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Tachys's avatar

What criteria would extra terrestrials use?

Asked by Tachys (1531points) September 12th, 2012

If you were an extra terrestrial and had just arrived in our solar system, in peace, and were looking down on Earth and had to choose a nation to approach first, what criteria would you use to decide? Would it be a small country, or large? Influential, or not? Would it be a country whose beliefs were closely related you your own? Or one that had the most weapons? The option of contacting the entire planet at the same time is off the table for this question.


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38 Answers

CWOTUS's avatar

How would an alien (not just to Earth, but to our Solar System) have any idea about national borders making up countries? It’s not like he could have stopped at filling station on Mars for a political map of Earth.

I think the concept of human politics would be as alien (if you’ll pardon the pun) to that being as they are to most of us, most of the time.

Nullo's avatar

That would depend entirely on their goals and personalities, wouldn’t it?
You say that the option of contacting everyone at once is off the table – does that mean that they’d do that if they could? If so, they’d probably head for the place with the most cameras on it.

@CWOTUS Let’s imagine that they’ve been watching the TV that we’ve been broadcasting out into space on the approach.

ETpro's avatar

Very interesting question. If I were an ET (pun intended) I would have had to cross many light years of space, and done in within one lifetime. There is a scale of technology, and you would have to be quite high on it to cross the distances we know would be required. There are no exoplanets in orbiting the habitable zone of any nearby stars.

Our scale of technology runs like this. Level 1 is the ability to control weather and plate tectonics, This would enable controlling climate, volcanoes, earthquakes and such. Level 2 is the ability to redirect the planet’s orbit to move away form the Sun as it becomes a red giant, and back close to it when it collapses to a brown dwarf. Level 3 technology includes controlling the orbits of an entire solar system. Level 4 technology is able to warp and reorder the entire Milky Way Galaxy, being able to generate gravitational wells with the energy levels of the super-massive block hole at the center of our galaxy. Level 5 reaches out to distant Galaxies and can generate the energy and gravitation l well to warp space far more than the super-massive black holes at the center of galaxies. An ET that got here wold certainly be from a Level 4 technology and most likely Level 5. We humans are at level 0. Given that level of power imbalance, I’d go to the most, warlike nation, and tell them to stand down or be eliminated.

gailcalled's avatar

Switzerland. It has a reputation for neutrality, the banks hide your financial secrets, the trains run on time, the skiing is wonderful, and the chocolate is the best in the world

Coloma's avatar

Coloma California where I live. They will land on my micro-farm in the hills because, being the advanced ET’s that they are, they would seek out liberal, open minded and esoteric types like me. They would have shelter, food, and could pick my brain on how to raise geese, train mules and bake happy brownies to fortify themselves against the insane panic and fear they would encounter anywhere else.
Yep, it’s Colomas homestead….and they know I am waiting for the meet and greet. lol

How many nights I sit in my hot tub star gazing and hoping, hoping, that we will encounter ET life in my lifetime! :-)

ragingloli's avatar

I would approach the United Nations, because they are the only body that are anywhere close to being able to represent the Planet.
Anything else would show favouritism and likely cause antagonism between terrestrial factions.

Of couse, If I were to start an invasion, I would first annihilate the most powerful nations as a precaution, Germany, Russia, China, The Colonies, in that order.
“For when the Goa’uld do finally come in force—and they will—your citizens, as the strongest most powerful in this world, will be among the first to die.”

ucme's avatar

Get pissed at the oktoberfest.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Since I do not understand any language nor political boundaries, I’d use physics to guide me. I’d do a thermal scan over the planet and find the area consuming them most energy per unit area. Then I’d look for electromagnetic radiation is emitted by the area. Physically, I’d want a place where I could park and still be somewhat protected and still be near a large population center.
I’d land my craft in Tokyo Bay.

Seek's avatar

Let’s see. I’ll think in pre-First Contact Vulcan terms.

“Hm. There’s a planet over there, Sol III, and it appears to be occupied.”
“Preliminary scans show a population of over seven billion humanoid life forms.”
“Thermonuclear radiation detected in unpopulated areas. We presume weapons testing.”
“High levels of fossil fuel emmissions, ozone layer depleting.”
“No sign of high-speed stellar travel capability, in fact, the last trip made to their own moon was over sixty Sol III years ago.”

“Leave it. We’ll come back when they’re done trying to kill each other through violence and primitive industry.”

filmfann's avatar

It would be fairly simple for the Aliens to make note of which parts of the planet have the most lights at night. That indicates population centers and technology. Next, the Aliens would rule out areas with radiation issues, which suggest either war or lack of control over nuclear power, which would exclude Japan.
Aliens will land in New York City.

CWOTUS's avatar

Okay, I’ll play this game.

Aliens would not be here for cultural exchange (not unless humans would consider “cultural exchange” with, say, infant chimpanzees or swine – unlikely).

They wouldn’t be here to learn any conservation tips from us (“Look at all that light from those populated regions every night! Why do they waste so much of their scarce energy sending light into the sky like that? Look at all that gamma radiation going to waste all over the planet! Barbaric!”).

Especially since they’ve been able to come from other star systems, there isn’t much engineering or celestial navigation we’re going to teach them.

No, the only reason I can see why they’d be here would be to gather samples for study, to indulge their weird sex fantasies (after all, it’s not going to be an overnight trip to get here, either, and these sailors will be horny, considering the pioneer spirit that will get them to Earth from god-knows-where), or to pick up some food.

So they’ll land in relatively unpopulated areas and pick up their samples (and toys) in ones and twos… in Montana, West Virginia, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, and of course Oregon… same as always.

And they’d laugh as they leave, and say ”ÓC¹Ê%^Ö4{|ç@ãôöÂÂXÑ£`õ9T˜Û*
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rojo's avatar

@CWOTUS Ha! Ha! those guys are such a riot! Where do they come up with their material do you think? My guess is all those old 70’s sitcoms still floating around out there.

flutherother's avatar

They have already been. They chose the most unspoilt area of the planet which to them was the Amazon rain forest and spoke with a species of peace loving monkey that has lived there for centuries. I don’t know what was said exactly but if we start knocking down the trees where they live we are for it.

Nullo's avatar

@ETpro I wouldn’t be so sure. There’s a book out there where the knack to interstellar travel is obscure, but simple enough that one Renaissance-equivalent alien species discovered it on accident. From there, these musket-wielding, candle-burning ETs went a-conquesting more primitive worlds, until they hit Cold War-era Earth, with predictable results.

ragingloli's avatar

I think it is highly unlikely that a civilisation that managed to harness the vast amounts of energy necessary for faster than light travel would not also use that knowledge to upgrade their weapons (at the very least direct release of the energy out of a barrel, faster-than-light projectiles, or bombs), especially during a prolonged campaign of conquest, even if one were to ignore the only case of precedence (actual history) where space travel was a direct result of weapons development.

Nullo's avatar

@ragingloli Do note that I said “interstellar travel” and not “faster-than-light travel.” I have not yet been able to find the novel, but I suspect that they’re not actually traversing the intervening space – rather, they have found a way around it. Their culture and industry stagnated as a result, there being no apparent need to develop any of their technology further. I am reminded of so many science fiction authors who never, ever predicted anything like the Digital Age. It can be amusing reading The Door Into Summer, where the future is powered by analogue technology and single-purpose gadgets, because to Heinlein, that was the state of the art. Neither he nor anybody else had ever heard of a transistor and wouldn’t know what to do with it if they had.

wundayatta's avatar

I can’t play this game because I can’t get past that first assumption, which seems so unlikely to me. Why would they come in peace?

The only reason they’d come is for resources, and they really wouldn’t care who they hurt in the process of getting resources. If they came here, they’d probably come by accident, because surely you’d go somewhere where resources were plentiful, unused, and with no one claiming first dibs.

You wouldn’t have the energy to make it anywhere but one place, and once you got there, you’d be stuck until you got what you came for. I have no idea how much you could bring back. The easiest thing would be to bring the whole planet with you.

So, most likely, if they got here through some accident, they wouldn’t know there was intelligent life. In fact, mostly likely, they’d send an automatic machine purely designed to capture the planet and redirect it back to their planet. We’d be seeing large robots preparing our planet to move somewhere else.

There would be no aliens to talk to. Just machines. Huge machines. Machines bigger than mountains. We’d be seeing all kinds of gravitational and severe meteorological disruptions as they turned the planet into a rocket somewhere else. Probably the first place they’d send is is close to the sun in order to take advantage of the gravitational slingshot. Who knows what would happen to our planetary rotation as they did this.

Probably they’d keep the planet rotating as it is, and set propulsion mechanisms at the poles. I don’t know if the machines would be preprogrammed to deal with life, or would just be too big for a life form to change it. Would they be prepared for atomic bombs?

So sorry. Nations wouldn’t be of any interest to them. They probably couldn’t even conceive on intelligent life forms like us. They’d think of us as being some kind of virus, causing trouble. Which, if we ever send human beings or machinery to other planets, I think we should be prepared to deal with something that behaves like a virus.

Enough, already.

Strauss's avatar

@coloma GA for happy brownies

Nullo's avatar

@wundayatta Because to some people, aliens represent an ideal: Man raised up from his base nature. Either through philosophy or technology or the simple march of time, though the exact mechanism varies according to the person’s preference. @ragingloli dreams of a machine-god, tangible, just (that is, according to his morality) and incapable of error. @Seek_Kolinahr favors the philosophical route, as evidenced by her Vulcan example.
It functions as a prophetic part of one of the secular/agnostic faith.

wundayatta's avatar

@Nullo You are right about all of that. And I’ve read more science fiction that most people have read cereal boxes, so I’ve seen how many authors work with these tropes. I understand what they are talking about when they write these stories, and it bores me.

I much prefer speculation that is reality based speculation. SOmething based on the current state of scientific knowledge. If we want to fantasize about saviors, then why not ask a question about saviors? If we want to image a god, then ask people to do that. If we want to discuss some philosophical question, then by all means, do it.

But I don’t want to discuss tired out metaphors when no one even admits they know what they are actually doing. And I do like thinking about what it might mean if someone developed ftl technology, or developed a way of surviving for thousands of years in deep space and had the will to come looking for another planet.

Why would they do that? Why would they spend unimaginable resources on a project? Greater resources than the society had ever spent on anything else? Either they are incredibly wealthy—wealthy beyond imagination, or they see it as an investment of some kind.

Humankind would never spend that much money without expecting a return. Is it reasonable to expect that any form of life would? Hard to imagine that would fit into a model of survival, although stranger things have happened.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I’m kind of hoping they land in @Coloma‘s field. With her permission I’ll hold the video camera while they do the probing.

wundayatta's avatar

You voyeur, you!

deni's avatar

They would love Utah I bet. :) They would hate us though. And probably be in a hurry to leave.

Relevant: George Carlin on Colonizing Deep Space

Nullo's avatar

@wundayatta My gosh, I was just winging that. You mean I was right? XD

I’m not sure that it’s all alien saviors; I think that at least some people see themselves as the alien – who we are (rarely) or who we could be. This particular question, I’m sure, is the fruit of idle speculation.

You’re alien to aliens, right? Why would you want to go sailing the stars? A sufficiently advanced society would be able to harness all of the energy kicking around, so we can handwave those requirements. Colonization is a popular motive – Niven’s Ringworld delves into the issues surrounding man-made orbital habitats, might be why a body’s interested in finding other planets to live on. And there are some kinds of people who would do it for the sake of Science, catalogue all of the things. Or they could be involved in a massive war, as in Foster’s The Damned trilogy, fighting in the general vicinity of Earth but not with the Earthlings. Perhaps galactic civilization has worked out a way to have cheap star travel and there’s a hyperspace bypass running through Sol system and it’s all just too hyperspatial for us to notice.

Maybe it’s like the galactic civilization in First Contract, and they’re here to negotiate rights to Jupiter in exchange for a white elephant. It’s a good light read, and the bit with Jupiter is actually kinda sinister.

Maybe they’re just incredibly bored, like the species-equivalent of Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged. After all, what would be left to someone who had conquered the challenges of the natural world?

Tachys's avatar

Actually, the question is serious, @Nullo. I’m researching this question for a paper.

wundayatta's avatar

@Tachys If this is for a paper, then you’ve already figured out that in science fiction, aliens are standins for colonial powers. So the analogy is that you are Columbus and you’ve arrived in the new world, and where do you want to put in first?

Well, Columbus was desperate, so he wanted water and food. But mostly water. So he didn’t care who was where. I don’t know if he even tried to ascertain if anyone was around. He just wanted a safe place to anchor so he could get fresh water.

SO what’s the analogy for an alien space ship?

But think about exploration. Why do people explore? What were Lewis and Clark all about? They wanted information of a particular type. Information that would allow the expansion of trade and would find more resources to exploit.

Why is man going to the moon? To Mars? Resources, dude. Resources. These kinds of exploration are incredibly expensive, and you need a return of some kind to justify them.

Is there such a thing a pure research for the sake of knowledge? Does anyone spend more money than the GNP for a midsize nation to take a trip and want only knowledge from it? Not really. They may be willing to accept knowledge as a good payoff, but only if they think it is likely to show a greater payoff later. You can get big bucks to explore the nature of the universe, but not to explore the nature of consciousness or to make friends.

I think it is likely that any intelligent being would live under the same resource restrictions that we live under. They live under the same physical restrictions. So no faster than light travel. If you want to go to alpha centauri, you got to get there the slow way—at 20% of the speed of light. You got to be able to sustain life for centuries in order to get there. You got to be able to breed and raise new generations and keep enough people alive so that when you get there, you can settle down and survive.

Will this ever happen? Could any species do this? I suppose someone could run a mathematical model about resources used and likelihood of generating enough excess resources while having enough motivation to make an interstellar trip worth the risk. Be interesting to try to make a model like that.

Nullo's avatar

@wundayatta In The Dark Behind The Stars, the protagonist lives on a massive generation ship whose business it is to roam the heavens in search of habitable planets for future colonies. By the time that the time that the story starts, all of their equipment is a thousand years old or so, and is generally in terrible disrepair. One of those things where the mission should be long over, but the lights are on and there’s still air and water and food, so we’ll keep going. They make a pretty good case for desperation – I never finished the book, but there was talk of mutiny, turning the ship around and booking it for Earth. Rather Columbian, perhaps?

And why can’t you get up to 99% c? Heinlein’s torchships were powered by mass-conversion engines – not a terribly far-fetched idea, given that we have antimatter even now. We need only to assume that an alien race has developed ways to produce antimatter on an industrial scale and a ship that can haul large numbers of people around without getting gutted by passing space debris. The main idea is to gun the engine at 1 g until you reach nearly relativistic speeds.

Colonization is probably the most practical reason to visit other planets, given our resource restrictions. One could maintain contact via quantum entanglement, provided that you use something like Morse code; that way relevant data from a scout ship could be transmitted back to the home planet without having to recall it.

Seek's avatar

Since it is for a research paper, @Tachys, I’ll clarify my answer.

It wasn’t the rote phrase of the Vulcan-obsessed Trekkie, I honestly feel that if there are extraterrestrial life-forms with a society advanced enough to overcome the fiscal and scientific difficulties which inhibit us from star hopping hither, thither and yon about the galaxy, they would think of us in one of three ways:

1. Conquest. Perhaps they need ozone, or water, or whatever, and we are the only place with an adequate supply in this sector. Perhaps they’re a telepathic society with no opposable thumbs, and they need us to be their hands, so they’ve come to enslave us.

2. Research. Something like how a 6 year old boy treats an ant farm. Or a grown man treats an ant farm. “Ooh, there are so many of those little creatures down there! Look at them move about! It’s almost like they’re communicating with each other!”

3. Indifference and/or Pity. Those primitive Humanoids still haven’t eradicated starvation and war on their own planet. They have some potential, but they are far too young as a species to bother with. There is nothing they can offer us at this point, and anything we do would be interference to their natural development.

Since (3) is the most pleasant of the alternatives, in fact the only one that doesn’t have us washing alien underpants or gettung burned by an intergalactic magnifying glass, I’ll focus on that one. ^_^

wundayatta's avatar

@Nullo Of course, 99%c is theoretically possible. I’ve learned in my life that it’s generally wiser to be conservative in your estimates about what is possible. So I’ve been conservative as I think is reasonable and I still generally am disappointed with the result. So I say 20%, I’ll betcha 10% is the most anyone ever gets, especially with a generation ship.

God I wanted so very badly not to finish that book. It was so fucking boring. But I have a thing about finishing every book I start. I’m not proud of it, but I have beaten those suckers! I don’t read novels any more! That’ll show ‘em! I only read online these days. Which is doing really weird shit to my eyes and making it nearly impossible to focus on print on the page.

Nullo's avatar

@Tachys I wish my classes had papers like this. What is it, exactly?

@wundayatta Very likely you’d encounter some hard limits, like fuel tank capacity, keeping you from 99% c, thanks to turnaround – that, and containment, are the only real problems I see with long-range, high-speed travel. At least with an antimatter engine. One of the most frustrating parts about hard sci-fi is making sure that you have enough fuel and enough mass.

I always suspected that the boredom was intentional, like in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Even so, I’d rather read Citizen of the Galaxy, or Foundation. Sure, they still have analogue technology and fly with a slide rule, but that’s what makes them so cool. It’s like sci-fi crossed with steampunk.

wundayatta's avatar

I think I read Foundation as much or more than I read any other single book in my life. Really, there was only a couple of competitors: “Follow my Leader” and “A Wrinkle in Time.” I think those were the only books I ever intentionally read more than once. I don’t know what that means. I wonder if you could develop a form of therapy around the novels a person has read the most.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@wundayatta @Nullo Rather than hauling a huge fuel tank around how about scavenging mass from interstellar space and converting to it to energy with in a ‘fussion’ reactor that converts mass to energy via E=mc^2 at +95% efficiency. Running at 0.9c the craft would sweep a lot of volume and collect ample mass even in the supposed vacuum of space.

If you guys start the paperwork, I’ll get right on the design.

ragingloli's avatar

the efficiency of fusion is less than 1 percent. it would be better to use matter antimatter annihilation

flutherother's avatar

Asking me to imagine myself as an extra terrestrial is a bit of a contradiction in terms but if I was I would materialise in New York City next to the UN building in the international zone. Best not to appear to favour one nation over another. I would use instantaneous travel via the fifth dimension.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@ragingloli The fussion process is yet to be invented. It is a combination of fusion and fission, thus the unique spelling. It will be perfected in 2157 as an outgrowth of the World Energy War IV of 2150–2152 where it will first be used as a backup device to power the country’s entire energy needs. The 1.2 Petawatt device will be able to run at 100% duty cycle for periods of more than a year completely powered by the conversion of SiO2 to energy. An ExxonApple engineer in Thailand will own the patent – but will die in a tragic hover craft accident exactly three years to the day of filing the papers.

wundayatta's avatar

@LuckyGuy I’ll be 101, but what the hell. I’m in!

Nullo's avatar

@LuckyGuy Would you be willing to bet your life on the amount of debris between the Oort Cloud and, say, Barnard’s Star? I definitely approve of the scavenging to supplement a primary fuel source (since it turns the inbound-debris problem into an asset), but I wouldn’t want to rely entirely on it. Balancing the extra mass might be tricky.
And we’ll need some shielding. We can probably swing a magnetic field from generating our electricity, but something that could deflect the pebbles and paint chips would be good; at .9 c a rock would sunder the ship with nary a second though.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@Nullo We know that nature abhors a vacuum and even the ‘vacuum’ of interstellar space has a density. The currently accepted figures range from 0.001 atoms per cc to in the millions . NASA calls space a froth with Loop I, Loop II, and Loop III Bubbles with densities varying many orders of magnitudes. Even in the least dense regions we have 100 atoms per cubic meter. A craft moving at 0.9 C would cover a lot of meters and with a massive cross section would grab many atoms as it coasts through. I imagine it a bit like a scram jet engine that grabs and compresses its combustion air from the medium it is pushing itself through.
I agree the craft would need some form of deflecting shield to direct deadly particles (anything larger than dust) out of the path—- Hmmm…. Unless the Fussion Injestor stage has enough electromagnetic suction to draw it into its processing stage. This sounds like a another research grant possibility.

You know… with the above assumptions and assuming a cross section for the Fussion Injestor draw region we have enough information to calculate the mass intake and energy produced. Thank you Amedeo Avogadro. Can you tell I am supposed to be doing something else right now ?

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