Close Encounters The Consequences of Contact

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Writers and filmmakers have thoroughly exploited the concept of contact with extraterrestrial life and the potential consequences for the human race. The publication of The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells at the end of the 19th century started the very popular alien-invasion subgenre in science fiction.

This chapter explores the currently hypothetical subject of alien contact within the framework of two basic issues. The first issue involves the UFO hypothesis—the persistent notion that unidentified flying objects are under the control of extraterrestrial beings who are using these elusive spacecraft to survey and visit the Earth. The second issue involves the potential consequences (usually dire) of making contact with an alien life-form—especially one that has superior intelligence or technology. Selected examples from the science-fiction literature or the motion picture industry are used in the chapter to emphasize some recurring themes and potentially key points.

The classic science-fiction film The Day the Earth Stood Still appeared in theaters in 1951. Based on the short story Farewell to the Master by Harry Bates, director Robert Wise created this trendsetting alien-contact movie. The story opens when a flying saucer lands in a park in Washington, D.C., and out steps Klaatu (played by Michael Rennie)—a humanoid spokesperson from an advanced extraterrestrial civilization—and his powerful robot companion, Gort. As a historic note, this movie was the first major science-fiction film in which powerful aliens arrive not to conquer Earth but to help the human race decide to abandon warfare and join with other peaceful alien societies. Klaatu's message to the human race can be summarized quite simply: End the senseless nuclear arms race before attempting to travel out into space, or suffer lethal consequences from the powerful race of robots to which Gort belongs. Klaatu's message emphasizes that there is just no place in the "civilized" galaxy for an aggressive species like the human race. Due to humankind's development of nuclear energy and rocketry, Earth is now being regarded as a threat to the peaceful galactic community.

The film's plot has also been interpreted to contain religious symbolism, since Klaatu is killed in attempting to perform his peacekeeping mission and then is brought back to life by Gort. More apparent in the original short story by Bates but left quite ambiguous to the viewers of Wise's film is the interesting question of which alien, Klaatu the humanoid or Gort the robot, is really the powerful master.

In 1953, Sir Arthur C. Clarke published an enduring science-fiction novel entitled Childhood's End. His story starts with the apparently benign arrival of a powerful group of aliens called the Overlords. Operating from their giant spaceships in orbit around Earth, they help the human race usher in a golden age of peace and prosperity around the planet. The only price that people pay for this utopian era is the gradual loss of personal creativity and freedom. The end of Clarke's story involves an almost mystical twist: As a result of contact with the Overlords (who are eventually described as having a demonic "horns-and-tail" appearance), the human race loses its childhood and transforms to another level of existence.

Director Steven Spielberg produced two legendary alien-encounter movies that introduced the possibility of truly benign alien contact to millions of people around the world. In his 1977 science-fiction movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Spielberg addressed the issue of unidentified flying objects (UFOs). An apparently very friendly yet powerful alien race had selected certain human beings for a special rendezvous and instructed these people to gather at Devil's Tower in Wyoming. To provide some additional tension in the story, Spielberg has the U.S. Army sealing off the area and trying to prevent these "invited" people from entering the location. The movie climaxes with a spectacular encounter scene. An enormous alien mother ship arrives, and the first communication between the human race and the intelligent alien race (depicted by Spielberg as small, thin, gray beings with somewhat enlarged bald heads) takes place using musical notes. (Several movie reviewers have suggested that Spielberg wanted to make his aliens match some of the [unsubstantiated] alien abduction accounts that were popular in the 1950s and 1960s.) At the end of the film, the specially chosen humans, who successfully reached Devil's Tower, are invited by the aliens to board their ship and visit the stars. Within the language of UFO encounters, this was a benign, friendly encounter of the third kind.

The second Spielberg alien-encounter film, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, originally appeared in theaters in 1982 and was rereleased in 1985 and 2002. It is a classic "feel-good" story about a young Earth boy (named Elliot) and his delightful alien companion, nicknamed "E.T." As the movie opens, the friendly little alien arrives on Earth along with his companions. Working as extraterrestrial botanists, they explore a thickly wooded area in California and set about collecting plant specimens. However, little E.T. becomes stranded and panics when (human) government officials suddenly show up and try to capture some of the aliens. The remainder of Spielberg's delightful, Oscar-winning movie follows the adventures of E.T. and Elliot as they evade capture by the relentless government officials. This movie involves alien contact—but with a slightly different spin. Now, the humans are aggressively pursuing the alien. Ostensibly acting in the name of science, the government officials want to capture and possibly dissect (for research purposes) the obviously harmless but intelligent extraterrestrial creature who has been stranded here on Earth by accident. In one of the film's most charming scenes, E.T. manages to construct a special signaling device and contacts ("phones home") his companions, who are some distance away aboard their spaceship. Spielberg gives this alien-encounter movie an ending that is Hollywood entertainment magic at its very best.

This movie also raises a very interesting "galaxywide" morale issue, concerning the right of any intelligent species to collect living specimens of other life-forms that possess some obvious level of intelligence—even if the collection is being done in the name of science. In other words, do advanced alien races (should such exist) maintain zoos, laboratories, or research facilities that are populated with "less intelligent" living species that have been collected from other planets within their parent solar system or perhaps from life-supporting planets that were encountered in other star systems?

^ Unidentified Flying Object (UFO)

The unidentified flying object (UFO) is a flying object (apparently) that is seen in the terrestrial skies by an observer who cannot determine its nature. The vast majority of such UFO sightings can, in fact, be explained by known phenomena. However, these phenomena may be beyond the knowledge or experience of the person making the observation. Common phenomena that have given rise to UFO reports include artificial Earth satellites, aircraft, high-altitude weather balloons, certain types of clouds, and even the planet Venus.

There are, nonetheless, some reported sightings that cannot be fully explained on the basis of the data available (which may be insufficient or too scientifically unreliable) or on the basis of comparison with known phenomena. It is the investigation of these relatively few UFO-sighting cases that has given rise, since the end of World War II, to the UFO hypothesis, a popular (though technically unfounded) hypothesis that speculates

This artist's rendering depicts three lenticular bodies (from left to right: Ames M2-F1, Ames M1-L half-cone, and Langley design) explored by NASA in the 1960s as a possible means of landing an aerospace vehicle horizontally after atmospheric reentry. The lenticular shape of such wingless, lifting-body experimental aircraft was often likened to that of a "flying saucer" or a UFO. (NASA/Dryden Flight Research Center)

This artist's rendering depicts three lenticular bodies (from left to right: Ames M2-F1, Ames M1-L half-cone, and Langley design) explored by NASA in the 1960s as a possible means of landing an aerospace vehicle horizontally after atmospheric reentry. The lenticular shape of such wingless, lifting-body experimental aircraft was often likened to that of a "flying saucer" or a UFO. (NASA/Dryden Flight Research Center)

that these unidentified flying objects are under the control of extraterrestrial beings who are surveying and visiting Earth.

Modern interest in UFOs appears to have begun with a sighting report made by a private pilot named Kenneth Arnold. In June 1947, he reported seeing a mysterious formation of shining disks in the daytime near Mount Rainier in the state of Washington. When newspaper reporters heard of his account of "shining saucerlike disks," the popular term flying saucer was born.

In 1948, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) began to investigate these UFO reports. Project Sign was the name given by the U.S. Air Force to its initial study of UFO phenomena. In the late 1940s, Project Sign was replaced by Project Grudge, which in turn became the more familiar Project Blue Book. Under Project Blue Book, the U.S. Air Force investigated many UFO reports from 1952 to 1969. Then, on December 17, 1969, the secretary of the USAF announced the termination of Project Blue Book.

The USAF decision to discontinue UFO investigations was based on the following circumstances: (1) an evaluation of a report prepared by the University of Colorado and entitled, "Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects" (this report is also often called the Condon report after its principal author, Edward Uhler Condon [1902-74]); (2) a review of this University of Colorado report by the National Academy of Sciences; (3) previous UFO studies; and (4) U.S. Air Force experience from nearly two decades of UFO report investigations.

As a result of these investigations and studies and of experience gained from UFO reports since 1948, the conclusions of the U.S. Air Force were: (1) No UFO reported, investigated, and evaluated by the USAF ever gave any indication of threatening national security; (2) there was no evidence submitted to or discovered by the USAF that sightings that had been categorized as "unidentified" represent technological developments or principles beyond the range of present-day scientific knowledge; and (3) there



This unusual postage stamp, issued by Grenada in 1978, commemorates research into unidentified flying objects, or UFOs. The design features a flying-saucer illustration (on the left) and a 1965 photograph of an unexplained object or phenomenon (on the right). (Author)

was no evidence to indicate that the sightings categorized as "unidentified" are extraterrestrial vehicles.

With the termination of Project Blue Book, the U.S. Air Force regulation establishing and controlling the program for investigating and analyzing UFOs was rescinded. All documentation regarding Project Blue Book investigations was then transferred to the Modern Military Branch, National Archives and Records Service, 8th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue N.W., Washington, D.C. 20408. This material is presently available for public review and analysis. If a person wishes to review these files, they need simply to obtain a researcher's permit from the National Archives and Record Service. Of a total of 12,618 sightings reported to Project Blue Book, 701 remained "unidentified" when the USAF ended the project. Since the termination of Project Blue Book, nothing has occurred that has caused the USAF or any other federal agency to support a resumption of UFO investigations. Today, reports of unidentified objects entering North American air space are still of interest to the military—primarily as part of its overall defense surveillance program and support of heightened national anti-terrorism activities. But beyond those national defense-related missions, the U.S. Air Force no longer investigates reports of UFO sightings.

During the past half-century, the subject of UFOs has evoked strong opinions and emotions. For some people, the belief in or study of UFOs has assumed almost the dimensions of a religious quest. Other individuals remain nonbelievers or at least very skeptical concerning the existence of alien beings and elusive vehicles that never quite seem to manifest themselves to scientific investigators or to competent government authorities. Regardless of one's conviction, nowhere has the debate about UFOs in the United States been more spirited than over the events that unfolded near the city of Roswell, New Mexico, in summer 1947. This event, popularly known as the Roswell incident, has become widely celebrated as a UFO encounter. Numerous witnesses, including former military personnel and respectable members of the local community, have come forward with stories of humanoid beings, alien technologies, and government coverups that have caused even the most skeptical observer to pause to consider the reported circumstances. Inevitably, over the years, these tales have spawned countless articles, books, and motion pictures concerning visitors from outer space who crashed in the New Mexico desert.

As a result of increasing interest and political pressure concerning the Roswell incident, in February 1994, the U.S. Air Force was informed that the General Accounting Office (GAO), an investigative agency of Congress, planned to conduct a formal audit to determine the facts regarding the reported crash of a UFO in 1947 at Roswell, New Mexico. The GAO's investigative task actually involved numerous federal agencies, but the focus was on the U.S. Air Force—the agency most often accused of hiding information and records concerning the Roswell incident. The GAO research team conducted an extensive search of U.S. Air Force archives, record centers, and scientific facilities. Seeking information that might help explain peculiar tales of odd wreckage and alien bodies, the researchers reviewed a large number of documents that concerned a variety of events including aircraft crashes, errant missile tests (from White Sands, New Mexico), and nuclear mishaps.

This extensive research effort revealed that the Roswell incident was not even considered a UFO event until the 1978-80 time frame. Prior to that, the incident was generally dismissed because officials in the U.S. Army Air Force (predecessor to the U.S. Air Force) had originally identified the debris recovered as being that of a weather balloon. The GAO research effort located no records at existing air-force offices that indicated any cover-up by the USAF or that provided any indication of the recovery of an alien spacecraft or its occupants. However, records were located and investigated concerning a then top-secret balloon project, Project Mogul, which attempted to monitor Soviet nuclear tests. Comparison of all information that was developed or obtained during this effort indicated that the material recovered near Roswell was consistent with a balloon device and most likely from one of the Project Mogul balloons that had not been recovered previously. This government response to contemporary inquiries concerning the Roswell incident is described in an extensive report that was released in 1995 by Headquarters USAF and entitled: "The Roswell Report: Fact versus Fiction in the New Mexico Desert." While the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the current federal agency focal point for answering public inquiries to the White House concerning UFOs, the civilian space agency is not engaged in any research program involving these UFO phenomena or sightings—nor is any other agency of the U.S. government.

One interesting result that emerged from Project Blue Book is a popular scheme, developed by Dr. J. Allen Hynek (1910-60), to classify or categorize UFO sighting reports. Six classification levels were used to organize these UFO reports. A type-A UFO report generally involved seeing bright lights in the night sky. These sightings usually turn out to be a planet (typically Venus), a satellite, an airplane, or meteors. A type-B UFO report often involved the daytime observation of shining disks (that is, flying saucers) or cigar-shaped metal objects. This type of sighting usually ended up as a weather balloon, a blimp or lighter-than-air ship, or even a deliberate prank or hoax. A type-C UFO report involved unknown images appearing on a radar screen. These signatures might linger, be tracked for a few moments, or simply appear and then quickly disappear—often to the amazement and frustration of the scope operator. Such radar visuals frequently turn out to be something like swarms of insects, flocks of birds, unannounced aircraft, and perhaps the unusual phenomena that radar operators like to call "angels." To radar operators, angels are anomalous with radar-wave propagation phenomena.

Close encounters of the first kind (visual sighting of a UFO at moderate to close range) represent the type-D UFO reports. Typically, the observer reports something unusual in the sky that "resembles an alien spacecraft." In the type-E UFO report, not only does the observer claim to have seen the alien spaceship but also reports the discovery of some physical evidence in the terrestrial biosphere (such as scorched ground, radioactivity, mutilated animals, etc.) that is associated with the alien craft's visit. This type of sighting has been named a close encounter of the second kind. Finally, in the type F UFO report, which is also called a close encounter of the third kind, the observer claims to have seen and sometimes to have been contacted by the alien visitors. Extraterrestrial contact stories range from simple sightings of "UFOnauts" to communication with them (usually telepathic) to cases of kidnapping and then release of the terrestrial observer. There are even some reported stories in which a terran (that is, person from Earth) was kidnapped and then seduced by an alien visitor—a challenging task of romantic compatibility even for an advanced star-faring species!

Despite numerous stories about such UFO encounters, not a single shred of scientifically credible, indisputable evidence has yet to be acquired. If scientists are asked to judge these reports, some arbitrary proof scale is needed as a guide to help them determine what type of data or testimony is actually necessary to provide convincing evidence that the "little green men" (LGM) have indeed arrived in their flying saucer.

UFO Report Classifications

The follow classification scheme for U FO reports was developed by Dr. J. Allen Hynek and USAF Project Blue Book.

A. Nocturnal (nighttime) light

B. Diurnal (daytime disk)

C. Radar contact (radar visual [RV])

D. Visual sighting of alien craft at modest to close range (also called close encounter of the first kind [CE I])

E. Visual sighting of alien craft plus discovery of (hard) physical evidence of craft's interaction with terrestrial environment (also called close encounter of the second kind [CE II])

F. Visual sighting of aliens themselves, including possible physical contact (also called close encounter of the third kind [CE III])

Proposed "Proof Scale" to Establish the Existence of ufos

The following arbitrary "proof scale" has been (2) Irrefutable physical evidence of a visit by constructed from the work of Dr. J. Allen Hynek aliens or the passage of their spaceship and the USAF Pr°ject Blue Book.. (3) Indisputable photograph of an alien

Highest Value* spacecraft or one of its occupants

(1) The alien visitors themselves or the alien (4) Human eyewitness reports spaceship Lowest Value

(*from standpoint of the scientific method and validation of the UFO hypothesis with "hard" technical data)

Unfortunately, scientists do not have any convincing data to support UFO "proof-scale" categories 1 to 3. Instead, all the information available involve large quantities of proof-scale category-four eyewitness accounts of various UFO encounters. Even the most sincere human testimony changes in time and is often subject to wide variations and contradiction. The scientific method puts very little weight on human testimony in validating a hypothesis.

Even from a more philosophical point of view, it is very difficult to accept the UFO hypothesis logically. Although intelligent life may certainly have evolved elsewhere in the universe, the UFO encounters reported to date hardly reflect the logical exploration patterns and encounter sequences that scientists might anticipate from an advanced, star-faring alien civilization.

In terms of humans' current understanding of the laws of physics, interstellar travel appears to be an extremely challenging, if not technically impossible, undertaking. Any alien race that developed the advanced technologies that are necessary to travel across vast interstellar distances would most certainly be capable of developing sophisticated remote-sensing technologies. With these remote-sensing technologies, they could study the Earth essentially undetected—unless, of course, they wanted to be detected. And if they wanted to make contact, they most surely could observe where the Earth's population centers are and land in places where they could communicate with competent authorities. It is insulting not only to their intelligence but to our own human intelligence as well to think that these alien visitors would repeatedly contact only people who are in remote, isolated areas, scare the dickens out of them, and then lift off into the sky. Why not once land in the middle of the Rose Bowl during a football game or near the site of an international meeting of astronomers and astrophysicists? And why conduct only short momentary intrusions into the terrestrial biosphere? After all, the Viking landers that NASA sent to Mars gathered data for years. It is hard to imagine that an advanced culture would make the tremendous resource investment to send a robot probe or even to arrive here themselves and then only flicker through an encounter with just a very few beings on this planet. Are most human beings that uninteresting? If that is the case, then why so many reported visits? From a simple exercise of logic, the UFO hypothesis just does not make sense—terrestrial or extraterrestrial!

Hundreds of UFO reports have been made since the late 1940s. Again, why is Earth so interesting? Is the planet at a galactic crossroads? Are the outer planets of the solar system an "interstellar truck stop" where alien starships pull in and refuel? (Some people have already proposed this hypothesis.) Let us play a simplified interstellar traveler game to see if so many reported visits are realistic, even if Earth and human beings are very interesting on some cosmic scale. First, we assume that the Milky Way galaxy of more than 100 billion stars contains about 100,000 different star-faring alien civilizations that are more or less uniformly dispersed. (This is a very optimistic number according to both the Drake equation and scientists who have speculated about the likelihood of Kardashev Type II civilizations.) Then each of these extraterrestrial civilizations has, in principle, one million other star systems to visit without interfering with any other civilization. (Yes, the Milky Way galaxy is a really big place!) What are the odds of two of these civilizations both visiting humans' solar system and each only casually exploring planet Earth during the last five decades? The only logical conclusion that can be drawn is that the UFO-encoun-ter reports are not credible indications of extraterrestrial visitations. Yet, despite the lack of scientific evidence, UFO-related Web sites are among the most popular and frequently visited on the Internet.

^ Consequences of Interstellar Contact

Starting in the mid-1990s, the discovery of planets around other stars has renewed scientific speculation about the possibility of intelligent life elsewhere in the Milky Way galaxy. Should such intelligent life exist, would they also be interested in searching for and contacting other intelligent beings like us? Just what would happen if human beings contact an extraterrestrial civilization? No one on Earth can really say for sure. However, this contact will very probably be one of the most momentous events in all human history.

The postulated interstellar contact can be direct or indirect. Direct contact might involve a visit to Earth by a starship from an advanced stellar

This interesting 1992 painting by Pat Rawlings is entitled The Key. It depicts the hypothetical but incredibly exciting moment in the future when a human space explorer serendipitously discovers an alien artifact on Mars (or perhaps elsewhere in the solar system). As many advocates of space exploration proclaim, the human drive to explore the unknown, spawned by the primordial biological instinct to survive, will lead future generations to unimaginable adventures and new discoveries beyond the boundaries of Earth. Space technology opens up unlimited new frontiers for social and technical growth throughout the solar system and eventually among the stars. (© Pat Rawlings, the artist; used here with permission)

This interesting 1992 painting by Pat Rawlings is entitled The Key. It depicts the hypothetical but incredibly exciting moment in the future when a human space explorer serendipitously discovers an alien artifact on Mars (or perhaps elsewhere in the solar system). As many advocates of space exploration proclaim, the human drive to explore the unknown, spawned by the primordial biological instinct to survive, will lead future generations to unimaginable adventures and new discoveries beyond the boundaries of Earth. Space technology opens up unlimited new frontiers for social and technical growth throughout the solar system and eventually among the stars. (© Pat Rawlings, the artist; used here with permission)

civilization. It could also take the form of the discovery of an alien probe, artifact, or derelict spaceship in the outer regions of our solar system. Some space travel experts have suggested that the hydrogen- and helium-rich giant outer planets might serve as convenient "fueling stations" for passing interstellar spaceships from other worlds. Indirect contact via radio frequency communication represents a more probable contact pathway (at least from a contemporary terrestrial viewpoint). The consequences of a successful search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) would be nothing short of extraordinary. Were scientists able to locate and identify but a single extraterrestrial signal, humankind would know immediately one great truth: We are not alone. We might also learn that the universe is teeming with life.

The overall impact of this postulated interstellar contact will depend on the circumstances surrounding the event. If it happens by accident or after only a few years of searching, the news, once verified, would surely startle most citizens of this world. If, however, intelligent alien signals were detected only after an extended effort, lasting generations and involving extensive search facilities, the terrestrial impact of the event might be less overwhelming.

The reception and decoding of a radio-frequency, optical, or other type signal from an extraterrestrial civilization in the depths of space offers the promise of practical and philosophical benefits for all humanity. Response to that signal, however, involves a potential planetary risk. If scientists ever intercept and validate an alien signal, then humans (as a planetary society) can decide to respond. The majority of people may also choose not to respond. If we are suspicious of the motives of the alien culture that sent the message, we are under no obligation to answer. There would be no practical way for them to realize that their signal had been intercepted, decoded, and understood by the intelligent inhabitants of a tiny world called Earth.

Optimists emphasize the friendly nature of such an interstellar contact and anticipate large technical gains for our planetary society, including the reception of information and knowledge of extraordinary value.


Exotheology is the organized body of opinions concerning the impact that space exploration and the possible discovery of life beyond the boundaries of Earth would have on contemporary terrestrial religions. On Earth, theology involves the study of the nature of God and the relationship of human beings to God.

Throughout human history, people have gazed into the night sky and pondered the nature of God. They searched for those basic religious truths and moral beliefs that define how an individual should interact with his or her Creator and toward each other. The theologies found within certain societies (especially ancient ones) sometimes involved a collection of gods. For people in such societies, the plurality of specialized gods proved useful in explaining natural phenomena as well as in codifying human behavior. For example, in the pantheism of ancient Greece, an act that really displeased Zeus—the lord of the gods who ruled Earth from Mount Olympus— would cause him to hurl a powerful thunderbolt at the offending human. Thus, the fear of "getting zapped by Zeus" often helped ancient Greek societies maintain a set of moral standards. Other terrestrial religions stressed belief in a single God. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam represent our planet's three major monotheistic religions. Each has a collection of dogma and beliefs that define acceptable moral behavior by human beings and also identify individual rewards (for example, personal salvation) and punishments (for example, eternal damnation) for adherence or transgressions, respectively.

They imagine that there will be numerous scientific and technological benefits from such contacts. However, because of the long round-trip times that are associated with speed-of-light-limited interstellar communications (perhaps decades or centuries), any information exchange will most likely be in the form of semi-independent transmissions. Each transmission burst would contain a bundle of significant facts about the sending society—such as planetary data, its life-forms, its age, its history, its philosophies and beliefs, and whether it has contacted other alien cultures successfully. An interstellar dialogue with questions asked and answered in somewhat rapid succession would not be as practical. Therefore, during the period of a century or more, the people of Earth might receive a wealth of information at a gradual enough rate so as to assemble a comprehensive picture of the alien civilization without inducing severe culture shock here at home.

Some scientists feel that if we establish interstellar contact successfully, we probably will not be the first planetary civilization to have accomplished this feat. In fact, they speculate that interstellar communications may have been going on since the first intelligent civilizations evolved in the Milky Way galaxy about four or five billion years ago. One of the most exciting consequences of this type of interstellar conversation would be the accumulation by all participants of an enormous body of

In the 21st century, advanced space exploration missions could lead to the discovery of simple alien life-forms on other worlds within the solar system. This important scientific achievement would undoubtedly rekindle serious interest in one of the oldest philosophical questions that has puzzled a great number of people throughout history: Are human beings the only intelligent species in the universe? If not, what happens if contact is made with an alien intelligence? What might be our philosophical and theological relationship with such intelligent creatures?

Some space age theologians are now starting to grapple with these intriguing questions and many similar ones. For example, should it exist, would an alien civilization that is much older than our planetary civilization have a sig nificantly better understanding of the universe and, by extrapolation, a clearer understanding of the nature of God? Here on Earth, many brilliant scientists, such as Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, regarded their deeper personal understanding of the physical universe as an expanded perception of its Creator. Would these (hypothetical) advanced alien creatures be willing to share their deeper understanding of God? And if they do decide to share that deeper insight into the divine nature, what impact would that communication have on terrestrial religions? Exothe-ology involves such interesting speculations as well as the extrapolation of teachings found within terrestrial religions to accommodate the expanded understanding of the universe that will be brought about by the scientific discoveries of space exploration and modern astronomy.

information and knowledge that has been passed down from alien race to alien race since the beginning of the galaxy's communicative phase. Included in this vast body of knowledge—something we might call the "galactic heritage"—could be the entire natural and social history of numerous species and planetary civilizations. Also included would be an extensive compendium of astrophysical data that extend back countless millennia. Access to such a collection of scientific data would allow the best and brightest minds on Earth to develop accurate new insights into the origin and destiny of the universe.

However, interstellar contact should lead to far more than merely an exchange of scientific knowledge. Humankind would discover other social forms and structures, probably better capable of self-preservation and genetic evolution. We would also discover new forms of beauty and become aware of different endeavors that promote richer, more rewarding lives. Such contacts might also lead to the development of branches of art or science that simply cannot be undertaken by just one planetary civilization. Rather they would require joint, multiple-civilization participation across interstellar distances. Most significant, perhaps, is the fact that interstellar contact and communication would represent the end of the cultural isolation of the human race. The contact optimists further speculate that our own civilization would be invited to enter a sophisticated "cosmic community" as mature "adults" who are proud of our own human heritage—rather than remaining isolated with a destructive tendency to annihilate each other in childish planetary rivalries. Indeed, perhaps the very survival of the human race ultimately depends on finding ourselves cast in a larger cosmic role—a role that is far greater in significance than any human being can now imagine.

We should also speculate about the possible risks that could accompany confirming our existence to an alien culture that is most likely far more advanced and powerful than our own. Contact pessimists suggest that such risks range from planetary annihilation to the humiliation of the human race. For discussion purposes, these risks can be divided into four general categories: invasion, exploitation, subversion, and culture shock.

As mentioned previously, the invasion of Earth is a popular and recurring theme in science fiction. By sending out signals into the cosmic void actively or by responding to intelligent signals that we have detected and decoded, the human race would be revealing its existence and announcing the fact that Earth is a habitable planet. Within this contact scenario, Earth might be invaded by vastly superior beings who are set on conquering the galaxy. Another major interstellar contact hazard is exploitation. Human beings could appear to be a very primitive form of conscious life—perhaps the level of an experimental animal or an unusual pet.

Another interstellar contact hazard is that of subversion. This appears to be a more plausible and subtle form of contact risk because it can occur with an exchange of signals. Here, an advanced alien race—under the guise of teaching and helping the human race join a cosmic community—might actually trick us into building devices that would allow "Them" to conquer "Us." The alien civilization would not necessarily have to make direct contact since their interstellar "Trojan horse" might arrive via radio frequency signals. Since computer worms, viruses, and Trojan horses are a constant Internet threat here on Earth, why not a similar, but more sophisticated, interstellar contact threat?

The last general contact risk is massive culture shock. Some individuals have expressed concerns that even mere contact with a vastly superior extraterrestrial race could prove extremely damaging to human psyches, despite the best intentions of the alien race. Terrestrial cultures, philosophies, and religions that now place human beings at the very center of creation would have to be "modified and expanded" to compensate for the confirmed existence of other, far superior intelligent beings. We would now have to "share the universe" with someone or something better and more powerful than we are. As the dominant species on this planet, we must seriously consider whether the majority of human beings could accept this new role.

Advances in space technology are encouraging many people to consider the possibility of the existence of intelligent species elsewhere in the universe. As this happens, we must also keep asking ourselves a more fundamental question: Are human beings generally prepared for the positive identification of such a fact? Will contact with intelligent aliens open up a golden age on Earth or initiate devastating cultural regression?

But the choice of initiating interstellar contact may no longer really be ours. In addition to the radio and television broadcasts that are leaking out into the galaxy at the speed of light, the powerful radio/radar telescope at the Arecibo Observatory was utilized to beam an interstellar message of friendship to the fringes of the Milky Way galaxy on November 16, 1974. We have, therefore, already announced our presence to the galaxy and should not be too surprised if someone or something eventually answers.

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