The Irish Independent carried an interesting article on its website today which poses the question if it is such a good idea to be announcing our existence to the Universe by sending targetted messages to far off galaxies (as opposed to the random waffle and piffle that bounces out as a by-product of our TV, radio and radio-based communications technologies).
The gist of the author’s thesis is that “Life is not like Star Trek” – the aliens that may or may not be out there may not be of the hippy planet-hugger peace and love variety but may be… well a bit like us really but with bigger or better guns.
The writer, astronomer David Whitehouse (thanks to Copernicus for correcting me as to the byline), name drops the various scientists who he has worked with in the course of his career, all of whom he co-incidentally asked questions of that are relevant to this present article. However he misses perhaps the simplest analogy of all…
Throughout our history there have been civilisations that were advanced in terms of their technology and how they used it. Throughout our history these civilisations have explored the shores of distant lands. And throughout history indigenous peoples have wandered down onto the beach to greet and trade with these visitors from afar only to be massacred and enslaved for generations or to have previously unknown disease ravage their populations (e.g. smallpox and the Native Americans).
Often the ‘first contact’ has been friendly and warm but the relationship has evolved to murder and imprisonment when the ‘powers that be’ in explorer-central see wealth and riches to be had from the forceful exploitation of the native resources of the new ‘colony’ – both its people and the wealth of its land.
Who is to say that our radio messages to the great beyond won’t bring a Galactic Captain Cook to the shores of our world, or a Cosmic Columbus? Will our descendants find themselves fighting the battles of this planet’s indigenous peoples (such as the Indigenous Australians or Native Americans) against an alien authority?
Maybe life will be more like “Stargate SG-1” and its spin-offs with two broad groupings of aliens – those who will befriend us and develop a nuturing relationship and those who would rather enslave or destroy. This is a likely outcome – but raises the question of who will answer the messages first.
Or perhaps we’ll just be left leaving a galactic voicemail for an alien civilisation that died millenia ago?