Sagan, and by extension Contact protagonist Ellie Arroway, became the sort of individual I came trust to handle what will be the greatest discovery in human history: proof that humans are not alone in the universe.
I still find Sagan’s view of extraterrestrial first contact (as seen in Contact) to be the most persuasive. That is, if aliens send us plans for an advanced one-time-only interstellar travel device to meet them, or travel to Earth themselves to visit us, it is highly likely they’ll pose no threat — because with our inferior technology we pose no threat to them.
Not to mention, Sagan believed a civilization that manages to travel the stars would have to reach a level of social maturity and sophistication of which humans cannot yet fully conceive.
If humanity manages not to destroy itself, by the time it develops a reasonable means to travel the stars (meaning no centuries-long “colony” voyages) we’re likely to be ready to meet aliens without immediately wanting to blow them to smithereens … or at least not have a default view of them as threatening (a la Avatar and Arrival, to name but two).
Fortunately, Sagan (pictured) isn’t around to see some of the nonsense that’s infected his field of endeavor. Like the physics professor who says we should incorporate indigenous “knowledge and methodologies” into the study of astronomy … or the academics who seek to “decolonize light.” (Canadian universities seem to be especially big on “decolonizing” the hard sciences.)
Some even have taken issue with the term “intelligence,” at least as used by SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, as being racist.
Most recently, a trio of professors argued that even the act of listening for evidence of alien intelligence might be problematic as it could be deemed “eavesdropping” or “surveillance.”
An “indigenous studies working group” comprised of a UCLA world arts and cultures/dance professor and two Canadian scholars (professors of native studies and anthropology) claimed that listening is a “phase of contact” which “like colonialism itself […] might best be thought of as a series of events that starts with planning, rather than a singular event.”
Seen this way, isn’t listening potentially without permission just another form of surveillance? To listen intently but indiscriminately seemed to our working group like a type of eavesdropping.
It seems contradictory that we begin our relations with aliens by listening in without their permission while actively working to stop other countries from listening to certain U.S. communications. If humans are initially perceived as disrespectful or careless, ET contact could more likely lead to their colonization of us.
Well, the thing about aliens is that they’re … alien. But as Sagan believed, aliens advanced enough to easily travel the stars are highly unlikely to take a 2023 A.D.-“critical studies” view (like this working group) of an emerging species looking for stellar neighbors.
The famous physicist Stephen Hawking did warn that given humans’ track record of dealing with cultures different from their own, it’s not inconceivable that an advanced alien civilization might act similarly upon meeting us.
Hawking posited back in 2010 an Independence Day-like scenario where advanced “nomad”-like aliens travel the stars to “exploit each new planet for material to build more spaceships so they could move on.”
But other scientists challenged this outlook, taking a Sagan-esque view.
“If aliens were to come here, it would be simply to explore,” said former SETI director Jill Tarter. “Considering the age of the universe, we probably wouldn’t be their first extraterrestrial encounter, either. If aliens were able to visit Earth, that would mean they would have technological capabilities sophisticated enough not to need slaves, food or other planets.”
(Not to mention, many scientists and scifi writers have asked Why plunder a planet like Earth for its resources when humans have been doing so for centuries? Everything an advanced civilization needs lies in deep space — on asteroids, comets and lifeless moons.)
Cosmos Studies CEO Ann Druyan echoed Sagan in that humans may “outgrow [their] evolutionary baggage and evolve to become less violent and shortsighted.” The way humanity has evolved in just the last 300 years or so offers optimism for this view.
And unlike humans stepping on an anthill (which are innumerable across our own planet), life across the universe appears, so far, to be extremely rare — hence precious (see: Ad Astra). Why would an intelligent society want to eradicate a cosmic kindred spirit?
IMAGES: The SETI Institute, Alexander Castillo, Independence Day/Twitter