extraterrestrial intelligence, implications following first contact
Fictional portrayals of the first direct contact between an extraterrestrial
civilization and our own have conditioned us to expect one of two extreme
situations. Either the aliens will be ruthlessly aggressive (biological
selection having made them, like our own species, into the ultimate survivors)
or utterly benign, peaceful and wise (sociological selection having led
them to renounce war as a prerequisite to self-preservation). Compare, for
example, the disturbing Alien series
of movies with E.T. or Close
Encounters. A similar bifurcation of opinion is evident among scientists
who have considered the possible consequences of contact. Ben R. Finney,
professor of anthropology at the University of Hawaii, has examined various
proposed scenarios and divides them into two main categories: "paranoid"
and "pronoid". Those of the paranoid persuasion tend to argue against attempts
at CETI (see CETI,
opposition to). Inescapably, however, our viewpoints are anthropocentric
and our speculations about the possible temperament of other intelligent
species are based on projections of the duality in our own nature-the good
and the evil that are inherent, inseparable components of the human psyche
(see extraterrestrial intelligence, character
One thing seems certain. If there are other space-faring, star-to-star communicating
races in the Galaxy, then we must be technologically primitive in comparison
with the great majority of them (see extraterrestrial
intelligence, more advanced than us). A major concern then is what might
follow from first contact with creatures who, whatever their nature, possess
knowledge and power far in excess of our own. Examples from human history
seem to offer a cautionary note: exploration has gone hand in hand with
exploitation, colonization with conflict and subjugation. In almost every
case, the more technologically advanced interloper, intentionally or otherwise,
has eventually imposed its ways and assimilated or emasculated the weaker
party. Even if this were not to happen, it is uncertain how the human race
would react to the discovery that it was, in cosmic terms, so backward.
An optimist might argue that we would relish the prospect of rapid growth
and would quickly learn from our older, wiser mentors, as children do from
adults. A pessimist might insist we would be crushed to learn that, despite
all our efforts, others had vastly surpassed us. Concerns such as these
were raised in a study carried out for NASA by the Brookings Institution
at the dawn of the space era (see NASA-Brookings
Study) and have also been expressed by several prominent scientists,
including Nobel laureates Martin Ryle and George Wald. Others, such as Carl Sagan,
William Newman, and Arthur C. Clarke have
defended the view that mature civilizations in the Galaxy would recognize
the risks of first contact to younger races and would avoid revealing too
much about themselves or their knowledge until the time was right.1-6
- Billingham, J., Heyns, R., Milne, D., et al. Social Implications
of Detecting an Extraterrestrial Civilization: A Report of the Workshop
on the Cultural Aspects of SETI. Mountain View, Calif.: SETI Institute
- Bova, Ben, and Preiss, Byron. First Contact: The Search for Extraterrestrial
Intelligence New York: NAL Books (1990).
- Christian, James, ed. Extraterrestrial Intelligence: The First
Encounter. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books (1976).
- Dick, S. J. "Cultural Aspects of Astrobiology," paper presented at
Bioastronomy 99: A New Era for Bioastronomy, Kohala Coast, Hawaii, August
- Harrison, Albert. After Contact: The Human Response to Extraterrestrial
Life. New York: Plenum (1997).
- Tough, Allen. "What Role will Extraterrestrials play in Humanity's
Future?," Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, 39,
Abstract: Because their capacities are probably highly
advanced, some extraterrestrial species may be using unobtrusive methods
of observing humankind and other fledgling civilisations in the Galaxy.
The amount of help they want to give to such civilisations is probably
quite significant. Their help could be of three types: instant intervention
to avoid a nuclear holocaust or other imminent catastrophe; long-term
help in reducing grave dangers; and help in improving nondangerous
spheres of life. Sooner of later, unless we extinguish ourselves first,
advanced extraterrestrials will have an enormous impact on humankind.
Even during the next 30 years, the probability of contact or interaction
may be one in four. Given these conclusions, what should we do next?
Thirteen possible strategies are outlined. The likelihood and benefits
of success are estimated for each strategy; then its overall priority
is rated. At present, seven of the eight highest priority strategies
remain neglected and unfunded.
AND NON-HUMAN INTELLIGENCE