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April 27, 2010

Comments

Bryan Walde

Nice post Diane. I think the one thing that might be missing in the thinking is a culture that moves in, devastates, and moves on. No shipping home.

Space is big. Could we really see a relatively small "fleet" of ships going from place to place? I don't think so, except by purest accident.

Cambias

Actually, this is Jim.

The trouble with a small migratory fleet of Planet Looters is this: why go to the trouble of flying 5,000 light years to steal stuff when you can just go to the next star system over and mine whatever you need?

Also: this requires aliens whose resource requirements are not satisfied with an entire solar system, yet are small enough to not be noticed. That's contradictory.

You have to know these things when you're a science fiction writer. We have a handbook.

Jim S

What resource would modern Earth have which could be of any value to an interstellar civilization capable of sending spacecraft across 5,000 light years?

Cows, obviously.

Richard Woods

Cambias,

You apparently don't follow the precautionary principle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precautionary_principle), which is basically what Hawking advocates. If there's a possibility of catastrophic risk as a result of some action, then that action should not be taken until that risk has been shown not to be possible.

However much one regards his/her ability to imagine, it is always possible for that imagination to fail to include some possibilities. In the case of first contact with aliens, the catalog of unknown factors is enormous -- and that's just the "known unknowns", not the "unknown unknowns".

While it's safe to explore first-contact possibilities in fiction or speculation, the worst potential consequences in those cases are ... what? Failure to sell a book? Having one's opinion ridiculed? Nowhere in there is the possibility that such fiction or speculation might cause human extinction.

But when we're considering first-contact for real, we need to take account that some of the "known unknowns" could lead to wiping out humanity. Hawking is completely correct in warning of those possibilities.

Perhaps you were carried away by some romantic notions, or fictional depictions, of first contact with aliens. To say that Hawking is "dead wrong" about this subject only reveals the limits of your imagination.

I recommend a retraction.

Cambias

Richard:

The precautionary principle doesn't apply here, for the simple reason that we're already advertising our presence anyway. We already emit radio signals. And even if we silenced every transmitter, our planet still has an oxygen atmosphere -- something impossible without plant life.

In other words, attempting to communicate with other civilizations really doesn't create any ADDITIONAL risk of being discovered by hypothetical rapacious interstellar looters.

Oh, and making snide remarks about romantic notions and the limits of other people's imaginations doesn't really make your point more convincing.

HNNEWS

(C) HUDSON.NET.NEWSWIRES (redistribution cleared with HNNEWS credit)

Hawking Alien Invasion Comment "Drive-By Science" Says R&D Engineer

by Clarence Cleary

The world has had time to digest the latest pontification from eminent physicist Stephen Hawking, but what they didn't know is that the man who claims to have sold more books on physics than Madonna has on sex is prone to make "quips" that are less science than they are satire. So says noted research and development engineer Marshall Barnes who has published a new article about Hawking's proclamation that we shouldn't broadcast signals into outer space for fear that alien armadas could arrive and be as about as good for us as Christopher Columbus was for the Native Americans.

(Read the full story at the topix.com space forum, extension T8QGD5N7VV5B8KNRC )

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About Us

  • Diane A. Kelly
    Diane Kelly is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she studies the neural wiring and mechanical engineering of reproductive systems.
  • James L. Cambias
    Jim Cambias writes science fiction and designs games in the lonely wilderness of Western Massachusetts.

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