An alien piloting a flying saucer

Will we be friends with aliens?

If you’ve watched Star Wars and dream about intergalactic friendship between many species – I have a sad message for you. Unfortunately, our friendship with aliens is so unlikely that I’ll be tired typing zeros after a point to provide you with the probability.

How so?

Star Wars Aliens

It becomes clear when you understand what has Star Wars shown wrong about the aliens. Namely, the aliens in SW universe were very alike, so humanely. Just a bunch of humans: some of them with red skin, some – with yellow skin. In reality, chances of an alien race that even remotely resembles the human anatomy coming to Earth is close to zero. There won’t be any bipedal, big-headed and long-handed things. Most likely, they will look… awful. We share NO common ancestors with aliens, they won’t be even vertebrates, not even (that’s a shock, I know) animals! To them, we’ll look accordingly: just a bunch of freakish moving things.

a) Their way of thinking will likely be so different that it’s even hard to call it “thinking”.

b) Their anatomy and ways of interacting with things will be nothing alike ours. Probably, the idea of using “hands” to manipulate things is something they film horror flicks about.

c) Their ways of communication would be completely different. They won’t have lips, tongue, glottis. Not even a jaw. Sounds they produce, if any, would be nothing alike our languages.

d) You expect them to be kind or evil? They might not even have either of such concepts at all. They likely have no feelings, no appreciation for what we deem beautiful or supreme. And what they have instead is beyond our understanding.

That’s important to understand: aliens won’t be a bunch of sort-of humans. They’d be some life form that we cannot even fathom. Same applies to them trying to imagine us.

Even that put aside, let’s face it: a race that is technologically developed enough to travel through galaxies, what are we to them? At very best, cavemen or savages. More likely, a bunch of squirrels in the forest. Seriously. It’s unlikely they build houses that even remotely look like what we build, or behave in similar manner to us. There’s nothing to relate to when they look at us. Most likely, their notion of “sentient” does not even apply to us (and perhaps, our notion of “sentient” does not apply to them).

Now imagine, you arrive to some planet, and some space-hamsters jump out of their burrows and start ‘saying’ smth like: “Tweak-tweak, alien race came to us, let’s share, let’s be friends”. All you hear is “tweak-tweak” and thinking “What a cute furry thing!”. Or, more likely “Wow, an alien life-form. I need to collect some samples”, or even more likely “Is it dangerous? Does it carry pathogens?”. That’s how it works. If you come to another planet, and see a life-form, it is either an interesting specimen, or a threat. We are extremely xenophobic (“xeno” meaning “other”/”alien”, in this context has nothing to do with races) – we see something new and unexplained and meet it with alert. Friendship or anything along those lines would be the last thing to cross your mind.

What if all animals in the earthly forests have been ‘talking’ to humanity for centuries asking for “friendship” or “technology exchange”? Do we even listen? Think about it: you are a pack of wolves, and decide to be friends with humans. What are your actions? You gonna talk to people? Well, they don’t speak your tongue – more likely, they’ll just shoot you. And what could you even offer? Even if you SOMEHOW manage to negotiate – you are still the inferior species. You’d be servant working for a piece of meat every day – there’d be no cultural or technological exchange*.
*With the exception of SO FEW cases of seeming real bond between human and animal. And still – no cultural exchange. You are an animal.

Now, aliens coming to our planet. Obviously, humans are nothing to them at least, at most – a threat. There’s nothing to share, no cultures to blend, for the same reason that there’s nothing to blend with squirrels. Maybe, on the galactic scale, our development is even worse than in squirrels compared to humans. You won’t be able to communicate to the aliens: it’s not just that they don’t know our tongue like French don’t know German – the very idea of our language and sounds is meaningless and alien to them. Maybe they communicate by changing colours or emitting IR-emission, and the very idea of communicating using sounds at all is ridiculous to them. Even if they are telepathic – surprise – they still won’t understand us. Their brain architectures (if even they have something that resembles our brain) would be so different that our thoughts would make no sense to them at all. Maybe, they are silicon or serum lifeforms and don’t even deem carbon lifeforms alive. Maybe, their civilization spans across the galaxy and our planet for thousands of years has been a private property of some “rich alien guy” who’s came to build a country house on land that he/she/it/whatever has been working hard for millennia to buy. What? That’s how people act! Aren’t you going to demolish an ant nest to build a house atop of it? Well, next time think: what if they are sentient race and seek friendship with you.

Also, a note about sharing. Assuming that the aliens are somewhat similar to us and can at least perceive us as a living creature – so what sharing are you talking about exactly? Humans have been sharing their culture with chimps for at least a century. Looks like that: “Wow, now our cute chimpie in a lab has learned to say a word in the sign language. So cool! Let’s go publish that and see if we can learn the chimpie to cook pasta.” How’s that for friendship?

Also, we already have the experience of two sentient races sharing cultures. Humans and dolphins. Both are extremely smart, both are aliens (sort-of, aquatic and on-land animals – two different worlds). How many cultural and technological exchange have we conducted so far? Oh, they have no technology – but that’s the problem. To aliens, we have neither as well. Oh, dolphins are smart, but they are ‘savages’? I bet dolphins think the same of us: we cannot relate to them, they cannot relate to us. Oh, they have no hands or voice to interact with us? That’s another problem: science fiction has lied to you that aliens would have both of those things, but they won’t. So far, the exchange of cultures between dolphins and humans has been limited to slaughtering and keeping one in the aquariums by the other.

If you expect aliens just go and dump their technology at us without any reason at all – well, it’s even crazier than dreaming that a rich guy comes to my house and just dumps his wealth on me. At least, a rich guy can relate to me: we are both humans.

So what will happen? Total annihilation of humanity? Or just experimentation and total neglect? Your pick. If we are lucky, in a few thousands of years after their invasion, they will create sort-of “Animal Rights Law” thanks to some “crackpot alien scientist”.

Crackpot: You know, I think that they might be sentient and capable of suffering.
Audience: You expect me to believe that those things that don’t even have RTGT receptor-network in their skin…
Crackpot: Well, they have that ‘brain’ thing instead.
Audience: But they don’t even change colours when you cut them…
Crackpot: They produce noise – if you had ears, you’d know.
Audience: WTF is ‘ears’?

And after that, we’ll be left alone… But as for “United Space Nations dream” – you can kiss that goodbye…

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I was directed here from your Quora reply and I must say, I enjoyed the article, it’s certainly something I ponder over time and time again. I feel I must disagree with some of your points on intelligence, and how you liken aliens looking at us humans to humans looking down at an ants nest, or a dray of squirrels. Although we have never seen another alien race, planet or system, we already know what the universe holds – we know there is only a certain amount of atoms and particles, we also know these do not differ in size… Read more »