Opinion: The impact of alien first contact

Robert Thomas Young

Robert Thomas Young

Robert Thomas Young is a senior philosophy major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]

Can you imagine how Native Americans felt when they first saw Europeans? Their culture and way of life was forever changed. Can you imagine the impact that alien contact would have on us?

There are a few different theories on first contact. Physicist Stephen Hawking postulates that aliens would most likely be predatory, possibly looking for natural resources or a new planet to call home. We’ve all seen “Signs”, “War of the Worlds”, “Cowboys and Aliens” and a slew of other sci-fi movies about alien invasion, so this idea is familiar to most.

If any alien race is able to reach Earth, they would by default be more technologically advanced. This is not an easy idea to swallow, as illustrations from human history have yielded cautionary tales. Whenever two cultures meet, exploitation and subjugation of one usually follows.

This is true for human culture, but it can also be seen in nature. Different species of animals, insects and even plants compete for food and resources, and the weaker or less adaptable species is usually wiped out or dominated. For instance, an invasive insect indigenous to Southeast Asia, the emerald ash borer, has killed millions of ash trees throughout the United States, and it continues to affect trees right here in Ohio.

When one species evolves in a different environment than another, it may have incredible adaptations either to its advantage or to its demise. Co-evolution allows species within an ecosystem to slowly adapt to other species, creating a balance (you know, “Lion King’s” circle of life). When a fish, mammal, insect or virus is introduced into a new ecosystem, certain species have little or no ability to adapt in time to counter their extinction.

This is at least a possible outcome of first contact, and Stephen Spielberg has exploited this thoroughly through his movies. However, I would like to propose another possibility — one that involves beneficent aliens looking to help us technologically or morally.

“Star Trek”, for example, explores the idea that advanced aliens can be beneficent and stick to a mantra of do no harm. So, we may get lucky and encounter friendly aliens who want to help us resolve problems in medicine, energy and politics. Even if this is the case, our culture would be irrevocably changed.

My least favorite philosopher, Robert Nozick, writes that eating meat is justified because animals are emotionally and intellectually inferior. However, this reasoning toward eating less intelligent beings would provide equal justification for aliens eating us. One drastic cultural change of first contact could be dietary.

If aliens are friendly, they have almost definitely evolved to a vegetarian diet or one based on nutrients not derived from killing lesser beings. It is somewhat ironic that most people justify killing and eating animals on the basis of superiority, but first contact would cause many to reflect on the inherent contradiction of eating sentient beings.

Diet wouldn’t be the only change. Religions would have to explain how humans aren’t the chosen elite of the universe. Governments and politics would have to quickly adapt. Science and technology would most likely take leaps forward. Understanding a higher life form would affect nearly every facet of our way of life.

Even if we didn’t immediately make contact, the undeniable knowledge that aliens exist would have drastic ramifications for cultures around the planet. Imagine if a ship simply hovered in the sky in plain view for weeks and then flew off. The mere awareness that intelligent life exists outside Earth would immediately create religious, economic and cultural upheavals.

Many credible people, including NASA astronauts, have seen UFOs with capabilities surpassing anything man–made. The mere numerical odds based on the billions of galaxies and even more planets point to the fact that life most likely flourishes throughout the universe and that we are not alone.