The Search Continues for Extraterrestrial Life, but Should It? (Part 2)
There are several reasons why it might be a good idea to steer clear of extraterrestrials, despite the continuing search by scientists. These reasons could include serious environmental cross-contamination, the possibility that certain cultures on the planet might react negatively to an alien presence, be it small or large, or even a doomsday level invasion from an advanced aggressor, forewarned by Stephen Hawking.
However, there are reasons that contact with aliens might be a good thing. Scientists at SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute think so; they’ve worked hard sifting through mounds of radio data from the cosmos for decades hoping to make contact a reality.
But are there any benefits to our civilization in finding E.T?
Scientists at NASA, SETI, and other organizations across the planet are hopeful the answer is yes. But, the answers could vary in degree by the type of alien life we encounter.
For example, NASA’s Curiosity rover continues its research into whether Mars could be a viable habitat for humanity. At any moment, the rover could encounter microbial life or evidence that such life at one time did exist on Mars.
Finding fossilized evidence of former microbial life on Mars would probably be difficult to confirm because scientist would have to base their findings on data sent back from the rover. The data would then have to be compared with our only basis of comparison; similar examples here on Earth. The debate would probably go back and forth for months or years until there was enough positive evidence for NASA to make an official confirmation.
In fact, a similar situation happened earlier this year when geobiologist Nora Noffke, of Old Dominion University in Virginia, announced in the journal “Astrobiology” that there were similarities between ancient sedimentary rocks shaped by microbes on the Gillespie Lake outcrop in Yellowknife Bay on Mars to sedimentary rocks shaped by microbes here on Earth. However, the findings only suggest, not prove, that life did exist on the cold Martian surface about 3.7 billion years ago, according to Astrobiology Magazine.
If we found living microbial life on Mars things probably wouldn’t change all that much right away here on earth. In fact, the matter would probably enter the political arena and the issue of whether to disturb the life with our presence or turn Mars into a sort of nature preserve would probably come up, according to SETI.
But, if microbial life similar to that found on Earth were found on other worlds such as Mars, it would likely confirm what many scientists already believe: that life is pretty common in the universe. It would probably help to determine if other distant worlds farther out into the reaches of space could support similar life. It could also prompt politicians and ecofriendly organizations to enact international policies which would regulate contact with said life.
The discovery of microbial could also set the standard for how we handle larger more advanced alien life and could even potentially set political and customary standards when and if we do encounter it. This benefit would essentially act like a baby step toward more advanced contact.
What would be the benefits for encountering an advanced alien species?
Set aside Stephen Hawking’s warning that opening up a dialogue with E.T. could bring the cosmic version of the conquistadors to Earth, the hypothetical concept of coming into contact with an advanced alien species could potentially offer a great boost to our science and universal wisdom.
Of course, that’s assuming they’d be willing to share and didn’t have certain interstellar policies like Star Trek’s “Prime Directive,” which prohibits the exchange of technologies and severely limits contact with less advanced cultures.
In fact, if there were said policies amongst aliens, that might explain why we haven’t been contacted yet, which is a possible explanation to the Fermi Paradox: If Aliens are widespread throughout the galaxy, why haven’t we see any yet?” according to the paper “Would Contact with Extraterrestrials Benefit or Harm Humanity? A Scenario Analysis,” by Acta Astronautica.
The paper goes onto describe three scenarios when dealing with contact with alien civilizations more advanced than us. The first is that they may be harmful (discussed in Part 1). The next is that they’re neutral, which could include the fact that they may be uninterested in communicating, they’re too far away, they’re a different form of life altogether and communication isn’t possible, or (like mentioned above) they’re intentionally hiding from us.
But, assuming they’re peaceful and forthcoming, the potential benefits include significant advances in math and science, advice in avoiding global catastrophes, solutions to problems on earth, and even philosophical enhancement.
It is possible that an advanced civilization several generations or having a thousand year head start on us may have come to terms with many philosophical questions still plaguing humans, perhaps even the basic: where do we come from, what are we, and where are we going questions. They could have also adapted more advanced economic and political structures we haven’t considered yet or even came to terms with some of the same social problems that still haunt earthlings.
But, there is another potential benefit, something probably very profound and has the ability to bring humanity together in a very strong bond. It is if the advanced aliens are hostile and we unite as a planet to overcome these forces.
“Perhaps we need some outside universal threat. I occasionally think how quickly our difference worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world. And yet, I ask you, is not an alien force already among us? What could be more alien to the universal aspirations of our peoples than war and the threat of war,” said President Ronald Reagan in a speech to the U.N. in 1987.
*Illustration of a spiral galaxy via Shutterstock