You should probably bring your own pen
April 9, 2010 7:26 AM   Subscribe

 
Unless you are going to Mars (and don't think contact has already been made via probing) your odds are low at being the 1st.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:31 AM on April 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


This won't fit on a poster nearly as well as the time-travel one. That said: Lovely.
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posted by leotrotsky at 7:37 AM on April 9, 2010


Draw a birds-eye view of a cowboy riding his bicycle through dog shit. This will probably get you killed, but at least you'll have died for a satisfying visual pun.
posted by doublehappy at 7:41 AM on April 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


and don't think contact has already been made via probing

Just repeating the phrase. As I will be throughout the day.
posted by WolfDaddy at 7:45 AM on April 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hit them in the face with a pie. First, they're never going to see it coming unless they've watched old time t.v. If they have, then they will know it's a joke and laugh. Unless they're evil aliens and can't laugh at themselves.
In which case they will brutally torture and hunt mankind to extinction. Which they probably would have done anyway, the upside here though is you can keep getting them to deny that it was because you hit them in the face with a pie.
"You guys really have no sense of humor"
"No! We do. We had made plans to eradicate your species eons ago billions of light years away."
"Yeah sure you did. You're so self-conscious you can't take one little joke."
"Shut up! We're space conquerors! We really are!"
Our doom may be inevitable, but at least it won't at all be satisfying for them. Indeed, the worse it gets the more petty they look. All the other evil alien species would probably make fun of them as well.
'Course, we'll be dead. But at least we got that one shot in.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:45 AM on April 9, 2010 [34 favorites]


What I'd Say To The Martians by Jack Handey
posted by jcruelty at 7:54 AM on April 9, 2010 [9 favorites]


Aliens made contact with us and infiltrated our communications tools years ago, or perhaps you think Martin Short is human.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:01 AM on April 9, 2010


Aliens made contact with us and infiltrated our communications tools government years ago, or perhaps you think Martin Short Barack Obama is human.

FTFY.

Somewhere, a Tea Party Birther wearing a tinfoil hat and a protective butt plug* is reading this and yelling, "I KNEW IT!!!!"

* ....against unwanted alien anal probing....

posted by zarq at 8:08 AM on April 9, 2010


Lets say you're... human

Great. Remind me of one of my worse nightmares, why don't you, meatsack?
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:13 AM on April 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


Drawing a right triangle and labeling the sides in the proper ratios is all very well, but they'll just be amazed that you evolved this decorative behavior to attract a mate that just happens to correspond to a fundamental geometric formula and isn't nature impressive sometimes.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:16 AM on April 9, 2010 [24 favorites]


I KNEW IT!

If it turns out there are Alien(s) who've been in contact with humans/human government - will you be shocked over such a revelation?

The government seeming alien would be do to The Sociopath Next Door being in charge. No lizards needed.
posted by rough ashlar at 8:16 AM on April 9, 2010


Orbits aren't ellipses. They're almost always circular. You should draw a circle.
posted by es_de_bah at 8:20 AM on April 9, 2010 [5 favorites]


Look, if human zealots are going to kill me anyways, I might as well go out with a bang and sleep with the alien princess, punch the space pope in the face, and whiz on the Z-Dimension Drive.

I'll then yell COWABUNGA! EARTH RULES, CENTAURI DROOLS as they zap my flesh into its component atoms.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:24 AM on April 9, 2010 [6 favorites]


I needed something like this last week!

>:(
posted by mazola at 8:26 AM on April 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


There was a great Phil Foglio comic—I must have seen it Dragon magazine a million years ago—which was captioned "Gamers have higher tolerance for the unusual", or something.

It was a single-panel of a panicked mob fleeing from your typical alien landing craft, but the RPG enthusiast walked straight up to the ramp and asked the tentacled pilot, "So, how was your flight?"
posted by steef at 8:26 AM on April 9, 2010 [6 favorites]


Orbits aren't ellipses. They're almost always circular. You should draw a circle.

As I understand it, it depends on the origin of the orbit. The planets' orbits are circular because they, and the Sun, all were created from the same rough mass of matter, and the circular orbits are the result of angular momentum.

On the other hand, captured objects such as comets are likely to have elliptical orbits. For that matter, the orbits of stars around the center of a galaxy are somewhat elliptical due to other gravitational forces. A perfectly circular orbit's really stable, but the gravitational force of outside bodies makes it hard for circular orbits to always exist.

In the case of the Solar System, circular orbits are fine.
posted by explosion at 8:27 AM on April 9, 2010


Hit them in the face with a pie. ... evil aliens ... We had made plans to eradicate your species

Try making the pie with extra butter and less nutmeg. If they are lizard-like ginger may be a good thing to put in that pie.
posted by rough ashlar at 8:28 AM on April 9, 2010


If contact will be made in my lifetime I'm pretty sure that the aliens will be much better prepared than I'll ever be, though this post helps out a little.
posted by Kattullus at 8:31 AM on April 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Given the pollutants we're pumping into the environment, myriad wars, incredible obvious disparity in living conditions across our species, I'm thinking they'd be here to study suicide, like lemming documentarians.* There's probably nothing we can do to impress them at that point with our "intelligence".

* Yes, I'm aware that lemmings are not suicidal.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:33 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I like the cut of Smedleyman's jib, but I'd suggest a variation on that general theme.

The instant you suspect they're Evil Aliens, immediately turn turncoat. Sell us all out, fast and hard. Maybe you'll need to frag any human companions you're with or evaporate one or two major cities to convince them you're on board.

But then, reveal to the aliens that the single best, cheapest, most humiliating way for them to destroy us would be for them to give each and every one of us our own personal Robo-Christina-Hendricks* to take care of our various needs, and leave us alone to our inevitable demise secure in the knowledge that there will be no further generation**.

*Or Robo-George-Clooney or Robo-Carrot-Top or robo-whoever. From the aliens, to each according to what will ensure their eventual death by nookie.

**DON'T DATE ROBOTS!

posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:36 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll never give hope that it will go down exactly like this.
posted by contessa at 8:37 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Uhh, orbits of planets are elliptical, they just have a very low eccentricity.
posted by King Bee at 8:42 AM on April 9, 2010 [7 favorites]


Pretty awesome piece.
posted by Windopaene at 8:44 AM on April 9, 2010


Also, since the OP's title mentions it, obligatory link for the song "Rosetta Stoned".
posted by King Bee at 8:44 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


explosion: "In the case of the Solar System, circular orbits are fine."

...if you want the aliens to exterminate us! In which case, go with the pie-throwing. I support the pie-throwing idea.

Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion.
posted by Drastic at 8:51 AM on April 9, 2010


i question some of these assumptions about what an alien will know.

why would we assume any of the foundations of our math, based as they are in visual space, are necessary for space travel? there may be an entirely different method of interaction with phenomena that their biology has caused to evolve along with their unknowable bodies. i mean i guess if they're that different youre probably space-food so why think about it but still...there's a lot of ways that matter can be perceived, and some of those may entail entire systems of natural philosophy that could barely even be conceived by our brains. i'm going to go with singing to them, it's as plausible as anything else. When this happens. Next week.

also what if the universe was like a molecule in a giant donut whoa.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:14 AM on April 9, 2010 [7 favorites]


1
11
21
1211
11221
212211
12112221

It combines language with numbers. And if they're stupid aliens (the kind we don't care for), they won't get it.
posted by mccarty.tim at 9:14 AM on April 9, 2010


I think we should instead use the Law and Order theme, as all lifeforms respond to it.
posted by mccarty.tim at 9:16 AM on April 9, 2010


Cute, but the premise seems fundamentally flawed...I'm having a hard time imagining how these super advanced space-faring aliens have no idea that humans existed or anything about them until they somehow stumble directly into one of them.
posted by the bricabrac man at 9:20 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I like the sign-off: Good luck and don't fuck this up for us. I might start finishing all of my conversations this way.
posted by metaBugs at 9:33 AM on April 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


The aliens will develop impossibly high standards of human beauty if they meet me first. Cuz I'm sexy.
posted by Mister_A at 9:33 AM on April 9, 2010


Why do we assume aliens will know the pythagorean theorem? They might be into non-euclidean geometry for one. Also, if their technology is so advanced, you think they are going to teach their alien babies how to add? Adding and squares and knowing a^2 + b^2 =c^2 will be useless. I eat bread, but I don't know how to grow wheat anymore.
posted by treeshar at 9:42 AM on April 9, 2010


Man, I can't get over how much I like this. I mean, I enjoyed the time-travel one, but this one... it's transcendent! Reading it and thinking about it is, like, good for the soul!
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:46 AM on April 9, 2010


I'll never give up hope that it will go down exactly like this. (Best mirror universe opening, ever.)
posted by steef at 9:47 AM on April 9, 2010


"Higher beings from outer space may not want to tell us the secrets of life, because we're not ready. But maybe they'll change their tune after a little torture." - Jack Handey
posted by HyperBlue at 9:52 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I prepare for first contact by watching Flash Gordon every year.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:55 AM on April 9, 2010


If it turns out there are Alien(s) who've been in contact with humans/human government - will you be shocked over such a revelation?

The Truth Is Out There.



Seriously though, I suppose it would depend on the type of alien. They can keep this one. And these guys. And Them. But if they look like this or this, the Feds need to share, pronto.
posted by zarq at 9:57 AM on April 9, 2010


I prepare for first contact by watching Flash Gordon every year.

Savior of the Universe!
posted by zarq at 10:00 AM on April 9, 2010


If they're smart enough to figure out how to get here from bumfuck nowhere, they'll probably have figured out a way to talk to us. We're the primitives, they're the "masters of space and time", they can either cough up a universal translator or pedal their dumb asses back to the zeta quadrant.
posted by doctor_negative at 10:02 AM on April 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


Somehow, I think when they notice the thousands of satellites orbiting our planet, the aliens will figure out how advanced we are. Drawing right triangles will be quaint, but unnecessary.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:15 AM on April 9, 2010 [5 favorites]


I, for one, welcome our new, sexy, lithe, green overlords ladies.
posted by Mister_A at 10:16 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


What do you mean if I am the first to make contact? Happened coincidentally with the start of the current cycle of ANTM, then they discovered cable on-demand and I can't get the damn things off of my couch or out of the living room.

They've eaten all my Andy Capp's Hot Fries, and they keep sending me out for more beer, more single malt, and more pipe cleaners.
posted by beelzbubba at 10:18 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Come on now, have you SEEN the iPad? Look what Jeff Goldblum could do with a Mac Powerbook for goodness sake!
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 10:39 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


OH, I am so glad for this resource. I recently was caught unaware by some sentient life forms and I had no idea what the proper etiquette. Yeah that's right...AWKWARD.
posted by Skygazer at 10:40 AM on April 9, 2010


what the proper etiquette should be:

of the proper etiquette.


(Even thinking about it has me all like making typos and shit...)
posted by Skygazer at 10:42 AM on April 9, 2010


That wouldn't have happened to you if you had an iPad, Skygazer.
posted by Mister_A at 11:03 AM on April 9, 2010


Come on now, have you SEEN the iPad? Look what Jeff Goldblum could do with a Mac Powerbook for goodness sake!

With our luck, an interface to an Alien computer would require Flash support, a USB port and an HDMI output.
posted by zarq at 11:04 AM on April 9, 2010 [9 favorites]


Shoot first.
posted by swift at 11:04 AM on April 9, 2010


With our luck, an interface to an Alien computer would require Flash support, a USB port and an HDMI output.

Cuz we know you ain't going to connect your iPad via no wireless, baby! zing! Take that Steve Jobs! Hahahaha! Your zillion billion dollars are cold comfort in the face of my zingy-ass zings!
posted by Mister_A at 11:09 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, i'm pretty sure no matter how powerful a wisdom-being of pure thought you are, a nuke is going to fuck up your shit. oh you think we wont nuke ourselves once you invade WE MIGHT DO IT EVEN IF U DONT INVADE HOSS. so yeah bring it on fishfaces.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:27 AM on April 9, 2010 [6 favorites]


(actually my personal theory is that if a species is clever enough to easily travel through the vast emptiness of space their probably smart enough not to fuck around with tiny psycho rouge races like ours. Prime Directive: avoid crazy.)
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:33 AM on April 9, 2010


Bloody rougist, Potomac Avenue!
posted by Mister_A at 11:44 AM on April 9, 2010


I recommend fish sticks and custard.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 11:50 AM on April 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


(actually my personal theory is that if a species is clever enough to easily travel through the vast emptiness of space their probably smart enough not to fuck around with tiny psycho rouge races like ours. Prime Directive: avoid crazy.)

Hence the endless depictions of alien "child" encounters just out for some mischief.
Kick that anthill, you crazy ETs.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:56 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Draw a birds-eye view of a cowboy riding his bicycle through dog shit. This will probably get you killed, but at least you'll have died for a satisfying visual pun.

Okay I must be drawing this wrong. WHAT IS THIS SUPPOSED TO MEAN? Please tell me. Please.
posted by capnsue at 12:00 PM on April 9, 2010


i meant rogue obviously
how gouche.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:06 PM on April 9, 2010


I would play them the sixth movement from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana.
posted by elmono at 12:20 PM on April 9, 2010


If I meet an alien, I'm going to let them know that I went to college to get more knowledge and ask if they went to Jupiter to get more stupider.
posted by middleclasstool at 12:33 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not to overdo the Lovecraft references, really, but I really think any aliens we meet are going to be more like Mi-Go or Elder Things, in appearance, than Mr. Spock. They are going to look freaky.

Also, there is a good chance that our bacteria are going to prove to be inordinately harmful to them, War of the Worlds style, unless their biology is really different from Earth norm, different enough that opportunistic organisms don't start decomposing them on the spot. It's possible that whatever macro-life the aliens meet will be friendly, but bacteria are right bastards.

The same goes for when humans finally visit other planets. Those first astronauts are going to have severe problems with the local microbes.
posted by JHarris at 12:54 PM on April 9, 2010


Those first astronauts are going to have severe problems with the local microbes.

Interstellar Traveler's Diarrhea?
posted by nathancaswell at 1:04 PM on April 9, 2010


Somehow, I think when they notice the thousands of satellites orbiting our planet, the aliens will figure out how advanced we are. Drawing right triangles will be quaint, but unnecessary.

A number of non-human animals employ primitive technology (and our rickety-ass, chemical-propellant satellites would probably appear way more primitive, by comparison, to these aliens) and my understanding is that there are debates over their level of intelligence to this day.

And anyway the aliens might still need some explicit demonstration of how we visualize and express mathematical principles abstractly, if they want to work out some useful communication method.
posted by regicide is good for you at 1:11 PM on April 9, 2010


I loved this bit from the jack handy piece:

You say there is much your civilization could teach ours. But perhaps there is something that I could teach you—namely, how to scream like a parrot when I put your big Martian head in a vise.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:22 PM on April 9, 2010


Tip: keep the facehugger out of your helmet.
posted by bwg at 4:32 PM on April 9, 2010


there is a good chance that our bacteria are going to prove to be inordinately harmful to them

Earth bacteria probably won't like alien meat. They like Earth proteins, Earth carbohydrates, and all the other substances that make up Earth meat. But think of all the novel hydrocarbons we've created in the last 150 years. Most of them are pretty impervious to bacteria. Few bacteria can even eat oil, a very energy-rich food source that's been around for millions of years.
posted by ryanrs at 4:34 PM on April 9, 2010


A number of non-human animals employ primitive technology [..] there are debates over their level of intelligence to this day

The point is, those debates would stop if the animals launched satellites. Primitive technology in geo-synchronous orbit implies knowledge of triangles.
posted by ryanrs at 4:40 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I prepare for first contact by watching Flesh Gordon every year.
posted by Mcable at 5:07 PM on April 9, 2010


Bacteria use fairly specialized enzymes to do what they do—digest cellulose, break down cell walls, etc. On the other hand, our defenses against bacteria are primarily mechanical and chemical in nature. Continuous skin and an acidic stomach are very general defenses. Earth skin will probably keep out most alien microbes, just like it keeps out dirt and water. (Our immune system is very specialized, of course, but it's just there to sweep up the few that get through.)

This dynamic—specialized attacks and general defenses—favors the defenders in an alien encounter.
posted by ryanrs at 5:26 PM on April 9, 2010


Serious question: Why is it always assumed that if we ever made contact with an alien race, they would be vastly more technologically advanced than humans? Why is it that we think we couldn't possibly be the original home planet of what will become the most technologically advanced culture in a universe filled with other races and cultures?

Why is it hard to imagine that there's a planet 50 light-years away currently dominated by the technological equivalent of Neanderthals?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:38 PM on April 9, 2010


What if the aliens are *us* FROM THE FUTURE?
posted by marble at 5:40 PM on April 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


I never learned to write with a pen so I guess I would be forced to offer myself up as some kind of debased sex slave. Again.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:33 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why is it always assumed that if we ever made contact with an alien race, they would be vastly more technologically advanced than humans?

I think we're assuming that only if they came here, rather than us going to them.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:35 PM on April 9, 2010


The point is, those debates would stop if the animals launched satellites.

Perhaps first contact was made by Laika. The aliens were too gobsmacked to pursue the matter.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:39 PM on April 9, 2010


> pedal their dumb asses back to the zeta quadrant

Dumb? A pedal-powered spacecraft is freakin' genius! Doctor_negative, you are hereby required to submit your resume to NASA, stat. And you owe me a new keyboard.
posted by Quietgal at 7:06 PM on April 9, 2010


So how do you tell the aliens that fearful humans emit neutrons and gamma rays? They may not be expecting that and should be warned. But I'm not sure how to express this idea using stick figures. Maybe a Feynman diagram hiding under a bed?
posted by ryanrs at 7:29 PM on April 9, 2010


This won't fit on a poster nearly as well as the time-travel one.

Time travel one?
posted by mecran01 at 7:36 PM on April 9, 2010


The point is, those debates would stop if the animals launched satellites. Primitive technology in geo-synchronous orbit implies knowledge of triangles.

I read a tongue-in-cheek essay somewhere that if aliens were monitoring Earth from space, chances are they would conclude the dominant form of life is the motor-car, with humans occupying the subordinate role of ambulatory power-cell: i.e. human gets into car, car starts moving.
posted by Ritchie at 8:01 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I recommend fish sticks and custard.
posted by Solon and Thanks


So you like fishsticks, Solon and Thanks? Do you like putting them in your [orfice]?
posted by humannaire at 8:03 PM on April 9, 2010


The time travel one.
posted by Ritchie at 8:04 PM on April 9, 2010


So, is it better to play it cool and pretend that you haven't planned all of this out in advance, or do you want to show how much you care by letting the aliens know that you've been thinking about this for a while? Should I post this anonymously in human relations? How long should I wait until the alien calls me back before I know that it's just not interested in me?

And here I thought that the zombie apocalypse planners were going too far.
posted by _cave at 10:05 PM on April 9, 2010


WOW GREAT POST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! EXCEPT
posted by Damn That Television at 1:11 AM on April 10, 2010


A good number of scientists believe that this might be the "ultimate" cosmic IQ test: The bar by which all alien races measure self-awareness. Do you personally believe we were crafted by a Creator?

Of course, what those scientists don't realize is that the real ultimate cosmic IQ test is the discovery and acceptance of snorgleporps, which humanity can accomplish only in about 1000 years or so and which the scientists don't even have an inkling about.
posted by sour cream at 2:12 AM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


A lot of people have picked up on the side note - "make the orbit an oval, not a circle"
It seems to be a pretty commonly held belief that the reason for the seasons is that earth has an elliptical orbit, rather than the tilt of the earth axis. I'm sure a teacher at some point told me the oval thing...
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 3:08 AM on April 10, 2010


Why is it that we think we couldn't possibly be the original home planet of what will become the most technologically advanced culture in a universe filled with other races and cultures?

Because in the absence of evidence for this, we should assume we're a typical technologically advanced culture. Whatever that means. Thinking we're the Most Awesome In The Universe is like thinking that everything in the universe revolves around you.

I read a tongue-in-cheek essay somewhere that if aliens were monitoring Earth from space, chances are they would conclude the dominant form of life is the motor-car, with humans occupying the subordinate role of ambulatory power-cell: i.e. human gets into car, car starts moving.

Carl Sagan talks about this in his book Pale Blue Dot; I think that's where I learned it from. I'm not sure if it's his idea, though. (Incidentally, if the aliens do come, can we get zombie Carl Sagan to talk to them?)
posted by madcaptenor at 7:34 AM on April 10, 2010


Autogeddon by Heathcote Williams is what comes to mind, though I swear that I've also read the same idea in a short story somewhere else as well.
...
If an alien was to hover a few hundred yards above the planet
It could be forgiven for thinking
That cars were the dominant life-form,
And that human beings were a kind of ambulatory fuel cell:
Injected when the car wished to move off,
And ejected when they were spent.
...
posted by Hadroed at 8:39 AM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


'Aliens thinking the dominant life form on Earth are cars' was done as a one-off filler story in Starlord a British anthology comic back back in the late 70s. The twist being SPOILER the aliens are actually cars themselves. (nerd4life)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:22 AM on April 10, 2010


Also, that misconception was the reason why Ford Prefect from the Hitchhiker's books named himself that when he arrived on Earth.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:56 AM on April 10, 2010


The premise of this poster is that making first contact with aliens will make me the Most Important Person in History, but that, as a result, I will be assassinated. Consider me confused that neither the writer(s) or any of the readers have expressed any self-doubt about the value of this trade-off.

I have absolutely no need for fame, especially the odious loser kind of fame for doing nothing that takes awesome skill or unusual moral courage. I'm certainly not willing to suffer an early death to earn an abstract reward like being famous after I die.

If I accepted their premises, I would respond to the situation by either a) refusing to meet the aliens (e.g. by running away), or b) by keeping my mouth shut about the encounter. I don't want to be the center of world attention; I'd rather enjoy the fruits of the historic moment, without letting it consume and destroy my life.

But really I accept almost none of their premises. I don't accept their ideas about how aliens would first choose to meet humans, or how they would learn about humans. I don't accept their ideas about how individual human actions would influence alien perceptions about the human species. I don't accept their idea about how important an incidental figure would be to history or to the aliens themselves. And I don't accept the idea this person would be assassinated.

All of these premises appear to be conveniently tailored for a masturbatory egocentric nerd fantasy.
posted by dgaicun at 11:49 AM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Another thing that really bothers me about this is just how fundamentally insecure it is about the human species. Like if I meet aliens my primary goal is about showing How Very Smart we are by summarizing "10,000 years of scientific achievement" and showing how I can do math, and know about astronomy and evolution. And godforbid I mention anything about belief in a Creator. How embarrassing that would be!! Thanks a lot, now the aliens think we're bumpkins. You just got us enslaved, Phil.

Please. Mathematical and scientific achievement is not what "defines" the human species. Science is only about several hundred years old, and for the grand majority of our 200,000 year run, almost nobody had any sort of mathematical know-how. Most relic foragers don't even have words for numbers above 2. Even the average person in North America and Europe isn't going to know much math at all. Nothing to show off with.

Aliens would get a much more authentic understanding of the human species if they landed in the Amazon or the New Guinea Highlands, and heard stories about spirits and Creators, then if they landed in the suburbs of Ohio, and had some snooty nerd trying to "impress" them (or bond with them) with the Pythagorean Theorem, and sweatily apologizing about those fucking Amazonians who can't pass their "Cosmic IQ tests". Those hillbillies can't pass our IQ tests either. Pay no attention to them. In reality humans are really, really smart. Like me. FEEEEAARRR USSSS. FEEEEAARRR USSSS.
posted by dgaicun at 12:38 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


... Also, maybe it's just me, but it seems like these weird ideas about what a First Contact would be like were subconsciously internalized from Gary Larson cartoons.
posted by dgaicun at 1:02 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's a good point, dgaicun, but I think Larson was playing with the same tropes which came about in TV and movies in the 50s and 60s. Though he did a lot to keep a lot of that weirdness alive and well in the popular consciousness.
posted by Kattullus at 4:02 PM on April 10, 2010


Autogeddon by Heathcote Williams is what comes to mind, though I swear that I've also read the same idea in a short story somewhere else as well.

Yeah, it must have been Autogeddon - something I pulled off the shelf while browsing the stacks at the university library between lectures. Odd how it stuck with me all these years. Amazing that you recalled the title, Hadroed.
posted by Ritchie at 4:50 PM on April 10, 2010


Thanks for the Heathcote Williams link. I've been trying to remember his name for 14 years.
posted by sneebler at 4:59 PM on April 10, 2010


Film at 11!
posted by sneebler at 5:06 PM on April 10, 2010


Another thing that really bothers me about this is just how fundamentally insecure it is about the human species. Like if I meet aliens my primary goal is about showing How Very Smart we are by summarizing "10,000 years of scientific achievement" and showing how I can do math, and know about astronomy and evolution. And godforbid I mention anything about belief in a Creator. How embarrassing that would be!!

Well, look at things from the point of view of the aliens. For starters, they've probably long since dropped superstition altogether. In fact if one of the aliens starts holding superstitious beliefs such as 'this mountain is the home of the spirits of my dead ancestors', or 'everything was created by a single intelligent entity', fellow aliens probably regard that as a form of mental illness.

Now, we may get lucky. We may be discovered by tolerant Margaret Mead-style aliens who find our mostly-harmless idiosyncrasies interesting, but I have my doubts. Anthropologists study human societies as a way of understanding humans better. Alien anthropologists aren't going to learn anything about aliens by studying humans. They won't be necessarily predisposed to find us fascinating or even cute. In fact, they may not have any emotional states we can recognize, given that one method of interstellar travel involves artificially-intelligent robots.

And here's the thing: if aliens arrive, humans immediately cease to be the most interesting story on the planet, full stop. Who fucking cares about Jesus or Sobek or Ahura Mazda when we've been contacted by actual intelligent aliens? Who fucking cares about the Ten Commandments? I want to know what commandments the aliens live by, seeing as they obviously have their shit sufficiently together to avoid destroying themselves for long enough to develop interstellar travel! Who fucking cares about the last ten thousand years of human history when the next ten thousand have opened up to us?
posted by Ritchie at 5:28 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wasn't bugged by the "lookit math!" stuff, just because to me it seemed less like "hey lookit how smart we are" and more "here is something that might hypothetically be sort of common ground between us, maybe, because we know just about everything else is going to be mutually incomprehensible. No, seriously, we're marginally sentient, sort of." It's less a show-offy thing and more an attempt to indicate the bare possibility of future communication. The Amazonian or New Guinea Highlands culture might be more interesting or meaningful, but meaning can't really happen until after a trace of mutual comprehensibility is established.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:57 PM on April 10, 2010


Ritchie,

I have no idea how we would look to aliens. But the link starts with the premise that we don't need to be afraid. And yet it advices us to act insecure, as if it's important to prove how "advanced" human beings are. The two premises don't mesh comfortably. If we don't need to be afraid, then we don't need to be insecure either.

Personally, I would eschew fear and insecurity, and opt for honesty and peaceful relations. If aliens think all human beings are "mentally ill," well they are free to develop that perspective. But it is wrong and rather immature, so it would reflect much more poorly on them, IMO.


I wasn't bugged by the "lookit math!" stuff, just because to me it seemed less like "hey lookit how smart we are" and more "here is something that might hypothetically be sort of common ground between us

I'm certainly not against the idea of trying to use math as an ice-breaking common ground. What bugged me was the link's attitude of how vitally important it was to represent the human species as a kind of Mr. Spock race of scientists and mathematicians, when this is both untrue and unimportant. Science and math are culturally recent to humanity, and understood well by only a small minority of specialists. My value as a person, and the value of other human beings is not hinged on math and science.

Fuck aliens if they somehow write off our entire species/planet just because an Amazonian flunks their "Cosmic IQ test".

It says more about the writers' perspective that they project this brand of Christopher Hitchens douchebaggery onto an advanced alien race.
posted by dgaicun at 8:56 PM on April 10, 2010


Yeah, I guess I just don't understand that. Contact with a representative of an alien civilization would be a threshold moment for the human race, and as such anyone would be understandably nervous and inclined to put their best foot forward. It's an opportunity to grow up a bit, stop playing with toys, and start engaging with the way adults do things.

Would you really your back on that because the things you value are not the same things a older and hopefully wiser race value? I guess that's where the 'humility' angle comes from. It doesn't matter that math and science are culturally recent - if we wish to survive in the long term that's where we should be directing our efforts.

Aliens might not appreciate us for who we are. They might not think we're all that special or that our history is important or even relevant. In our physicality we'd probably seem disgusting to them. Provided they're not genocidally hostile, or Vogons here to build a hyperspace bypass, I don't think it would really matter what their opinion of us is, provided they're willing to chat. Math is just a way of demonstrating that we have grasped the basics of the closest thing there is to a universal language.
posted by Ritchie at 9:46 PM on April 10, 2010


Right, people should want to grow up and put their best foot forward. What I'm saying is that the more mature attitude is that we should be equally unembarrassed if aliens make their first contact with an Amazonian forager or an Austrian physicist. Both are representative of human diversity, and, in fact, the Amazonian is more representative of what a human being is.

The idea that we need to feel embarrassed by the Amazonian, to me, seems really immature, and callously insecure. It certainly isn't humility.

Further -- and I'll stress this again -- this whole ridiculous scenario is probably unwittingly inspired by Gary Larson. The idea that aliens are just going to land here suddenly and randomly in a remote cornfield and make whatever random malingering yahoo who stumbles upon them first their official "spokesperson" and/or model to judge all humans by.

The premise here is that the aliens are an unfathomably advanced race, and yet somehow couldn't think about us in anything but crude, poorly acquired stereotypes, e.g.: "Re-familiarize yourself with basic geometry and algebra now, so you don't make Earth look dumb".

Really, this is how they would calibrate the collective potentials of the species? By landing in a park and giving the first jogger who runs by a 6th grade pop quiz? ... Shit, I hope they don't give our planet the frowny sticker.
posted by dgaicun at 11:26 PM on April 10, 2010


Ah, okay that makes more sense. I agree that it is an absurdly-constructed scenario. I always preferred the intelligence test of the kind posed by the monolith buried on the Moon in 2001.
posted by Ritchie at 4:29 PM on April 11, 2010


"The premise of this poster is that making first contact with aliens will make me the Most Important Person in History, but that, as a result, I will be assassinated. Consider me confused that neither the writer(s) or any of the readers have expressed any self-doubt about the value of this trade-off."

Well, I think they are correct. Think of every single crazy bigot with a gun on this planet who wants to get rid of anyone or anything that is different. You know darned well they're gonna shoot anyone related to the aliens landing, just out of pure crazy bigotry. You might not end up assassinated, but at the very least I hope the President provides you with Secret Service protection for life, because otherwise, well...

A couple of days ago I thought of a NaNoWriMo plot for this year where aliens landing kicks off the plot. And when I thought who the villains would be, I immediately thought that every crazy with a gun who hates anyone different would be after my main characters. Period. Because this is how the shittier people on the planet work. (Dear aliens: if you're reading this, please don't go anywhere near planet Earth. We are crazy and will destroy you. Well, half of us would love to meet you, but the other half will try to kill you, so you're better off running like hell from this planet.)

Though I have always wondered if all the racial bigots on the planet would change their tunes somewhat if aliens showed up. "Well, I never liked the (insert racial slur here), but at least they're human, not like these big blue guys with goggle eyes."
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:56 AM on April 12, 2010


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