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Hawking Warns Against Close Encounters of Any Kind

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As a child I often stared up at the stars wondering about what was going on up there. My parents had a summer house on the south shore of Long Island, and at night sitting on the beach, I could see more stars than I ever knew were possibly there back at home in New York City. As they glistened in the night, instead of wishing on one, I hoped to visit one in the future, no doubt encouraged by my love of the television series Star Trek, with its depiction of a world of warp speed, easy planet hopping, and most friendly aliens wanting to form a federation of planets.

Now British scientist Stephen Hawking, featured in a new series Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking on the Discovery Channel, is warning us that we should not be too eager for close encounters with aliens from other worlds. He says, “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.”

Hawking goes on to describe alien beings who would be “nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach.” No doubt leaving their own dying planets, these space explorers would not be like the sweetly depicted E.T. from the famous Spielberg film, but probably a lot more like the ones we have come to know in films like Predator or Alien. These are not guys we would invite to the family picnic.

Which brings us back to my naïve childhood fantasy of wanting to reach out to those stars I saw twinkling above me. Is the dream of a peaceable universe so far-fetched? Perhaps as inconceivable as a peaceful world right here on Earth?

Some people may argue that there is no proof that aliens even exist. How can we be so certain that they are out there somewhere? Well, I remember watching the stars with my father when I was a boy. He told me that every star was a sun, and so that means they probably have planets just like our sun does.

Well, once my nine-year old brain heard that, then every Captain Kirk fantasy kicked into place. I started thinking, “Even if every star has just one planet capable of supporting life, as did our sun, that would mean there’s a heck of a lot of Earth-like planets up there.” I must say that all these years later, I still believe that must be the case. We cannot be so egocentric to believe that our planet is the only one with intelligent life in an entire universe. That kind of thinking should have gone out with the world-is-flat theorists who saw men and ships didn’t fall off the edge of the planet when they turned left at Greenland.

It is nice to know that Hawking and I agree on this. He says, “To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational.” Where we obviously disagree is that he feels they will be coming in and wanting to wipe us out (just watch the weekly television series V to get an idea about that), but I am thinking they aren’t going to come all this way just for that. Besides, aren’t there other possibilities?

For one thing, many people believe that aliens have already visited this planet. Actually, taking a walk through Manhattan on any given day of the week, I can pretty much tell you that is a fact. The truth is that aliens with advanced technology (and it would have to be very advanced because they would be coming from other solar systems requiring vastly superior ships to anything we have or will have in the next hundred years) could have been here since the days of the dinosaur. They may be still here among us, or watching us from afar, because we are probably not ready yet for them to make their presence known.

If we even accept this as a possibility, then we must know that these aliens do not mean us harm. If they meant us harm, they would have eradicated us when we were living in caves, taken the natural resources they wanted, and maybe even burned our planet to a cinder. Obviously, if they have been around this long, they are benevolent enough to leave us to our own devices; unfortunately, we haven’t been the best custodians of this blue jewel of a planet we have been given.

Those who know me know that I believe in these aliens because I am open to the idea, but I also believe that I have been led down the path by all the films and television shows that nurtured my beliefs. Perhaps the strongest of all these is the original The Day the Earth Stood Still because it featured a superior alien force that understood, like Spider Man’s Uncle Ben, that with great power comes great responsibility. The alien robot Gort stands as a symbol of great power, power we cannot possibly conceive, and yet is a reminder that we will pay a price if we continue our history of belligerence.

I respect and admire Stephen Hawking a great deal, and I plan on watching this series on the Discovery Channel because how often do we get a window into a brilliant mind like his? Yet, I remain skeptical of his grim portrait of aliens who may or may not be out there. I guess I will cling to my cinematic inspired hopes for the force to be with us, so we may live long and prosper, because the prospect of anything else would be a close encounter of the most unwanted kind.

Klaatu Barada Nikto!

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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana has published numerous stories, articles, and poems in literary magazines and online. His books In a Dark Time (1994), A Death in Prague (2002), Move (2003), The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories (2005) and Like a Passing Shadow (2009) are available online and as e-books. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated mostly on fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with Blogcritics since July 2005, has edited many articles, was co-head sports editor with Charley Doherty, and now is a Culture and Society editor. He views Blogcritics as one of most exciting, fresh, and meaningful opportunities in his writing life.
  • duane

    I had a similar reaction. It seems a little silly to come all this way just to exploit us, wiping us out in the process. Earth is a modest little place from the point of view of an alien civilization that could mount an interstellar expedition.

    I figure (although it’s hard to think like an alien) that we would be of value as subjects for study — an example of a developing technological civilization. As you suggest, maybe they’re already doing just that. I’m hoping that doesn’t involve abduction and vivisection.

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    Duane, I think you’ve got it right. If you are a Star Trek fan, you know about the “prime directive.” If not, basically it meant that there was a no interference rule for civilizatons. I think (and hope) any intelligent lifeforms would adhere to such a policy when dealing with Earth.

  • a geek girl

    Victor, I feel the same way, but my perspective is slightly different.

    Our sun is on its way out. Our planet is going to start dying–and when it does disasters are going to grow exponentially. My first thought when all of the tsunamis and earthquakes started to hit this year was.. has it begun?

    When this rock starts to heat up and fall apart we’re the ones who are going to be looking for new digs… Planets that can sustain life. We’ll be the aliens.

    All of those stories of terrifying aliens were spawned in the minds of humans, that’s how we think. I feel sorry for them already, those whose planet we’ll choose to claim. We’ll put up a flag and they’ll go the way of the Native Americans.

    Have to admit though, I get a little nostalgic watching Alien. Reminds me so much of my stepmother :P

  • lucasbonz

    a geek girl, I think so disaster going to grow but this wouldn’t dying the planet. The earth will save with great and powerful source.

  • http://walheinrich.com/ Wal Heinrich

    Hawking’s books are amongst my favorites but I disagree with him a little here. In rejecting all ET’s we might also be rejecting those beneficial ones with the pointy ears who say “live long and prosper”. Scientists, like Hawking, are often heard to say that they can’t watch shows like Star Trek (because the science is too far from their reality). A pity. Maybe if he did he would have a different point of view.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    I have only one comment to make on this entire article – The Twelfth Planet, by Zechariah Sitchin. I used to be very reluctant to bring up his theories because the central element of his theories – that giant “12th planet” with an orbit around Sol of 3,600 years, was missing. But apparently it is not missing. NASA is trying to cover up its discovery, and it is getting closer to Earth, the former Tiamat, a larger planet knocked out of its orbit between Mars and Jupiter billions of years ago when Nibiru, the “12th” planet, passed through the solar system, nearly colliding with Tiamat.

    No, I’m not making this up out of whole cloth or a fevered imagination. This story was part of the records of the Sumerians, a people aware of advanced technology at a level at least as high as the technology we know today.

    In other words, Sitchin, who is now at least 95, may yet live to see himself proven right. Of course, seeing himself proven right may be a disastrous (if not fatal) experience for many of us….

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    Ruvy, I have not heard about that 12th planet scenario, but will look into it.

    Geek, I think you’re right that one day we will indeed be the seekers of another world, which is why I have been advocating the plan to travel to Mars. We have to start somewhere.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    There’s a third scenario, depicted by Douglas Adams in The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is that aliens are perfectly well aware of Earth and its inhabitants but regard it as primitive, utterly insignificant and not worth bothering about. The entry for Earth in the galaxy’s most highly-regarded reference work – the eponymous Guide – is a curt “Harmless”*.

    * A later edition of the Guide expanded this to “Mostly harmless”.

  • John Wilson

    This is a really silly statement, Victor: “#7 –
    Geek, I think you’re right that one day we will indeed be the seekers of another world, which is why I have been advocating the plan to travel to Mars. We have to start somewhere.”

    Human travel to Mars is so expensive and unproductive that it will actually slow exploration of the universe. We need to start with unmanned exploration, and it may take many generations to accomplish anything. Wasting money, time and resource on human travel is stupid. All it can do is deter useful unmanned exploration.

  • Toby B.

    I have a problem with the argument that alien life will be inherently hostile and in search of resources. If an alien race is capable of transporting enough of their species to another planet to inhabit it, why wouldn’t they be capable of finding unoccupied planets to inhabit? I mean, if they can reach Earth certainly they could reach Mars, where they would encounter no resistance? Another thing, other than space, what possible resources could they need? Again, we as humans have already made great strides in recycling and conservation efforts. I have to believe any alien race capable of great distance space travel would be able to make much better use of their limited resources than us.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Human travel to Mars is so expensive and unproductive that it will actually slow exploration of the universe. We need to start with unmanned exploration, and it may take many generations to accomplish anything.

    John, have you been locked in a box for the past 45 years?

    Unmanned exploration of Mars has been going on since 1965, and has accomplished a tremendous amount.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    He knows, Doc.

    I think we should do as Buzz Aldrin suggested – bulk up the ISS and use it as a small shipyard to build an actual honest-to-goodness spaceship capable of cruising to Mars and back (’cause then we don’t need to worry about going in and out of the full gravity well of Earth).

    Why? Because there is something about having human feet (well, boots, even) clomping the soil of another planet that means something to the human race as a whole that unmanned probes can’t do.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    He knows, Doc.

    Then what’s his deal? His argument is akin to saying that we shouldn’t give penicillin to humans until thorough research has been conducted.

    bulk up the ISS and use it as a small shipyard to build an actual honest-to-goodness spaceship capable of cruising to Mars and back

    There is an even cheaper option.

    Bolt a set of rockets and a lander onto the ISS and use it as the Mars spacecraft.

    I doubt the ISS is sufficiently spaceworthy, though. It wasn’t designed to operate above the Van Allen Belts.

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    Glenn, I think you’re right. The ship that will ultimately take us to Mars will have to be built in space, maybe even on the moon.

    I also think they must develop smaller ships that will take off like planes from earth and be able to go into space.

    The robot idea is what I find odd. We can send ships with robots all we want, but they will not be able to provide the inner satisfaction that comes with “boots” on the ground.

    I doubt anyone would look at a mountain, send a robot up to the top, and feel as if he/she had climbed it. The situation with space is the same.

  • John Wilson

    The ongoing problem with Science-Fiction is it’s anthropomorphism. Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.

    Unmanned exploration of Mars has obviated the need to send humans there. Cheaply, too.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    John, I don’t think anthropomorphism is the right word. The word means to attribute human characteristics to non-human things. There’s plenty of sci-fi which succeeds by doing exactly the opposite: the Alien movies being a prime example.

    Anthropocentrism is a better word for what you’re trying to argue here – the tendency to view everything from the human perspective. And let’s face it, a science fiction novel free of any trace of that would probably be unreadable.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    And John, if you can honestly look at some of the breathtaking images of Mars sent back by the Spirit and Opportunity rovers and not feel any desire to go and plant your boots in those landscapes, you’re, frankly, weird.

  • John Wilson

    I can watch the gorgeous videos of people diving and watching undersea life in HDTV and feel good that the videos bring that to me so I don’t have to go there and do it myself. Same with Snow Leopards, etc. Spare disturbing the animals.

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    Just today I was looking at pictures sent back to Earth from Cassini, which is currently orbiting Saturn. These are beautiful images to be sure and do a great deal for our understanding of this planet.

    However, great pictures are not enough. When I saw films and pictures of the great places on Earth, all that made me do is want to go visit those sites more. If and when the technology is in place for humans to visit these other planets, I don’t think anything will stop their quest for adventure and the excitement of being there.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    I can watch the gorgeous videos of people diving and watching undersea life in HDTV and feel good that the videos bring that to me so I don’t have to go there and do it myself.

    But there are people in those videos, John.

  • David Davis

    It seems to me that if we found aliens or if they came here it would all come down to how much alike or unalike we were, and the who had the power us or them, if we cannot even live in peace with other races and have killed of so many animal that live on earth how could we live in peace with a a alien species

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    You make an excellent point, David. Thank you.