What WILL we Think and Do About Other Worlds?
The pace of planetary discovery outside our solar system is picking up. New discoveries are being announced all the time, and it’s just a matter of time before we find a seriously “Earthlike” planet with some evidence that life exists on it. What will we do when that happens?
The “finding other planets with life” scenario is a staple of science fiction. In fact, in most SF, it’s a given that there are planets out there with life on them and that we (the human folk) will be interacting with that life in a few generations (if not sooner). Many games for the various computer and entertainment system platforms take place on alien worlds. Of course, movies also show them, as well as TV. All those media explore (in sometimes good, sometimes violent and (in the case of TV and movies) often overdramatic terms) the possibilities of what life we’ll find on those other worlds.
But, given today’s state of affairs on good ol’ Terra, I often wonder what our reactions will be like when we do find those places and start the search for the life that exists on them? In my most skeptical frame of mind, I figure that there will be all kinds of people who won’t believe it, or who will preach loudly against the idea of even researching life on the other planets because it threatens their religious or cultural practices). Oddly enough, the most strenuous objections to the news that life (and possibly intelligent life) has been found may come from the same crowd of people who fervently believe in faces on red planets and alien abductions and Meso-American calendar predictions, and magical crystals and all sorts of other nonsense. Why? It’s one thing to postulate weirdness from manipulating images and data and truth to fit a pseudo-scientific agenda (and make gobs of money from unwary folks), but quite another to actually be confronted with the real thing like actual aliens from other worlds. Suddenly the truth would seem much more fantastic and cool than the fever dreams of alien-led cavity inspections that these folks seem to be fixated on. And, it would seriously cut into their income.
But, the psychoceramics crowd aside, I think that most people would react with a little fear and a lot of excitement. Why the fear? Human nature leads us to fear the unknown. We eventually get past it if we allow ourselves to accept things a little outside our previous experience. That’s how we learn, right? If we didn’t, all humans would be permanently at the level of uneducated boors who never set foot in a classroom or library.
The excitement would be there for the same reasons — interest in the unknown. Awe and wonder at the fact that finally, finally we found life elsewhere. And, I think if we found life that could communicate with us (and us with it), humans might mature just a little bit as we learned that we aren’t the only ones in the universe who can think and reason and explore.
But, putting my skeptical hat back on, I think humans will have to go through a period of adjustment to the idea, which will give the less-stable among us a chance to whinge in fear and prey on others to spread that fear. I expect that will occur among the leadership of each country, among the religious leaders of most sects, among the hucksters (of all stripes) and among the uneducated. For the rest, and in particular the scientific community, it’s going to be an exciting and interesting time.
What do YOU think?