How do we, as science fiction fans see aliens? How close to reality might our vision be?
Ever since I started watching and reading science fiction, I have thought of aliens as being much the same as we are; roughly humanoid in appearance with variations. Their behavior varies from benevolent to hostile with belief systems that are the much same as ours. All of that is to be expected in fiction because, after all, if we cannot relate to the characters we see in popular culture in a way that is familiar to us, it is hard to understand a story.
Take for instance, one my favorite sci-fi series, Star Trek. The aliens are mostly much like us in appearance. The Klingons are a hostile warrior race; the Romulans are sneaky and secretive; the Andorians are allies to humanity, but cannot always be trusted because they have their own agendas that aren’t always in line with the Federation’s ideals. Thanks to the Universal Translator, we all speak earth standard English and manage to more or less coexist.
The first episode of Star Trek I remember seeing a non-humanoid alien in was TOS’s Devil in the Dark. In that episode, the crew of a planet being mined for some rare material makes first contact with an alien called a Horta. The miners are unknowingly destroying the Horta’s offspring and the creature fights back in the only way it can. Along comes Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise to investigate how and why the miners are dying. Kirk and Spock discover the Horta and Spock is able to communicate with the creature and all is set right.
So, have we been visited by aliens in the past? Are there aliens among us now? What must we consider if aliens make first contact with us in the future? These are the questions that Dr. Schatt addresses in his essay, Extraterrestrial First Contact.
As I read it, this essay was more to raise questions, or at least to make the reader more aware of what the realities of first contact might be as opposed to answering any questions.
The author first looks at evidence that perhaps we have been and are being visited by aliens. He cites evidence that perhaps this is the case, or perhaps many of what has been called evidence from the past is actually myth. The discussion then turns to activities that we are engaged in such as SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and METI ( Messaging to Extraterrestrial Intelligence). The author suggests, as many scientists do, that it is one thing to listen for possible signals from extraterrestrial intelligences as SETI does, but it is quite another idea that we send signals as METI is. We just have no idea who may be listening.
Schatt then takes a look at our own (human) first contact experiences and cites several examples in which that was often not a good experience, especially for the weaker or less advanced of the two parties. So what might we expect from visitors then? Will they want to exchange ideas, or is conquest on their minds?
Other areas explored include speculation on who would represent our planet to an alien race, how it might be if an alien race presented themselves through artificial intelligence, and our tendencies toward anthropomorphizing so as to better relate. In other words, what if the aliens that first contact us are not friendly Vulcans that step off the ship and say “live long and prosper,” as in Star Trek; First Contact, but rather a race that looked very different from us, say more like cockroaches as opposed to being humanoid.
Schatt also raises questions on the impacts upon our basic institutions such as religion, politics, science, and economics. His essay concludes with a look at how it might be if we were visited by a hostile race of beings. The work concludes with an extensive list of books, articles and websites that relate to the subject.
While this is not a long overly detailed work, only about 92 pages in the print version, it is packed with ideas that made me think a little differently on the subject of first contact. I have often thought about this subject but found that there were many aspects that I had never considered. Schatt’s work pulls together just about everything one can think about and leaves it up to the reader to make their own conclusions. As one would expect, it is well written and in clear concise language that anyone can understand and absorb. If you decide to give this work of speculative non-fiction a look, be prepared to have your eyes opened to new possibilities, and not all of them are comforting while others may be downright disturbing to think about. I recommend this book for anyone who may be wondering about who is “out there” and whether we are prepared for that first close encounter.
Dr. Stan Schatt spent many years as a futurist, responsible for forecasting future technology products and markets for Fortune 500 companies. He served as a Fulbright Professor to Japan where he taught at Tokyo University. He also taught at the University of Southern California and served as Chair of the Telecommunications Management Department at DeVry Institute of Technology. Schatt is the author of over 30 books on a wide range of subjects. He holds a Ph.D from the University of Southern California and advanced degrees from Arizona State University and the American Graduate School of International Management. (Bio borrowed from Amazon.com - follow the link for how to get the book from them.)
Well, there it is…