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They peel them with their metal knives!

THE aliens are out there and Earth had better watch out, at least according to Stephen Hawking. He has suggested that extraterrestrials are almost certain to exist — but that instead of seeking them out, humanity should be doing all it that can to avoid any contact.

The suggestions come in a new documentary series in which Hawking, one of the world’s leading scientists, will set out his latest thinking on some of the universe’s greatest mysteries.

It is hardly Earth shattering is it? And Hawking is not “one of the world’s leading scientists”. He did some top-notch stuff on black holes in the ’70s and then got famous for gnomic pronouncements delivered in his trademark Speak and Spell fashion.

Alien life, he will suggest, is almost certain to exist in many other parts of the universe: not just in planets, but perhaps in the centre of stars or even floating in interplanetary space.

Stephen Hawking boldly goes… into the realms of wild speculation. Perhaps in the centre of stars. He is making it up.

Hawking’s logic on aliens is, for him, unusually simple. The universe, he points out, has 100 billion galaxies, each containing hundreds of millions of stars. In such a big place, Earth is unlikely to be the only planet where life has evolved.

Well bugger me sideways! That’s a new insight! That’s… I’m not even going to mention Fermi’s paradox.

“To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational,” he said. “The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like.”

/facepalm. I shall now tell you all I or indeed the esteemed Professor knows about aliens.

You got that? We know nothing. Speculating what they might be like is fun if you’re writing a Dr Who episode but beyond that…

One scene in his documentary for the Discovery Channel shows herds of two-legged herbivores browsing on an alien cliff-face where they are picked off by flying, yellow lizard-like predators. Another shows glowing fluorescent aquatic animals forming vast shoals in the oceans thought to underlie the thick ice coating Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter.

I made my Dr Who comment too soon. By the way I got a hell of a canal network on Mars to sell…

Such scenes are speculative, but Hawking uses them to lead on to a serious point: that a few life forms could be intelligent and pose a threat. Hawking believes that contact with such a species could be devastating for humanity.

Such scenes are speculative. Be still my splitting sides! I is it me or Did Carl Sagan paddle this canoe thrity odd years back?

He suggests that aliens might simply raid Earth for its resources and then move on: “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach.”

So it’s interstellar pikeys is it? I imagine they might exist in massive ships. I fear the good Prof is well and truly yanking our chain.

He concludes that trying to make contact with alien races is “a little too risky”. He said: “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”

Now that is pure Sagan. Sagan just said it four decades ago and more elegantly. But, dear reader, have you seen the true irony here? Have you?

Any first contact initiated by them will likely be because they have picked-up our TV and Radio shows whether they be “I Love Lucy” or Stephen Hawking. Going on the telly to say, don’t talk to aliens is talking to the aliens.

I always thought there was an imp of the perverse about Hawking.

Anyway I gladly welcome our insectoid overlords from the planet Zog and shall cheerfully toil in their sugar caves. Or whatever. I dunno but I’d really like to meet aliens – whether they be foes or mentors or pals even Eccentrica Gallumbits. It would be cool like the Rolling Stones forming the next cabinet. God knows where it would end but it would be one hell of a ride.

In case you are terminally young the title of this piece is from here. The ’70s. Flaired trousers, the Austin Allegro and Smash. I fortunately only barely remember it.

26 Comments

  1. El Draque says:

    Nothing there that anyone who reads a bit could not say.
    Looting the Earth for its resources is straight out of “Independence Day”.
    But then, there’s a paycheck in it for him, and many are the famous people who can get away with spouting platitudes because they are famous.
    “Most famous scientist since Einstein” is usually applied to him, and probably he’s up there with the modern greats. But few would have heard of him if he hadn’t overcome extraordinary disability to get there.

  2. ‘I fortunately only barely remember it.’

    Alzheimer’s kicking in then?

  3. NickM says:

    TFE,
    No. I was born in ’73.

    ED,
    Hawking is horrendously over-rated.

  4. Kevin B says:

    The backlash to all the ‘nasty aliens are coming to get us’ stories was the ‘any race advanced enough to travel light years across space must be peace loving and gentle’ meme. Good on Hawking for kicking that one again. Aliens are alien, as Ringo is fond of reminding us.

    Or as Insty put it in an update:

    ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader John McCray writes:

    From Charles Pelligrino’s The Killing Star,

    “Three Laws of Alien Behavior: 1) Their survival will be more important than our survival. 2) Wimps don’t become top dogs. 3) They will assume that the first two laws apply to us.”

    Sounds plausible to me.

    As for aliens inside stars, I’ve read a few SF stories that featured these, including one by Brin I seem to recall. I also remember a story that postulated intelligent, self-replicating life shortly after the Big Bang. Basicly, with all that energy/matter crowded together in such a small space/time… Well, things are going to happen, aren’t they? Quantum things. IYKWIMAITTYD.

  5. Macheath says:

    You’re right about Carl Sagan – it looks as if Hawking’s much-hyped documentary will simply retread the pioneering path of ‘Cosmos’, albeit with better graphics.

    This will, however, enable the author and TV company to release DVDs, a glossy book and – who knows? – action toys in a complete merchandising package. Eschew the lot, and find a copy of Sagan’s book instead (and I recommend adding Isaac Asimov’s ‘Extraterrestrial Civilizations’ for good measure).

    (Apologies if this appears twice – computer problems)

  6. John B says:

    Fortunately have not seen it. So I can be objective.
    He might have a point.
    Here we are going: “Yoohoo! Yoohoo! – is anyone out there?” And then it all goes SPLOT.
    Someone made the point we’ve been sending out radio signals for – how long? – about 100 years?
    So they have gone 100 light years or thereabouts.
    No replies yet.

  7. Bill Sticker says:

    I think you’re referring to these adverts for Cadbury’s Smash (Awful stuff)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lo5Csopw0MU
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJ3nnn7-JO0&NR=1
    or even this one;

  8. Sam Duncan says:

    “To my mathematical brain…”

    That sounds more like Professor Frink from the Simpsons. Ah-hey!

  9. Bod says:

    It always struck me as kinda stupid to send out – what was the vehicle – Voyager? – with engraved nude pictures of humans and a big laser-etched map of the route it took.

    If the beings that find the meteroite-scarred remains are capable of interpreting it, they really won’t need the map because as you say, we’ve been sending them light-speed announcements since the days of Marconi.

    Over the reasonably-short haul (a couple hundred years maybe?) we will have either wiped ourselves out or managed to launch a successful interstellar diaspora. In the former situation, we can feel good about being an interesting archaeological artefact for some postgraduate Andromedan academic, and in the latter, it’s very very likely that we will be the beings who find our own satellite. After all, in a few hundred years, that thing’s going to be a fraction of a light year out. Still in our back yard.

    And as John B said, we’ve been sending out images of Joan Collins and Sean Connery for a very long time, and any race capable of detecting and catching a half ton of interstellar probe, is likely to be able to detect and capture a few episodes of The Sullivans and Big Brother.

    And dog help us if they do.

    It would be unwise to believe that after THAT, they will be merciful.

  10. CountingCats says:

    The thought that crossed my mind over that idiot program V, why the hell would anyone go to all that effort to lift all that stuff out of a gravity well when there is orders of magnitude more just floating around out there?

    Hawking might know black holes, but he knows shit about economics.

  11. El Draque says:

    Yeah, Cats, I wondered about that too.
    Mining asteroids is much more practical.
    Taking apart Jupiter – now that’s unreasonable too. Wasn’t that a Dyson idea?
    (Not the vacumm cleaner man – Dyson the cosmologist.)
    He reckoned it would take 10,000 years and only use ten times the earth’s energy per year while doing it. Or maybe I’m a few orders of magnitude out.
    Who cares? Speculation is easy, and you don’t have to prove anything.

  12. Schrodinger's Dog says:

    Nick,

    Of course the aliens exist. It’s just they’ve picked-up the early broadcasts of Star Trek and are now hiding from us in abject terror.

    Think about it. They’ve concluded we’re an incredibly violent species. (“We come in peace. Shoot to kill!”) As if theat weren’t bad enough, we’ve got weapons which will reduce a planet to rubble, faster-than-light travel and the ability to materialise out of free space.

  13. greap says:

    The book about self-replicating destroyers of life is likely http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manifold:_Space

    Baxter has a vast number of books dealing with the Fermi paradox all of them which are interesting looks at how a relationship with alien life might develop.

    One of the things he poses is that there may already be other life in our own solar system exploiting the resources, they would have no real interest in us or in the resources of Earth because the cost of entering such a large gravity well doesn’t offer any value, the resources can be found much more cheaply in comets and asteroids.

  14. NickM says:

    Sam, Yes, it is very John Frink.

    “…with engraved nude pictures of humans and a big laser-etched map of the route it took.”

    Voyager was done for the glory.

    Yes my friends we got our choppers out for the Galaxy.

    Our greatest achievement is ’70s Frankie Vaughn to the Oort Cloud and beyond! We are phenomenal.

    I would stake all of human civilization on five minutes on the holodeck with Seven of Nine. Yes, I would for we extraordinary and some of us have a tremoundous hope. I have seen in Washington DC the props of the Wright Flyer One. I saw the watch the first flight was timed with. And let me speak proudly now. When we make first contact are you not proud of what we have done? Are you not proud of Beethoven’s Seventh? The Einstein Field Equations, Shakespeare?

    When we enter the Cosmos we must walk unafraid. We are stardust and we are just going home. And if any LGM objects we always have the vest of Bruce Willis.

    Seriously. I would twist rather than sit pat. I would risk everything for the stars and cosmologists be buggered!

    I used to be much more cautious… Then my wife pointed out an advert for Imperial War Museum, Duxford. It featured an SR-71 (I have seen that SR-71) looking menacing (do they have any other stance?) and she looked stunned and said – arts grad, bless her – “But they can’t build things that look like that yet”. It was painful to explain to her that that aircraft was at least twice her age.

    Per Ardua ad astra!

    Does anything else matter?

  15. permanentexpat says:

    Hostile aliens?
    ………already amongst us.

  16. Bod says:

    That’s a bit selfish Nick. You’d sacrifice civilization for a 5 minute shot at Wierd Sex with the Borg?

    I have no problem with you risking your own existence, but why should I risk annhilation so you can have a bit of strange with some baldheaded bint?

  17. Sunfish says:

    I have no problem with you risking your own existence, but why should I risk annhilation so you can have a bit of strange with some baldheaded bint?

    It’s in the man law. In order to have a wingman, you must occasionally be a wingman.

    Be a participata, not a playa hater.

    And what really concerns me is the possibility of luring the Cylons here. Even if we’re killed by a robotic clone of Tricia Helfer, we’re still dead.

  18. Antisthenes says:

    Hawking’s hypothesis on the face of it appears dumb on the basis that anyone capable of practical interstellar travel would not only have developed technologically but socially as well to a point where altruism is its underling philosophy. That is after all what we earth people strive for a society that looks out for each other and works for the common good. So far we have failed miserably as we have not been able to overcome our inherent mechanisms for survival and procreation that ensures that we are selfish and only altruistic in as much as it feeds that selfishness. Our current philosophy is that we find killing and pillage abhorrent and would under a condition where all mankind were like-minded give it up.

    However Hawking has a point when you consider that resources are finite so it is difficult to see a time when conflict will not arise. A much more advanced society may have come to accept the inevitable conclusion that survival depends on the survival of the fittest and that depends upon not being altruistic, except within the confines of its own society, but instead the ruthlessly exploitation of other societies.

  19. Lynne says:

    Interstellar pikeys? Beaut!

    Having read this article someplace else yesterday I rather thought Hawkers had been watching that dire “Independence Day” crap whilst glugging too many Stellas.

  20. CountingCats says:

    Antisthenes,

    Just what constitues ‘social development’ for an alien species? Don’t forget their thought processes will be, well, alien.

    In ancient Rome compassion was not considered a virtue, truly. Compassion didn’t become part of western culture until Christianity came to dominate. How on earth (or any other planet) can you assume that altruism will dominate? What if they are fundamentalist Muslims? Compassionate and altruistic amongst themselves, but violently xenophobic to everyone else? What if their motivations are simply outside our comprehension? Being subject to drives and needs which are, um, alien?

    Problem is, your assumptions are based on insufficient imagination and wishful thinking.

    As to resources? Have you any concept of just how many resources are out there, free for the taking? Beyond the atmosphere it is raining soup, and we are just struggling with the concept of bowls.

  21. Antisthenes says:

    CC, alien thought processes are unimportant in as much that can you envisage a situation whereby any life form is not out for itself when it comes to survival? If not then what other conclusion can you arrive at other than mine.

    How we interact socially is transient in that what is thought the best way today may be perceived as a bad thing tomorrow dependent on what we believe will give us the best chance of survival. Compassion was adopted because it gave greater security to everyone and a better chance of survival.

    As for resources, any aliens interested in us would have existed in a similar environment and have similar needs. Despite there being trillions of stars the likelihood of many planets similar to ours is quite small and resources remain finite.

  22. NickM says:

    Cats,
    If we find followers of Muhammed’s book in space we shall know we are truly fucked.

    Bod,
    (a) Seven ain’t bald – you’re thinking of the Borg Queen (I’d do her too but I’d be thinking of Seven). And (b) if you think I could perform for a full five minutes with that foxy lassy… Bend her over Harry’s console and a three minute scuttling would suffice to boldly go where no man has gone before. I mean I assume that any civilisation advanced enough to pose an existential threat has mastered Kegel exercises. I’m beginning to sound like the guy who runs the comic book store in the Simpsons so I’d best stop.

    Lynne,
    Great comment. There is something very Daily Mail about Hawking’s statement… First we had the Polish plumbers and now we got the folks from Rigel 7 with all them tentacles. How’s a British workman to compete!

  23. Rob Fisher says:

    If you ask me, the aliens are already here. They have uploaded themselves into specks of dust and they’re watching us in slow motion with some amusement.

    Stripping the Earth of its resources? Seems unlikely. They only need mass and energy and there are still plenty of lifeless stars and planets to loot.

    As for broadcasting messages into space — no technological race does that for long. Bandwidth requirements will mandate point to point communications for most purposes once technology reaches a certain level.

    All this explains why we have not detected the aliens.

  24. John B says:

    “In ancient Rome compassion was not considered a virtue, truly. Compassion didn’t become part of western culture until Christianity came to dominate.”

    This is something we shall indeed re discover as we go boldly into a future where we refuse to see the evidence of God.

  25. Stan Mann says:

    It goes much further back than Sagan,well-trodden S.F.territory – I can remember stories on the theme by Fred Pohl,William Tenn,Philip K.Dick,etc.etc.

  26. Ric Locke says:

    Stan has the right of it. Those of us who’ve been reading science fiction since before Kelly J built the SR-71 tend to get a little cranky at “mainstream” figures who absolutely independently come up with things we’ve only been thinking about since, say, 1930 or so, and get such plaudits for realism.

    Bosh. No, the aliens don’t need our resources — there’s plenty out there — but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t make a good story, from To Serve Man through the latest John Ringo alien-invaders novel. I’m actually an admirer of Hawking, who has overcome some real disadvantages in order to succeed, but I agree with Nick that he’s highly overrated as a thinker. Coming up with an “alien invaders” scenario isn’t all that tough. Who Goes There? (movie version The Thing)

    Regards,
    Ric

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