we are not ready for alien contact
May 7, 2014

What Would We Do If Alien Contact Happened Today? Could We Handle It?

April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Man has been looking to the stars and asking the question, "Are we alone?" for as long as recorded history. From H. G. Well's 1897 novel, The War of the Worlds, to the CW's new show, Star Crossed, we have wondered if, and when, aliens might make contact. But perhaps we are asking the wrong question. Gabriel G. de la Torre from the University of Cadiz believes we should be asking, "Are we ready?"

The SETI was made famous by Carl Sagan's novel Contact and the Jodi Foster movie that followed. They are a real group of scientists that started as a small, NASA funded initiative in the 70s that has grown to an international collaboration of millions of Internet users working to process and analyze data from the Arecibo Observatory where most space tracking takes place.

The SETI researchers are not content with just tracking celestial objects, however, and are proposing to send messages out into space. These messages would be the proverbial "galactic welcome wagon," telling potential visitors exactly where to find Earth. Stephen Hawking, among other astrophysicists and scientists, has warned that this might be a bad idea for humanity, as we would have no idea of the technological advances of those who answered our call, or their intentions.

De la Torre looked at it from another angle. He wanted to know if we here on Earth were prepared to meet another life form. His findings, published in Acta Astronautica, indicate that we are not.

De la Torre, professor of neuropsychology at the University of Cadiz, analyzed the ethical and sociological implications of the SETI proposal to send out active messages (Active SETI). His analysis left him with questions, such as "Can such a decision be taken on behalf of the whole planet? What would happen if it was successful and 'someone' received our signal? Are we prepared for this type of contact?"

De la Torre recruited 116 American, Italian and Spanish college students to answer a survey that assessed their knowledge of astronomy, their level of perception of the physical environment, their opinion on the place that things occupy in the cosmos, religious questions – for example, "do you believe that God created the universe?" – or on the likelihood of contact with extraterrestrials.

The survey results indicate that the human race is still unprepared for trying to actively contact a supposed extraterrestrial civilization because of our overall lack of knowledge. The study recommends that the SETI researchers investigate alternative strategies.

"This pilot study demonstrates that the knowledge of the general public of a certain education level about the cosmos and our place within it is still poor. Therefore, a cosmic awareness must be further promoted – where our mind is increasingly conscious of the global reality that surrounds us – using the best tool available to us: education," De la Torre, who also participated in previous projects such as Mars 500 or a space psychology topical team project financed by the European Space Agency (ESA), emphasized in a recent statement. "In this respect, we need a new Galileo to lead this journey".

The survey results allowed the researchers to infer that college students, and the rest of society, lack awareness on many astronomical subjects, despite the enormous progress of science and technology. According to de la Torre, the survey also revealed that the majority of people consider these subjects according to their religious belief and that they would rely on politicians in the event of a huge global-scale crisis having to be resolved. The team will release the survey questionnaires online soon.

"Regarding our relation with a possible intelligent extraterrestrial life, we should not rely on moral reference points of thought, since they are heavily influenced by religion. Why should some more intelligent beings be 'good'?," added the researcher, who believes that this matter should not be monopolized by a handful of scientists: "In fact, it is a global matter with a strong ethical component in which we must all participate".