How would you react if we discovered alien life?
How would you react if we discovered alien life? This artist's concept depicts select planetary discoveries made to date by NASA's Kepler space telescope. (NASA/W. Stenzel/AP Photo/Nick Ut)
How would you react if we discovered alien life?
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For more than a century, from George Melies' "A Trip to the Moon" to Stephen Spielberg's "E.T." and "Close Encounters" to last summer's blockbuster sequel to "Independence Day", mass media and the general public have pondered what will happen if we ever came into contact with extraterrestrial life forms.
Carl Sagan's book "Contact" and Jodie Foster's movie of the same name explore one possible scenario in which a Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) scientist (played by Foster) discovers a signal repeating a sequence of prime numbers originating from star system Vega, the fifth brightest star visible from Earth. Even if Contact's version of an alien encounter is more likely than that presented in Spielberg's E.T., the possibilities are worth pondering.
And yet experts believe that the odds of receiving a radio transmission composed of prime numbers or encountering intelligent extraterrestrial life in the near future are "astronomical." Even with Hillary Clinton's promise that if elected president, she would open up the "X-files" (Area 51).
But the odds may be increasing due to continuing advances in technology and money. At a press conference in New York City, Russian billionaire and Breakthrough Prize co-founder Yuri Milner, along with famed physicist Stephen Hawking, announced Breakthrough Starshot, a 20-year voyage to the Alpha Centauri star system. Should the existence of planets in the Alpha Centauri system be confirmed, Starshot could provide us with the best measurements of an exoplanet atmosphere we could ever hope to get this century. Milner will spend $100 million to fund the project. Facebook's founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is on the project's board of directors.
The goal of NASA's Kepler Mission was to find terrestrial planets in the habitable zone of stars both near and far, where liquid water and possibly life might exist. To date, Kepler has confirmed the existence of 2,337 exoplanets. In a press release issued by NASA, chief scientist Ellen Stofan, said, "This announcement more than doubles the number of confirmed planets from Kepler. This gives us hope that somewhere out there, around a star much like ours, we can eventually discover another Earth."
But what would happen if we discovered life beyond Earth?
Christof Koch, president and chief scientific officer of the Allen Institute for Brain Science, believes most people will be excited to learn that there is intelligent life out there.
"For some, 'contact" would be a wish come true and fill us with awe. But for others, it would raise concerns. One can't assume that alien cultures are by definition benevolent," Koch says. "If we look at the history of our world, lesser civilizations were often destroyed by more advanced ones. Would the same happen to us if we encountered an advanced alien civilization?"
Hawking has warned against sending messages out into space for this very reason.
Koch has devoted his life to defining what consciousness is, whether it be the Internet, robots, animals, etc. Since it is doubtful that our first contact will be with humans from another planet, it is important for us to understand what consciousness is, so we can better understand what we do discover as we explore space.
"The first discovery would probably be bacteria, which might excite some scientists but not the general public. Another scenario might be a radio signal whose origin would be questioned. Was it a deliberate signal sent to us or is it random noise that can be explained scientifically? I am not holding my breath for a signal that includes prime numbers," Koch says.
Mary A. Voytek is the senior scientist and head of NASA's Astrobiology Program who started Nexus for Exoplanet System Science to search for life on exoplanets. She notes that NASA scientists are looking at the most extreme conditions on Earth to better understand what conditions can support life throughout the universe.
"If we can determine what makes a habitable planet on Earth, it will help guide us to look for conditions in the universe," she says.
Voytek notes that NASA acknowledges that the discovery of life has significance beyond science.
"To fully understand the societal implications, we must talk to the experts, scholars in sociology and the humanities as well as theologians."
"When I give lectures about my work, most people are excited about the possibility of the discovery of extraterrestrial life," Voytek says. "This is nothing new. The ancient Greek atomists in the fourth century B.C. wrote about it."
Douglas Vakoch, president of Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI), says the majority of people believe that intelligent life is widespread in the cosmos.
He agrees that a discovery of something like a radio signal would result in arguments, as well as a fading lack of interest due to time.
"It could take decades or even hundreds of years for us to get a response from a signal we send out. For people who are used to instant communication, this will be frustrating," Vakoch says.
Others think we'll have a more dramatic experience. Susan Schneider, a professor of philosophy and cognitive science at the University of Connecticut and a fellow of the Center for Theological Inquiry, believes that if we do find intelligent life, it will most likely be in the form of super-intelligent artificial intelligence.
"For some people, this would be hard to accept. Discovering a civilization that is no longer biological would be scary for us."
But Schneider is optimistic that most people will find the discovery of benevolent intelligent life exciting.
"People are excited by the unknown. And the discovery of a new civilization might have many potential benefits. Perhaps an advanced civilization will share their knowledge with us," Schneider says.

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Why wouldn't everyone be exited if life was found elsewhere?
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • taylorcoggins-dia
    10/10/2016 - 11:47 a.m.

    i feel that aliens aren't real

  • taylorstanton-dia
    10/10/2016 - 11:48 a.m.

    they might come to start war

  • zakrym-ste
    10/14/2016 - 10:50 a.m.

    i would befriend him. id ask about his customs. id want to go to his homeland

  • monicas-ste
    10/14/2016 - 01:47 p.m.

    I would hate to meet an alien. I would be pretty freaked out. Definitely not something I would ever want to do.

  • annakatep-cel
    10/21/2016 - 10:26 a.m.

    If life was found elsewhere some people wouldnt be excited because they are intimidated of other extraterrestrial life out there. People are scared of what aliens could do to us and therefore would not be excited if life was found in other places.

  • noahr-ste
    10/25/2016 - 12:44 p.m.

    People would not be excited because they would be scared until we find more out about them. Its human nature to be scared until we learn, so we would have to learn first before we are able to go out for a ice cream date. @zakrym-ste

  • mact-lam
    10/28/2016 - 08:49 a.m.

    The idea that there is extraterrestrial life somewhere in the universe is extremely likely. With advances in technology, and the knowledge gained in the last 50 years, there is as chance we could find alien life somewhere. The idea that it will be found in my personal lifetime is quite unlikely though. Bacteria, maybe. An actual life form moderately like humans is either far into the future, or completely nonexistent.

  • sonyah-lam
    10/28/2016 - 12:01 p.m.

    Maybe some you be afraid of what could happen, that there life could get destroyed. After all, many humans nowadays are afraid of the same thing with people on Earth.

  • azalear-man
    11/03/2016 - 09:22 a.m.

    I think one reason why some may not be excited because. . its simply because they don't know, if they found other life they don't know what kind of life it could be or what kind of danger they could bring to the human race.

  • claricem-man
    11/03/2016 - 10:54 a.m.

    Honestly if we found alien life I would freak out. I don't blame people for not being excited it's freaky.

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