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What do our best scientific minds think about alien life and the possibility of first contact? This matters a great deal as their opinions carry considerable weight in this age of technological and scientific fetishism. Unfortunately, the very careers and reputations that give them this influence also incline them to be incredibly conservative in their views. Radical thinking that flies against the anthropocentric prevalence of our culture is not rewarded. This article will analyze the thinking of a prominent scientific figure in hopes of demonstrating the shortfall of solely relying on expert opinions in these matters.
Neil deGrasse Tyson is well-known author and astrophysicist with an impressive history of communicating scientific ideas to the public. He frequently comments on the topic of alien life. While he does not discount the possibility that aliens are out there, or even that they may be able to travel faster than the speed of light, he does not believe they would be at all interested in humanity. In a recent interview by Business Insider, he remarked that “Any species capable of interstellar travel would see human civilization as severely underdeveloped … aliens might have discovered Earth, but found it uninteresting and moved on.”
Are aliens likely to travel around the galaxy looking for interesting things? Perhaps, but is this the only reason to travel in space? Why would a civilization spend an inordinate amount of its finite resources solely on finding interesting things? This is highly limited view for a scientist to take, though perhaps an understandable one given their focus on acquiring knowledge.
“You live in an area that has a great deal of activity beyond the sphere of your tiny solar system. Within this area, trade is carried on along certain avenues. Worlds interact, compete and sometimes conflict with each other. Opportunities are being sought by all who have commercial interests.” — Allies of Humanity, Book 1
There are many reasons why aliens might want to make contact with a new planet, however underdeveloped. There may be economic or trading advantages to be had. We may occupy a strategic location in this region of space. Perhaps they would want a new client-state for their growing resource-dependent empire. The point is this: to consider space travel as a mere means of looking for interesting things is a failure of imagination. Our best scientists should not limit their thinking in this fashion.
In this same interview he goes on to comment on the possibility that aliens might be a threat to humanity: “And, by the way, [Stephen] Hawking is all worried that aliens might suck our brains out,” Tyson added. “That concern comes from the fact that when any of us explore the world and came upon a civilization less advanced, it was bad for the less advanced civilization… so I think his fear about aliens is a reflection of his actual knowledge of about how humans treat each other, not real knowledge about how actual aliens would treat us.”
Alien abductees would certainly contest his claim that we have no idea how aliens would treat us. Being taken against their will, sometimes with cruel medical experiments performed on them, many abductees consider their contact with alien life a traumatic violation of their dignity. A good scientist would consider the possibility that abductions are indeed taking place. Tyson does not.
Even if one dismisses abductee claims as scientifically unreliable, it would be a mistake to assume the best about alien intentions. Hawking takes a far wiser stance in assuming the worst. As Tyson admits, we simply don’t know much about life in the universe. There is every reason to be cautious about what’s out there. It’s correct to assume that human history and nature may substantially differ from that of alien life. However, the one thing that all life in this finite universe has in common is the need for resources. Whether you’re an ant crawling on the ground or an alien flying around our solar system, you need resources to survive. On this basis alone, humanity should be cautious about interacting with alien life. There’s every reason to believe that the universe may as competitive as life here on Earth, if not more so given the many barren worlds out there.
“The Intervention is being carried out by physical beings who are driven by the same needs that drive humanity—the need for resources, the need for power, the need for wealth and the need for strategic advantage. It is these very things that drive all nations in the universe. You must not regard these beings as evil or demonic or as angelic. They are beings driven by the same needs that drive humanity.” — Allies of Humanity, Book 3
While this may only have been the views of one scientist in a particular interview, it demonstrates that even our best scientific minds do not often think about this subject in a very scientific way. Considering the reality of alien life is a challenging exercise for any human being, regardless of credentials. Keeping an open mind is important, but perhaps more important is retaining a cautious approach. We only have the one civilization on the one planet. We cannot afford to make mistakes.