August 27, 2004

The other day while listening to the radio I heard a reporter say, "Imagine if aliens were watching our television commercials. They would think…" Later that same day, while listening to a completely different station, I heard a reporter say, "Imagine if aliens were reading our e-mail. They would think…" I’ll let you imagine for yourself what aliens would think, assuming you’d even want to, but I’m too busy wondering why aliens would come from…well, somewhere outside of this planet just to read our e-mail and watch our television commercials. Why don’t they stay at home and read their own e-mail and watch their own television commercials? Are they interested in those free Viagra offers? The hypothetical "What would aliens think?" question is always used to make us feel stupid about something petty that most of us don’t do anyway–something which aliens, if they’re intelligent enough to travel trillions of miles across the vast empty depths of space, avoiding black holes, deadly radiation, and detours around the occasional supernova, probably aren’t that interested in anyway. And even if they do pick up our commercials, maybe they’re understanding enough to say, "Hey, who among us hasn’t at least once tried that pill that’s supposed to enhance the green in your tentacles? Side effects are mild and may include increased mucous production, spontaneous decapitation, and nausea."

I know all this hinges on whether there really are even aliens in the first place. Personally I believe there are, although not because of any proof. I know a lot of people believe there aren’t, and they don’t have any proof either. Take the famous "Drake Equation" that’s supposed to determine the odds of whether there are alien species with whom we could someday make contact. This equation starts by dividing the number of stars in our galaxy by the number of stars like our sun. How many is that? We don’t really know. Next divide that number by the number of stars like our sun with planets. How many is that? We don’t really know. Then divide that by the number of those planets with conditions favorable to life. If you just said, "We don’t really know!" score yourself five bonus points. The same goes for the number of planets where life really develops, the number where life evolves into intelligent beings who look up at the stars and say, "I wonder if there’s anybody else out there", how long that civilization lasts, and whether they develop the technology to make interstellar phone calls. I have to admit that with each passing day it gets harder and harder to believe in aliens, though, mainly because no one’s dropped in. Why wouldn’t they want to?

There’s the theory that we’re too primitive and Earth is somehow protected by an interstellar agreement between advanced alien species, but I don’t buy it. Two people in my office can’t agree on whose job it is to make the coffee in the mornings. How are many alien species going to agree on keeping Earth off limits? Maybe they aren’t interested in talking to us. Why not? If they’ve developed their own technology don’t you think they’d be a little bit interested in finding out what ours is like? Then there’s the theory that they don’t have anything to say to us. I don’t buy that at all. Even if it’s just, "Hey there, how are you?" it would be an amazing event for both our civilizations. And since we’d have so many questions for them I’m sure they’d have questions for us, ranging from, "Why do you ‘cook’ your food instead of injecting it with a poison that causes its internal organs to liquefy so they can be consumed with a straw–like any other civilized species?" to, "Do you know how long we’ve been reading your e-mail?" In conclusion, the ultimate answer to the question, What would aliens think of us? is…we don’t really know.

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