Lost in space-the aliens are coming and they are as bad as us, apparently

25 01 2010

According to one prominent speaker at tomorrow’s conference at the Royal Society on alien life,

Governments should prepare for the worst if aliens visit Earth because beings from outer space are likely to be just like humans…Extra-terrestrials might not only ­resemble us but have our foibles, such as greed, violence and a tendency to exploit others’ resources.

One could not sum up the current misanthropism in society more concisely than this. Apparently, the worst thing that could happen is that aliens are like human beings. I wonder if the writer of these words has seen any of the films which imagine monsters from space, the huge carnivorous spiders from  Starship Troopers  or the truly nightmarish creatures from the Alien films.

It used to be the case that we feared these imagined horrors so much precisely because they were not human. That is why sci fi monsters so often appear as giant insects, the closest thing we have on earth to species which appear utterly alien to us in every way. Now the worst that some people can imagine is that they are like humans. We used to be afraid of monsters and now we are afraid of ourselves.

This attitude chimes with the anti-human approach of some environmentalists and population controllers who see humanity as not only a kind of pestilence on the face of the Earth, but also a danger to those beyond it. The new James Cameron film, Avatar, for example depicts humans as a threat to other, gentler, species in outer space.

The wish to explore space used to be at the heart of human endeavour. President John Kennedy put it at the heart of the United States’ aspirations in the 1960s. These days the urge to explore has been weakened and instead fears about the dangers of space exploration have come to the fore.  Now,it appears to be beyond us to repeat even what we managed 40 years ago by going to the Moon because of the difficulty and expense. In addition, we are warned of the dangers we bring to the Universe by simply existing.

There are many good, practical reasons to push ahead with the exploration of space, some of which I listed in this article on travel to Mars. But it is humanity’s endless curiosity and willingness to experiment and explore which has made us as unique in the universe as we currently appear to be. It is the triumph of human ingenuity and spirit over enormous difficulties which makes space travel so inspiring.

If it turns out that extraterrestrial life is like us then this would be a truly wonderful thing. It could mean creatures more technologically advanced from whom we could learn enormously. This is all in the field of speculation, although the massive increase in the number of inhabitable planets discovered in the recent past increases the likelihood that intelligent life exists elsewhere, at least on the statistical level.