Here’s a thought: What if alien civilizations want to be left completely alone?
Listed below are some of the unspoken presumptions underlying our nascent interstellar expansionism:
- We know what “universal intelligence” means. (Our most celebrated scientists usually equate this with “technical control over nature”— all “aliens” wash their hands before dinner and watch sitcoms)
- Closely tied to assumption number one is the wide spread view that increasingly more powerful and efficient uses of energy is the hallmark of an “advanced” civilization—yes, all intelligent beings at one time carried gas cards)
- More seriously though, we believe the existential demarcation between what is “alive” and “not-alive” can be universally perceived and defined by us
- Fundamentally we believe that “advanced alien minds” approximate our own and thus are able to “logically communicate” by choosing the “most efficient” means such as binary code/radio waves
- Most potentially damaging we assume that “alien civilizations” can be reasonably recognized by us and when found will have a strong instantaneous desire to strike up a fascinating conversation with us…I mean, who wouldn’t want to do interstellar lunch, right?
There are many more of these underlying assumptions motivating our quest for “other life forms” and they are not pretty.
They reveal a species that is arrogantly self-confident and almost insanely presumptuous about the “true” nature of the universe and its place within it. We “boldly” go where no “person” has gone before—who asked us? Destiny you say. Our history (one filled with love and understanding for the ‘other’ to be sure.) Yet someone might still insist: It’s in our very nature to explore! Exactly. Our nature. And what about theirs?
Even with my puny imagination it doesn’t take much to imagine a being interested in other things aside from interstellar exploration (exploitation?) For instance, perhaps there are worlds where courtship is everything, or food preparation, or song, or dream making, or standing still, or complexly fluctuating under strange seas? Who knows what values and ways of being “aliens” might or might not possess.
More horrifyingly, imagine a situation where a highly complex, sensitive, mysteriously beautiful civilization suddenly appears before our self-satisfied technologically adjusted eyes and then !wham! begins to catastrophically disintegrate just as we reach out to “touch it.” After all that’s what “Contact” derived from the Latin originally means: to touch. And the Romans sure did a lot of “touching up” in previously “unknown” places like Gaul, Judea, and Britannia. In the interstellar case, as in human history, a meeting of the minds may not be such a beautiful happening after all.
Our quest for extraterrestrial life is anthropomorphically biased and thus morally compromised because rationally incommensurate with its own premise. We do not fully know ourselves, yet we wish to “know” others. Indeed, that is part of the whole trick. By finding others we subconsciously feel that we will then be able to take the measure of ourselves in comparison. As the great Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem wrote: “We’re not looking for aliens, we’re looking for mirrors.”
Come on people look around! Have different religions, cultures, ethnicities, species gotten along at first sight? Was there an initial rational celebration of difference and variety on a human let alone intra-species scale? “Oh, please, spare me!” you say…”the next time it will be different!” Of that I, too, am sure—and probably not to the final advantage of the human race in all its folly and blunder.
Bio: PhD in Continental Philosophy from Sofia University. Regular contributor to Counterpunch. Teaches at Ravensburg-Weinburg and Neu Ulm University of Applied Sciences.