Steven Hawking, the World’s Smartest Man, Warns Us About Alien Invaders … Should We Be Concerned?
Steven Hawking, a smart fellow no doubt, though yes, saying he is the smartest man in the world is poetic license. In any event, he is now on record as supporting the idea that aliens may very well exist, and claims we should be trying to avoid contact with them if at all possible. Mr Hawking even explicitly says that aliens, after having exhausted the resources on their home planets, might be roaming the galaxy in search of other planets to strip of their resources. Quick show of a hands, any American readers by any chance recognize that plot element from say, a very popular sci fi movie a few years back? Yes, in the 1996 movie Independence Day, aliens show up over Earth to do just that, blow us all up so they can steal all our stuff. Maybe just a coincidence, or maybe some sort of inside joke on Mr Hawkings part? It’s possible he made these claims simply to get publicity, but let’s look at them anyhow.
My first thought about alien is this. Boy, for something that there is no evidence for, our culture sure has a tremendous amount invested in the idea. Everyone knows what one means when one says aliens. Books, TV shows, and movies about aliens are such standard fare that I doubt anyone with any exposure to mainstream media hasn’t seen some of them. Depictions of aliens in our entertainment media vastly outnumber depictions of perfectly real historical peoples like say the Romans or the Mongols or Alexander’s Greeks. That’s a pretty neat feat for entirely imaginary beings. I mean, in previous centuries people literally believed in things like angels and demons, but aren’t we supposedly more advanced than that now? Yet here we are, a planet where no sane person believes that Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny is literally real, yet a huge percentage of those supposedly sane people literally believe that beings from other worlds regularly visit Earth? It’s weird if not downright nuts if one thinks about it carefully. I mean, yes, aliens might exist, but to actually believe in the face of zero evidence? Creepy.
Moving right along, I’ve already made my unpopular arguments that we might indeed be alone in the Universe, so let’s for grins assume that aliens do exist. Do Mr Hawkings warnings hold water? Well, yes and no. My main objection is his specific claim that aliens might have exhausted their home planet and are now roving around looking for other planets to mine. The problem I have with this is very simple, aliens with the resources to travel between the stars looking for more resources, are going to have vastly greater resources at their disposal than the ones offered by planets like Earth. Why bother mining the thinly scattered resources in Earth’s crust when there are asteroids made entirely of metal just floating around waiting to be scooped up? In fact all of the gold, cobalt, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, osmium, palladium, platinum, rhenium, rhodium and ruthenium in Earth’s crust originally came from a rain of asteroids early in Earth’s history. There are single asteroids which contain over a million times Earth’s entire current annual production of these metals. In fact there are single asteroids which contain more of some of the rare metals listed above than even exist in Earth’s crust. Similarly water, Oxygen, hydrogen, methane, and numerous other resources are easily available in vast quantities in the outer Solar System’s moons, comets, and asteroids. Why go deep into the Sun’s gravity well and then into a large planet’s gravity to steal thinly distributed resources when they are free for the asking in vastly greater quantities in easier to access parts of the Solar System? I’m sorry, but this scenario posited by Independence Day and Mr Hawking doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
On the other hand, maybe we are talking about aliens so advanced that they could utilize Earth’s core itself as a source of resources. I guess, though one would think that aliens capable of such godlike feats would have made their presence known in a variety of other ways in the Universe we observe, and so far decades of astronomy and SETI have yet to spot anything even remotely artificial looking in the galaxy around us. Even on the remotest desert island on Earth a short walk on the beach will show that there are artifact producing beings elsewhere on the planet. And we’ve at least glanced at a huge number of the Solar Systems beaches so to speak, and if any aliens with God like capabilities have dropped by, they’ve very carefully cleaned up after themselves.
Then there’s the argument that on Earth, history shows that when primitive cultures meet advanced cultures, the primitive cultures are almost always hosed. So it makes sense that if we actually run across an alien species more advanced than us, it will be bad news for humans. The main problem I have with this argument is that it assumes that any aliens we meet are going to be amazingly similar to humans in their culture and how they interact with other cultures. It’s an incredibly narcissistic assumption to simply assumes that aliens are going to be very similar to humans. I mean, we are talking about aliens. We simply have no idea what an alien intelligent species is going to be like, not only is it entirely possible that we won’t even be able to communicate with aliens when we meet, we might not even recognize them as an intelligent species.
Lastly, the idea that we should try to avoid contact with aliens. This is, frankly, absurd. It’s absurd because there is simply no way we can hide without essentially dismantling our entire industrial civilization. And I’m not talking about what is visible from orbit or our radio/TV transmissions. I’m talking about industrial pollutants in our atmosphere. We are very close to having the ability to study in great detail the chemical composition of the atmosphere of planets light years from Earth, so at this point any advanced aliens within a few hundred light years of Earth could do the same. And Earth’s atmosphere contains all sorts of pollutants that are going to scream “artificially produced.” So it’s too late to hide, if there are any advanced aliens nearby, they’ve more than likely already detected our presence.
Honestly, I don’t think alien invaders are anything we need to worry about for two reasons. On the one hand, the complete absence of any evidence that such invaders even exist is reasonably reassuring at this point. And if there are aliens with god like powers to suck out Earth’s core so they can make the alien equivalent of key chains out of it, well, it will likely all be over before we even realize there’s a problem.
In a future post, why the idea of defending ourselves against hostile aliens is also a waste of brain cell activity. Sleep tight.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit, it’s central to illustrating the post, and its use here in no way interferes with the copyright holder’s commercial use of the image. The opposite in fact, I urge any American or Israeli who hasn’t seen Independence Day to see it, it’s a lot of fun if you like sci fi and can suspend disbelief about the ghastly physics and science in the movie. Why only Americans and Israelis? Because the movie flopped in the rest of the world, as my Canadian father said “Another movie where America saves the world, yawn.” Credit and copyright, Twentieth Century Fox.)