The Price of Contact
...if there were any reason to believe that the builders of the flying saucers were indeed about to enter upon friendly relations with members of the human race, this prospect would not be in the least inspiring. It would be appalling. We would stand on the threshold of the greatest catastrophe in human history.
Even on our own planet, the contact of two human cultures of different levels always leads to the same result: the erosion and rapid death of the less advanced culture. This is true even where no hostility is involved, and is a basic law of sociology. Radio and television are destroying folklore; the village healer is gradually disappearing with the advance of medicine; old vehicles such as hay wains are disappearing before new ones such as trucks; old ideas give way to new ones. This is "progress" through competition, a constant feature of life of any kind, whether vegetable, animal, or intellectual.
Let us imagine what would happen if humanity were to come into contact with beings of a culture ten thousand years (one might just as reasonably say ten MILLION years) more advanced than our own. Even if these people, guided by a sublime moral code, abstained from doing all the things that we would do ourselves in a similar situation, it is still inevitable that all the springs of action, all the motivating forces of human progress in science, morals, and religion would disappear.
Certainly, a "conversation" with a being immensely more informed than we are about the secrets of nature would be thrilling at first. We can imagine his answering our scientific questions with a half-smile, as a father answers the naive inquiries of a child. But if the day should ever come when we know that the answers to all our questions can be had by merely asking, there will be an end to research, which is the lifeblood of science. Human science would be broken in spirit, drained of its vitality, and reduced to a quaint historical curiosity, like Archimedes's speculations on the number of drops of water in the sea, or Hipparchus's calculations on the planetary spheres. These things were admirable in their time, and still deserve our respect as examples of intellectual achievement, but they are dead now and will never be resurrected.
It should be clearly understood that I have no intention at all of saying that a superior science will prove the "falsity" of our own. Science always advances, and never retreats. The real trouble is that, to all appearances, it can advance INDEFINITELY. Every scientist knows, nowadays, that there is no FINAL discovery: there is always a deeper level, and each solution unveils a greater mystery. This unlimited potentiality is an inspiring thought if man's future is to be an isolated one, but it suggests frightening possibilities if our destiny is to include meetings with others from beyond the stars. One must foresee the possibility that we shall be confronted with science so far advanced beyond our own that the gap of understanding could not be bridged in a human lifetime; concepts so far above our capacity to grasp them that our greatest minds would stand before them helpless and bewildered. With a little optimism, one can imagine that humanity might be able to "catch up," at the price of a few centuries of effort. But it is a universally observed law in the evolution of life over the past three billion years, as well as in the history of the human race, that progress constantly accelerates. During the centuries of human apprenticeship, the science of the superior race would have evolved even more rapidly, so that at the end of that period its lead over ours would be greater than ever.
In the sphere of ethics, contact with a superior morality would be even more disastrous. We need not discuss the metaphysical bases of morality; it is sufficient to point out some indisputable biological and historical facts. With the passage of the thirty million centuries of terrestrial life, life-forms are constantly becoming more and more highly developed and of higher and higher mentality. This constant progress is brought about by a process of systematic selection, in which the weak are exterminated by the strong and the inferior by the superior. We disapprove of this extermination, yet we are here, with our ethics, only as a result of the continual extermination of the unfit ever since life began.
This law of paleontology continues to apply in human history. All the material, cultural, and technical progress of the ancients was won at the price of human slavery. All modern progress of democracy and liberty is marked by wars and revolutions. How might a superior morality intervene in this process of terrestrial life? It is undeniably true that one of the essential concomitants of progress, at present, is an ever more extensive control by human beings of all other forms of life. Can we feel assured that a superior ethics would approve of our daily transformation of millions of animals into hot dogs and suitcases, whole forests into the New York Times, and in general of the total contempt shown by man for all nonhuman life? At the present level of his technology, man is still totally and inescapably bound to the ancient law of life that sacrifices the weak to the progress of the strong. An infinite amount of suffering still lies between life on earth and its full moral development. If something, motivated by an ethical outlook as yet undeveloped on this planet, were suddenly to put a stop to our evil-doing, it could do so only by putting an end to humanity.
In religion, the sudden and total destruction of old ways of thought must be expected.
We have thus some conception of the chaos that would result from a genuine interplanetary contact. Yet we have considered only the least probably case: contact with beings more advanced than ourselves but on a similar line of development. In fact, this case is entirely too simple to be true: we must expect that reality would turn out to be even stranger.
Original file name: .CNI - Want Aliens to Land? 4.4
This file was converted with TextToHTML - (c) Logic n.v.