Imagine that intelligent alien life exists, that its discovered humanity, and that it has the technology to reach us. What would first contact between humanity and aliens be like?
In the first post in this series I looked at the idea that advanced alien civilisations might be totally indifferent to our existence and would simply choose to ignore us.
In the other scenarios in this series I’ll assume that they are interested in us, and in this post, that they arrive on Earth, but in a rather covert fashion.
In lots of Sci-Fi stories alien visitors make a big entrance, gliding over our cities in gigantic flying saucers or crashing into the Earth in a blaze of fire and glory.
But this may not necessarily be the most likely scenario (if any scenario for alien contact can be called likely). Perhaps alien life would make a much more subtle entrance into our society, rather than revealing themselves right from the start, aliens may choose to remain hidden for a time. We may make first contact without even realising it.
I can think of a number of reasons why extraterrestrial visitors may choose to do this. One is that they may wish to learn more about our species before they make a formal contact with us, purely to make sure they have a good understanding of us, such as learning our languages and customs. This would be done most effectively if the aliens remained hidden, as we could be studied behaving normally in our natural habitat. This scenario is comparable to scientists studying other animals in the wild, such as Dian Fossey studying mountain gorillas, the less obvious the observer is, the more likely the subject is to behave normally.
A great example of this scenario in science fiction is the Prime Directive in Star Trek, in which the Federation studies pre-warp civilization, but does so covertly in order to avoid influencing the development of the civilisation. The Federation may choose to infiltrate and study a society, but this is done for noble reasons, such as aiding in the understanding of the structure and development of other cultures.
A bit of Prime Directive wrangling
More disturbing scenarios can also be imagined though. An alien species may choose to infiltrate our civilisation for a number of nefarious reasons, they may seek to understand us in order to better exploit or even conquer us.
Call me an optimist, but I think this is less likely. If an alien species has the technological sophistication required to travel to Earth, I’m sure they would have little trouble in conquering our planet. If they desired our destruction then I see little point in them taking the time to carefully infiltrate our society to study us. Why not simply “glass” our planet from orbit, or release a swarm of flesh-eating nanobots? (Yep, I know, I’m straying quite far into the bounds of speculative Sci-Fi here).
To me, it makes much more sense that an alien intelligence would spy on us in order to decide whether or not to make first contact and how best to do this. First contact with an alien race would likely be traumatic for our society, and I’d like to thing an intelligent alien would realise this, and would seek to learn as much about us as they could before revealing themselves.
I know many people believe that aliens have already infiltrated our civilisation and that they are amongst us today. These beliefs range from simple reports of alien abduction, to vast conspiracy theories claiming aliens have covertly conquered our society and are running our world through puppet governments. This includes David Icke’s belief that we are ruled by a reptilian alien race called the Anunnaki, and that the Queen of England is a reptilian-human hybrid.
I’m not convinced by any of these claims. Quite simply, I’m a rationalist, and I base my beliefs and worldview on evidence. And there’s no evidence for alien activities on Earth, not for abductions, or for an alien influence amongst our rulers. As enthralling as some of these stories can be, they aren’t real.
But what if an alien civilisation has infiltrated our society? What affect could this have on humanity?
If the hypothetical alien race remained undiscovered then obviously it wouldn’t mean anything for us, as we’d be ignorant. But if an alien species has infiltrated us, and then reveals that it’s amongst us and had been for some time, then I imagine the reaction would be a mix of excitement and fear.
Some of us may understand why such a visitor would remain hidden for a time, and would probably see the sense in this, but still, it would raise a lot of suspicion, and I imagine most people would be quite scared that we had no idea that they were amongst us. Many may be distrustful; as they may feel the aliens have acted dishonestly and probably shouldn’t be trusted. This may well put a strain on relations between humans and the visitors, but a certain degree of caution on the side of humanity may be a sensible mindset.
A more disastrous scenario would be if an alien race had infiltrated our society and was then discovered before they chose to reveal themselves. To say that this would make us suspicious of their intentions would likely be a colossal understatement. It could lead to an attitude of anger, resentment and fear towards the aliens, and could even spark conflict with them, or between different nations on Earth, as the global political climate descended into suspicion and panic. This would likely be a foundation-shaking discovery for humanity, and one with very dangerous implications.
Throughout this post I’ve make one huge assumption though, that alien life would be able to understand us. If an alien species is ancient and far more scientifically advanced than ours, it may be easy for them to penetrate and study our civilisation in terms of the technology required, but penetration and surveillance may not be so simple in terms of culture. The actual spying may be straightforward for aliens, but understand what they are seeing may be much more complex.
If the hypothetical alien infiltrator is biologically and culturally similar to us, then achieving an understanding of our behaviours and society may be within their grasp, but if this race was more exotic and significantly different from ours then we may always remain an enigma to them. I plan to expand on the idea that we would be difficult to understand in the next post in this series, but its an idea worth considering for this group of scenarios, as it may mean that an alien surveillance of our civilisation could last for a long time, if not indefinitely.
It’s a depressing idea that alien’s could make a covert contact with our species, but that they would never reveal themselves to us, because they found us too confusing. This may sound unlikely, but I believe it all depends on how biologically similar they are to us. If all life is carbon-based and evolved in liquid water then maybe this eventuality is less likely?
However, I do think the espionage scenario is one of the more likely versions for first contact with extraterrestrials.
In the next post, more confusion!
PS. Please let me know if you have any ideas or reactions to this post, as I think its a fascinating topic that’s great to debate, and please let me know if you can think of any good examples of such espionage scenarios in science fiction?