Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Alien Visitors - How to Say "Hello, World"?

Alien Etiquette Faux Pas

In ABC's "V," a rich source for those who like to speculate on alien realities, the Visitors arrive in very large space craft. Some critics think that such arrivals could not happen without our noticing. However, we Earthlings already are working on cutting edge stealth technologies that address making objects invisible to various frequencies  so it is not far-fetched to think that an even more advanced alien species would have perfected such technology. (Do these critics not have access to Discover, Scientific American, Science News, Discovery Channel, or the Science Channel?)

For me their arrival presents a different problem involved with first contact. After 9/11, and after watching movies like Independence Day and District 9, surely an advanced race would realize arriving in large ships unannounced to a jittery planet would be a monumental faux pas. Maybe early in the universe, the first space explorers made such faux pas, but it seems logical that they learned that one needs to study another planetary species carefully, learning their culture and language before contact

Lost in Space Translation (and You Thought Learning Klingon was Hard...)

But learning the culture and language of another world is fraught with incredible difficulties. Aliens that perceive the world differently than we do (live in a water world with heavier gravity, no land masses, and circling a binary star for instance), who use a different means of communicating (communicate via light, or electromagnetism, for instance), and have a different physiology and psychology (asexual, cold-blooded, egg-laying, creatures that feed by sucking the fluids out of other creatures) would have very different frames of references than we do.

And since our words have connotations, and we tend to use idioms and tropes (such as metaphors), an alien would need to understand not only our alphabets, syllabaries, and pictographs, but they would have to enter an strange world more foreign to them than our alien (to them) planet: our minds - what makes us tick. 

Think about how difficult that would be. Imagine how difficult it would be for a sentient creature that communicates via light and can see the color blue, a color to which it attaches an emotional sexual connotation, describe that color and convey its connotations to an alien sentient creature that is impassively asexual, blind, and communicates via sound. This goes beyond "lost in translation."

The Internet and World Contact Day

Thus, an alien species, from "neighbors" saying hi to those bent on being our overlords, would likely put long effort into studying us secretly at first: learn our languages and try to decipher and understand our culture, traditions, and psychology. Although, with the advent of the Internet, we've just made the job not only easier, but so much more fruitful - they can gather so much intel from afar by just tapping into our Internet via eavesdropping on our satellites.

Maybe we've hastened the arrival of World Contact Day. Time to learn The Recognized Anthem Of World Contact Day: "Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft."

Image credit: 1. 20th Century Fox     2. A&M Records

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Brother Alien

The Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences, along with the Vatican Observatory, held its very first conference on astrobiology, a week long event which concluded yesterday.

Jesuit Father Jose Funes, director of the Vatican Observatory, explained that "the questions of life's origins and of whether life exists elsewhere in the universe are very interesting and deserve serious consideration. These questions offer many philosophical and theological implications."

Father Funes reiterated what he has stated in the past - that the Catholic church has no problem with the idea of extraterrestrial life. The Church can not put a limit to God's creativity. All creation falls under God, and any intelligent extra-terrestrial life, no matter how diverse, would be brothers and sisters in God's expanded family of spirit children.

However, Paul Davies, Arizona State University cosmologist, believes that discovery of intelligent extraterrestrials would create a philosophical dilemma for Christians since "they believe that God became incarnate in the form of Jesus Christ in order to save humankind, not dolphins or chimpanzees or little green men on other planets."

While some fundamentalist sects may have a problem, Father Funes believes that there is no theological crisis here. In an interview with the Catholic News Service in May 2008, he states that aliens may not need redemption as maybe they never lost God's fellowship. Father Funes pointed to the parable of the lost sheep: "We who belong to the human race could really be that lost sheep, the sinners who need a pastor." Thus, that is why God became man in Jesus on this planet - it was we who needed saving the most.

Alternatively, if the aliens also need saving, Father Funes states feels that Jesus' sacrifice would apply not only to humans, but to all intelligent beings in the universe.  I am reminded of the gospel passage where Jesus tells his disciples that "other sheep have I" - maybe that includes aliens on extrasolar planets. Jesus picked Earth as the starting point. Either way, Jesus was God incarnate and sacrificed only once.

The Catholic Church is not the only Christian sect that accepts the concept of aliens. For instance in the LDS Church accepts the idea of extraterrestrials, though they feel they will be humanoid because all intelligent advanced life will be created in God's image, as were we. Unofficially some Mormons talk about how Jesus after his resurrection went to teach "other sheep" which includes aliens, and how this proves that the Earth is the worst of all the planets - we are the only ones to crucify Jesus.

Of course, when we say "in God's image" do we really know what He meant by that? Could it be a spiritual image and not necessarily a physical one?


Butt, Riazat. "Vatican Ponders Extraterrestrials." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. 11 November 2009. Web. 11 November 2009. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/nov/11/vatican-extra-terrestrials-catholic>

Maxwell, Neal A. A Wonderful Flood of Light. Bookcraft Pubs, 1990: 25.

Thavis, John. "Vatican astronomer says if aliens exist, they may not need redemption." Catholic News Service. Catholic News Service. 14 May 2008. Web. 11 November 2009. <http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0802629.htm>

Image credit: Futurama, 20th Century Fox Television. 

Monday, November 9, 2009

Level 1 Parallel Words Addendum

Level 1 Déjà Vu Speculations

Earlier in Parallel Universe - are some aliens ourselves? I discussed the parallel universe essay by Dr. Max Tegmark, Cosmologist from the University of Penn. In an infinite universe, or a sufficiently large enough one, other Earths exist far far away, with the same history - a Level 1 parallel universe. These parallel universes are regions that are beyond our cosmic horizon - regions beyond the limit of our ability to see or detect. They need to be that far so that the region can be parallel - two Earths in the same space would not be parallel since they would not have the same night sky, the same environment, and observing each other could upset the parallel developments. They exist now, in the past, and yet to be, all echoing our Earth in history. Even with true random chance and free-will, another Earth can accidentally follow ours. Infinity is an eerie thing. We have twins out there. Maybe this level 1 parallel universe explains déjà vu as we somehow in some quantum manner not yet discovered connect dimly at times with our exact duplicates. Of course that would mean at the exact time we experience déjà vu, so would our double.


I wonder, though, if it is necessarily true that parallel Earths have to be in regions beyond our comic horizon. Could a region of space, in an infinite universe, be of such special symmetry that two identical inhabited planets could orbit separate but identical stars and still see the same constellations, have the same interstellar environment? And in discovering each other, discover each other at the exact same time, in the same exact way? It may be the rarest of the rares, but in an infinite universe, could it not still happen? How weird, and frustrating, that would be for the explorers engaging in first contact: both speaking the same thing at the same time (and marveling that they both speak the same language and look and sound the same), flipping a coin to break the impasse and both saying "heads" at the same time, so go to a quantum random number generator to break the impasse (to decide who speaks first, for instance) and while both being truly random still, by chance, coming up with the same number... Probably the further apart, the more likely random effects could affect message transmissions such that the impasse would be finally broken. But I can not help but think in a truly infinite universe, there would be a place where each Earth would always simultaneously echo/parrot each other in perfect unison - hopefully, for those two twin worlds, there would be something in physical laws of the universe that would prevent the perfect parroting from being eternally true.

Breaking the Jinx

Maybe it would be better that another Earth would be similar but not the same. It would aid in establishing a real dialogue. On a theological note, can slightly different Earths be our afterlife/reincarnation (choosing, living, other paths as ourselves)?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Visitors...

The Visitors arrive...

Yet another alien invasion show. Not that that's a bad thing (the show that is - alien invasion would be a bad thing). I am looking forward to the re-imagining of the 80's series. However, it got me to thinking again about the possible motivations for an alien species to invade the Earth, and the many difficulties involved with invading an already populated planet.

  1. Atmosphere: a sentient species will be evolved to their specific environment. Slight changes can prove to be very toxic. An alien invading Earth would need to be able to breathe our particular blend of gasses. That would be a rare alien. Ah, but what about spacesuits or masks? True, those would help, but then why take over a planet that you can not breathe unassisted on? I would think it be easier to terraform a barren, or nearly so, planet than to "terraform" one with an already fully developed ecosystem. Though as mentioned in previous posts, postbiologic / robotic sentience creatures probably can withstand a very wide range of atmospheres.

  2. Nutrition/Dietetics: a sentient species coming to Earth to use us as food would run the risk of finding us to be indigestible or even poisonous. Even if their genetics/physiology are somehow close to ours (that DNA is somehow a normal result of biochemical processes leading to life in the universe), there are many example on Earth where food that is nutritious to one creature, is not nutritious to another (and may even be poisonous). Of course, if the aliens find Earth life to be eatable, it stands to reason that Earth life would, in turn, find the aliens eatable as well, from mammalian predators to invertebrate parasites.

    But it is more likely that our physiological makeup will be too different to be of any use dietetic use. The To Serve Man recipe book would not be a top seller for aliens. Although if Earth animals were heavily processed, the aliens possibly could get some food value from them - but a lot of work for little return. Why not find a suitable barren planet, terraform it, and raise food more suitable to their physiology? If the aliens are postbiologic, which many think aliens would probably be (a next natural step in evolution for sentient species), they probably do not need biological food anymore anyway.

  3. Disease/Immunity: I have read conflicting opinions on this matter. One opinion is that humans and disease have evolved side by side - it's a continual arms race as our immune systems evolve to better protect, and diseases evolve to defeat our systems. An alien system would be, well, alien. Diseases have evolved to attack other Earth creatures and are finely tuned to Earth creatures and thus would not be able to attack an alien creature. Others are of the opinion that an alien would be wide open to attack, since their defense systems have never seen Earth diseases and thus have no finely tuned defenses or mechanisms to block or fight them.

    In addition to diseases, there are all manner of venomous arachnids, insects, snakes, toads and poisonous plants that an alien would have to contend with. Many would not care if the creature they are in contact with is from the Earth or not. How many of us have put a straw or stick into an ant hill and see the ants swarm and viciously attack the stick? Would the alien bodies be able to tolerate foreign venom or poison?

    However, with advanced nanotechnology (or technology advanced beyond it), aliens may very well have postbiologic systems to help them deal with diseases, venomous creatures, and poisonous plants - such matters may be of no real threat or concern to them.

  4. Other environmental factors: we have evolved in a particular gravity well, in a particular magnetic field, with certain ranges of light and other radiation hitting our planet's surface, and a certain range of temperatures. Any invading alien would need to have come from a planet similar to ours if they have any plans for long term domination. Unless, of course, they are postbiotic creatures.

  5. Water: many alien invasion scenarios have aliens coming for our water. Yet we are discovering that water is rather common in the cosmos. There is water on the moon, Venus, Mars, many of the moons of our gas giants, in comets and meteors. Why mess with a populated planet when water is probably much closer to home?

  6. Overpopulation: some alien scenarios have aliens invading because their home planet is overpopulated. I guess their entire solar system would have to be too, for them to move out into the stars to expand. If they were postbiologic and still felt the need to increase their population, they could easily colonize barren systems first or large space stations (Dyson spheres?).

  7. Salvation I: several scenarios have dying aliens coming to Earth in order to do medical experiments to either create some vaccine or gene therapy that can restore the alien's health, or to create alien-human hybrids so that the aliens can continue to live on, albeit in a rather different form. Besides the difficulties of two species evolving on two planets being compatible enough to be of any use to the other medically, again it would seem logical that an interstellar space faring race would be able to evolve into postbiological forms and thus not need to invade another planet to save their species. Though Studying other biologies can help uncover any universal biology laws and principles and thus help a species understand itself better.

    But let us say, for the sake of argument, that they cannot or are unwilling to go the postbiologic route and need to leave their star system (going nova?) and colonize another system (ours) and thus need to create hybrids to survive in our very alien environment (this scenario also assumes they cannot or do not have time to terraform another unpopulated world). A hybrid would feel and be different than the aliens - it would be a new species, experiencing the universe differently, and thus evolving away from the invading alien's culture and identity. How is that helping anything? They might as well just impart their knowledge to another race and consider the torch passed and not bother with the whole hybrid thing.

  8. Salvation II: ala The Day the Earth Stood Still, aliens may invade to save us from ourselves, baring any alien version of a Prime Directive, or to prevent us from being a danger to our space neighbors (not all of our space neighbors may be advanced enough to be safe from dangerous space faring races).

  9. Salvation III: alien missionaries come to convert us.
I am sure there is more that I have not thought of.

Alien Missions

Overall, it seems that for the most part postbiologic creatures would have very little drive to invade another planet. At least for physical reasons. But they may have psychological or theological reasons. For instance they find the postbiologic evolutionary step incredibly repugnant or blasphemous. They may fear for their safety or for the safety of other less develop extraterrestrial species and decide to keep us restrained or contained until we, in their minds, have matured enough. Maybe they have long forgotten their own early sentience past and look upon our aggression with psychological or theological horror. They may look upon us as heathens and feel the need to forcibly spread their theology upon us. Now those are scary thoughts indeed.

Image credit: ABC