The contacting of aliens seems like a topic that is very science fiction, but there are many scientific programs and machines readily made for this very contact. In fact, the promise or threat, of alien contact is so real to some that they feel the need to warn against contacting aliens.
One such person is British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who went on a new Discovery Channel documentary to warn people that contacting aliens would be a threat to Earth. He is quoted to say, “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans. We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.”
His quote shows how based on his not-so-high opinion of the kindness of intelligent life on Earth , i.e. humans, (he says nothing of dolphins) he makes the theoretical conclusion that meeting intelligent life in other galaxies will not bode so well for humans on Earth. Hawking does not want us to contact aliens.
Hawking? Hawking!? Hawking is considered one of the most brilliant men alive, and if one of the most brilliant men alive tells me to not do something, I won’t do it. While his theory of why alien contact should not be pursued is more from a sociological standpoint, which is not his field of study, this man is a smart man. If Hawking told me that in 2035 we need to start buying aluminum foil in order to protect ourselves from alien thought penetration, you can safely assume that I am going to Shaw’s and buying out all of the foil.
The reason I fully support Hawking’s idea, though, is not just because he is brilliant, but also because I agree with his sociological perspective. Looking at it from an ethnographer’s point of view, it is easy to see why interaction with an alien species would most likely be threatening to human life.
Ethnographers are people who go to other cultures and subcultures and take down data about the culture. This can be anything from their economy, class systems, gender roles, how they feed themselves, how they rule themselves, etc. They get this information through interviews and by participating in rituals of the daily lives of the culture they are studying.
The difference comes when the ethnographer is not one person, but a group of people, or aliens – we can safely assume that a life form with any sort of intelligence will not go to another planet alone. So these groups of aliens have come, they have observed the culture of human life, and maybe they landed on Earth and participated – which means they have observed one or two cultures out of the vast amount of cultures on the planet, or they have used some sort of alien invention with the power to see all over the Earth – and they managed to take in the different cultures of the planet all at once.
What ends up happening in these observations, which is what ends up happening when you study any person or a group of people, is that the observer learns of the group’s strengths and weaknesses, whether it be leadership or their economy.
What would it be like if a highly intelligent species came to Earth? In these same observations, the alien observer may want what humans have. These life forms may be imperialistic, and those with an imperialistic nature are less giving than they are greedy. Aliens, seeing something that they want, may not think twice before obliterating the culture that has what they want and then leaving, or taking over the area in which the culture resided. They may also integrate themselves into the culture, as ethnographers are known to do, on the pretense of wanting to know more about the culture, and then “accidentally” unleash an illness for which the human body has not yet developed an antibody, causing an epidemic, and wipe out a good portion of the human race.
The idea of these things happening for us from alien intelligent life forms is not far-fetched when you think about how intelligent life forms on Earth have treated those they consider foreign. With this idea in mind, it is not hard to follow Hawking’s thinking.
This may seem like a topic that’s too into the future to worry about currently. The center for Search for Extraterrestrial Life research has been using their devices to look for signals for over 40 years and so far has found nothing. What one must keep in mind, though, is that signals may take years to reach Earth if they are coming from galaxies that are 1,000 light-years away. While the signals haven’t found their way to Earth as of yet, it does not mean that they are not on their way.
Hawking is worried about this possibility, and if Hawking is worried about the threat of alien contact, then we should be, too.
Stephanie Ambroise is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.