Monday, March 19, 2012

Science: Contact

Just heard Michio Kaku raving on about what a cosmic backwater Earth is and how advanced aliens wouldn't bother visiting us, equating us to little more than ants near a freeway. Is he for real?!?
Seems to be a generally widespread consensus that it's our tech level that will determine when and if we ever contact alien civilisations, as if it is that factor alone which defines us as a species, and we are the only species of interest on Earth - maybe it's because the ones usually talking about it are human scientists.

Even so I'd argue  that the nature of our sentience is such that even advanced technologies could readily be comprehended, if not emulated - even if only in purpose. An ant will never understand a freeway - but we are not ants. Some kind of exotic alien weapon or engine or extradimensional shortcut may be well beyond our current technological capabilities, but the purpose or usefulness of such things is still pretty clear cut to a 21st century human mindset.

I can't see our technologies being of much interest to aliens unless it posed a direct and immediate threat to them - or us. In the event that advanced aliens did come to call, why the hell would they be interested in gadgetry that they themselves probably developed and perhaps discarded centuries or millenia before?

It's just as likely that our species would be of interest due to our art or our music or even just our very existence. The Vulcans may not give a crap about our warp capabilities, they may be far more interested in our history or social rituals or prevailing ethics. If they are tool users then they probably went through their own version of eg: the steam age. The fact that we have developed nuclear weapons may be far less important than the fact we have restrained ourselves from using them much...

I've heard it said many times that our little rock is likely of little interest to advanced aliens. I call that narrow minded and humanocentric. Over the vast expanses of space and time in our Universe where the majority of life will likely be amoeba - how many civilizations like ours do u reckon crop up at any given time?

Even such complex and rich ecosystems as ours, full of complex multicellular life forms could be vanishingly rare and difficult to detect - but from where we stand the sheer variety and profusion of life on Earth has given us all kinds of context to help us understand alien biology.

Happily we are broadcasting our presence at light speed in every direction and our radio sphere is 250 light years across...our gadgets probably wouldn't interest them much otherwise. I like the Carl Sagan take on it - in such a vast and seemingly lonely place as the Universe, simply contacting other lifeforms could well provide it's own purpose.

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