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First Contact? Just Try Not To Kill Them

March 15, 2022

It’s a classic science fiction trope: First contact. Star Trek based an entire series on it. And several movies.

So, what would happen? Aliens arrive. What happens after that?

If history is any guide, either we or they will likely start killing the other.

A friend and I were discussing what makes a person. And an additional question, who has a right to life? He asked if I thought aliens, sentient aliens, would have a right to life. Now, if it’s Vulcans who show up? Sure. They seem “people-like.” But, what if they are a type of creature we don’t understand?

Orson Scott Card’s story Ender’s Game discussed 1st Contact with a race of creatures called Formics. The Formics when first encountered were mindless killing ant like creatures. The humans eventually launch an attack on the Formics and end up wiping them out. Only at the end do the readers figure out that the Formic Queens were sentient and didn’t understand human individuality.

Would the Formic “drones” deserve the right to live? Did the Queens? How could we know?

Many aliens communicate telepathically. Would we even understand their attempts to communicate? Independence Day aliens were telepathic. Could we detect it?

For many years scientists didn’t understand how birds were able to find their way. Later it was discovered that birds have an internal compass. They literally fly by sensing the earths magnetic field. I can’t do that. YOU can’t do that. How can they do that?

Dogs can hear sounds we cannot hear and smell things we cannot. In fact, dogs have been trained to detect COVID. We cannot do that. Cats in hospice wards have been known to know who would be the next patient to die. Again, we don’t really understand how.

The great science fiction writer, Arthur C. Clarke said,

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

I remember an old movie called “The Final Countdown.” The premise is that a modern aircraft carrier gets transported back in time to Hawaii on December 6, 1941. At one point the F18 fighter jets engage with a couple Japanese Zeros. The Zeros have no idea what to make of the modern fighters.

Would we recognize alien technology? For example, suppose we met a race who could change to energy when threatened? Someone becomes a shaft of lightening when attacked? What would that look like?

And if they were sentient, do they deserve life? Would we kill one just to dissect him (her? It?)

My friend and I didn’t end up agreeing on what makes a person and who deserves right to life. One of us was adamant about Human are people and no one else. The other was more inclined to believe that sentience is what defined a person, and aliens or sentient AIs would qualify.

We also disagreed on how likely it was that we would make first contact. One of us thought it was extremely likely. The other thought just the opposite.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. Order Miscellany II, an anthology including his latest short story, “The Mercy System” here

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One Comment
  1. Kit Borden permalink

    It is a good question. There are a couple of other wrinkles as well. For instance, sentience vs sapience. Capable of feeling vs capable of thinking. Something can be sentient without being sapient. And how capable of thought is required, if it is? Where is the line drawn? Are they capable of peaceful interaction, individually or collectively? I’ve read quite a few stories that deal with this and they are often thought provoking, Ender’s Game being a prime example.

    As a small side note: Final Countdown has F-14s, not F-18s. Not a bid deal at all, I’m just too much of an aero geek to not notice. 🙂

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