According to Nature, we’d be in trouble…
I love it when serious publications take a walk into the slightly more whimsical. Let me clear, here – I firmly believe that there is intelligent life out there. I also firmly believe the hallmarks of their intelligence are that they haven’t contacted us (in the same way that one does not hang out with a revolting teenager for fun), nor are they currently involved in any activity involving probes, crop circles, or anything else.
Ahem. Moving on.
So, Nature says that no government actually has any serious plans set in place for what to do should Xr’aHG and his mates come calling. SETI (whose SETI@home was the first distributed computing app I ever played with back in university) have the only framework, it would seem, for what do in the case of contact (of the distant kind, not the ‘they’re actually heeeeerrrreeee’ kind). It suggests caution and restraint. Of course.
Many believe that the aliens might not necessarily be friendly. Says the article:
“Palaeobiologist Simon Conway Morris of Cambridge University, UK, warned of the possible consequences of detecting extraterrestrial life. He cited examples of convergent evolution in the Earth’s biological history as evidence that there are a limited number of solutions to sensory and social organizational problems. Alien senses could be similar to human senses, he told participants, and social life elsewhere could be as violent as on Earth, where leaf-cutter ants pillage and plunder, and humans wage war. “If the phone rings,” he says, “don’t pick it up.””
I’ll admit I’m skeptical, but fair enough. Certainly it’s something to consider. And the subject put me in mind of this article, which I read years ago, on much the same subject – although more oriented to the actual visitation thing.
I still tell people how amused, appalled, and yet completely unsurprised I was at the tactics that would be used should someone with different bits pop round for a beer, a light snack, or perhaps the recon for imminent world domination. Said tactics include having the vehicle in question confiscated and removed as far as possible, on the assumption it’s nuclear powered; and having our visitors handed not one single gift, but instead handcuffed by an FBI agent in a serious biosafety suit and then carted off to a lab to ensure he/she/it doesn’t have anything gross or potentially infectious (my knowledge of microbiology suggests this would be extremely unlikely, but yes).
I’ve no doubt that these tactics would be unlikely to endear us to our visitors. On the other hand, one assumes they would have checked us out a little before coming to see us, and so would not be overly surprised. Then again, who knows?
Perhaps they’re just biding their time until we’re ready to be a bit more mature about the whole thing…
Postscript: A little box underneath the original PM article talked about a ‘taskforce’ which had been put together comprised of interesting people who’d be assembled in the case of contact, having among their ranks mathematicians, physicists, biologists, linguists, and of course Carl Sagan. I still wish I could be the exobiologist that gets to say hello (in the nicest, least vivisectionist of ways) to any visitors…