Will the Aliens Be Nice? Don’t Bet on It

Gary Gutting, New York Times, October 5, 2011

The probability that there is intelligent life somewhere other than earth increases as we discover more and more solar systems that seem capable of sustaining life. The thought that there might be extraterrestrial intelligences (ETI) somewhere out there excites us and has led to organized efforts to contact any such beings. {snip} The search for extraterrestrial intelligence project (SETI) is obviously based on the assumption that the possible benefits of contact with ETI outweigh the possible harms. But do they?

A recent study by researchers at Penn State and NASA provides a useful outline of the various ways that encounters with ETI could be beneficial, neutral or harmful to us. The study faces up to the most chilling possibilities: ETI might “eat us, enslave us, attack us,” inadvertently infect us with horrible diseases or just decide to eliminate us for the greater good of the universe. {snip}

The report draws no conclusions about the wisdom of pursuing SETI, though it does urge the need to develop quantitative measures of possible harms and benefits. {snip}

{snip}

But we do know this: for the foreseeable future, contact with ETI would have to result from their coming here, which would in all likelihood mean that they far surpassed us technologically. They would be able to enslave us, hunt us as prey, torture us as objects of scientific experiments, or even exterminate us and leave no trace of our civilization. They would, in other words, be able to treat us as we treat animals–or as our technologically more advanced societies have often treated less advanced ones.

{snip}

{snip} Since there’s at least a small (and perhaps a not so small) probability that they will bring us catastrophic evil, why should we risk such an outcome?

One reason might be that ETI could instead bring us enormous benefits: they might even lead us to a paradise of peace, wisdom and joy. {snip} Who would take a bet that promised, at equal odds, either a lifetime of unalloyed happiness or a lifetime of utter misery? Better to stick with the likelihood of a normal human life, mixed with joy and sorrow.

{snip}

We cannot know what might happen to us from contact with ETI. But we do know that there may well be unthinkably horrible outcomes that are not likely to be offset by potential benefits. We should not take the SETI bet.

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  • Awakened

    I hate to venture into the improbable, but some claim we’ve already made contact. Even Louis Farrakhan, the Black Muslim has proclaimed that the incredible filming of UFO’s indicates the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations already visiting this planet, and the fact that the government is covering up evidence for it. The Disclosure Project is another group that is composed of many former military and government employees, not to mention former astronauts, that claim that there are extraterrestrial civilizations already here and that the government knows it. If you look up the names of Steven Greer, Richard Dolan, Dr. David Jacobs, Sgt. Clifford Stone and Budd Hopkins; all these men have a great deal of credibility and have written books on the subject. There are many videos on youtube where these men are interviewed. The ‘Disclosure Project’ is a two-hour meeting at the National Press Club which is one of the most impressive get-togethers of former high-ranking military, scientists, researchers and others who make startling claims. And these men and women have the highest credibility. You can view it at – http://tinyurl.com/y6pexm

    It’s literally amazing.

  • Urban Teacher

    Reminds me of an old science fiction short story (also a Twilight Zone episode) by Damon Knight in which aliens come to earth and make life better for humans.

    Someone gets hold of one of their books, titled “How to Serve Man” and tries to translate it.

    It turned out to be a cookbook.

  • Anonymous

    There is an interesting parallel here. Sci-Fi movies in the forties, fifties and sixties showed aliens as evil, dangerous and bad. Think of movies like the Blob, for instance. Since about the late sixties though, Hollywood has portrayed them as benevolent space brothers who only want to help us. Think of movies like Starman and Close encounters of the third kind. Our ancestors were more realistic, a consequence of having racial realism and solidarity. Today our attitudes towards space aliens reflects our same craziness towards aliens here on earth.

  • E Pluribus Pluribus

    I am reminded of an observation by University of Kansas biology professor Raymond Hall, summarizing a law of nature:

    “Two subspecies of the same species do not occur in the same geographic area . . . To imagine one subspecies of man living together on equal terms for long with another subspecies is wishful thinking and leads only to disaster or oblivion for one or the other.”

    It is possible, however, to imagine an exception to this law of nature. Several subspecies of man could live in this same geographic area indefinitely if under the control of a technologically advanced alien species (ETI). The parallel today is a modern zoo. There several subspecies of the same species live in close proximity for extended periods of time under the control of humans. If ETI were to visit this planet, the creation of a sort of zoo of human subspecies might present itself as an option to the aliens in lieu of extermination or enslavement.

  • je suis paganisme

    Any contact with alien life-forms would introduce diseases which would affect us in unforseen ways, much as the Europeans affected the American Indians and vice-versa (syphilis).

    That is why all talk of alien abductions, contactees, etc. is pure balderdash (unless taken as akin to the fairy abductions of old).

  • Question Diversity

    As an aside, all that stuff that people see going bump in the night? I think that’s all the product of human beings, and I think certain people are more than happy with certain other people (read: Art Bell, George Noory, etc.) rambling on and on about aliens and ETs. If I heard an Art Bell guest telling us “what the government doesn’t want you to know,” once, I heard it a hundred times. Except every station that show is on has an FCC license; if “the government” didn’t want you to hear about those things, you wouldn’t be hearing them. Be a white racialist and speak in public, then you’ll know what it’s like to say something that someone powerful doesn’t want you to hear about.

    Roswell turned out to be American spying on Soviet nuclear ambitions. It’s so obvious now what they did — For decades, they ran a “good cop bad cop” scam, where “good cop” was weather balloon and “bad cop” was ET. No way the Feds were going to admit to spying on the USSR during tense times.

    I also tend to think that this “alien” stuff has an ulterior motive — To scare people into accepting world government.

    If there are any “advanced civilizations” out there, and I mean “way out there,” they would probably ignore us. They would have about as much use for us as I would an ant hill in the Congo. But I doubt there are any advanced civilizations out there — For as long as we’ve been looking, through SETI and other projects, we have found no evidence of any advanced civilizations like our own.

  • Spock

    They would probably show up, use up all the water and other resources the earth has, and maybe make a departing gesture of freeze drying us for food on the next leg of their journey.

  • Anonymous

    Do we really want to have people who blather on about whether there is no danger from extraterrastrials, while they are completely oblivious to the danger real aliens here right now are causing, decide this issue for us?

  • Dave

    (1) There is zero evidence of intelligent life anywhere outside planet earth; (2) the parameters we use to define “life” are arbitrary and not predictive of all virtually infinite number of possibilities. Why do we impose upon a hypothetical alien life form the same goals and vices of the human race? It’s amazing that educated people are actually paid to write science fiction.

  • annoy-a-mouse

    People remember seeing flying saucers and strange gray humanoids with large eyes.

    Many people explain this as an intelligent life form that evolved independently on some other planet.

    Hardly any people explain this as some cousin species to humanity.

    That is very strange. The descriptions are clearly that of a primate. Why would we consider it more likely that such a thing independently evolved somewhere else?

  • patthemick

    I’ve always thought that given an infinite number of inhabitable planets that a planet with interplanetary drive capability would have plenty of planets that were inhabitable but not inhabited and a less advanced world would probably be a sanctuary for the primitives already living there. We give off plenty of radio waves and radioactivity that we really could not hide any more than a Maori in a dugout canoe can hide from an F-16 flying overhead. The jet pilots just not interested in him.

  • voter

    — Dave wrote:

    “There is zero evidence of intelligent life anywhere outside planet earth”

    ___________________

    And scanty evidence of intelligent life here on earth too, for that matter.

  • Robert Binion

    Not only are extraterrestrials here, they vote by absentee ballot in Chicago.

  • flyingtiger

    To question Diversity: How much do you know about the secret programs at Rosewell for spying on the Soviets? I am afraid to talk about what little I know. I didn’t have a high enough clearance to even be told the name of the project I was working on.

  • Ross

    In STAR TREK there is what is called the “Prime Directive” in which in the STAR TREK universe, the Federation of Planets cannot interfere in a developing culture.

    However, if advanced civilization with the warp-drive technology to actually travel the galaxy and beyond, this does not mean they would have such laws and high moral standards. If they actually came to Earth.

    If the way the white man conquered the North American Indians is any indication, and they wanted to exploit our world’s resources and enslave the human race, here is what would likely happen:

    They would give advanced technology, and other goodies, to the blacks and Muslims, to turn them against the white and Asian races. Once the white and Asian races were subdued, then such extra-terrestrials would then betray the Muslims and blacks, by also enslaving them, too. Until they finally conquered all of humanity, with human collaborators. Just as there were Kapos in the Nazi concentration camps and the Vichy government that collaborated with the Nazi occupation of France.

    In American history, the policy of the U.S Goverment was to subdue one Indian tribe at a time, with that tribe’s traditional enemies acting as scouts. Such as how the U.S. cavalry had used Crow and Pawnee scouts against the Sioux and Cheyenne.

    I wonder what the modern-day Comanche, David Yeagley would think of this comment and what is his opinion of what if star ship faring extra-terrestrials came to Earth?

  • Anonymous

    in the past paranormal encounters were understood as “ghosts” and “devils” and generally avoided. Now they masquerade as “aliens” and the media is brainwashing people into welcoming such activity. Well, guess what, whether you are in telepathic contact with a spirit mentioned in a grimoire or with an “alien” out to help the UN to save the world, the principle is the same. It is the devil working to seduce people individually and humanity in general. That the godless media is lapping it all up should not be a surprise.

  • Mr.White

    We have currently 25 million illegal “aliens” in this country, the majority of which are not from outer space but Mexico. The fact of the matter is they don’t like us much either. That threat makes ETI look like ET…..

  • Anonymous

    The notion that humans originated in space is consonant, in fact,

    with much myth and folklore. If put in far sidebar, it may deserve peripheral regard that would serve to help us quicken it into focus if if evidence transpired that suggested that we should do so. This would not be the first “silly” possibility that, if given some tolerance, proved to be the inception of major insight.

  • rockman

    This is reality folks. Accept it or not who cares. We had contact in 1946 at a world gathering of powere in San Francisco. We were a nuclear power and worth knowing. The Aliens were housed in an unused underground command center located on the northeast corner of Novato Calif. This was a secret facility built in WWII controlled by Hamilton AFB Once installed in the underground base the aliens did not leave and they are still there today using the locals for medical experiments and doing other wonderful things spreading out by controlling the local leaders and so on. they are commonly known as greys That is reality

  • Anonymous

    If intelligent extraterrestrial life existed they would probably either ignore us or attack us. After all, competition for resources is a universal constant. And if they had the technology to come here then they would no doubt win that competition. So it would be prudent not to attract attention via SETI. Thankfully, there is no evidence of intelligent extraterrestrial life. And, hopefully, there never will be.

  • Mick

    It’s reasonable to assume that any alien species evolved with the same basic rules of evolution that we find on Earth, i.e. one of callous indifference to its rivals and survival by any means possible. However, we’d be little threat to them and our physical resources such as water and metals are very abundant all over the galaxy.

    And if they did want to kill us then there’s not really much we can do about it so we may as well stop worrying. It would be nothing like the movie Independence Day. More likely a gigantic blast of lasered, gamma radiation from many light years away would sterilize our planet without us even seeing an alien spaceship.

    I think alien life exists, although intelligent life is probably extremely rare. UFO evidence is very weak and relies on a highly improbable conspiracy between all the developed nations of the world. We live in a digitized age – any DECENT photos or video would be public by now. Instead we only get points light, blurry images, and endless anecdotal evidence.

  • john

    It’s a statistical impossibility for there not to be intelligent life throughout the universe, which consists of billions of galaxies, each containing billions of stars, many of which have solar systems and planets capable of supporting carbon-based life.

    Whether any of these innumerable planets have spawned life-forms, carbon-based or otherwise, which could survive the hundreds or even thousands of years required to travel here is another matter altogether. There is no credible evidence that any of them ever have to date, despite the generally fifty year-old stories of widely observed UFO sightings. Of course, I was alive then and remember no such headlines or TV news stories, and it would seem that all such OOFOE stories are similarly ancient, the aliens apparently having lost interest in us.

  • Auntie Em

    If extraterrestial life forms exist, a reasonable possibility, they may be so entirely alien to us that projecting facets of the worst of human nature on them is foolish anthropomorphism.

    Couldn’t it also be possible that they have lived among us for millenia, unrecognized as such?

    Not to fear. All is natural, if not immediately explainable.

  • Anonymous

    Rather than believing that intelligent life was able to evolve independently, it’s more likely that any “other” intelligent life observed by us is actually a derivative of life on Earth.

    Since intelligence is genetic and we currently possess a remedial power to alter genes, it seems plausible that our ancestors were able to alter their genes to increase their own intelligence. These ancestors may have left planet to live somewhere in our solar system which enables them to return and also explains the many UFO sightings.

  • Anonymous

    Since when did Dale Gribble start writing for the NYT?

  • Awakened

    3 — Anonymous wrote at 6:46 PM on October 6:

    There is an interesting parallel here. Sci-Fi movies in the forties, fifties and sixties showed aliens as evil, dangerous and bad. Think of movies like the Blob, for instance. Since about the late sixties though, Hollywood has portrayed them as benevolent space brothers who only want to help us. Think of movies like Starman and Close encounters of the third kind. Our ancestors were more realistic, a consequence of having racial realism and solidarity. Today our attitudes towards space aliens reflects our same craziness towards aliens here on earth.

    ********

    I agree and yet disagree. Hollywood has taken us on a long journey in the last 60 years or so. In the 50’s there was no way they could have portrayed extraterrestrials in a positive light, so they took us on a long journey in the interim, in changing our attitudes toward literally everything. Year by year, decade by decade, and generation by generation, they have been slowly getting us to the point where we no longer have any will to fight – fight anything – multiculturalism, diversity, and of course, fight for our own race and that includes extraterrestrials. We are (white people that is) ready to be conquered. We haven’t changed in the last 60 years –

    THEY ARE THE ONES WHO HAVE CHANGED US.

    And the sooner we realize this the easier it will be to change back.

  • Michael C. Scott

    I suspect that since the technology required for nuclear warfare is easier to develop than the technology required for manned interstellar travel, any sufficently warlike species would simply make itself extinct – or stone-age itself with few fossil fuels left available for it to start the slow climb back to a technological civilization – long before it became a problem for intelligent species orbiting other stars.

    This is really just another example of what I have long called a “self-correcting problem”.

  • Brendan

    I think it’s funny threatening aliens in classic movies, followed by benevolent aliens starting in the 1960s, parallels with trends in our own society. I would agree that any aliens, as with any species except for the white elite, would look out for Number One first.

    Now, I believe that there may be life elsewhere in the universe, but we are the only intelligent life. Also, my devoutly Catholic mother insists that the visions of “aliens” that people have seen are nothing more than demons, or else are caused by drugs. I find that plausible, since their behavior doesn’t seem to follow the laws of physics; i.e., they and their ships have supernatural powers.

  • Anonymous

    “Any contact with alien life-forms would introduce diseases which would affect us in unforseen ways”

    “That is why all talk of alien abductions, contactees, etc. is pure balderdash (unless taken as akin to the fairy abductions of old)”.

    Ridiculous response or may I say ‘balderdash’. The odds of an alien species being able to infect us or consume us for nurishment must be close to 0. The could certainly kill us, however.

  • Anonymous

    2 — Urban Teacher wrote at 6:17 PM on October 6:

    “Reminds me of an old science fiction short story (also a Twilight Zone episode) by Damon Knight in which aliens come to earth and make life better for humans.

    Someone gets hold of one of their books, titled “How to Serve Man” and tries to translate it.

    It turned out to be a cookbook.”

    It also reminds me of another Twilight Zone episode from an earlier season. The one called, “The Monsters are Coming to Maple Street.” The monsters turn out to be ourselves. We self destruct when the aliens just make a few strange things happen.

  • Anonymous

    9 — Dave wrote at 7:53 PM on October 6:

    “(1) There is zero evidence of intelligent life anywhere outside planet earth; (2) the parameters we use to define “life” are arbitrary and not predictive of all virtually infinite number of possibilities. Why do we impose upon a hypothetical alien life form the same goals and vices of the human race? It’s amazing that educated people are actually paid to write science fiction.”

    They aren’t paid, they earn money writing it because people buy what they write. Real science fiction, as opposed to science fantasy (Starwars, Star Trek, etc.) have been used to educate about technology and often also warn of future totalitarianism where technology gets ahead of people’s ability to cope with its power. “Forbidden Planet” is a classic in that sense. Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” is an example of the former.

    What astronomers say about the possibility of life on other planets is that statistically, the possibility is highly likely, in fact, it’s more likely than not. We haven’t explored very far into the universe, let alone our own galaxy. But the probability that a civilization would arise and advance simultaneously with us, or even close enough to allow for contact from hundreds, thousands, millions of light years away is unlikely. Can we find traces of one? Eventually, we probably will.

    There is no completely satisfying explanation for white skin, blond hair, blue eyes. What if whites are actually aliens who arrived here in neolithic times? That would explain some of the earliest literature (including the Old Testament) and some archeological remains in different locations around the world. Crazy? Maybe, but no one really knows yet.

  • Distant Observer

    What if aliens arrived on Earth and proved to be politically incorrect? What if they preferred blondes and the company of, say, whites or East Asians? What if they would go nowhere near Africa or the Middle East?

    I wonder how the media would handle that.

  • Anonymous

    Earth is the only planet that has the necessary balance of oxygen and other gases to sustain life. If other beings came the would have to live and move within protective bubbles containing what ever gas that sustained their lives.

    Going to the arctic or a disease infested 120 degree jungle is one thing. Moving to a planet where breathing is impossible is another.

  • margaret

    5 — je suis paganisme wrote at 7:15 PM on October 6:

    Any contact with alien life-forms would introduce diseases which would affect us in unforseen ways, much as the Europeans affected the American Indians and vice-versa (syphilis).

    The Indians also infected the Europeans with smallpox. A cerca 1300 bear skeleton with smallpox lesions on its bones has been found in Mexico.

    The Europeans buried, not cremated their dead. Every 100 years or so they dug up the graveyard and packed bones that were left into crypts under the Church. There are 100s of billions of bones in European Church and monastic crypts.

    Death by smallpox or even a severe case where the patient survives leaves noticiable lesions on the bones. Not one smallpox lesion has been found on any European bone of a person who lived before 1510.

    Why do we even send our children to school? That sphyllis smallpox canard has been taught for at least 100 years.

  • Anonymous

    I had a Tv in the kitchen. I would watch a Star trek rerun from 6 to 6/30 every night while I cooked dinner. I was busy calming down from a high stress job and even worse commute, dealing with 2 kids under 4 and cooking.

    But I couldn’t help but notice that every episode was undisguised propaganda for welcoming every extremely different group.

    Still, it was better than the news, non stop evil White police being mean to innocent black criminals and the reverends and welfare mammas marching against schools that suspeneded the black thugs.

    I never went to any of the good alien movies like that Jodie Foster one. One of my all time favorites though, is Mars Attacks. I loved how the liberals who wanted to welcome the aliens got vaporized but the fighters destroyed them.

  • Anonymous

    A friend was an air traffic controller when he was in the navy. He was stationed at a top secret base in Texas. The purpose of the base was to test new and secret experimental aircraft.

    Whenever something is on the news about UFOs he says that what they probably saw was a new military aircraft. He says that he his base had numerous very strange looking aircraft that looked like something out of a space travel movie.

    Considering that so many of the sightings have been in Arizona and other S.West desert areas, it is highly likely that the UFO sightings were just experimental military aircraft.

    There are top secret bases all over the S. West deserts. My friend cannot say the name of the base or where it is after 20 years.

  • s

    I hear that “zero evidence” a lot. Its followed by a lack of will to see. When having studied all the anomalies of history and also explained these as far as possible, i think we can speak about evidence or conclusions.

  • SKIP

    12 — voter wrote at 9:48 PM on October 6: “And scanty evidence of intelligent life here on earth too, for that matter”

    HAHAHAHAHAHAA was thinking the very same thing myself, as no doubt, a number of others here were. I work with lots of American blacks here in Afghanistan, need I say more?

  • Spirit Wolf

    1. SETI is about establishing radio contact, nothing more. ET doesn’t have to come here to talk to us. Realistically, though, the first alien radio signal we get will probably be a stray broadcast from somewhere, the alien equivalent of a soap opera or beer ad or something. [email protected] seems to be stuck on using Arecibo, which, unfortunately, can only look straight up, which I feel is kind of limiting.

    2. Alien diseases. It’s unlikely that alien microbes would be compatible enough with our biology to make us sick, and vice-versa (no War of the Worlds). The other side of the coin, however, is alien food would probably be poisonous to us – none of this sampling weird alien dishes stuff. It would also be a concern if trying to colonize a planet with native life already on it.

    3. As others have said, the technology to build a practical interstellar craft is as beyond us as designing a motor car is to a chimp at the moment. Ergo, if they saw us as nothing more than clever animals (like beavers, say), we’d be just as powerless as Earthly animals to prevent them from treating us as such, and I seriously doubt we’d have the moral authority to complain about it (since when it comes to us and animals, our “superior intelligence” wins us the right to do as we wish, apparently. I actually would be rather amused if that tired old canard did wind up biting humanity in the ass.)

  • Anonymous

    Anything is possible I guess but I recently purchased a DVD “Privileged Planet” and while some would not like the religious connotations , still they present some very good scientific evidence .

    First a planet would have to be terrestial in nature . Then it has to be in the exact location in the solar system .Look at the difference the earth being tilted on it’s axis makes in the seasons . Our two nearest neighbors , Mars is an icebox and Venus is an inferno . A planet needs an active molten core to produce a magnetosphere to protect it’s life from harmful emmissions from outside or you wind up with a dead planet like Mars . Then the home star has to be of the correct mass and magnitude . If the bandwith of life of a planet is too close to the home star then the planet will synchro-lock on the star much like our moon , with one side a deep freeze and the other a deep fryer .Then the home star has to be in the right location within the galaxy . The center of a galaxy is a very dangerous place because of proximity . The odds of all of this coming together really reduces the chance of super intelligent life evolving .

    That aside , sending out probes with material aboard describing us and our location in the galaxy and universe is inviting trouble . I am all for SETI passively listening but we should not be actively trying to respond to anything we may pick up on the airwaves . “Walk softly and carry a big stick.”

  • Spirit Wolf

    Any alien who landed here who didn’t look more or less human (like a Star Trek “alien”) would be killed instantly.

    Humans will not assume that something with fur, a tail, or horns, or tentacles, or something that looked theriomorphic in general is either intelligent or benign.

    We would sooner shoot the most benign beast on sight, and trust the most vile humanoids going.

  • Michael C. Scott

    As far as alien-introduced diseases go, I think this one is a non-starter. Pathogens do not transmit well between extremely different critters.

    Anyone who disbelieves me is free to complain the next time they catch tobacco mosaic or wheat rust; I will stand corrected.

  • Anonymous

    There is zero evidence of intelligent life anywhere outside planet earth; (2) the parameters we use to define “life” are arbitrary and not predictive of all virtually infinite number of possibilities.

    Due to advances in modern technology we know that there are 100’s of billions of galaxies, each with 100’s of billion of suns.that means if 1 of a billion solar systems had life there would be billions of planets with life.

    Of course there is life all over the Universe. Unless of course you believe that we had some on in a trillion thing happen here. Things do not happen in nature if they are one in a trillion.

  • Anonymous

    There have been people who have caught serious ailments from their pet turtle . I read in the paper of a fellow who picked up a fungus while trimming his roses , eventually his thumb had to be amputated in an effort to keep it from advancing . All evidence seems to indicate the tree man of Indonesia caught something while cutting through jungle plant matter with a machete and then cut himself with that same machete . It seems that ebola comes from contaminated soil,so does anthrax . A lot of people in the southwest died from hemorrhagic fever caught from woods anols(rhodents).I personally knew a fellow who had his throat cut in a fight , he survived but now the scar tissue literally looks like a beard , maybe a dirty knife ? I had just as soon keep my distant from space aliens . If we err then let’s err on the side of caution .

    Besides , look at what letting people who are not like us into our nation has done to the country in general . Can you imagine if they were from another planet ?

  • Anonymous

    We have already made contact . . . nuclear explosions have a distinct “double flash” which, when seen from space cannot be mistaken for anything else . . . this “double flash” tells those who are observing us (from space) that we possess nuclear technology and have used it . . .