If you’re like me, you were really excited when SpaceX conducted their test launch of the Falcon Heavy last week. As someone obsessed with the exploration of outer space, it was an incredible event to witness (and the juxtaposition of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars?,” a personal favorite of mine, was the icing on the cake). Through the excitement of what this successful event could mean for the future of space travel and exploration, I began thinking about what will happen when we find life outside of our planet (it’s definitely out there, and we’ll get the opportunity if we don’t blow ourselves up first).
I’d like to start off by pointing out that there are several basic stages we could find life in. Broadly speaking, life on another planet would be less developed than our society (like “non-sentient” less developed, not “medieval times” less developed), about the same (cosmically speaking) or more advanced than us (probably have a Death Star). It is important to have a good idea on what our society should do when we discover life in these stages, because messing up something like that could be catastrophic.
In terms of finding non-sentient life, I believe our policy should be one of non-disturbance. We shouldn’t try to tangle with evolution or anything. Ideally, scientific research would be conducted from afar, without disturbing the flora and fauna of the planet. Additionally, introducing human settlers could be disastrous for their ecosystem (certainly was on Earth) and should be avoided if at all possible.
The easiest one to figure out is probably the greatly advanced alien race. Let’s assume an alien fleet that dwarfs anything we possess technologically is bearing down on us. Obviously we should not attack them, because: a. It probably wouldn’t do anything and b. They might get annoyed and kill us. The best thing to do is to attempt to communicate in a peaceful manner and try not to invoke their wrath.
I don’t worry too much about this situation because it seems that as humans have evolved technologically, we have generally also evolved in regards to our morals and code of ethics. Therefore, I think an extremely technologically advanced alien society would probably be pretty woke; it is unlikely that some war-driven authoritarian society would be able to succeed as that sort of civilization. They would likely not be inherently hostile, and in fact they would have done the heavy thinking on how to approach places like us so I think we would be pretty safe.
The most dangerous situation would be finding life roughly at the same stage as us (especially if they have nukes and stuff). They wouldn’t necessarily be dangerous to us, but the barriers of communication might lead to one side or the other attacking and causing a destructive conflict. Given how many people in the world can’t treat people who look differently right, I would be concerned if we had to make a decision on how to approach extraterrestrial life that we know we would be able to challenge technologically and militarily. Regardless of whether we would win, the extinction/devastation of either side would be terrible.
Of course, if we’re off by a few hundred years we might witness a medieval period on a planet. It’d be like Game of Thrones except that the people dying are real and we would have to wrestle with challenging moral questions about whether we should interfere or not. It’s a question that you could go back and forth for years on, and there’s no good answer until you are able to see both methods in action. On the one hand, saving and protecting life is an important and noble mission. However, introducing those whose society has not progressed far enough to the ideas and technology we possess could be harmful and induce unintended consequences.
It is impossible to give definitive answers to these sorts of questions in a short op-ed. However, I do believe it behooves all of us to start considering what sort of extraterrestrial life policy we want to have, so in the future we are better-prepared for these situations. By starting this process now, we hopefully don’t screw up in however many years it takes us to find alien life—or for them to find us.
Jacob Kowalski is opinion editor for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.