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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.