The Civilized Alien
(originally published Aug 2009)
Everything that makes up our life is "culture." But we rarely consider that intelligent extraterrestrial life must also have culture. Instead, like proverbial "motorheads," we obsess about their technology – their modes of transportation. We are in awe of their aerial vehicles, their UFOs.
We somehow lose sight that the UFO really represents far more than just a means of mobility for the alien. It means that the alien possesses a meaningful life. If the alien visits us, it must be a Civilized Alien – with components of culture that are likely very similar to our own.
In an earlier article by this author, "Why ET Has To Be Humanoid," I examined the probability that the alien shares certain fundamental physical characteristics with humans.
For instance, in order to craft technology, the visiting alien must be like us. They must ambulate; possess fine motor movement; limbs; opposable digits; and bilateral symmetry. Recent information from the University of Maryland's Laboratory of Chemical Evolution concludes: The genetic code, which determines the appearance and makeup of all living things, has a tendency to work one way – like water running down hill – to produce life as we know it.
Some believe that this is a flawed "anthropomorphic" position, and that aliens appear as we wish them to appear. We conceive and perceive them in forms to which we can relate. But the simple fact remains: though you will get different life forms on different planets, the ones who visit us are going to, in many ways, resemble us.
And just as we have similar physical characteristics, the civilized alien – no matter how complex or exotic its mind – must also share certain intellectual and cultural characteristics with humans.
Because "they" visit "us", it then follows that their intellectual capacities must be far more highly developed than our own. But their mental skills must be fundamentally very similar to our own. They too:
Seek answers to problems (they must analyze complex systems and issues by subdividing and prioritizing their components)
Relate observations (they must communicate a reality, or an object, based on its parts)
Anticipate change (they must perceive and explain change in order to adjust)
Remember and incorporate experience (they must recall solved problems and incorporate these solutions in the future)
Plan for things to come (they must have a sense of "future", and be able to "arrange" action)
Possess a purpose of action (they must goal-set with the objective to improve their own welfare)
These things are essential and common to all higher intelligence. In many ways, the Civilized Alien must think very much like the mind of man.
The alien culture is no doubt unfamiliar. But it is imaginable. It is even probable that we share many basic similarities. The alien culture has unfolded in far different directions then our own – and it has evolved for far longer. But it is still discernible.
There are things that we can know about the Civilized Alien with some certainty:
If they travel to our world, they must organize their own. Their civilization must in some way "group" in a way that is cohesive. These groups must in some way communicate and act for the common benefit. Simply, they must organize their society in some form. This perhaps includes families, tribes, clans, nations or alliances. There must be common norms and mental models. Without this, ET would be an unaccomplished race. There must be some sort of commerce – cooperation between groups to obtain goods or services that each needs, that is had by another.
Because they visit us in craft, they are technological. They must then have had issues related to a technological society, such as pollution and the use and allocation of planetary resources. They must "manufacture" – or have in some way developed systems to produce on a mass scale to meet their societal needs.
If certain groups do not cooperate with one another, they likely have had war. Where there is more than one, there is always disagreement.
The alien must educate its young. Education means communication for survival. To continue as a group, they must coach and cultivate their kindred.
The alien may have dealt with poverty and disease. All planets have weather, nature and natural disasters. These things would certainly have impacted their culture, as they have ours.
These elements of culture are likely to be universal to all communities of higher intelligence. We are analogous to the alien in many ways.
The attributes and nuances of alien culture, however, are far more difficult to discern: Do they have heroes, symbols and legends? Religion? Do they dance? Do they laugh? Do they have their own "Mona Lisa?" But perhaps the most important of these questions also cannot be answered:
Does the Civilized Alien have the capacity to Love?
Like us, can they care about one another? Do they have a sense of obligation? Or like us, can they also act out of fear and self-interest? As Sir Arthur Keith wrote, "Human nature has a dual constituency; to Hate as well as to Love are parts of it." Does this human characteristic – like so many others – extend to the alien?