First Contact with an extraterrestrial civilization would be a major historical event and perhaps, depending on our level of interaction with aliens, a catalyst for paradigm shifts and revolutions across the spectrum of human sciences. There is no doubt that, in some degree, there would be a change in human perspective as a result of evidence that we are not alone. Once again, that degree would depend on the level of interaction with aliens and the type of information we receive. If it’s the discovery of a mysterious, far-off signal, First Contact would have less of an impact on human perspective than if we can actually converse in some way with aliens.
But those are the merely the passive results of First Contact, the things that will change due to the nature of the information we receive. What about the active endeavors? One could argue that changes in science are not passive, in that they require a great deal of work on the part of researchers and academics. My point is that reactions in science would be reactions to new information. We would not necessarily be actively using the situation to change things in our society. The information we receive about aliens would undoubtedly change us, but we won’t necessarily control the change.
Controlling the change is essential. The change will help to decide the path for human development for generations to come. If we merely react to the information we are given, we are not controlling the change. Humanity needs to see First Contact, in any form it might take, as a challenge that requires a much broader response and a response that would take well-considered, proactive measures. We would need to perceive First Contact not as something that is happening to us, but something that has happened, and that in turn we are determining our course of action. It‘s a big difference.
First Contact provides possibility for the human race. It will give us a new perspective on our role in the universe. It can also be a catalyst for change in the human civilization. If we truly embrace the greater challenge, we could see First Contact as a call for a larger discussion of what we want for human civilization, in both the short-term and long-term. What kinds of things should be discussed? Clearly, First Contact would require us to immediately consider the nature of our world organizations- how nations interact and how we will make decisions as a civilization. International relations are, at best, rather muddled currently. If we find out that alien civilizations exist, the need for some new form of organized discourse between nations, and ultimately better methods of determining action, will be immediate. Other changes could include better economic cooperation, global intervention in developing conflicts and global support of human rights. In the wake of First Contact, humanity will have the opportunity to finally take these issues seriously, on an international level, above and beyond what is happening today in the United Nations and with international diplomacy. First Contact could provide an impetus to action on a new level.
Does First Contact necessarily mean humans will rethink national interactions and come up with solutions to world problems? Of course not- we could easily dissolve into disputes between nations under the pressure of First Contact. It will take hard work and determination to make substantive changes. First Contact would be an opportunity for an evaluation of our civilization. It is an exciting opportunity to chart the course for generations to come. And perhaps we shouldn’t wait around for aliens. Whether anyone else is out there or not, we are one planet, one people- citizens of the universe.
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