Aliens and Us

The Chief Scientist at Nasa, Ellen Stofan, was cited in the Washington Post as holding the view that aliens will be found. Throughout the years I have read various articles, primarily from Scientific American (back when I could regularly afford the printed magazines), that presented convincing argument for their existence. Typically, the position is that with as many stars in the cosmos, there is a very high probability that beings live on other planets.

Truly, I do not know if aliens exist. I do not think about it as often as I do other things. When I have thought about it, one of my conclusions was that the discovery of aliens would change little about human society. Despite the discovery of other life, the majority of individuals not involved in such discovery would still contend with the daily issues of how to pay their bills, cultivate good careers, and live a good life. Day-to-day life issues would remain the primary focus of most people.

That is what I realized. The revelation of aliens would not suddenly shift the environment into a science fiction scenario of Utopian technology and higher communal cooperation overnight. Some would debate it on the news like any topic. Others would find in the discovery a reason to change their social conventions. A few would take the moment to seek economic opportunities related to trade, tourism, and cultural exchange. History on Earth is actually a guide as to what would likely occur in reality.

I had no intention of writing about this. I went to see The Martian last Friday. It is a very good movie directed by Ridley Scott. He is among my favorite directors and I have never met a film of his I did not enjoy. I found in The Martian what I thought was a realistic portrayal of how explorers on Mars and observers on Earth would deal with the varying difficulties of engaging with the Red Planet. It is believable and candid in many areas. Ultimately, I think the film was a great conceptual showcase of the power of human intellect in overcoming impossible circumstances.

The representation in the film of how problems working on Mars could be addressed was nearly enough for me to reconsider the idea that people should avoid visiting it. Oil drilling in the Gulf is dangerous, but still manageable. We have even demonstrated our ability to respond to major spills. Going further out means we would need far greater capability. As an instructor and flight controller at NASA, Robert Frost has some well-regarded thoughts on the readiness of the technology shown in the film if such mechanisms used our present capabilities.

NASA and other agencies dealing with the cosmos need funding. Public support through media is an effective way to do this. In the absence of enthusiasm based on dreams and vision, what worth is it to pursue such things?

The simple answer is that outer space is not a mysterious, fantasy based wonderland. It is an extension of Earth. Earth exists within the cosmos. People benefit from understanding the geology of Earth, knowing the environment so as to better function within this environment, what happens further out from our orbit here can impact what happens locally. Better observation begets better preparation and adaptation to the landscape at large.

Second, such a program greatly challenges the scientific and technical capacities of those involved. Few things focuses the mind like the things they do at NASA and other agencies involved with the cosmos. The by-product of their efforts can improve the way people live their day-to-day lives. Including those seeking to start businesses to improve the solutions available to people who NASA would aid by offering a legal assist to start-ups in the form of unique patents they can get from NASA for free.

The real reason for my writing here is the article entitled, Is Stephen Hawking Right About Hostile Aliens? As one of the foremost theoretical physicists, his opinions carry much weight. In my own opinion on the issue, I do not think there is enough information to say whether or not aliens would be hostile. You simply cannot know. Even here on Earth, we have many nations and many tribes (some not yet contacted). Some are famous for conquest, others have no history or track record for conquest as to be entirely pacifist.

An example are the San People of Africa. Also known as the Bushmen. The bushmen are generally one with the land and have lived a harmonious existence within a certain land area of Africa. Only when advances from more evolved social structures enter into their world did their opportunity to live in peace seemed threatened. Others profited from ancient knowledge they had without real benefit to the San People. Despite all this, the Bushmen’s response has been one of peace and cooperation.

Society’s thoughts about aliens is a mirror. A useful device to step outside ourselves and ponder motivations and possibilities. As I read the article about the possibility for hostile rather than peaceful aliens, I saw many good questions that do not have clear answers. The conclusion of that article however gives a great perspective to make the day-to-day much better well in advance of any discovery of extraterrestrial life.

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