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  • Writer's pictureJack McDevitt

Blog #1

Reports recently released show evidence of life on Earth 200 million years earlier than we had previously believed. The conclusion drawn from the discovery is that life is consequently more likely than we’d expected, and therefore that we may well be living in a crowded universe. Connect that with warnings from Stephen Hawking and other scientists that we’d be smart to cut down all the broadcasts that are signaling our presence to potential invaders.

They have a point. There may well be intelligent crustaceans out there who would like nothing better than enjoying a few million humans for breakfast. But fortunately for us, it would be a long walk for them to get here. The technology to cross a few light-years would probably be out of reach for any species unable to learn how to cooperate with each other, or to be able to set up societies in which the members have developed an empathy not only for their neighbors, but for other species as well.

I have no scientific evidence to prove this. But it’s difficult not to conclude that a world filled with power-hungry dictators would not get far with technology in the first since the smarter members of their society would either clear out or be driven out. Hitler is a good example: He must have been surprised when the Nazis began looking at the potential of nuclear weapons during the early years of WWII and discovered that most of his physicists were no longer in the area.

The technology that would be required to transport any species across interstellar distances is going to require a high level of intelligence. And the species that develops that happy quality will also be the happy recipient of common sense. When we look at the smartest people in our assorted cultures, we tend to think about Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, Isaac Newton, Galileo, Voltaire, and soon. In our current era, we have Hawking, Edward Witten (quantum gravity), Manahel Thabet (Yemeni scientist and economist), Magnus Carlsen (world chess champion), Noam Chomsky, Judith Polgar (brilliant chessplayer). A search reveals no Hitlers or Stalins or any other power-drunk maniacs. And will unfortunately also lead to a humbling of the spirit. A substantial number of people around the planet have IQ’s that range over two hundred.

If we can find a way to keep the morons out of power, we can make our own world a happier place. Meantime, if we are unable to do that, it is hard to see how we would ever be able to make it to the stars. That would require a major effort and some sacrifices. A leader seeking additional power would see no reason to pursue the effort.

The conclusion: If visitors arrive one day from Alpha Centauri, I doubt we’ll have anything to worry about.

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