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…

4 thoughts on “Will we be friends with aliens?

  1. 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 or mass, every hydrogen atom is exactly the same and so on.
    So when you analyse the brain of an ant, or a small animal it’s obvious there is much less of the molecular processes at work and thus lesser intelligence. Sure that there is a much higher ceiling meaning that there could be giant aliens living on giant worlds with giant super brains that we cannot comprehend – but if there were giant, super smart humans here on earth, they could still make some micro tech and hand it down to us because they would be able to see we can manipulate our surroundings with ease. I also believe the ceiling wouldn’t be as high as that due to other astronomical factors such as star/planet potential size and atmospheric density.

    Any alien that sails the galactic sea will have once stood on their own world, looked up at the night sky and pondered the vastness beyond. They would have studied the atoms and forces in the universe that make our technology work. They may very be more like us in their way of thinking than our closest earth relatives, we’ll just need to figure out a way to communicate with them.

    Regarding the ‘galactic alliance’ of races. Communicating is one thing, being able to live on another planet with different gravity, extreme heat/cold, unbreathable atmosphere may be the decider weather we are culturally sharing, or just networking.

    • Thank you for your comment, and I am happy to know that the article wasn’t a boring read 🙂

      What I am trying to say in the article is that it’s not really about the absolute power of the intellect: surely, aliens and humans would potentially have common topics to discuss, such as physics of atom, gravity, and most likely, mathematics. We expect those to be universal. But the keystone in inter-species relationship is relateability. If you can’t relate to another species, there won’t be a talk.
      Again, a perfect example are dolphins. No-one nowadays gonna argue that they are very smart. Very probable that they think about the origins of the universe, life and death, or dream about life on dry land. However, it took humans thousands of years to realize that they are smart swimmers, and yet, we treat them like animals. Maybe… just maybe… we could find a way to communicate science to them and have a chat at the cup of coffee/bowl of fish. But we simply won’t. No matter what, we will never perceive them as something equal. We just can’t relate to them and their ways, and there’s nothing we want to exchange with them.
      There could be a clever ‘mushroom’ or a ‘plant’, but to us, it’ll always be a ‘not-so-alive’ thing, no matter what relativity theories or gravitation equations they solve in their ‘thinking organs’. We won’t even know they solve them, because we expect intellect to surface in certain ways: smart creature talks, does science, has culture, is crafty. Intellect is judged by exterior…
      In fact, I think we could more easily talk to a squirrel than to an alien. Squirrel is dumber, but at least it’s brain architecture is identical to ours – all difference is quantitative. It’s overall logic is expected to be similar to ours. It’s easier to befriend someone stupid than someone who you cannot understand at all… And aliens are not even animals…
      True, they might be not so much smarter than we. But they won’t know it, won’t relate to it. If they happen to be like Na’vi from the Avatar or Chewbacca from Star Wars, then we could talk eventually. Problem is, the likelihood of aliens having such a bodybuilt is statistically infinitesimal.
      Your point about aliens pondering about the universe and other sentient species is strong. But in that case, it’s wiser to capture people and study their intelligence in a lab. Most likely, their scientists will then agree on humans being dumb, because they won’t find any expected signs of intelligence (I dunno, changing colours, time travel, not doing extreme sports – whatever they deem signs of smartness, while our signs would mean nothing to them). They probably don’t have a brain, don’t have neurons, but a completely different organ with entirely different cells and very different manner of functioning. They might just glance at us and immediately assume our dumbness… Also… it is possible there’d be no curiosity. Strange, but who knows. Curiosity is animalistic concept – there’s no direct evidence that it’s the intrinsic property of intelligence (computers don’t have it, yet they are capable of logical operations). All feelings, all concepts that cannot be grounded to physics or maths are concepts made up by us.

      And I absolutely agree with your last paragraph 🙂

      P.S. You can see, I have troubles with being concise 🙂 Sorry for that…

      • Boring? This is perhaps one of the most fascinating subjects there is. You are very right and have obviously thought about this subject a lot. I was trying to elaborate when writing my reply however, found it difficult to say everything in my head.

        Purely speculative, but I like to think in the way physics, chemistry (and hopefully to some extend biology) are practically universal that life may not be so different elsewhere. I truly hope if we ever saw another world with life there would be unmistakable features. Plants we recognise to be trees, with hard stemmed shells for protection and soft fleshy appendages to absorb the sunlight for some sort of photosynthesis. If their world is more like ours, then hopefully their brains will have been moulded by their environment in a way early humans brains were. Very possible they may interact with the universe in a way which makes us blind to one another, but I like the idea that they will be able to absorb the photons that spill through the universe illuminating everything we know to exist, and to become the alpha predator on their home world they would also have sensitivity to the changes in air pressure we know to be sound. I like the idea, although architecturally different, they will hopefully interact with the matter and forces in the universe in some relatable ways.

        Although the chances of my thinking could be, as you say, infinitesimal. If we could just find one species we could identify with culturally, then you’ve got the beginnings of a galactic network. The other aliens we would know of could just be like the squirrel in your garden, forever knowing each other exists, but forever ignoring each other.

      • “But we simply won’t. No matter what, we will never perceive them as something equal.”

        You use the collective we very loosely and draw great assumptions about what our species might do in the future that i am not sure can be supported in a purely scientific fashion. It may be very unlikely, or more correctly that you believe it to be so but can you really make the bold claim implied here? Because I believe it to be demonstrably false.

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