October 21, 2011 § Leave a comment
If the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) made contact with an alien race, society could react in various interesting ways. Three possible reactions are that earth would become more united as a community, science would focus much more on the protection of earth, and the feeling of humans as being ontologically privileged would change.
If the world was told that SETI had made contact with aliens of similar intelligence to our own, it is possible that the global community would become more united. While now, unfortunately, people may hold prejudices based on nationality or ethnicity, after interaction with an alien race, these prejudices would most likely be diminished. Just as someone may currently identify more with their nation than with their city, people might begin to think of themselves simply as earthlings. While I am certainly not advocating hostility as an immediate response to the discovery of an intelligent alien race, it would be unsurprising if, out of a feeling of self-defense, humans were untrusting of such aliens.
Another possible reaction would be a refocusing of science. After the discovery of an intelligent alien race, the development of weaponry to protect earth from a possible invasion would probably be strongly advocated by the general public. After all, we probably wouldn’t know whether or not our newfound neighbors are hostile or if they will attempt to conquer earth. Another reason for this possible refocusing of science would be a feeling that the aliens will be scientifically advanced and current research is unnecessary because the aliens may already know the answers to many of our scientific questions. Nevertheless, a scientist who loves his work would probably carry on despite this possibility.
Lastly, contact with intelligent aliens could cause a dramatic reformulating of humanity’s view of itself as an ontologically privileged life form. Currently, most people think of humans as having a greater intelligence and depth of consciousness than other known life forms. In a way, this makes humans seem special. The discovery of an alien race with intelligence similar to or greater than our own would almost necessarily eliminate this feeling of specialness that humans currently hold. How would this affect people? Would we simply conclude that we are but a subset of ontologically privileged life forms or would this feeling of ontological privilege dissipate altogether and be replaced by a feeling that depth of consciousness and intelligence exist on a gradation that happens to appear discontinuous on earth?
Then again, the aliens could have a very basic intelligence, in which case society would probably deem the discovery of alien life primarily an achievement of science rather than grounds for societal reevaluation.