Tell me not in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal.

When I go from hence
let this be my parting word,
that what I have seen is unsurpassable.

Friday, 20 June 2008

When aliens do attack

Disclaimer: Any offence to any alien who might be reading this post is completely intentional. I just didn’t think you would read it. Any offence to any human reading this post does not matter. You are going to be dead when it happens any way.

What will really happen if we are actually visited by aliens? Last weekend three different alien invasion movies were aired on three different channels at the same time. That was probably a coincidence, but it set me pondering on the issue of alien visits and their likely fallouts. What will these aliens be like? I don’t mean their looks. That’s impossible to guess. It would be great though, if they are not green and full of tentacles – just to spite Hollywood. I am talking about their psychology. What will have motivated them to come to earth? Will they even want to destroy us? Or will they just be curious about us? I would assume that any race that comes to visit us from across space will be technologically superior to us. After all, if we were superior, we would have found them first. Assuming that they are technologically superior, we come to three possible scenarios. First, a very superior race might turn out to be a very benevolent one too. They could be so enlightened that have all become Buddhas. In that case we don’t have to worry. Such a visit will be the best thing to happen to us. But, I don’t think that is possible. For one, philosophers do not make great space travelers. Secondly, any enlightened species will know that meddling in a foreign ecosystem can only harm it. If they are enlightened they will act on the knowledge and stay away from earth. The second scenario is that they will be actively malevolent. In that case we will all be annihilated and earth will be conquered and there is nothing we can do about it. This is the scenario, Mars Attacks presents (somehow, I don’t believe we will live up to the standards Independence Day set for us). It’s possible, but I do not believe it is the most probable scenario. Why would any race travel all the way across space just to destroy an alien world it has had no previous contact with for no reason? The third scenario, and my favourite, is that the aliens will be neither benevolent nor malevolent. I believe that any alien race that finds us would have evolved in their attitude towards space very like our early explorers who set out to discover new lands. They will have set out, at least initially, in the spirit of scientific enquiry, eager to explore the universe. That motive may or may not have been replaced by a less altruistic one (search for new lands to settle in, perhaps). Their attitude towards us will not be very different from our attitude towards, say, the burying beetle. When they find us, some of them will want to destroy us for whatever little profit it will get them, a small minority will want to preserve us and a staggeringly vast majority will be totally indifferent. Our survival will be decided by the fight between the first two groups and not by us. The pessimist in me believes that the outcome will be no different than it has been for the burying beetles. I am inclined to believe that if an alien race does find us and comes to visit us on our own planet, we will eventually come into conflict with it and when we do, we will lose. And the real tragedy will be that they will probably not even realize it.

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