character of extraterrestrial intelligence
Science fiction has envisaged the possibility of everything from kind, wise, and even cute extraterrestrials, like ET, to utterly malicious, scheming monsters, like Giger's Alien. On balance, ever since Wells unleashed his marauding Martians (see War of the Worlds, novel), the fictional creatures from "out there" have tended to be of the usurping, death-ray variety - not surprisingly, since this makes for a more compelling plot. But if we do encounter other intelligences among the stars, will they in reality prove to be friendly or hostile?
As our own species is in the process of proving, one cannot have superior science and inferior morals. The combination is unstable and self-destroying.
Any creature we contact will also have had to claw its way up the evolutionary ladder and will be every bit as nasty as we are. It will likely be an extremely adaptable, extremely aggressive super-predator.In a similar vein, medical anthropologist Melvin Korner has written that:
Evolution predicts the existence of selfishness, arrogance and violence on other planets even more surely than it predicts intelligence. If they could get to Earth, extraterrestrials would do to us what we have done to lesser animals for centuries.In 1964, Freeman Dyson considered the two polar extremes to which intelligence might evolve:2
Intelligence may indeed be a benign influence, creating isolated groups of philosopher-kings far apart in the heavens and enabling them to share at leisure their accumulated wisdom ... [On the other hand] intelligence may be a cancer of purposeless technological exploitation, sweeping across a galaxy as irresistibly as it has swept across our own planet ... the technological cancer could spread over a whole galaxy in a few million years, a time very short compared with the life of a planet... Our business as scientists is to search the universe and find out what is there. What is there may conform to our moral sense or it may not... It is just as unscientific to impute to remote intelligences wisdom and serenity as it is to impute to them irrational and murderous impulses. We must be prepared for either possibility and conduct our searches accordingly.Perhaps the most reasonable assumption, in the absence of any data, is that, just as in our own case, the potential for good and evil will exist in every intelligent extraterrestrial race. Civilization is unthinkable without some measure of compassion, and yet how could a species that had emerged successfully after several billion years of live-and-let-die biological competition not also possess a ruthless streak? The question is surely not whether any advanced race we may meet among the stars is capable of aggression – it certainly will be unless it has genetically or otherwise altered itself to be purely pacific – but whether it has learned to override its more basic instincts. A further point to bear in mind is the variation in character which can exist between individuals within a species. Will the first representative of an alien race that we encounter be a Hitler or a Gandhi? Fears about what consequences might follow from making contact with a superior species, malevolent or benign, have led to calls from some leading scientists to avoid attempts at CETI (see CETI, opposition to).3
In the unlikely event that we were threatened by an alien invasion, could we do anything about? Read about Richard Cathcart's ingenious (and tongue-in-cheek) "Earth-igloo" concept on how we might conceal our presence if malevolent creatures did turn their attention to the solar system!
Related category EXTRATERRESTRIAL AND NON-HUMAN INTELLIGENCE
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