Science & Physics Society & Culture

The enduring myth of the alien invasion

What if we’re Guinea pigs in our own private zoological experiment?

Are we alone in the Universe? No, I don’t think so — but that does depend on what type of life you’re expecting to find out there, in the vast ink black reaches of space and time.

When I think of life, I think of something that’s hard-wired into the fabric of the Universe itself, as fundamental as the laws of physics — emerging from them, like pi, the golden ratio, or prime numbers.

But when most people think of life in the Universe, I imagine their minds swinging hard towards intelligent life, something I believe is rare. If you’re familiar with the Drake equation and the various filters that winnow the progress of life, then intelligent life would be rarest type of life, if not the rarest thing in the Universe.

Consider human life on Earth, weighing in at a mere 0.06 gigaton of carbon, compared to the heft of bacteria at 70 gigaton, or the staggering bulk of plants at 450 gigaton. I think we could expect these ratios to be similar to the ratios of the types of life in the Universe.

While bacteria and its cousin archaea are among the simplest — and, therefore among the first — life on Earth, plants are complex multicellular life, like humans, but could also be rare. While the eye, as complex as it is, evolved 40 or more times, photosynthesis evolved once, not surprising, given its deep reliance on quantum mechanics.

But, in spite of everything, that intelligent life could be so rare, knowing that life itself could be abundant makes me feel somewhat satisfied that somewhere, life goes on. Yes, I am that certain, for no other reason than — again — a look at the numbers.

Of the galaxies, our Milky Way is somewhat average, but it is still home to some 250 billion stars, and there are billions of galaxies out there, with more emerging each week, as the distant light from them reaches Earth. So to think of that of the quadrillions of stars and the incalculable number of planets, there is but one of them that hosts life is so far beyond improbable as to be laughable.

Why aliens won’t invade Earth

In the last few months, the Pentagon have been drip-feeding the public with declassified documents from their extensive files compiled after decades of studying the phenomena of Unidentified Aerial Vehicles, and much of these disclosures have done little more than confirm what some have thought to have been the case for a long time, that intelligence life has traversed the cosmos to visit Earth — but I’m not convinced it’s that simple.

In the 2011 science fiction novella, Earth Day, I explored an apparent alien invasion but from a different perspective, and while I’d love to explain more, I’d rather not spoil things and reveal too much! However, I shall reveal a little regarding the thinking at work. The alien invasion trope is commonplace, but it’s also misplaced, and makes little practical sense. For what possible reason would an alien intelligence travel here, to Earth?

Plundering our resources

As an example, should an alien invasion fleet travel into our Solar System, then they’d first have to pass the vast sphere of the Oort cloud, the colossal Kuiper belt, and that’s long before arriving at outer and inner asteroid belts, brimming with natural resources that would be far easier to access, and — given their sheer abundance — much more rewarding.

It’s possible that aliens could be using our Solar System as a refueling point (water as ice is abund at the furthest edges of the Solar System, and hydrogen is the principle ingredient in a fusion reactor) as they tour interstellar space, and we would never know.

Dominion of the human race

If it’s dominion of the human race via war or some other method, then we would have been annihilated centuries ago. Unlike the movies, an alien race capable of interstellar or perhaps intergalactic travel would be equipped with a knowledge of science that would to us make a possible conflict short and indistinguishable from something out of the Old Testament, such would be their command of the nature, turning the Earth against us.

But don’t we have some evidence, from the wreckage of their spacecraft? I have to question the idea that whatever evidence we have is from a legitimate crash — think of it, travelling hundreds or thousands of lightyears to Earth, to then go and crash here, and leave the evidence behind for us to find? No, if we have anything, it’s evidence of a puzzle…

Guinea pigs in our own private zoological experiment

So if not us or our resources, then what? Consider our own desire to learn more about life here on Earth, and how we choose to experiment with apes, cetaceans (whales and dolphins), cephalopoda (squid and octopus), and corvids (crows and jackdaws), with intriguing puzzles designed to reveal their thinking. Yes, we have our flaws, but we humans do — on the whole — love to explore, experiment, and learn! I believe a keen, intrinsic desire to learn is a prerequisite for intelligent life to lift itself from the bonds and comforts of a home world, to then venture out into the expanse.

If the Pentagon, or their defence partners (often private companies, allowing them to side-step the usual rules of government committee’s, and their powers of investigation) have evidence, then these artefacts are to humans what a long stick, a narrow tube, and a morsel of food at the end of it are to the inquisitive Caledonian crow — an alluring prize, hidden within a puzzle, designed to reveal our thinking, and in so doing our scientific and technological capabilities.

If this is the case, then there are much more pragmatic considerations on the minds of these aliens. It would be obvious to our alien visitors that we are not a united people, and in spite of our understanding of nature, we have demonstrated little regard for it, imperiling our own existence in addition to whole corpus of life on Earth. If I were an alien, I’d want to know more about these humans and their intentions, when — as is now evident — they (we humans) move further into space. We humans could be the ones taking war and conflict into the void.

Some of the materials described by the defence partners hint at unusual characteristics, with “game changing” potential for aerospace applications. If I were an alien, I would design the experiment such that the humans could use the artefacts:

  1. to revolutionize energy production on a global scale, negating the need for the extraction and use of fossil fuels;
  2. or to weaponize it, and use it as a threat, or against their enemies.

In the 2016 movie, Arrival, an advanced intelligence arrives here on Earth to conduct a similar experiment to the one I’d imagined as the background to a novel connected to Earth Day, so it was a pleasant surprise to discover others of a similar mind.

How we humans were to respond to such an experiment would give the aliens the clearest understanding of what do with us, if anything. Perhaps there is a third reason for the aliens to scrutinize us? Should we pose a continued threat to life on Earth, it’s feasible their goal would be diminish us, plunging our entire civilization into Dark Ages once again, so that life could again flourish during the term of our weakened state.

However, this is — like most things here on Blah — pure speculation, but interesting speculation nonetheless!

We humans are at a turning point, and regardless of aliens and their imagined experiments on us, we have important choices to make that have the potential to shape the future for millennia to come.

By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.