There is a general consensus among scientists that alien life is extant in the universe and that humans have but yet to detect it, for whatever reason. In that consensus, most would agree that it is only a matter of time and technology (and perhaps broader search parameters) before aliens are discovered and first contact is made, whether that be with living organisms of intelligence or simply scooping up some alien microbes in the ice cover of Europa. For many, the prospect presents an anticipation infused with wonder, curiosity, and the hopeful quelling of some atavistic fear that we, Earth life in the collective, are all alone in the vastness of the universe. For others, the thought of contact with aliens brings with it another type of anticipation — it is either something to dread or at least something about which humans should be extremely cautious.
Rebecca Boyle, writing for NBC News, recently noted that some scientists believe that first contact might not be in the best interest of humanity. She used the Breakthrough Initiatives’ upcoming Breakthrough Message program, where the philanthropic organization dedicated to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence will soon ask the world to submit its ideas for the composition of a message to aliens (and then determine how to send it), as a prompt for a scientific discussion about first contact and what consequences for humanity such an occurrence would entail.
The point is made that first contact may be beneficial to humanity, that there may not be anything to worry about. The first aliens encountered might be harmless — like some innocuous bacteria or docile species — and not impact humanity at all. Or they might be peaceful, solicitous, and deliver untold advances in technology, medicines, and overall knowledge.
At its worst, first contact could mean last contact with anything. And, of course, there are any number of outcome scenarios between the bad and the horrible, such as species subjugation and accidental near-annihilation via some alien-borne pathogen. (For that matter, according to the Inquisitr, first contact actually might be with a deadly alien pathogen, the potential for which SETI and NASA scientists are working to contain.)
Lucianne Walkowicz, an astrophysicist at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, voiced just such a dual outlook.
“There’s a possibility that if we actively message, with the intention of getting the attention of an intelligent civilization, that the civilization we contact would not necessarily have our best interests in mind. On the other hand, there might be great benefits. It could be something that ends life on Earth, and it might be something that accelerates the ability to live quality lives on Earth. We have no way of knowing.”
Oddly enough, one of Breakthrough Initiatives’ founders, renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, has voiced reluctance in reaching out into the vast unknown. “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet,” Hawking famously said in 2010 (per Popular Science). He said that meeting aliens might be akin to Christopher Columbus’ encountering Native Americans. “That didn’t turn out so well.”
And Hawking is not alone.
Physicist Mark Buchanan stated in the journal Nature Physics in August, “Any civilization detecting our presence is likely to be technologically very advanced, and may not be disposed to treat us nicely. At the very least, the idea seems morally questionable.”
David Grinspoon, an author and astrobiologist at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, said he at first thought the idea of belligerent, invasive, or ravenous aliens as somewhat ridiculous, but he has since decided that the viewpoint has some merit. “But I’ve listened to the other side, and I think they have a point,” he told NBC News. “If you live in a jungle that might be full of hungry lions, do you jump down from your tree and go, ‘Yoo-hoo’?”
And like reasoning applies to those listening in for signals from aliens, such as the scientists that study the incoming data at the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in California. Professor Matthew Bailes, a scientist at Swinburne University in Melbourne that leads Australia’s efforts at searching for alien life, warned in 2015, according to the Independent, that first contact might very well be disastrous for humanity.
“The history of weak civilizations contacting more advanced civilizations is not a happy one,” he said.
But there may be nothing to worry about after all. In fact, those who adhere to the Fermi Paradox (i.e., if aliens exist, where’s the evidence?) believe humans might be the sole residents of a very large universe. At the very least, aliens that do exist might be too distant for humans to worry over or may be too advanced to give humanity a passing glance.
For some, not being given a passing glance by aliens that might see Earth and/or humanity as a resource or an impediment could be a very good thing. Trying to get their attention, especially if they’re not disposed to sharing the universe — not so much.