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Stephen Hawking is afraid of one thing: aliens.
April 25, 2010 10:20 AM   Subscribe

Stephen Hawking thinks that talking to aliens is a bad idea.

This revelation comes as part of the Discovery Channel miniseries Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking, where he talks about the origins of the universe and what he thinks extraterrestrial life could be like, among other topics. The documentary debuts tonight in the U.S.
posted by Night_owl (132 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn't turn out very well for the Native Americans.

I for one welcome our intergalactic colonizing alien overlords...ah, never mind.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 10:26 AM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


what if the alien is driving a real cool van and offers me candy?
posted by kitchenrat at 10:26 AM on April 25, 2010 [15 favorites]


At least if they land in Arizona, the cops can stop them and have them deported back to Venus.
posted by dr_dank at 10:28 AM on April 25, 2010 [33 favorites]


Well, I mean, duh.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:28 AM on April 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


I figure any species with the capability and motive to destroy us will probably be able to detect our presence regardless of whether we try to communicate with them.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:30 AM on April 25, 2010 [9 favorites]


Little known fact: the I in SETI actually refers to military intelligence.

Ok, not really, but it should.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 10:30 AM on April 25, 2010


I've stuck to that policy for 34 years and, so far, it has worked.
posted by jimmythefish at 10:31 AM on April 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


Dr. Hawking has apparently made a bold wallpaper choice in his living room.
posted by Bromius at 10:32 AM on April 25, 2010 [23 favorites]


Stephen Hawking is just saying that so he can be first. EVERYONE BLAST RADIATION IN ALL DIRECTIONS WITH THE VALUE OF PI ENCODED!
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:32 AM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder if this rides on the premise that the only real motivating factor to developing long-distance space travel is survival. That is, he assumes that governments will never invest in the necessary R&D unless not doing so would mean the extinction of their species.
posted by ageispolis at 10:34 AM on April 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Nice planet. I think we'll take it.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 10:34 AM on April 25, 2010


I'm selling alien whistles to keep them away. $20 each and they really work!
posted by msbutah at 10:35 AM on April 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Hawking’s logic on aliens is, for him, unusually simple.

Perhaps cos it's Frank Drake's logic?
posted by Iteki at 10:39 AM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't know why having intelligent life would make a planet more enticing for resource extraction by aliens. I mean, if you want to raid a planet with mineral resources, wouldn't it make more sense to go after planets without intelligent life?

One problem I do see, though, is that any alien life might simply respond to any unexpected intelligent signal by trying to destroy it out of fear.

I mean, any life out there would have evolved in a competitive environment. Almost every large animal on earth is capable of fighting, or at least putting up a fight against other animals. Just imagine now vicious intergalactic evolution might be?

But the fact is, space is so vast, and even if we discover other life, it's unlikely we'll ever visit them or anything like that.
posted by delmoi at 10:42 AM on April 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


No worries. The Arizona militias will take care of the aliens.
posted by Some1 at 10:42 AM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Who knew it would take Stephen Hawking 15 years to see Independence Day?
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:46 AM on April 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


I don't know why having intelligent life would make a planet more enticing for resource extraction by aliens. I mean, if you want to raid a planet with mineral resources, wouldn't it make more sense to go after planets without intelligent life?

Of course intelligent life is also a useful resource.
posted by Tenuki at 10:46 AM on April 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


You just have to give the aliens Reese's Pieces.

They especially like it when you throw them on the dirty ground. This is a sign of utmost respect.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:47 AM on April 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


I think this is one of the worst biases we find in most sci-fi stories: aliens are basically just like humans, only slightly different. Therefore their behavior is extrapolated human behavior - what would we do in this situation (pillage and plunder, of course!)? I always liked to think that aliens would be just that - alien. Strange. Hard, maybe impossible to even understand.

Aside from that, what could they really want from us?
* Eat us?
Who says our chemistry would be compatible? There's a 50:50 chance that, even if they developed from a carbon-based organism using basically the same amino acids and energy-storage molecules, they would be based on D-type compounds instead of our L-types.

* Take us as slaves?
Again, why? If they have the manpower to move through the universe in giant ships they must have some pretty efficient form of construction and maintenance. Slave labor is risky and inefficient, and especially so if the slaves have nothing to lose and are in charge of keeping the life-support systems of a starship running.

* Mine our planet?
There are practically no elements on earth that couldn't be found more easily accessible (to a spacefaring society) in other locations of our solar system.

* Take our women / men?
Again... aliens. Things like thinking mounds of carbon fibers. Sentient electric storms raging through hundred-meter high dust clouds. A giant fungoid organism the size of a moon. Fractal reflections of higher-dimensional beings that look like light falling through invisible glass-stained windows. Alien things, that we cannot even name nor really perceive.

As much as I love stuff like the sector general series by James White I'd say that there is too much wishful thinking involved if we assume that we could even understand the motivations of a truly alien race.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 10:50 AM on April 25, 2010 [46 favorites]


So now we know not to talk to cops or aliens. Is there something Dr. Hawking isn't telling us?
posted by breath at 10:50 AM on April 25, 2010


Since the first radio signal we sent out was largely coverage of WWII, it's possible that aliens haven't responded because they're afraid of us.
posted by empath at 10:50 AM on April 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


△:ll □ ▪▪ oo ll

△ lll o:□ ▽
posted by Rhaomi at 10:52 AM on April 25, 2010 [10 favorites]


He suggests that aliens might simply raid Earth for its resources and then move on

Nope. Not a chance. There's nothing at all on Earth that isn't far easier to get from asteroids, transneptunians, and moons.

Except for women, I guess, but I can't see there being that many actual for-real hentai tentacle-rape monsters with interstellar travel capacity.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:58 AM on April 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


if stephan hawking were the first to speak to aliens, they would probably think we were a race that tried to build a robot and really fucked it up.
posted by kitchenrat at 10:58 AM on April 25, 2010 [18 favorites]


Rou_Xenophobe, you really should live up to your name more.
posted by Tristram Shandy, Gentleman at 11:02 AM on April 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't care if they kill us or exploit our resources, as long as they work from better scripts than the aliens on V.
posted by Knappster at 11:07 AM on April 25, 2010 [8 favorites]


I entered this thread just to say what delmoi and PontifexPrimus said. Basically, the assumption that we would be interesting to aliens seems maybe a little arrogant, and the notion that we would somehow be valuable to them, enough to justify crossing light-years of space for us, shockingly so. Talk about self-aggrandizing persecutory delusions.

I can't even see killing us to avoid competition. Space is huge, and since we haven't picked up any signals, it's reasonable to assume that life is sparsely distributed. There's probably plenty for everyone. I mean, maybe if they're really, really forward-thinking and really, really paranoid, but in that case it might possibly end up being a better gamble for us to try to find them sooner rather than later anyway.

Also, as mentioned on the blue before, we did receive a signal for which the best serious explanation yet put forward is intelligent life actively pinging the cosmos one area at a time, looking for somebody. It was called the "Wow! signal," and the only reason it doesn't get more press is that it was never observed again (not surprising if there really were aliens scanning one place at a time) and thus never proved to be aliens. I like to think it was, even if it would take hundreds of years to confirm that hypothesis.
posted by Xezlec at 11:08 AM on April 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


Broadcast signals make it easy to pinpoint us, and logically suggest that we're advanced enough to have the infrastructure for extracting our resources already in place.

Just sayin'.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:11 AM on April 25, 2010


He speaks from experience, although it's only briefly mentioned toward the end of the article.
posted by Anything at 11:14 AM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I disagree with him for a couple reasons.

First and foremost, it will likely never happen that there will be contact. Likely is an understatement. It will never happen. Us lifeforms are just too spread out.

Second, if it did happen, it would be unthinkable to ignore. It would simply be the most amazing momentous experience ever. So even if we were wiped out or farmed for resources, it would be worth it.

But it will never, ever happen.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 11:16 AM on April 25, 2010 [12 favorites]


that there is too much wishful thinking involved if we assume that we could even understand the motivations of a truly alien race.

Actually, there is one assumption you can make: that any alien race is a product of natural selection. Their primary motivation would be survival, and nature's proven strategy toward acquiring the resources needed to survive and reproduce is violence.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 11:17 AM on April 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


... a more practical issue will arise when, if ever, we discover rational creatures on other planets. I think myself, this is a very remote contingency. The balance of probability is against life on any other planet of the solar system. We shall hardly find it nearer than the stars. And even if we reach the moon we shall be no nearer to stellar travel than the first man who paddled across a river was to crossing the Pacific.

This thought is welcome to me because, to be frank, I have no pleasure in looking forward to a meeting between humanity and any alien rational species. I observe how the white man has hitherto treated the black, and how, even among civilized men, the stronger have treated the weaker. If we encounter in the depth of space a race, however innocent and amiable, which is technologically weaker than ourselves, I do not doubt the same revolting story will be repeated. We shall enslave, deceive, exploit or exterminate; at the very least we shall corrupt it with our vices and infect it with our diseases.

We are not fit yet to visit other worlds. We have filled our own with massacre, torture, syphilis, famine, dust bowls and with all that is hideous to ear or eye. Must we go on to infect new realms?

Of course we might find a species stronger than ourselves. In that case we shall have met, if not God, at least God's judgement in space. But once more the detecting apparatus will be inadequate. We shall think it just our bad luck if righteous creatures rightly destroy those who come to reduce them to misery...

The same problem, by the way, is beginning to threaten us as regards the dolphin. I don't think it has yet been proved that they are rational. But if they are, we have no more right to enslave them than to enslave our fellow-man. And some of us will continue to say this, but we shall be mocked.
— C S Lewis, “The Seeing Eye,” 1963

posted by koeselitz at 11:17 AM on April 25, 2010 [41 favorites]


Aside from that, what could they really want from us?

Pets?
posted by Malor at 11:21 AM on April 25, 2010 [9 favorites]


Since listening to David Deutch's TED talk and similar sources I've become a galactic optimist. The transorganic informational entity presently evolving from the surface of the Earth represents a node of complexity that no consciousness, no matter how abstract, could decide is dispensable. Surely just that we offer some relief from the boringness of the rest of the universe ensures our protection from extermination.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 11:25 AM on April 25, 2010 [7 favorites]


I still want this to be about Stephen King's Dreamcatcher.
posted by Monstrous Moonshine at 11:28 AM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think the flaw we run into is applying our own species-centric view of morality - or indeed practical inclinations - onto civilizations that are (to use a phrase) alien.

While we'd like to think that alien species are advanced kindly ET-types, it's also not improbable that they're likely to fuck us up simply because we use the colour orange or that we have the audacity to use right angles in our architecture.

I think Hawking's fears make a lot of sense and that perhaps we should be more careful in announcing our presence until we're in a position to defend ourselves - in case the situation arises in which we become trail rations for the Arcturan Squid Massive.
posted by panboi at 11:30 AM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Any alien trying to exploit us is just taking the scientific version of Pascal's Wager with their entire civilization. The payoff is miniscule, the possibilities for disaster innumerable. Hawking doesn't seem to be using his "mathematical brain" for this little bit of fluff, but I suppose it's a good way to get those CGI aliens into his tv special.
posted by ecurtz at 11:36 AM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


IT'S A COOKBOOK!!!!
posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:53 AM on April 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


So many hilariously awesome comments here today.

So even if we were wiped out or farmed for resources, it would be worth it.

Faved for bold weirdness. Even if I agreed that something was worth the destruction of the species, I wouldn't have the stones to admit it. Kudos.

Pets?

Awesome. I totally volunteer! I'm going to start practicing my big, sad eyes look now.
posted by Xezlec at 11:57 AM on April 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


Violence isn't natures proven strategy at all. It is a rather rare and limited strategy. Very few plants are violent. In terms of numbers it isn't very successful for insects, fish, mammals, birds or anything higher than viruses. Flight works much better, to the extent that hunters can just be seen as a population control mechanism used by grazers.

Of course this kind of discussion is all about making wild assumptions about something that can't be known. What's wrong with that? The creation of life might be rare, the evolution of sentience would have to be rarer and probably unique, but who knows? It may be a common as big rocks in space too. I wouldn't argue the latter, but it can't be disproved yet.

So if we accept the possibility of sentient life (and sentient life that can be recognized as such), it is either more primitive than us, we don't have to deal with that yet, but I hope by the time we contact such a group we handle it better than the last migrations into aboriginal lands, or it comes to us. The ones that reach us first are seen as either benevolent (because more advanced technology equals more advanced ethics. (Yeah right that worked for Africa and America and Australia.), or they must be devious and vicious, as Hawking assumes. I don't see why that is a must.

Beside flight, cooperation is an effective coping strategy, and seems necessary for technological growth and social evolution. Even when the cooperation exist within a group and aimed at competition with another, it still exist. And has always been an effective way to expand and to mitigate if not avoid catastrophes. A group, a civilization that has reached the stars will almost certainly have done so in search of resources. If they can do that I don't think they are going to need us as labor. In all probability they will just leave us alone and look else where.

So I think we should broadcast a lot, and hope that any advanced race leaves us some resource in the neighborhood when and if we ever get there.

However, if they come in yellow and orange galactic bulldozers, and already have the inter-space freeway designed, then we're doomed.
posted by Some1 at 12:22 PM on April 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's just as likely that alien species are less malevolent than human beings as it is that they are more malevolent. Actually, since intergalactic space travel takes a lot of time to develop, and we're well on our way to destroying ourselves out of greed and fear before we get there, it's actually a lot more likely they're benevolent.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 12:22 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


delmoi, I absolutely agree with you, but inter:galactic travel (with earth as the endpoint) seems so unlikely, and high energy... Much more likely that mork will be coming from somewhere internal to the milkyway.

HumanityAsSlaves:
Again, why? If they have the manpower to move through the universe in giant ships they must have some pretty efficient form of construction and maintenance. Slave labor is risky and inefficient, and especially so if the slaves have nothing to lose and are in charge of keeping the life-support systems of a starship running.

They are the descendants of a great, wise, and rational species; having settled in peace, and introspective-reflection, after the great internal conflict war of 20 millennia ago... led by the wise Kllaq-iz-ix-arandatale's, who, like Hannah Arendt in Earths history, had a passion and interest in returning to the philosophers and modes of discourse and public displays of reason which were initially used when Kllaq-iz-ix-arandatale's species was, like humanity, yet to adventure, or travel outwards, and to the stars... this led to the longest period of sustainable expansion, discovery, and exploration in the Bnaqh'choushai-kadrahchsay; they boldly went where no milky-way spacefarer had gone before. -not only spiritually wise, but also the bearers of a vast and peaceful empire, full of the most indescribably amazing, advanced technology, and energy sources, manufacturing facilities; if ever the idea that "high technology is indistinguishable from magic" were true... this is when and where it was so.

This society developed for millenia, losing their desire to fight over something as simple as "territory", when they considered that the totality of the universe was the territory to explore, and bring peace to, rather than fighting over and over again just for title to the tiny piece of space that they had been plopped into by chance. They became more and more enmeshed with their technology, their once natural birth process was now done outside of the bodies of any actual individuals (there have been no deaths during childbirthing for the past 22 centuries), all individuals had moved to using the technology of enhancement, why use physical bodies, their actual sensing organs only needed the central distribution center (like our brains, and spinal cord) and by fusing this with a body of pure advanced machine, life could sustain for centuries, where their lifespan had been but decades previously...

This was all well and good, and the society advanced as philosophers, and bringers of peace, rights, and wisdom to the many species scattered throughout the stars... until the passing into the realm of tomorrow by the wise Kllaq-iz-ix-arandatale's; struggle and war came again to the travelers... once again internal strife and battles for the mantle of guide, leader and teacher... they had high technology, and were in posession of technology which was pinnacle to all development by all inhabitants throughout the Milky Way Galaxy.

They became mere Users of this technology... like early 21st century Earthlings, who despite warnings from de-toquville so many years earlier, settled on being happy just using, trading, and enjoying the 'magic' of advanced Technology... without cultivating the sciences... the sciences which brought about those technologies, the sciences which had to be nurtured and developed and pared and pruned, cultivated for centuries... yet lost in a matter of decades.


As the sciences stagnated, and knowledge was no longer disseminated, the wisdom of this once great species was lost... information traders cropped up, and where once ALL citizens of this great spacefaring society were able to access all the collective knowledge instantly, and in a free manner, which facilitated each new generation taking the ideas of the last, and turning them into innovation (sometime successfully, and other times, failing comepletly... this was not the point, the point was that on a whole... it was a movement of ADVANCEMENT; rather than stagnation.) After those centuries of combat and conflict, the Bnaqh'choushai-kadrahchsay found that all they were left with was their travelling means, their once great empire of advancement, was now reduced to the status of just a few "aircraft carriers", and travel ships... they had none of the Mechno-suits, none of the bodily advancements that were so vital to them... No new ships had been built in generations... no new propulsion mechanisms, no new research, no new ideas. Ideas had become "commodities", bought and sold by a society that was growing more and more stratified by the day... the wealthy would buy up science, and information, just to lock it up in a safe, simply for the knowledge that "they" "possessed" great wisdom... The society had grown into not only technological troglodytes on whole, with only a few who could operate the small amount of technology that was left in their hands... they also had engendered a society that actively despised those few "advanced ones"... those who lived on in the spirit of Kllaq-iz-ix-arandatale's, who had reminded the society so long ago about the philosophy of the long, long gone ancestors.

There was only one way that this society could maintain this life. By finding the species they had heard of in their ancient books of wisdom, the lessons of the travelers who had discovered the species known as Anthropus, who were malleable, were resilient, were smart, and capacity to learn was even on par with the early Bnaqh'choushai-kadrahchsay, this generation, the one that had lost their way, lost their peace, and lost their science, needed a species they could exploit, to do the actions and physicality of motion, to find ways to sustain, and enhance the energy of the "leaders" of the new Bnaqh'choushai-kadrahchsay - the new Bnaqh'choushai-kadrahchsay were nothing like the ancient... they were not peaceful, they were no longer advanced, they were ideologues, they were violent, and they were set only on increasing their own status and standing in the vast, and wider universe. And so it was that they set solar sail, and began their interstellar journey... to the small fourth planet in the otherwise unremarkable Sol system. (don't tell anyone they got the wrong address plz.)
Then they ate us?
posted by infinite intimation at 12:47 PM on April 25, 2010 [7 favorites]


I think earth should view talking to aliens a lot like a will written in a sitcom. It should start with the joke if your reading this I suppose I'm dead. I find the idea of an alien sentience comforting because I don't like humanities odds in anything resembling the long run. It's comforting in an egotistical way to think that maybe someone or something will even be aware of the fact that you're gone.
posted by I Foody at 12:57 PM on April 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


Even if we keep ourselves to fairly simplistic extrapolations -- they arrive in space boats to "discover" us, and are something like ourselves -- the prognosis shouldn't be so bleak. Terrible as it has always been and remains, colonialism has gotten better over the last few centuries: from burning and raping whatever they could (when they couldn't take it back with them); to staying and enslaving (or leaving but exporting slaves and stolen goods); to staying and forcing the native underclass to work for slave wages; to taking all their good stuff, leaving, but continuing to own the capital and forcing the native underclasses to work for slave wages to export goods to the colonizers. A few more centuries of development, and space-farers might be at the point where they simply offer us minimum-wage, non-unionized work when they arrive; and if we're too unskilled for that, maybe boxes of axes for stories about our native customs.
posted by chortly at 1:07 PM on April 25, 2010


No matter what we (obviously don't) have to fear from aliens, this is like telling you not to call out of the already open window in a house with every electronic appliance on and all the TVs and radios turned up full blast.
posted by howfar at 1:07 PM on April 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


Jack Handey:
If aliens from outer space ever come and we show them our civilization and they make fun of it, we should say we were just kidding, that this isn't really our civilization, but a gag we hoped they would like. Then we tell them to come back in 20 years to see our real civilization. After that, we start a crash program of coming up with an impressive new civilization. Either that, or just shoot down the aliens as they're waving goodbye.
posted by stevil at 1:09 PM on April 25, 2010 [14 favorites]


of course, how we "react" as a planet, when they arrive will determine how our interplanetary relations unfold... and recall that there are MANY still around among the Bnaqh'choushai-kadrahchsay who remember the wisdom, and peaceful ways of their ancestors... we need to speak to them, we need to show them that these peaceful, and wise members are the rightful leaders of such a powerful society.

But yeah, so it is possible that an "aggressive" species will arrive... I know my story was syfy... but I wish there were a branch of theoretical philosophy that had some actual credibility and respect which came up with as many possible reasons "something" might come to earth as possible... and then to think about all of our possible reactions and 'greetings' and such that we could use... and to put some of the best ideas for a "peaceful greeting" as possible (as mentioned above, the "first signals" they get being "WWI" is kind of a bad "first impression"... not that aliens are among us, or on their way, or anything, but having some sort of a better "first impression" would be a really good idea... just because of the numeric probability that 'something' is listening. It is mostly likely that we would not have to use these 'greetings'... but I do think that thinking in a wider frame of reference is needed to advance our societies. Our small minded "countries in opposition" scale of thinking today just doesn't lead to what we need if we don't want to go extinct (I mean, we aren't even preparing for a world where food production location is not a "stable" thing... I a world of global climate change, the problem is not as simple as "rising sea levels drowning us"... the real problem is massive, unpredictable, and violent shifts in weather patterns... so where we grow crops today, may be dry, and cold tomorrow... we need to be able to MOVE, and shift our food production capabilities... we need distribution networks, and multinational agreements, and pacts...Now.)
Or not.

Judging by how every movie that has aliens never wendell... are we really going to "greet" new societies with the United States Military? -is that the best we can do?
posted by infinite intimation at 1:10 PM on April 25, 2010


I would think the main issue would be microscopic, as in War of the Worlds—main difference being it's a two-way street.
posted by ifandonlyif at 1:30 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure why people presume that aliens would have come from some other world where natural selection isn't a thing and the evolutionary pressures that have shaped us would have no analogues on Omnicron-Persei 8.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:31 PM on April 25, 2010


I don't think it's that Pope Guilty, isn't it just that there's a teleological fallacy in assuming that natural selection is "the type of process that makes human beings" as opposed to "human beings are a type of thing made by natural selection". As such, the universality of natural selection would only be a minor part of an argument that alien life would be similar to us. Not saying that you couldn't make it, but I don't think it's that easy.
posted by howfar at 1:49 PM on April 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Aside from that, what could they really want from us?

Guitars.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:55 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't know why having intelligent life would make a planet more enticing for resource extraction by aliens. I mean, if you want to raid a planet with mineral resources, wouldn't it make more sense to go after planets without intelligent life?

I always thought the logic was that, since life may exist only when a certain relatively narrow set of parameters exist on a planet, then therefore if intelligent life is there, it's likely that it would be able to provide many resources for other forms of intelligent life.

Simply put, intelligent life (or at least, life that is intelligent enough to broadcast its existence by shooting EM radiation everywhere) is an indication that there may be a useful habitat to take advantage of.
posted by dubitable at 2:07 PM on April 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Aside from that, what could they really want from us?"

Guitars.


"Their mission is for science."
posted by Tenuki at 2:08 PM on April 25, 2010


Nope. Not a chance. There's nothing at all on Earth that isn't far easier to get from asteroids, transneptunians, and moons.

ASTEROIDS DON'T HAVE KRISPY KREME.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 2:12 PM on April 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


Well, the Man from Mars did stop eating cars and eating bars and now he only eats guitars.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:12 PM on April 25, 2010


If it's a choice between Alzheimer's and a death ray, I'll take the death ray.
posted by digsrus at 2:22 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


As the Daleks said: "This isn't war, it's pest removal."
posted by warbaby at 2:22 PM on April 25, 2010


We don't want to talk to Stephen Hawking either.

Oops. I've said too much...
posted by Splunge at 2:34 PM on April 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Maybe we'll be blasphemous parodies of true life, an affront to their --x--%--GAZork, the stain of which must be removed from the fabric of the universe.

Maybe they'll feel sorry for us, trapped alone in our frozen-in-form bodies, and they aim to fix it out of kindness. (See Peter Watts' "The Things")

Most likely they went extinct while we were proto-hominids and something now proto-whatever will imagine us after we're long extinct. The ruins are too far away and buried too deep for anyone to ever even find them.
posted by codswallop at 2:49 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jared Diamond, The Third Chimpanzee (1992):
I find it mind-boggling that the astronomers now eager to spend a hundred million dollars on the search for extraterrestrial life have never thought seriously about the most obvious question: what would happen if we found it, or if it found us. The astronomers tacitly assume that we and the little green monsters would welcome each other and settle down to fascinating conversations.

Here again, our own experience on Earth offers useful guidance. We've already discovered two species that are very intelligent but technically less advanced than we are--the common chimpanzee and pygmy chimpanzee. Has our response been to sit down and try to communicate with them? Of course not. Instead we shoot them, dissect them, cut off their hands for trophies, put them on exhibit in cages, inject them with AIDS virus as a medical experiment, and destroy or take over their habitats.

That response was predictable, because human explorers who discovered technically less advanced humans also regularly responded by shooting them, decimating their populations with new diseases, and destroying or taking over their habitats.

Any advanced extraterrestrials who discovered us would surely treat us in the same way. Think again of those astronomers who beamed radio signals into space from Arecibo, describing Earth's location and its inhabitants. In its suicidal folly that act rivaled the folly of the last Inca emperor, Atahualpa, who described to his gold-crazy Spanish captors the wealth of his capital and provided them with guides for the journey. If there really are any radio civilizations within listening distance of us, then for heaven's sake let's turn off our own transmitters and try to escape detection, or we're doomed.

Fortunately for us, the silence from Outer Space is deafening. ...
posted by russilwvong at 3:03 PM on April 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


The most plausible speculations about the encounters of alien intelligences have been made by Stanislaw Lem, who suggested that these interactions would probably be virtually incomprehensible to us.

Solaris, His Master's Voice and Fiasco are recommended reading.
posted by ovvl at 3:32 PM on April 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


We'll make great pets!
posted by CynicalKnight at 3:44 PM on April 25, 2010


It just occurred to me that Stephen Hawking was really just criticizing mankind, and isn't really talking about aliens.

In other words, as a society, he's saying we're assholes.
posted by jabberjaw at 4:18 PM on April 25, 2010


I'll believe the strangest things loving the alien
posted by The Whelk at 4:37 PM on April 25, 2010


Why is he tilting his head and staring at me like that?
posted by Shike at 4:45 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


The image at the top of that article made me wonder why we are firing Mr. Hawking into the Sun.
posted by lazaruslong at 4:52 PM on April 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


In other words, as a society, he's saying we're assholes.

Right. And I would add that "talking to aliens" may very well be a lousy idea, but talking to humans isn't always a very good one either.
posted by belvidere at 5:13 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I figure any species with the capability and motive to destroy us will probably be able to detect our presence regardless of whether we try to communicate with them.

Dude, I totally understand your concerns. I used to be just like you. Worried. Afraid. Galactically cautious. But then I met this guy Mellon. Says one of his ancestors was a confederate general. And he introduced me to this device. Some might say "it's just a hat made out of foil" but no, for serious, it's a device, and it blocks out your brainwaves so the aliens can't detect you. His proof? "See any aliens around here?" I was sold. I can send you the schematics.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:26 PM on April 25, 2010


digsrus: "56If it's a choice between Alzheimer's and a death ray, I'll take the death ray."

You say that every day.

So sad.
posted by Bonzai at 5:50 PM on April 25, 2010 [41 favorites]


Aliens won't bother us, this planet is infested with stray thetans.
posted by Bonzai at 5:52 PM on April 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Something to consider is that the peak era of star formation in the universe was about five billion years ago, so there are a lot of really old stars and planets out there. I wonder if maybe we're living in a gigantic graveyard, and when we finally manage to travel to distant alien worlds we'll find dead civilizations everywhere we look.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:57 PM on April 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


The most plausible speculations about the encounters of alien intelligences have been made by Stanislaw Lem, who suggested that these interactions would probably be virtually incomprehensible to us.

Wonderful sf novels -- they concentrate on the social and scientific process of trying to come to grips with contact, where profound misunderstanding and confusion remain central to the human experience, creating a kind of speculative sociology of exoscience, with extended parodies of scientific disciplinary discourse. It sounds bureaucratic, and it is a bit, but it's also funny.

Add Lem's His Master's Voice to the list, the story of a secret "Manhattan project" studying an apparently intelligent/intelligible radio transmission from space.
posted by lathrop at 6:09 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Or alternatively, there are aliens alive out there, but the species that survive through the ages to meet us are the most stable, well balanced ones, who are perfectly happy to stay on their home planets forever. Meanwhile, the species that were more expansionist and progress-oriented (like us) lived and died long ago, exhausting their local resources or getting into wars or evolving into who knows what.
posted by Kevin Street at 6:09 PM on April 25, 2010


I suspect any alien life form would find Earth quite toxic.

But it would have to find us first, and that is exceedingly difficult. Or as The Tragically Hip said in Emperor Penguin:

Your voice is all detached on a radio wave breeze
We have another caller with a bachelor degree
Talkin' alien invasion is the only chance for unity
Well, sorry to interrupt you caller

But that's a physical impossibility
That's a physical impossibility
That's a physical impossibility

posted by bwg at 6:13 PM on April 25, 2010


“We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet."

Best quote of the decade.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:21 PM on April 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


Ah man if aliens wait to invade after I kick the bucket I'll be pissed. If it's gonna happen, I wanna see it.

That is, if Hawking is wrong. If he's right, well, I hope they take their time.

Somebody was writing recently in the NYT that alien intelligence will likely be database-oriented.
posted by angrycat at 6:40 PM on April 25, 2010


If artificial intelligence is possible (something I'm not so sure about), then the smartest alien AIs wouldn't bother with planets at all. They'd just code themselves into stars or the accretion disks around black holes or gigantic dust clouds or whatever else there is out there that's super stable. Then they'd live for astronomical ages while the rest of us had to mess around with matter. The universe could be full of intelligent life, but of a type so alien that we don't even see it.
posted by Kevin Street at 6:49 PM on April 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


The thing that would blow my mind about that, Kevin Street, is what would such an alien intelligence want, if it is free of a need for resources?
posted by angrycat at 6:56 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I dunno. Maybe communication? Probably not with us, but with some other intelligence vast enough to have interesting things to say. Or reproduction? Or maybe they'd look for a way to live even longer, past the death of the universe. The same things we want, but on a cosmic scale.
posted by Kevin Street at 7:00 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


So -- they probably have unimaginable concepts of pleasure, then.
'Cause other than immortality, it's hard to know what else to wish for.
posted by angrycat at 7:07 PM on April 25, 2010


Reasons why we don't have to worry about talking with the aliens.

1. They don't speak English so there's no problem with miscommunication.
2. We're all protein, so what's not to like.
3. We weren't using Antarctica for anything anyway and the new crater will eventually erode away by itself.
posted by storybored at 7:13 PM on April 25, 2010


If artificial intelligence is possible (something I'm not so sure about), then the smartest alien AIs wouldn't bother with planets at all. They'd just code themselves into stars or the accretion disks around black holes or gigantic dust clouds or whatever else there is out there that's super stable. Then they'd live for astronomical ages while the rest of us had to mess around with matter. The universe could be full of intelligent life, but of a type so alien that we don't even see it.

I liked that episode of Futurama, too.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:14 PM on April 25, 2010


Basically, the assumption that we would be interesting to aliens seems maybe a little arrogant.

Earthian Exceptionalism.
posted by rokusan at 7:26 PM on April 25, 2010


We, the Aliens, are quite aware of Earth. We just rearly stop by except to pick of Cadbury's Creme Eggs and deliver the Giant Squid's mail.

If it helps, your TV is some of the best in the galaxy. CBS Nightly News! - HILARIOUS!
posted by The Whelk at 7:29 PM on April 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


"I liked that episode of Futurama, too."

I was thinking of Gregory Benford's novel "Eater", and Grant Morrison's Solaris, but Futurama is also cool.
posted by Kevin Street at 7:33 PM on April 25, 2010


Then they ate us?

Seriously. Think about it. Veal?

After all, what are us earth human beings doing out in space? Looking for stuff to exploit and eat.

Not necessarily in that order.
posted by humannaire at 7:46 PM on April 25, 2010


I'm ready for them: oop oop eek ork ah ah. (warning, sound card hijack).
posted by beelzbubba at 7:49 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


The transorganic informational entity presently evolving from the surface of the Earth represents a node of complexity that no consciousness, no matter how abstract, could decide is dispensable. Surely just that we offer some relief from the boringness of the rest of the universe ensures our protection from extermination.

i.e., Mostly harmless
posted by jeoc at 7:53 PM on April 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Any intelligent lifeform that had the resources to get here has an amazing ability to get its shit together and cooperate, or unfathomable natural resources, or both. In any case, we look like shit in comparison. You don't want to hang out with us. We'll take your shit or we'll barf on you while we're trying to take your shit. Either way, the smart interplanetary traveler is going to steer clear.
posted by jeoc at 7:53 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I liked that episode of Futurama, too."

I was thinking of Gregory Benford's novel "Eater", and Grant Morrison's Solaris, but Futurama is also cool.


And here I was thinking of Charles Stross' expansive epic, Accelerando.
posted by humannaire at 8:00 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I read the first third of Accelerando when he published it in Asimovs, but never finished the series. Now you're saying it includes sentient stars? Cool! Time to hit the back issues...
posted by Kevin Street at 8:05 PM on April 25, 2010


Evolution by natural selection... often when modern media sources speak of 'evolution' (when they aren't acting like it is 'darwins religion') they depict it short-hand with a single cell "life"... with an arrow going up to today, pointing at bipedal human people... It is 'drawn' by us as something guiding life towards an "end point", or towards something 'better' than a previous iteration.
It's probably important now to consider how very many things (which also 'evolved', and were in the process of 'evolving' and adapting simply died out gradually (not in some disaster), gone forever... evolution very much doesn't always mean "refinement".

The error seems to often come in our popular understanding of "fitness"; fitness not always being "the strongest" or most physically "fit"... it is about having the right suitability for the right environment... Perhaps the most "fit" person in some future human society will be the most sensitive or forgiving individuals, those ready to welcome the sight of new unknown-unknowns, as that may be a good trait for a people in the first generation of rising to new frontiers of exploration; whereas in our history it really was "strongest", and today it is "best at gathering resources"... There is a time bias and importance of the Niche to evolution by natural selection.

"evolutionary pressures" will be specific to the time/place/location/situation/realities/environment/resources etc,. that a particular "thing" exists in.

For example, the evolutionary pressures of "early stages after planetary formation earth" would have killed a 'temporally transplanted' human (or almost any life that we know, and think of as life) before the human even had a chance to "compete" (no O2)... rather than the pressures that our ancestors faced... which was mega-fauna, competition, climate change, etc.,
(this raises some cool [albeit hypothetical, and purely for the lulz academic] questions about how "intergalactic/interstellar" biology, natural selection, advancement, and interstellar evolution studies might work in reality).

Similarly, the evolutionary pressures in a methane ocean of some moon or something will again be completely different.
Transposing in 1:1 manner natural selection as it happens in one place wholesale 'onto' a different time/place just might not work (if this hypothetical alien existed and developed over a massive time scale, and evolved when the average temperature of the universe was higher, or so many other hypothetical situations, it is entirely possible that we would not recognize a fellow sentient life-form.

a 'philosophy of interstellar evolution by means of natural selection' education, that would be cool, it would involve knowing evolution, paleontology, geology, archaeology, ecology and the science of space study that isn't the one about predictions of the future but it always sounds like it (and all the sub fields that make up and enhance those basket 'sciences')

So, maybe the students will never get to apply it to a "real" encounter with ET, but it sure seems to change and 'widen the scope' of the sort of questions that are being asked by some of our species' 'smarties', and what for are smarties, if not to learn, develop, adapt, and share education, by studying and examining things with the hope of one day giving aid of betterment to the species in some way at some point in time.

[You never know when you might need to know something you never thought you would need to know.]

Agreed very much that many dead systems will be out there; an equal number of instances of the opposite also is possible of being. I think yes, intergalacticlly, there will be more 'long dead' systems, than we currently expect, because of the logarithmic like scale difference between flying around a solar system, vs flying around a galaxy, vs flying around between galaxies... but milky-way scale? Intragalactically I don't know the stats, but it seems likely to be more even, in terms of distribution of dying/early life stellar systems.

Foolish space exploration budgets... exploring the depths of our own beautiful little water covered planet would be far more productive, learning to live under; it would be more than simple training for space life, it would shift the weight of our current footprint, abundant energy in the currents, and tides waves, resources to find, and learn to capture and use in a 'sealed' environment, and more, all benefits, and I see nothing more clearly leading our species up to the stars. We need to learn how to live in 'closed systems', where resources are not only recycled, but designed better, so they can be 'up-cycled'; the oceans are perfect location for practice with implementing this.

Doesn't really matter if there 'are, or are not' further 'life' forms 'out there', at some point in future, when our evolution, and development, socially, technologically, and also emotionally (I'd imagine being first generation 'earth leaver' would be hard) it will be an 'ought' imperative that humanity leave (or at least step 'back' from earth), and let the next species that 'can' evolve freely and develop and adapt to the planet, learning not to dominate it.
The scale of this universe we are in is mind boggling. The numbers don't do it justice.

tl;dr, teach people evolution, and about dinosaurs, everyone loves dinosaurs, and if they don't they need to be re-educated. We need to appreciate the extreme vastness of all that comprises 'life' [known, unknown, known-unknown, hypothetical unknown, hypothetical known, etc.,]

Then they ate us?
(Because it's important to remember that in life Waste=Food.)
posted by infinite intimation at 8:15 PM on April 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


I feel like a deer with telescope eyes!
posted by vorpal bunny at 8:27 PM on April 25, 2010


Well, if you believe in Star Trek, we only have 53 more years until we become sufficiently annoying to the aliens to warrant a visit. I will be 87. Good times.
posted by gjc at 8:35 PM on April 25, 2010


"Agreed very much that many dead systems will be out there; an equal number of instances of the opposite also is possible of being. I think yes, intergalacticlly, there will be more 'long dead' systems, than we currently expect, because of the logarithmic like scale difference between flying around a solar system, vs flying around a galaxy, vs flying around between galaxies... but milky-way scale? Intragalactically I don't know the stats, but it seems likely to be more even, in terms of distribution of dying/early life stellar systems."

You're probably right. I don't know the science, but I think the idea is there's a correlation between the size of a galaxy and its time of peak star formation. So if the Milky way is an average sized galaxy (as it seems to be), then its peak rate will occur about half-way through its lifetime, which is more or less now. So this galaxy may be even divided between young and old stars, whereas other, bigger galaxies may be boneyards and smaller ones still cradles.
posted by Kevin Street at 8:48 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I just want to say that Stephen Hawking is a stand-up guy.
posted by d1rge at 9:06 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


If I ever meet an alien I'm going to let my fists do all the talking.
posted by Ritchie at 9:27 PM on April 25, 2010


I can't say I need an excuse to read Stross. :D
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:02 PM on April 25, 2010


I just want to say that Stephen Hawking is a stand-up guy.

That got a laugh out of me.

Though when a facebook "friend" linked to his blog post in which he'd taken the details of david carradine's death and made them into an obituary about stephen hawking I was like, the fuck?
posted by angrycat at 10:06 PM on April 25, 2010


The technology ratio between Earth and the aliens will be sufficiently large that it's silly to debate whether we'd get along.

Compare the technology of the US Navy versus the Somali pirates. Both groups:They're pretty much equal, in terms of technology. Now imagine what a fight would look like with unequal technology.

If intelligent aliens ever come to Earth, it's likely they will be significantly more advanced than us. If a fight were to happen, they would have a strong advantage. The technology ratios will be so lopsided it will make the fight between the US Navy and the Somali pirates look balanced.

We should assume the aliens will be friendly. It will suck if they aren't, but there's no point in worrying.
posted by ryanrs at 10:09 PM on April 25, 2010


It would be pretty goddamn funny if it turned out that energy weapons really are too inefficient for widespread use and the aliens turn up with firearms.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:18 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


They're not interested in us. We're made out of meat.
posted by homunculus at 10:26 PM on April 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


UGLY BAGS OF MOSTLY WATER!
posted by koeselitz at 10:36 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


All the really efficient weapons are banned by treaty.
posted by ryanrs at 10:41 PM on April 25, 2010


If it were anyone else on Earth, I would not consider this contention seriously. But it's Stephen Hawking, whose entire purpose here is to think of stuff like this. I'll just send someone else my tinfoil hat.
posted by medea42 at 11:08 PM on April 25, 2010


If I ever meet an alien I'm going to let my fists do all the talking.

Make sure you cap it off with "Welcome to Erf."
posted by codswallop at 11:59 PM on April 25, 2010


I don't know why having intelligent life would make a planet more enticing for resource extraction by aliens. I mean, if you want to raid a planet with mineral resources, wouldn't it make more sense to go after planets without intelligent life?

Who says they'd even consider us intelligent? Most empire building nations on earth decided that the natives of whatever land they felt like invading were not intelligent. Life grown under different pressures may not even be able to recognise our own intelligence.

As for what could they want from us - we're useful blobs of self replicating protein that turns simple aminos and sugars into interesting other chemicals. Maybe we're farmable. Maybe we secrete something nice in our skin they like to lick. Maybe they just want our snacks.They could be a species that enjoys invading wet planets for sport.

Fuck, for all we know they want to come and talk to the cetaceans. Or to bees. Or check up on their organic super processor that is made out of ants. Who knows? That's the thing with aliens. They're alien, and inscrutable.
posted by Jilder at 2:02 AM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I figure any species with the capability and motive to destroy us will probably be able to detect our presence regardless of whether we try to communicate with them.

You would think that, but we have been chasing Osama Bin Laden for nearly ten years without success.
posted by Hiker at 4:57 AM on April 26, 2010


I figure we'd see either a Footfall-esque bit of asskickery (i.e. we get rocks dropped on us hard until we give up) or something like War Against the Chtorr where we basically all just die of various plagues and then start noticing that we are being planetformed for an alternate ecology. It would not be an equal battle by any stretch of the imagination.
posted by longbaugh at 5:20 AM on April 26, 2010


Did anyone ever stop to think, maybe we are the aliens?
posted by albrecht at 7:06 AM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Actually, there is one assumption you can make: that any alien race is a product of natural selection. Their primary motivation would be survival, and nature's proven strategy toward acquiring the resources needed to survive and reproduce is violence.

No. The Earth's form of nature has a strategy of surviving by violence when necessary and by cooperation when possible. All multicellular life on the planet is symbiotic. Zoological symbiosis is relatively common. Even pathogens have a vested interest in becoming non-fatal to their hosts. The most intelligent animals are social creatures, every one of them.

One assumption we can make is that any alien race sufficiently advanced enough to intercept our message must have some sense of scientific curiosity. That and that alone has the potential to save us from annihilation.
posted by thesmophoron at 7:09 AM on April 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I wrote a short story, eons ago, about first contact: human civilizations out on the furthest colonies just started winking out, one by one, as the aliens approached.

So humanity thinks it's Death Aliens from Beyond, and arms itself, and prepares for battle, but no matter what we send out, they just disappear, sometimes after return broadcasts of sobbing or crying.

And the aliens approach. And civilizations keep vanishing.

The upshot of the story is that the aliens aren't hostile; they're kind and generous and giving. But they're so unbelievably awesome and good at everything that just to meet them is to realize that humanity will never ever ever catch up: we're doomed to endless eternity as the cosmic jokes of the universe, the deformed pathetic also-rans, God's ugly bastards.

The winking out is mass suicide: everyone, everywhere, that meets the aliens decides it's just better to wipe ourselves out than to keep being a stain on Creation.

It got rejected a few times by SF magazines by being too depressing, and then I started finding it too depressing, and stopped sending it out. But I still think it's a pretty plausible we-meet-the-aliens scenario. How would it feel to know that humanity faces countless eons on the shit end of the cosmic stick?
posted by Shepherd at 8:26 AM on April 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


It's not too depressing, it just relies on human beings to have an ounce of introspection.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:50 AM on April 26, 2010


Not to worry. All we need to defeat them is an Apple laptop and a virus. Oh, and Will Smith.
posted by howling fantods at 9:58 AM on April 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Did anyone ever stop to think, maybe we are the aliens?

I was going to say--that's four minutes and twenty seconds I'll never get back but I could only make it to 2:27: the time it took me to read the blog & until I got completely antagonized by Ke-DollarSign-a's lack of pitch or focus. Can we send her to meet the aliens?
posted by beelzbubba at 10:11 AM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Actually, there is one assumption you can make: that any alien race is a product of natural selection. Their primary motivation would be survival, and nature's proven strategy toward acquiring the resources needed to survive and reproduce is violence.

Yeah, but maybe they're space hippies and only want to spread love and enlightenment. Maybe they would come here just to jam with our musicians, like Spock.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:14 AM on April 26, 2010


How would it feel to know that humanity faces countless eons...

not that bad really, due to that cosmic stick you mention being so massive that even at the less developed, less powerful ends, even where we aren't the 'rulers', and are just 'there'... there is massive opportunity for growth, and for amazing experiences as human people.

Besides, I think you misjudge humanity if you think we have no lessons to teach those aliens. We have value to add to any hypothetical cosmic community, time and again individuals have shown that humans thought process is not some"fight or flight", "this or that", "winner takes all", "kill or be killed", "one way, and only one way" style of machine, there are various ways to 'be' a human facing a force massively stronger than oneself.

(haven't you seen star trek, 'all powerful' aliens always see themselves as "top dudes", and we always go and show and teach them humility, or we show them creativity, when they are pure cold logic thinkers, that is way more common than "using phazers to blast them away" or something), we are a multi-axis thinker... I don't know that all hypothetical thinkers in the universe would think this way; is it not as likely that cold logic would rule on a wider scale?

On the scale of logic, emotion, compassion, calculation of value, we have some amazing traits. I often hear in discussion like this how humanity is some "vile species" to be "looked at askance", like if we are not technologically superior to any hypothetical alien, we cannot be "intellectually", or morally, or ethically, or creatively, or inspirational, or better at gaining epiphany, or maybe we can 'learn' while other minds have developed so they are imprinted, and then they simply "perform"... what I'm saying is that our unique multi-axis thinking methods are possibly more unique than we believe. The worst we can do now is sell ourselves short.

Honestly, yes, we are violent. yes. But historically, have we not on the whole marked those bouts of violence with big bold letters, with STRONG and deep condemnation? Do we not learn our strongest and most lasting, and cross cultural lessons from those historic bouts with violent war and conflict? Do we not look at the times of violence, and say, that is why I will not be a violent person, I see that violence brings only more violence, and I want a safe place for my next generation, so I will not invite violence.

I think, in the round, we do.
Think of that philosophical hypothetical; 'Imagine if we could time travel, would you go back and kill Hitler as a baby'? Some see it as a "test of morality" in asking "would you kill someone who has not yet committed a crime, even though his crimes are possibly humanities greatest evil"... but to me, I ask, would we have learned what we learned if someone killed him like that? Before his vile ideas were brought to the light of day, before humanity could see, and say...
"THIS, THIS right HERE, this is the MOST WRONG we can be".

Would we now be living in the nightmare reality of simply the "next" person to come up with those vile ideas, would more people not be susceptible to those sort of ideas, were history and reality to be altered? As can be seen from many examples, we can very much do wrong... but is it "human nature" as so very many people seem to often claim... I vote, and argue an emphatic NO, that is not our nature, but yes, we are susceptible to failure and bad ideas; but we are not a flawed species. We are not inherently "evil", or violent, it is NOT human nature to "fight violently", it is a byproduct of many elements, it is not inherent or "nature".

Is it possible that our episodes "vile violence" is slowly tracing a pathway to a place where we can look from a wider perspective, and look back, and understand our errors? Where our societies may use our greatest gifts to understand and solve our problems; utilizing our words.

Promethean ethics and triage ethics might be how a species that 'is' coming from some ancient society actually thinks, a "pure logic" mind seems plausible as a though process for a species that were massively ancient, and massively technologically advanced, seems as reasonable as them having duplicated a 'mind' homologous to 'our' ways of thinking.
Don't sell us short, even meat bags with brain clusters like us have something to teach an ultimately advanced technological alien.
posted by infinite intimation at 10:31 AM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I just hope that if/when the aliens do come, we'll get to see them first - they may not recognize what we have as intelligence. I'm banking on the dolphins not having seen too much (oh, please god, don't let them be spies).
posted by _paegan_ at 10:50 AM on April 26, 2010


Oh he's just paranoid from watching Avatar.
posted by stormpooper at 11:17 AM on April 26, 2010


I think I have to agree with what some of the other posters said: that there's nothing on Earth that the aliens would want that wouldn't be easier to mine from an uninhabited solar system or to just make themselves. The only things of any value that Earth may have to offer are the products of our culture: music, stories, films, etc.

If aliens wanted to steal those, they wouldn't even have to make their presence known to most people. They'd just have to co-opt a few human agents to do most of their work. Of course, those agents couldn't just go to book stores and start buying up the inventory. That would get noticed and in any case, the stuff in print right now is just a fraction of the totality of human cultural output.

No, they'd have to be clever. First, the aliens would give their agents new technologies to make it possible to store our culture in easily copied digital formats. At the same time, they'd encourage the creation of a worldwide digital network. Finally, when large parts of
human culture are network-accessible, their agents would start collecting it all under some pretense--easy searching or creating historical archives, say--and delivering copies to the aliens.

The fact that this is enormously profitable to the human agents makes it that much easier to keep it a secret. Alas, their are quislings never aware that they're selling humanities greatest treasures for a pittance.

Ah, but that could never happen.
posted by suetanvil at 11:43 AM on April 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


If there is one good prediction we can make about hypothetical alien visitors based on human psychology, it's that they want to probe our rectums with technologically advanced instruments.

Outside of that, I think Dr. Hawkings has been reading too much science fiction.
posted by dgaicun at 11:59 AM on April 26, 2010


So -- they probably have unimaginable concepts of pleasure, then.
'Cause other than immortality, it's hard to know what else to wish for.


Rock n roll.
posted by ersatz at 12:30 PM on April 26, 2010


E.T.ASL?
posted by Smedleyman at 2:32 PM on April 26, 2010


The most intelligent animals are social creatures, every one of them.

And they all eat other creatures, and the males all fight each other for the opportunity to mate. The smartest two species war with their own kind.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 5:43 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


No matter what we (obviously don't) have to fear from aliens, this is like telling you not to call out of the already open window in a house with every electronic appliance on and all the TVs and radios turned up full blast.

No, it isn't. Not at all. You are talking about very tiny signals. Space is HUGE. The distances between things are beyond comprehension. Our everyday radio signals can barely even reach all the way to distant countries on this planet, let alone other planets in this solar system, which are on the order of up to millions (a million is already a way bigger number than I can visualize) of times further away than our neighboring countries. Other solar systems are millions of times further away than that, even.

Now, compare our normal, background radio signals against actively pinging other stars with focussed, coherent beams transmitted in short bursts with power levels as intense as we can manage without destroying our heaviest-duty high-energy materials. Big difference.

Still, in the curiosity versus safety tradeoff, I'll probably pick curiosity. It might someday get me killed, but I am what I am.

Also, this is a good Wikipedia entry on the subject.
posted by Xezlec at 9:01 PM on April 26, 2010


So, I got bored at the library and picked up one of Shirley Maclaine's books about aliens. So far she claims that the government keeps all their alien dealings hidden even from the presidents, there's multiple species hanging around the planet, and at least some of them want to help us, but are too afraid to come out of the closet because well, we're crazy.

Given what we'd do to them, by all means, aliens, stay in that closet!
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:43 PM on April 27, 2010


OUT OF THE CLOSETS AND INTO THE SPACESHIPS!
OUT OF THE CLOSETS AND INTO THE SPACESHIPS!
OUT OF THE CLOSETS AND INTO THE SPACESHIPS!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:07 PM on April 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


THE QUEER TAKE OVER OF SPACE BEGINS! YOU CAN KEEP EEARTH - WE GET THE GALAXY.


GONNA REDECORATE VENUS SO GOOD.
posted by The Whelk at 5:34 PM on April 27, 2010


STEPHEN HAWKING: How to build a time machine
posted by homunculus at 1:29 PM on May 4, 2010


note to Pope Guilty: your favoriting of my comment above marked the 10,000th favorite bestowed upon me. You'll be receiving* an embossed, personally signed note of thanks from mathowie himself.

*offer void in Indiana and 47 other states

posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:35 PM on May 4, 2010


Feels good, dunnit, flapjax? ;)
posted by koeselitz at 5:38 PM on May 4, 2010


Yeah, I've joined the 5-digit club, koeselitz. BTW, you've been a member for a while now... is it true what they say? I mean, do we control the British Pound?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:50 PM on May 4, 2010


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