Monday, March 10, 2014

Extraterrestrial Contact: Now

--> Okay, extraterrestrials, let’s go for it. Here’s my argument for First Contact with humans occurring now and not later.

One: We could use the help. I’m not talking about humans acquiring alien technology or great knowledge. Those things could easily undermine our society. As I have argued in the past, the best work is difficult. Difficult scientific advancement yields all sorts of benefits. By help, in regard to First Contact, I’m simply talking about a change in perspective. Some of us are pretty damn comfortable down here. We’re fine with tootling around in our inefficient and environmentally damaging cars. We don’t mind piling up dangerous waste or contaminating the oceans. We’re okay with having one-eighth of humans living chronically under-nourished. And the people who are the most comfortable are the ones who are making the decisions.

I’m not suggesting that we would want to change our civilization to meet alien expectations. We could simply use the reminder that it’s a big universe out there and we need to take care of home. That means caring for our planet and for other humans. We need to view our civilization from the outside and then decide how we want to proceed. It may sound strange, but I think knowing that an extraterrestrial intelligence is out there would help us better understand ourselves.

Two: We can handle it. There are many scientific studies that show how humans might react to First Contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. For the most part, people seem to be up to the challenge. Surveys show that people would view such an event with wonder and not much fear. Clearly, that depends on the event being peaceful and well-planned. Our religions have already begun a process of assimilating ideas of extraterrestrial intelligence into their framework.

Three: Our institutions can handle it. Governments work together in ways not imaginable even thirty years ago. Sure, there is still plenty of conflict in the world. But we have linkages now that could help us handle an alien First Contact event. The United Nations is probably the one that comes to mind first. However, scientific associations, world economic groups and even religions are robust and international in our modern world. Individual governments are relatively stable. There are certainly disturbing trouble spots across the world. But the largest nations are working together economically, diplomatically and culturally.

Four: We have the scientific foundation. This is a real leap on my part. Not knowing anything about extraterrestrial intelligence (and that includes whether it even exists) makes it tough to assert that humans could handle interaction with aliens from a scientific standpoint. Still, we have come a long way in recent decades. Theoretical physics and astrophysics have made great achievements in recent years. Our understanding of the biological world grows daily. Most importantly, we have begun to consider extraterrestrial life in a scientific way through astrobiology. Even social scientists have jumped into the fray with studies of human response to extraterrestrial contact.

Five: We have the technology. Communication technology connects the great majority of humanity. A dramatic First Contact event (as I have proposed here) would be able to reach most of humanity in a matter of minutes. The only thing holding back such news would be human editorial gatekeepers. The technology itself is simply the flick of a switch and the push of a button. This would allow all of humanity to be involved in First Contact. It would also allow aliens the ability to frame their own message, without a reliance on individual governments of institutions.

Speculation is grand and I could go on for some time. I’m not suggesting that aliens are out there waiting to say hello. There is certainly no evidence of such. But if aliens do decide to make contact, I think we’re as ready as we will ever be. There would be plenty of problems and challenges along the way. Human fringe groups could cause significant short-term issues. But in the long-term, I think that peaceful and well-considered extraterrestrial contact would be beneficial to humans and to the future of our civilization.

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Adrien said...

That don't seem an appropriate time right now, with tensions with Russia , conflict in Syria, Ukraine. It is not the time to be distracted

Eric Melcher said...

Adrien: I agree with you that during certain times in human history First Contact would not be a good idea. But despite these current situations I think the world is relatively stable.

Anonymous said...

This seems to be a very insightful post. The change in perspective is a tremendous value. But, there is an unfortunate and detrimental psychological toll that could arise for some and perhaps even most humans. Loss of motivation / frustration / anger / sense of unfairness.

Imagine if there were someone who had it within their power to prevent all illness (indeed even death on any humanly imaginable time scale) and all suffering. The specifically knew of you and had the ability to do this for you with trivial or no substantial burden to themselves.

After you learn of them, they at some point in some instance, do not help you. How can you psychologically deal with this? This is not a trivial psychological burden. In the grand scheme of things, the instances of no assistance are actually enormously beneficial, but it is hard for humans to appreciate it.

Contact would, therefore, proceed on an individualized basis. Ability to handle such knowledge, including discretion, would be essential prerequisites. Contact quickly becomes the exception, rather than the rule.

Eric Melcher said...

Anon: While I agree with many of your points on perspective change, I can't agree with your final proposal. The problem with individual contact would be paranoia and distrust. If public finds out that aliens have been in contact with some humans and not others, there would be a tremendous trust issue. And I think such feelings would be valid. The only reason aliens would have to contact individuals would be to promote some alien agenda. It could be a very nice agenda, but it would still leave the great majority of humans feeling left out and in a sense violated. This needs to be done at once and for all of humanity for it to progress well.

Anonymous said...

The point of selective individual contact is exactly so the public will not find out (plus, it is quite a simple technological endeavor to ensure that the public does not find out). Contacting certain individuals versus the entire population might be consistent with the alien ethical/moral principles. I wouldn't describe this using the phrase "alien agenda" as it is altruistic.

The non-contacted humans would not feel left out because they would not suspect or expect any sort of contact.

Think of this mind experiment. If every civilization in the universe set out to announce itself to low life forms (e.g., humans) throughout the universe, the universe quickly becomes very homogenous. It would be complete anti-diversity.

If you suggest contact, what would the limits be? Of course, you could not let anyone die of a simply curable disease, right? Then, you could not let anyone suffer any painful condition whatsoever, right? All pain and suffering would be eliminated. This is not a desirable state to be in. Everything short of the best imaginable will soon become considered intolerable. Eventually, there will be a loss in the perception of time and a corresponding loss of consciousness.

The grass is always greener on the other side of first contact!!!

Eric Melcher said...

I suppose aliens might only want to contact certain individuals, but I am not sure I can come up with any reasons they would want to do so for altruistic reasons.

I understand your point about the problems that would be created if all of humanity knew about First Contact. However, I don't think any of that is changed by contacting only certain people. In the meantime, unless there was some agenda that could be kept hidden for years, people would be extremely distrustful of alien intentions if word of the "special few" ever leaked out.

Humans value honesty and openness. If aliens wish to have a relationship with humans they would be best off using honesty and openness as part of their First Contact strategy.

Anonymous said...

I think honesty and openness are amazingly valuable traits.

But, oddly enough, honesty and openness are not completely necessary. It is somewhat counter-intuitive, but sufficient trust could be built where there is an understanding that someone might not be told complete truth (with both misinformation and withholding of information) AND yet it is still ok. It is an understanding that for the sake of a greater purpose, one is told what one needs to hear rather than complete truth and openness. It sucks, but it could be tolerable as a matter of faith. In the end, each individual can only rightfully be expected to act upon the knowledge/understanding they possess.

Eric Melcher said...

I agree anon and I think that if we encounter extraterrestrials in our neck of the woods, that would be a necessary part of the relationship. For them to be here, they would have to have advanced technology. It might be best for them to not tell us everything that they know. But as long as they were open about is a form of honesty. Some humans would have a problem with that...but I think we could get over it.