1. jonathan hernandez13
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    jonathan hernandez13 Contributing Member Contributor

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    10 Questions to ask an alien Civilization

    Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by jonathan hernandez13, Apr 12, 2010.

    First encounters with aliens is a common motif in Science Fiction, and yet they always leave me feeling bitter. I often ask myself "why did they do that, why not this and that?"

    "They just met an advanced alien civilization, of all the things they could have and should have done, why that?"
    Often examined in these stories are the psychological impacts, or the political concerns, or the military anxieties. Often overlooked is the immense opportunity.

    Any civilization capable of bridging the stars will be significantly more advanced than ours, make no mistake of that. Imagine all the ideas that would pour out of their brains if we cracked them open like a golden egg. I would ask them questions until I turned blue in the face and my tongue fell out, I would, otherwise I would regret not having done so for the rest of my Earthbound life.

    In "The Demon-Haunted World" by Carl Sagan, we examine pseudoscience's and conspiracies with the same kind of skeptical lens. We look at UFO claims.

    Doctor Sagan was a well known and vocal skeptic, so he never received a shortage of mail from UFO "experts" trying to convince him and set him straight, "ask me anything" they would say. And so, clever Dr. Sagan would try to think of questions that any sophisticated civilization (a civilization, say, capable of bridging the stars) may find as simple as a word puzzle.

    Questions such as Fermat's Last Theorem, or a cure for all known Earthly diseases, or a renewable source of energy. Of course, no one on Earth can answer those questions, so Dr. Sagan never got an answer. If you asked them something esoteric or generic, like "is there life after death" they would not be hesitant in reassuring us that there is.

    One of the underpinning themes of the book is that there is never a shortage of snake oil salesmen selling us fabrications that makes us feel happy, such as our dead loved ones still being with us. We readily buy into the lies because we secretly want to be placated, but just because something makes us feel good does not make it true.

    Dr. Sagan's thought experiment was just a bit of playful juxtaposition, executed with a charm and wit typical of all of his musings. But let us, for now, conduct a different thought experiment. In a footnote Dr. Sagan remarks that

    "It's a stimulating exercise to think of questions to which no human today knows the answers, but where a correct answer would immediately be recognized as such."

    I'm inclined to agree. Furthermore, it serves a psychological need. A favorite pastime of children is asking questions, and they are joyous when receiving an answer. There is an immediate gratification when being answered, but that is a dangerous habit. Sometimes, absurdities and dogmas are often heralded as truth, a conspiracy theory is favored over no theory. That is not progress, selling untruth as truth is a disaster waiting to happen.

    The process of asking the question itself may however satisfy some small intellectual need, and to the extent that we are inquisitive primates, there is no harm in generating playful thinking as long as we do not act irrationally on it.

    Therefore, as the title posits, if we were to have the opportunity or privilege to ask an alien civilization no more or less than 10 questions, what could or should we ask them?

    This is not a new game, this is a very old game. It has the same familiarity as games like "what would you wish for if you had a genie or a fairy in front of you?". It is a game that will end with about the same results. Many magazines and periodicals have columns with all kinds of experts; relationship advice, sexual suggestions, astrology, business. People are curious, they have questions to ask and lives to base their answers on.

    However, this is a game that is not merely limited to the fantastic. There very well might be an alien civilization somewhere in any one of the hundred billion suns of our galaxy, or in one of any of the many other countless galaxies. We may, perhaps, one day, find them, or become engaged in dialogues of some type with them.

    When the time comes we may be able to ask our silly questions, and based on the answers we receive, we may take the next step beyond a race of primates clinging to our rock on the edge of a vast nowhere. Any answers to these questions(if there are any), would be a gift to our race, and change our planet forever.



    1)Can you help us in our search for a source of renewable energy?

    I don't think that that's too big a thing to ask an advanced civilization. We are very close to achieving fusion, having the energy of a star at our fingertips would be an incredible advance for our species, it would take us billions of years before we exhausted all the Hydrogen in our system.

    2)Can you help us in our search for a cure for diseases?

    This may be too much to ask an alien race. Because they come from another planet (or dimension?), their biochemistry may be so alien to ours that finding a way of curing our diseases is beyond their knowledge. Of course, they may have advanced medical knowledge and experience that comes with living on a planet with advanced contagions that make earthly diseases like HIV and cancer seem like a cold sore. We still find miraculous drugs in remote regions of this planet, medicines from another world may not be so farfetched.

    3)Is their a scientific theory that can account for all matter and energy in the universe?

    This may be a question as difficult to ask as it is to answer. Albert Einstein died in the search of a formula to satisfy his quest for a theory that would unify all the different braches of science. It would be like peering into God's brain, he would say. Today, theoretical physicists attempt to make a "theory of everything", and particle physicists hope to make a particle accelerator so powerful that it can uncover a hidden "god particle". It could be that we are simply too stupid to "figure out the universe", but such a thing may not be beyond the knowing of an advance alien civilization.

    4)Can you tell us how to construct or design a new labor saving device?

    Machines are important, they make life easier for us. One of the greatest advances in human civilization, and one of my favorites, was the steam engine. It was our first true machine, and in some variation, from the car engine to the nuclear powerplant, the underlying concept of motion and work are still at work. I can only imagine what new machine has yet to invented, I would be surprised if they do not have a level of automation (robots perhaps) that make our assembly lines at car factories look like a stack of legos.

    5)What information can you give us about the universe?

    Is there anything that we should know about our system? Is a comet or an asteroid that we can't see about to collide with us? We can't observe most the universe, there are still mysterious things which we only have bywords for like dark energy and dark matter. If they know what they are, I would be curious to know what they are. We discover extrasolar planets all the time, I'm sure that they have discovered a fair share as well. I would love to pull one of their astronomy books (if they still have books) off the shelf to crack it open. I would love to hand copy one of their star charts or galactic manuals. Or, if they know anything about universes beyond ours, and have details about some kind of multiverse, I should very much like to know about that.

    6)Is there some kind of moral or ethical system which you can give us that can help us as a species be better to one another?

    This could a question that has an answer difficult to implement or execute. It's not like we have a shortage or codes of conduct and laws on Earth, the problem is getting everyone to comply or agree. It could be that we simply can't, but I often wonder if there's some kind of superior and unknown system underneath our noses waiting to be discovered. It could replace all laws and governments as we know them, making politicians as obsolete to a stellar culture as a village chieftain is to a modern one.

    7)Is there a way to find a permanent and renewable source of nutrition

    One day the world population may exceed the demands of food production. Millions may starve; of course food is merely a special arrangement of organic molecules. Any sufficiently advanced civilization may find it within their abilities to synthesize nutrients in an abundance to feed a thousand earths. This would solve the problem of hunger for now and for as long as we could maintain that technology.

    8)Is there a way to avoid death?

    This may be a selfish question, but again, not so farfetched for an advanced culture. We have only in the last few centuries made miraculous leaps in medicine, and have positively identified the cause of aging and death to within the nucleus of a cell. A way of neutralizing it may be beyond our capacity now, but well within realization for a species much older. This would make death a thing of the past, and no human would ever have to fear death again.

    9)What is the most efficient and expeditious way to travel between the planets?

    With the hope that the aliens have found some kind of shortcut or fast track through the cosmos such as space folding, wormholes, quantum teleportation, etc. What we do know is that light speed is the speed limit of the universe. However, the distance even to the nearest star is so far it would make space travel and exploration an enterprise taking centuries or a millennia to complete. We do know that theoretical physics has identified some backdoors and cracks in relativity, and even relativity itself may be tolerant to shortcuts in space travel. If these shortcuts exist, they must be exploited, such is the nature of exploitation. If such shortcuts exist, a space-traveling species no doubt uses some form of it, and such a technology could give us the freedom to explore the universe the way we have always dreamed.

    10)Is there anything that we should know?

    This is a catch-all, in case we can't think of something, or in case we forget something or leave something unasked, it may spur them to divulge something of use. It would be a shame if they ended up leaving our planet after a lengthy discussion, and come to find out centuries later that the reason why they didn't give us the answer to "life, the universe, and everything", is simply because we didn't ask. It's a clause, an amendment, if we should fail to ask the right thing, let this serve some function. Is may give them a pause worth considering, that this species called humanity is curious and deserves to know...X


    That is my list for now, it is anything but permanent, and anything but perfect,(whatever perfect means). If any of you have any inputs or criticisms, I am excited to hear them. This is, I think, nothing more than intellectual game play, but in the old tradition of Socratic reasoning, even by asking a question it can generate critical thinking by forcing us to think of a reasonable answer.

    Enjoy.
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I'm not sure I buy into this. Technology is not the only measure of advancement.

    What if two intelligent species warred throughout their history, and their rapid technological growth was solely due to a vicious arms race?

    What if a race developed spaceflight, then through war or natural disaster were made nearly extinct, and then the primitive race that later arose discovered the technology witout fully understanding it?

    What if a different technological foundation led to an early discovery of interstellar travel without ever having had to deal with overpopulation, intraspecies aggression, or war? They might bescientifically advanced but sociopolitically naive.

    What if the basic nature of their life is so different from us that some of these questions are meaningless to them? To a hive mind, there may be no concept of mortality, any more than individuality, or even what we know of as ethics (which develops from conflicts between prioritizations of values).
     
  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    To expand on Cogs sentiment, I think we would also have to ask what advanced means, and what is the epistemological meter stick that will be used.

    Is technology the only epistemology?

    What if, instead of being a tool using culture, they are a race of non-tool users still capable of contemplation? What if their advancement is spiritual? How would we measure that? What credence would we give this kind of advancement?

    Imagine that these creatures lives right here amongst us. I understand the theory and logic behind the concept of the encephalization quotient. I understand that the mere largeness of a brain is not directly indicative of intelligence, but I find the question pressing as to what a whale does with a brain that weighs thirty pounds. Am I to believe that there is no secondary synergistic effect to tall that grey matter?

    What if the greatest spiritual leaders swim within our own oceans?

    The reason I ask this is because it is not a question often asked. We think of these beings as huge and impressive, but we do not think of them as equal and yet they share a heritage with us. They evolved along with us. If we cannot note and give merit to our biological cousins, how would we notice advancement in something that comes from a system totally foreign to ours?
     
  4. bahloo
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    bahloo Member

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    Very interesting thread, I think that we could host a huge debate about this, even a poll! Thanks for the insight Jon!
     
  5. bahloo
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    bahloo Member

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    Wreybies, you either have already, or need to, see(n) the new documentary called "The Cove," (2009) where they talk about how Dolphins are the most intelligent animals next to the human.
    There is a small part there, where a scientist who has devoted his life to studying dolphins says something like, "It really is hilarious that we have spent all of our time with Dolphins teaching them how to understand hand signals to perform simple tricks. I really believe that if we had attempted to learn their system of language instead, we could be having conversations about religion, culture or anything. Everyone is so concerned about finding an alien culture, when we could be dealing with something very much like that here on Earth."

    I really suggest you check it out!
     
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I would personally modify this question and ask how would they make this dynamic fit into their paradigm.

    We as creatures already suffer from some mismatched traits:

    Intelligence VS hierarchal nature VS the capacity to give credence to epistemologies that do not answer to reason... etc.

    If a race is able to "invent" immortality, how is that invention made to fit into the kind of creatures they are?

    Assuming they weren't evolved to be immortal, it came as a discovery, then no part of their preceding evolution is going to be prepared or adapted to this vastly different way of being.

    If they made it happen, how did they make it fit who and what they are?
     
  7. jonathan hernandez13
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    jonathan hernandez13 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Wow, I'm enjoying the brainstorm guys; I'm gonna keep out of it for now because I just want to see how the ideas develop and your takes on them.

    Can anyone think of questions they would like to ask aliens that I didn't list? They may never come back again after this visit, the galaxy is pretty big.:redface:
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Suppose even asking them these questions cause them to decide we are dangerously primitive, and must be contained at all costs. In the words of the Q, "a dangerous child race."

    We may be defined by the questions we ask, don't you think?
     
  9. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd ask them why they revealed their presence. They'd have no more clue of the existence of powerful races than we do. It would be a rather remarkable decision.

    We could always show them Avatar.
     
  10. jonathan hernandez13
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    jonathan hernandez13 Contributing Member Contributor

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    As the wise Popeye once said "I am what I am"

    If we are a primitve species in their eyes, then so be it, we shouldn't have to feel apologetic about it. Compared to a trilobite after all:rolleyes:

    I'm actually very proud of being a human, and just think how far we've come, even granted our hubris, there's something to us I think admirable and noble.

    As far as aliens go I think Q shouldn't point any fingers, he's petty and fickle and above all vindictive against humanity beacse he's secretly jealous.


    I think that intelligence, by whatever caliber, especially of the caliber to split atoms, is worth some regard, even if in passing.
     
  11. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's also no reason to think that aliens are more technologically aware than we are. That's certainly possible, but it's equally possible that we are more technologically aware than them - we just don't know, having never encountered an alien race (at least, not without knowing about an encounter with an alien race).

    Considering we are super-predators and could whatever we wanted with the surface of this planet, and choose not to do so, implies that we are far from the barbaric beasts that we sometimes see ourselves as. Our true compassion is revealed in that we haven't wiped out our own species in nuclear war, when we see ourselves as oppressors.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    So you conclude we are compassionate predators (so far, as we have not YET wiped ourselves out)?

    If we do slip up and annihilate ourselves, does that mean our basic nature has suddenly slipped, and our compassion vanished?

    Then again, you begin with the assumption that we are super-preditors. I find that assumption presumptuous.
     
  13. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    The most successful predators, certainly, and one which often chooses not to eat other animals on moral or ethical grounds. If another animal could understand its actions on the same level as humans, maybe they'd make the same choice, but I doubt it.
     
  14. Gigi_GNR
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    Gigi_GNR Guys, come on. WAFFLE-O. Contributor

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    I think (and blame Kurt Vonnegut) that any alien species is like the Tralfamadorians, so I would ask them questions about time, how they see it. Tralfamadorian questions.
     
  15. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Moral systems already exist which should, if followed to the letter, give us blissfull lives.

    We don't follow them.

    In a similar mode to my last post, I think the question is how.

    Given our past evolutionary history, our heritage so to speak, how do we take an ethical system created by the very newest part of our brain and get the very oldest part of our brain to comply?

    I think the answer will be much more complex than would seem. I think, beyond the obvious biological/instinctual paradigmatic question, the capacity to adhere to an ethical system that would bring the greatest good to the greatest number of people would require a dismantling of many, many other systems that would seem unrelated to questions of ethics or morals.

    My personal bet is economics.

    A paradigmatic shift in economics is the starting point.

    Economics is a facet of mathematics, and only mathematics is universal.

    People who feel they have nothing in common, not language, not religion, not moral codes, all buy, sell, and trade from each other every single day.

    Economics trumps every other card. Always, in every case.
     
  16. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Again: economics

    The planet itself is a self renewing food source. A perfect closed system. What is imperfect is us. Our imperfection lies in our inability to accept certain economic truths. When energy is hoarded out of a system in the form of money or in terms of items that cannot be easily liquidated back into energy, then a portion of the principle investment is lost from the system. It is never truly lost because nothing can be destroyed, only changed, but for the purposes of the system it is lost because it no longer participates in the transaction. Like matter down a black hole. It's still there but since nothing can be known about it, it is for all intents and purposes gone.

    So the question is, how do we overcome this tendency to hoard? How do we create a species frame of mind that gives importance to the unimpeded circular flow of the system?
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Actually, the planet is not a closed system. Energy enters the system in the form (primarily) of electromagnetic energy, mostly from the sun, and also loses energy as blackbody radiation.
     
  18. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Well, still....:rolleyes:
     
  19. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Most of our energy is solar - either directly or through photosynthsis and food chains. The only exceptions are geothermal and nuclear energy.
     
  20. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    But our current economic model determines that not all of this energy is used or currently useful for humans. It must first be made use of by plants which are the intake of solar energy into the biomass.

    Not all areas of the planet and not all plant life is currently suitable for a transfer of this energy directly to our needs.

    The remaining areas and suitable vehicles for energy intake are then subject to economic forces.
     
  21. SonnehLee
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    SonnehLee Contributing Member Contributor

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    What about that Amazonian tribe that has no concept of numbers?
     
  22. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Ecomics doesn't need numbers.

    "Hey, I'll give you some casava if you hook me up with your sister"

    ^ Economics. :cool:
     
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  23. Halcyon
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    It's going off at a slight tangent, but I had always wondered why we hadn't sent any probes into space with the deliberate aim of guiding them to neighbouring stars, even although the journey would take centuries, just in case there are inhabited planets in our vicinity.

    Then a NASA rocket scientist explained that it's due to something called the "incessant obsolescence postulate" which states that no matter what probe is sent now, a more modern probe will pass it in the future and reach the destination sooner!

    Which suggests that until we've advanced to a point where we are confident that our technology can't be improved upon, we'll never do it. Which is self-defeating! :)
     
  24. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    No, the incessant obsolescence postulate is only part of the issue. The other part of it is that the required expenditure is too high for any reasonably expected return, especially given the lengthy time required to get any return data.

    Even returning data over such distances is technically not very feasible. Even our most powerful earth-based transmissions would be difficult to receive over those distances.

    Moreover, the instrumentation we could send over that distances is unlikely to give us any new information over that time span. What use would information from Civil War era instrumentation be to us now if we could get it?
     
  25. Halcyon
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    Halcyon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh, Cogito, I am sooo gonna find that elusive subject that you don't know more than me about! ;)
     

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