So I’ve setup comments to email me when they are made. Just noticed that I had one (*gasp*) and hadn’t responded to it in three days. That first contact is one that we hunger for in both work and life. It helps us to gauge just where our place is in the grand scheme. For some, a very specific few, this first contact is not merely a future event but something that has already passed.
So I’m here to look at the question “Have we had first contact with alien life?” (or “Has the Earth been visited by Aliens?”) Note: I wrote this all in one go during Lunch, surprised it turned out ok.
Depending on where you live geographically this question will have more or less weight. Certainly it would appear that nearly all reported sightings are happening in the US. This could be for a number of reasons. The skeptic might say that this is because of culture. Alien sightings in the US almost always coincide with theatrical releases and the aliens people report seeing match those in the films.
It wasn’t until H.G. Wells created the little grey men that Americans started suddenly getting abducted by them. This isn’t to say that people are wrong. Perhaps there is a species of aliens that just happen to look exactly like the ones from science fiction and that each time we present them in film the relevant species shows up and starts probing people. But this brings up an additional problem I’ll cover as well.
If not cultural maybe it is a matter of land area? On a map it looks like the US is quite large. This has a lot to do with the distending nature of putting a 3D surface on a 2D plane. The US is roughly 9.83 million of the 148.3 million square kilometers of surface area above the oceans on Earth. It would seem unlikely that most aliens would only visit 6.62% of the surface of Earth.
Naturally this would assume that Aliens have visited all of the US but that too would be erroneous. Of the famous sightings listed 33 states were involved (which I admit sounds like a lot) but of those 33 states half of them have only ever been “visited” once. What I find more telling is that 62% of all sightings happen relatively close to a military base.
These are not necessarily alien sightings either. They are merely UFO sightings. Most people think of flying discs when they hear the term UFO, which again we can thank cinema and literature for. But in actuality a UFO is anything you cannot identify that is flying (Unidentified Flying Object). Technically if you saw a kite that you couldn’t identify as a kite (or anything you are familiar with) it would be a UFO.
Imagine then living near a military base where they are, nearly be definition, doing things you don’t know about. They are flying things you’ve never seen and likely doing it at hours that would obscure your observation. Would you expect people to see more UFOs in places like this? I certainly would and it appears that this is the case.
I haven’t done the research but I imagine globally UFO sightings are highest in countries with active militaries and high military budgets. The US happens to have (by far) the largest military budget and sees (by most accounts) an awful lot of UFO sightings. I don’t know what I’d think if I had seen a stealth bomber back before I knew what they were. It’s so unwieldy that it requires computers just to fly, all my knowledge of aviation would be thrown out the window seeing that mysterious black hunk soaring by.
So these then are my first three problems. Sightings appear to be heavily localized to the US. They appear to always follow the styles and themes of popular SciFi movies. They also appear to happen in states with large numbers of military bases. Remarkably New Mexico, with its ever famous Roswell, is not at the top of the list for sightings. Perhaps that might be too cliché.
The 6.62% of the world that makes up the United States isn’t the biggest hurdle to cross when we are discussing aliens. In fact I’ve already skipped something rather large: space itself. We have surrounding the Earth in all directions a sphere of radio waves expanding ever further at the speed of light. It began as nothing more than odd clicks in the late 1800’s and has been going ever since.
Within this bubble 124 light years in all directions our signals have, in some way or another, reached roughly 5 thousand stars and of those 5 thousand stars 2 thousand of them have been like our sun. If we assume that even a single percent (which is an extremely high estimate) of those planets have complicated life on them that’s 20 planets.
We must then assume that those 20 planets have also gone from having complicated life forms (like hamsters or pigeons) to having intelligent life. What sort of time range have they had to do this? Well the Earth is 4.55 billion years old.
Homo Sapiens have existed in our current state for about 250,000 years. 250,000/4,550,000,000 is (if I’m not mistaken) .005% of the entire history of the planet. Of that .005% we’ve only had radio waves for .05% which comes out to a grand total of .00025% of Earth’s history. To the best of our knowledge this is the kind of timeframe another species would be looking at to grow and thrive on their planet.
There is, as far as we can tell, nothing faster than light. We could argue that aliens have found that something but that is intellectually no better than merely saying “God did it.” And I’m not going to debate with or against anyone using that level of logic. Assuming we won’t pull the G card what does this mean for aliens finding us? First they need to have discovered our radio signal. So in the 4.55 billion years that it took us to evolve we are assuming that they too have already reached a point that they can discover radio signals. Basically we are arguing that their .05% matches up with our .05% (and further that their .005% matches up with ours in such a timeframe that our signals reach them at exactly the time they can perceive them).
The Earliest reported sighting listed on Wikipedia is 1908 or 1909. This means that we can only include stars within 19 light years of us. Further they must be half of that because the signal must have reached them and then they immediately launched a ship traveling at 99.9~% the speed of light to come to us. So now we are looking at 9.5 light years. There are 8 (I’ll even accept 9) star systems between here and 9.5 light years away that we are aware of.
Of those there is only 1 that has a star like our own (α Centauri A (HD 128620), if you were curious). In order for aliens to have reached us there would need to be life on a planet around that single star, of which none appear to have been yet found. It would have had to reach not only a state where it could receive radio signals but also have near light speed travel.
Imagine if you will a species of animal so advanced from us that they can travel at nearly the speed of light at this (or presumably before) space in time. There are no questions they would have for us. There would be nothing in our biology that surprises them. Furthermore there would be no way that we wouldn’t have seen them by now barring a G level trope.
Any species that advanced would be colonizing the Galaxy by now. We are so ridiculously close that they would most certainly have landed here and started making it with our men and women. Or more realistically they’d have colonized Mars and made a giant sign that says “LOL! You are still on your home planet. Nubz.”
But what of before our radio signals? This raises another problem. All those people reporting aliens before the rise of the radio have the problem of location. How were we found? There was no electricity to speak of. Candlelight is hardly strong enough to be seen from a solar system away. There is nothing particularly special about the makeup or composition of either Earth or the Sun. There is no reason any alien species would ever come here. Further there is likely no reason that they’d even see here to begin with.
There are hundreds of billions of stars in the Galaxy. If we assumed that only half of them even had a single planet that would make for 200 billion planets. The odds of aliens finding us is 1 in 200 billion and that number is so far removed from the reality of it (by many factors of ten, likely) that it borders on patronizing. We are insignificant, literally, there is so much out there that is not us that we are effectively non-existent.
To find humanity without radio signals is like finding a single grain of sand among all the beaches on the planet, likely a hundred thousand times over.
But alright, you might say. Let’s say we ignored the sheer monstrosity that is space. Let’s say we ignored the coincidences of military bases, cultural locations, and the peculiar connection with media. How do you explain the remarkable coincidences of people creating pyramids all over the world or of certain civilizations discovering advancements before others?
I’ve discussed this before and its one of those incredibly subtle forms of racism. A bit like saying someone “Gyped” you when they don’t pay you enough for a product or service. It becomes so innocuous that we don’t notice it when we do it.
To say that the Pyramids are a remarkable coincidence is an incredible abuse of nearly all words therein. There is a reason that you won’t catch physicists, scientists, or even archaeologists pining about how strange it is that people would build a Pyramid. It really comes down to basic geometry.
The simplest polygon in geometry is the triangle. Any fewer lines and it would no longer be a shape but instead a line. Similarly the simplest polyhedron (that I’m aware of) is the Pyramid. I often call it a prism but apparently that is not correct. Or at least from what I’ve read today, that is not correct.
I am more or less unwilling to believe that any civilization intelligent enough to build weapons, form societies, and cook food is too stupid to grasp the concept of a Pyramid. Be it a tetrahedron or the more popularly known square pyramid, these things are incredibly simple. Now one might ask just how did they build them then? Those things are absolutely massive! Well they weren’t always so.
The first Pyramids built in Egypt were quite small, square, and built in steps. Basically simple (and arguably boring) squarish tomes. Egyptians would go on to build over a hundred (and counting) more Pyramids. Over time they slowly became taller and taller as the methods they used to build them improved.
Egyptians didn’t poke at stones with a stick and grunt on a Friday and then build the Great Pyramids of Giza on Sunday. This was a long and methodical process that took lots of man power and time. It also pains me that I need to remind people this but we are not inherently smarter now than we were then.
If you’d like a little thought experiment to perhaps persuade you that such a belief is racist ponder this:
If you took an infant, a moment after birth, and somehow teleported that infant to modern day do you think that infant could not grasp modern knowledge to the same level as an infant born at that same moment now?
If your answer is “No” I would like for you to take time to explore the mechanisms for how this must be the case. Biologically you will come up short.
The same is true for all other societies that built Pyramids. They began small and worked up to the ones that are now quite famous. This was not some kind of miraculous discovery from an advanced civilization. What I find most remarkable is that people think anything capable of near light speed travel would make the simplest form of 3 dimensional geometry its calling card. Obviously we already knew what that shape was by the time they would have gotten here. Almost all ancient people had a fairly good understanding of shapes, they drew them all over the place.
But what then of technology? This is usually a Eurocentric rebuttal to skeptics of alien visitors. They point out a society that discovered something like surgery hundreds (or more) years from an arbitrary group of Europeans. Usually with the underlying point that those primitive peoples couldn’t grasp the human body.
Even here it requires that one make the ignorant statement and then cease thinking. (Which I am not impervious to either). Look towards the Central and South American people that discovered surgery at a very early period before Europeans. What were these people doing? These societies were very well versed in human sacrifice. That isn’t to say all, I’m merely talking about those that we have found Archaeological evidence for having amputated limps for people so that they might survive.
You would not sacrifice a dead person upon the altar, much like you wouldn’t burn a dead person at the stake. They needed to be live and their still fresh organs lit aflame (or whatever tradition was deemed necessary) while they died baring witness. Only then could you appease the gods for whatever outcome you desired.
Hundreds and thousands of these surgeries over thousands of years lead to a people who are very well versed in the human body. You can find the same truth in all societies. They are most well versed in the subjects that most well tie into their cultural practices.
The Holy Roman church likely had some of the best understanding of Human anatomy by the time the inquisition was in full swing. The creativity with which they tortured and murdered their victims was at a level I can barely fathom. They knew the best ways to create the maximum level of agony while not ending the life of their target. This kind of knowledge didn’t come to them from aliens, it came from practice and cultural coincidence.
The knowledge breened from the horrors of Nazi Germany are not often credited but much of modern healthcare has them to begrudgingly thank for doing experiments that could no longer be replicated. That isn’t to say I approve of any of it, they were monsters and what they did is beyond me in every sense of the word, but with that cultural choice came knowledge. Albeit bred from a dark and disgusting period of time.
Finally among these coincidences what then of little quirks like how these various cultures built archways or other things that couldn’t possible have come about by sheer chance?
I would agree that it likely was not sheer chance. I would argue that it came about because of those things we all share. The same eyes, same brain, same basic organ structure, the same planet, the same night and day cycle (for most cultures we are discussing), the same stars, the same gravity to overcome, and the list goes on and on. There are dozens of world changing inventions that came about at nearly the same time in multiple places. The telescope being one of my favorite. Nobody ever attributes the telescope being discovered by people who never met at nearly the same time because those people were European. We just attribute it to coincidence even though it is far more unlikely than two different people stacking stones in a similar fashion.
To really push this point home consider the eye. The eye has been evolved in multiple places in the world completely separate of one another. The eye is not something that we can trace back to a single global ancestor. I would love (or perhaps loathe) to meet a person who would argue that the likelihood that two different ancient people’s would discover tetrahedrons is more unlikely (or that tetrahedrons themselves are more rare and complicated) than the eye springing up uniquely all over the world.
Why did the eye evolve independently in so many different places? Because all organisms share similarities. The eye evolved independently for most of the same fundamental reasons that these other “coincidences” occurred. These things are mathematically so much more likely than the alternative of aliens that it seems preposterous to assume that aliens might be the actual reality.
This isn’t even a matter of Occam’s Razor. You needn’t go that far. This is a matter of being rational and reasonable. Sitting back and looking at the topic at hand and trying to piece together all the consequences of that topic. It is possible that Aliens have visited, it is possible that they are the reason ancient people’s learned surgery, or calculus, or tetrahedrons, but all of these things are less possible than billions of other things that people would out of hand (and correctly) call ludicrous.
So I suppose that is my thoughts on aliens. Life in space, other than our own, is all but certain. But the likelihood that any advanced species exists within the exact time frame necessary, within the distance necessary, and to the degree necessary to come meet us is a level of faith far beyond that of even the most extreme of religions.