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!