How do I protect myself from extraterrestrials
Sociology professor: "You shouldn't smile at aliens"
The German sociology professor Michael Schetsche is convinced that there is extraterrestrial life. In an interview, he explains what consequences contact with aliens would have for humanity - and how best to react if a UFO suddenly lands on the doorstep.
NZZ on Sunday: "The probability of the existence of extraterrestrial life must be viewed as high," you recently wrote in a scientific article. Are you serious?
Michael Schetsche: Of course. If only because of the latest findings in astrophysics and astrobiology. In the last twenty years, a great number of exoplanets have been discovered that - just like the earth - orbit a fixed star. Most astrophysicists assume that there are more than ten billion planets in our galaxy alone that are so similar to Earth that life could have originated on them in our understanding. And many experts believe it is likely that there is actually life in innumerable places in the universe.
The Fermi Paradox speaks clearly against intelligent extraterrestrials.
The basic idea of the Italian nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi, to whom the paradox goes back, is yes: If there were intelligent extraterrestrials whose civilization is more developed than ours, they would have long since conquered the cosmos. Then why didn't they visit us? But this point of view takes people as the sole standard. The Fermi paradox is even Eurocentric.
Yes. Perhaps you are familiar with the French ethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss' distinction between “hot” and “cold” cultures: Cold cultures, such as some tribal societies in rainforests, are based on cyclical processes. They hardly change their living space and their living conditions and do not move around. In contrast, hot cultures - especially European ones - discover, conquer and colonize. Why should extraterrestrial civilizations necessarily be hot cultures?
The sociologist and enthusiastic amateur astronomer has been an adjunct professor at the Institute for Sociology at the University of Freiburg i. Br. His habilitation dealt with the «sociology of knowledge of social problems». In 2002 Schetsche became research coordinator at the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Hygiene (IGPP) in Freiburg. Till Hein
The Swiss bestselling author Erich von Däniken claims that extraterrestrials helped mankind build the Egyptian pyramids. Are you taking this seriously?
I have strong doubts. A creation of the pyramids without support from space seems much more likely to me. But one also has to say: According to the current state of knowledge, it cannot be ruled out that intelligent extraterrestrials could have been on earth a long time ago.
Physicists have calculated that the distance between other exoplanets and Earth cannot be overcome with a spaceship. The need for energy and time would be far too high.
For extraterrestrials, a trip to us might be a piece of cake. They could have developed much more sophisticated propulsion techniques than we did. And think of generational spaceships, for example: The crew could reproduce several times on board during the journey. Provided, of course, that the aliens are a biological species.
Moment. Isn't life always biological?
Life yes, intelligence not necessarily. It seems more likely to me that one day intelligent machine beings will travel to earth from space: robots controlled by artificial intelligence (AI). Perhaps such beings have been observing us for a long time, but they consider us too uninteresting to establish contact. A more highly developed species does not necessarily land in a spaceship in front of the White House as in science fiction films. Perhaps the aliens will wait until we too have developed intelligent robots that are superior to humans.
Do you believe that man-made machine beings could take over the world?
The philosopher and futurologist Nick Bostrom of Oxford University assumes that, perhaps within the next hundred years, an artificial intelligence that we have built ourselves will outstrip us in many ways. Perhaps such machine beings would be more interesting for highly developed extraterrestrials. It may well be that, as biological beings, we are mentally too slow for them.
How can one imagine the physiognomy of intelligent extraterrestrials?
As I said, I am thinking primarily of machine beings. But robots based on the human body, as we humans prefer to construct them, will probably not be. We cannot make a realistic picture of extraterrestrials. Even alien artifacts - things they built - could be difficult to identify. That is why we founded the research network Extraterrestrial Intelligence in 2016, in which scientists from almost a dozen different disciplines are involved. Together we hope to work out more realistic ideas about extraterrestrials.
«I do not hope that you will be in touch with us too quickly
to step. I see this possibility with more concern. "
Many sociologists deal with more tangible topics such as poverty research. Are they making fun of your alien sociology?
No. The only objection that comes up sometimes is: Couldn't research funds be spent more sensibly?
And? Could you?
Of course, other topics are also relevant. But there are events that are imaginable but unlikely and therefore neglected. Because they would have huge consequences, we should deal with them - for example with possible contact with extraterrestrials!
Are you hoping a first Martian will be spotted soon so you don't have to constantly legitimize your research?
No. I am rather the exception among researchers who deal with extraterrestrials. I do not hope that you will get in touch with us too quickly. I am more concerned about this possibility.
Yes? The behavioral scientist Michael Tomasello recently told this newspaper: "An invasion of aliens would be the solution." Racism, nationalism and religious wars would stop. All of humanity would unite against the external enemy.
I have a completely different opinion. Even indirect contact with aliens would further fuel conflicts on earth. Imagine if, for example, astronauts discovered a puzzling high technology developed by extraterrestrials on the moon. Great powers and corporations would do everything to get this object into their possession, to research it and to gain knowledge of domination. Just arguing about it could spark wars.
If the aliens came to Earth themselves, such mishaps might be avoided.
What if the aliens are aggressive? Imagine if your civilization were 20,000 years ahead of us in terms of technical development. Armed conflict would be like a Godzilla versus Bambi struggle. So let's hope that such an encounter won't happen anytime soon.
You are a pessimist.
I am a realist. Even if the aliens were to be friendly, visiting them would be problematic. In any case, so-called asymmetrical cultural contacts have usually not gone well on Earth: if there was a large discrepancy between the two cultures involved, there was always a tendency for the culture that considered itself inferior to idealize everything that brought the other along. We would probably give up everything that defines us as humans and become slaves to the aliens.
Has there ever been an observation that serious researchers interpret as an indication of extraterrestrials?
On August 15, 1977, a radio telescope in Ohio picked up a very short, very strong signal that came from the constellation of Sagittarius: the so-called Wow! To date, astrophysicists who rule out the existence of aliens have no explanation for this. And in recent years, mysterious fluctuations in brightness of the celestial body KIC 8462852 from the constellation Swan have made a name for themselves. Here, too, experts discuss very seriously whether there are activities of extraterrestrials behind it.
Some astrophysicists send radio signals to potential aliens out into the universe.
I think that's unwise. Perhaps, as I said, there are dangerous extraterrestrials. And it may be that they haven't discovered us yet. So we shouldn't just shout out into the universe: "Hello, here we are!"
You claim that the need to deal with the risks of alien contacts is “greater than ever” today. Why?
We are advancing further and further into space exploration. And human activities in space will increase sharply in the next few years, for example to mine natural resources. The first mining companies will probably be active in the asteroid belt in around ten years. This increases, purely statistically, the probability that we will encounter extraterrestrial artifacts there or in other places. We should therefore urgently develop strategies to prevent at least the worst if the worst comes to the worst.
What do you suggest?
We need binding rules. Let us assume that astronauts discovered a space probe from extraterrestrials. Can this object be brought to earth? Do you want to experiment with it? Or does it have to be destroyed? Who can use it? When should the population be informed? We must find answers to all of these questions. We urgently needed internationally recognized legal bases for possible direct contacts with extraterrestrials. But at the moment, unfortunately, it is difficult to communicate that on a political level. Sometimes I feel reminded of the long carelessness in dealing with nuclear energy. Nothing could go wrong with this technology, the nuclear lobby made us know. Until the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in April 1986.
“Lots of people would
the aliens as divine
Emissaries or interpreting gods. "
What will happen to the world religions if extraterrestrials actually visit us?
There are some passages in the Koran that can be interpreted as describing other planets with intelligent living beings. And polytheistic religions like Hinduism would not have a big problem with aliens: Hindus could easily integrate such beings into their colorful world of gods. The Christian religion, on the other hand, would have a hard time, I think. It is true that the Bible speaks of angels. But the question would arise: Who was redeemed by Jesus Christ? Only we? Or the aliens too? Was there a second Jesus figure for you? In any case, I assume that visiting extraterrestrials would quickly create new cults and religions. Many people would interpret the aliens as divine emissaries or gods.
Let's say a UFO lands in front of your institute and an alien gets out. Should we run for our lives then?
No. I would advise not to do anything at first. Because this extraterrestrial is probably thousands of years ahead of us in terms of technical development. Only because of this he was able to bridge the huge distance to earth. Perhaps we are not even the first foreign civilization he visits, and he already has experience in how best to organize such encounters. I would recommend waiting to see what the alien has to offer.
Just smile in a friendly way?
I would advise against that even. Perhaps extraterrestrials also have teeth. And when you smile you often show your teeth. This could be perceived as a threatening gesture and trigger aggression. Better not to smile at aliens.
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