Where Are All My Aliens?!
My interest in aliens started taking hold of me just before my interest in the singularity did, and these topics have interacted quite a bit in my mind.
This past winter my friend Crius told me that he saw a UFO hovering in the sky, a bright light, 200 feet above the field next to our dorms. he was with a friend who also saw it. I believe he talked to others who said that there had been a history of sightings in the town. Crius said he saw it hover and then accelerate away with unnerving speed. I have always been and remain to be skeptical of UFO sightings. the massive increase in UFO sightings in the US has coincided with mass media and communication, implying that people are now making these stories up because they know they can get attention. Or perhaps now that they have the means to communicate their stories they will. I gave Crius the usual skepticism.
Around that time there seemed to be a surge of interest in UFOs in the media. A retired army Colonal, John Alexander, spent a quarter century looking for indications of a cover-up organization, looking through top-classified US documents. He then told the press that no such organization existed, but UFOs do, and that the government has been disclosing information of their existence for half a century. He quotes many presidents who affirm the existence of UFOs, and relays known stories of UFOs appearing at nuclear launch sites and activating systems, and many other stories (you can find it all in that link above).
These stories are all well and good, and get more intriguing as they seem more credible. Nevertheless, there is no proof of alien life, and we are left in a confused state. I want to tackle this confusion, but I’ll have to start over once more.
There’s this equation called the Drake equation that estimates the number of civilizations in our galaxy given many variables, including the fraction of stars with habitable life, the fraction of habitable planets which have given way to civilizations, the fraction of civilizations which have not self-terminated, and other less interesting ones. Even a very pessimistic input into the equation yields thousands of civilizations, while most scientists would estimate that the galaxy should be saturated with life. This is the essence of the Fermi paradox , that by all accounts life should be everywhere and yet we have not been contacted. Because we’ve run into this paradox, we are forced to reevaluate our assumptions.
- Perhaps aliens aren’t using radio signals to communicate. They’ve probably got some higher form of communication. This is probably the case, but it doesn’t stop them from finding us and contacting us. This only solves the problem of why we can’t see them.
- Maybe we’re living in a simulation and we’re the only ones in it. That doesn’t make sense to me, as there’s a lot of useless other matter in this simulation then, and there’s absolutely no reason it wouldn’t gain consciousness.
- Maybe it’s just a lot harder for life to take hold than we thought. I personally think that if it only took a half billion years for life to take hold here, it shouldn’t be that hard elsewhere.
- Perhaps interstellar travel is tough, and aliens don’t think it’s worth it, or it’s too hard anyway. I think that even traveling at a small fraction of the speed of light it would only take a lifetime to travel to another star, and lifetimes are about to become practically endless anyway. If we have an interest in spreading out, I think other beings will too, and it takes a moment of time compared to the length of the universe to visit every star in the galaxy.
- Maybe civilizations are all doomed to self destruction. I personally am more optimistic than that.
- Perhaps we are a zoo planet, observed but not bothered.
I think the last one is probably closest to the truth. To get at the truth of the matter, we really have to do our best to put ourselves into alien shoes (or whatever their version of shoes is):
You’re an alien intelligence, millions of years past the singularity. Your civilization has reached out across the galaxy communicating with other intelligences and gaining an awareness of all stars and planets. You know where all the gas giants are, where all the white dwarfs are, and where all of the planets are with intelligent life, and where all of the planets are with life which has not gained the ability to reach out into the cosmos and contact other life. Earth belongs to that last group, which mostly consists of planets covered in algae-like growth. humans are special in that they are about to be able to reach out into the cosmos, but they aren’t quite there yet. So what will you do with them? are you going to land and say “greetings I come in peace?” what then? they’ll want your science, which I suppose you’ll be willing to give, because there is so much suffering on the planet which could easily be mended. But they are a naive being, not yet of one mind, and they will misuse the power you give them. It will be like giving nuclear power to monkeys.
In addition, as they develop they will start to look just like you, and then everything that was interesting about them will disappear. the novel way that these beings approached life will not be novel anymore.
After centuries of colonialism on earth, the colonial powers finally realized that even if a country goes into another with the best intentions– to enlighten and bring civilization to a darker society– they will still fuck things up big time. A people’s way of life is best left untarnished: let them lift themselves “up” if they feel like it, otherwise let them be. If you, an alien intelligence, swoop in to feed all of the starving people on the planet, you’ve got an overpopulation problem which is your responsibility. You fix that problem by sterilizing half of the planet, and all of the sudden everyone on earth hates your guts, and so on. Making the suffering of Earth your problem is just a bad idea, and where does it end? Are you going to travel the universe alleviating suffering everywhere you see it? That’s going to be pretty hard, because you can’t see suffering, you can only believe in it.
The last thing I will mention is that contact with alien life is the first step toward the quick merger of our consciousnesses. an old civilization will be well equipped to integrate its processes with another civilization. Maybe aliens want to preserve our individuality for a bit longer as they look at us.