I’m housesitting for a friend with cable and started watching H2 (one of the History Channels) about ancient geniuses like Archimedes. During a commercial break I saw a promo for a show called Target: Earth where different ‘experts’ will talk about why the planet earth would make an excellent target for aliens to attack. The promo alludes to the fact that we’re one of the rare habitable planets because of our moderate temperature, amount of water and other attributes. And therefore we would make for a good target for a group of wandering aliens to invade if they wanted a new home.
So, I remember a few years ago South Park made fun of The History channel implying that it used crap experts and/or edited real experts to sound like they believed something other than their true beliefs. I don’t know if any accuracy was in their comedy or not, but if in deed the History Channel is using dirty editing to make experts look bad, I’ll reserve judgement of the experts in the show until I know more about them. In fact, I won’t judge The History Channel themselves either. They need ratings and this is admittedly fascinating.
But I want them to do a follow up show to that one called, “But For Real, Aliens Probably Don’t Know About Or Want to Do Harm To Humans.” I’m sure they can come up with a shorter title, but the show needs to hit home the fact that there is absolutely no logical reason to believe that aliens would ever wanna do us harm. How can I say that? Mainly because of physics and biology.
First of all, I haven’t seen the show, but the trailer mentions temperature and water, so I’ll deal with those first. Based on our own tree of life which includes every living thing on the planet from bacteria to flowers to dolphins to people we believe that water is necessary for life. But any biologist will tell you that an alien biology could be as different from any creature on earth as any two creatures on earth are from each other. In other words if you took two random species that seemed to be different from one another like a rose and a blue whale for example and assigned the difference numerically (say 100 for this example) then any alien life would have a larger number to measure their difference from every living thing on earth.
Why is that the case? Because as different as a rose is from a blue whale, they still share DNA. They’re still made of the same basic starting ingredients. We’re (humans are included in this of course) all made of cells for example. We have no reason to believe that alien life would be made of cells. This may sound outlandish, but the truth is we only have one tree of life to study – our own. And when you only have one of something, you can’t possibly know what else is out there, because your sample size is too small. For example, if you somehow managed to only ever see one dog your whole life – a toy poodle. Would you honestly be able to guess that there are other dogs out there such as the Great Dane, the Pomeranian, or the Pit Bull? Probably not. And you couldn’t possibly guess to how a Great Dane would act based on your limited knowledge of your toy poodle.
This show alludes to the fact that aliens will want a moderate temperature to live in and the fact that aliens will have any use for water. Maybe of all the alien races out there in the cosmos (for which we have zero direct evidence there are any) less than 1% actually need water for any reason and less than 2% (not necessarily any of the same 1% from earlier) like to live in what we would call a moderate temperature. We simply don’t know.
But let’s just assume that all life in the universe is made of DNA and cells and in some ways resembles that of earth. And let’s go one further and say that any intelligent life out there actually resembles humanity (an even further stretch). Humans certainly have a history of war and conquer, so it’s no great leap to think that a human-esque alien may wish to conquer other planets, right? Maybe. But think about it like this, why have humans conquered others? The majority of our war history doesn’t come from world dominating tyrants like Hitler, but rather from the need for new resources (slaves, land, ports, gold, etc.). And some of it comes from religion, but that is arguably about resources as well. They wanted more converts to their religion, or less competition from another religion.
Well, if an alien race out there has achieved the ability to travel from one star to another (which is what would be physically necessary for them to invade us) then they would be capable of technology beyond our scope of making in the next hundred years minimum. It seems logical to assume that if any species has perfected a warp drive then they’ve likely perfected all the technology we currently have and most or all of the technology we assume we will build within the next hundred years. They would likely have learned how to fuse atoms and replicate chemical bonds artificially. These two technologies alone would give them limitless energy and limitless chemical compounds such as water.
If they have way more water than us and their own ability to control the weather on their planet (which they would have if they had limitless energy) why would they need earth? Well, maybe their sun is about to explode and they have to vacate their planet. Sure, but why travel to earth when you have the ability to terraform any planet of your choosing and save yourself from the need to exterminate a species? Okay, well maybe they’re just mean and want to kill a species. Okay. It’s an argument, but seems unlikely to me. Historically speaking those who’ve lead the world with amazing technology tend to also be anti-war and see no need to invade anyone. But let’s say they’re just a bunch of smart asshole aliens. They’d have to find us and plan an invasion instead of find one of the many uninhabited planets (of which there is likely a lot more) and do much less work to make it livable. Even mean people avoid fights when they can accomplish their goal without it.
The other reason I think this is because biologically speaking humans are by far the smartest species on earth. And we’ve found many ways to get what we need out of an environment without destroying it. We still kill a lot and we still lay waste to a lot, but not as much as we used to. We recycle more than we ever have. More and more we understand that taking care of the earth is important. My guess is that assuming humanity is still around 200 years from now, our ancestors will look at things like hunting chopping down trees as barbarically as we see human sacrifice. They’ll simply have the technology to get everything they need without causing harm. When causing harm becomes unnecessary I believe people will see it as vile.
As long as we’re assuming aliens are similar to humans we must assume they’re like we would be with the technology they would have to have to invade us. And that seems to me that they would be much more evolved socially than we are as well.
It may sound funny to think of ourselves as not socially evolved, but remember evolution is a process and not a result. Two-hundred years ago you would have been looked at oddly by most US citizens if you said that slavery was morally reprehensible. And I’m sure they thought of themselves as enlightened and correct in the same ways that many of us see humanity as right now.
Now, if you think that my argument is completely speculative and can’t be trusted, because I can’t possibly know anything about aliens other than assuming they’re intelligence is somehow similar to ours, then I would agree with you. I can’t possibly know what it’s like to be an alien. And that’s part of my point. The people who think it’s logical to assume aliens might want to invade us are necessarily assuming that aliens must want what we want. And they can’t possibly know what aliens want or what they need.
So, while it makes for slightly interesting television, I urge anyone to watch The History Channel with a grain of salt when they try to scare people into the real possibility of an alien invasion. There are a number of things in the universe to be scared of that we know about – volcanoes, asteroid impacts, solar flares, hurricanes, etc. So, please don’t add to that list something that list when we have no real argument or evidence of it’s existence like the threat of aggressive aliens.