An article titled “7 Huge Misconceptions about Aliens” by Natalie Wolchover has appeared recently on several websites including Space.com; Life’s Little Mysteries (prime site); and the Huffington Post (abridged to just five). It’s all about how scientists view the existence and nature of advanced ET as opposed to the more common perceptions of the great unwashed. The following comments are my addressing of the common misconceptions raised. Let’s see if I agree or disagree with the verdicts, and most important, why. Oh, of course the “THEY” referred to is our intelligent and technologically advanced ET.
THEY MIGHT NOT EXIST: Disagree
This is the only case of the magnificent seven with scientists hedging bets. They “might” not exist. Then too they “might” exist.
Okay, we have no actual alien bodies on the slab in the lab, so the existence of aliens to date is pure speculation. When it comes to life in the universe, we have to speculate from a statistical sample of one – terrestrial life. Extrapolating from a statistical sample of one is fraught with danger. But, when crunching the numbers, so many stars, so many planets, so much time, so much space, so much of the ‘right stuff’ available for life-as-we-know-it, that very, very few scientists would bet their family farm that terrestrial life, and terrestrial intelligent life, and terrestrial intelligent life with advanced technology was the proverbial IT in the cosmos at large.
Certainly SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) scientists, one of which featured prominently in the original essay, wouldn’t adopt the “we are alone” scenario. It would make a mockery of their very own chosen profession and careers. The possible existence of ET may currently just boil down to pure statistics, but those statistics have been crunched and double crunched and tripled crunched again and again and again by the best science currently available to us. The verdict, well SETI scientists have voted to put their time, efforts and energy into, and bet on, the “we are not alone” option.
Finally, if you adopt the quantum (physics) mantra, anything that isn’t forbidden is compulsory; anything that can happen, must happen. Life isn’t forbidden; life can happen – we’re proof; therefore life must happen again and again and again.
THEY WON’T COME IN ‘PERSON’: Disagree
By “come”, the consensus is that flesh-and-blood aliens will boldly go via silicon and metal surrogates that are themselves constructed artificially intelligent (AI), thus saving the biological aliens a lot of time, cost, effort, energy and danger. Sending out zillions of robotic AI space probes to explore the galaxy while the flesh-and-blood aliens stay at home however runs counter to what we humans do. Sure, we invest massive amounts of resources into silicon and steel. Robotic probes are often our eyes and ears from unmanned military drones to spy-in-the-sky satellites to probes to the planets and into the depths of the ocean. But, there is just something crazy enough about the human condition that humans insist on seeing and hearing for themselves, even if supplemented by technology, the wonders of, whatever.
Sure we sent unmanned probes to the Moon – but we followed by sending humans in person. Sure we send unmanned probes to Mars – but humans will go there in person eventually. Sure we explore the ocean’s abyss with robotic submersibles, but humans still go down to look up close and personal at RMS Titanic, even unto the deepest parts of the ocean trenches. Sure we can, and do, send instrumentation into the heart of massive tornadoes, but that hasn’t stopped ‘storm chasers’ from deliberately inserting themselves into the vortex of deadly twisters, sometimes as a thrill, more often as not to advance the science of meteorology and forecasting. Humans constantly put themselves at risk even though robots do the risk-taking better and cheaper. That’s the essence of the question “Why climb Mount Everest?” The answer, as always: “Because it’s there”. Now of course to do these sorts of things requires technological augmentation, from warm clothes (Mount Everest) to scuba gear (exploring theGreat Barrier Reef) to reinforced steel containers that keep out the outside environment (exploring RMS Titanic or going to the Moon). But the biological entity remains cocooned inside.
If aliens evolve a high IQ and a sophisticated technology, then they no doubt will have that desire to explore and see what’s on the other side of the hill and climb their ownMount Everest. Perhaps firstly by surrogates; but if they have one tenth the curiosity and drive of humans, they will boldly go in person by hook or by crook. Robotic probes might inform ET that the third rock from a stellar body called Sol has a biosphere, but ET will want to see for itself, sooner or later.
Now I might concede that via advanced bioengineering abilities, aliens could augment themselves with technology to such an extent that they might be nearly artificial constructions – our artificial hip joints and dentures and plastic heart valves taken to their logical conclusion. The Daleks of “Doctor Who” are a prime example. Perhaps their mind could be downloaded into something more permanent than wetware like software part and parcel of a silicon and steel computer. But the key bit is that their biological essence (their mind) remains intact and boldly goes.
THEY WON’T MATE WITH US: Disagree
Alien biochemistry wouldn’t be absolutely identical to our biochemistry, or translated, their genetics wouldn’t be absolutely identical to our genetics. Just like humans can’t mate and reproduce with petunias, though both are terrestrial life forms and share DNA, humans are even less likely to be able to mate with ET. So, why do I disagree with this most obvious of the obvious? Four reasons: 1) Genetic engineering; 2) Mythology; 3) Modern animal mutilations and 4) UFO abductions. Taking each in turn…
Genetic Engineering: If ET is technologically advanced enough to get from there (wherever that is) to here, then it’s logical to assume that they are technologically advanced in lots of areas – like genetic engineering. Okay, humans can not naturally mate with petunias. But, assuming they wanted to; couldn’t our geneticists take a human reproductive cell and the reproductive cell of a petunia, and manipulate both to such an extent that a union between the two might be possible? Okay, that’s pretty far out, but geneticists have already combined two dissimilar species genes into one – the ‘Frankenfish’, patented as the GloFish, combining the Zebrafish with various genes of fluorescence proteins from other species comes to mind as just one example. Collectively, the field is known as producing genetically modified organisms (GMO’s)! There’s much controversy that rages about GMO’s as human foods. That aside, in theory, a human-petunia combo is possible. We share some genetics and DNA with the petunia
Mythology: One would be hard pressed to find a culture who’s mythology didn’t include examples of their ‘gods’ mating with us mere mortals. Greek mythology is a no-brainer given the ever randy Zeus. Biblical mythology also records sex between the ‘sons of god’ and the ‘daughters of men’. Now do scientists accept all of the multi-thousands of deities of the world’s cultures as supernatural entities? – Probably not. That then leaves them a choice between all of these deities being as 100% fictional as the Easter Bunny and Sherlock Holmes, or else they are aliens. To me, probability dictates that the more logical option of the two is ET – a speculation that also solves the Fermi Paradox – “where is everybody?”
The Fermi Paradox can be summed up simply enough just by postulating the existence of at least one other technologically advanced extraterrestrial civilization in our Milky Way Galaxy that’s older than our civilization by at least a few millions of years and with the same sorts of ‘boldly going’ drives as we humans have (i.e. – plain old curiosity, the “what’s on the other side of the hill?”). If that alone is taken as a given and nothing else, then just as humans explored and colonized Planet Earth in a tiny fraction of the Earth’s existence (ditto microbes, insects, birds, etc.), technologically capable extraterrestrials would have explored and colonized the Milky Way Galaxy in a tiny fraction of its existence, even at say rippling out at one to ten percent the speed of light. Planet Earth is part of that Milky Way Galaxy, so “where is everybody?”
In the case of humans enveloping Earth, we don’t need to ask “where is everybody?” We’re everywhere. In the case of ET, we do ask “where is everybody?” They should be here. Scientists say they’re not, never have been, and thus they have to explain the Fermi paradox by other means. On the other side of the fence, those who see evidence in those ‘ancient astronauts’ and in UFOs have no paradox with which to have to come to terms with.
Animal Mutilations: Animal mutilations are certainly well documented, and the cause(s) are mysterious to say the least. If human culprits, why hasn’t anyone been apprehended, tried and convicted of violations of animal welfare laws, destruction of private property (if livestock) and trespass? If natural predators are to blame – well that should be bloody obvious if true and no controversy should therefore ensue. If extraterrestrials, well that explains a lot that natural predation can’t like precision incisions and lack of blood and no hoof/paw prints and no signs of a struggle, though it also leaves mega-questions unanswered. Presumably, it has something to do with ET interest in terrestrial biochemistry and genetics.
UFO Abductions: If UFO abduction accounts are taken at face value, and I’m not prepared to call these ‘victims’ either liars or deluded, then extraterrestrials are mightily interested in the creation of more hybrids – not animal-animal hybrids like the Chimera, or human-animal hybrids like the Mesopotamian Shedu (winged bulls with human heads) but human-alien hybrids, something perhaps akin to those alien-human close encounters of the intimate kind (those ‘gods’ mating with humans) referred to above in all things mythological. If you know your mythology, you’d be aware that there are more hybrids than you can tick off on your fingers and toes –squared.
Of course “won’t mate” is not the same as “can’t mate”. If we assume advanced aliens are skilled enough to ‘mate’ with humans, why the hell would they want to? Of course this isn’t apparently mating in the traditional way, rather aliens harvesting human gametes and doing their technological thing with them, hence an alien version of artificial insemination or in-vitro fertilization. Again, if the human abduction ‘victims’ are taken at face value, some sort of alien-human hybrid program is underway. Why a human-alien hybrid program is the $64,000 question. Perhaps someday we’ll have an answer. Perhaps it’s similar to why we created the ‘Frankenfish’ or why the ‘gods’ created the Minotaur or the griffin or even demigod/demigoddess hybrids like Hercules or Helen of Troy.
THEY WON’T EAT US: Agree
Alien biochemistry wouldn’t be absolutely identical to our biochemistry. So, we might as well be as indigestible to them as cellulose is to us. We’d give them the equivalent of an alien tummy ache. That aside: if aliens arrive from there to here, then presumably they know how to produce ‘artificial’ food supplements – produce their nutritional requirements from raw materials. I mean there are no supermarkets or fast food joints along the interstellar highway. Of course if aliens have master-chefs, well perhaps they might like to take a human or two and sauté them up in a super-duper alien stew. There’s an awful lot of missing persons who forever seem to remain missing! So where on (or off) Earth is Jimmy Hoffa, the crew of Flight 19, Glenn Miller, the crew of the Mary Celeste, or for that matter the entire Ninth Roman Legion? Joking aside, if humans are a food of last resort, well then, the cosmos is way more resource impoverished than I would have thought possible.
THEY’RE IMMUNE TO EARTH’S BACTERIA: Agree
Alien biochemistry wouldn’t be absolutely identical to our biochemistry. Our biochemistry isn’t 100% identical with the biochemistry of other terrestrial species. And thus, 99.9% of the diseases that afflict one species can’t be passed onto another species. My cat sneezes – I don’t catch their cold. I sneeze – my cats don’t catch my cold. I can’t catch Dutch Elm Disease; Elm trees are pretty safe from all the germs I carry around and about with me. So, the odds ET will catch terrestrial diseases and vice versa are pretty damn slim. But, another reason is that presumably ET is pretty skilled when it comes to medicine. If there was any chance Earth’s microorganisms could infect ET, well ET would have tested for that in advance and done the proper procedures to nullify any potential threat. The “War of the Worlds” scenario and resolution is ultimately bovine fertilizer.
THEY DIDN’T PUT US HERE: Disagree
Why would aliens ‘create’ humans? Why do humans ‘create’ slavery or jobs or employ beasts of burden, even if mechanical, perhaps ultimately robotic? The ultimate answer: to get someone or something else to do the bloody hard work! If you vacation at a resort, you expect to be waited on hand-and-foot. Well, when Mr. ET arrived on this third rock resort, ET wanted to be waited on hand-and-foot too; and worshiped to boot. You’ll find lots of references to that in various cultural mythologies. So, ET created humans, not from dust or clay or even ribs but from manipulating pre-existing primate stock via their advanced knowledge of artificial selection breeding techniques. Humans too know all about artificial selection – how many unnatural breeds of dogs have we created? Is there a single domesticated plant or animal we haven’t in a sense ‘created’? When you stop and think about it, don’t humans too come in ‘breeds’ (only we call them races).
THEY WON”T COME IN PEACE: Disagree
Many a scientist has warned that we shouldn’t draw attention to ourselves (that’s already too little and too late a wish) or seek out aliens. We might wish aliens to exist, but we must be careful what we wish for. A lot of that is based on all the examples of terrestrial exploration. The discovered are not usually treated well by the discoverer. Cue case histories of the American Indian, the Aztecs and Incas, the Australian aborigines, and all manner of other invasions perpetrated by one or more nations / cultures / peoples against another. All of our actual exploitation histories are reinforced by hundreds of Sci-Fi films and TV shows that suggest in no uncertain terms that when aliens discover Earth, Earthlings are up shit creek!
Ultimately, these sorts of terrestrial doings and undoings have two basic root causes – resources are one such cause. You need more land because you need expansion room for your ‘fruitful and multiplying’ population, and/or the natural resources found there. Perhaps however, if aliens can again get from there to here, then they already have the resources of the Milky Way Galaxy under their ‘thumbs’ – assuming thumbs of course – or at their fingertips (or should that be tentacle-tips?). Earth has nothing to offer in terms of additional real estate, water, energy, minerals, etc. that can’t be found closer to their home turf.
The second root cause is someone else, some other nation or nations is/are perceived as a threat. The threat(s) you perceive maybe military, maybe political, maybe cultural or maybe religious. If you deem yourself in the stronger position, you may decide to hit first, hit hard and hit often. If your next door neighbor is no threat to you and has nothing of value you want, you’re going to tend to just live and let live. Well as far as any technologically advanced aliens are concerned, this here third rock and inhabitants is no threat to them and has nothing of value they can’t acquire closer to home at vastly less effort and expense.
“Independence Day” and a thousand clones of that plot element are highly improbable in the extreme. Highly improbable is not of course the same as impossible.
But, and why is there nearly always a but, it’s within the realm of possibility that there might be those aliens who parallel those humans who don’t mind sticking a knife in your back just because they derive great kicks and great pleasure out of doing so. No motive other than sadistic pleasure and a sense of being ‘king of the hill’. But then again, perhaps there’s also an interplanetary extraterrestrial police force to help curb the enthusiasm of such alien backstabbers.
Now what’s never mentioned, but really terrifying, and perhaps more likely and what we may really need to worry about is that they’ll come in peace alright, but as missionaries to spread the word that their version of a supreme being(s) is the only true version of a supreme being(s) and that all of us terrestrial heathen, pagan infidels had better see the error of our untrue faiths and convert to their extraterrestrial theology quick-smart. Although you’d hope that advanced alien beings would have long since out-evolved such religious nonsense, that’s not a given. That missionary scenario is even more frightening than them coming here with their ray guns blasting away. So if those extraterrestrial evangelists come knocking at your door, be afraid, be very afraid!
But ultimately there’s no point in worrying about things that we have no control over, and since we can’t hide Earth (and ourselves) in a technological cloak of invisibility, we’re at the mercy of ET: the good ET, the bad ET and the ugly ET.