Monday, April 26, 2010

They're Coming To Take Me Away, Ha Ha!

I'm really rather upset with this:

Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has repeated his long-held belief that intelligent aliens are likely to exist, and that a visit by them to present-day humanity would probably have unfortunate consequences for us.

Publicising a new documentary he has made for the Discovery Channel, the legendary boffin told the Times at the weekend:

“To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational... If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”
I'm not upset because I want to quibble with Dr. Hawking with the usual rebuttal that it's a long way from whatever planet they'd originate from and why would they come all this way to get into our faces?
He's right. It's a distinct possibility.
I'm upset because, dammit, this is the third piece of science I've read or seen this weekend/week that has anticipated a four novel trilogy I'm doing research on! ThumbPer must be reading my notes and getting in touch with people!
Back to the story at hand: Mankind has always had an exploratory nature. If there's a cave, we'll enter it; An ocean, we'll cross it; a moon, we'll visit it.
With the exception of the moon so far, none of this has turned out well for the visited. Not the bear in the cave, not the native across the ocean, not the pristine environment we've seeded with our trash and illness.
Now, one could make the quibble, which I would, that as we advance as a civilization and grasp a larger understanding of the world around us, we've learned that it's important to co-exist with those around us. We have not learned the lessons perfectly, to be sure, but it is a learned lesson nonetheless. We've learned, because we've recognized the resources are limited and people have a right to be treated as equals.
Other societies might view such an attitude as immature at best, and as weak at worst. In America, we've never really come to grips with the historical nature of our more savage side, choosing instead to sanitize our history to show the "Injuns" as at best, our helpmeets and at worst, brutal savages who needed to be tamed and civilized.
Echoes of those hegemonic harmonics echo to this day in Arizona, where anyone can be stopped on the street and asked for identification, pending deportation back to Mexico for being an undocumented alien.
One wonders how Arizona would handle a full-blown invasion from Alpha Centauri, but I digress...
While there's no guarantee that aliens would be peaceful, there is reason to suspect that they'd be more interested in learning what they can from us, and teaching us what they can. The question is, would it be something we'd want to learn? Look at the second and third waves of colonization in human history: it's all about training natives to be more "like us".
Just like the more Cro-Magnon element of the United States rails against cultural diversity and tolerance, so would many aliens insist that their way is the right way, no matter how peaceably and palatably they'd offer it to us "in the spirit of intergalactic good will."
I don't think the first contact we have with an alien society will be a full-blown invasion, as some movies have suggested. On the other hand, I do think any alien visitation will be made with an eye towards the benefits the aliens can take from our resources. Resources unavailable from easier sources. If they needed metal ores, the asteroid belt would make a whole lot more sense than dropping into a steep gravity well. If they needed water, comets would be much easier to corrall and melt.
Which really doesn't leave us much to bargain with. Finished products, manufactured goods, and scientific discoveries are possibilities.
After all, even tho physics is the same in this galaxy as any other galaxy, the creative mind demands that we will have made discoveries that they have not. For every nuclear power system they can offer us, we might be able to offer them the Slinky. It's not unheard of for natives to bilk the pioneers, even tho historically it's worked the other way around.
It will be interesting, when the day comes, to measure value systems, and to see what the universe has hidden from us on this lonely marble.