Former SETI Director: Aliens Won’t Eat Us

In a talk possibly directed at Hollywood, former SETI director has joined the chorus of scientists suggesting that visiting aliens would be unlikely to consider humans for their menus.  The press release comes in the wake of decades of films and video games capitalizing on the idea of antagonistic aliens interested in the consumption of human flesh as their primary motivation for invading Earth.

SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence has generally taken the stance that most likely a visiting alien race would be peaceful, even if not entirely trustworthy.  A number of scientists from around the world suggest that at a certain point alien visitors would be interested in making contact with Earth as soon as intelligent life was discovered in a tiny part of an incredibly large galaxy.  SETI has been transmitting and searching for signs of this life since its inception.

Critics have occasionally suggested that SETI may not be a good idea if alien visitors were the same monsters of questionable motivation that Hollywood would have us see on the silver screen.  And now in a press release at the Institute’s SETIcon event, Jill Tarter (most commonly known as the inspiration for the protagonist in the film “Contact”) said that our image of extraterrestrials may be tinted by Hollywood movies as well as events from our own history.

The idea that Earth precedent can be overlooked is a bit more delicate an issue than the idea that truth doesn’t always mimic fiction.  While big budget Hollywood producers like Michael Bay may portray aliens as two-dimensional beings from a distant world, they are often created for the purpose of entertainment.  Where the Golden Age of science fiction often sought the truth in even its most fantastic stories, many of the more recent alien invasion scenarios from Hollywood are a bit questionable when it comes to motive.

On the other end of the spectrum are much more difficult to contend with minds such as physicist Stephen Hawking and a plethora of historians who say we need only look at previous examples of contact between civilizations of different technological levels.  The result in the latter, it seems is almost always the domination of one by the other through military force.

But specifically the intentions of hungry aliens in many popular television series like the classic 1980’s “V” are a bit difficult to stomach for those dedicated to making contact with extraterrestrials.  And it may not just be the technological advantages they have that keep them from taking out human civilization for dinner. 

A space-faring race would likely have an abundance of resources they could commit to food production to better sustain prolonged space flights.  The classic idea of Earth invasion as a means of acquiring resources often overlooks the fact that many of the resources we have collected on our planet are comparably small when we take into consideration the rest of the solar system.

For example, a single comet could contain far more water than the entirety of Earth without the added unfortunate side effect of having to actually use energy to take it off the planet.  Even the rings of Saturn have water in vast amounts.  And humans as food would be an inefficient resource to acquire for visiting aliens if their engineering could be applied in space to build vast automated farms – even if they were of the carnivorous persuasion.  Scientists have found ways of artificially “growing” meat in biovats, a system that would only be improved with further technological advancement.

In the end it is impossible to know what the intentions of visiting aliens may be.  The vast scope of possibility makes everything from the most reasonable to the most fantastic ideas about how aliens may work possible.  In the end, no one can say with absolute authority anything about the intentions of a complete unknown visiting us publicly for the first time.