Society & Culture & Entertainment Education

Through The Wormhole: Aliens

There's been a lot of excellent science shows on television, many available on DVD and/or on YouTube. Carl Sagan's Cosmos immediately comes to mind and MythBusters while highly entertaining has a lot of solid science content too. However, IMHO, the cream of the crop, the best of the best, has been the Through the Wormhole series hosted by actor Morgan Freeman. Each of the episodes examines one of those nebulous Big Questions. Here are the questions asked so far about aliens, and my personal opinions on each.


SEASON ONE: Are We Alone?

If by €alone€, do we mean is there extraterrestrial life, even if life of the simplest microbial kind? If that is so, then the answer is €yes€, if for no other reason than panspermia will ensure the dispersal of microbial spores, etc. throughout the cosmos, even if we're the host planet. Terrestrial microbes can inhabit an incredible diversity of habitats so there's probably lots of real estate out there for microbial biospheres to form, survive and thrive. In fact not only are there massive amounts of planetary real estate but there exists massive amounts of time for simple life forms to, well, form. On the other hand, if we want complex multi-cellular extraterrestrial life, well that's a tougher nut to crack. It's not easy going from a generalist unicellular critter to specialist cells making up a multi-cellular critter. It took about 3.5 billion years to accomplish that trick here on terra firma. Still, given time and lots of biospheres out there, the odds are good that extraterrestrial multi-cellular critters exist, albeit not as commonly as unicellular only biospheres. Of course what we really mean by the question €are we alone€ is are there intelligent life forms out there, somewhere? Well, IMHO, if you get to the multi-cellular stage, intelligence to a greater or lesser degree is sure to evolve because intelligence, the ability to figure things out and act accordingly, has survival value. Think of the number of intelligent species here on Earth: the octopus, many species of birds, the elephant, whales and dolphins, and primates, with human beings top of the IQ pops by a wide. I would argue from personal observation that my cats too are intelligent since I often see them when faced with a choice, stop, think the options through, and then make (to them) an intelligent decision. However, that's probably still not quite what we mean - we mean are there other intelligent species and civilizations with technology? The evolution of technology is IMHO another tough nut to crack and isn't inevitable. Despite all the intelligent terrestrial species, humans alone are pretty unique when it comes to manufacturing and using technology. Other intelligent species don't tend to manufacture technology, just use whatever natural tools are at hand, like otters that break open clams by smashing rocks on them. One could thing of water-worlds where an intelligent species couldn't ever evolve a technology because they couldn't come up with a use fire.

SEASON TWO: What Do Aliens Look Like?

Given the diversity in appearance of all the species that have existed and currently do exist on Planet Earth, coupled with all of the variations on the appearance theme and other speculations heaped upon us by science fiction (like pointed ears) and even by the science fantasy and dark fantasy (horror) genres, then add to that all those beasties from the global mythologies (including all those religious texts) plus those from modern cryptozoology, well just about anything goes. Speculation would appear to be rather pointless. A lot will depend on the local environment the aliens evolved in and come from - if one changed the gravity and temperature and atmospheric composition regimes here on terra firma, no doubt terrestrial life forms wouldn't all appear as they do now. However, there are several universals, at least here, which probably would apply across the extraterrestrial board. Some body plans are more reasonable than others. The two plans I'd opt are near universal are firstly symmetry (probably left-right but also radial) and secondly having sense organs close to the brain, or whatever body structure passes for processing sensory data.

SEASON THREE: Will We Survive First Contact?

This question is based on what's transpired between the discovered and the discoverers here on Earth. It usually ends pretty badly for the discovered like the Aztecs, the Incas, the Pacific Islanders, the Australian Aborigines, the natives of North America, native Africans, etc. Diseases, slavery, religious zeal all assisted in making €first contact€ a rather ignoble phrase. However, historically, the discovered weren't expecting, even anticipating any first contact scenario and thus were ill prepared for it and the consequences. Modern humanity however has been well versed, indeed saturated with first contact (as in ET comes calling) scenarios. Thus, no doubt responsible powers-that-we have behind-the-scenes plans in place to counter any possible undesirable future ET first contact. That of course doesn't mean we will survive first contact. Even avoiding the ET invasion with ray-guns and heat-rays blazing scenario, what sort of society (political, economic, etc.) and culture (religious, philosophical, artistic, etc.) ET has is bound to play havoc with our societies and cultures. Just think of how different the world would be today if the United States and the influence of American culture had never existed or if Christianity had never evolved but had aborted before it ever got a foothold in the collective consciousness. So, will we survive first contact? Probably, but there certainly will be some consequences.

SEASON FOUR: How Do Aliens Think?

It's difficult to come to terms with how our companion animals think and make decisions - animal psychology - without throwing alien psychology into the mix. Apart from a few universals - keeping entropy at bay by replenishing you energy supply, reproducing, and making basic survival decisions - it's hard to decide what would motivate an extraterrestrial life form, even an intelligent extraterrestrial life form. There are thousands of variables to go into what makes us as individuals, as family units, as tribal units, as communities, as nations, as a society, as a culture, tick. The diversity is so great that, just like when it comes to what do aliens look like, the question €how and what do aliens think' is just about answerable by an €anything goes'.

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