Monday, June 3, 2013

Learning Together about a New Civilization

Many of us believe that all humans have a fundamental right to participate in extraterrestrial First Contact. Granted, for most humans that role will be purely observational, at first. However, through media and institutional feedback, observation will turn into opinion and have an impact on how humans respond. Governments and institutions will be watching public reaction closely for cues about how to proceed. For this reason, and many others, any extraterrestrial contact event needs to be completely transparent and shared with the world.

In a sense, we humans would be learning about a new civilization together. Depending on the aliens and the type of contact we achieve, there may be a lot of information about a new civilization or there could be very little. It seems likely First Contact will fall to the later end of the spectrum. Scientists may need decades to sort out ambiguous alien signals or even contact. It could be a confusing process. No matter how complicated, that process needs to be shared with the world and in every detail.

This will place a huge responsibility on academics and institutions to be educators. Hopefully, that won’t be a big leap for the educators. It could, however, be a burden to governments, especially those with a propensity to control information given to the public.

So, what do we get from this collective education? I would imagine at the very least humans would acquire a new perspective on our role and place in the universe. That could be the case even in a mysterious First Contact situation. If the aliens are communicating directly with us, and in a timely fashion, (unlikely, unless they are visiting our solar system) we may learn quite a bit about their civilization. What would that mean to us? It certainly provides even more perspective. It could also bring us new knowledge of science and technology, once we can understand their way of thinking (again, no small matter). Would we suddenly become enthralled with another civilization and have a debate comparing alien society to human civilization? Perhaps. It seems that such a debate would have predictable poles: those against any alien influence and those who think aliens have a great way of living that we should incorporate. Once again, it’s completely dependent on what the aliens decide to share and whether we can fully understand what they share.

In a high-information First Contact event, one in which they share much of their knowledge; we will need to be careful about what we decide to incorporate. While I support complete transparency in the process, there may be specific scientific and technical information that we have to carefully consider before integrating it into our civilization. This process could be done in a transparent fashion, without dumping all of the information on our civilization at once. I know this seems like a contradiction, but it’s an important point. Alien information could be harmful to our society if it comes down the mountain in torrent. We may need to control such information.

Are humans up to the task? It’s hard to say. This is complete speculation. Without knowing the true First Contact scenario, if it ever occurs at all, it’s hard to predict the challenges that such a situation would bring. However, it is safe to say it would be a major milestone for the human race as we travel together into a new era of understanding.

Am I being naive about First Contact? Or perhaps too negative? Chime in on the Alien First Contact Facebook page.

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