santa Claus Effect (different from the Santa Claus Rally in the stock market). What if there is an extraterrestrial civilization waiting to make contact with us, and they are waiting to make contact at a point where we could understand some tremendous, and perhaps quite disturbing, revelation? I call it the Santa Claus Effect, because learning the truth would cause a severe change in our perspective, blowing away previous core beliefs. It would quickly erode our naiveté, making us more cynical, and yet perhaps better prepared citizens of the universe. The information would have to be dramatic. Perhaps it would be a quite different view of reality, whether it is multiple universes or a complete reworking of our understanding of time and space.
We like to think that extraterrestrial knowledge would be a great thing for society, with information providing us the tools for advancement in technology. It’s unsettling to consider that perhaps reality is far different from how we perceive it and fraught with new, troubling challenges. The two could even come hand in hand: technological advancement and radical shifts in our perception of reality.
It would probably depend on how advanced a civilization we were to meet. If they are only a few hundred years advanced in technology, perhaps the great new truths would be limited to new ways of viewing physics and the universe. Scientists might be blown away, but if the details are complicated, as you would imagine they would be, the rest of society would be relatively undisturbed. However, if we find that our entire conception of time is a fabrication, and alternate realities exist, it would be likely to provoke a more wide-spread disturbance of perspective.
In the end, the Santa Claus Effect, even if quite dramatic, might be less of a challenge for humans than one would imagine. Humans have an amazing ability to process new information quickly and develop new world views. That resiliency in thought could go a long way in the wake of First Contact.