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


25.3.1  Encounters Between Equals:  The 0/0 Contact

The 0/0 Contact is an encounter between alien races among whom power consumption and information processing capability are roughly equivalent. Such a contact may occur between two Type I civilizations, or between pairs of Type II's, Type III's, or Type IV's. A 0/0 Contact also occurs between pairs of reactivity species, two conscious races, two societies which both enjoy communality, and so forth. All told, there are 24 distinct contact scenarios within this particular classification.

First we consider the simplest cases. Type I societies by definition cannot possess advanced starflight on a commercial basis, nor can they create and launch a sufficient number of unmanned automatic probes to nearby star systems to ensure first contact. Hence, a 0/0 Contact between two planetary civilizations will probably involve some form of simple interstellar signaling, perhaps by means of radio waves. (See Chapter 24.) Round-trip data exchanges will take centuries or even millennia to complete, and interaction between the two societies will be very weak. There are few ethical issues at stake. Similarly, a meeting between two reactivity (SQ = 0) races should not be too exciting, resembling to human eyes more of a contest of creeping forests or at most a dogfight between two packs of wild animals than a congress of sentient alien beings.

What about an encounter between two Type II stellar societies, each comprised of beings of equal conscious sentience? First of all, the most likely place for such a contact to occur is in the general vicinity of a star. (Encounters near nebulae, neutron stars and other astronomical oddities are conceivable too.) The depths of space are so vast that even the bustling commercial activity of a mature Type III galactic culture would go unnoticed by a stationary observer nestled deep in the void between the stars. This being the case, two possibilities immediately present themselves: First, that the nearby star is the home (or local colony base) of the contactee race, and second, that it is not.

If the solar system is the home of the ETs, there will be no way for them to hide and no place to flee. The artifacts of advanced technological civilization will be blatantly obvious. Even if it is only an early Type II culture, the contactee society will have enveloped individual planets (if not the entire sun) with swarms of orbiting space platforms, industrial and manufacturing stations, artificial habitats, powersats, starship launching ports and various drydock facilities, military hardware, space radar bases, communications outposts, orbital astronomical observatories with large space telescopes, and all the other trappings of a burgeoning stellar society.

Countering the contactee’s relative immobility and the contactor’s advantage of surprise, the contactee should enjoy a tremendous advantage in available military power. Even though the two interacting races nominally command the same magnitudes of energy, the visitors cannot bring it all with them whereas the home society has all of theirs right at hand. This should help to reduce the vulnerability of the contactee somewhat.

However, in the final analysis it must be granted that solar systems may be sitting ducks unless they are armed to the teeth and constantly maintained on alert status for evidence of hostile intruders. Alien invaders may lie in ambush for years, decades, or even centuries, unseen, patiently monitoring the radio and other emissions of the target system and learning all about them -- and calling in reinforcements. Small reconnaissance probes could be fired through the system to collect vast quantities of data without detection. The erstwhile conquerors could choose the time, place, and manner of. attack exactly calculated best to destroy the defenders. Even the most careful of military preparations might not prove adequate to fend off such an onslaught. As one writer admits: "In the final analysis, any contacted planet will be at the mercy of its visitors."3257

From this we may draw two basic conclusions. First, if the contactor arrives at a surprisingly inconvenient time, supported by an armada of escorts and other unknown vessels, the contactee should expect trouble. Unfortunately there is little it can do, and unless it maintains a powerful military force of its own it probably will fall prey to the invaders. Second, if the contactor arrives in a single ship or among a very small group of vessels, chances are excellent that he has not come to fight. Any society capable of crossing interstellar space with a few starships could always find the resources to send more. If attack is the plan, there is no need to send in a few scouts for information that can be obtained more safely, cheaply, and surreptitiously.

Assuming the peaceful alternative -- the only one in which any options remain open to the contactees -- how should the two parties behave? What can they, what ought they, demand of one another?

Reasoning from our basic thermoethical principles, if the interloper has not attacked then he himself should not be attacked by the host race occupying the local star system. Beings of equal negentropy have equal rights. If contactees desire further contact, they should each be prepared to bear half the cost and intellectual burden of interaction. Beings of equal negentropy have equal responsibilities. The contactee should not give the contactor any technical information which it knows may cause sociocultural entropication in the contactor’s society, but if it is accidentally harmed in this manner the host is not liable since the visitor assumes the risk of contact on the presumption that the probable benefits would exceed the dangers. Finally, the author would like to propose a basic rule-of-thumb in all contact situations: Never allow an alien vessel to approach the centers of civilization closer than the Total Conversion Blast Radius. This is defined as the kill or destruction-radius of the explosion which would result if (accidentally or purposefully) the mass of the entire alien vessel instantaneously suffered total conversion into pure photonic energy.3204,3482

As for the contactor, he should never enter a system without careful prior surveillance (unless it’s an extreme emergency). The visitor is allowed to risk entropication from such surveillance under the Self-Jeopardization Rule. The contactor should scout out the solar system and learn all it can about the inhabitants before making its presence known to them, both to minimize the possibility of harm to itself and to ensure that the contactee will not be harmed by the act of contact (the Entropic Censorship Rule). Once contact has been established the visitor should treat the host as an equal and respect their right of self-preservation. Beings of equal negentropy each have priority in determining how their own information (e.g., culture) should best be preserved, because preservation (Canon II) takes precedence over creation (Canon III). Applying again the Self-Jeopardization Rule, the contactor should be willing to take the initiative in managing the progress of the encounter (though he should expect the contactee to contribute equally to the exchange) and should be willing to submit to any reasonable nonlethal request by the host which does not violate the Entropic Censorship Rule.

Consider now an alternative form of first contact, in which the site of the rendezvous is not the home solar system or colony site of either party. This is the an example of a so-called Leinster Contact, named after the author of a 1945 science-fiction story entitled "First Contact":

"We don’t know what they’re like and can’t take a chance. We’re going make contacts and try to find out all we can about them -- especially where they came from. I suppose we’ll try to make friends -- but we haven’t much chance. We can't trust them the fraction of an inch. We daren't. They’ve locators. Maybe they’ve tracers better than any we have. Maybe they could trace us all the way home without our knowing it. We can’t risk a nonhuman race knowing where Earth is until we’re sure of them.1213

Murray Leinster’s solution is to have the two races swap ships, each returning home to its own respective solar system to report the news of contact after arranging for a future meeting at the same place on a specific date. The Leinster Solution is clever, but unworkable in a practical sense for the following reasons: (1) Lack of training of each crew in the written technical language of the other race and on the method of operation of each other's complex starship technology; (2) incompatibility of food processing equipment and other life support systems; (3) microbiological or indirect ecological damage to the crew or its home culture, unless each ship is fully decontaminated, bow to stern and inside out, prior to the swap; (4) destruction of the other party in such a suspicious atmosphere is likely, since each party probably knows how to subtly sabotage their own ship (which the other must take home) so it will self-destruct a short while after encounter is broken off (thus giving the surviving group a short-term technological advantage; and (5) the parties are automata, they are the ships and thus cannot swap.

Xenologists can analyze each possible behavior and suggest the most ordered response from the standpoint of thermoethical ideals. For instance, if one party flees immediately following the encounter the other party should not pursue.2580 Contact would most likely be too entropic for the frightened race. If one party ignores the overtures of the other, the more active party should increase the bit rate a few times just to make sure the passive ship simply is not bored or impatient.1001 If there is still no response, the active party should move on without boarding the unresponsive craft. If there are astronauts on board, clearly they do not wish to make contact; if the ship is fully automated, the boarding party might inadvertently damage its mechanisms.

If one ship attacks the other, the victim is ethically justified to use whatever defensive force is required to repel the attack. (Acts of retaliation or vindictiveness are not justifiable, as these merely serve to increase the total loss of information in the living universe.) Immediate withdrawal and flight is preferable if possible. If not, and if the victim is winning the battle, he should disengage as soon as the attacker ceases the attack in order to spare the enemy any unnecessary casualties. The victim should then retreat, following a circuitous route home and perhaps changing ships once or twice in uninhabited star systems to foil possible backtracking by the hostiles.

If, on the other hand, the victim is losing the battle and destruction seems imminent, several things should be done. First, a small, undetectable automatic marker buoy with a 1-year activation time delay or coded proximity trigger should be released at the approximate velocity of nearby debris, in a random direction. The buoy should contain full details of the encounter encoded using theoretically unbreakable "trapdoor" cryptography or "Rivest coding," and broadcast using "spread-spectrum" communications channels under cover of the Galactic background noise. Second, the victim should not allow knowledge of the location of the home system to fall into enemy hands; navigational charts and records should be prepared for immediate destruction. If the hostiles do find out somehow, radio silence should be broken and a warning message dispatched at the speed of light (faster, if possible) -- a signal which, presumably, will arrive well ahead of even the fastest possible alien armada. Third, even if it is possible to get a signal off, the victim vessel is ethically justified in committing suicide and self-destructing.1550,1001,3273 This will serve at least three useful purposes: (1) to prevent knowledge of the victim’s technology from falling into the attackers’ hands, (2) to prevent the hostiles from learning details of the victim's physiology (which may help in the design of species-specific weaponry and the exact determination of the location of the home system), and (3) to inform the hostiles that the victims value their race more than their own personal existence, and thus may represent a force to be reckoned with on their home grounds.

Hopefully, though, the encounter will be a peaceful and active one. Lacking evidence to the contrary, the assumption of peaceful intentions should always be made. Messages by radio (television) or some equivalent medium may be used to establish a Lincos-type linguistic basis. Ambiguities can easily and swiftly be resolved simply by projecting a movie film of the appropriate object or behavior onto a huge screen on the side of the contact craft, or by exchanging actual samples and artifacts. If information transferal is continuous, the bit rates in each direction should be adjusted to rough equivalence; if transmission is discrete, as an the case of physical samples or movies, reciprocation is again expected. The rate of interaction should be rapid enough. to ensure progress, but slow enough to allow the analysts of each race to properly assess whether the exchange of further information will be beneficial or entropic to themselves. If either party decides that further interaction will prove harmful, then the conversation may shift to other areas of discourse or may be terminated altogether.

If full mutual trust can be established, the two ships may trade information on the location of the home system of each, set up preliminary trade agreements, establish common communication modes and media, and so forth, if authorized, to do so by the civilization each represents. If not, or if full trust cannot yet be established, a second meeting should be arranged in the same solar system, at some specified and agreed-upon time. Each party should then withdraw along a random course, following a circuitous path home. The contact ships of each, and any artifacts that have been taken aboard during the contact, should be parked in an uninhabited solar neighborhood far from the home system. A friendly Transfer Vessel should then be dispatched from the home system to pick up the travelers and return them to home; the contact ship and its cargo may be quarantined and examined at leisure, thus foiling any possible attempts at backtracking by the other less-than-totally-trustworthy party to the contact.

Space does not permit a discussion of the many other variants of 0/0 Contact. An exchange between a pair of communal sentients would appear to humans much like two high-speed digital computers transferring gigabits of data as they talked. If two Type III galactic societies came into contact, the agreed upon procedure might be to set up a Contact World on which the various contacting races could meet and exchange information. All situations, however, should be analyzed using the same thermoethical fundamentals as were applied in the cases above.


Last updated on 6 December 2008