Humans Too Stupid to Meet ET

Posted May 14th, 2014 at 8:11 pm (UTC-4)

The original ET from the bicycle escape scene from Steven Spielburg's 1982 blockbuster movie. (AP Photo)

The original ET from the bicycle escape scene from Steven Spielburg’s 1982 blockbuster movie. (AP Photo)

Are we alone in this mammoth universe? Or are there other life forms and civilizations out there waiting to be discovered?

Would we be ready for such an encounter?

The answer is no, according to a new study conducted by a Spanish neuropsychologist, who found we aren’t smart enough, and are too influenced by religion, to be able to handle such contact.

The study, published in Acta Astronautica, was conducted by Gabriel G. de la Torre, a professor with the Department of Psychology at the University of Cádiz in Spain, who has also worked on projects for the European Space Agency and the European Science Foundation.

For his study, de la Torre analyzed the ethical and sociological implications of a possible human/ET interaction.

He wondered, “Can such a decision be taken on behalf of the whole planet? What would happen if it was successful and someone received our signal? Are we prepared for this type of contact?”

To get answers to these questions, de la Torre sent out a questionnaire to 116 American, Italian and Spanish university students.

Do you think humans are ready for contact with a supposed extraterrestrial civilization? (José Antonio Peñas/Sinc)

Do you think humans are ready for contact with an extraterrestrial civilization? (José Antonio Peñas/Sinc)

The survey was designed to assess the respondent’s knowledge of astronomy, their level of perception of the physical environment, their opinion on the place that things occupy in the cosmos, the likelihood of contact with extraterrestrials as well as religious questions such as, “Do you believe that God created the universe?”

The students’ answers indicated that the general public’s knowledge of the universe and our place within it — even at the university level — is still poor.

“Regarding our relation with possible intelligent extraterrestrial life, we should not rely on moral reference points of thought, since they are heavily influenced by religion,” said de la Torre. “Why should some more intelligent beings be ‘good’?”

De la Torre’s curiosity about a possible ETI/Human encounter was piqued by a project currently being considered by the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI) in California.

A colorized visualizaton of the Arecibo Message that was transmitted into space in 1974.  The transmission was directed to globular star cluster M13 some 25,000 light years away. (Arne Nordmann via Wikimedia Commons)

A colorized visualization of the Arecibo Message transmitted into space in 1974.  (Arne Nordmann via Wikimedia Commons)

The SETI project began in the late 1960s and early 1970s with a mission to hunt for radio signals being broadcast by extraterrestrial intelligence.

For the last several years, there have been some at SETI who would not only like to listen for signs of ETI, but would like to also regularly send messages to them as well. The proposed project is called ‘Active SETI’, also known as METI (Messaging to Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence).

Since 1974, a number of specific messages from Earth have been beamed out to targeted areas of the cosmos in hopes that an intelligent extraterrestrial being would receive it and realize that we’re here, too.

Renowned theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking has raised concerns about transmitting these messages to areas light-years away from Earth.

In a 2010 documentary, Hawking said communicating with aliens could pose a threat to Earth.

Hawking likened a possible human/ETI encounter to one that took place over 500 years ago between Christopher Columbus and the natives of the New World.

“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,” said Hawking. “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.”

But SETI’s senior astronomer looks at it differently.

“We can reliably state that a culture able to project force to another star system is at least several centuries in advance of our own,” said Seth Shostak in article he wrote for The Edge magazine. “This statement is independent of whether you believe that such sophisticated beings would be interested in wreaking havoc and destruction. We speak only of capability, not motivation.”

Our presence has been been transmitted into the cosmos since World War II via new technologies such as Television, FM radio and radar such as this air traffic control radar at Fuerteventura airport in the Canary Islands (Andy Mitchell via Wikimedia Commons)

Technologies such as radar have transmitted signals into space for decades.  (Andy Mitchell via Wikimedia Commons)

Deciding whether we should purposely send out messages for possible reception by ETI might be something that’s irrelevant anyway.

Our radio presence has been regularly transmitted throughout space since World War II when television, FM radio and radar were first being used. TV, FM and radar all broadcast at frequencies that are high enough for their signals to escape our atmosphere and continue outwards into outer space where they could possibly be intercepted by ETI.

Study author de la Torre doesn’t believe a handful of scientists should monopolize the debate on this subject.

“In fact, it is a global matter with a strong ethical component in which we must all participate,” he said.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

7 responses to “Humans Too Stupid to Meet ET”

  1. Mark says:

    I have no doubt there is other life out there.. somewhere. It is arrogant presumption that we Earthlings think we are the only ‘intelligent’ life in the whole of the universe. (and sometimes I seriously question just how intelligent we think we are). I would have to agree with the assessment that we are NOT ready for such contact, but I would be hard pressed to believe ANY form of life out there with the capabilities of space travel, or abilities to send and receive messages from our planet, would be as equally not ready, either.
    I do believe in God, I do believe that God created the universe, that other worlds He did create apart from ours. Would they look like the popular conception of extraterrestrial life as depicted in movies like ET? No. If God created us in His image, and as I believe He did, create other worlds, would they not also be in His image as well…?
    Any contact out there, if they are capable of receiving and transmitting messages, would probably be grossly disappointed to find such a quarrelsome, pig-headed, stubborn and violent species as we Humans are toward each other. We would only react with suspicion and violence toward such an unknown and ‘alien’ being as would be found on other planets. We don’t trust each other, and react with violence toward the unknowns on THIS planet, how would anyone expect us to behave any differently from someone from ANOTHER planet.

  2. Kurt says:

    What if it’s not a question of finding them, but raising our vibrational level to match theirs so we are aware of them? Just a thought.

  3. carlos says:

    I am just an average citizen of this world that has a healthy curiosity about the world in which I live in and the universe at large. Do I believe there is life outside the earth? Yes I do believe in that possibility. I also believe in the possibility that we could be the first intelligent life form to evolve, why not?

    I also believe that it is totally irresponsible for anyone person or group of people to decide if it is safe or not to make contact with unknown civilizations who’s motives will be on the outside of our reality.

    I can only think of how we treat the other members of life on our planet to come to some conclusions as to what we might expect. For example, we have the ability to marvel at the complex society of the ant, highly organized, intelligent with the ability to communicate their intentions to one another. Yet that does not stop us from using insecticides to control them.

    To Mr. Shostak and his colleagues I can only say based on the excerpt provided in this article. that it only strengthens my believe that the arrogance evident in those statements only shows how blind you are to your brilliance.

    This is not S

  4. Tallaman says:

    “too influenced by religion, to be able to handle such contact.”

    Sounds like a typical scientists…unwilling or unable to consider anything they cannot replicate or reproduce. But I’m not bothered by this thinking because they will not find intelligent life forms to prove their point, but they will be astonished when they realize that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the true, living God who created the universe and sustains us with life and all we need to support it. He also sent his only son to die for us as a living sacrifice to pay for the sins we commit against Him.

    It’s too bad scientists are so narrow minded, unable to have faith in God and his power.

    • Brett says:

      “It’s too bad scientists are so narrow minded, unable to have faith in God and his power”
      I think you may need to look at the meaning of “narrow minded”, your not doing a bad job of showing some of that yourself…

  5. Norman says:

    What about floating the idea that “God” told mankind what he did, not how He/She did it?

  6. Emilio says:

    If such life did exist elsewhere, what form would such a human encounter take?
    It would likely only become known (introduced) after a long period of observations and study and policy debate.

    You cannot expect an alien civilization with the capability to travel to other worlds to just “knock on the door” and say hi. They would have fears of the unknown as much or even more than our own for quite obvious reasons. They would need first hand knowledge, experience and history just to conceive any notion of “first contact”. They would use scouts, remote capabilities and mainly just watch and listen. Perhaps at the right time, a tiny few of their “experts” would visit the earth and observe or interact on our planet in ways which to us would seem very childlike, all while keeping their existence either unknown to us or cloaked within our usual daily occurrences. With very good reason. We, like they, can be too easily misunderstood in such any grand encounter without measured control.

    Too much would be at stake to leave it to just chance. I am most assured that any encounter will be planned with the knowledge that they, would be prepared, to completely lose in harm’s way, their entire diplomatic corps in any contact effort – without reprisal.
    You cannot expect to be taken seriously as evolved species if you can’t take an unforeseen bloody nose. It would be expected and would just be another element in the “chance” for any face-to-face encounter.

    Perhaps the best encounters to serve in any introduction, would be:
    1) To wait for the chance to reveal themselves through “deeds only” at first. A pro-life scenario. To effect say a rescue in some major disaster or to intervene where the deed(s) themselves signal a respect to, of and for our earthly life forms. Something unmistaken for the efforts involved and undertaken. It would go a long way toward interstellar diplomacy when viable communication isn’t an option and yet only “options within deeds” are all which exists.

    2) Place a small group nearby and reveal themselves only to select few at the same time.
    Gauge a reaction and allow for the incident to become more widely known as those in power react, and can now in effect, gauge our response.

    3) “Borrow” a few earth lifeforms and educate them of their alien neighbors existence. Return them unharmed to the earth, with the specific knowledge of future events about to diplomatically unfold. You would likely select a group of peoples based on the larger earth populations as a whole. A commercial vessel with a large population would serve this purpose well. A process which at any time can be aborted with little risk for their reveal.

    Lastly. For those of any hostile race –
    A conquering alien race would simply deliver an ultimatum, unmistakable and clear.
    Nothing left to chance or ambiguity. However, this makes no sense. There is “nothing to gain” even in a successful campaign of dominance over the earth. It would breed a resistance on too many levels too difficult to evaluate with near certainty. The outcomes bring nothing to their continued way of life and survival, even from dozens of light years away. It sews the seeds of warfare for the entire galaxy. One even they could not have explored completely no matter how long in existence or how advanced. The more advanced you are, the more knowledge you have to be cautiously afraid.

    I’ll just leave it there.