Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization

First Edition

© 1975-1979, 2008 Robert A. Freitas Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Robert A. Freitas Jr., Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization, First Edition, Xenology Research Institute, Sacramento, CA, 1979; http://www.xenology.info/Xeno.htm


2.1  Ancient Beginnings

While it is often pointed out that aliens appear in the most ancient of human records, the true antiquity of the idea is rarely appreciated. An excellent example comes from the Sumerian civilization, which flourished more than five thousand years ago (and may. well be the most distant ancestor of Western culture). According to Sumer legends which have survived, codes of law, science, art, architecture and the essentials of proper social behavior all were given to the humans by alien teachers -- amphibian intelligent animals with fishy heads and torsos and human feet. These creatures are never described as gods; there is little doubt the Sumerians presumed them to be as mortal as their human students.20

Usually, though, ancient gods were seen as superior beings with celestial abodes. The Babylonians, successors to the Sumerian civilization, held that the moving points of light in the sky which are the planets were the homes of their gods.45 Other cultures such as the Eskimos believed that the Moon and other heavenly objects were themselves gods.1872

Supposing the world to be flat and subscribing to the nontheistic Confucian philosophy, the venerable Chinese had no conception of or need for life in the firmament -- although dragons and other monsters appeared frequently in the literature. The holy books of Buddhism, on the other hand, appear to accept the plurality of worlds in countless numbers, complete with indigenous alien plant and animal lifeforms.1898

The ancient Vedda culture, which prospered on Ceylon prior to the Hindu invasion in the 6th century B.C., held that after death souls migrated to the Sun, Moon, and the stars before reaching Nirvana (the ultimate state of perfection). The beliefs of the Hindus are also closely associated with the idea of a plurality of worlds. The Indian philosophy, in fact, "explicitly assumes the existence of extraterrestrial intelligences."1899 In one myth, as told in the Brahmavaivartcz Purana of the god Indra, we find:

Hold! I have spoken only of those worlds within this universe. But consider the myriads of universes that coexist side by side, each with its Indra and Brahma, and each with its evolving and dissolving worlds.... Can you presume to know them, count them, or fathom the reaches of all those universes with their multitude of worlds, each with its legions of transmigrating inhabitants?"1901

The Old Testament is filled with strange events which some have argued may be linked with extraterrestrial visitations -- such as the visions of Ezekiel.1058 And in the New Testament appear such positive statements as: "In my Father's house there are many mansions" (John 14:2), and so forth.

But by far the most important early contributors to the advancement of the idea of ETs were the Greek and Roman cultures. To the Homeric Greeks, the Moon was an inhabited world separate from Earth, the dwelling place of protean gods and the spirits of departed humans.1753 Traditional Grecian mythology held that the universe created the gods, a view more consistent with the concept of mortal, fallible aliens than the usual creator-deity of other religions.

The Greek culture inherited considerable astronomical knowledge from the Egyptians and Babylonians upon which much speculation could be based. Thales of Miletus (6th century B.C.) was a philosopher who had guessed that heavenly bodies might have a material composition similar to that of the Earth. Around this time Pythagoras (well-known for his contributions to geometry) and others were beginning to think of Earth as a globe in space, a sharp break from the flat-world concepts of earlier thinkers.

Since other earthlike worlds might therefore exist, Xenophanes of Colophon -- a contemporary of Pythagoras -- populated the Moon with inhabitants, cities and mountains.602 Another Greek philosopher named Anaximenes evidently also believed in a multitude of celestial habitats, because he had the audacity to tell Alexander the Great that the Macedonian king had conquered "only one of many worlds."702

In the 5th century B.C. Democritus taught the concepts of infinite space and numerous worlds.747 One of his pupils, Metrodorus of Chios, later wrote that "to consider the Earth the only populated world in infinite space is as absurd as to assert that in an entire field sown with millet only one grain will grow."20 Anaxagoras too embraced the plurality of worlds: "The Sun, the Moon, and all the stars are stones on fire. The Sun is a red-hot mass, or a stone, on fire. The Moon is of earthy nature. . .an incandescent solid, having in it plains, thountains, and ravines!"1872

Another 5th century mathematician of the Pythagorean school stated his views on extraterrestrial most forthrightly:

The Moon has an earthy appearance because, like our Earth, it is inhabited throughout by animals and plants, only larger and more beautiful than ours: for the animals on it are fifteen times stronger than those on the Earth... and the day in the Moon is correspondingly longer...1872

And from The Travels of the Young Anacharsis in Greece, written sometime during the 4th century B.C., we have:

As nature is even richer by the variety than by the number of the species, I spread in the various planets... peoples who have one, two, three, or four senses in supplement. I then compare their geniuses with those Greece has produced, and I must confess that Homer and Pythagoras inspire my pity."362

About this time the first "Moon romance" was written by Antonius Diogenes. His Of the Wonderful Things beyond Thule included a visit to the Moon; unfortunately, the original text has not survived.1872

The Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius firmly believed in a host of inhabited worlds. As he wrote in De Rerum Natura:

Why then you must confess that other worlds exist in other regions of the sky, and different tribes of men, kinds of wild beasts.... Nothing in nature is produced alone, nothing is born unique, or grows unique, alone. Each thing is always specimen -- of race or class, and many specimens belong to each.... That sky and Earth and Sun and all that comes to be are not unique but rather countless examples of a class."733

Unfortunately for xenology, the Earth-centered (geocentric) cosmologies sponsored by Plato and Aristotle held sway. Both philosophers were firmly opposed to the concept of a plurality of worlds. Aristotle asserted that all matter was contained in this world, thus leaving no room for any others. The unchangeability of the heavens was cited as additional proof of this.45 These teachings were later picked up by the Christian Church and enforced as law. It was then denied that any knowledge could exist that Aristotle had not known.


Last updated on 6 December 2008