Intelligent aliens may or may not exist. They may be too far away for us to contact. There are myriad possible reasons for why we haven’t made First Contact. I offer one more: a knowledge threshold. What if aliens are aware of the human civilization, but waiting until we reach a certain threshold of scientific or cultural knowledge before they intend to make contact? This isn’t an original thought on my part. It’s been the subject of many science fiction stories.
What could that threshold be? Perhaps it is related to physics. Humans are working hard to figure out what hypothetical dark matter and dark energy might be. These postulates can be measured and even quantified, in a sense, and yet there is still not an understanding of what they truly are and of the relationship to our more common matter and energy.
The other big question in physics concerns particles. Work with the Large Hadron Collider is attempting to advance human knowledge of elementary particles, such as the Higgs boson. Perhaps this scientific inquiry will lead us past the knowledge threshold? Aliens might be concerned that their scientific knowledge is far in advance of ours. Perhaps we need to be at the right level of knowledge to be able to handle further truths about our universe?
The threshold could also be the biological-machine divide. Human science is developing new machine devices to assist the human body. At some point those devices could lead to bionic humans, at a point far beyond what we experience now. Discoveries could also eventually lead to machine intelligence- human intelligence housed completely in a machine. One could also call this virtual life. These things seem like the stuff of science fiction, but they are quickly becoming reality.
There could be another type of threshold: civilization maturity. Let’s face it- humans are rather raw beings: we battle each other, we kill, we tear up the natural environment and we treat other creatures on our planet poorly. We still have a tense situation with nuclear weapons. We have a long way to go in maturing as a human society. Perhaps aliens are simply waiting for us to grow up?
The dangerous thing about threshold speculation is that it is never-ending. We could use this as an excuse for why we haven’t made First Contact and that could go on for however long we wanted. It may simply be another human coping mechanism. I think many of us long for extraterrestrial contact.
It’s easy to find comfort in excuses. I’ll put my trust in the scientific process being carried out by the folks involved in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI. I donate regularly to the SETI Institute, which has suffered setback after setback from budget cuts and defunding. If you believe in the scientific effort to search for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence please consider making a donation. Action is always more powerful than speculation.