Monday, April 25, 2011

Maybe They Should Just Leave Us Alone

Let’s say that there is an extraterrestrial group, of some sort, out there, somewhere near-by and studying us. I have presented plenty of arguments for why now would be a relatively good time to say hello. Here’s an argument for leaving us alone.

Human development comes from challenge. We want to keep predators at bay, be able to see at night, and cook food to make it more palatable (and release more nutrients) so, 400,000 years ago, humans learned how to control and eventually produce fire. We face a challenge and find a solution, and thus the human race moves forward. The challenges can even come from other things that we create. It could be argued that the age of nuclear weapons has brought countries closer together in diplomacy and turned warfare into a global concern. We currently face a massive environmental challenge, and on numerous fronts. Global warming is just one of the threats. The nuclear crisis in Japan is an example of how our technology can threaten our long term existence. While it may not seem like it in real time, if you take a few steps back for a wider perspective, you can see humans answering these challenges. Nuclear power is undergoing new debate. It seems likely that in the wake of the Japanese nuclear crisis there may be prohibitions on the type of old technology used in those nuclear plants. Upgrading nuclear plant technology will take on a new importance and with it human technology will advance.

What would happen if those challenges disappeared? Science fiction writers love to imagine a world in which we meet extraterrestrials and learn the secrets of the universe. Even slightly more advanced extraterrestrial emissaries could provide radical new insights into science and the universe. Do we really want extraterrestrials spoon feeding us new information?

In a sense, it’s like working out for better health. Even if someone could invent a machine to flex your muscles to build muscle strength, would you really want to do it? Exercise the old fashion way also increases flexibility and strengthens the heart. Perhaps you could find a way to flex those muscles electrically (many bad inventions have claimed to do this) and still do real exercise to benefit the heart and develop greater flexibility, but what of the other benefits of real exercise that we might not fully understand?

Human technological and social development is a complex thing, with millions of interactions each day that will determine how we go forward. If you take away the need for some of that interaction, especially in the sciences, what unintended consequences might we face?

So, maybe the space aliens should just leave us alone and let us develop on our own. However, there is another solution that we probably would not enjoy or understand. Perhaps they should say hello, but with the caveat that they don’t give away any important information. Would we be able to handle that? Can’t you imagine the reaction when the extraterrestrials just say no in response to our questions about science and the universe? Would we understand? Would we feel that we are being treated like kids, or even worse, lab rats for study?

Information will be the most important part of the relationship After First Contact, and the flow of information of upmost concern. We may provide some insights for the extraterrestrials. It is likely though, that if they are advanced in technology they would be the ones providing most of the new information. How much they choose to share and how we respond to that decision could have a big impact on the future of the relationship between two civilizations.


Carson said...

Albert Harrison elaborated the negative consequences eloquently in his book After Contact. I think the phrase he used was junk culture. One of the best books out there on ETI and Post Contact.

Eric said...

Carson: That is an excellent book. He's one of the few to look at human society and the impact of First Contact in a realistic and thoughtful way.