Biology Magazine

Xenophobia: A Discussion on the Evolution of Sentient Species in the Universe (part 1)

By Mesapiens

Abstract: The fear of an invasion from an advanced alien civilization is increasingly prevalent in human society. The current paper is a discussion on the motivations for this irrational fear considered to stem from the deficient vantage point from which the subject is analyzed by the human mind. It will be shown that contrary to popular culture, species in the universe must follow an inevitable course towards an absolute peaceful society and that such attitude must be true across the universe without exception, which leads into the argumentation of an as of yet poorly explored explanation for the Fermi paradox called the Cosmic Quarantine Hypothesis. Furthermore, the discussion explores the convergence of the definition of “kin” towards compatibility between behavior and attitude rather than physiological compatibility which is argued to be transitory. The universal convergence of behavior towards peacefulness and that of kin towards behavior, give rise to a universal super-species and as such concepts like racial interest, invasion or xenophobia completely loose their significance.

1 ∘ Introduction

There has always been a balance in our society between curiosity towards strange new things and the fear of what they might bring. It shouldn’t be surprising. Every species on Earth, without exception, survived because of a natural instinct to doubt what is unknown and this includes us, humans, too. We live in a wild world: the dangers of natural phenomena, landscape, predators, diseases, chemicals are all around us and failure to recognize them may have a disastrous outcome.

But humans are special creatures. Besides natural instincts which we inherited from our ancient predecessors, we have what we like to call imagination. While alone in the wild, a touch of paranoia, might mean the difference between life and death, in the safety of the modern society, where imminent danger is not a real concern any more, this imagination runs amok, making up all kinds of possible dangers, no matter how unlikely they may be.

2 ∘ Xenophobia

In a world connected as ours, with an incredible amount of knowledge about pretty much everything that surrounds us, much more than necessary for survival alone, our fears are pushed out and accumulate on the fringes of knowledge, at the sites where unanswered questions still exist. This tendency did not start today. Structured societies like villages, castles, cities, have eliminated immediate danger a long time ago and ever since, irrational phobias took its place. Diseases were brought about by witches and demonic creatures that supposedly existed just beyond what we could see. When ships started to roam the oceans there were mermaids and giant squids that lurked in the farthest corners and kidnapped sailors or entire ships. So strong was the fear of the unknown that it often escalated into mass hysteria and drove people to do unthinkable things. Senseless practices, like burning women at the stake or killing the dead, again, by driving sticks through their chests were routine actions in those times.

With time, horizons expanded but fears remained, they were just moved to different areas. The mermaids of today are apocalyptic visions brought on by rogue planets, gamma ray bursts, pole inversions, black holes, economic collapses, nuclear holocausts, worldwide pandemics, and many, many others, all of them rooted in our limitations in understanding.

An interesting pattern can be observed in all those phobias that existed throughout history, including those of today. The biggest most terrifying ones are usually associated with some intelligent entities: gods, demons, titans, witches and today, aliens. A possible reason why these harbingers of doom are so feared is because they are agents of free will. Having superior power and not having to obey the rules, they have the ability deliver unexpected events, usually bad in nature. True enough, in spite of all the knowledge, powerful, intelligent villains still exist in our collective culture and on occasion, not even the most brilliant of minds can escape the haunting prospect of some super power bringing about the end of the human civilization (Discovery Channel, 2012).

We may no longer be spooked by witches and mermaids but our fear of aliens, entities from other planets, is proportionally higher. Massive amounts of people report sightings or abductions without any proof for the existence of such things, not to mention conspiracy theories involving different species of alien civilization that live among us, set on world domination and the extinction or enslavement of the human race. The sheer preoccupation with the subject and the magnitude that it takes, affecting pretty much all areas of our lives from the everyday to politics, art, military and even the scientific circles stands proof of how deep this fear really is.

Xenophobia, the fear of the strange, intangible unknown, is probably unique to our species on planet Earth since it has not one but at least two roots, one of which, imagination, we think is unique to us. But this, imagination, is inevitably taking inspiration from past and present events, carefully selecting the worst, most shocking of them in order to compile ever more horrific possible outcomes, but without too many basis to support it other than circumstantial evidence and examples form this past.

2.1 ∘ Invasion?

The irrationality of the explanations that stand behind this phobia is undoubtedly stemming from the context rift that we don’t take into consideration when we apply our past and present behavior, living conditions and mindset to a, by definition, much more advanced civilization.

Of course this is a natural process. Fear is a deep instinct, designed to trigger immediate action rather than a deep philosophical analyses of the imminent situation. This is why it is important to spend some time and rationally think about these things that spawn so much fear with a clear head and a touch of open-mindedness.

2.2 ∘ Natural resource Motivation

Our entire world revolves around the land we think we own, the resources that we extract from it, the production of food and energy, our little skirmishes and the economy that stands behind all this. Naturally, in our imagination, an invasion of an extraterrestrial civilization could only target these things, but how likely is that? Applying simple common sense to some information based on science will quickly lead us to the conclusion that it is not very likely.

Compared to outer space, our planet, is a very poor and expensive pool of natural resources. First of all, it is quite large, having considerable gravitational attraction and making it energy intensive to carry goods into space, especially when higher quality goods can already be found in space in enormous quantities. Many asteroids are made of pure metal, whereas metal on a chemically active planet like Earth is locked in various compounds and needs extra technological processes to be extracted. In fact so much of these metals are out there that a single large asteroid contains as much of it as we have extracted from Earth throughout our existence. Gold, platinum (Lewis, 1997), radioactive material, the strongest diamonds, are all so plentiful in space that it would revolutionize our entire industry if we could only mine our nearest cosmic backyard. Not to mention, there are materials in space like Helium-3, that are extremely rare on Earth. Coming down to Earth for minerals is simply not worth it.

There is also the fact that we are quite close to our star. Once descended into its gravitational well a cargo ship must spend an enormous amount of energy to escape it, so why would they even come close when the Kuiper belt and the Oort Cloud are full of leftover elements from the formation of the sun, including water too (the mainstream scientific consensus is that water on earth was brought by comets). There is simply no reason to come near Earth with this motivation alone.

In fact it is logical to conclude that their close cosmic region will contain just as much leftover material and if they completely exhaust that and do have the technological capability to travel thousands of light years to acquire them they would probably go closer to the center of the galaxy where cosmic bodies are packed much tighter so that resources would be more accessible with less travel. Earth is 75 thousand Ly away from the galactic center and the density of stars in its vicinity is 0.2 stars per cubic parsec. By comparison near the center of the galaxy the density is 10 million stars per cubic parsec (Ryden, 2003).

2.3 ∘ The “Us” Motivation

In a recently made science show, “Alien Invasion”, by National Geographic Channel, the producers eloquently observed the faultiness of the “natural resources” motivation so they proposed another long standing fear which involves us, humans, and other living things on the planet. After all, they reasoned, if life is rare but resources plentiful, it is only reasonable to conclude that aliens would come here to harvest life itself, in the form of biomass.

Our present technological development, which is nowhere near that of what one would assume a space faring civilization would have, allows us to artificially produce biomass in great quantities. The energy needed to travel between stars would simply be astronomically larger than producing any kind of biomass, be that for food, or for any other reason. All bacteria need is raw nutrients and light and would potentially reproduce indefinitely at a very high rate and very efficiently. The conversion of energy and nutrients to body mass is much higher in bacteria than any other complex organism which needs to spend energy for other process as well.

Harvesting us, is simply not a plausible solution, no matter how special this would make us feel.

2.4 ∘ Motivation of a new home

If natural resources or biomass are not an issue, then perhaps the prospect of a new home for a dying current one would be enough motivation for an alien race to invade Earth. Star systems inevitably die and if life supporting planets are rare it is plausible that some race would reach Earth with such a motive.

However, when we think of this we imagine these aliens coming on their last breath and with the immediate need to settle down, which would compel them to engage in battle with an existing intelligent civilization for their homeland. This, however is an extremely risky move for a civilization that finds itself on the brink of extinction, where the loss of any individual puts the survivability of the species at risk.

It is much more reasonable to assume, that even if they are running away from a doomed planet, they would have a solid escape strategy where they scout ahead for uninhabited planets, or planets without intelligent civilizations, which would not endanger their existence during their settling process.

Even if they would somehow end up here, under some wicked circumstance like, insufficient fuel, or failing to notice our existence, it is much more reasonable to suppose that they would have resources at their disposal and technology that allows them to cannibalize their equipment and settle down on a nearby planet or a moon and engage in some sort of relationship with the human civilization. The technology that keeps a large population safe in the interstellar space for long periods of time should be adequate to provide a stable, self sustaining environment for that.

But even if settling on our planet would be imminent, it is still much more reasonable to conclude that they may try to bargain a treaty rather then engage us in open battle. Battle is simply a solution that they could not afford, no matter how technologically advanced they may be. A war like this could bring on massive casualties to both parties, in relative terms. On one side there would be a technologically superior species but with a hard limit in population number and on the other side would be a technologically inferior species, but which has the advantage of home land and an enormous superiority in number. The risk of loosing some of their individuals, the risk of not being able to achieve complete extinction of the local population and be faced with a guerrilla war, the risk of damaging the planet in the process are simply too great to even consider war. They would be in a really good position to negotiate and they would know it. They could trade technology for a place on Earth and humans would be happy and smart to accept it. Peace is simply infinitely more profitable than war for both parties.

2.5 ∘ Are they out there anyway?

The answer to this question is generally accepted to be unknown. In space, things are so far away that current technology is simply not adequate for directly spotting anything out there that is smaller than a star (Chauvin, 2004), so science has to rely a lot on extrapolation and estimation. Partial data based on observations combined with statistical analysis, hint very strongly towards a yes. Scientists seem to agree, with various degrees of conviction, that life does exist out there, some even consider it to be abundant (Steiger, White, 1986) (Filkin, Hawking, 1998).

Science, does not combine well with coincidences and exceptions and the biggest one of these exceptions is planet Earth and the living proof of the existence of an intelligent species in an unimportant corner of the universe (Peacock, 1998). This alone is enough to require the existence of some laws of nature, responsible with the formation of intelligent life, although no such theory exist yet. Nature made life on Earth, so it must have a process for it, fluke is just not a scientifically sound motivation. No less important are circumstantial evidences and coincidences that nature abundantly shows us, known collectively as the anthropic principle, which states that the entire universe seems finely tuned for humans to exist and observe it (Barrow, Tipler, 1988).

One such intriguing coincidence is that Carbon ( C ), the building block of life on Earth, is not only capable of forming complex molecular chains, but readily do it wherever possible. Space missions found amino acids, the building blocks of proteins and life itself in meteorites (GLAVIN, 2009) and comet debris. Life seems to want to form, and while scientist have not yet found the process of inception, all research seem to point to this, including the fact that on Earth, life formed almost as soon as conditions were acceptable for it to do so. Around 4.1 billion years ago the crust solidified and so oceans were able to form. The formation of the earliest life is put as early as 3.8 billion years ago, only 300 million years after the world transformed from a molten ball of rock into a cooler, but still very hot rocky planet. Life however might have even formed earlier but the evidence does not exist, because no rocks have been found that are older than 3.8 billion years (Bjornerud, 2006) (Woese, 1999). The recycling mechanism erased all evidence of it, if it ever existed. Still, 300 million years is a very short period of time for something as complex as life to develop out of nothing.

Combined with the staggering number of stars in the visible universe and the age of the universe itself, the non existence of life is statistically not plausible. Given the approximate age of 12 billion years with first galaxies formed roughly 11 billion years ago, if life took only 300 million years to form on Earth and some four billion years to develop into intelligent life, the implications are staggering. There may be civilizations out there that don’t celebrate the turn of the year 2013 but rather that of the year 7 billion.

2.6 ∘ The Fermi Paradox

For the sake of the argument, let’s just consider the most plausible of the answers: that alien civilizations do exist, some are intelligent and some others are sufficiently intelligent to roam the universe. But if so, where is everybody?

The question known as the Fermi Paradox was formulated by the famous physicist Enrico Fermi and later analyzed by Michael H. Hart and it’s based on the probability of the existence of colonizing alien civilization. Given the age of the universe, it has been calculated, that even if one starts out with a single colonizing civilization, by today, the universe should be filled with them, yet we observe none.

There are many possible explanations proposed by scientists, that would explain the silence we observe in the universe, to name just a few (Webb, 2002):

  • no other civilizations have arisen: Earth is unique, a freak of nature. Intelligent life is so unlikely to form that we are truly alone. The principles that contradict this model are the ones discussed in 2.5
  • natural disasters destroy intelligence: in this scenario natural disasters like mega quakes, asteroids, gamma ray bursts or other similar extinction level events are frequent enough to be able to destroy developing intelligent civilizations before they reach space travel capability
  • intelligent life eventually destroys itself: the doomsday argument states that all civilizations inevitably destroy or regress themselves shortly before developing interstellar travel, and as such they are incapable to spread dying out eventually together with their star.
  • intelligent life is prone to destroy others: advanced alien civilization would eliminate competition and as such only civilizations that do not advertise their presence survive.

The Zoo hypothesis (Ball, 1973), considered among the most plausible ones, states that advanced civilizations maintain a certain level of isolation around less developed species in order to allow them to develop on their own for various reasons.

The main anti argument for the zoo hypothesis is that it only takes one civilization to disrespect the rule and the entire system can fall. The larger the number of civilizations out there, the likelier it is that one or some of them will break the rule. A possible escape from this conundrum might be the influence of a particular distinguished civilization, the first civilization, which might have a head start of millions or even billions of years. The technological advancements of such species would allow it to be influential enough to impose its view and rules on all other species emerging later in the history of the universe.

The zoo hypothesis has a slightly misleading connotations in which the advanced species would keep the less developed ones confined for entertainment. It is also less restrictive in terms of escapees from under confinement (zoo) conditions because zoo animals are mostly benign in nature. Granted, some animals can be dangerous to a few individuals on the outside in case they break loose, but their action is still highly localized and as such there is little emphasis on containment. It will be shown in the following that due to the enormous implications of a containment breach, the rules that govern the maintaining of the isolation status are in fact much, much stricter and as such a more correct term would be “quarantine hypothesis” (Soter, 2005).

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