So tonight we all went to a public talk on the subject of the search for alien life. Yes, Tabby’s planet was mentioned. And another 11 (or was it thirteen) odd “objects” that might be alien life.
The talk itself was pretty good, though I confess that while at one time I had Seti@home on my computer, and of course I keep an ear out for such things (being a geek) aliens are something “I don’t believe in.”
This begs explaining, of course. I mean, rationally I’ll concede it’s possible there’s tons of alien life. It is perhaps likely. It’s even likely there’s tons of sentient life.
I’ll admit, rationally, too, that the chances are that alien life is way too distant from us in space or time to make any difference. Of all the billions and billions (eh) of planets in the universe, the chances are that if there are sentient civilizations they’re too far away from us to make contact in our lifetime or indeed in the lifetime of our civilization even if we last for thousands of years more.
Now, this doesn’t mean I should have this blank spot in my inner compass that says “Aliens, nothing there.”
After all I routinely write about things that objectively don’t exist, such as dragons and mermaids. And about half the things that I write about aren’t supposed to exist even in my great great great grandkids’ lifetime.
So WHY is there a blank space under aliens? A “I don’t believe in them enough to even play along” spot?
I don’t know. It’s probably some quirk of how I’m put together. Curiously and bizarrely, if we landed on Mars tomorrow and found men just like us living in underground cities, either colonists from our own world or some other, I”d just go “Oh, okay.” It’s more the non-human extra terrestrials that I find weird. And no, don’t tell me that non-human extra-terrestrials are likely, while human ones, without a time machine, are well nigh impossible. I know that. It’s my subconscious that doesn’t and subconscious(es) are weird beasties who make no sense whatsoever.
Anyway, accounting for the fact I find the whole thing very unlikely at a gut level, it was an interesting talk and all. And of course I’d be interested if we did find aliens, because at a rational level it would answer tons of questions, like, you know, is there a pathway that life might follow at a basic molecular level? Is life perhaps all related, as Hoyle suspected, etc.
But after the talk the audience got to ask questions.
There was the question about what do we think it would do to society if watchers/listeners found unmistakable signs of alien life. I confess I didn’t even GET that. And Laura Montgomery, who sat nest to me whispered “We’d all go maaaaaad Maaaad.”
This was probably payback for my having told her earlier that the only message we should send to the stars was “Only hoomans allowed here, no aliens. Stay off our lawn. Go away. This means you.” Which had made her laugh.
But at the same time she’s right. So imagine that astronomers or whatever detected unmistakable signs of intelligent alien life… Why should it do anything to our society?
If it was 100 light years or so way, maybe my grandkids might make contact, maybe. BUT if it was — as is more probable — 10k or more light years away… well… we wouldn’t even know if whatever sent those signals would still be there. I mean, ten thousand years ago, humans’ most civilized activity was digging in the dirt. And you know what? we might be doing that again in ten thousand years.
The presenter seemed rather puzzled by the question too and said something like “Well, we’d have more funding.”
I suspect the question was an attempt at “gotcha”. There is a very silly type of atheist who thinks that people of faith would lose all faith if we found He had also create aliens.
This always seemed rather odd to me. I mean, sure, He created us in his image and semblance, but that’s assumed to be our spirit, right? Why shouldn’t His infinite spirit have other images and semblances? Who are we to tell Him who He can create or even who He can adopt?
I don’t FEEL we’ll find aliens, but honestly, it will be more suspicious if we don’t find them. Then we’d sort of have to start quirking an eyebrow and try to figure out what is going on here. Is this a joke? Is it aimed at us?
If I were writing this, we’d find humans. They’d have been flung back in time by accidental time travel, or they’d have evolved in parallel or they and us would be seeds of an ancient, ancient race.
I’m not going to ask. I might write it someday, mind. But it’s possible that Himself doesn’t have my twisted sense of humor. After all, I’m the plucky comic relief.
Oh, I’d also plump for little green aliens with a twisted sense of humor (Read Martians Go Home.)
But I confess most of all, as much as finding aliens would be interesting, because it would allow us to know ourselves better by comparison, it disturbs me how some people (thank heavens no one at this talk, but some famous tv-scientists, and you know exactly who I mean) look to potential aliens as a source of ethical guidance.
This I don’t get, even if they are more technologically advanced than us. Aliens would still be aliens, and while they might not have the same blind spots we do (perhaps, after all, you know, it might be baked into sentient species) they will have blind spots. It strikes me as the same as taking ethical and spiritual guidance from your cat. “Partaketh thou of the Tuna” “Chase the mousie.” Seriously?
In that sense, the idea of finding aliens worries me. Doubtless it’s saner to seek guidance from aliens than from crystals (at least assuming the crystals aren’t aliens) but it’s still insane. It would be another thing for some number of humans to hang all their world view upon, which doubtless would irk me.
Fortunately it’s unlikely to happen, as I’m thinking as hard as I can “Only hoomans allowed. Get off our lawn. Go home. This means you.”