Worry is a balance on the part of human beings. Worrying can help keep us safe and it can also make us miserable.
David Ropeik points out in a New York Times article this weekend that human nature can also cause use to worry more than we should in some circumstances and less then we should in other cases.
Why do I bring this up? There would likely be plenty of worry involved in any extraterrestrial First Contact situation and it’s something leaders will need to understand in planning a human response.
Ropeik mentions a “risk perception gap” that comes into play when we are overly worried about something. After all, fear can cause us to do all sorts of irrational things. It’s certainly something to consider from a First Contact perspective. If humans react in an overly fearful way to extraterrestrial contact, it could cause us to take military action where none was warranted. And that could lead to catastrophic reactions on the part of the aliens; a situation that could have been avoided.
Of course, worry exists for a reason. It puts us on our toes and responsive to potential threat. It would similarly be unwise to view seemingly unaggressive aliens as not threatening. Threat can come in a myriad of ways. Friendly aliens could worm their way into our society and create all sorts of intended or unintended havoc. A little skepticism would go a long way in First Contact.
And that appears to be Ropak’s main point. Humans often respond instinctually and emotionally. He describes neuroscience research as showing that we “feel first and think second.” The fight or flight part of the brain receives a signal before the deliberate, critical thinking part of the brain. That can leave us in trouble when it comes to complex situations. I can’t say much about First Contact with any certainty, but I can say that like most things in life it will be complex, despite what the initial appearance might be. Seemingly aggressive aliens might be less of a threat if we stop to consider their reasoning and actions. Seemingly unaggressive aliens could, as pointed out previously, provide plenty of threat, no matter what their motives.
Our governmental, military and scientific leaders will have to exercise caution and careful consideration in any First Contact situation. If it’s a dramatic and direct First Contact event that could be tough. In the end, it will be up to all humans to try and take a deep breath and get beyond that architecture of the brain.
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