Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Extraterrestrial Contact: Who are the Experts?

--> Perhaps, someday, extraterrestrials will make contact with humans in a way that will allow us to truly communicate with them. It would be a big news story, needless to say. It would be exciting. Everyone would want to feel involved. Depending on how sharing those extraterrestrials might be, we could find out new things about our universe. There will be much to consider with whatever information we can glean from First Contact. In a high information First Contact scenario, new academic fields will need to be created. Old academic fields will need to be updated. The big question is: who will be the experts? Who will be able to provide context? Who will be able to point out pitfalls going forward?

It seems to me that in the wake of Direct First Contact there could be three different periods of human reaction and thought. The first I have discussed before. I call it the stunned period. During this time the event itself will be the focus of all attention. People will be waiting for more information. While the news media will attempt to provide context, via experts, that discussion won’t be easy. It will simply be too soon for anyone to comment with any great insight. The experts will be waiting for information, just like the rest of us. They may be on TV, but they probably won’t have much to say, perhaps only providing more questions. This may last a couple of days or even a week or more.

The second period would be what I would call intellectual anarchy. The old ways of thinking could seem irrelevant given First Contact. When humanity gets a breather and breaks away from the stunned period of observation there will be a flood of speculation and opinion. Because there would be few experts to provide context, the media and others may go looking for context anywhere they can find it. This would especially be prevalent on the Internet. Anyone even loosely associated with the UFO movement or other extraterrestrial speculation would offer themselves as experts. One would hope that the news media and the public itself would recognize the pitfalls of such questionable expertise, but unfortunately that might not always be the case. It’s hard to say how long intellectual anarchy might last. If the news media recognizes the problem, they may attempt to self-correct. If not humanity could be in for wild ride. Rampant speculation could lead to rash reactions and even physical unrest.

There should be a period where intellectual institutions and experts try to reinstate order; this action could be led by the media, the government or other institutions. The point is simple: the people we will need to rely on for expertise will be the same before First Contact as After First Contact. An expert in economics is still an expert in economics. They may need to do a lot of intellectual work to fit their old expertise into the new reality, but they will have the education, experience and skills needed to comment thoughtfully and provide meaningful context.

Why would it be important for the true experts to take control back? There would be immediate concerns in the wake of Direct First Contact. There could be great challenges to economic, political, and religious systems. This could lead to conflict, both intellectual and physical. There will also be long-term concerns. This could include the impact of extraterrestrial information to human sciences. There could also be a psychological challenge for some humans and this could be another area needing study.

There are currently a small number of ready-made experts to provide context in a First Contact situation. If they are not already announcing the event, the scientists at the SETI Institute and NASA Ames Research Center would be important experts on extraterrestrial matters. The Royal Institution of Great Britain is one of the few scientific bodies brave enough to publish papers on the subject. The journal Acta Astronautica by the International Academy of Astronautics has continually provided a forum for new research and ideas. But these astronomers and researchers can only go so far in providing the context and thought needed in the wake of First Contact. If the aliens are willing to share information, it will be a great enlightening for humanity, perhaps the greatest period of enlightenment for all of human history. We will need a wide-range of daring and thoughtful experts to show us the way.

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