William Dampier (Explorer)
For a technologically advanced species to be aware of intelligence other than their own, recognise an opportunity, then venture on a trip across the galaxy, prepared to endure the tyranny of distance, and then survey an alien world for a substantial duration, and hope to return, requires a lot of manpower, or extraterrestrial power, including labour, funds, and a whole chain of decision makers and layers of dreamers, fans, lobbyists, scientists and fund raisers.
For all those decisions (why to visit, when, what to send there, what to wear, what to expect, risk analysis, worst case scenarios) requires the worst fiend known to great ventures – a bureaucracy. The Alien Bureaucracy To Investigate Planet Earth probably began as a few fanatics with crazy notions who had accidentally swung their experimental antennae our way and detected strange transmissions from a strange quadrant of their observable galaxy; they could easily have tuned in to a cheaply produced soft porn film beamed on a pay-per-view service via satellites and thought “Savage creatures but strangely interesting”. Then this motley fascinated crew obtained funding from a humble sponsor to investigate further, evidence of intelligence on earth grew and then so did the interest and therefore finances, so it became a lean and astute task force that scaled up with excitement and fervour and spread and splurged into a cumbersome and lumbering bureaucracy
Yes there is a purpose, and yes their efforts to explore other worlds may not be limited to Planet Earth. They may launch one or a hundred ventures per their year to the space dusty corners of the accelerating out universe, and intelligent as they are, there must be order underpinning every excursion.
They want to know what’s out there and for us, their strength is also their weakness. Yet any advanced alien species will have to abide by some code of conduct.
Distillation comes with civilisation, which leads to science and technology, which can never exist without bureaucracy, which monitors the laws (and intergalactic taxes (and intergalactic tax avoidance) but that’s another book, in a galaxy far, far away).
To visit earth, that is to reconnoitre and verify what they have heard or suspect, requires a steering committee abiding by protocols. What laws visiting aliens have when probing earth and buzzing earthlings, and how each visiting alien interprets these laws, can be seen by believing the most credible evidence of alien interaction. A good place to start is the case of alien abductions. If the stories are true, then we can ascertain that for some aliens it's within their remit to pluck an earthling out of their sleepy farmhouse, cart them off to a mobile laboratory, and shine an assortment of lasers in their orifices. If these acts are within the rules for aliens making an excursion to earth, then so are others, like buzzing commercial airliners and travelling parallel to cars traversing across sparsely populated deserts. To date, an Alien Star Cruiser has not, from afar or near it doesn’t matter, directed a laser to our most contemptible (e.g. nuclear missile silos) or favourite objects (e.g. the Eifel Tower) and obliterated them, then enslaved us. So far, so good.
Yet with all things mechanical, some day they break down. The much hyped Roswell incident, in which apparently a UFO crashed, may be proof that even Alien spacecraft are not 100% reliable. And with all things intelligent, sometimes they think they know it all and can do it all. If you were an alien, so far away from home, and possessed some degree of free will, would you not find some enjoyment in doing something a tiny bit naughty and off the record? Isolation breeds temptation. Perhaps much of the unexplained can be perfectly explained, and the culpable are probably flying back to their distant star with a sneaky smile on their merry little face.
Obligations for visiting aliens must include the golden rule: Don't destroy anything. This rule, and it must be true if aliens have visited earth because there is little or no evidence that aliens have destroyed anything, shines a soothing light on the grace that intelligence produces. There are countless Greek and Roman statues missing arms, heads, genitals and anything else an invading horde of barbarians could hack at with a sword – vandalism is a sign of either bad behaviour (lack of grace) or low intelligence. Grand acts of vandalism are sometimes blamed on grand people, like the fabled shooting off of the Sphinx's nose by Napoleon's troops, yet to date few have stepped forward to say “The Aliens were behind Pearl Harbour to start World War Two and for less effort and equal satisfaction brought down the Twin Towers to kick-start World War Three”.
However, to every rule there are exceptions: Preservation. According to Robert Hastings, author of 'UFOs and Nukes', aliens have disarmed nuclear weapons with the simple intention of reminding the military that these weapons are a bit too dangerous for our feeble intentions. While the world is awash with conspiracy theories, and military personnel are reluctant to testify against the hand that feeds them, if aliens had been disarming nuclear weapons during the Cold War, it would be because part of their rules of engagement must include that of pre-emptive intervention: Stop the earthlings from turning their cities into glass bowls (craters).
Most exploratory voyages have a scientist on board, and if they are someone who really likes to push the boundaries, there are rewards. Exploration and specimen taking breed outcomes other than just fancy glass-jar collections of the exotic and unimaginable. On the 27th of December in 1831, Charles Darwin began a voyage on the HMS Beagle that lasted almost five years. While the Beagle surveyed and charted coasts, Darwin investigated geology and made natural history collections. His experience and notes, coupled with reading from other sources on the subject, over time, challenged and then shaped his views on our creation. Yet it wasn’t until 1859 that he published his theory on evolution in his book On the Origin of Species. By the 1870s the general public accepted evolution as a fact. He was not the only specimen gather in that period, yet his outcome helped us to understand ourselves.
A specimen gatherer also knows their limits – they are not to interfere with local power politics. A specimen hunter, though, would be more adventurous, because with intelligence must come egotism and a sense of adventure, so at some point something or someone interesting should become a specimen (if only for a night or an hour) of a visiting pro-active alien biologist.
Conspiracy theories are great, and like tales of dragons, punctuate the monotony of our day with the surreal and unexpected. And truth may be stranger than fiction, but reality trumps all. Imagine an Alien Mother Ship is dispatched to our solar system to 'observe but not obliterate' our finest technology, our evolution, our political factions, the mentality of our superpowers, the speed at which we're wiping out other species, and a host of other things that are recorded mercilessly on our ominous Intergalactic Report Card.
From the Alien Mother Ship drones and manned craft are sent in for a closer look. In 1945 they observe World War Two brought to an early close by two nuclear strikes; until those tragedies the allies confronted a greater tragedy in terms of possible body-count: Invading Japan, house by house. Forty years later, in 1985, the guardian aliens observe the nuclear arms race and the shifts of power behind it, and decide to intervene on a low level, that of disarming nuclear weapons (as speculated earlier). Between 1945 and 1985 is forty years, and if a message takes 20 light years to go from the Alien Mother Ship to its base, and 20 light years to come back, we can assume they're out there, and not that far away, processing us. On the other hand, an Alien Mother Ship may be here with the protocols set in stone, it may not have to confer with a higher authority on intervention and diplomacy.
In any decision making process, where events lie out of existing protocols and planning, an intelligent species should 'talk with the boss' before making an adverse decision. The big 'if' for earth is, and something that must be clarified as soon as possible, is that with any aliens wishing to be diplomatic, how do they communicate with the organisation that sent them here? How far away is their headquarters, their paymaster, and their wife?
If an Alien Ambassador arrives, does it take a thousand light years to send a message back and forth? May their own civilisation have moved on while they have been busy coming here and observing the savages?
However, we should trust that any alien species that goes to the effort of coming this far must have thought long and hard about what to do when here. They may have seen species come and go (think of the asteroid strike that did in those poor innocent dinosaurs) many times before, and are mildly amused by the struggles of humanity (or just humans), and it may be thousands of years before we present a situation where an observing Alien Mother Ship has to radio home, “The fur-less bipeds on Planet Earth are getting pretty interesting and funny, can we say hello to them?” and then wait however long for a return message. By which time we’ve either snuffed ourselves out or pioneered interstellar travel.
In all probability and plausibility, why would a space travelling species want anything to with a species that can’t yet travel through space.
First the benchmark: How do you define space travel. Visiting your local moon? Colonising a planet within your solar system? Is that when the spinning hubcaps appear before our leaders and a ramp extends from the silver belly and a little green beauty queen emerges with a wreath of exotic flowers and sings a song of congratulation?
Earth history reached a revolutionary peak when nations came in contact via the seas, and the technological prowess to cross space and time then led to culture clashes that are integral to our history: Missionaries were trying to convert savages, explorers and merchants were trying to barter their way towards a specific objective: Get rich or die trying. As usual, he who was there first, apparently has the first claim. Therefore, when we get to Mars, should we be surprised if a UFO zooms down, and walking down the ramp is a little green lawyer from a far off planet explaining that we’re trespassing on some civilisation’s boondocks property? Do we then pay some fee for arriving, a fine for staying too long, and a toll to let out adventurous selves leave?
On a more realistic level is the temptation that out there in our Solar System is something left behind, or dormant, or mundanely observing us. Impetuous to get out there and find out is just to know the basics – are we being watched and by what – is it active or passive?
As scary as it is plausible, and yet it would make sense considering the depth of space and how tiresome it would be to visit here on a whim: What if aliens where in our Solar System, actively observing and visiting us? What do we say to them when we finally locate their little hole-in-the-asteroid or secret moon base camp? First we have to find out exactly how far they are from home, how long it takes them to send a message, because they might call in the cavalry, they might just call it quits and head home once discovered. If there is an outpost, and all they can do according to their rules, is observe and mildly discourage us from wiping our planet clean, how would the populations of the world react to benign guardian angels? Will they get a seat at the United Nations? Shouldn’t they contribute to our humble space efforts, like how Christian Missionaries shed the light on the tribes in the darkest of jungles?
Given the scenario that any active and inter-stellar civilisation is a few billion years ahead of us, and not very interested in us until we experiment on a level that gets their attention (like create our own patented black holes for fun), they can sit somewhere in our Solar System, watching, waiting, perhaps anticipating, and definitely yawning. And what’s more frustrating is that it’s their job to be non-detectable – what fun would it be otherwise. It’s up to us to find them, prod their drone, tow it back to earth and sink in a few diamond tip drills to see what it is made of. However, that won’t be possible. A civilisation that is even 5,000 years ahead of us would know how to create, dispatch and monitor drones that are harder to break than anything we could engineer. If they’re out there, they have the advantage.
No arctic wasteland or patch of baking desert is complete without the remnants of someone who got there and not much further. Seeing rusting cars on back roads in remote areas is a nice reminder that if aliens arrived here before we learnt to walk upright, and stayed here, they could easily be here, but died of boredom just as we were learning to crunch on the lice evolving in each other’s cracks. The concept that aliens may have visited earth or the Solar System and left something behind, died on duty (that is, dying of boredom or killing each other out of boredom) should act as a temptation to get out there and discover. What defunct and rusting alien memorabilia could be there? An outpost on Mars? A sulking, lonely drone waiting to be recharged? We won’t know until we go.
The next space race will be to spread humanity within the limits of the Solar System.
The commercial draw behind such expansion is just beginning, and this new age and revolution may last a few hundred years. If, in the process aliens still haven’t made contact, humanity will begin to ask itself some tough questions, the most obvious being: Are we trying hard enough?
Then the next space race will be a lot more ambitious. Depending on the technology around, space explorers will push out, first to set up bases and colonies on the closest of stars, and then within a few centuries, shoot off to a few more stars a bit further out. And on and on. And on. And on and on and on, until one day, space travelling earthlings run into space travelling aliens. When and where this will happen is not worth getting too excited about because you and I will be dead and atomised. We can suppose it will happen like many a great occurrence – by accident, or ‘pure arse’ as some modern Brits like to say.
In 1788, Captain Arthur Phillip had sailed the First Fleet (made up of mostly convict vermin from the streets of London) from Great Britain, to Botany Bay in Australia. The British were far, far away on the other side other world from Europe. Their intention was to establish a prison by populating it with their cargo of convicts. The British are an odd species, and using a prison on the other side of the world as a deterrent to serial criminals on the streets in London seems absurd, but so are the juiciest parts of history. Yet eight days after anchoring eleven ships in Botany Bay, finding it unsuitable, and then sailing out, who should swan into the bay, but two French ships?
Lapérouse was leading a scientific mission (not quite an absurd reason to travel so far), financed and ordered by King Louis XVI. From historical accounts, the British and French were very cordial. On the other side of the world, who wouldn’t be? Sadly Lapérouse and his ships sailed off to a demise amid a cyclone somewhere in the Solomon Islands, never to be heard of again. Apparently Lapérouse and his crew were stranded, most of the crew tried to reach civilisation and never made it, and Lapérouse died shortly before any real help stumbled upon that part of the world again. Captain Arthur Phillip had a different destiny: The British, after leaving Botany Bay, settled for a cove in Port Jackson and established their colony, in what is now known as Sydney. Australia turned out to be a mineral rich bounty, adding greatly to the British Empire. The French had their revolution and ceased their wild explorations, while the British made a great empire and to this day still import many things from Australia (iron and soap operas) and sometimes export televised royal weddings.
The lesson is that the adventurous, on their own errands and with their own intentions, will run into each other, eventually.
If an alien species never knocks on earth’s door, or has left a marker somewhere in the Solar System for us to stumble over, there is consolation in the hard reality that we may have to find them out there, when we’re in the process of doing something else. Somewhere, at some point of time, our hard work will pay off.
Copyright 2014 Simon Drake
Simon Drake.com contains information about my science fiction and non-fiction, (including where to paperbacks and ebooks), plus some short fiction.