5 Scientific Facts That Shatter Your Image Of First Contact
Movies have taught you all about various alien encounter scenarios. After first contact, we'll either be invaded like in Independence Day, enslaved like in Falling Skies, enslave them like in District 9, enter into a golden age of shared information like in Star Trek: The Next Generation, or maybe just bone them like in the original Star Trek. But in reality, alien contact would look very different from what you've seen in pop culture. For example...
Aliens Won't Look Like Us At All, Much Less Be Bone-Worthy
The two most important questions humanity has asked upon observing the vast infinity of the cosmos are: "Is there anyone else out there? And if so, are they fuckable?"
Though Star Trek explored whole new worlds, it was spectacularly uncreative when it came to designing the aliens who lived on them. Imagine how disappointing it must have been to discover our galactic neighbors looked like totally normal people with slightly dumber haircuts than usual. On the plus side, you can generally assume your parts are compatible ...
Unfortunately for any aspirations you might have for some intergalactic boning, real aliens are unlikely to appear as anything you'd be remotely interested in grinding hips with, assuming they even have hips, instead of flangeblatts or something.
"Great! Now unsheathe your penis horns while I excrete the lubricating acid."
In fact, ignore aliens for a moment and think about the creatures on Earth that have advanced intelligence independent of the human family tree. We're talking things like dolphins, dogs, octopuses, and birds -- animals that look absolutely nothing alike, much less like us. And that's just Earth. Intelligent creatures evolving elsewhere in the galaxy could look like absolutely anything, and the one thing we can almost certainly rule out is that they'll be sexy.
Why? Because what we find sexy is what our species evolved to find sexy. You (probably) don't get turned on when you see a hippo violently evacuate its bowels, but for a lady hippo, that's the equivalent of a Channing Tatum lap dance. We are, for example, the only species on Earth whose females develop large breasts. That happens for no real reason other than that it's the specific switch our evolution decided should activate the boner machine. It doesn't matter how human it may seem; a chimpanzee finds Scarlett Johansson no more sexy than she finds it, which is probably "not very much." Hey, we don't know what ScarJo is into, and we don't want to presume.
And if the aliens look like her? Run.
We Probably Won't Even Be Able To Communicate With Them
In Star Trek, Men In Black, and most other franchises that involve frequent alien contact, communication is a simple matter of having a translator on hand. But in real life, communication with extraterrestrials is likely to pose a much bigger problem. We can barely get it down inside our own species. We might never have been able to understand anything the Ancient Egyptians wrote if one bilingual individual hadn't thought to carve it out on the Rosetta Stone.
Much more difficult is the prospect of communicating with creatures that don't share our physiology. Centuries of experimentation have brought us to a kind of rudimentary communication with apes, but when it comes to sharing information with any other highly intelligent animal, science is still at the "fucked if we know" stage.
Our best current option is Will Smith doing interpretive dance.
And although humans are the only species smart enough to (mostly) follow an Ikea instruction booklet, there are a few animals out there that come close. For example, octopuses and dolphins both show signs of human-like intelligence, and dolphins have even been shown to have a kind of language. But for all our fancy science, we're still a long way off from figuring out how to talk to a dolphin, let alone a goddamn octopus. An alien might not even share the same senses that we do, so good luck trying to communicate with a creature that's blind and deaf but interacts with the world based on quantum pulses or an intricate series of farts.
Alien Technology Will Most Likely Be Inconceivable To Us
As villains, aliens in movies need to be advanced enough to pose a genuine threat to us, but not so advanced that we can't kill them all with a MacBook. But the fact is that if aliens exist that are capable of reaching us in spaceships, the very laws of chance all but guarantee that they're so far ahead of us technologically that us waging war on them would be like snails waging war on us: crunchy, slimy, and hilariously ineffective.
"Uh oh, battery is getting low. Better plug in."
"Sorry, the aliens use 220V outlets."
Think of it this way: Life on Earth has existed for about 3.8 billion years. The length of time that life has been capable of appearing in the universe is around three or four times that number. And that's only talking about life itself -- human civilization has existed for only a few thousand years, and modern technology has existed for only a couple of hundred. The point is, the universe has had a very, very long window of time to work with, so the chance that any aliens with the ability to contact us have less than a few million years of advancement over us are vanishingly remote.
Imagine trying to describe something like a nuclear bomb to someone living around 300 years ago. Now imagine a time traveler from 300 years in the future trying to describe their nega-napalm or whatever to you. Now imagine trying to figure out the technology of an alien civilization that had its Industrial Revolution, like, two billion years ago. Your MacBook simply will not cut it. Not unless you upgrade the RAM, at least.
"Ha! We're on Linux, bitch!"
Our First Contact With Aliens Will Most Likely Be With Robots
Aside from romantic space travel movies like Interstellar and The Martian, NASA has all but abandoned the idea of sending actual people into space. Why? Because within the past 50 years or so, we've figured out the technology to develop robots we can remotely control from inside the safety of our breathable atmosphere, which is advantageous to us, due to the fact that space will murder the absolute shit out of you in so many ways.
So, given the fact that we figured this out within the first few decades of our own experiments with space exploration, what the hell makes us think that our first contact with alien intelligence will be with physical aliens, rather than the alien equivalent of a Mars rover?
According to Michael Dyer, a professor of computer science at the University of California, it is "99.9999999 percent likely" that the first aliens that human beings encounter will be some kind of robot. If, as we've already said, an alien species is millions of years ahead of us on a technological timescale, why assume that the probes they send out are going to be piloted by the aliens themselves?
"Overpopulation. They literally just needed to get rid of a bunch of us."
In fact, even if we contact the robot ambassadors of our extra-galactic neighbors, the species that created them might already be extinct. Even in modern human civilization, we're starting to flirt with the idea of replacing humans with machines. What starts with Walmart's automated checkout system can ultimately only result in a robot conquest of the galaxy, as we all already know.
We Have Nothing To Worry About From Alien Diseases, And Vice Versa
In H. G. Wells' The War Of The Worlds, the aliens are famously defeated not by our weapons, but by our terrible hygiene. After effortlessly crushing our civilization with their superior technology, the invading Martians are undone by their lack of immunity to the common cold. However, as poetically satisfying as Wells' story is, it doesn't hold up to scrutiny. The unfortunate reality is that aliens are most likely even more immune to our diseases than we are.
To understand why, try to think of how many people you know who have succumbed to bovine ephemeral fever, or Dutch elm disease. Hopefully that's zero, unless they're super down with cows and really chill with the Ents. That's because Earth diseases are for the most part each very specifically adapted to infect one particular species. If you come down with the flu, you'll want to avoid physical contact with your spouse for a while, but you could spend all day spitting in your cat's face, and the only result would be its hatred for you finally becoming justified.
"Sorry, but the only thing I'm hearing you say is 'No STDs.'"
Occasionally, a disease will mutate in such a way that it can jump between species with horrifying consequences -- think bird or swine flu -- but this is pretty rare, and can only occur between species who are much closer on the evolutionary ladder than you are to the crab people of Andromeda.
And this issue cuts both ways. Not only is a plague from Venus unlikely for these same reasons, but even if a space disease can make us sick somehow, most diseases aren't very contagious. You can't catch tetanus, E. coli, salmonella, botulism, polio, or Ebola from someone by shaking their hand, unless they used that bare hand to wipe their ass -- which is hopefully frowned upon in Andromeda.
For more super deep insights into alien life, check out 6 Reasons We're Closer To Discovering Aliens Than You Think and 5 Insane Theories About Why We Haven't Discovered Alien Life.
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