Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Howdy neighbor! Take me to your beer!
Howdy neighbor! Take me to your beer!
Science is a language of exactitudes. While allegories, similes and metaphors are wonderful tools for conveying social or emotional concepts, science has no such luxury. Something either is or it isn’t. The only acceptable wiggle room is to admit that one just doesn’t know. And not knowing merely implies that we must now go and find out. It is why there are the laws of physics and not the suggestions of arithmetic.

It is because of these truths that I follow the sciences, both in their fictional allegories and substantive treatsies. It is also because of them that I am overcome with chagrin when two scientists issue published reports that are clearly devoid of any research or support. Worse yet is that they both appear in the same article.

One scientist, trained in psychology, suddenly purports to be an expert sociologist and the other scientist confuses corner-bar caliber opinion with fact. I’ll let David Derbyshire from the Daily Mail (U.K.) share his story before I comment further.

The sight of flying saucers over Britain, so science fiction would have us believe, would see panicking mobs in the streets.

But it seems we may be far more worldly than writers, or over-protective governments, have ever given us credit for.

Psychologist Dr Albert Harrison argues that people have become so used to the idea of alien life that they would be ‘unfazed’ if the proof appeared before their eyes.

He said things have changed ­dramatically since 1961, when the U.S. Congress was warned evidence of extra-terrestrials would lead to widespread panic.

In North America and Europe at least, neither the discovery of an alien nor the detection of alien radio signals were now likely to lead to ‘widespread psychological disintegration and collapse’, he concluded.

Advances in our technology have brought civilisation to a point where the idea of other beings travelling through space to Earth no longer seems far-fetched or frightening,’ Dr Harrison argues in a special edition of the journal ­Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society devoted to aliens.

People had been getting used to the idea of extra-terrestrials since the Seti (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) project first began listening out for alien radio signals 50 years ago, he said.

Today, surveys suggest that half of the U.S. and Europe believe in aliens, while a ‘substantial proportion’ are convinced alien spacecraft had already visited the Earth.

A second paper in the same journal argued that the discovery of intelligent alien life was unlikely to threaten the world’s faiths.

Ted Peters, theologian at the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, California, surveyed 1,300 people of different faiths around the world.

He wrote: ‘It became clear that the vast majority of religious believers, regardless of religion, see no threat to their personal beliefs caused by potential contact with intelligent neighbours on other worlds.’

He also argues that worshippers would be able to accept that heaven would welcome aliens too.

However, elsewhere in the journal, evolution expert Professor Simon Conway Morris, from Cambridge University, said the chances of intelligent alien life were low.

If evolution were the same throughout the universe it would be unthinkable that advanced space travellers in older parts of the universe should not have reached the Earth by now, he said.

Prof Conway Morris added: ‘That did not happen, and it will not happen. We never had any visitors, nor is it worth setting up a reception committee in the hope that one day they might turn up.

‘They are not there, and we are alone.’

I’ll start with Dr. Albert Harrison.

Edwards: Why the big secret? People are smart. They can handle it.

Kay: A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow. – courtesy of Men in Black

Dear Dr., have you ever seen a freaking mob? While one person alone might be comfortable with the idea of alien visitation, people (en masse) do not respond rationally. For example, individuals may have deeply held beliefs about the sanctity of wildlife, but people will lose their minds and get their guns when a bear strolls into their midst. You claim that individuals will be comfortable with the concept of interstellar citizens arriving in our midst, yet here – in North America – we have a large segment of the population that can’t even comprehend the concept of Mexicans.

I make no claim one way or the other on that last debate, but only a fool would state it doesn’t exist.

Simply put, assigning the aspirations of individuals to the collective whole is a fool’s errand.

Now, on to Prof. Conway.

“Space,” (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) says, “is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.” – Douglas Adams

Dear Professor, have you seen a map of the Milky Way? While I tend to agree with you that Earth hasn’t been subject to visitations from other intelligent species, the basis for my saying so is due to the fact that we are very far out from the Galactic core. Your assumption is based on the precept that aliens would want to come here. However, for them to have any level of interest in us at all they would need to know we exist. It is only in the last 100 years that we have begun announcing our presence in the universe. That’s the galactic equivalent of a nanosecond.

Furthermore, your statement that just because something has not happened automatically means that it can not is patently absurd. That logic, and I use the term loosely, is the kind of thinking that would have prevented man from learning to fly or swimming miles beneath the seas.

Why the ­Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society would print such rubbish is beyond me. If I’d wanted to slog through baseless claims and strident hyperbole, I’d have just turned on ESPN and watched as they talked, once again, about the legacy of LeBron James.

Another guy who’s managed to get it all wrong.

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