Should Humans Search for Extraterrestrials?

by Jonathan Phung and Abigail Verfeurth

The Alien Attraction

It would be better for us to discover other sentient life. We have always been curious explorers and adventurers that glory in the unfamiliar; we were never meant to journey alone.  

Nick Pope, author on space and the unexplored as well as foreman of the British government’s U.F.O. project from 1991 to 1994, agrees, arguing that we should try to answer “one of the biggest and most profound questions we can ask” with a “yes”. There is little risk in trying to do so. Pope postulates that any extraterrestrial civilizations out there are most likely already aware of us given our relatively young age— a view shared by Caleb Scharf, author of The Zoomable Universe and Director of the Columbia Astrobiology Center at Columbia. 

With how likely it is that an extraterrestrial civilization already knows of our existence, we might as well try and discover them as well. If anything wanted us eradicated, they would have done that a long time ago. Thus, aggression is “not likely to be their main characteristic,” asserts Jill Tarter, Former Director of the Center for SETI Research. Scharf reiterates that an alien invasion is “just too unlikely a scenario to concern ourselves with.” 

Douglas Vakoch works as a professor in the Department of Clinical Psychology at the California Institute for Integral Studies in California and leads METI International. METI International looks to organize the efforts to send messages out into the cosmos and goes so far as to argue that the dangers of contacting alien life are “overstated” and “overblown” with no credible risk.  

In our best and our worst times, we have always been defined by our bold strength, and there is no reason it needs to change now. We pride ourselves on boldly going where none have gone before, and to fear the unknown, or what might be out there, we never would have gotten this far, discovered this much, or developed into what we are today. There may very well come a point where we will be unable to progress without the aid of other extraterrestrial civilizations. Are we just to accept our fates and shrink in the face of the unknown? There are no doubts: Even if we are not involved with aliens, aliens are involved with us. There is no reason not to find other life, or at the very least, try.

It is just as likely that only the stealthiest alien species survive interstellar evolution, and to falsely assume that the universe is altruistic, if not benign, is certain death. If whoever finds us is not friendly, our fates have been sealed.It is just as likely that only the stealthiest alien species survive interstellar evolution, and to falsely assume that the universe is altruistic, if not benign, is certain death. If whoever finds us is not friendly, our fates have been sealed.

An Adversion to Life Beyond

As history has shown time and time again, our need for resources and false smiles often hide more insidious plots. Why would extraterrestrial civilizations be any different? Nothing is stopping us from becoming the next “New World,” and the aliens, Christopher Colombus. 

David Brin, astrophysicist, science fiction author, and former SETI researcher, discredits the idea that extraterrestrial civilizations have already discovered us by explaining how our signals turn to static one light year away, while the nearest star is four light years away. Even if anything wanted to detect our signals, Brin argues that they would need “a tenth of the size of New Hampshire or Connecticut staring at us relentlessly.”

It is not probable for an extraterrestrial civilization to know of our existence, even if they did have billions of years on us; our signals would never reach them anyway. Suppose that aliens already knew of our existence. In that case, why are we trying to reach out anyway, and why have they not already reached out and aided us? Harm must be an option, or this would have been resolved long ago. 

Then comes the question of what do we say, who will say it, and how do we even decide any of those things? There are too many unknowns and too much risk in trying to find other sentient life. We cannot afford to gamble our entire civilization away over assumptions and hopes. 

Let us continue listening, and maybe we will survive long enough, go far enough, and become strong enough to begin announcing our presence. 

Late astrophysicist Stephen Hawking put it best: “Any civilisation reading our messages could be billions of years ahead of humans. If so, they will be vastly more powerful, and may not see us as any more valuable than we see bacteria.” We did not come this far just to throw it all away to chance.  

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