I Don’t Believe in Aliens Anymore
August 8, 2018 9:34 AM   Subscribe

Watching the flicker of my own thoughts, I became convinced that, as the poet Elizabeth Bishop put it, “nothing stranger could ever happen” than to wake up and find oneself a human being.
posted by Barack Spinoza (24 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
👽👎🏽
posted by Barack Spinoza at 11:28 AM on August 8


Some time ago, I was thinking of the old Arthur C. Clarke adage on alien life, and noticed if we are truly alone in the infinite or ever-expanding universe, we're doing a bang-up job of making sure of making sure it will be lifeless a few generations in.
So, if we stopped believing in the idea life can exist on another planet, or believing when our brain, lung and heart decide to give up we don't go to some version of an afterlife, maybe we could actually work to try and keep the planet borderline liveable? If we truly are biological oddities in the inter-planetary sense, shouldn't that be bigger than, well, every stupid little difference we have now?

I'll shut up now before I either give myself existencial insomnia. Again.
posted by lmfsilva at 11:33 AM on August 8 [6 favorites]


That's okay. We believe in you.
posted by Splunge at 11:42 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]


as the poet Elizabeth Bishop put it, “nothing stranger could ever happen” than to wake up and find oneself a human being.

To be fair, life is the strangest thing I have ever seen.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:46 AM on August 8 [3 favorites]


there's a bit in one of Milan Kundera's novels where the narrator's father, in old age, is reduced to being only able to say ont thing "That's very strange"
posted by thelonius at 11:47 AM on August 8


The universe is almost unimaginably vast and old. That there is not, has never been, and never again will be intelligent life anywhere but here, on this one speck of dust, one among an uncountable number, is, again, almost unimaginably improbable.

And yet, maybe there isn't, hasn't been, and never will be. I'd be okay with that. Being adrift in a vast universe is still pretty amazing. I don't think it requires meaning. A series of unlikely coincidences looks an awful lot like luck, or divine intervention.

Which isn't to say that human intelligence isn't strange. Brains -- not just human brains, but brains, writ large -- are every bit as implausible as the absence of extraterrestrial life. Or the presence of terrestrial life. Why should this particular arrangement of meat animate an intelligence that can try to understand the meat?
posted by uncleozzy at 12:08 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


I file aliens, Ancient Aliens, Bigfoot, Nessie, Mothman, Icke's Lizard People, the Discovery Channel's Mermaid/Aquatic Ape theory and pretty much everything else of that nature under 'For Entertainment Purposes Only'.
I like the idea of them existing, but until solid proof comes out that they do, I'll just figure they are fiction being presented as fact and enjoy the hell out of them as such.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 12:18 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


Personally - I like the "theory" that essentially we are the only intelligent/conscious beings in our slice of the multiverse.

It kind of goes hand in hand with the idea that the very act of consciousness inherently limits the ability of other intelligence to arise within the "sphere of observable universe" of the first species, because of the quantum "wavefunction" possibilities being collapsed by the first observers. Some fiction with this as a theme includes; Greg Egan's 'Quarantine' and 'Anathem' by Neal Stephenson.

Either that, or we are all living in a simulation...

In any case, it's up to us to "sort our shit out" here at home, and then maybe consider using resources off-planet so we can stop killing our birthplace.
posted by jkaczor at 12:34 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


Personally - I like the "theory" that essentially we are the only intelligent/conscious beings in our slice of the multiverse.

Do you think that animals aren't conscious? To me, there seems to be a difference between a dog who is asleep and one who is awake. Or are they just not conscious enough?
posted by thelonius at 12:47 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


One thing that shocks me is that life is really, unimaginably old too. For about a quarter of the history of the universe, there has been DNA-based life on Earth.
posted by vogon_poet at 12:57 PM on August 8 [7 favorites]


Choosing not to believe in the existence of aliens is, I think, a little like living in the Midwest and choosing not to believe in plate tectonics. Sure, it's probably never going to come up for you personally, and you can live a meaningful life without it, but it's not going to make it any less true, and you won't be better for refusing to entertain the idea.

I think it's unlikely that we will ever find evidence of another civilization, due to the vastness of things, but I also think it's unlikely that there has never been one. Other intelligent species probably chew themselves to death over religion and greed and xenophobia the way we do, and never get around to colonizing planets, but the idea makes life a little less lonely. And I do adore the fact that it can never be disproven.

So, if we stopped believing in the idea life can exist on another planet, or believing when our brain, lung and heart decide to give up we don't go to some version of an afterlife, maybe we could actually work to try and keep the planet borderline liveable?


Robbing people of dreams has never, in my experience, made them better human beings. If they part with them at all, they will only find new dreams, often nastier ones.
posted by Countess Elena at 12:59 PM on August 8 [9 favorites]


Do you think that animals aren't conscious? To me, there seems to be a difference between a dog who is asleep and one who is awake. Or are they just not conscious enough?

Actually - I was going to add something to my post - but, it is probably a little offensive - animals may be intelligent and conscious in their own way - but can we truly have a conversation with them? Yes, there are primates who have huge vocabularies - and dolphins communicate as well.

So - having animals that are close to intelligence and consciousness, but not exactly where we are - yet evolving on the same planet only adds to the argument that perhaps only a single species can collapse the waveform possibilities within a "sphere of thought".

(I say this as someone who wrangles 3 dogs and a cat - all with varying degrees of intelligence, love and some form of conscious thought)
posted by jkaczor at 1:11 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


... but... then again, perhaps our relationship with other animals on this planet and their levels of consciousness is indicative of how the aliens feel about us... perhaps we should feel lucky we aren't someone's pets...
posted by jkaczor at 1:13 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


or food
posted by thelonius at 1:31 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


I opened my eyes, looked at the familiar organic forms of my backyard—the grass, the bark of a tree - and I thought the author was going to go in a different direction, seeing the nonhuman biome as alien.
posted by doctornemo at 1:46 PM on August 8


only adds to the argument that perhaps only a single species can collapse the waveform possibilities

Even if we accept that there's some kind of consciousness exclusion principle, why should it operate on the level of species rather than on the level of individuals? 'Species' are conceptual categories we use to make sense of life, they don't have any physical underpinning that could plausibly apply at the quantum level.
posted by Pyry at 2:39 PM on August 8 [6 favorites]


Species' are conceptual categories we use to make sense of life, they don't have any physical underpinning that could plausibly apply at the quantum level.

You just have to look at them as an objectification of a Platonic ideal
posted by thelonius at 3:46 PM on August 8


perhaps we should feel lucky we aren't someone's pets

I dunno, owners are usually invested in discouraging a pet's self-destructive tendencies. Humanity could use a bit of that, I think.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 5:16 PM on August 8


Even if we accept that there's some kind of consciousness exclusion principle, why should it operate on the level of species rather than on the level of individuals? 'Species' are conceptual categories we use to make sense of life, they don't have any physical underpinning that could plausibly apply at the quantum level.

I completely agree. Considering that there have been other hominids that were closely related enough for us to interbreed with, such as Denisovan and Neanderthal, the species level is too arbitrary. Thus, if any collapsing of the waveform precludes the arising of intelligence on other planets, it must have happened very early in our evolution, likely at the level of the first primates, but possibly even as far back as the Devonian.
posted by ambulocetus at 7:42 PM on August 8


I saw a video of a astronomer who explained that in the universe things either never occur, occur once or occur all the time.

In terms of life, we're now on the 'occur once' stage; that being us on Earth. We just need to find an alien microbe buried in the soil on Mars or swimming in the oceans under the ice on Europa and that means the universe is teeming with life, however simple or short lived it may be.
posted by PenDevil at 3:01 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


Even if we accept that there's some kind of consciousness exclusion principle, why should it operate on the level of species rather than on the level of individuals?

It does. I get to be conscious today. You can have tomorrow.
posted by evilDoug at 2:00 PM on August 9


Even if we accept that there's some kind of consciousness exclusion principle, why should it operate on the level of species rather than on the level of individuals?

I think the idea would be that the evolution of consciousness requires some sort of quantum indeterminacy that is collapsed by the emergence of a brain that can do the sort of observation that collapses wave functions. The genome of that first brain still exists and can continue to develop and evolve into one or more intelligent species, but no other new consciousness can evolve in the lightcone of observers whose observations collapse the wave functions of whatever they observe.
posted by straight at 9:40 AM on August 10 [1 favorite]


And perhaps not strictly the light cone, but rather the actual observations of that species, which would mean that each new telescope we build multiplies the number of star systems that our observations render sterile to the development of conscious life.
posted by straight at 9:42 AM on August 10 [1 favorite]


Pets

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSOHO3GwEPg
posted by Splunge at 1:31 PM on August 10 [1 favorite]


« Older Those '70s Accounts   |   Ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba... Newer »


You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.