November 26, 2014

Scrolling Headlines:

Students and staff discuss racial and social inequality following Ferguson decision -

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

UMass hockey falls to Vermont, 3-1 -

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

No indictment for Ferguson cop -

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Chancellor addresses campus regarding grand jury decision in death of Michael Brown -

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Northern Illinois hangs on against Ohio, Hunt carries Toledo to victory -

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

SGA passes 10 motions at meeting Monday night -

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Students and UMPD work together during the annual ‘Walk for Light’ -

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

‘Conscious Consumer’ talk promotes business sustainability -

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

UMass hockey looks to rebound against Vermont following Saturday’s blowout at home -

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

UMass women’s soccer’s Sverrisdóttir balances a soccer career between two different countries -

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

‘First Demo’ provides a fascinating glimpse of Fugazi in its infancy -

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

My mental illness does define me (to an extent) -

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

How to master multitasking -

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

One Direction hints at newfound sophistication on ‘Four’ -

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

TV on the Radio sounds rejuvenated on ‘Seeds’ -

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

UMass men’s club soccer fundraises its way to Memphis -

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

UMass hockey takes accountability and seeks redemption against Vermont on Tuesday -

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Large group of males tries to forcibly enter a Hobart apartment over the weekend -

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

UMass forward Zach Coleman excels in increased role against Florida State -

Monday, November 24, 2014

SLIDESHOW: Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament -

Monday, November 24, 2014

Extraterrestrial mingling

In a 2010 Discovery Channel documentary, eminent scientist and acknowledged genius Stephen Hawking claimed that encountering extraterrestrial life could be a very risky move for human beings, but I challenge his assertion on the grounds that it is based much on the same logic that has been used to keep different races and cultures apart for generations.

Courtesy of Anthony K. James

I’m not only concerned on how this thinking will appear to aliens, but on how it reflects on our interactions with each other as human beings.

According to ABC News, Hawking indicated, “Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach.”

I have not seen the documentary, and thus I don’t want to analyze Hawking’s comments too critically, but I would like speak about the idea of interacting with aliens and how it reflects on us as humans.

I concede upfront that I have no idea how potential extraterrestrial intelligent life might behave, and, using Hawking’s comparison, it could turn out much like Christopher Columbus’s encounter with the “New World” and Native Americans.

I know some will reject the analogy at the outset, citing the many merits of Columbus’s voyage in terms of the advancement of humanity. Nevertheless, anthropologists have reported that Columbus’s arrival in America wrought devastation on the natives. Archeological research has concluded that perhaps there may have been as many as 100 million people living in the Americas alone before Columbus. This number was sharply reduced through disease and conquest.

At this point in human development, it is unlikely that whatever we do will have a dramatic change on the timeframe of an alien meeting. Therefore, by trying to prevent such an encounter, we gain very little and lose quite a bit. Do we really want our first interaction to be one of ignorance and outright rejection? Wouldn’t it be better if we appeared to be somewhat rational and cultured in our initial encounter?

We don’t have any control over the behavioral patterns of the species with which we might interact, and our encounter could turn out to be quite unpleasant. We only have control over our own behavior. If a worst-case scenario emerges and we realize that a certain group of aliens is dangerous to human survival, then we can take evasive actions at that point. It would even be prudent to prepare for such a potential encounter in much the same way that most countries have both a state department and a defense department.

My greater concern is how our views on how we approach aliens might reflect on humanity in the near-term. By taking an initially hostile view of aliens, it only reveals that despite many decades of working to break down barriers between peoples and cultures, there is still something within human beings that is frightened of the unknown. This isn’t a completely irrational behavior, as survival instincts have evolved so as to prevent us from taking foolishly risky moves, but our minds have realized that in general there is much to gain through our interactions with others.

We have often discriminated against, been frightened of, or felt superior to other people based not on fact, but on our perceived cultural identity. We have used our own cultural relativity as an objective standard, and judged others by it. If we allow our worst fears to dictate our interactions with other humans or aliens, we only serve to narrow our view of the world.

Having an open mind is not limited to cultural affairs, but it affects us in our entire worldview. If we are to discover the next great innovation or scientific advancement, we have to be ready to look at not only the current ways of doing things, but on ways previously unimagined. If I’m a factory operator, I can use current technology to its maximum level, which might only increase output by ten or twenty percent, but if I look at an entirely new way to do things, then the percentage increase is potentially unlimited.

An alien encounter is a theoretical proposition, and there is only so much we can do to prepare for such an occurrence. We should put our focus on what we do have control over. As individuals and as a culture, we can be as trusting and open as possible without being risky to the point of being completely foolish. We have it within ourselves to be open to new opportunities and experiences, and when the time arrives to meet life from other parts of the universe, we will be as prepared as possible.

Eric Magazu is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at emagazu@engin.umass.edu.

Comments
3 Responses to “Extraterrestrial mingling”
  1. David Hunt '90 says:

    There is a great book called, IIRC, “The Killing Star.” I won’t give away the plot, but it’s based on some very reasonable conjectures:

    1. There is no percentage chance of species death that is acceptable; aliens represent a greater-than-zero percent threat.
    2. No species becomes the dominant species by being “Mr. Nice Guy.”
    3. Any other intelligent species will make these same assumptions.

  2. Well stated, Eric.

  3. Yevin Roh says:

    I think that it would be great to have aliens amongst us humans because we could have sex with the aliens to produce more intelligent offspring

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