Monday, July 16, 2012

Extraterrestrial Contact: The Big Reveal

There are two basic scenarios when it comes to extraterrestrial First Contact. The first is a method well-understood by scientists: the long haul. Astrophysicists point out that First Contact would most likely start with the discovery of an engineered signal of some sort, leading to many years of hard work, that being the scientific quest to figure out what the signal means, where it came from and who it was intended for. Scientists understand the value of hard work. What we consider scientific revolutions are usually the result of countless theories, papers, experiments and often leading to dead ends and discouraging results. Scientists pick themselves up and keep going, building on each other’s failures and successes to finally understand something better than before. I would agree with SETI scientists who predict that this is the most likely form of discovery when it comes to extraterrestrial intelligence. Actual First Contact could come decades or centuries later.

The big reveal is much more gratifying in concept. In this scenario, the aliens present themselves to us and offer up many explanations for our many questions. It seems like a simple scenario. I would argue that it is far more complicated for humans. The long haul is what we are prepared for- it fits into our methods of science and would accommodate the time needed for humans to change perspective and to accept the reality of extraterrestrial intelligence. The big reveal affords none of those luxuries. It’s akin to a bomb going off in the human civilization. Depending on the type of contact, and the information revealed, it could be quite disruptive to human society and lead to all sorts of unintended circumstances, most of which would be hard to predict.
In many senses, the big reveal would require much more work for humans in a much shorter time. Because it doesn’t follow our usual patterns of discovery, our sciences would have to find some way of incorporating the alien knowledge, without undermining our scientific methods. We would have to carefully watch our economic systems, which could react in great upheaval to news of alien visitors. Our religions would undergo a period of rapid change as the new perspective tested ancient beliefs. Our social scientists would be hard at work trying to measure the change in human society and predict where we might be headed.
Would the consequences of the big reveal cause aliens to hold back and allow us the luxury of the long haul? We could hope for such a scenario. Really, the only thing to be gained by the big reveal is immediacy, and that would need to have a reason. Why the big rush aliens? Are we destroying our planet? Is there an asteroid heading our way that we are not tracking? Are there other aliens out there who might wish to destroy us?
The only hope in the big reveal is that humans are quite resilient. We do react well to change and adapt as necessary. Would we survive a dramatic Direct First Contact event? It seems likely. The real question is what such an event would do to our future. That would be where the true work lies- ensuring that it is a future that we want and not one that comes from mismanaging the most important discovery in the history of humankind.
What’s your choice of scenario- the long haul or the big reveal? Chime in on the Alien First ContactFacebook page.


purplearcanist said...

I found an online course that feels appropriate. Its free, but doesn't start for 6 months.

Eric said...

Yes, very cool...from the University of Edinburgh I think?