going on an alien safari?

If we're seriously going to explore alien worlds, we should really consider dropping that "we come in peace" bit...

With the recent launch of Kepler, we’re on the verge of finding planets much like ours and there’s a good chance that they’re both habitable and inhabited. And one day, we may land on these worlds with sufficiently advanced technology and trained experts, interested in studying the alien world and whatever may inhabit it. The question we’ll have to answer before we do that however, is whether we want to come in peace and have them take us to their leader. Contrary to iconic sci-fi shows and movies, it might be a very bad idea.

Most people tend to assume that aliens would be more technologically advanced than us since they could be around for a few thousand years longer. But that’s not a given. Evolution doesn’t necessarily produce intelligent life and all another thousand years will add is a tiny increase in the probability that a smart alien will evolve. And there may be physiological limitations to what an intelligent alien could accomplish because its body might be unable to carry out its plans to design a building or a spaceship. They could very well be unarmed and pose no danger to us in any way, shape or form. No need for itchy trigger fingers and big guns.

There’s an alternative scenario though. Generally, predators should be smarter than their prey since they have to catch them. Be it by camouflage, stalking or chasing down, they need to get focused, pick targets, make decisions about which individual to pursue, how to kill it and then, how to defend the kill from other predators. Humans started out as predators and we adapted farming to make our predation much easier and far more reliable. If an intelligent alien species is out there, there’s a good chance it evolved from a predator and has the same tendencies as us. They’re going to be relatively aggressive, invest a lot of time and resources in building their militaries and wouldn’t react too kindly to strangers from another planet.

Even if an alien planet doesn’t have intelligent life, feral animals can be extremely dangerous. If predation is a major evolutionary driver on their world or the aliens are very large and could be easily scared, we’d need to be able to put them down before they do any damage to us and our outposts. This potential hazard is much more likely and something we’ll have to consider when planning a mission to another habitable world. Rather than coming down from the heavens and expecting to be whisked away by friendly and social aliens to banquets in our honor and a Q&A session with their rulers and scientists, we should plan for an environment similar to landing in the middle of an African savanna about 2 million years ago. And we should definitely bring our guns with us so we don’t get trampled or hunted down by aggressive and protective aliens.

# astrobiology // alien civilizations / alien culture / space exploration

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