Monday, February 28, 2011

When Will the Space Aliens Get Here?

It crops up every few years: a pronouncement by some fringe group that extraterrestrials will be arriving at a specific date and time. They rarely give out the location. That’s usually reserved information for members of the club. That club is often a cult and those cults do some really weird things. We can make fun of them, but in reality it’s a question that many people ponder and I would have to admit that I wonder about it, as well.

First Contact with an extraterrestrial civilization will most likely come from the hard work of the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) scientists who use technology and research to examine the universe for that one signal that defies natural explanation. A tip of the hat for their rational and well-considered process; I wish we could do a better job supporting them with federal funding. However, I, being neither a scientist or nearly as rational, enjoy speculating about the other end of the First Contact spectrum: Direct First Contact. Specifically, I’ve been discussing how humanity might react to Direct First Contact (the space aliens land on Earth and say hello) and the implications of such an event.

Our current understanding of physics would make Direct First Contact a highly unlikely event, due to the length of time it would take an extraterrestrial ship to travel to Earth, and the huge amounts of energy that would be expended to do such. Still, I think it's safe to say there are probably many things about the physical world that we have yet to fully understand and the possibility, however remote, is there.

So, let’s take up the topic of when the aliens might arrive to say hello, from their perspective. I know, I know…stop yelling, we have no idea what their perspective might be, and it is entirely possible that even after meeting extraterrestrials we’ll still have a tough time understanding their motivations. I do think there are a couple of things we can agree on:

-If they decide to make Direct First Contact this will mean they are interested in forming a relationship of some sort.

-The type of relationship would depend on their motivation for saying hello.

-They could be aggressive, they could be manipulative, they could be paternal, and they could be indifferent. They may have some other underlying motivation that doesn’t involve us much at all.

-If they do make contact, human reaction will be a concern for them. Whether it is blasting them with nuclear warheads, or humans running willy-nilly in the streets, chances are the extraterrestrial visitors would have a vested interest in how we react. Primarily, that interest would be in how our reaction fits into their motivation. If they are aggressive, blasting them with nuclear weapons would not fit into their plans. If they are paternal and protective, they might be worried about what we will do to ourselves, and our fragile little civilization, while running around willy-nilly in the streets.

-They would study us carefully before making contact. Unless they just happen to be passing through the neighborhood, they would want to know exactly what they are dealing with here on planet Earth.

-The Internet gives them access to a great deal of information about us. In the 1960s we imagined the alien view of earthlings after watching our commercial television broadcasts. It seems likely that they would want to park themselves in the neighborhood and do some web surfing for a while to have a better idea of who we are.

-Who they contact and how they do it would be a primary concern. You can’t just show up anywhere on Earth and say hello. Some parts of our planet would be unable to handle such an event. Other nations would try to control it for self-interest.

-It would not be in their best interest to show up on the White House lawn to say hello. Direct First Contact with one nation brings a whole host of world political problems. It’s like choosing sides in a hockey match before you know how the game will end. You’re much better off saying hello to both teams and all of the spectators. Or in the case of planet Earth, the 192 countries recognized by the United Nations (and perhaps even the ones not recognized) and not just the United States. Come on American people (and Hollywood), it’s time to get over ourselves.

Fine, so now you’re starting to realize that I haven’t answered the question. When will they decide to make Direct First Contact? I don’t even know that they exist, so the answer is probably never. But if they are out there contemplating the best time for the big hello, I would say it comes down to a couple of factors:

-A reasonable level of global political stability. Arriving during a world-wide war would probably be a bad idea.

-A point at which there is a world body that could handle the diplomatic needs of Direct First Contact. That pushes any possibility of the event further into the future. The United Nations has a lot of work to do before it could be considered fit to handle the diplomatic needs of Direct First Contact. Dr. Mazlan Othman is trying (she’s the director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs).

-A worldwide communication and information distribution system that joins all parts of the planet. Okay, that one we have now.

-A timely reason for saying hello. I guess the point here is that they will say hello when it is the best possible time to support the goals of their particular motivation. We cannot know when that might be, without knowing what they came here for.

Sorry, this didn’t answer the question. Quite frankly, I don’t know when the space aliens will come to visit or if they will at all. I will keep Googling though, and I’m sure someone has a date in mind.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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