Column: Little green men — the next frontier

Jerry Fabyanic
Posted 8/17/22

Those who believe in “little green men” can be guilty of making leaps in logic.

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Column: Little green men — the next frontier


Those who believe in “little green men” can be guilty of making leaps in logic. Just because physical laws and mathematical principles are unalterable and therefore universally applicable does not mean that the human evolutionary path is similar to or mirrors that of other sentient beings on life-supporting planets.

There might be an infinite number of paths. Beginning with H. G. Wells, considered to be the father of science fiction, sci-fi and fantasy writers, authors and artists have provided a myriad of shapes, sizes and forms for alien life for us to consider, from little green men to amorphous blobs.

It is more than in physicality that alien life can differ from humans. That thought prompts speculators and theorists to expand their thinking far outside the proverbial box and stretch their imaginations. They conjecture about possibilities such as how our processes of thinking, conceptualizing and communicating might not only be untranslatable but also nontransferable. In other words, alien ways might be totally different than human ways. That can open an intellectual Pandora’s box. 

While conjecturing about the limitless potentials is intriguing food for thought, it should go beyond what lies in the black expanse beyond the wild blue yonder. We should apply it elsewhere, like here on Earth. Speculating about the potential for alien life contacting us, landing, or at least indicating they exist vis-à-vis a probe, for example, should begin with and entail considering all aspects of our existence here on Earth. And not only about cherished beliefs and assumptions, from religious to scientific, but also about how we coexist today.

Consider how you might respond when told by another that they know how you think and feel. You might believe they couldn’t possibly know that.

You might think they are clueless despite their best intentions. The fact is, none of us can know and feel exactly what another thinks and how they feel. We can only empathize, but we can also work to understand.

A hard truth for which we need a regular regimen of reminders is that we are a tribal species, strong in our parochialism but needing to coexist in an increasingly intertwined, cosmopolitan world. Even those who completely understand and work to operate on that principle can fall into the trap of assuming they think like we do. The truth is that they do not.

Yes, it is true that we share commonalities such as needing healthy food and potable water to consume and clean air to breathe. We also all want security and the right to pursue our happiness. One would think those commonalities ought to supersede our differences, but they don’t.

Much of that is rooted in culture. Russians do not think and feel like Chinese, who don’t think and feel like Ethiopians, who don’t think and feel like Americans. Hell, Americans don’t think and feel like their fellow Americans.

Cultural regionalism is reflected and endemic in our politics. Our most uncivil Civil War settled only two things: Slavery is henceforth forbidden and once in the Union, there is no getting out.

Yet here we are. Since our discoveries of radio and other forms of communication, we continue to edge closer to the precipice of being in contact with alien beings who might not only be much more advanced in multiple ways but also operate completely differently.

That means it is essential for us to change our thinking about potentially engaging with alien life. It can begin by practicing here at home.

After Roald Amundsen stuck the Norwegian flag on the South Pole in 1911 and Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay summited Mt. Everest in 1953, there remain few places on Earth beyond the ocean bottom to be explored. We’ve been there and done that, which means there are few literal frontiers remaining.

Still, there are symbolic frontiers that need to be ventured forth into, such as coexisting harmoniously and preserving our environment. Those are among our final earthly frontiers. If we’re unable to successfully grapple with and collectively solve them, our impending rendezvous with little green men, who will not see us as tribes but as the collective whole we are, will not be promising.

Jerry Fabyanic is the author of “Sisyphus Wins” and “Food for Thought: Essays on Mind and Spirit.” He lives in Georgetown.


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