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How Should We Deal With Alien Contact? A Survey.

Dave

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It really depends how close the aliens are to us biologically. If they are very similar then I agree with @Parson The phrase necessity is the mother of invention is an apt one here. Our technology has all been developed as a result of competition and a dire need to survive (and here I'm speaking more generally to include the use of fire, the invention of the wheel, farming and domestication of animals.) If a species never had any competition or never felt under pressure then it would have no need to change, no need to develop new technology or to move away from its origin. Those aliens would remain at home singing peace songs and sharing love for each other, and never venture off world. We would still be apes living in the African Rift Valley.
 

Toby Frost

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I'm not even sure that humans are all that warlike, at least not individually. It's more a herd mentality and a willingness to do anything if a god or leader says its okay to do so that make us dangerous. If 1930s Berlin and Tokyo had just been one big brawl, it would have worked out better for mankind. (Richard Morgan's Black Man is interesting on this subject, but off-topic.)

Aliens would be best advised, if they didn't actually attack, to make a massive show of superior force - of course, crossing space is pretty superior, but people are thick. As well as religious lunatics wanting to sacrifice the aliens to God, they'd have to deal with various politicians trying to exploit their goodwill, steal their tech, etc. There's also a weird sub-Heinlein school of thought that species can't live together and that you'd better get the first shot in first. Perhaps the best method would be for the aliens to treat Earth as a sort of asylum and take the humans for a day-trip to space every so often - but otherwise keep the place closed and carefully monitored.
 

Vertigo

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It really depends how close the aliens are to us biologically. If they are very similar then I agree with @Parson The phrase necessity is the mother of invention is an apt one here. Our technology has all been developed as a result of competition and a dire need to survive (and here I'm speaking more generally to include the use of fire, the invention of the wheel, farming and domestication of animals.) If a species never had any competition or never felt under pressure then it would have no need to change, no need to develop new technology or to move away from its origin. Those aliens would remain at home singing peace songs and sharing love for each other, and never venture off world. We would still be apes living in the African Rift Valley.
I agree in that I believe competition, curiosity and, indeed, aggression are probably, from an evolutionary perspective, necessary for the development of intelligence. My main reasoning for this position is that pretty much the only effective evolutionary survival strategy that we have seen in some 4 billion years for non-competitive non-aggressive animals has been mass production. Remember we develop through the survival of genes so it seems to me that either we compete aggressively to ensure our genes' survival or we breed so many that our genes will survive the predation of the predators. And I contend that the former requires the development of fairly significant intelligence and the latter does not.

I know it's not quite as simple as that but pick, say, the top 50 most intelligent species on this planet and see how many of them are herbivores. If you are a carnivore/omnivore you need a very high prey to predator ratio* and that inevitably results in, I would argue, more aggressive territorial behaviour than that required to defend your precious fruit tree or bit of pasture. And the predator typically also has the armaments to 'enforce' its territorial claims and is not going to spare their use just because another species is pacifist.

I'm afraid that I have a firm belief that any species that becomes dominant within its environment will be aggressive, territorial and ruthless. Should that species become 'civilised' then maybe, just maybe, they will overcome their nature and become pacifist. But even if that aggression is now redundant within their society, at least from a procreation (ie. evolutionary) perspective, I see no reason why it would become a negative trait which, again from a procreation/evolutionary perspective, would result in it being removed (naturally) from their genome. In other words even if they overcome their nature, their nature is unlikely to evolve away. That would only happen if that nature was no longer competitively successful or they intervened to remove it artificially, a very dangerous strategy if you don't know what sort of alien species they may encounter in the future.

So my belief is that any aliens that might find us would not be dissimilar to us, in that they will be naturally aggressive but whilst they may have 'overcome' that aggression through 'civilisation' it will still be there.

* And incidentally that's why I think omnivores are likely to be more successful in this competition as they are not as limited as pure carnivores.
 

psychotick

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Hi V,

I always hate evolutionary arguments. They mostly end up with someone in essence arguing that evolution is essentially guided whether they realise it or not. It's not guided. Mutation is random. And selection favours those genes / traits that allow a creature / species to survive and reproduce. If intelligence helps them do that, then it will be selected for. But very often it doesn't. Consider sharks. One of the most highly rated predators in the marine world. Evolution has not made them particularly smart. It's mostly sharpened their senses, streamlined them, added to their speed and stealth etc. In fact it's so advanced them that they haven't really evolved in hundreds of millions of years.

Humans didn't evolve intelligence to help them hunt. But rather to survive. So we need intelligence to use tools, act socially / form tribes, communicate etc.

If you're going to argue that intelligent aliens are aggressive because of evolution, you have to show why aggression is a beneficial trait to them. It may well be. It may also not be. There's no reason a herbivore can't be intelligent. Think of whales - filter feeding ones. Why are they so smart relatively speaking? It's only a question of why that intelligence helps it to survive and procreate.

The other problem that keeps cropping into these sorts of arguments is that people often confuse tech advancement with evolution. It's not. Evolution takes place over millions of years. Tech advancement has nothing to do with it. And quite frankly modern man is likely no more intelligent than man of fifty thousand years ago. Its been argued that Neanderthal's were smarter than cromags. It just didn't help them.

Cheers, Greg.
 

Vertigo

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Hi V,

I always hate evolutionary arguments. They mostly end up with someone in essence arguing that evolution is essentially guided whether they realise it or not. It's not guided. Mutation is random. And selection favours those genes / traits that allow a creature / species to survive and reproduce. If intelligence helps them do that, then it will be selected for. But very often it doesn't. Consider sharks. One of the most highly rated predators in the marine world. Evolution has not made them particularly smart. It's mostly sharpened their senses, streamlined them, added to their speed and stealth etc. In fact it's so advanced them that they haven't really evolved in hundreds of millions of years.

Humans didn't evolve intelligence to help them hunt. But rather to survive. So we need intelligence to use tools, act socially / form tribes, communicate etc.

If you're going to argue that intelligent aliens are aggressive because of evolution, you have to show why aggression is a beneficial trait to them. It may well be. It may also not be. There's no reason a herbivore can't be intelligent. Think of whales - filter feeding ones. Why are they so smart relatively speaking? It's only a question of why that intelligence helps it to survive and procreate.

The other problem that keeps cropping into these sorts of arguments is that people often confuse tech advancement with evolution. It's not. Evolution takes place over millions of years. Tech advancement has nothing to do with it. And quite frankly modern man is likely no more intelligent than man of fifty thousand years ago. Its been argued that Neanderthal's were smarter than cromags. It just didn't help them.

Cheers, Greg.
I can agree with some of your points.

Most certainly it is unlikely that our current intelligence differs much from that of Cromagnon. However evolution does sometimes take place much, much faster when either the species is under massive pressure or when there are significant vacancies in the ecology after, say, a major extinction event. Also evolution should be measured in generations not years, so very short lived species such as fruit flies can evolve very quickly. However that has little to do with my arguments.

I sincerely hope I never gave the impression evolution was guided. As you say it most certainly isn't other than the abstract guidance of survival. And yes if intelligence assists in that then intelligence will evolve. Regarding filter feeding Cetaceans, let me briefly put my pedant hat on as state that they are still predators! However I agree not a lot of intelligence is required to filter feed. Except maybe knowing where and when they will find the krill etc. Also I would say we really don't know just how intelligent the big filter feeders actually are! But they are physically very handicapped when it comes to manipulating their environment which is when I suspect the intelligence traits can really kick in big time, as in making tools etc.

I also don't think I ever stated that intelligence is inevitable for a predator just more likely. If the predator is already extremely successful, like your shark example, then it's unlikely small incremental increases in intelligence would provide any significant advantage. And that's the other thing about evolution, of course, not only is it slow but it moves in small incremental stages. So it's no use asking if an intelligent rabbit would stand a better chance against foxes, of course it would, but rather would a minutely more intelligent rabbit have a better survival rate than a minutely faster rabbit. My vote goes to the latter.

So I don't say that all predators will inevitably be intelligent (I doubt there's a lot of intelligence in a snake), but I do think intelligence is a trait that is more advantageous to predators. I also would dispute your claim that humans evolved intelligence to use tools. Chimps are just hitting that stage but I would argue they have had higher than average animal intelligence for a long time. As for acting socially; I would ask why is social behaviour a successful trait? And I would argue that it is because it makes for more efficient food gathering (hunting in packs etc) and defense of your territory. It all comes down to ability to survive in the end.

Incidentally one of the reasons I think intelligence is likely to favour omnivores or at least more catholic eaters than say wolves is that most carnivores have pretty much only got one hunting strategy whereas an omnivore will develop many; they must discover which fruits are edible and which are poisonous, a strategy for hunting a monkey is not going to work for hunting termites etc.

Finally I think I wrote everything in probabilities. I didn't say an intelligent alien would be an aggressive, predator just that I think it's much more likely than a pacifist herbivore.

As you might have guessed I find this a fascinating topic! :D
 

Dave

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They mostly end up with someone in essence arguing that evolution is essentially guided whether they realise it or not.
Thanks, I'm sure we will all avoid doing that now.
The other problem that keeps cropping into these sorts of arguments is that people often confuse tech advancement with evolution.
No confusion here, though I see I might have conflated technology and intelligence with my throwaway comment that we would still be Apes. The point is that any alien who makes contact is going to require both intelligence and technology and so might be quite a lot like us in many ways. Ravens use tools but they aren't intelligent. Dolphins are intelligent but they can't build a spaceship. I'm not sure we are certain yet why we became super intelligent. It might well have been to be better hunters. It certainly wasn't so that we could visit the stars. Regarding the examples given, the Whale is intelligent because its distant land ancestor was intelligent, it doesn't require intelligence to filter feed the oceans. The Shark isn't intelligent because it has been successful for a very long time without any need for intelligence to evolve.
I'm not even sure that humans are all that warlike, at least not individually.
You really think so? People are cruel, vindictive and stop at nothing to put themselves first. It is so unusual for them to act any differently that we call those heroes and give them medals. History is filled with genocide and slavery, both ancient and modern history, and where I do agree with @psychotick is that we are not very genetically different to a man of fifty thousand years ago, so probably also not so different in temperament and behaviour.
 

Vertigo

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It occurs to me that a better example to counter my own arguments about non-intelligent herbivores would be elephants. they are arguably quite smart and they are herbivores. But, as I said, I don't site intelligent herbivores as impossible just much much less common. And, as @Dave points out, to come visiting us they need technology as well and that means the ability to manipulate stuff, whilst the elephant's trunk is pretty handy (sorry!!!), they only have one, and my mate who lost one of his arms in the army many years ago will tell you that the inability to work one manipulator against another is hugely limiting.

If octopuses had managed to evolve on land they might have given us a run for our money!
 

Robert Zwilling

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I don't know about super intelligence as a human parameter when we have installed kill switches into our infrastructure. I don't know what survival of the fittest means when looking at the race between humans and other animals on this planet. The other animals don't seem to be winning and without being able to build spaceships they probably won't have a chance. Perhaps it is survival of the trickiest that replaces survival of the fittest once one or more groups attain artificial superiority over the rest of the populations. Trickiest is a quality that the coyote has always had. It is just big enough to be a killer but has a build that is stealth like in the way it presents it's body flying along on thin low profile legs. Human trickiness and fittest is usually limited by how long the batteries last. Do star hopping citizens have the same weakness, lose the mode of transportation and their hold on life suddenly evaporates. Perhaps evolution based on external machinery has an asterisk next to it like the steroid records. If lasting change is based on using mental power to manipulate the environment without machinery then the dolphins could build a spaceship and sorcery is much more than a lost art.
 

dannymcg

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See that soldier in the original 'The day the Earth stood still'?
The one who fired at the alien as it was raising the peace offering?

That's me, that is.

 
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Toby Frost

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You really think so? People are cruel, vindictive and stop at nothing to put themselves first. It is so unusual for them to act any differently that we call those heroes and give them medals. History is filled with genocide and slavery, both ancient and modern history, and where I do agree with @psychotick is that we are not very genetically different to a man of fifty thousand years ago, so probably also not so different in temperament and behaviour.
That's not what I mean. I'm not saying that people are nice. Trust me, I have absolutely no illusions in that regard. They're not, and they need very, very strong checks to prevent them behaving in a debased fashion. Only an idiot could look at the last few years and disagree with that. But they are followers, not leaders or loners. A really warlike species would be full of individuals permanently bashing one another. It would be proper chaos. That's not how humans work. What humans want is permission to indulge their worst instincts. That permission requires them to follow a god-figure. To my mind, it's as much moral cowardice as being inherently warlike.

I mentioned Richard Morgan's Black Man earlier. That involves a kind of (human-looking) semi-caveman, who is from a species of violent loners. At once point, he observes that the only sense of religion he has is a vague urge to find God and fight him. That's what I mean by really warlike. But I suspect that we might be arguing much the same point here.
 

Extollager

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C. S. Lewis has some interesting speculations in a late essay with the somewhat banal title "Religion and Rocketry."


He takes the angle of ours being the species that makes contact with life on another planet.

Another embodied species is like ours if its mature members can make promises (whatever it looks like). Without knowledge of "their" language or languages (it seems usually to be assumed that "aliens" will all speak the same language -- I don't suppose that's necessary to assume), that could be impossible for us to recognize. But for now that's about as a good a short definition of human as I can offer.
 

Dave

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Let's not stray too far into "religion" or we will have to close the thread. I can however, see the point that @Toby Frost is making now. Individuals try to hold their behaviour in check but are always seeking permission to do otherwise from leaders. We call the first a decent society, the alternative leads to civil war or worse. I respect that there are a wide variety of views on religion held by the members of this forum, but I think everyone would agree that if most people believed in an all powerful God, then robbing from Churches would not have been an item on the national News here yesterday evening. We have lost many of the checks on behaviour that we once had in place.

However, I'm quite certain that we could never have the First World War again today either. The combination of pressures put upon UK men to enlist, either because they were fighting for their King, or for their Country, or for their God, or against propaganda of the barbaric "Hun", or because women would call them cowards and hand them a white feather, and that they could never keep their positions in civil society, lead to whole streets, villages and boys clubs signing up, and going off to the trenches to die together. I don't believe anyone has the same kind of formal respect for their leaders today, in part because of the poor quality of those leaders, but I wonder if the those leaders actually had any better leadership qualities in the past?

On the other hand, an alien invasion (or merely an alien visit) would surely galvanise people into a united popular resistance. Even against superior odds and certain death, if it were shown to be a just cause then people would fight back. That is why, despite what they knew about the effects of First World War, they were resigned to fighting the Second World War within a generation. If their were also populist leaders who had enough followers and could stir xenophobia....

(There you go. Only page 5 of the thread and I almost mentioned Hitler!)
 

Extollager

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Dave, yes, a caution about political discussions and religious debates is fine, but probably you would agree that the "first contact" topic has a religious aspect. Interestingly, though, the Lewis essay I cited argues that, after an initial flurry of people claiming points for their side, the discovery of "alien" life elsewhere in the universe would likely leave things pretty much where they were. He goes on to discuss some things that, strictly speaking, go beyond first contact.

I've wondered about what would happen if Terrans detected radio transmissions -- certain evidence of a civilization "out there" somewhere. I think people are usually naive about how easy it would be to translate them, let alone to reply. I imagine a scenario in which a whole generation is growing up knowing there is civilized life on such-and-such a planet far away, but with no way of understanding the broadcasts (including even knowing if they are intended to be detected by off-planet beings). What would it be like to run up against something like that as just a simple fact of life, year after year? I wonder if it would be possible even to pinpoint just where the emissions transmissions were from. Without that, how could one estimate how old they were? So you have radio broadcasts from an uncertain place and from an uncertain time, and no hope of understanding them. I wrote a story in which I tried to relate that kind of limitation to others. We tend to think that "progress" will just keep on (assuming we don't blow ourselves up or die from climate change), but limits do get reached. For example, even with extreme genetic engineering, people won't always keep getting taller or faster. What would it be like when, say, the record for running the mile had been set decades ago -- just as an example of coming up against limits?
 

Dave

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I think people are usually naive about how easy it would be to translate them, let alone to reply. I imagine a scenario in which a whole generation is growing up knowing there is civilized life on such-and-such a planet far away, but with no way of understanding the broadcasts (including even knowing if they are intended to be detected by off-planet beings). What would it be like to run up against something like that as just a simple fact of life, year after year?
Absolutely! Daniel Jackson from Stargate does not exist. The Rosetta Stone (written in three languages) was unique. We have no idea how to read the Olmec script on the Cascajal Block. I had heard of that before, but a quick Wikipedia search gives a whole page of undecipherable writing systems, and those were written by humans.
 

Extollager

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I should've written, "a whole generation is growing up knowing there is or was civilized life on such-and-such a planet." If it's very far away, the time lapse between the emitting of the radio transmissions and their detection on Earth would be considerable.

James Gunn's The Listeners deals with something like this, but it is years since I read it & I don't remember much.
54328
 

Dennis E. Taylor

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Getting back to the idea of "experts", in this case I think they'd be people who have been paid to think of as many scenarios as they can and come up with responses. It's a theoretical kind of expertise, but it still puts them several steps above the "holy crap! run in circles!" crowd.

Some possible alternative scenarios:
1. We get a radio message, but no live visit
2. We get a visit from a non-intelligent probe, with a message and instructions for replying.
3. We get a visit from a probe with an A.I.
4. We get a visit from aliens who are somewhat ahead of us technologically, except for having FTL (think 'accidental discovery')
4a. Those aliens are like us in that they are comprehensible: individuals with understandable motivations.
4b. Those aliens are different in some way: hive mind, herd animal, Tines (from A Fire Upon the Deep), silicon life, etc. but are still trying to communicate
4c. Those aliens are completely incomprehensible, like in The Arrival
4d. The aliens are at the level of 2001 A Space Odyssey, and there's simply no common ground.

Now throw in belligerence. Are they peaceful, or are they here to conquer/enslave/exterminate us? Do they want our water/iron/coffee? Are they interested in trade, exchange of knowledge, or are they here as missionaries? (That last one would really set off the fundamentalists)

There's an interesting segment on one of Isaac Arthur's SFIA videos where he talks about how you'd go about working out communications with aliens, and it's really interesting how much you can do with zero initial information. As for communicating by smell or color blinks, I'd expect that any intelligent species capable of getting into space would have to have created some kind of written language, simply because at the early stages of civilization you A) need to record things, and B) only have the 'marks on a surface' option. However weird the aliens would be, you should be able to start with simple things like run/eat/go and work up from there.

Anyway, the bottom line for me is that how it goes would be determined more by them than by us. We'd just be reacting.
 

Vertigo

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Are they peaceful, or are they here to conquer/enslave/exterminate us? Do they want our water/iron/coffee?
First question is possible but the second is highly unlikely. As already discussed, there is literally nothing on this planet that they couldn't get with much less effort elsewhere in the solar system. But the planet itself? We don't yet know how common planets with significant amounts of both liquid water and land are out there. It's perfectly possible they may want our real estate.
 
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