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Why Do We Fear Aliens? Part 3

by Larry Klaes, space exploration enthusiast, science journalist

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

How Might They Vanquish Us?

We have now looked at the most obvious motives (to us at least) for an alien species to want to crush humanity and found most of the feared concepts wanting.  Now it is time to explore the ways in which said alien marauders might take us out of the galactic picture.  Ironically, while the potential motives for invasion and destruction are often outright implausible, the methods available to a smart but aggressive species that might want us gone are often even more likely and effective than the usual imagined scenarios for the conquest of Earth.

If asked to visualize how an alien race might come after humanity, the scenario that seems to jump to most people’s minds is of giant spaceships hovering over major cities (Skyline is just the latest incarnation of that scenario), or a whole fleet of shiny silver spinning disks carrying  alien hordes wearing shiny silver spacesuits and gripping laser rifles in their clawlike hands.

Now while one cannot entirely rule out the possibility that one day Earth’s skies will be filled with large and dangerous alien vessels up to no good for us, the idea that more advanced beings would engage in a battle for Earth and against humanity in a manner similar to the scenarios described above seems about as efficient as targeting our world for its supply of water with all the much easier and more effective alternatives available.

If you want to get rid of humanity and don’t care if most of the flora and fauna inhabiting our globe also gets destroyed in the process just so long as the planet remains intact, all you need to do is attach some rockets to a collection of planetoids and aim them at Earth.  Humanity could be doing this with some of the smaller varieties of space rocks in just a few decades if we choose to, so a species that has actually made it to our Sol system via starship would be able to do the same.

Depending on the size and mass of the planetoid and where the ETI would target it, our civilization if not our very species could be rendered helpless in short order in a style reminiscent of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.  Indeed, a number of small planetoids have recently come close to Earth.  Astronomers discovered them just a few days before their close encounters, leaving too little time to develop any countermeasures had they been on an intercept course.  And these objects were guided only by forces of nature!  A deliberate use of planetoids to smash us into submission or worse is a scenario that has been discussed and written about, but a real organized defense system is still decades away.

An even more frightening concept is to use a starship itself as a weapon.  A large vehicle moving at relativistic speeds, even a fraction of light speed, could hit Earth with more force than humanity’s entire nuclear arsenal at its peak in 1990 (55,000 nuclear bombs).  Such a weapon would be very hard to track and virtually impossible to stop with our present technology.

The details on this scenario, along with a very interesting discussion as to why an ETI might do such a thing to us and others (take out any potential aggressors/competition before it does the same thing, in essence) may be found on Winchell Chung’s fascinating Web site.

Keep in mind that while Chung does make some very compelling arguments, he is also a very big space war gamer.  Having a galaxy full of mature, peaceful, and altruistic beings may make for a nice place to live on a cosmic scale, but a rather dull RPG.  Going on the offensive with other species is also a pretty good guarantee that even an advanced ETI that gave up aggression and war ages ago may not like being threatened or seeing others in such a state and may take action against such a paranoid and self-serving race.

Another method for taking us out is one that has probably happened naturally across the Universe since the first stars came along:  Supernovae.  An exploding star would not only vaporize the members of its system but also spread deadly radiation for hundreds of light years around.  Earth has obviously survived having its native life forms become completely extinct by many stellar explosions over the last four billion years.  We can even thank a supernova for being here in the first place, as it was the violent death of an ancient star some five billion years ago that kick-started the cloud of dust and gas that became our Sol system, along with giving the elements needed for the evolution of life.

However, if an advanced species knew how to trigger and control a stellar detonation, they could fry our entire galactic neighborhood.  Other methods of sterilizing whole solar systems includes smacking two black holes together and directing galactic jets, which are streams of particles and radiation thrown out by massive black holes in the cores of some galaxies.  One hopes it won’t be possible to harness such energies, but who knows what beings that can survive and grow for eons in this Universe might be capable of?

Another cosmic weapon that fascinates and frightens is known as the Nicoll-Dyson Beam.  Dyson Shells are a fascinating concept in their own right:  Freeman Dyson envisioned a society taking apart its solar system and building a vast swarm of communities around its sun to collect as much energy from it as possible (right now 99% of Sol’s energy gets “wasted” into space).  From a distant vantage point, anyone monitoring such a system would see its star gradually dim in the optical realm and brighten in the infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Being able to collect and utilize so much energy from a sun has many benefits for an advanced technological society – and a few dangers for others as James Nicoll would later point out.  Dyson Shells would be able to focus and redirect the solar energy they collect into tight and powerful beams called a phased array laser.  The beams could easily destroy whole worlds many light years from the Dyson Shell.

Whether Dyson Shells actually exist and if their makers would use them as galactic-scale weapons is another matter, though there have been actual SETI programs which attempted to find these astroengineering projects.  This page from the Orion’s Arm web site gives an interesting visual and text description of this idea.

Is SETI Itself Dangerous?

There have been many who warn about sending greetings and other messages into the Milky Way and beyond.  The idea behind METI (Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligences) is that since it may be hard for an alien species to find Earth and humanity among the 400 billion star systems of the Milky Way, we should increase the chances for detection by broadcasting into deep space towards what we think are favorable cosmic places for intelligent life.  The idea behind SETI is that alien beings are conducting their own METI programs, since that is probably the easiest way for humanity to detect another society in the galaxy at present.

The main and obvious issue with METI is that we do not know what other kinds of beings are out there.  Folks such as Carl Sagan have speculated that aggressive species tend to wipe themselves out before they can achieve space travel.  However, this has the flavor of painting an alien race with the traits and behaviors of our species.  What if there were species which cooperated as a unit and still decided that other beings must go before they become a threat to them?  Or what if they felt that other species, being viewed as inferior, were in need of a serious “makeover” that would effectively destroy whatever made the target species unique?

Some have speculated that an ETI might take out humanity and any other species at our stage of development by operating a METI program that carried what we might call an artificial virus.  The target species would pick up the alien “message” and in the process of decoding it would unleash a program that could do all sorts of dangerous and deadly things, from taking down our technology to giving us the plans for a superbomb that would detonate once we built it from the instructions given in the message.  Other potential scenarios involve converting humans into puppet slaves or replicating the alien species on Earth to take over and then aim more such messages at other potential worlds to continue the galactic conquest.

Of course it would seem easy to make sure that this never happens by simply keeping the alien message isolated or just never building the design plans.  However, the combined excitement of detecting an ETI signal and the often wild, vast, and intricate nature of the Internet could bring about the spreading of the virulent message and be released by those who feel it is their right to have and know such information.  In addition, as we see in the news on a regular basis, there are those groups of humans who might deliberately want to open up this cosmic Pandora’s Box to spread death and destruction across our planet for their own purposes.

This Web site goes into detail about the possibilities for an alien species to take out Earth without ever having to leave home either in person or even through a robot vessel:

Final Thoughts

This essay began thanks to Stephen Hawking’s well-publicized views on alien intelligences which he thought would not be a good thing for us to encounter any time soon.  While there is of course the possibility that we might encounter an alien species that is a threat, I was unsatisfied and disappointed with Hawking’s version of this scenario.  It struck me as not only being one-sided, limited, and old fashioned in thinking, but far too reminiscent of numerous recent Hollywood-style science fiction plots – an industry not exactly known for originality, deep thought or rigorous scientific accuracy.

Hawking’s take on alien life feeds into this negative, paranoid, and inward-looking attitude regarding the unknown that seems to be growing in human society these days.  While it is prudent that we do not just jump into the galaxy without at least having some idea who and what is out there, focusing on the idea that all alien beings are hostile monsters and that we should dismantle our radio telescopes and hide under our beds are not exactly the actions of a healthy, maturing society.  Besides, if an ETI were out to get us, remaining ignorant of the Universe and trying to be undetectable is not the way to go.

As I have pointed out in this essay, an advanced alien species would be able to destroy us in short order and we would have little recourse to stop them at present.  The fact that it has not happened may mean they simply haven’t found us yet, but it may also mean that we are either lacking in large numbers of intelligent galactic neighbors or that taking out another species that has barely gotten its feet wet in the cosmic ocean is not the way to behave as a galactic society.  We still have far more to worry about from members of our own species bringing down civilization than any hypothetical alien species.

Another thing I do know about human nature:  No matter how many warnings and precautions and even laws that get thrown up to control people when it comes to what society thinks is in its best interests, there will always be individuals and groups of people who defy these rules either because they disagree with them or because it is in their nature to go against the grain.

This will apply to voyaging into space as much as anything else.  The only reason it hasn’t happened already is due to the technological difficulties in making a deep space mission a reality.  However, once we establish a serious foothold in space in our Sol system, I know there will be groups that will not want to remain confined to our celestial neighborhood but will want to venture to those countless stars surrounding us.  This will keep happening for as long as humanity lasts.

This is the eventuality we must prepare for, because I will agree with Hawking on one thing:  If life’s evolution is similar everywhere, then it is likely that some other species will also share our drive and desire to see what it out there beyond their home world.  It may be only a matter of time before we are visited.  How we respond to them depends not only on their intentions but on how much we have learned and evolved when it comes to understanding the Universe as well.  Hopefully we will not let our fears turn a potential friend into an enemy.

Images: 1st, a meteor strike (Virgin Media); 2nd, a radiotelescope transmitting DNA to the galaxy (Jon Lomberg); 3rd, Jeriba Shigan (Louis Gossett, Jr.) and Willis Davidge (Dennis Quaid) in the film version of Barry Longyear’s novella Enemy Mine.

40 Responses to “Why Do We Fear Aliens? Part 3”

  1. Neo says:

    I share your hope, Larry. 🙂


  2. Asakiyume says:

    If life’s evolution is similar everywhere

    The big if! It will be excellent to discover extra terrestrial life of any sort, in part so we can actually have a comparison… though, of course, we tend, also, only to look for things that are similar (I suppose because we don’t have a good method for looking for things that are very different.)

  3. Athena says:

    Exactly! You Only Find What You’re Looking For. And even if extraterrestrial life is based on the same principles as we are (DNA, similar cell structures), its details will still differ widely because they will depend on unique contexts.

  4. Walden2 says:

    Here is a type of proposed alien life form that is different from the usual terrestrial types: Gasbags that float in the atmospheres of Jovian type worlds:

    Carl Sagan, who co-envisioned these aliens, added that the Voyager cameras (and presumably every mission after them which imaged Jupiter up close) were just good enough so that his proposed floaters could be detected if anyone examined the Voyagers’ images of Jupiter’s intricate clouds.

    So here is your chance to look for alien life forms that are different!

  5. Athena says:

    I liked the manta ray-like predators in that speculative bioscheme. Gasbags as moo-moos, hydrogen javelins as tigerses!

  6. Walden2 says:

    If an alien invasion really happened, we’d be dead instantly

    In movies humans fight off alien occupation forces, explode alien ships, and mind-control aliens with the power of love. How on earth can we think that would happen?

    Full article here:

  7. Athena says:

    Exactly. The io9 article is entertaining but many said the same thing earlier and as well if not better — for example, one Mr. Larry Klaes! *smile*

  8. Walden2 says:

    Darn straight – thanks, Athena!

    Of course humans are still way ahead of any aliens when it comes to potentially wiping out life on this planet.

  9. Athena says:

    You’re very welcome, Larry! And I agree with you about who has the potential to wipe out terrestrial life at this point.

  10. Walden2 says:

    Wolves Among The Stars: Rethinking Who On Earth Controls Interstellar Policy

    by Adam Frank

    How naïve are we in our thinking about extraterrestrial intelligence and its inclinations? Here we sit, a newly high-tech species, unwittingly broadcasting our existence to anyone (anything?) with a radio receiver. Are we like baby birds chirping away announcing our presence to a galaxy full of predators? At what point do we reasses our assumptions, and our actions, and decide it would be wiser go radio quiet for the time being?

    Full article here:

  11. Athena says:

    All I can say is that Frank’s entry is hoary — and the vast majority of the commenters seem to think so as well.

  12. Walden2 says:

    6 Giant Blind Spots In Every Movie Alien’s Invasion StrategyBy S Peter Davis

    Feb 12, 2011

    Hollywood has fed us a steady stream of alien-invasion movies since the 1950s. At the moment we’re trying to forget Skyline and waiting for Battle: Los Angeles, which is coming next month. But this is a good time to ask ourselves why exactly the alien invasions we see on the silver screen always seem to end in disaster for the invaders, despite their ridiculously advanced technology.

    With that in mind, we have some words of advice for any alien civilizations thinking of vaporizing us and stealing our brains.

    Full article here:

  13. Athena says:

    Exactly! That’s a witty article, and there are serious nuggets in it as well.

  14. Walden2 says:

    Why we love to fear E.T.

    By Alan Boyle

    Retired Air Force Capt. Robert Salas says he was at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana when UFOs hovered over the base in 1967 and nuclear missile launch systems somehow went non-operational. So you might think that watching the latest alien-attack movie, “Battle: Los Angeles,” would cause him some sleepless nights.

    Not really.

    Salas doesn’t think the aliens are in any mood to launch a globe-shattering strike like the one in the movie. “If they were going to attack, they would have done it by now,” said Salas, who serves as a consultant for the film project. “They could have caused a lot more destruction … but all they did was shut our missiles down.”

    Full article here:

  15. Walden2 says:

    As part of my personal duty in exploring all aspects of things alien, I went to see Battle: Los Angeles with one of my teenage sons.

    Well, besides the obvious fact that the filmmakers completely ignored my articles on why aliens would not land ships with troops to take down humanity, BLA will probably do for the USMC what Top Gun did for the US Navy; it felt like a multimillion dollar recruitment ad.

    The aliens were of course humanoid along with the usual tentacles and slimy qualities. We never really got to know them except that their weapons were somehow fused to their bodies and they were tough to kill. We did find out their motive for coming to Earth and I have absolutely no problem or guilt exposing this little plot point: They want our water. Yep, apparently in the entire Universe there is no other world with water of any kind.

    As for the characters, they are every by-the-book stereotype in these Michael Bay inspired flicks: The tough sargeant with the heart of gold with a dark past, the young virginal kid, the guys who are about to get married and have pregnant wives, the cute little kids in danger. There was one female Marine and she was played by same woman who had pretty much the same role in Avatar. The dialogue and inspiring speeches could have been written by a computer.

    And no surprise here, our little band of lovable, tough Marines help to at least kick the aliens out of LA where the rest of the US military could not. And there probably will be a sequel.

    Of course when I tried to tell my son these things I was told I thought too much and I was spoiling the film and why didn’t I just enjoy it? Well, it was entertaining in a basic way, but there was nothing special about it. Even the first Transformers had an edge to it that made it stand out (that sequel was awful, though).

    And when my son asked me why I liked Independence Day even though it had a similar theme, I told him that it did not take itself too seriously plus the idea of giant colonies of ships roaming the galaxy looking for resources is a plausible one. Though why they had to get them from Earth and not the planetoids, comets, and moons was a drawback.

    Oh well, at least we’ve got Cowboys vs. Aliens this summer. That one actually looks like fun.

  16. Athena says:

    Eeek! Well, I wasn’t planning to see this one, and your review clinched my decision.

  17. Walden2 says:

    Interstellar Predation Could Explain Fermi Paradox

    If alien civilisations compete for scarce resources, the process of evolution may ensure that the survivors keep as quiet as possible

    kfc 04/08/2011

    In a casual chat over lunch back in 1950, the Italian-American physicist Enrico Fermi posed a now famous question. If intelligent life has evolved many times in our galaxy and beyond, why do we see no sign of it?

    There are a number of standard reposts to this paradox. The first is that life is actually quite rare and humanity is the first species to become advanced enough to contemplate other civilisations.

    Another argument is that intelligent species have been common throughout history but end up destroying themselves or their habitat with their own technology, such as with nuclear weapons or fossil fuel burning.

    Yet another approach is that advanced civilisations are common and aware of us but keep themselves hidden for fear of disturbing our delicate culture.

    Today, Adrian Kent at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Canada, puts forward another possibility. His idea is that civilisations are common, that they have interacted many times in the past but end up competing for scarce resources. When that happens, the process of evolution, operating over vast time scales, ensures that the survivors learn to keep quiet.

    That’s not an idea that can be easily dismissed. Kent says that one counter argument might be to point to the way evolution works on Earth. This usually operates on ecosystems in which species become interdependent in complex ways.

    Although many species develop ways of camouflaging themselves, they do not end up hiding in isolation. So by this measure, Kent’s fears are unfounded.

    But evolution on a cosmic scale would be very different, he says. Cosmic evolution must operate over vast distances and that the scarce resources offered by habitable plants would be very rare.

    Kent puts it like this: “If cosmic habitats are widely enough separated that they are very hard to ?nd, by far the best strategy for a typical species to avoid defeat in such competitions may be to avoid entering them, by being inconspicuous enough that no potential adversary identi?es its habitat as valuable.”

    That raises important questions about whether humanity is wise to advertise its existence. Various attempts to send messages to the stars have already been made and many scientists have pointed out that this could be a serious mistake, even a suicidal one.

    Kent says the risk is easy to misconstrue. I’ll leave you with his conclusion:

    “One can summarise the essential point simply enough. If there are no aliens out there, any efforts at communication were obviously wasted. Thus we can assume for the sake of discussion that there are aliens out there likely to receive the messages at some point.

    “The relevant parameter, then, is not the probability of our messages being received by aliens who might potentially do us harm: it is the conditional probability of the aliens who receive the messages doing us harm, given that the messages are indeed received (and understood to be messages).

    “Can we really say that this probability is so negligible, bearing in mind that any such aliens appear to have made no reciprocal attempts to advertise their existence?

    “The arguments considered above suggest that we cannot.”

    A sobering thought.

    Ref: Too Damned Quiet

  18. Athena says:

    This is not a new argument. My suspicion is that if a civilization cannot make the transition from its planet to its solar system it dwindles right there and then — the logistics of resources are inexorable. If it makes the transition, the odds of it becoming reasonable (though not necessarily angelic) are high. However, if it changes after that transition, all bets are off.

  19. Walden2 says:

    Would contact with extraterrestrials benefit or harm humanity? A scenario analysis

    Authors: Seth D. Baum, Jacob D. Haqq-Misra, Shawn D. Domagal-Goldman

    (Submitted on 22 Apr 2011)

    Abstract: While humanity has not yet observed any extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI), contact with ETI remains possible. Contact could occur through a broad range of scenarios could occur that have varying consequences for humanity. However, many discussions of this question assume that contact will follow a particular scenario that derives from the hopes and fears of the author.

    In this paper, we analyze a broad range of contact scenarios in terms of whether contact with ETI would benefit or harm humanity. This type of broad analysis can help us prepare for actual contact with ETI even if the details of contact do not fully resemble any specific scenario.

    Comments: 33 Pages, 1 Figure, PDF File

    Subjects: Popular Physics (physics.pop-ph)

    Journal reference: Acta Astronautica (2011) 68:2114-2129

    DOI: 10.1016/j.actaastro.2010.10.012

    Cite as: arXiv:1104.4462v1 [physics.pop-ph]

    Submission history

    From: Jacob Haqq-Misra [view email]

    [v1] Fri, 22 Apr 2011 15:04:33 GMT (366kb)

  20. Walden2 says:

    When the skies fall: hostile aliens invade the small screen

    The concept of alien invasions of Earth has reappeared on television recently in the form of a National Geographic special and a TNT drama. Andre Bormanis examines those shows and why the alien invasion theme may be in vogue today.

  21. Athena says:

    Good for André. That particular horse died long ago, but it’s still being beaten in its zombified state.

  22. Walden2 says:

    Bad Aliens, Meme Armor, and Intelligence in the Universe

    By Caleb A. Scharf | July 25, 2011 | 3


    These are two posts from the Life, Unbounded archives. They were written in April and May 2010. Around that time there was a lot of media noise about aliens – brought on in part by Stephen Hawking?’s comments about fearsome “nomadic” lifeforms that might roam the universe. I’ve merged the posts here. As far as I know the idea about “meme armor” is an original one.

    Debate about “intelligent” life in the universe is tricky. It’s long been colored by wild extrapolation, optimism, pessimism, and downright fantasy. But there is a need to think about it responsibly, because the question is real enough. The SETI program and SETI Institute have held out against many challenges to do just this. While I prefer an approach based directly on the blossoming science of exoplanets, it’s still fun to take the occasional dip into more speculative terrain.

    Full article here:

  23. Athena says:

    The idea of lifeforms very different from us “surfing” space vacuum is neat (if unlikely). It has been used in films to good effect.

  24. Walden2 says:

    It was refreshing to read an article that did not rehash the same old themes again, whether they are ultimately true or not.

  25. Walden2 says:

    Setting the record straight on the recent “report” that ETI might destroy humanity because we’re not being nice to the trees and bunny rabbits:

    Of course if an alien race were out to “punish” humanity for our anti-environmental ways, I would want to ask them how they were able to achieve a technological civilization and interstellar travel without digging up their worlds in the process, and why no other ETI apparently punished them for wrecking their ecosystems.

  26. Athena says:

    The problem here lies more with the so-called science journalists and the tendency to repeat what is deemed “juicy”.

  27. Walden2 says:

    And they always focus on global warming because it is such a political hot button over anything else, including the science. That bit they focused on only took up a small part of the paper.

    If ETI have an interstellar civilization, they may *want* us to ruin our environment and fall into decline as a result. That way we won’t be competition for galactic resources and places down the road and they won’t have to do the dirty work of taking us out directly.

    I hope this is all just paranoid primitive human thinking and not the way things really work on a cosmic scale, but who knows? Notice if we do have celestial neighbors, they have yet to come calling after billions of years.

  28. Athena says:

    That was the premise of Tiptree’s Screwfly Solution, though you don’t find out about it until the last line of the story. Nevertheless, it’s true that it’s all theories are equally valid woolgathering at this point.

  29. Walden2 says:

    Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, does his take on the whole alien invasion thing, naturally showing via science and various forms of logic why it will probably never happen and certainly not in the way Hollywood and most bad SF stories depict it:

    He even throws in an article on why they can’t blow up Earth or any other planet, either.

  30. Athena says:

    The motive of hunting for sport is actually the most persuasive!

  31. Walden2 says:

    ‘Alien Encounters’: A few sage (and Sagan) thoughts on invasion

    March 13, 2012 | 10:15 a.m.

    When it comes to close encounters, Hollywood is pretty far off. That’s the take-away from ”Alien Encounters,” a pair of one-hour Science Channel specials that begin Tuesday night at 10 p.m.with ”Alien Encounters: The Message” and conclude with the March 20 premiere of “Alien Encounters: The Arrival.”

    Writer and producer Nick Sagan and Jill Tarter of the SETI Institute are among the voices that delve into the discussion of how alien contact might take place and what the scientific, cultural and psychological effects might be for our planet inhabitants. Our Geoff Boucher interviewed Sagan (who is also the son of the famed astronomer Carl Sagan) about the traditional Hollywood spin on flying saucers.

    GB: When you watch Hollywood’s portrayals of alien-contact films, what makes you groan?

    NS: Humans having any kind of sporting chance against hostile alien invaders armed with superior technology. Good luck. If they’re advanced enough to cross the enormous distances of interstellar space, they’re advanced enough to wipe us out without breaking whatever in their physiology passes for a sweat. Why not just lob a few asteroids at us? How are we going to handle that? The conceit of plucky human underdogs triumphing at the end might make for feel-good popcorn movies but in reality there’s just no “there” there. Seriously, we beat them with a computer virus? Our microbes are their kryptonite? And why do they even want to attack us anyway? There’s no shortage of other planets they could enjoy, and if they really took a disliking to us, why not sit back and allow us to destroy ourselves? We’re certainly capable of it.

    Full interview here:

  32. Athena says:


  33. Walden2 says:

    And I hope I am wrong about this one, but if a sufficiently advanced species wanted to turn their solar system into a Dyson Shell, their other motivation besides the collecting of most of the energy from their sun could be defense or offense.

    It turns out that Dyson Shells make for incredibly powerful phased array weapons that could fire beams of energy across the galaxy and wipe out entire planets. See here:

    I hope I am just projecting anthropomorphic thoughts on the concept, but survival is probably an essential part and motivator for any living being, even the high level ones.

    The first space programs on this planet came about not because a group of altruistic scientists wanted to peacefully explore the Universe for the advancement of knowledge and technology, but because two global superpowers wanted to one up each other in a way that would not lead to outright war but still look impressive and daunting.

    Even the tools they used for this task were largely from the efforts of an earlier nation bent on world domination and wholesale genocide. In fact the first known use of the rocket was in battle by the Chinese hundreds of years previous.

    Perhaps various Kardashev Type 2 and 3 civilizations are alien enough to each other, or still motivated by basic needs and drives as we lowly humans, to warrant building cosmic-scale superweapons to at least give any rivals pause before attempting to conquer and destroy them.

    As I said, I hope I am wrong here, but the fact that such a thing is plausible combined with the ultimate (or ulterior) motives for conducting large-scale projects has recently made me think it could be a highly motivational reason for anyone to build a Dyson Shell beyond the usual energy needs.

  34. Walden2 says:

    Here comes the latest Hollywood summer blockbuster flick about aliens invading Earth – and Seth Shostak of The SETI Institute tries to bring a little rationality and science to the proceedings:

    To quote: This idea that maybe we shouldn’t broadcast our location, just in case — is this something that’s actively debated in the science community?

    Shostak: I’m the chair of the International Academy of Astronautics, and we’re trying to re-write protocols of what to do, but it’s one of those very contentious things.

    Some people think we shouldn’t broadcast because it would be too dangerous, but to me, that seems like kind of a funny thing to do because that means if you went out into your backyard, aimed a dish at Alpha Centauri, and sent them your poetry, that you’re somehow violating some international agreement and could be thrown in the clink. But the real reason why I think it’s not necessarily relevant is because we have been, and will be, broadcasting.

    Any society that could come here could pick up the lights from New York. What should we do about that? Should we darken New York from now until the last human expires? Would we want to turn off all the radars at JFK airport? So if you could send a message out into the cosmos, what would you say?

    Shostak: Well, if I was going to be able to get an answer back, I would say something different than a one-way message. If I was going to send a one-way message, I’d just send the Google servers. I would just send the entire Internet, because they would be able to figure out some of it. We’re able to decode languages from history when we have a lot of it, a big corpus of data.

    But if it ever got to a point where you could get into a conversation and ask questions, my two have always been: do you have music and do you have religion?

    I wouldn’t ask about physics because we could eventually figure that out, but those two questions are things only they would know.

  35. Athena says:

    Poor Seth — one of him against a tsunami of willful ignorance and/or kneejerk reactions.

  36. Walden2 says:

    If there is an alien invasion, good looking American military types from today and World War 2 will save us – of course:

  37. Athena says:

    A retread of Independence day with gunships instead of fighter jets.

  38. Walden2 says:

    Just in time for Men in Black 3! I feel somewhat vindicated, but of course if you don’t have a PhD somewhere on your name, the press doesn’t listen to you. Unless you are a celebrity, then no degree is required.

    Aliens Don’t Want To Eat Us, Says Former SETI Director

    by Jason Major on May 24, 2012

    Alien life probably isn’t interested in having us for dinner, enslaving us or laying eggs in our bellies, according to a recent statement by former SETI director Jill Tarter.

    (Of course, Hollywood would rather have us think otherwise.)

    In a press release announcing the Institute’s science and sci-fi SETIcon event, taking place June 22 – 24 in Santa Clara, CA, Tarter — who was the inspiration for Jodie Foster’s character in the film “Contact” — disagreed with both filmmakers and Stephen Hawking over the portrayal of extraterrestrials as monsters hungry for human flesh.

    “Often the aliens of science fiction say more about us than they do about themselves,” Tarter said. “While Sir Stephen Hawking warned that alien life might try to conquer or colonize Earth, I respectfully disagree. 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. If aliens were to come here it would be simply to explore.

    “Considering the age of the universe, we probably wouldn’t be their first extraterrestrial encounter, either. We should look at movies like ‘Men in Black III,’ ‘Prometheus’ and ‘Battleship’ as great entertainment and metaphors for our own fears, but we should not consider them harbingers of alien visitation.”

    Tarter, 68, recently announced her stepping down as director of SETI in order to focus on funding for the Institute, which is currently running only on private donations. Funding SETI, according to Tarter, is investing in humanity’s future.

    “Think about it. If we detect a signal, we could learn about their past (because of the time their signal took to reach us) and the possibility of our future. Successful detection means that, on average, technologies last for a long time. Understanding that it is possible to find solutions to our terrestrial problems and to become a very old civilization, because someone else has managed to do just that, is hugely important! Knowing that there can be a future may motivate us to achieve it.”

    On the other hand, concern that searching the sky for signs of life — as well as sending out your own — could call down hungry alien monsters would make a good case for keeping quiet. And a quiet search may not get the necessary funding to keep going. I can see where Tarter is coming from.

    Let’s just hope she’s right. (About the eating part, at least.)

    Top image: Alien 3, © 20th Century Fox. Tip of the tinfoil hat to

  39. Walden2 says:

    Quoting from the above article:

    “On the other hand, concern that searching the sky for signs of life — as well as sending out your own — could call down hungry alien monsters would make a good case for keeping quiet. And a quiet search may not get the necessary funding to keep going. I can see where Tarter is coming from.”

    How does passive searching attract mean aliens? Does the author mean METI and not SETI? Sadly he does have a point about quiet searches for alien minds not getting the funding they deserve. The SKA that was just talked about in the news could do some very good radio SETI, if it is allowed.

  40. Walden2 says:


    Aliens…might want to reconsider


    The possibility that extraterrestrial intelligences (ETIs) could be hostile to humanity has been raised as a reason to avoid even trying to contact ETIs. However, there is a distinct shortage of analytical discussion about the risks of an attack, perhaps because of an implicit premise that we cannot analyze the decision making of an alien civilization.

    This paper argues that we can draw some inferences from the history of the Cold War and nuclear deterrence in order to show that at least some attack scenarios are likely to be exaggerated. In particular, it would seem to be unlikely that the humanity would be attacked simply because it might, some time in the future, present a threat to the ETI. Even if communication proves to be difficult, rational decision-makers should avoid unprovoked attacks, because their success would be very difficult to assure.

    In general, it seems believable that interstellar conflicts between civilizations would remain rare. The findings advise caution for proposed interstellar missions, however, as starfaring capability itself might be seen as a threat. On the other hand, attempting to contact ETIs seems to be a relatively low-risk strategy: paranoid ETIs must also consider the possibility that the messages are a deception designed to lure out hostile civilizations and preemptively destroy them.

    “MAD with aliens? Interstellar deterrence and its implications” by Janne M. Korhonen