If Aliens Exist, should we be eager to meet them?

To confine our attention to terrestrial matters would be to limit the human spirit. –Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking is in the news today, big time. Why? He says that intelligent aliens almost certainly exist, and that we should definitely not try to contact them. In fact, he argues, we should stay as quiet as possible and try to avoid detection. To quote him:

If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.

We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.

I was floored. And I was even more shocked when I realized that this opinion was a common one among my scientific peers.

With all due respect, I completely disagree. If an alien’s ship managed to come all the way from another star system to within range of Earth, we would already know an incredible amount about them. What follows is what I would say to them. (And you should feel free to opine in the comments.)

We know that, like us, you grew to prominence on your planet, evolving over hundreds of millions of years to become the most successful species on your world. We know — like us — you gained mastery over your environment, learning to utilize resources and tools to construct a myriad of things that would have never existed without your intervention.

And, unlike us, you have managed to build a ship to sustain you during an interstellar voyage, far away from any natural power sources (like stars). This is a fantastic achievement, and we are a long way off from anything approaching this! Your technology is far, far advanced from ours. It’s very likely that your astronomy skills — particularly for finding planets you’re interested in coming to for their natural resources — are superb, and vastly superior to our own.

In other words, if you’re looking for a world in order to harvest resources from and we’re a good fit, you’re going to find us whether we advertise or not.

But we are young, and in our technological infancy. It was only 10,000 years ago — about 400 generations — that we started planting seeds and growing our own food. It is only now, at the present day, that we are beginning to learn how to live within the means of what our planet can sustainably provide. And you must have figured that part out in order to develop the technology and devote the resources to sustainably survive without a planet or power source at all.

There are so many questions we are striving to learn the answer to, that we are only even beginning to pose well. And yet, to survive a long-term space journey, any alien race must have already figured out an answer to these and many other questions. The two big ones that I want to ask are these:

  • We have evolved to be selfish hoarders, always hungering for more, and to expand beyond the means of our resources. How did you overcome the limitations of your evolution?
  • The resources available to plunder on our planet are limited, and it is almost unimaginable to imagine surviving a long amount of time (many years, at least, but probably many generations) without any power source at all! But you did it. What was your solution to your energy needs?

But to imagine malevolent aliens? Why? Destroying us would be like crushing a colony of microbes just for kicks to them. Their technological level must be at least hundreds, if not tens of thousands of years beyond ours. Can you imagine even the greatest military force from the Napoleonic Era even lasting a few weeks against our modern warfare technologies? It simply wouldn’t happen.

But what irks me most of all is the cowardice behind a viewpoint that we shouldn’t rush to meet a peer in this Universe. It would be like forgetting the best part of being human: our bravery, our sense of adventure, our will to explore, our thirst for learning and discovery, our curiosity, and our desire to experience all that existence has to offer.

I am eager. I want to meet them. I want to know the answers to those questions. Right now, when I put the numbers I think are most likely into the Drake equation, I find it very unlikely that there ought to be another intelligent civilization within a hundred million light years of us. But if there is, I’m going to try to find them.

So if any aliens are reading this, PICK US! HERE! All of humanity may not be ready for you, but some of us are. If you come, the rest of us will come around. And I’ll be among the first to welcome and greet you. Be gentle with us and be careful with our delicate biology. We have a lot to learn, and could use a great teacher. I hope to hear from you soon.