Monday, December 19, 2011

Extraterrestrial Contact: Thinking Like Them

The consideration of extraterrestrial contact is pure speculation. There is no evidence that extraterrestrial life exists in any form. I believe this will change quite soon thanks to dedicated researchers and exciting new space missions. Perhaps someday we will even discover extraterrestrial intelligence. Still, there is always the possibility that there is an extraterrestrial civilization out there and they are going to beat us to the punch, saying hello before we can find them ourselves. It’s an outlier, I know, and yet I believe it deserves a bit of thought.

Part of that thought involves viewing things from their perspective. How can we think like them if we have no idea who we might be talking about? The alien perspective would be entirely driven by who they are: their biology, senses, intelligence, technology and civilization. We have no idea what those details might entail. There is one factor that we can speculate about: not being us. One thing that we could probably assume from extraterrestrial contact is that they will not be us. This seems a bit obvious, but there is something that can be gained from this line of thinking. How would someone view humans from the perspective of the visitor? If we can put aside our cultural and geographical bias we can try to take on an extraterrestrial perspective.

The first things they would probably study would be the physical make-up of our planet, the biological life forms on the planet, human biology and probably human psychology. Our civilization might be next. I think the first thing they might notice are the ways in which we are joined globally and ways in which we remain apart. Our system of nations would be one of the first things an outsider might notice when researching human civilization. Our cultural and religious differences would also be quite obvious as having a big impact on our civilization. Just these three categories drive much of human interaction with both positive and negative results. Technology would certainly be top of mind for a visitor. They would have to be at a higher level in technology than us to research our planet in the first place. They would most likely have great interest in our scientific systems and technological achievements. These elements alone could keep alien researchers busy for years.

Needless to say that alien considerations of all of these topics would be based on their perspective, however I believe that by taking a wider perspective, we could start to develop a plan of action to better respond to high-information First Contact, if it ever occurs. This is only an issue for us in the event that they decide to say hello. Let me point out that this type of high-information, high-interaction First Contact is the least likely form of contact. It is however the particular sliver of the conversation that this blog tends to examine.

An alien civilization with advanced technology could probably study us for decades without us ever knowing. They would always be one step ahead of us in terms of making sure our technology could not detect the probe or whatever means they used to conduct their study. At this point almost everything an extraterrestrial civilization would need is available on the Internet. A secret connection to the Internet, with a hidden form of transmission would probably not be tough for an alien scientist to set up and monitor.

So, what can we gain from thinking like an alien? It can help us answer some of the basic questions of First Contact. What do they expect from us? What would they perceive as our strengths and weaknesses? What concerns would they have in how we might react?

On the other side, there are questions we can consider. How can we organize to take advantage of First Contact? What are some of our weaknesses and our strengths in a First Contact situation? What would we need to do to respond to high-information, high-interaction First Contact? How could we protect our civilization and cultures in the wake of First Contact?

Some researchers, among them Albert Harrison, Allen Tough, Douglas Vakoch and Michael Michaud, have attempted to answer some of these questions. By taking on an extraterrestrial perspective, we aren’t really thinking like an extraterrestrial, we are merely viewing our world from an outsiders view. We have many advantages in this study. We know human society better than anyone else. We can ask questions about the human reaction and come up with ideas, based purely on what we already know about ourselves. There’s advantage in doing such. If high-information First Contact ever does occur it will be our only roadmap moving forward. Truly it is just a trace of a path through a dense and complicated jungle. But it’s better than nothing.

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