Don’t Write Off ET Quite Yet – Issue 101: In Our Nature

Here’s a riddle. We’ve never seen any, and we don’t know if they exist, but we think about them, debate them, and shout at each other about them. What are they?

Aliens, of course.

A while ago I wrote a piece for Nautilus on what might happen to us after learning about the existence of extraterrestrial life—whether microbes on Mars or technological civilizations around other stars—and asked if there might be inherent, unexpected, dangers in acquiring this information. Could infectious alien memes run riot, disrupting societies? Might intelligent life decide to shield itself from such knowledge? It was a whimsical, quizzical thought experiment, exploring the real science of our hunt for life in the cosmos, and the possibility—even if remote—that there could be unexpected perils for intelligently curious life anywhere.

Simple enough. But as comments to the piece began to pile up—many in my inbox—I found myself on the receiving end of a barrage of opinion. There was outrage at the suggestion that there might ever be circumstances to drive us (or any intelligent species) to close our astronomical and scientific eyes to avoid picking up dangerous alien data. At the other extreme, and I do mean extreme,…
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