- Jack McDevitt
I’ve mentioned before that people at SF conventions or simply attending luncheons or
in classrooms tend to get annoyed if a speaker suggests that the UFO stories were probably
fabricated and that no, it’s unlikely we’ve ever had any visits by aliens at any time in the
recent past. By ‘recent,’ I’m suggesting since the rise of western civilization. And that’s
likely well north of reality. It’s doubtful any human has ever seen a flying saucer. Ever.
It’s hard to say why we seem so desperately to want to entertain visitors. I recently
finished a conversation between Chase Kolpath and Gabe Benedict on the subject. They
live nine thousand years from now, have access to a pretty decent starship, and haven’t
themselves seen much in the way of intelligence anywhere else. There’ve been a few
civilizations that rose briefly into the sunlight. But only one other beside ours has
survived. Well, of course that’s only fiction. One guy’s lack of imagination at work.
“Why,” Chase asks, “do we care so much?” Neither of them has an answer.
Probably we just don’t like being alone. Watch SF on TV and the cosmos is filled with
aliens. Of course, when you’re running a TV show, it’s a lot easier to come up with story
lines when you have aliens. Empty worlds just don’t cut it.
But there’s an even more depressing possibility rising from the one facing Chase and
Gabe. We still don’t know how life got started, and the odds against its occurring simply
because the right chemicals showed up at exactly the right time, got together in the perfect
environment, while every other detail occurred in precisely the correct order, the
temperature was perfect, the water contained exactly the necessary amount of nitrogen and
salt, and the other details were exact might be pretty remote. The odds against its
happening have been compared to a monkey tapping on a typewriter and writing Hamlet.
If it’s really that extreme, we might be the only living world in the universe. Present that
possibility to an audience and you can feel the discomfort. The truth about us is that we
just don’t like being alone.