MONOLOGUE WRITTEN BY CLYDE LEWIS
I don’t know about you, but my weekends have been pretty much boring. There is nothing really to do. Things are shut down, bars are not open. Social gatherings are a no-no and you have to keep an eye out for violent demonstrations.
So the forced alternative is to watch Netflix and chill—watch Amazon Prime and chill, watch Disney and Chill. I have watched a mountain of shows… I have even gone back and re-watched shows.
Late night Saturday, I decided to watch a marathon of old Twilight Zone reruns.
I wanted to just watch some of my favorite ones – like “Time at Last” with Burgess Meredith—“The Monsters are due on Maple Street” and of course “To Serve Man”
I think out of all three “To Serve Man” is one of those episodes that allows for everyone to give away the spoiler. Everyone will tell you “it’s a cook book!.” That is right up there with Kevin McCarthy screaming “They are here already, you’re next” from Invasion of the Body snatchers or Charlton Heston warning people “Soylent Green is people!”
Big spoilers to films that everyone gets away with telling.
But if you will permit me – I want to remind you of Rod Serling’s opening monologue in “To Serve Man:”
“Respectfully submitted for your perusal – a Kanamit. Height: a little over nine feet. Weight: in the neighborhood of three hundred and fifty pounds. Origin: unknown. Motives? Therein hangs the tale, for in just a moment, we’re going to ask you to shake hands, figuratively, with a Christopher Columbus from another galaxy and another time. This is the Twilight Zone.”
It kind of reminded me of that quote form Stephen Hawking when he said:
“When we made contact with any aliens it would probably be like when the Native Americans first met Christopher Columbus. And, in that case, things “didn’t turn out so well” for the people being visited.”
The Twilight Zone episode raises questions about the dangers of potential contact with extraterrestrials and our capacity to understand their motivations. The phrase “To Serve Man” can be read two ways: to provide service to humanity, or how to serve him with stuffing and potatoes and gravy.
Both of course are outrageous fiction but as I have reported this year – whoever is running the narrative, whatever is going on behind the scenes, there seems to be this rush to acclimate us to the arrival of alien beings, the discovery of extraterrestrial life forms or first contact.
About four months ago, in December 2019, the interstellar object known as Borisov made its closest approach to our sun. After its initial discovery by Crimean amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov in August 2019, astronomers raced to observe the object—only the second known visitor from another star since Oumuamua showed up in 2017—before it drifted out of view. Well known scientist Avi Leob and Stephen Hawking believes that we missed our opportunity for first contact with Oumuamua — as both were wildly speculating that what we were observing was an interstellar space ship that had been traveling for hundreds of thousands in not millions of years.
When Borisov made it’s approach scientists believed that there would be more of these objects –and in October of 2019 a peer reviewed paper from American physicist James Benford suggested that perhaps both Oumuamua and Borsiov could be what are called Sentinels or Bracewell probes. Bracwell probes are important as they are hypothetical lurkers that may have been covertly surveilling us from space for millions of years – since before we even existed, perhaps.
In 1960, Stanford radio physicist Ronald Bracewell first suggested the idea that “superior galactic communities” could disperse autonomous interstellar probes as “hypothetical feelers” throughout space in order to observe, monitor, and maybe even communicate with other life-forms, including those on Earth.
But while this decades-old concept of Bracewell probes has been explored in subsequent research and embraced by science fiction – most notably as the eerie monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey – there’s never been any evidence for the existence of such sentinels observing us and waiting for the right moment to make contact.
Now, let’s make a hypothetical scenario that could very well happen in our lifetime.
A remote radio telescope detects a repeating signal from am interstellar object similar to Borisov or Oumuamua.
In the next few days, other radio telescopes repeat and confirm the observation.
The signal has a high information content that cannot be produced by any known natural process. With much excitement and cautious wringing of hands, scientists conclude that the signal is evidence of an intelligence elsewhere in the universe.
Amid the global exhilaration, confusion and concern, key questions emerge about the role of scientists and politicians, the nature of the advice they give and who should be involved in deciding how to reply.
There is little in the way of precedent to guide humanity.
Here lies the problem and what is most interesting is that recent articles found in Astronomy Magazine, Rolling Stone, and Scientific American are now entertaining the idea that contact or even alien disclosure is something that we must address now. The articles give one the feeling that we are on the verge of a major disclosure about our place in the cosmos and whether or not we are alone in the Universe.
In fact, it is the opinion of the writers of these articles that COVID-19 has already been a dry run for alien disclosure.
Peter Hatfield and Leah Trueblood from the University of Oxford say that our experience with the COVID-19 pandemic is preparing us, at least in some ways, for First Contact.
The researchers point out that the pandemic has many similarities to a First Contact event, particularly with regard to the involvement of scientists, the scrutiny they undergo and their interaction with politicians. Of course, there are many differences too, but the researchers say this unexpected opportunity can help to develop plans for handling a First Contact in future.
Hatfield and Trueblood begin by studying a variety of previous efforts to create messages for an extraterrestrial audience. Some of these were far from democratic or inclusive. One early example was the messages carried out of the Solar System by NASA’s Pioneer spacecraft in the 1970s. These took the form of plaques attached to the spacecraft. “[These] were essentially developed just by Carl Sagan, Frank Drake and Linda Salzman Sagan over three weeks,” say Hatfield and Trueblood.
Some later messages have been more inclusive. In 2008, a message broadcast towards Gliese 581c, an exoplanet thought capable of hosting life, consisted of photos, drawings and text messages gathered by a social media website. In 2016, the European Space Agency broadcast 3775 messages from people all over the world, towards the Pole Star.
But these have all been speculative efforts. A reply to a message unambiguously from another civilization would garner much greater global attention.
If the message was detected and there was no doubt it was from an alien civilization who would be better suited to reveal the truth about alien contact? Who would be better suited to respond to the aliens?
Who would be better to serve the aliens?
Hatfield and Trueblood surveyed a representative sample of people in the UK. They used a polling agency to ask 2000 people the following question with 5 choices of answer.
“Imagine a scenario in which scientists receive an unambiguous message from extraterrestrials (alien life forms) on a distant planet. Of the following options, which would be your preference in terms of how humanity’s response to this message should be determined?
1. Team of scientists … 39%
2. By elected representatives … 15%
3. By a planet-wide referendum … 11%
4. By a citizens’ assembly of randomly selected adults … 11%
5. Don’t know … 23%
The results suggest a preference for a science-led response, at least in the UK. And that raises questions about how such a response might work and how it would be received by the public. That’s why Hatfield and Trueblood say there are lessons to be learnt from the current pandemic.
The researchers say that both situations are fundamentally scientific in nature, both have significant social, economic and political impact, both affect every human on Earth and both are “external” threats that put humans on the same side, in contrast to a world war, for example.
Scientists have played a key role in the response to COVID-19 but have generally played second fiddle to politicians. Perhaps a First Contact event would pan out in the same way.
The alternative, that scientists take lead, was an option for COVID-19. “Politicians could have at the start of the crisis completely passed over judgement about when lockdowns would be imposed and raised to an independent body,” say the researchers. But how this might have worked is hard to imagine.
Even in their advisory roles, the scientists involved have been subjected to an unprecedented level of scrutiny. The researchers also point out that while some scientists were acting as advisors to government, others were setting up alternative sources of advice, often in conflict with official recommendations.
This has forced the public to confront the uncomfortable reality that scientists do not always agree and can even be in conflict. When this happens, science can become dangerously politicized.
It’s not hard to think that a similar set of circumstances will emerge during a First Contact event. And that raises questions about the feasibility of a science-led response.
The world response to what is literally a previously unknown invisible enemy that is alien to the body — is in many ways like an alien contact.
COVID-19 we know is an entirely terrestrial problem, one that we assume has nothing to do with space, and yet consider that even as the virus rages, NASA continues to launch probes to MARS that will look for microbial life and gather up some rock and soil samples, which will be brought back to Earth—potentially containing that microbial life—on a later mission.
Now how is this going to work out –and what if there are life forms in the soil that cross contaminate the planet?
On the one hand, there is almost no likelihood of any risk of contagion. As a column in Space.com pointed out last week, NASA has a long history of working to protect the Earth from biohazards from other planets and to protect other planets from biohazards from Earth. The space agency even has an entire division dedicated to that goal, formally known as the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance (OSMA), but more commonly and descriptively known as the Planetary Protection Office.
As OSMA puts it, its mission is to “carefully control forward contamination of other worlds by organisms and organic materials carried by spacecraft” and to “rigorously preclude backward contamination of Earth by extraterrestrial life.” If you have any question about which of those mission statements is the more important one, just consider the difference between a promise to “carefully control” something and to “rigorously preclude” it.
NASA’s most extensive experience with the risk of backward contamination was during the Apollo era when both lunar samples and humans who had been on the moon came back to Earth. For the first three landings, no sooner had the crewmen opened their hatch after splashdown than frogmen handed them biohazard suits to wear for their trip back to the Naval recovery ship. From there they were flown to Houston, where they were kept in three weeks of isolation. The crews were—as might be expected after having visited an airless, waterless world, carrying no lunar pathogens at all, and the quarantine procedure was dropped for the last three lunar missions.
Mars will be a very different matter, because Mars, which was once awash with water, might once have been fairly churning with life too—and some of it may well linger in spots in which the water endures. As the Space.com piece points out, it is possible that Earthly life and potential Martian life are even related: Meteorites from Mars that struck Earth billions of years ago could well have harbored microorganisms that survived the journey within water-bearing pockets in the rocks, giving rise to life here. If that’s the case, not only have we found Martians, we are Martians. But any relationship between current Earthly and Martian life could increase the risk that Martian microbes find us hospitable hosts.
The odds of finding life on Mars are unknown and unknowable. The odds of being able to scoop it up and bring it back to Earth intact add a further degree of uncertainty. And the risk of a pathogen escaping and a pandemic ensuing, while not impossible, feels far more the stuff of a screenplay than a journal paper.
Still, the risk exists. Even in Level 4 labs—the strictest kind of bio-containment facilities—there is always a non-zero chance that something could escape. So, imagine it did and people did become infected. Put aside for a moment the impact on their health, would they not merely be racialized but extraterrestrialized, as somehow not even fully human anymore?
The search for life on other worlds is a manifestation of our consuming interest in other living things and in some ways our love of other living things.
But we all have our views of where life comes from and who is responsible for it –and this is where the God equation comes in to play.
Religions believe that God is the creator of all things in the Universe. However, when it comes to extra-terrestrial intelligence some religious denominations become androcentric.
They create stories that eliminate extraterrestrial life out of the equation – many say that it is a deception of the devil.
To them God is the creator of all living on earth –all else is not of God. There is a religious group that turns to Genesis 6 in the bible and states that right there in black and white is the history of mankind’s encounter with fallen angels who came down from heaven to have sexual intercourse with women.
Professor Tom Meyer at Shasta Bible College and Graduate School in California recently commented that this portion of the bible has been misinterpreted and often used as proof that extraterrestrial life is connected to Lucifer or even Satan himself.
What he has to say is very controversial to Christians who believe that the offspring of this union are the aliens of today.
He states that “Genesis chapter six is one of the few passages in the Bible that describes what the world was like before the flood of Noah.
“Of the different groups of people mentioned in the pre-flood world, none are as misunderstood as the Sons of God and the Nephilim or Giants.
“Contrary to popular belief ‘the sons of God’ were probably not evil, fallen angels who possessed the bodies of men and had an unnatural union with ‘the daughters of men’ resulting in a line of half-breed creatures called the Giants or Nephilim.
“There is no evidence whatsoever in the book of Genesis – or any other book of the Bible for that matter – that evil angels possessed the bodies of men and had intercourse with women to sire a line of hybrids.”
Similarly, Professor Meyer said there is no mention in the Bible of the serpent in the Garden of Eden being Satan.
There are, however, mentions in the Bible of angels who have violated “their limits of authority”.
The Epistle of Jude, for instance, teaches of angelic offenders that are restrained with eternal chains until the day of judgement.
Professor Meyer believes “the sons of Gods” may have been the leaders of the Sethite family who were direct descendants of Adam.
What is most interesting is how Arthur C. Clarke pretty much predicted in his book “Childhood’s End” that when and if alien contact occurs – both religion and science would be at odds with what to do once the question is answered.
In his opinion, both science and religion would dissolve almost overnight.
He said no one would want to learn any more about basic science as the aliens in this case the Overlords would be a far more interesting pursuit. From the book Childhood’s End we read:
“Though few realized it as yet, the fall of religion had been paralleled by a decline in science. It seemed futile to spend a lifetime searching for secrets the Overlords had probably uncovered ages before.”
However the irony is in the great reveal as the Overlords have a familiar look to them and again one that would certainly make the “fallen angel” crowd say “see I told you so.”
But again the COVID-19 response that is happening today has a similar ring as science of healthcare has practically dissolved. You never hear about other maladies of sickness that plagues mankind. No mention of heart disease, no mention of the deaths due to flu or tuberculosis or hepatitis.
And as science desperately wants your attention. It has teamed up with politics in order to control the information and has attempted to kill one’s faith in God. The media has ridiculed those who believe that God will pull us through.
Just like they would if the aliens were to reveal themselves.
Again, our COVID-19 response would probably be eerily similar to our alien contact response.
However, there is one scenario that is never explored when positing the alien contact question and that is what if we just didn’t respond?
There is no guarantee that an alien civilization will be friendly; it could represent an existential threat to humanity. On the other hand, contact could bring huge cultural, economic and technological benefits to humanity.
But would we be better off not to answer the call from beyond?
First Contact will be a huge event for humankind, one that unifies humanity in some ways and divides it in others. Our response, and the way it is handled, will influence our future in ways that are hard to imagine.
Our experience with COVID-19 should help us plan.