April 18, 2014

Scrolling Headlines:

John Ashcroft faces criticism during speech -

Thursday, April 17, 2014

UMass football continues move in new direction in annual Spring Game -

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Student rally in support of Gordon, LGBTQ community -

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Thousands gather in Amherst Commons for 23rd Annual Extravaganja -

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Sexual violence is not ‘normal’ -

Thursday, April 17, 2014

One year after Boston Marathon bombings, UMass doctor Pierre Rouzier continues passion to help -

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Photo Slideshow: UMass United Rally -

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Get Yourself Tested at UMass -

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Library labyrinth targets stress -

Thursday, April 17, 2014

There is nothing to debate about global warming -

Thursday, April 17, 2014

UMass hits the road to take on LaSalle -

Thursday, April 17, 2014

No. 11 UMass women’s lacrosse looks to extend winning streak against Richmond -

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive latest McCormack Executive-in-Residence -

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Got a little Irish in you? -

Thursday, April 17, 2014

UMass doctoral student awarded Soros Fellowship -

Thursday, April 17, 2014

UMass Dressage Team discusses the lesser-known sport -

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Canelas: Things worth watching in Spring Game 2014 -

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

‘The Walking Dead’ finale resurrects a dull season -

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Five places to study at UMass -

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

UMass tennis team battles injuries as season comes to an end -

Wednesday, April 16, 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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