Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Extraterrestrial Contact: Human Expansion

Interaction with members of an alien race could cause us to view human civilization from a different perspective. That could, in turn, cause us to question some of the underpinnings of our human society. Expansion is one of those underpinnings. We have been expanding in population and geography for thousands of years. Expansion isn’t just one aspect of who we are. I would argue that it is one of the defining aspects of human civilization.

It’s more than just population expansion that is built into our collective psyche. The human infrastructure has grown to the point where it can be seen from space. In mainstream human society economic growth isn’t considered just a positive thing, it is considered absolutely necessary for economic health. Zero growth is viewed as a dangerous situation. The push for continuous economic growth is not always sustainable. In past recessions the U.S. Government has urged consumers to spend money. The fact that many Americans were in intractable debt wasn’t considered.
You can go further: Businesses are told they must grow or risk decline and death. Humans often base their personal well-being on how much food and material goods they have. That means an expansion in personal consumption. Consider the worry in Italy as the birth rate has plunged. It’s leading to an economic imbalance - not enough young people to pay the taxes necessary to take care of a larger elderly population. No one is saying that there may need to be changes in the ways pensions are funded. Instead, the focus is on encouraging Italians to have more babies and encouraging immigration.

There are some in human society who question the expansion based civilization. They argue that such expansion is tough to support at current population levels. The increase in the human population on Earth requires more resources to be used and that will eventually lead to the depletion of non-renewable resources. It’s also causing major issues for the environment. The dangerous increase in greenhouse gases is one example. Another is the fact that human expansion is killing off species at a rate not seen since the last great extinction. Meat consumption is rising world-wide. Developing nations are demanding meat as a bigger part of the diet of citizens. But meat production requires massive amounts of water and space. Humans may soon find themselves unable to afford the true cost of meat.
Every nation wants to get bigger, stronger and richer. Developing nations want the same quality of life for their citizens as those in developed nations. That inevitably leads to the consumption of more resources.

Technology can help us obviate some of the need for resources. We can make more efficient cars, appliances and heating and cooling systems. The U.S. oil industry is a textbook example of technology getting more and more out of limited resources. They are squeezing every last drop of oil out of the ground. But the growth in population and demand means that these technological developments may not be able to keep up for long.
Something will have to change. The big question is when. Do we wait until there is a crisis? That seems to be the current human plan. Or do we make proactive changes based on projections for population growth and consumer demand?

I realize that this is a blog about extraterrestrial contact, so let’s view this issue from an extraterrestrial exploration perspective. If crisis does spur the search for technological developments, then crisis could lead to the colonization of space. I know that sounds like a leap in logic. But consider Earth hundreds of years in the future. The need to find more resources and new homes for humans could push technology forward and make such colonization economically and technologically feasible. Aliens might tell us that the expansion of civilizations into space is dependent on the crises caused by home planet population expansion.
So, do we embrace expansion or attempt to live in a population stabilized world?

The big question seems to be how miserable it will get on Earth before technology can save us. And then there is another major issue: who gets saved?  Will it be just the rich or will it be all humans? Are there to be huge numbers of people left out of technological revolutions and thus subject to poverty, famine and disease, while a select few enjoy the technological benefits? One could argue that is currently the case.
Back to the extraterrestrial angle: Would alien contact provide us with new ideas on how to overcome these challenges? Or would reliance on alien technological ideas make us lazy and less able to overcome the challenges on our own? Some of the greatest technological developments in human history have come during crisis. Atomic power is one example. How long would it have taken for humans to harness the power of splitting an atom if there wasn’t the race with Germany to develop atomic technology in World War II? Is the loss of 80 million lives worth buying us 20-30 years in the development of nuclear energy? I think most of us would say no.

We need to be prepared for the idea that interaction with an extraterrestrial civilization won’t just be an interesting lesson in their history and science. It may raise questions about human society that we need to answer on our own. Do we need interaction with space aliens to make us truly face these challenges and come up with solutions? Certainly not. But we humans often enjoy biding our time until we are forced to make difficult decisions. Alien interaction could be used as a catalyst to speed-up that timeline. That might save us a lot of heartache in the future.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Extraterrestrial Contact: Fear After First Contact

I often find myself splitting human response to First Contact into two poles for this blog. In reality, most human responses operate on a spectrum- a nuanced range from one pole to another. Fear is such a thing.

There is, of course, legitimate fear. Such fear has kept animals of all sorts, including humans, alive for millions of years. A little paranoia is not a bad thing. Caution would be important in the wake of First Contact.

Fear also has negative side. It can be irrational and not based on fact. Or more likely, it could be an overly fearful response to something that should provoke caution. This kind of fear can be fueled by misinformation and rumors. Irrational fear can be really dangerous. It can cause people to do all sorts of awful things in reaction.

The spectrum tells us that humans will likely have a wide variety of responses to First Contact, with some responses falling to the poles. Some people won’t be fearful at all. To the contrary, they will welcome any alien interaction with open arms. Those on the opposite side of the spectrum will want to halt all contact and build space-based missile batteries in defense. The more well considered reactions would probably fall to the middle: openness balanced with caution.

It may seem that I am always promoting the moderate response on this blog. It doesn’t have to be a wishy-washy position, if the moderates are taking the best ideas from throughout the response spectrum. Moderation can be people diluting everything to build consensus. I would agree that moderation of that sort is not helpful. It seems to me that what is required is active and bold moderation. This may be an entirely different animal than what we are used to in human decision making.

My big point for this post is that there are people who will attempt to use fear to get what they want in the wake of alien First Contact. These individuals will speak to groups of humans and stoke the fires of fear to provide the leaders of the groups with power After First Contact. They will use rumors and falsehoods to get people agitated and then provide a fear-based solution of their own making. If people look behind the scenes they will see that there is a clear agenda with this type of individual. They hope to gain something from the agenda: power, money or influence. Exposing this agenda in the course of discussion will be critical. People must ask themselves: is this leader working for their own benefit or for the benefit of humanity? It won’t be easy. The debate inspired by First Contact is likely to be a cacophony at first.

Media outlets around the world will have a huge role to play in this situation. They will have to sort through the tumult and find the carefully considered ideas. They will have to expose those who use fear to leverage their own power. The fear mongers could come from politics, religion…almost any of the human institutions. They may be very highly placed individuals in government or business. The media and the public will have an obligation to go beyond the rhetoric and find the true nature of each fear-based argument. Is it designed to increase power for an individual or organization? Is it a well-considered concern that can help all of humanity? I would imagine that, like so many other things in the human realm, those things will often be wrapped up together. A legitimate concern may be turned into a fear-based power grab. The best human lies start with a kernel of truth. Politicians have been playing these games for centuries.

Critical thinking will be essential After First Contact. It isn’t an easy thing to do. We are all lazy at times and would like someone to tell us what we should think. This is fine for some things. None of us have the time to dissect everything around us. But for the big issues, critical thinking is important. It must be utilized by institutional leaders and the media. But more importantly, it must be utilized by the public and the public in every nation on Earth. This may be demanding for countries that don’t allow for freedom of expression. But those governments will have to allow debate internally if they want to truly be part of the global discussion. Sociologists and political scientists will have to design methods of listening to the public in many different nations at once. We may have to refine global opinion polling and take it to a new level.

In the end, we will need to think beyond ourselves. Sure, there is plenty of reasonable fear to be had when considering the impact of Alien First Contact. But if we are thinking about everyone on the planet and considering future generations, our decision-making can move beyond fear and to a place that will help us move forward with equal parts of optimism and caution.

What do you think? Give your opinion in a comment here or visit the Alien First Contact Facebook page.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Extrterrestrial Contact: La Resurrezione

The Pope Francis visit to America is big news and there are plenty of Catholic angles I could discuss on this blog. The Catholic Church has had a welcoming response to the idea of extraterrestrial intelligence for some time now. They are one of the few major religions to take the topic up in public. I have written about that on this blog, and so I pursue another topic here; one of a more esoteric nature.

The Paul VI Papal Audience Room at the Vatican features a remarkable sculpture called La Resurrezione. The translation means simply, as you might expect, the resurrection. The artist description of his work is intriguing. Pericle Fazzini says that his piece represents Christ rising out of the ashes and fire of nuclear war. Indeed, it is a dramatic and ominous sculpture, which during a papal audience makes it look like Christ and the fumes of war are threatening to envelop the Pope.
I viewed a picture of it in the New Yorker and the piece has haunted me all morning. I wonder why the Catholic Church would place such a sculpture in an area of religious significance. The danger of nuclear war is a bold subject to adorn a public room in the Vatican. I would imagine the larger message is that humanity can withstand even nuclear war with faith, and rise up out of the ashes, as Christ is doing. It is for sure a warning about the perils of the nuclear arms race, but perhaps also a gesture of assurance: life will go on.

For me the sculpture recognizes the human attribute of resilience. I believe it is a foundation of our species and civilization. We survived the horrors of World War II, including the Holocaust and nuclear war, and within a couple of decades had moved on. Countries devastated by bombing and invasion sprung back to find prosperity. Millions lost their lives and cities were destroyed and yet humans persevered. The plight of Jewish people is perhaps the most dramatic example of that perseverance. A military power sought to wipe Jewish people from the face of the Earth, and yet despite the incredible loss of life, the Jewish people, and the Jewish spirit, live on today.
This is my larger point: humans can survive and grow under incredible hardship. I am not suggesting that First Contact with an extraterrestrial civilization would have an impact on the human race such as war does. First Contact could, and hopefully would be, completely peaceful. And yet First Contact, especially high information First Contact, where there is a real conversation with extraterrestrials, would be challenging and challenging in ways that we may not expect or fully understand, at first. First Contact could stress our systems of economics, politics, international relations and religion. Even more challenging would be the impact to human science and the process of knowledge building.

We have always known this vacuum of lonely human existence in the universe. To experience the intellectual atmosphere of another civilization, or perhaps even multiple civilizations, would be something revelatory. There would hopefully be many great joys in the process of finding out about another civilization and another way of thinking. The universe could open up to us in ways we have never even imagined. And yet many people will not be able to accept such a revelation. First Contact would create upheaval in the short and long term. I think we could easily withstand the short term challenges: debate, protests, and even civil unrest. It is the long term challenges, the things we have not ever considered yet, that scare me the most about that scenario.

Of course, for now, we can remain comfortable in our human cocoon. There are no worries at our door step. The rising up of Christ, no matter what your religion, can be an inspiration to humans. No matter what hardship and change that we face, we have the ability to adapt and flourish. There is hope for the future.
I may be making much more out of this eight ton sculpture than the artist ever intended. But this is my message if we ever do experience First Contact someday: Tremendous opportunities usually come with incredible challenges. Take heart and know that we can persevere and come out better for it.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Extraterrestrial Contact: Conflict and Harmony

Change would be inevitable in the wake of any alien First Contact situation. The more interaction with aliens, the more change would be created in human society. The more information we receive about the universe, and the alien perspective on the universe, the more we would have to reconsider in our own science, culture and institutions. I am not suggesting that we would need to conform to an alien way of thinking. I am suggesting that new information, as it is digested and then fit into our own perspective, would lead to change in human society.

Change can certainly be beyond our control. Were aliens to flood our society with advanced information about physics, the entire scientific paradigm would undergo seismic shifts, if not paradigm explosions. The problem with massive paradigm change is that we would have a hard time controlling the outcome. I think that there are two basic states that regulate change in human society: conflict and harmony. Conflict is usually perceived as a negative state and harmony a positive state. I would argue that both have negative and positive qualities. Understanding them could be important to mapping a path for humanity in the wake of First Contact.

Conflict can create new ideas, help us respond to challenges, fix problems and set new priorities. It seems to me that those are positive qualities. The conflict of Civil Rights protests in the 1960s in America or the Indian statehood conflict under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi are two examples. On the negative side, conflict can tear down structures, cause pain and death, allow selfishness to rule, use up resources and threaten family and social structures. War is an example of negative conflict. There is, of course, a blurring of lines in regards to conflict. Sometimes positive developments come from negative conflict. The development of the computer, thanks in large part to work in decoding during WW Two, is an example.

Harmony, on the positive end of the spectrum, cultivates cooperation, allows humans to work for the greater good, builds lasting structures and provides for the efficient use of resources. Government, when it is working correctly, is an example of positive harmony. It would be easy to assume that harmony is always good. On the negative side, harmony can curb independent thinking, cause people to resist necessary change, create an environment that makes it tough to respond to challenges, allow problems to fester and cause bigger problems through a failure to respond to threats. This is often called Group Think- a state where a group of people, in an effort to be harmonious and not have conflict, ignore important considerations or don’t bring up controversial ideas, to stay in the good graces of the group.

In the wake of First Contact, conflict and harmony will allow us to navigate dangerous waters while still moving forward. We cannot be afraid of conflict after alien First Contact. The debate about how humans should respond to aliens will be important. It will allow us to assess threats and opportunities and stimulate action. Controlling conflict would be important. The debate could easily grow out of control and turn into violence. Leaders would need to provide a platform for discussion and debate and make sure that platform, and all decisions made in response to alien contact, are completely transparent. There should be very few behind doors meetings. We have the technology now to share any meeting with the entire world via the Internet. The debate would need to be structured around the most important needs of the moment. That would have to be established by some sort of international group, such as the United Nations. There would need to be a well-established pathway outlined to make sure humanity keeps moving forward. We would need to utilize conflict to create new ideas and set new priorities. If we were to let conflict control us, it could have devastating consequences.

Harmony will allow humans to work together to achieve goals in response to alien contact. It requires us to look out for the greater good and push away selfish inclinations. Harmony can help to calm fears and create safety for humans.

So, how do you accomplish positive conflict and harmony in the wake of First Contact? Leaders will need to bring many diverse voices into the debate. This will provide us with a wider range of ideas from which to choose the best path. Small groups, coordinated by international leadership, would need to start the process, most likely made up of people who have expertise in the consideration of alien contact issues. This is a very small group indeed. Hopefully, though, other experts, in other fields, will soon catch up to help in areas such as economics, religion, politics and international relations.

These smaller groups should make use of public opinion. It will be imperative that world polling organizations work overtime to gauge public sentiment, across many nations and cultures, on a regular basis. Human sentiment should not be used as an indicator of what to do next, but rather inform experts as to the issues the wider population is considering. At first it may be fear, but the questions raised by quality polling would show experts how best to move forward to respond to those fears. umahu

Human perspective is likely to change quickly in the wake of First Contact. That perspective will need to be considered and an action plan developed to move forward.

You may notice that I have frequently used the phrase “move forward.” It would be easy for human conflict to lead to inaction and a stagnating battle of wills. This cannot be allowed to happen. Leaders will need to be prepared to take bold action if it does occur. This may seem like contradiction to the idea of public participation and debate. One could liken the problem to a traffic jam caused by a car accident. You have to confront and resolve the car accident to get traffic moving again. The long-term goal is for everyone to travel the highway together, but in the short term, there may be a need to resolve problems which are slowing the process.

Progress in humanity is often a stuttering process, with many starts and stops. We usually take the hard road to any goal. There can be many negative things that occur on the path to something better. We can’t expect the decision-making process in the wake of alien First Contact to be any different. We will have to put in the hard work and work together in order to achieve a positive future for humanity After First Contact.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Extraterrestrial Contact: Economic Turmoil and First Contact

The recent global economic turmoil has been interesting to watch. It shows that there are hidden dangers in global interdependence. In reality the word "hidden" is probably too strong. Much like the U.S. housing bubble and mortgage craziness a few years back, the Chinese economic crisis was hiding in plain sight. There were many top economists and journalists talking about the China bubble for several years now. I even mentioned their concerns on this blog a few years ago. ( I also mention in that post that global economic turmoil could be a reason for altruistic aliens to make contact.)

I missed this Huffington Post article a while back that showed that world economists are considering what might happen in the wake of First Contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. These are not UFO hunters, but rather serious social scientists. It may be one of the first times I have seen the issue of economic impact of First Contact considered in a thoughtful fashion.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in 2013 was the setting. The group called extraterrestrial contact one of the "unheralded dangers that sneak up on us." The type of economic turmoil would, of course, depend on the type of contact. If we discover evidence of life on far-away planets and that life is not capable of communication, that is one situation. Communication with an extraterrestrial civilization is another. The length of time to communicate with such a civilization is also a factor. With our current science communication with far-off planets would take many years. The amount of information shared, and the speed with which it is shared, will have a big impact on the economic reaction on Earth.

The WEF makes a call for social scientists to take up the issue in a serious fashion. Some global institutions are willing to brave controversy to make a stand. The United Nations should take notice.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Extraterrestrial Contact: Gearing Up for First Contact

We have the tools

-A planet-wide communication platform

-The ability to reach all humans with messages quickly

-The technology to interact with each other on a global-basis

-A planet-wide learning platform

We have the expectations

-Humans want to know more about the universe around them

-Humans want to know what is happening on their own planet

-People want that communication to be objective in nature

-People expect to be engaged

-Humans want to listen to each other and then form opinions of their own

We have the mental ability

-Humans can handle rapidly changing situations

-People can digest a great deal of information quickly

-We are resilient

-We can learn new things quickly

-We can update our global perspective when presented with new information

Is all of this enough to enable humans to handle alien First Contact with a positive outcome? That can certainly be debated. What is clear is that we didn’t have many of these tools or attributes even twenty years ago. We are changing in ways that we could never have imagined. First Contact, in this environment of massive change, would be simply new challenges and opportunities for humanity. Perhaps we are ready.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Extraterrestrial Contact: The Impossibility of Human Consensus

I often speak of the importance of wide spread human involvement in the decision making to resolve issues raised by contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. I am not advocating that everyone be directly involved in the process- clearly that is not practical on any level. But I do suggest that humans in countries big and small, and from all over the planet, be represented in the process. The easiest way to accomplish this would be to use the already existing system of representation in the United Nations.  

It’s a hard topic to discuss without an example. Let’s consider the possibility of an extraterrestrial civilization reaching out to humans to make First Contact. In a signal based communication scenario, the most obvious questions would be: what do we do next? Do we send a message back? What should that message say? The message the aliens send us would, of course, be the primary factor driving our decision making process. For this example let’s have the aliens simply say hello and ask- would you like to trade information with us? Do we say hello back and beam out the contents of Wikipedia, as has been suggested by some researchers, and let them sort out who we are? Or do we send a simpler, targeted message?
The debate already rages in some circles. Recently the issue was brought up at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in California. Even before a session on active SETI (sending a signal to outer space) was held, some scientists spoke out against such actions. Those feelings of caution and concern are held by some well-known researchers, including legendary astrophysicist Stephen Hawking.

Scientists, governmental leaders, diplomats and academics will likely be leaders in determining actions to take in the wake of a First Contact event. Hopefully, they will look to opinion polls to see how humans in various locations across the globe feel about such responses. There will be fringe elements vigorously espousing their views in public and in the media. Those views will need to be considered, as well.
It has been suggested that a group of scientists and other leaders might make such decisions on their own. I think that would be unwise. Such important considerations deserve the global reach of a group such as the United Nations.

The decisions made are unlikely to make everyone happy. The final decisions could even go against popular sentiment on the issue. Governmental leaders and others would probably argue that decision making on a global scale cannot be decided by opinion polls. In the end, hard decisions will need to be made. Humans will need to accept this result and do so without violent or disruptive protest. We will have to have faith in our institutions. This may be tough to swallow for some humans. It could be especially tough for humans living in countries without democratic-style representation. Would leaders of a totalitarian regime consider opinion polls of their countrymen when deciding how their UN representative should vote on a First Contact issue? It seems unlikely.
The entire process would be a considerable challenge, because we have nothing to compare it to. Usually the United Nations operates relatively quietly and out of the scrutiny of the popular media. Most of the publicly noticed action seems to come in the Security Council. And First Contact issues may start out there. However, it would be important for the larger issues to reach the General Assembly for a vote, to ensure greater international participation in the decisions.

There will be many differing opinions about First Contact, along a spectrum that would include those opposed to a relationship with extraterrestrials, to those actively encouraging such a relationship. Not everyone will be happy with whatever is decided in terms of response. But the debate would be important to the future of humanity. As long as many differing viewpoints are considered, and most humans have some sort of representation in the process, the results should help us move forward in a safe and positive and way.
What do you think? Give your opinion in a comment here or visit the Alien First Contact Facebook page.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Extraterrestrial Contact: Cheer and Fear

In my last entry I spoke of the importance of the sensible majority- those humans who will have a moderate reaction to First Contact and carefully consider the decisions necessary for humans to make in the wake of First Contact. I also mentioned the Cheer and Fear groups: the poles likely to be found on either end of the human reaction spectrum. The Cheer group would be people enthusiastically positive about First Contact, and thus more likely to want open relations with extraterrestrials. The Fear group would be the polar opposite: they will advocate for little, if any, contact with extraterrestrials.
I think the sensible majority will ultimately have to speak up and be heard. But there is also an important role for the fringe groups: they will spark conversation and highlight important concerns in alien contact. The fringe groups should not be ignored. They will make many valid points. Eventually, once the debate has progressed, it will be up to the sensible majority to sort out the issues raised by both poles and come to some sort of moderated response plan.

The Fear group may be the more interesting of the two. They will include people who are resistant to change, who follow strict religious and culture rules, who worry about personal freedoms and cultural freedoms, and those who are generally wary of new things. This may include people who are paranoid or militaristic in nature. It may also include human leaders who are worried about losing their power in the wake of First Contact. As with any fringe movement, there will be a lot of hyperbole mixed in with sound arguments. The sensible majority will have to sort out the results.
A little paranoia can go a long way in self-protection. Fear is an important part of human survival. It keeps us from rushing into potentially dangerous situations. It can also render us unable to move in new directions. Fear would be a reasonable reaction in a First Contact situation. It will be impossible for us to verify what aliens tell humans about their history of interaction with planet Earth and their intentions in contacting humans. They may tell us one thing and do another. It is likely that aliens would think quite differently from humans. Concepts such as honesty and truth may not be a part of their alien psychology. However, if extraterrestrials, even ones very different from us, have done their homework, they will understand that concepts such as honesty and truth mean a lot to humans, even if we don’t always practice them ourselves.

If aliens are interested in having a safe and productive relationship with humans they will have done extensive homework. It would be easy enough to plug into the human Internet and do all sorts of research about how we behave in various situations. From this research, aliens could develop a game plan for contacting humans and maintaining a relationship with them. In that respect, any alien civilization that has been planning the best way to talk to us will have a huge advantage. They can know quite a bit about us and we will know nothing about them, until they tell us.
The process of listening to the fringe groups in an extraterrestrial contact situation will not be easy. The debate is likely to be lively at best and vociferous in some circumstances. It may appear at first as chaos and hype on all sides. The sensible majority will need to listen and not rush to judgment. Governmental and institutional leaders would also be quite important in this process. Academics, civic leaders and scientists will need to help the public make sense of the arguments and sort out what is a legitimate concern and what is not.

Perhaps the most important group in this process will be the media. First Contact with an extraterrestrial civilization will have to be the finest hour for the world media if humanity is going to move forward and prosper from alien contact. The only analogy I can find is the media response to the 9-11-2001 attacks in the United States. The media spent several days in a state of heightened awareness- rooting out rumors before reporting on them, and generally engaging in sober and thoughtful reporting. The world media would need to follow suit in a First Contract situation and such sober and careful reporting would need to continue for many months. The 9-11 history is also instructive for how things could go wrong with media coverage. In the ramp-up to war, as a result of 9-11, the American media suspended much of its critical reporting and became cheerleaders for war, with disastrous results.
We will actually need to listen to each other and consider opposite view points in the wake of First Contact. When it’s apparent that people are reacting out of political or other gain, we will need to take that into account. We will need to be on the lookout for opportunists hoping to use First Contact to build their own power base by using fear or intimidation.

First Contact will be a tough time for humanity. There will be much to do and a whole number of possible decisions. We will all have to be at our best.  I think we’re up to the challenge.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Extraterrestrial Contact: What First Contact Could Mean for You

Most people would expect a flurry of government, science and media activity if alien contact does occur someday. But what would First Contact mean for you, the individual human, without any ties to those institutions? Your primary role would be spectator. Alien contact would likely have people across the globe glued to their TVs. That may be the only involvement for the vast majority of humans. But there is another role that could be critical: a vocal member of the sensible majority.

What is the sensible majority? It’s the group that tends to take a more measured response to controversial issues. You can call it moderate or middle-of-the-road. It describes a set of humans at the center of a reactionary scale. At either pole are the fringe groups. For alien First Contact one would imagine that these fringe groups will be comprised of those who are very enthusiastic about extensive contact with members of alien civilizations and those who are against any contact. You could call it the cheer and fear dichotomy. The sensible majority would have feelings of excitement about First Contact, mixed with concerns about First Contact. The result might be cautious optimism. How can we make such assumptions of human reaction based on an event that has no equal in human history? I think such a continuum of reaction is a part of human nature. Some of us react quite strongly to issues and divide into opposite poles and others tend to weigh both sides and find value in both. The degree to which this occurs would of course be dependent on how First Contact occurs. If it’s a scary and mysterious First Contact you could expect human reaction to be weighted towards the fear pole. If it’s a transparent and positive event, one would expect reaction to be weighted towards the cheer pole.

What does this matter? Human reaction would be the most critical part of First Contact. Fear would provoke a set of actions by governments and institutions. Cheer would produce a different set of actions. This is important, because those governments and institutions will need to make decisions in the wake of First Contact that could impact humanity for many generations to come.

Once again, it seems important that the sensible majority be heard in such a situation. But there is a problem: the sensible majority tends to be quiet. Moderates are not usually found marching in the streets. That behavior is reserved for people at either end of the spectrum. The problem is that media coverage focuses on the actions of the polar groups. It’s tough for the media to put human reaction to issues in a moderate context, because the moderates are quiet and don’t create “newsworthy” events. The only hope moderates have is to be heard through opinion polls, which can show the moderate viewpoints much better than media stories.

First Contact would likely fall into a similar scenario. Fringe groups on either end of the spectrum would be quite vocal, and perhaps violently so. The media will rush to cover the excitement and the result will be a lack of context. This could be quite dangerous. If governmental policy is shaped by fringe groups, poor decisions could be made. First Contact would require careful and thoughtful decision making. Unfortunately, those decisions will also need to be made quickly. It will be a real challenge.

So, what can the sensible majority do in the wake of First Contact? The answer is simple: stand up and be heard. Don’t allow the fringe groups to garner all the attention. Humans across the planet will need to make sure their voices are heard. Governmental leaders will be watching human reaction closely, looking for cues. The sensible majority will need to get out on the streets and show their numbers. This won’t be easy. The fringe elements will have religious, political and social groups to guide their actions. The sensible majority has no such organizations. It will be up to individual humans to make their voices heard through social media and public activities.

Am I advocating a chaos of protests and counter-protests? Certainly not. I am suggesting peaceful demonstrations of views and attitudes for those who represent moderates in the First Contact conversation.

You may be wondering if any of this will be necessary. You may think that human reaction will muted and well-considered. I wish this would be the case. It may be in the first days and weeks after First Contact. But if humans react as they have for thousands of years of human history, it seems likely that the fringe groups will eventually form and the debate will rage. Be prepared to stand up for what you believe or expect to be drowned out.

Join in on the conversation on the Alien First Contact Facebook page.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Extraterrestrial Contact: Human Space Wars and Visiting Extraterrestrials

An extraterrestrial pilot, hoping to land a spacecraft on the planet Earth, would have to be quite stealthy. The various orbit zones around Earth are watched very closely by a number of nations and agencies. The reasons for that monitoring are varied. Some groups keep track of asteroids and other natural objects that have the potential of getting close to the Earth. Others plot man-made space debris, down to minute sizes, left in orbit around the Earth. And still others are keeping an eye on satellites and satellite movement. Those concerns are primarily military in nature. Satellites do important work for humans these days: GPS, communications, weather monitoring, spy surveillance and missile monitoring.  The importance of space to the U.S. military was highlighted in a recent 60 Minutes report. It showed the degree to which military powers in several nations, including the U.S., China and Russia, are involved in a military space race of sorts. While active weapons are still banned from space, as part of a 1967 UN treaty, the 60 Minutes piece showed the extent to which the U.S. military is working to protect U.S. satellites and plan for a retaliatory strike against opposing satellites and platforms in space.

It’s safe to assume that if extraterrestrials decide to visit Earth some day, that they will have quite advanced technology. The very fact that they could send a craft to Earth would make them more technologically advanced than us. It would also be easy to assume that their technology would allow extraterrestrials to sneak through our Earth orbit monitoring systems. But it would be quite the feat. The signature of a spacecraft engine would be something noticeable to amateur astronomers, NASA and other groups, well before it ever reached Earth orbit. In far Earth orbit, a visiting spacecraft would have many agencies, in several different nations, watching its progress closely.

One of those agencies would be U.S. Air Force SpaceCommand.  They recently came out in a public statement declaring a new mission to use satellites in geosynchronous orbit to monitor other satellites. They call the mission the Space Surveillance Network. It’s a bold statement, most likely designed to send a message to China and Russia. The 60 Minutes story pointed out that China recently sent a missile into space to destroy one of its own satellites in a test. This is something Americans have done, as well.

How much of a threat this monitoring would be to alien visitors would depend on the technological prowess of the extraterrestrials. While it is true that any extraterrestrial civilization capable of traveling to our solar system would have a technological advantage over us, it is pure speculation to say that alien technology would have the ability to overcome human space monitoring and missile deployment. Human technology would be most likely be very different than alien technology. If the aliens had just arrived in our solar system, that could be problematic. It could take years of study for visiting extraterrestrials to understand the complexity of human systems. After all, human systems were designed from the human perspective, using human senses. It’s quite possible that alien perspective, and senses, would be much different than ours.

Aliens without stealth technology would be advised to phone ahead, so to speak. They would want to communicate their intentions in a way that humans could easily pick-up and decipher. This would at least assure that all space-monitoring agencies were aware of a visit and would be less likely to have a hostile reaction. The biggest risk in a surprise visit could be confusion. If the United States was to perceive that an alien craft was a threat to U.S. satellites, and that the spacecraft in question was deployed by China, there could be retribution. Conflict in space could lead to conflict on the ground.

It all comes down to human vulnerabilities. We have much of our technology based on satellite assistance. We feel quite vulnerable in space. It is an area in which visiting extraterrestrials would have to use great caution. Humans are a jumpy lot and despite smiling faces here on Earth among our politicians, in space, decades old hostilities remain quite fresh.

What do you think? Give your opinion in a comment here or visit the Alien First Contact Facebook page

Monday, April 6, 2015

Extraterrestrial Contact: The Problem with Abduction Reports

Claims of alien abduction are the foundation of a robust subculture in human society. Whether those claims are true or not, the issue of possible alien interference in human lives is something that would need to be addressed in the wake of Direct First Contact. By Direct First Contact I mean an alien civilization that has traveled to our solar system and communicated with us. Such a situation would raise an obvious set of questions: have these visitors or other visitors come to Earth in the past? Did they conduct biological experiments on Earth? Did those experiments involve humans? Exactly when and where did such contact occur?

Security would be a major concern in the wake of a Direct First Contact event. Due to the very nature of the situation- space-faring aliens in our solar system – there is a possible threat to humanity. We would need to be very protective of our celestial neighborhood and certainly Earth itself. We would have many questions. Hopefully, visiting aliens would come in peace, but it would be wise for us to be cautious and security minded at every step. And I don’t think a military attack of some sort is the only danger. Interference in human politics and governance could be quite harmful. Perhaps the most likely concern should be un-intended consequences of contact with aliens: disruption to the world economic markets, political disturbances and other purely human problems.

We would need to set up guidelines for contact immediately. I have outlined these basic Human Rights that could apply to any alien contact situation:

1. Humans have the right to self-determination.

2. Humans have a right to not be manipulated by other civilizations.

3. Humans have a right not to have the pillars of human society manipulated by other civilizations, including economy, technology, and civic arrangements.

4. The planet Earth is the sacred home of human beings.

5. Life on Earth should not be interfered with or manipulated by outside beings.

6. Humans have a right to determine how First Contact proceeds.

7. Humans can determine how much information and what type of information they decide to receive about the outside universe.

8. The resources of the planet Earth are the property of citizens of Earth.

9. The solar system of Earth is the property and home of citizens of Earth.

10. Earthlings can decide which beings can enter the solar system and under what conditions.

11. Earthlings can decide which beings can enter Earth atmosphere and under what conditions.

12. Humans will enter into the larger known universe as productive and responsible citizens.

13. Humans will decide exactly how that entry into the larger known universe proceeds.

14. Humans will expect honesty from all parties interacting with the citizens of planet Earth.

15. Humans will demand honesty and forthright disclosure of any past interactions between alien civilizations and people of the planet Earth.

I believe that the final point would require a series of interviews or hearings of some sort. A visiting alien civilization would likely be much older than ours, and thus may have had contact with humans in the past. It would be important that visitors lay out a clear history of their actions in our solar system.

We also must consider the possibility that multiple alien civilizations have visited our solar system in the past.  This would make things more complicated. Perhaps visiting aliens would say- “we’ve never done anything bad to humans, but there is another civilization out there that you should know about.” Or perhaps there was a change in alien policy in terms of interaction with humans? Consider how often policy changes occur for governments here on Earth. Is it a stretch to think such problems might occur in an alien civilization?

I personally don’t believe that aliens have visited Earth in our lifetime or that they have abducted humans. But I have no evidence one way or another. There would be plenty of questions to ask in the wake of any First Contact situation.

Some of you may have issues with this post. Please, feel free to post comments on the blog. I appreciate you reading.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Extraterrestrial Contact: The Elite, The Disenfranchised and First Contact

A small number of scientists are leading the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. From that research-based scientific inquiry, a few have also been considering the challenges that would come from alien First Contact. These questions include the process that should be used to inform the public of such a discovery, and how a response to alien contact would be developed. These scientists have been primarily astrophysicists and astronomers. In recent years, though, through the efforts of groups such as the SETI Institute and the NASA AmesResearch Center, biologists, anthropologists, sociologists and religious experts joined the conversation. Most of the effort is still focused on the scientific inquiry. That makes sense. Without the discovery itself, the rest of the issues are moot. But there is a growing realization that we are not prepared for what might happen after First Contact. Do we reply? What do we say? Who makes these decisions?

The International Academy of Astronomics (IAA) and the International Astronomical Union (IAU) have suggested that scientists would be heavily involved in such decisions. Certainly, in a case of Indirect First Contact- the reception or interception of an extraterrestrial signal or message- scientists would lead they way. They would be the ones who made the discovery and it makes sense that they would be the ones that the world would turn to for advice on what to do next. The good thing about indirect First Contact is that it would likely give us time to ponder such decisions. There could be a healthy debate and, hopefully, then a consensus about how to proceed. These very scientists have attempted to get the United Nations to consider the issue. There would be a great need for international leadership in the wake of First Contact and a coalition of scientists and international leaders would be a good start for developing responses to First Contact. Unfortunately, the United Nations has yet to take substantive action. 

Just last month scientists at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting discussed the issue of sending intentional human messaging into space in hopes of making contact. The arguments ranged from those favoring the approach to those warning of dire results if we make contact.

But what about Direct First Contact- contact that happens within our solar system and leads to the possibility of direct communication? Suddenly, the issue of time becomes a primary concern. Rather than waiting for our signal to reach an extraterrestrial civilization light years away, the communication time frame is much more immediate. That means that decisions would have to be immediate. Direct First Contact also poses a greater risk for humanity. It’s not just the dangers of attack or interference, but also the impact on humanity from what we learn from an extraterrestrial civilization. If communication is near immediate and the aliens willing to share, there could be dramatic revelations for humanity in the areas of science and technology. How do we handle such opportunities and threats?

Initially, in the wake of Direct First Contact, a coalition of scientists and international leaders, perhaps under the umbrella of the United Nations would also make sense. But that umbrella would need to expand quickly. Astrophysicists and astronomers would need to be joined by, not only the above-mentioned biologists, anthropologists, sociologists and religious experts, but also by political scientists, and economists. The potential disruption to human civilization would be a primary concern in the wake of Direct First Contact. The amount of information shared would ramp up those concerns.

But there is another fact that we would have to face in such a situation. Scientists, academics and international leaders are part of an elite segment of our society. I know the word elite, especially concerning academics, has been used as a political club for ideological bludgeoning recently in America, but nonetheless, there is a valid point to be made. Can those in the top income brackets and the higher leadership circles in human civilization, necessarily speak out for the rights of the larger, poorer, majority of humans?

I think that bodies formed in the wake of First Contact should include people who represent third world nations and humans who live in poverty. Governments of those nations could be involved through representation in the United Nations. They would need to have a role. As I have pointed out previously, it would be easy for humans to let the most powerful nations run the show. That would be a mistake. First Contact response should be developed with a wide range of ideas and opinions. That cannot be gained from just a few powerful nations. I would suggest that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that represent those in poverty, from third world nations, would be a good place to start. Someone will need to advocate for the needs of the less powerful humans on planet Earth. First Contact cannot be the province of elites. The voices of middle and lower class people, and especially those living in poverty, need to be considered.

Would such an approach make things more complicated in the wake of First Contact? Absolutely. Adding more debate to already divisive alien contact issues would not be easy. It would make it tougher to develop a response. If not carefully managed it could lead to chaos. It is a problem worth managing. All segments of human society have a right to be heard when it comes to First Contact response.

This is the process that must be developed. We should be thinking about it now, both in the context of Indirect, signal-based Contact and immediate communication based Direct First Contact. Alien contact may not occur for many years or decades. It may never occur at all. But the implications for humanity are huge. We must be ready to act with at least a very basic plan of response. A little thought now into the development of that plan, and methods to help all humans be involved, would help tremendously. 

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