Are we alone? In a universe with more than 100 billion galaxies, each containing hundreds of millions of stars and exoplanets, and the discovery of multiple Earth-sized planets orbiting a star at a distance habitable to life, the likelihood of this question proving true is slim.
The mathematical probability, expressed in equations by astronomer Frank Drake in 1961, points to the existence of life outside Earth.
But because life, specifically intelligent life, likely exists, is it in our species’ best interest to make contact with aliens? Both the esteemed physicist Stephen Hawking and human history itself say no, we must cease our search.
But the most telling proof may be found in the modern day box office.
Movie genres tend to reflect our deepest fears, but not all of these fears are logically baseless. While the alien invasion trope has been overdone and is effectively stale at this point, it still reveals a threatening reality of biology: a successful life form will stretch its existence by any means necessary.
In your average alien flick, the invaders, possessing technology light-years ahead our own, kill and enslave not for sport but survival. They require resources we possess. Yes, these films are fictional, but not all fiction is illogical. This narrative is not based solely on biology, but also on human history.
When explorers first interacted with inhabitants of the “New World,” they did not extend the olive branch. They raised the sword, and enslavement and exploitation of resources soon followed.
To justify the enslavement, later explorers portrayed the native inhabitants as unintelligent because they did not posses technology or advancements similar to theirs.
Though we can argue modern humans are more ethical than those early explorers, we still currently exploit life of lesser intelligence for their resources and our survival. Again, this is a factor of life itself.
But is it possible that technological societies independently reach the same conclusions about ethics, morality and social imperatives? Could aliens be more moral than humans? It depends. Do ethics advance linearly, or do they evolve in response to societal needs? Do ethics have an end goal?
Ultimately, it is impossible to determine the morality or cultural norms of an alien society because there are endless possibilities for societal structure.
Therefore, we can only rely on the simple biological rule that life will consume life to survive.
Ironically, while announcing a $100 million, 10-year project to search for intelligent life in the universe, Hawking highlighted the dangers of seeking intelligent life.
“A civilization reading one of our messages could be billions of years ahead of us,” Hawking said. “If so, they will be vastly more powerful and may not see us as any more valuable than we see bacteria.”
But we might be too late to stop our search. Since the creation of the radio we’ve been incidentally polluting the universe with our noise. But since the 1950s we’ve been intentionally sounding out in the void.
They may already be on their way.
But until then, for our sake, let’s keep our racket to a minimum.
Jacob Knutson is a sophomore journalism and political science major from Rapid City, S.D.