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


25.3.4  Higher-Order Contacts

Twenty-one distinct classes of first contact remain to be discussed, but, sadly, we have neither the space nor the imagination to do so here. It is virtually impossible for a human being to properly visualize the incredible mental power of creatures able to process information 20 orders of magnitude faster than ourselves. The problem of understanding is crudely analogous to the difficulties involved in comprehending 4-dimensional and higher-dimensional geometry. By taking a simple mathematical projection into three dimensions (the physical space to which we are accustomed) of a 4-D solid such as a hypercube or a hypersphere, we can gain a very tenuous grip on the reality of the object in question. But 5-D objects are vastly more difficult, 6-D objects inconceivable. Similarly, we can get some idea of what a P/10 meeting might be like by visualizing a man and a tree, but a P/20 encounter appears incomprehensible and a P/30 Contact hopelessly intractable. Perhaps all higher contacts are too entropical for the lesser race and hence are ruled out as unethical.

What about out an 11/10 Contact? Such an event lies barely within the human ken. It involves an encounter between races whose members are one step higher than the others in sentient awareness, and whose societies differ in power utilization by a factor of 1011. What would this kind of meeting be like?

Duncan Lunan suggests that beings this far in advance of humanity "are likely to regard us as intelligent animals":

Not too bad a situation, perhaps, if we are regarded with affection -- hopefully, encouraged to learn -- though it might be rough on individual humans snatched for the aliens' purposes....A danger which increases with the differential in intelligence is that they’ll be sufficiently unlike us to see our cities only as convenient gatherings of protein, the way we see schools of whales and used to view herds of buffalo.1001

A more accurately scaled analogy might be an encounter between an anthill and the whole of United States society, or between a single man and a single ant. Movie producer Stanley Kubrick once remarked:

Why should a vastly superior race bother to harm or destroy us? If an intelligent ant suddenly traced a message in the sand at my feet reading "I am sentient; let’s talk things over," I doubt very much that I would rush to grind him under my heel.1558

It is doubtful, however, that an ant could ever learn to write English in the sand. More appropriate for this analogy would be if Kubrick’s ant commenced to bite him periodically in the leg, chomping a series such as 3 bites, 1 bite, 4 bites, 1 bite, 5 bites, and so forth to render the first ten digits of pi. While this could suffice to demonstrate the creature’s mathematical expertise, the superior Kubrick being might just swat the damn thing away without giving the matter a moment’s thought. After all, asks John Macvey, "when applying pesticide who notices the single ‘friendly’ ant?"2724

Philip Morrison in one of his many lectures questioned whether a civilization advanced both in power and sentience would maliciously stamp out other sentient lifeforms. Morrison has been quoted as saying:

If [I] were looking through a microscope and saw a group of bacteria spell out, like a college band, "Please do not put iodine on this plate. We want to talk to you," [my] first inclination would certainly not be to rush the bacteria into a sterilizer.702

Again, however, bacteria-level sentients (or humans under the microscope of the communal sentients) probably could not learn to speak English. Their efforts at communication might be regarded as little more than an infection, easily dispatched by the application of antibiotics. There is a chance that communals might recognize and respect conscious beings, since higher-order sentients should be cognizant of all lower levels, but there is no guarantee that we will be able to yell loudly enough for them to notice us. And our own treatment of mere neural sentients makes the author skeptical that communals would treat "mere conscious" being any better.

Then again, they might just ignore us altogether. According to Arthur C. Clarke:

There may, of course, be entities who collect solar systems as a child may collect stamps. If this happened to us, we might never be aware of it; What do the inhabitants of a beehive know of their keeper? .... That may be an analogy worth pursuing. Men do not interfere with bees -- or wasps -- unless they have good reasons. As far as possible, they prefer to leave them alone.81


Last updated on 6 December 2008