The physicist Enrico Fermi once said “Where is everybody?” – specifically asking why, if the universe is filled with civilizations, we have yet to confirm or even detect their presence in any reliable fashion.
I’ve given the ‘Fermi Paradox’ a lot of thought over the last few years, and ironically the best answer I can come up with owes more to Star Trek than to astrophysics.
In the eighth Star Trek movie, First Contact, the human race is first contacted by another spacefaring civilization when we are finally at the point of developing faster-than-light (FTL) travel (in this case, warp drive). Indeed, until we have such a thing, any kind of cultural intercourse we could have with any extraterrestrial civilization would be one-sided. The ability to venture forth into the black in search of new horizons and new life is a necessary step to becoming part of any interplanetary community.
On a deeper level, it seems to me that the ability to build such a wonder would require a unification of purpose between the various races of humankind, since no single nation is likely to have the resources to build and operate a space station and interstellar vehicles by itself. Thus far, we have yet to advance sufficiently as to effect such unification. We engage in petty squabbles over post-tribal god-images, we scrape and claw at each other over abstract numbers which provide a mass illusion of wealth, we divide ourselves against each other over ideological differences which would be dwarfed by our unity of reason if only we allowed ourselves to see the latter.
Were you a member of a hypothetical alien race, would you look upon us as a species worthy of moving into the neighborhood?
In all likelihood, the first impulse we would experience upon contact with intelligent extraterrestrials would be to try to destroy them out of fear.
Is it any wonder that we have heard nothing?
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Most of us evince a certain mistrust or even shock at the notion of a unified human culture; we hear much about the evils of globalization, we react with horror at the notion of a quaint little town in Somethingstan seeing the opening of a McDonald’s or Starbucks, we worry that if we completely accept another culture, we will be dominated by it to the exclusion of the conventions we hold dear.
I have come to wonder of late, though, whether a global culture would have to be this way. Is it necessary that we abjure our ethnocultural ‘soul’ in order to embrace the culture of another, or can we allow them to coexist?
History shows that the greatest motivator to unity is the presence of a common enemy – a ‘them’ to our ‘us’. I have little doubt that if we were to discover intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, we would rapidly cease to be French, or Jewish, or black, becoming merely different flavors of ‘Earthling’. Even if the extra-terrestrials showed no hint of a threat, a large number of us would choose to see them as an enemy solely based on our primitive fear of the unknown. In the face of this perceived threat, national boundaries would become obsolete and religious differences would largely die out as our fear of the poorly-known was set aside in place of this greater fear. Few would suggest, however, that we would lose our individuality. Just as African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, Native Americans and Caucasians manage to hold onto their own beliefs and values while forming part of an integrated American nation, we would under this hypothetical scenario consider ourselves Islamic-Earthlings or Australian-Humans or other such designations.
So… if we would be able to make this transition when faced with extra-terrestrial life, why are we so convinced that we can’t do it on our own? We can put aside the comparatively small fears and choose to instead understand each other, learning from the richness of each other’s cultures. A Christian can learn from a Hindu, a Kazakh from a Paraguayan. I believe that this would enrich us rather than lessening us.
We have had the phrase “the human race” in our lexicon for many decades now – perhaps it’s time there actually was one.
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Posted in Uncategorized, tagged aliens, antikythera mechanism, baghdad battery, cryptozoology, dropa stones, fox mulder, i want to believe, ica stones, lid of palenque, loch ness monster, mulder, nessie, phaistos disc, radioisotope dating, spirits, triceratops, weirdostat on September 24, 2009|
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I want to believe.
Not necessarily in aliens or spirits or the Loch Ness Monster (at least not specifically) – but there is an awful lot of stuff out there that defies explanation. The planet’s weirdostat is set pretty high.
This image is one of the Ica Stones – a collection of well over a thousand stones, estimated to be between 500 and 1500 years old, with a variety of indigenous carvings. This one, you might notice, depicts a person riding a triceratops.
Most people will look at something like this and shrug it off as a hoax. And perhaps it is. But what of the Phaistos Disc? the Lid of Palenque? the Baghdad Battery? the Dropa Stones? The Antikythera Mechanism? The gazillions of other oddities and phenomena which sound like Robert Ludlum book titles?
Can they really ALL be hoaxes?
Isn’t there, perhaps, some small chance that maybe we’re WRONG about some of our assertions? Maybe our ‘facts’ aren’t as solid as we think they are when it comes to radioisotope dating*, geological strata, ice core sampling, or even the timing of evolutionary phases.
I’m not suggesting that people ever rode around on triceratops. That strikes me as a very good way to find oneself impaled on horns. At the very least, though, perhaps it means that someone in South America knew about dinosaurs before Westerners began digging them up in the 1850s. Similarly, the Baghdad Battery most certainly suggests that there were people 2500 years ago with some knowledge of electricity. We have pretty much accepted at this point that our ancient forebears had a surprising fluency in mathematics and astronomy – perhaps it’s time we gave a little more and began to seriously look into what else we might have forgotten.
History may be holding onto some seriously cool shit just waiting to be re-discovered.
Also? Perhaps there’s something to the aliens, spirits and/or Nessie as well.
* ‘Radioisotope dating’… if you show me uranium, I’ll show you mine?
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