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NASA-Brookings Study





A NASA-sponsored study carried out, in the late 1950s, by the Brookings Institution to identify long-range goals of the United States space program and their impact on American society. The resulting report, submitted to NASA in 1960 only a few months after the end of Project Ozma, included a discussion of the implications of the discovery of extraterrestrial life and intelligence.1 The authors pointed out that the reactions of both individuals and governments would probably depend on their social, cultural, and religious backgrounds, as well as on the nature of the discovery. The finding of low forms of life, or "subhuman intelligence," it was thought, might quickly be assimilated. However, more profound effects might follow from the discovery of intelligence that was superior to our own (see extraterrestrial intelligence, more advanced than us). In particular, it was pointed out:
Anthropological files contain many examples of societies, sure of their place in the universe, which have disintegrated when they had to associate with previously unfamiliar societies espousing different ideas and different life ways; others that survived such an experience usually did so by paying the price of changes in values and attitudes and behavior.

Since intelligent life might be discovered at any time via the radio telescope research presently under way, and since the consequences of such a discovery are presently unpredictable because of our limited knowledge of behavior under even an approximation of such dramatic circumstances, two research areas can be recommended:

1. Continuing studies to determine emotional and intellectual understanding and attitudes – and successive alterations of them if any – regarding the possibility and consequences of discovering intelligent extraterrestrial life.

2. Historical and empirical studies of the behavior of peoples and their leaders when confronted with dramatic and unfamiliar events or social pressures ...
Such studies, the report recommended, should take account of public reactions to past hoaxes (see "Moon Hoax"), waves of unidentified flying objects (see saucer flap of 1947; "Washington Invasion"), and events such as the 1938 War of the Worlds radio play. They should also consider how best to inform the public of contact with an extraterrestrial intelligence, or whether such knowledge should be withheld. International relations, the report concluded, might be permanently altered because of "a greater unity of men on earth, based on the 'oneness' of man or on the age-old assumption that any stranger is threatening."


Reference

  1. Michael, Donald N., ed. Proposed Studies on the Implications of Peaceful Space Activities for Human Affairs by the Brookings Institution to the 87th U.S. Congress, report No. 242. Washington, D.C.: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (1961).

Related entry

   • extraterrestrial intelligence, implications following first contact


Related category

   • SETI