Monday, April 26, 2010

Cosmic Xenophobia

by Richard Crews
Stephen Hawking has sat in his wheelchair for decades unable to speak or move about, and he has thought about things. He is such a brilliant mathematician and astrophysicist and his personal story is so touching (so overwhelming, really) that people keep taking note of what he says.

He said a few years ago that since we are poisoning our planet Earth beyond habitability, we had better get our human DNA off of the planet; we had jolly well better send astronauts and colonists to giant space ships, asteroids, Moon bases, Mars, and the like--sort of move it or lose it. He also said that although he did not believe time travel back to the past was possible, he would not wager against it for two reasons: First, if it hasn't been done so far, it might still be accomplished in the future, so it was a bet one could never win. Second, the person betting against him might be secretly visiting from the future and therefore simply know better--it was an unfair bet.

Recently Stephen Hawking produced a curious opinion about SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. He said that we are better off not looking because any intelligence we spot out there in the Cosmos is likely to be far advanced compared to us, and would likely be inclined to come "colonize" our planet once they know we're here. And, he said, remember what happened to the local populations wherever the mighty Europeans of the past few hundred years found them and took them under their wing.

The usual argument against this is that a technologically advanced civilization would surely be spiritually advanced as well. They would see value in human beings' primitive endeavors and would not destroy or overwhelm us.

Which, to my mind, begs a very important question--what is our ultimate goal? Is it to preserve human DNA come hell or high water? Or is it rather to further the highest forms of mental and physical (and, therefore, spiritual) achievement? It seems to me that if a superior race arrives on Earth, it is our cosmic duty to get out of their way. Similarly, if--as seems likely--over the next few decades computers become better at thinking and doing everything than we are (including building ever better computers), our responsibility as a race is to tip our hats and get out of the way.