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;

(c) 1979 Robert A. Freitas Jr. All Rights Reserved.




Chapter 26.  First Contact and the Human Response

"Take me to your leader!"
          -- When They Come From Space by Mark Clifton (1962)2166

She’s off! The top’s loose!
Look out there! Stand back!
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the most terrifying thing I have ever witnessed ... Wait a minute! Someone’s crawling out of the hollow top. I can see peering out of that black hole two luminous disks ... are they eyes? It might be a face. It might be...

Good heavens, something’s wriggling out of the shadow like a grey snake. Now it’s another one, and another. They look like tentacles to me. There, I can see the thing’s body. It’s large as a bear and it glistens like wet leather. But that face. It. . . it’s indescribable. I can hardly force myself to keep looking at it. The eyes are black and gleam like a serpent. The mouth is V-shaped with saliva dripping from its rimless lips that seem to quiver and pulsate. The monster or whatever it is can hardly move. It seems weighed down by ... possibly gravity or something. The thing’s raising up. The crowd falls hack. They’ve seen enough. This is the most extraordinary experience. I can’t find words.

Slowly a humped shape rose out of the pit, and the ghost of a beam of light seemed to flicker out from it. Forthwith flashes of actual flame, a bright glare leaping from one to another, sprang from the scattered group of men. Some invisible jet impinged upon them and flashed into white flame. ... That night forty people lay under the starlight about the pit, charred and distorted beyond recognition.
          -- from the script of the 1938 Mercury Theater "War of the Worlds" broadcast by Orson Welles,738 after H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds (1898)1951

          "After almost a year, I decided I wanted to be a real doctor. So I started medical school -- an agency grant was easy to get." His voice dropped off softly.
          "You know. That’s when the Spican ships started landing. Man’s first interstellar visitors -- and I hardly even noticed. I was too busy boning up for my anatomy finals while the negotiations were going on. A lot of staff and the board members flew up to New York when the Spican bio-med laisons put on their demonstrations. They came back with their minds blown, talking about medical technology so advanced it might as well be magic. A month later the school was closed down."
          Bitter, "Why train people to make fires with flint and steel when the butane lighters are about to be handed out?"
          -- from "Xenofreak/Xenophobe" by Edward Bryant (1975)2170


If intelligent extraterrestrial races do exist elsewhere in the Galaxy, then it seems virtually inevitable that someday human and alien will meet. The consequences for our values and beliefs are many and complex, and would vary profoundly from culture to culture and among subcultures within large societies. If first contact occurs within the next few decades, in our own solar system, will humankind be prepared to receive alien visitors with the grace and intelligence of a mature civilization? Will the community of mankind be irrevocably sundered, or forever united, by an encounter with an advanced technical society from the stars?

There are many ways first contact may occur. Interstellar relations might take place with the whole of the extraterrestrial sentient species, with representative organizations of their race, or with individual members. Similarly, contact may be established with all of humanity, a part of humanity, or with single human beings. Contact scenarios may also be classified as to physical location -- encounters could occur on land, in the air, under the ocean, in Earth orbit, and so on. The consequences of and responses to contact might also vary significantly depending on the motives of the contactors -- it would make a great deal of difference to us if They came as traders, evangelists, slavers, teachers, or gourmets.

Perhaps the most useful to xenologists is a contact taxonomy based on the intensity of interaction. In this scheme, there are three fundamental levels of contact:

(A) Remote Contact,

(B) Direct Contact, and

(C) Surprise Contact.

While all encounters with ETs necessarily be somewhat in the nature of a "surprise," the above taxonomy groups together those modes of contact in which the potential transfer of information -- and the potential for disruption of the contacted society -- is roughly equivalent. Remote Contact, probably the safest method, involves interstellar or galactic radio links between neighboring civilizations. Only information and ideas could flow between the two cultures, and even a single exchange of messages would require decades or centuries to creep across the intervening light-years at the speed of light. (This is the standard SETI approach.) Direct Contact is considerably more risky: A well-publicized or authorized landing by an alien craft at a designated Air Force base, or perhaps a prearranged rendezvous on the Moon or in cislunar or interplanetary space. Clear prior notice would be provided by the ETs, with permission sought and granted before actual physical contact. (An automated messenger probe, or "Bracewell probe," would be an instance of Direct Contact.) The most dangerous and controversial of all, however, is Surprise Contact -- a sudden physical confrontation between humans and alien beings without warning or advance preparation.

Each of the three basic contact scenarios, graded as above according to the intensity of interaction, may be further subdivided and refined. For instance, ufologist J. Allen Hynek proposes a six-part subclassification scheme which could be applied to all Surprise Contacts occurring on Earth:


1. Nocturnal Lights -- UFOs seen at night. Almost invariably only the brightness, color, and motion of the light are reported.

2. Daylight Discs -- UFOs seen in daytime. So named because the most-reported shape is oval or disc-like.

3. Radar-Visual -- UFOs reported through the medium of radar, accompanied by a seemingly related visual confirmation.


1. Close Encounters of the First Kind -- UFO sighted at close range, but there is no interaction with the environment other than possible psychological trauma to the human observer.

2. Close Encounters of the Second Kind -- UFO sighted at close range, accompanied by physical effects on nearby animate and inanimate matter. (Pressed vegetation, burn marks, broken tree branches, frightened animals; disabled vehicles, power blackouts, etc.).

3. Close Encounters of the Third Kind -- UFO sighted at close range, and its alien occupants are observed in or about the craft. Physical effects and actual contact between humans and ETs may occur.597

Regardless of one's personal view of the UFO phenomenon (the author is highly skeptical), and despite the fact that no evidence exists today that can compel scientific acceptance of the extraterrestrial hypothesis, still the possibility of present-day ET surveillance cannot be ruled out by logic and scientific arguments alone. Based on the conclusions reached elsewhere in this book, it is fairly easy to see the fallacies hidden in numerous arguments advanced to "prove" that the extraterrestrial hypothesis vis-a-vis UFOs is "impossible."

Perhaps most pervasive are the "numbers" arguments, which purport to demonstrate that since the number of launching civilizations is so small, and the number of interesting places to visit is so large, that the average number of starship launchings per year is so great as to be grossly unreasonable. For example, assuming a million technical civilizations in the Galaxy, Carl Sagan writes:

Let’s assume that each of these million technical civilizations launch Q interstellar space vehicles a year; thus, 106Q interstellar space vehicles are launched per year. Let’s assume that there’s only one contact made per journey. In the steady-state situation there are something like 106Q arrivals somewhere or other per year. Now there surely are something like 1010 interesting places in the galaxy to visit and therefore at least 10-4Q arrivals at a given interesting place, let’s say a planet, per year. So if only one UFO is to visit the earth each year, we can calculate what mean launch rate is required at each of these million worlds. The number turns out to be 10,000 launches per year per civilization; and 1010 launches in the galaxy per year. This seems excessive.. . . So I deduce from these arguments that the extraterrestrial hypothesis is in some trouble if we’re to imagine that even a smallish fraction of the ten or twenty thousand UFO cases reported in the last twenty to twenty-five years are interstellar in origin.18

Assuming the above calculation is valid, are 10,000 launches per year per civilization at all unreasonable? Consider first the energetic requirements. In Chapter 17 we showed that a 100 light-year mission at 1 gee acceleration on a Standard Flight Plan using a vessel the size of the Starship Enterprise (of Star Trek fame) would cost about 9 x 1026 joules. This represents about 9 seconds of the total power output of a single mature Type II stellar civilization. To launch starships at a rate of 10,000 per year would require 90,000 seconds’ worth of energy, about a day’s production of power. Surely it is not unreasonable for an advanced society to expend a mere 0.3% of its annual energy output on. interstellar exploration and commerce? This is the fraction of humanity's present energy output currently expended on aviation (see Scientific American (January 1975):35); perhaps 30% is used for all forms of transporation.

How about mass requirements? If each vessel weighs 190,000 metric tons (like the fictional TV starship Enterprise) then the total requirement for a 10,000-ship-a-year operation would be 1.9 x 1012 kg. This figure is only about twice the current world production of iron and steel. The required equivalent amount of metal may be recovered by capturing a single small nickel-iron asteroid (diameter of 700 meters) or by processing about 3 cubic kilometers of earth-crust per year at an average power cost of 1012 watts. This is well within the abilities of a Type I planetary civilization such as near-future humanity, so should be a snap for any Type II stellar culture. Furthermore, if such explorations have been going on since the origin of the Milky Way 12 billion years ago, making the rather harsh (and inexplicably wasteful) presumption that each starship is used for only one mission and is then discarded,18 total mass requirement over the age of the Galaxy is only 2.3 x 1022 kg per launching civilization. This is well within the mass budget even of a Type I planetary civilization, and corresponds to about one-third the mass of Luna -- a not unreasonable expenditure over a 12 billion year block of time.

So assuming Sagan’s calculation is correct, the results are not unreasonable at all. Far from it -- 106 mature Type II stellar societies probably could easily dispatch 1 UFO to Earth per year even operating under Sagan's pessimistic constraints. However, Sagan's calculation is most assuredly not correct, because at least two of his assumptions contain major flaws.

The first questionable assumption is that each starship makes only one contact per journey. The error is common in the literature: namely, that one UFO sighting necessarily corresponds to one interstellar journey. But much as the proposed Project Daedalus starship (see Chapter 24) would carry up to 18 subprobes and 2 "wardens" to be deployed on a wide variety of missions upon arrival, the target solar system, a somewhat larger, also fully automated single alien starprobe might have as many as 100 maneuverable high-performance lander craft. If these were operating secretly around our planet since the late 1940s (or earlier) and if, on the average, each craft was sighted by a human and reported only once every month, this would generate a total of 36,000 sightings during the past three decades of UFO observation. It would be a simple matter for the. "mother ship" to hide behind an asteroid, or in a small crater or cavern on the dark side of the Moon, and periodically to recharge itself (and its 100 lander craft) using solar energy from our sun.

The second questionable assumption is that there is nothing terribly unusual about Earth, and so there is nothing to distinguish us from the other 10 billion interesting places in the Galaxy to visit. From our discussion of technological advance in Chapter 25, we found that technical evolution may carry a sentient race from "impotence" to "omnipotence" in the space of ten thousand years. Technical advance may look like a "step function" (see Figure 25.2) on megayear timescales. Since humanity is almost halfway up the step, we may properly be regarded as a "transition society." If, as Sagan suggests, there are only one million advanced technological civilizations extant in the Milky Way, then theory suggests there might only be about 100 races in the Galaxy whose development is within 104 years of our own. In other words, we may be one of a hundred "transition societies" in the entire Milky Way! This could make Earth an object of inordinate interest to extraterrestrial explorers and researchers.

Let us redo Sagan’s calculation, taking into account the above corrections of the two faulty assumptions. Since each interstellar vehicle can count as >100 UFOs because of its lander craft, there are 108Q arrivals "somewhere or other" per year. Since there are 100 "interesting places to visit" (transition societies like Earth), we have 106Q arrivals at a given interesting planet per year. To obtain 1000 UFO reports each year on Earth, 106Q = 103 so Q = 10-3 launches per year per civilization (or 1 launch every millennium per civilization). This works out to only 1000 launches total per annum galaxywide, an even more reasonable outcome than Sagan’s original result.*

Our study of the theory of first contact and the basic principles of thermoethics suggests that alien encounter programs with the highest ethical content will be characterized by stealth, caution, and minimization of harm to the contactee culture. Reckoning from the Entropic Censorship Rule, we should expect Surprise Contacts to be the exception rather than the rule. Contact may be attempted only after humanity has been carefully "researched" by the advanced alien race for many decades or even centuries. (They may be clonic, bionic, robotic, or immortal.) Such cautious, evasive behavior is a hallmark of the most reliable UFO "close encounter" cases. Hynek provides one typical example:

An airplane took off from the airport and passed overhead of the object. All the lights went out until the plane was past it. Then with approximately four bright flickers, the object moved from west to southwest and through the overcast. ... It seemed to me that this object was charting a course or investigating different objects on the ground, as the lights would stop on certain objects such as cars, pickups, hedges, shrubbery, houses, utility lines, and poles.597

If UFOs are piloted by aliens, this would explain why there have been no landings on the White House lawn as yet. The ETs are still studying us, and believe that to openly contact humanity at this time might trigger major cultural and global upheavals. Social entropication is to be avoided; hence, the extraterrestrials are avoiding us. But perhaps they don't mind if a few people spot a few UFOs now and again. In fact, this may be part of a planned acclimatization schedule to preadapt the modern human psyche to the reality of encounter with alien races when it occurs.171 If we become accustomed to the UFO phenomenon, perhaps we shall be less fearful when contact actually occurs. It is much like the "dear enemy" concept in sociobiology, involving the tolerance of neighbors in adjacent territories: "The more something stays around without causing harm, the more likely it is to be part of the favorable environment."565

The above speculations are not meant to imply that the extraterrestrial hypothesis for the UFO phenomenon is correct. Rather, it is the author’s sole intention in the above discussion to demonstrate that the ET hypothesis is not inconsistent with present-day science fact or xenological theory. "Proper" first contact techniques are frequently exemplified in many ufological "close encounter" reports. It is in this spirit of openmindedness and acceptance of the possibility of physical encounters with extraterrestrial intelligences that we now consider the rich diversity of human responses to first contact.**


* Of course, first you have to find the 100 interesting "transition, societies." But this should not prove difficult. If we spread the 1010 initial exploratory missions over 106 civilizations and a period of 107 years, the launch rate can still be held to 1 starship per millennium per society. If each starship can cursorily examine as many as 1000 solar systems before heading for home, then the initial exploratory period can be cut to 10,000 years.

** We cannot leave this subject without making brief mention of planetary landing vehicles. Although noted UFO debunker Philip J. Klass claims that saucer-shaped craft are aerodynamically unstable and unwieldy,695 other writers have speculated on reasonable propulsion systems for disc-shaped orbit-to-ground excursion vehicles, including Blumrich,1058 Demetriades and Kretschmer,727 Finch,752 Rosa,255 and Winder.760 Another unusual concept is the Orbital Tower, or "space elevator," traversing a structure strung from ground up to geosynchronous stationary orbit.1472



26.1  Military and Political Response

In the United States and all modern technological societies on Earth, the health and well-being of the citizenry is viewed as the proper responsibility of national government and the military. Threats to the general populace are referred to political authorities, who respond with appropriate protective force and other actions designed to quell the emergency. Most reasonable alien encounter scenarios directly involve either the military, scientific institutions likely to call for governmental assistance, or contact with individuals or crowds that are certain to attract the attention of local authorities. Thus it is not unreasonable to expect that. perhaps the single most important factor will be the military and government response to the first contact event.


26.1.1  Remote Contact

In the standard SETI scenario, Remote Contact may occur when human radio receivers located on Earth or in Earth orbit pick up signals beamed at our solar system by an advanced technical race near some other star. First perhaps a beacon; later, after anticryptography and various frequency and equipment refinements, the complete text of the Encyclopedia Galactica streams rapidly into the waiting radiotelescopes of humankind.

There are three possible avenues of detection: military, radioastronomical, and SETI. Of the three, SETI researchers are vastly more likely to bag a beacon (if one exists) since they are actively and specifically looking for them.3653 Radio astronomers are far less likely to pick up alien transmissions, since their equipment normally is broadband (wide bandwidth) whereas ET signals are expected to be narrowband. (And if these scientists ever did happen to record a transmission that was clearly artificial, the data would doubtless be ignored as irrelevant terrestrial radio interference.) As for the military, direct serendipitous acquisition is unlikely in the extreme, since military radars are tuned to very exact frequencies that the transmitting extraterrestrial civilizations probably won’t be using.

If SETI researchers are most likely to be the first beneficiaries of alien informational largesse, how would they respond to the event? Would they keep the news entirely to themselves, or perhaps circumspectly inform selected government officials, or would they simply treat the discovery in the normal scientific manner? On the whole, the SETI community appears to favor the latter approach, but this opinion is not unanimous.

For instance, Canadian signal searchers Paul Feldman and Alan Bridle apparently are concerned about the implications of interstellar contact. They feel the release of SETI information "depends very much on the apparent content of the message."3257 Dr. Benjamin Zuckerman has also expressed some reticence to go public immediately with the data:

I think that we would try to confirm beyond a doubt that it was a CETI signal before we let the world know about it. I would also think very hard about replying to "Them" before we made our results public.3257

But most xenologists active in the field favor candor. Carl Sagan’s first response would be to ask for confirmation of the extraterrestrial signal from other radio astronomy observatories around the world. If there were really something there, he says, "it would be very hard to hide the existence of a message." In similar vein, radioastronomer Patrick Palmer notes:

Since we use a national facility {the National Radio Astronomy Observatory at Green Bank is open to qualified investigators from many sources} rather than our own observatory, keeping something secret is very difficult because of the sheer number of people passing through and the openness of the observatory operation. ... My desire has always been to handle it as a normal scientific discovery. Our greatest interest would be in understanding the message and communicating, and we would certainly need the aid of many other scientists to do this as efficiently as possible. I believe that it is essentially always wrong to try to withhold basic scientific information."3257

(In three years of SETI work, Palmer claims he has never been contacted by any government agency.)

Finally, Philip Morrison, Professor of Physics at MIT and an early SETI pioneer, recently stated in testimony before the House Subcommittee on Space Science and Applications:

What we will first see most likely will be a false, alarm. We have had many false alarms already. ... That is true in spite of our best efforts when computers and signal processing is new. If they tell you it’s a real signal only a few times, I think you might still be wrong.

The way to be sure will be to conduct the whole thing in the ordinary manner of scientific exploration -- relatively publicly, with freedom of access to any competent, well-behaved observer who wants to work with the group. This should be done in the familiar scientific fashion. I don’t think it should be regarded as a secret or a matter of state. It should be regarded as a scientific exploration.

I don’t think that means you can allow arbitrary people to come and grab the data, take it home, make their own things out of it. It should be done in an orderly, systematic way, with great hospitality, with an effort to show to the press, especially to those able to judge the validity of the signal, whether it is a real signal.

If we had such a candidate signal the first thing would be to summon an. international committee to study the data. Are we being fooled by something we haven’t understood? It’s quite likely we will in fact be fooled a number of times before we understand that the signal is unmistakably coming from beings alien and yet like ourselves.3286

So much for opinions. But what has actually happened in similar or analogous situations in the past?

The first "false alarm" in recent times occurred during the SETI search undertaken by Frank Drake in 1960, called Project Ozma. On the very first day of monitoring, Drake and his co-workers picked up what appeared to be an artificial signal coming from Epsilon Eridani. The fleeting transmissions stopped before they could be positively verified. There was no thought of a public announcement.702 What did Drake do next?

Day after day, as we turned to Epsilon Eridani, we tuned to the frequency on which the signal had been heard. We listened for a half hour or so, and then we would go back to our frequency scanning. A week went by and the signal didn’t return. To our chagrin, one of our employees called up a friend in Ohio and told him about the signal. The word was passed to a newspaper reporter friend, and suddenly we were deluged with inquiries about the mysterious signal -- "Had we really detected another civilization?" "No." "But you have received a strong signal with your equipment?" "We can’t comment on that." And so, aha, we were hiding something. To this day many people believe falsely that we received signals from another world, and that some fiendish government agency has required us to keep this a deep dark secret.3442

In 1967 radio astronomers at Cambridge, England were confronted with a similar situation when they detected the f lashing radio sources known today as pulsars. Several writers had, suggested that the most rational alien signal would be a series of pulses, designed to show intelligent origin. On 28 November 1967, research student. Jocelyn Bell observed a series of pulses, equally spaced exactly 1.3 seconds apart. When she contacted her supervisor, Tony Hewish, he at first suggested that they were manmade. But careful investigation in the following weeks indicated that the source of the transmissions was definitely outside the Solar System but well within the Galaxy. Such a fast ‘pulsation rate was far too fast for anything like a star. Wondered Bell:

So were these pulsations man-made, but made by man from another civilization?... Just before Christmas I went to see Tony Hewish about something and walked into a high-level conference about how to present these results. We did not really believe that we had picked up signals from another civilization, but obviously the idea had crossed our minds and we had no proof that it was an entirely natural radio emission. It is an interesting problem -- if one thinks one may have detected life elsewhere in the universe, how does one announce the results responsibly? Who does one tell first? We did not solve the problem that afternoon, and I went home that evening very cross -- here was I trying to get a Ph.D. out of a new technique, and some silly lot of little green men had to choose my aerial and my frequency to communicate with us....3443

The discovery was kept a closely guarded secret to prevent the media from publicizing what came to be called the LGM (Little Green Men) Hypothesis. The Cambridge astronomers were still discussing what to do when, in January 1968, new data came in which showed that the signals had a natural origin. Only then was a public announcement of the discovery made.

In both of the above cases, putative alien messages were not reported either to the public at large or to any governmental agency. In each instance, the scientists decided to sit on the information until sufficient data had accumulated so that a proper determination of the nature of the transmissions could be made. As Drake admitted, however, this self-imposed secrecy coupled with subsequently accidental publicity may have weakened the credibility of the denials of ET contact later issued by the Ozma staff. Perhaps it would have been better policy to let the public know what was happening at each stage of the operation, to help allay common fears, suspicions, and misapprehensions.

What if a real alien message were received? Some scientists probably would feel obligated to alert the authorities before going public for reasons of national welfare. Others would simply want to turn the whole thing over to the government and let them take responsibility for making the hard choices. And of course, in any event, once the fact of the discovery is released to the public the government will know about it too and will have a variety of policy options open to them at that point. How might government and the military establishment react in this kind of situation?

In a Remote Contact situation, the primary governmental concern will be the suppression of dangerous extraterrestrial information and the possible military or economic advantages that might accrue to those nations capable of receiving and translating the alien transmissions. While scientists engaged in SETI cannot yet agree on the probable contents of such messages, there is an excellent chance that data of military interest could be included -- new technologies, new sources of energy, or even new ideas so radical that their mere disclosure might constitute an act of psychological or ideological warfare. Remarks one writer:

No doubt the generals would itch to classify CETI "top secret," frantic that the Soviets might get the jump in a decoding race. Congress might agree. A multibillion dollar crash program to decipher CETI for its scientific and technical insights seems an ominous possibility.3310

On a more pragmatic level, if it could be proven that extraterrestrial life existed, then it might be possible, say, for one side to mimic an invasion, cause widespread panic and confusion, and disrupt communication channels.3653

Advanced technical data from the stars, perhaps detailing the design of machines which render obsolete our telephones, aircraft, automobiles, sources of fuel, and computers might severely injure major corporations on the stock market, causing a recession or even a depression. Large companies will be stuck with billions of dollars of investment in equipment that has suddenly become obsolete. For instance, what will AT&T do with the 133,000,000 telephones in service as of 1978 (total system value $111 billion3540) when the aliens hand us blueprints for simple transporter-booth technology and nobody wants to phone anymore (but would rather travel)?

It has been suggested that the tremendous unbridgeable gaps of interstellar space will prevent any sort of harm from ever reaching us. But Arthur C. Clarke believes this is a naive and unrealistic view:

Even if star travel is impossible; "mere" communications could do a lot of damage. After all, this is the basis on which all censors act. A really malevolent society could destroy another one quite effectively by a few items of well-chosen information. ("Now, kiddies, after you’ve prepared your uranium hexafluoride....")81

Information, like technology, can always be abused. As the Russian scientist-dissident Sakharov has pointed out: "Such information would be useful for sensible and kind men and would be dangerous for silly and rude men."22

What about international political implications? F.C. Durant, Assistant Director of Astronautics at the National Air and Space Museum, speculates that receipt of alien messages will further the cause of peace:

I think it will have the effect of bringing men closer together, certainly on our own planet. I suggest at that moment national boundaries might mean very much less.1558

Carl Sagan echoes this sentiment when he infers the uniqueness of the human race from the tortuous evolutionary record of life on this planet. We will come to view ourselves, says he, as One Species:

The diversity which some people are so quick to see among human populations is going to dwindle overnight. So in a very real sense, I think that the receipt of an interstellar radio message will make all of mankind brothers and sisters.1620

Others disagree. Political scientists Jiri Nehnevajsa and Albert S. Francis of Columbia University surveyed about 100 legislators and 100 university students in Brazil and Finland, in April-June 1960. The respondents were asked to indicate which of a series of circumstances they foresaw as being changed by the discovery of civilized alien life in space. As the data in Table 26.1 indicate, the general feeling was that not much would be changed by such an event.


Table 26.1 Results of 1960 Survey of Brazilian and Finnish Legislators and University Students on the Political Effects of Discovering Alien Life1336

World Political Event 

Respondents Claiming Event Would Occur






Increased chances for East-West reconciliation





Increased chances for emergence of third political force





Increased status quo





Increased likelihood of global disarmament 






In fact, it is possible that international relations could actually be destabilized by Remote Contact. Although in theory every country with a radio telescope can pick up the same messages,24 some nations will be in better position to listen than others. Perhaps an orbital receiver station will have to be constructed to ensure continuous 24-hour reception, giving a tremendous advantage to those governments having a more mature space capability. In the modern environment of global mistrust and resentment, nonreceiving nations will not be confident that the receiving nations aren’t holding back useful data having military or economic significance. And even if we assume that all nations can hear the extraterrestrial signals equally well, there still may be trouble. All governments cannot utilize the information equally. Those countries with the biggest R&D laboratories, the cleverest mathematicians, the greatest number of linguistic experts, and the most money available to throw at the problem may develop a real advantage over the others. The ensuing competitive scramble surely will not be conducive to peace.

All this is not intended to suggest that only harm can come from Remote Contact. Quite the opposite: It seems most likely that the wealth of information and knowledge of other cultures may enrich humanity beyond our wildest dreams. Benefits almost certainly exceed risks. Nevertheless, any first contact represents change, and it is one of the principle duties of modern human government to provide for orderly and regulated nondestructive change in the status quo.

Congressman Don Fuqua from Florida, following-testimony by Philip Morrison that alien messages should be publicized, made this remark:

I concur wholeheartedly in your answer. My response has always been similar to the lines that you have expressed. I don’t think there is any way that the Government should or could keep anything of this type under wrap. I see no reason that it should.3286

Science fiction writers agree. In The Cassiopeia Affair by Chloe Zerwick and Harrison Brown, the President goes on national television to explain the significance, of radio contact with the Cassiopeian culture.1748 In The Listeners by James E. Gunn, the President at first slaps a tight security lid on the radiotelescope installation that receives the alien message, but later relents and even permits a response to be sent out.70

Philip Morrison’s "international committee" approach is probably the best bet to ensure goodwill among nations. But there always exists the possibility that a government, informed of the fact of Contact before the news is made public, could attempt to keep it classified as Top Secret and to quietly pursue the knowledge from the stars for its own selfish purposes. Scientists of all countries who wish to prevent this from happening would do well to call in reporters before notifying their government of the Contact.



26.1.2  Direct Contact

Direct Contact can perhaps be viewed as a Remote Contact with a promise of physical contact to come, at our behest. Possible scenarios include radio contact (on some frequency we’re already using) with an Earth-based station, an orbital station or habitat, with a settlement or scientific outpost located on Luna, Mars, or some other body in our Solar System, or with one of our probes with which we still have radio contact (Pioneer, Voyager, Viking, etc.). Another example of Direct Contact with Earth might entail the detection of passive data markers in space or on moons or planets by humans in habitats or on exploratory missions -- that is, we find evidence of them, rather than vice versa. (As in the science fiction classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, by following the directions we may, by our own choice, then enter into direct physical contact with Them.) Yet another possibility is that the ETs may send their machines -- these may be information-interactive, like the concept of the Bracewell probe,80 or they may be informational- and physical-interactive, as in the concept of what the author calls the "Green probe," a starprobe that human space travelers must rendezvous with, activate manually, and pilot into an Earth-capture orbit after reading and understanding the generalized instructions.3152

Clearly the avenues of possible contact are far more numerous than in the Remote Contact situation. Initiating messages in Direct Contact could be received by military personnel, astronauts, research astronomers, satellite monitoring crews, space colonists, commercial broadcasting companies, or even ham radio operators. Chances that the news will be made public are significantly increased. Nevertheless, the possibility still exists that the government(s) of the receiving nation(s) could still be able to suppress the fact that a contact had occurred, perhaps by cajoling and threatening the media in a variety of ways. But would they want to do this?

In a Direct Contact scenario, besides information there is the promise of physical artifacts. Rather than mere hints or suggestions of novel devices of extraterrestrial manufacture, there is the chance to lay hands on actual working models of alien contraptions -- advanced laser or ?-wave systems, powerful new fuels and explosives, or maybe an improved spacecraft with tremendous versatility and hairpin maneuverability. As Dr. Bruce A. Rogers, member of the NICAP Board of Governors, once said:. "It could make a nation master of the world. ... Possession of this knowledge could greatly influence the future of the United States and perhaps determine our survival."1623 Once word of the contact began to circulate within the global intelligence community, the rush would be on. Says Arthur C. Clarke:

We can be sure that under the cover of normalcy there would be heroic attempts by all the secret services and intelligence agencies to establish contact with the aliens -- for the exclusive benefit of their respective countries. Every astronomical observatory in the Free World would be pelted with largesse from the CIA.81

There is also the question of ET motivations. The military is believed to serve a legitimate security function for nations and, in the context of a first contact, for all of humanity. The military establishment will be greatly concerned that Earth might be laid open to hostile aggression and attack by superior extraterrestrial beings. Of course, in a practical sense there may be very little we can do about it if we are attacked from space. Such interstellar warriors must of necessity hail from at least a Type II civilization, and thus should have no trouble whatsoever dusting the biological rust from the surface of the Earth if this is their intention. What government would want to inform its people that it is faced with an unknown alien intelligence and possible aggressor against whom there is little or no defense?814 It is entirely possible that uncontrolled, uninformed, sensational publicity about the receipt of an alien message or the upcoming arrival of ETs "in the flesh" could psychologically rip humanity apart. A widespread fear or tone of negativism could spell disaster for the stock market, banks, and other financial institutions, and might create "a field day for every, doom-laden, end-of-the-world fanatic, rapist, arsonist, and mugger."2709

Actual physical contact, if carried out in secret, could have extremely serious implications for world peace if news of this were ever leaked to the press. At that point it will do no good for the government to hand over all the information it has collected, because other nations will suspect that vital information is still being withheld. If the contactee country hands the aliens over to some international supervisory agency only after secretive investigations, it will be suspected of concealing a whole group of ETs -- presumably the most useful minority. All of this may lead to a nuclear confrontation between major world powers:

If Nation A believes Nation B is gaining an overwhelming advantage, it must strike before Nation B achieves invulnerability, and therefore Nation B must strike first in hopes to avoid the worst of the exchange. This is the basic fallacy of deterrence, which politicians are growing reluctant to call a "defense." If either side achieves a major breakthrough in weapons science, the balance of terror which previously prevented war then demands war before the new system can be deployed.1001

Probably the best course of action for the host country would be to alert the major nuclear powers of the contact, in secret. Representatives of all such nations should be invited to participate in every phase of the operation, especially at the site of the first landing. The public could then be informed in a suitable manner determined by all governments concerned, at a time when the situation was deemed manageable.

Such is similar to the course of action adopted by the nations of the world during the Cosmos 954 mishap in early 1978 when a Soviet nuclear-powered spy satellite crashed to earth. The incident bears repeating, since it may provide xenologists with valuable insight as to the most probable behavior of human governments in a Direct Contact scenario.

Cosmos 954, a 9-meter-long, 2-meter-wide, 5-ton satellite, was boosted into a 240-km orbit on 18 September 1977.3541 Designed to detect and to track thermal emissions from American submarines, the spysat was powered by a 500-kg nuclear reactor containing 50 kg of highly radioactive uranium-235. On December 19 the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), headquartered half a mile beneath Colorado’s Cheyenne Mountain, detected on its space radar system that Cosmos 954 had begun to drop in its orbit. About 10 days later, the spysat’s orbit had decayed to about 160 km and failed to respond to ground commands to reignite its engines and fire to a higher altitude. Its fate was sealed. By early January, NORAD was predicting the most probable impact somewhere in North America.

Warnings were flashed at once to countries like Denmark and Canada, which lay beneath the satellite’s track.3544 All of this was kept secret from the public because, in the words of one White House security advisor: "We were trying to head off a re-creation of Mercury Theater [the 1938 'martian invasion broadcast' hysteria]." Another Presidential advisor said that secrecy was maintained because some governments that had been informed, particularly West Germany, feared that if word leaked out about the satellite and its reactor "the public would develop the mistaken idea that there was a chance that a nuclear device was in danger of falling on them."3543

About January 19, National Security Advisor Brzezinski issued a National Security Council Directive alerting the CIA, NASA, the Department of Defense, and the State Department to the probable and imminent re-entry of Cosmos 954. Special Air Force teams trained in radiation detection and techniques of decontamination were also placed on alert status, and were made ready to fly to any impact site around the world. Then, on 25 January 1978, at 6:54 AM (EST), Cosmos 954 crashed in a relative wilderness area in northern Canada. Operation Morning Light was swiftly lauched. The U.S. and Canada dispatched 4 teams of specialists: A high-flying U2 airplane from Beale AFB with radiation sensors and a large instrumented KC-135 from McClellan AFB, similarly equipped to detect high-altitude radiation, and a 44-man search party of U.S. military technicians from Andrews AFB and Nellis AFB to assist a 22-man Canadian nuclear-accident team, equipped with radiation-proof suits and debris collection gear.

Only then, after the major crisis had passed, was the public informed what had happened. The gravity of the need for absolute secrecy,* agreed upon by the governments of the world in this case, is illustrated by the following fact: American space scientists later admitted that if the satellite had failed only one pass later in its decaying orbit, it would have plunged to earth near New York City at the height of the morning rush hour. In. such important matters as crashing nuclear satellites and, presumably, Direct Contacts with alien beings, governmental and military authorities appear quite willing and able to keep controversial news under wraps.


* Apparently, European ham operators who regularly monitor Soviet space transmissions knew something was up, but for some reason the information was not publicized until after January 25.3542



26.1.3  Surprise Contact

In Surprise Contact scenarios, human beings are suddenly thrust into a direct physical confrontation with sentient extraterrestrials. There is no advance warning, no opportunity for preparations for encounter. All of a sudden, They are here. Since such a mode of Contact is probably maximally unsettling (entropic) to the host race, we might predict that any ETs employing this technique are either hostile, unethical, or in trouble. However, there may exist still other perfectly reasonable motives which we cannot guess at, so it is probably best if we suspend judgment at this point until we have more information.

Nevertheless, the military response to a Surprise Contact will be swift and sure, to the limits of available human technology. Consider, for example, a scenario in which extraterrestrial lander craft approach Earth from space. What is our response?

In the United States and Canada, NORAD (North American Air Defense Command) has full military responsibility for tracking the more than 4,500 man-made objects and debris now circling the Earth. NORAD's phased array radars scan only the nearest few hundred kilometers of near-Earth space to resolutions of about 1 cm. This is sufficient to detect an incoming alien spacecraft perhaps 20 meters wide -- say, about the size of the American Skylab space station. At the orbit of Mars, Earth-based radars could theoretically detect nothing smaller than a 2-kilometer-wide asteroid-sized starship comparable to the planet destroying Death Star of Star Wars fame. Clearly we may not have much warning of the approach of the alien vessel.*

Once an object is spotted by NORAD, or by professional or amateur astronomers and reported to NORAD, both military and civilian systems would be brought into play to attempt a positive identification of the intruder. The Air Force could track it quite accurately using orbiting spy satellites, especially those equipped with heat-sensors normally used to track Russian long-range missiles. (A good time for a pre-emptive attack, while nobody is looking?) Computer analyses of the trajectory would indicate whether the object was coasting or under power, accelerating or decelerating, estimated maximum power plant energy based on observed thrust, the probable destination and the estimated time of arrival.

Recently an Air Force spokesman discussed the most probable military reaction if a UFO of alien origin entered the national airspace of the United States:

There are no plans that separate UFOs from other threats to national security. We do have plans to deal with intruders and security violations. If anything presents such a threat, we take the appropriate action. ... The Air Force watches our coasts with its Air Defense Identification Zones [ADIZs]. Every commercial airliner has a squawk box that responds to an identify-friend-or-foe-or-neutral (IFFN) signal we send out. If something does not respond and it enters the ADIZ, we declare it unknown and scramble fighters to go up and take a look. ... If something were to attack the fighters, we would send up more; if they vanished, we would use missiles. The Nike Hercules [long-range nuclear antiaircraft missles] is the next line of defense. They’re old but adequate. We’d also judge its intentions by whether or not it tried to jam our radar or send false signals. The NORAD Commander can take action without consulting the President.3545

There exists a considerable amount of evidence, much of it assembled by ufologists, that the military is inclined to shoot first and ask questions later. The author feels justified in drawing upon the ufology literature because the incidents described below illustrate the military reaction to UFOs -- regardless of whether those UFOs are balloons, geese, sundogs, or genuine extraterrestrial aerial vehicles.

Our first illustration, however, is taken from Chapter 33 of Introductory Space Sciences (1968), published by the Air Force Academy for textbook use by cadets. According to the book:

About ten o’clock one morning, a radar site near a fighter base picked up a UFO doing 700 mph. The UFO then slowed to 100 mph, and two F-86s were scrambled to intercept. Eventually one F-86 closed on the UFO at about 3000 feet altitude. The UFO began to accelerate away but the pilot still managed to get within 500 yards of the target for a short period of time. When the range reached 1000 yards, the pilot armed his guns and fired in an attempt to down the saucer. He failed, and the UFO pulled away rapidly, vanishing in the distance.705

Whatever it was the pilot saw, he fired at it.

Major Donald E. Keyhoe, an ardent ufologist who broke one of the first major news stories on UFOs back in 1949, reported that in private conversations with General Sory Smith, Deputy Director of Information, and Major Jeremiah Boggs, an Air Force intelligence officer, he had been told that the Air Force had put out a special order for its pilots to capture UFOs if possible. Quoting Boggs, Keyhoe writes: "We were naturally anxious to get hold of one of the things. We told pilots to do practically anything in reason, even if they had to grab one by the tail."1623 Keyhoe continues:

Afterward I talked with an interceptor pilot I knew, who had been in on two chases. When I quoted Boggs’ words about grabbing a UFO by the tail he looked at me grimly.

"That’s a lot nearer the truth than you might think, even if he did make it sound like a joke. In our squadron at least we were told to ram one and bail out, if we could do it without getting hurt. I don’t know anybody that tried it -- I certainly didn’t. After what happened to Mantell a man would be a fool to try a trick like that."1623

(Captain Mantell was killed in 1948 while pursuing a weather balloon "UFO" to extreme altitudes without benefit of an oxygen mask.).

The U.S. military is not alone in its hostility to foreign objects whizzing through its skies. According to the Air-Force Academy textbook:

On 24 July 1957 Russian anti-aircraft batteries on the Kouril Islands opened fire on UFOs. Although all Soviet anti-aircraft batteries on the Islands were in action, no hits were made. The UFOs were luminous and moved very fast.705

On 19 September 1976, another UFO-attack incident took place over the skies of Iran.4632 The story of four imperial Iranian Air Force pilots was summarized in a lengthy classified report sent to the Pentagon by the U.S. military attache in Teheran, recently released to the public under the Freedom of Information Act. According to the report, the Iranian Air Force sent up two F-4 Phantoms to chase a brilliantly glowing object near Mehrabad Airport, Tehran. The jets, which carry a pilot and radar operator, reportedly tried to get close to the object. When one tried to shoot it down with a Sidewinder air-to-air missile, "both planes temporarily lost navigation and communications but regained them when they broke away from the intercept."3548 It appears that the universal military reaction to a violation of airspace by an unknown object is to attempt to shoot it down. Unless they have adequate defenses, Surprise Contact may be extremely dangerous for alien visitors to our world.1537,3626

What if an extraterrestrial landing craft made it down to ground level without attracting any attention -- how might the authorities handle such a situation? According to one account:

If an object touches ground undetected, it’s the responsibility of the people farthest down the chain of command who can handle the situation, be it local, state or Federal forces. In 1969, for example, a Kansas farmer called the local police to report a glowing object in his cornfield. The police weren’t sure what to do and called an Air Force team, which determined that 200 pounds of Russian satellite had deorbited into the farmer’s back forty. Had aliens gotten out to greet them, however, NASA and military scientists -- most likely from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research [AFOSR], which funds highly exotic studies and is staffed with top people in all fields -- would have been called in.3545

Once again, however, there are instances on record where authorities undertook immediate and unthinking hostile action against unknown landed objects:

There seems to be little preparation or even published thought on, Earth Contact situations. Confidence that the governments of the world would nevertheless be prepared was somewhat shaken by an experiment conducted by British students, in which oval-shaped "saucers" about five feet across were planted across England after telephoned "sightings." Various official bodies were alerted, and reacted in various ways without apparent coordination. The Army seems to have blown theirs up without hesitation, thereby creating a biological as well as a military danger had the Contact been genuine.1001

A few "proper" channels of authority do exist in this country which should be applicable to Surprise Contact situations -- at least during the early phases of encounter. Let us analyze the simplest possible case of Surprise Contact: A single extraterrestrial visitor, landed in a relatively conspicuous location (park, open field, etc.) in a typical state somewhere in the U.S. How would authorities react?

First of all, unless the ET is buzzing houses or cars with his spacecraft, has a grossly nonhuman appearance, or is wreaking destruction far and wide, his presence actually may go unnoticed for quite some time. But eventually a passing motorist or pedestrian will spot the creature, who perhaps is garbed in a spacesuit or other unconventional attire. The local police station will receive a report of a strange creature roaming the streets. (See Table 26.2.)


Table 26.2 Preference of "Nonsightees" (of UFOs) for Agency to Which to Report a UFO or Contact Incident
(modified from Lee721)


Percentage of Observers Who Would Report



Local Police




No Report (friends only)


Weather Bureau


Air Force




Town or City Official








Radio Station




Local UFO Organization




Since local authorities get mountains, of crank calls, they probably won’t bother to dispatch a patrol unit until several reports have been received or until the ET inadvertently maims someone. As one policeman observer recently noted: "We're trying to downplay these sightings as they come in."3690 The police cruiser will arrive at the scene shortly thereafter. Depending upon the alienness of the extraterrestrial, the officers may suspect a prankster at first (as has happened on numerous occasions1347,695) until the creature either reveals its primary physiological differences or displays command of clearly superior technology.

If a large crowd has gathered, the ET may be in trouble.3565 There are cases on record of crowds mobbing and killing human pranksters acting the role of beings from space, and it is also true that the people have sometimes been ordered to shoot at UFOs by their superiors.3250 Hopefully, if the ET does nothing which might arouse strong xenophobic reactions among human beings, the officers will content themselves with cordoning off the immediate area (to prevent public contact) and in sending for local reinforcements which should arrive in ten minutes or less. The county sheriff will also be notified, as well as the State Patrol or Highway Patrol. These groups will dutifully respond within twenty minutes, but will make no further decisions.

The police will also quickly alert the local Civil Defense authorities. From there, the buck passes swiftly up through the county Civil Defense office to the state Civil Defense office, at which point the governor should be apprised of the situation. He has the authority to declare a state of emergency or invasion and call out the National Guard (state militia) to help out. The militia maintains local bases equipped with jeeps, tanks and cannons, should these be required. The Guard (e.g., about 25,000 soldiers in California) probably be mobilized and on the scene in less than an hour to assist in the apprehension and detention of the extraterrestrial, and in crowd and riot control. In the meantime, the governor or some other state official will have notified the Federal Department of Defense, and, of course, the President.

According to existing regulations, the Secretary of Defense should place the Army Area Commander in immediate charge of maintaining order. The local Air Force and Naval District authorities probably will also enter the picture in specific and relevant areas, but with clearly subordinate influence. For instance, special Air Force investigatory teams may be called in to actually handle physical and intellectual contact with the ET, because of their prior experience in dealing with UFO reports and the like. Pending direct Presidential orders to the contrary, however, the Army commander will remain in overall temporary control.

The President will undoubtedly notify Congress immediately, calling an emergency session to obtain specific legislative direction. But it is important to realize that, on his own, the President already possesses sweeping authority -- especially in times of crisis -- should he care to exercise it. A vigorous "expansionist" Chief Executive would be likely to assume far greater personal control than a more passive, wait-and-see President. The personality and mode of leadership of the person in the White House may therefore be a decisive factor in the early stages of Surprise Contact.

Until late 1978, the United States was in a legal state of national emergency and had been continuously since the early 1930s. This fact is not generally known or appreciated by the public. The Presidential proclamations of national emergency issued under Roosevelt (1933), Truman (1950), and Nixon (1970, 1971) were not terminated when the crises that spawned them had passed. In 1976, President Ford abolished these four emergency powers acts, effective September 1978. The powers returned to Congress; however, the power to declare future emergencies remains with the President.

So broad authority is available to dispose of the ET as the Chief Executive sees fit. Perhaps, in the context of first contact, another declaration of national emergency would be forthcoming at this point. But even if the President does assert full and immediate control, considerable confusion will still result.

In the typical Surprise Contact scenario, all of the problems connected with "less surprising" contacts are compounded by the need for a quick and effective response by national authorities and by the hasty and imprudent actions which may be taken as a result. Top policymakers will be inundated with conflicting intelligence reports, and the channels of local and global communication will be clogged for a variety of reasons.3552 Decisions will be made on the basis of incomplete, inaccurate, strongly biased, or otherwise inadequate information, increasing the likelihood of error.3553 The sheer magnitude of the logistics of crowd and riot control, the rapid spread of terrifying rumors throughout the civilian population and rising incidence of hysteria, and the recognized biological dangers of radiation and contamination of Earth by unknown alien microbes will add to the confusion.

Federal agencies will jockey for jurisdiction, based on intertwining statutes and overlapping authority that would put a Gordian knot to shame. The CIA and FBI, suspicious of the possibility of a foreign hoax and the dangers to national security posed thereby, may try to intervene at the holding area and assert some influence of their own. Even more important, they will be trying to protect the ET -- a potentially valuable military resource -- from foreign agents, saboteurs, kidnappers, and assassins who presumably would stop at nothing to get their hands on the extraterrestrial visitor. (The entire American defense establishment will be on full alert status by this time.) The Treasury Department, also suspecting a hoax and fearing for the President’s life, may try to get into the act by sending in Secret Service agents to verify the authenticity of the ET. Of course, Army Intelligence, Naval Intelligence, Air Force Intelligence, and the Defense Intelligence Agency will all be vying for power as well.

The Public Health Service, within the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW), will want to establish local quarantine and detention authority under 42 USC §264 et seq of the Federal Code. The Department of Agriculture may try a similar trick under 21 USC §101 et seq, if they can successfully argue that the extraterrestrial is an "animal" and not a "person" (see discussion below, in section on legal issues). The Environmental Protection Agency could try to classify the creature as an "endangered species", and the Attorney General, acting under 8 U.S.C. §1222, has the legal authority to order immigrations officers to "temporarily detain" the ET in contemplation of deportation proceedings. And, naturally, the Department of Transporation will be anxiously searching for the space traveler’s vehicle as may the Secretary of the Treasury (50 U.S.C. §191 et seq), the military and the various intelligence agencies. (NASA people may be called in as consultants or for technical assistance, but the NASA Administrator has no basis for authority unless the alien comes to Earth aboard one of our spacecraft.**691,3549)

A host of private and civilian organizations will clamor to be heard, probably within hours of first contact. The SPCA, Humane Society, International Society for the Protection of Animals, World Federation for the Protection of Animals, Fund for Animals, Inc., Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and countless other animal protection groups will demand assurances that the ET is receiving "adequate housing, ample food and water, reasonable handling, decent sanitation, sufficient ventilation, shelter from extremes of weather and temperature" and so forth, as required by the "Animal Welfare Act" (7 U.S.C. §2131 et seq, as amended to include any warm-blooded animal used for "laboratory purposes") and state animal cruelty laws. The National Science Foundation will probably have some complaints to make, along with the AAAS, the National Academy of Sciences, assorted astronomical, zoological, and ufological societies and organizations, and a number of outlandishly-named fringe and cult groups.*** Sooner or later, the United Nations will get wind of the "capture"; although the U.N. has no real authority within domestic borders, vehemently unfavorable world public opinion could easily be roused to a fever pitch.

We see that federal law provides no clear and unambiguous legal directions for handling a Surprise Contact from the stars. Without the leadership of a strong President, tremendous confusion and jurisdictional squabbles will erupt almost instantly. The potential for disastrous disorganization is high.1761 And we have assumed a rather passive, obeisant extraterrestrial. If he is in any sense more active, there could be fearful and unfortunate complications.

It is said that all war departments have plans worked out for every conceivable eventuality. Presumably, somewhere in the Pentagon are the orders for such lamentable necessities as the invasion of Mexico or the bombing of London. Indeed, in November 1975 some 50-year old plans the invasion of Canada were declassified (because they had become obsolete). If there are any preparations for the defense of Earth no one has ever mentioned them. Still, the author suspects a contingency plan lies dusty in some half-forgotten Pentagon file. But one way or another, at last the creature will be safely in military custody, under very heavy guard and probably under quarantine. What next?

One question xenologists might want to address is whether the political and military authorities would attempt to hush things up and conduct a totally secret investigation of the alien being and his craft, even in the face of widespread publicity surrounding the initial contact event. Few would argue that the government is not predisposed to classify and treat as secret all sorts of possibly sensitive information. Regardless of one’s position on the reality of UFOs, it is an intraconvertible fact that the military authorities -- for reasons known only to themselves -- have classified a number of peculiar and potentially inflammatory sighting events which have only recently been pried loose using the 1974 Freedom of Information Act. For example, from the NORAD Regional Commander’s log (24th region, Montana) in 1975:

7 Nov.

Received a call from the 341st SAC CP saying that the following missile locations reported seeing a large red to orange to yellow object....

7 Nov.

SAC advised that the LCF at Harlowton, Mont., observed an object which emitted a light which illuminated the site driveway.

7 Nov.

L-l reports that the object to their northeast seems to be issuing a black object from it, tubular in shape.

8 Nov.

A security camper team at K-4 reported UFOs with white lights, one red light 50 yards behind white light. Personnel at K-l seeing same object.

8 Nov.

L-5 reported object increased in speed--high velocity, raised in altitude and now cannot tell the object from the stars.

9 Nov.

SAC CP reports UFO 20 miles southeast of Lewistown {Mont.} orange white disc object.

10 Nov.

UFO sighting reported by Minot Air Force station, a bright starlike object in the west, moving east, about the size of a car. The object passed over the radar station, 1000 feet to 2000 feet high, no noise heard.

12 Nov.

UFO reported from K0l. They say the object is over Big Snowy {mountain} with a red light on it at high altitude.

12 Nov.

Second UFO in same area reported. Appeared to be sending a beam of light to the ground intermittently.

19 Nov.

SAC command post observed object traveling NE at a fast rate of speed. Object bright white light seen 45 to 50 sec following terrain 200 feet off ground. The light was two or three times brighter than landing lights on a jet....3548

Even assuming all of the above are simply sightings of weather balloons and other everyday objects, it must be admitted that these secret reports strongly suggest that the government may try to keep from public view any object or event that the military does not fully comprehend.3602 As Mr. Arthur Sylvester, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, admitted at a press conference in New York on 7 December 1962:

When a nation’s security is threatened, as that of the United States was during the recent Cuban crisis, the nation’s leaders are justified in telling lies to its people.757

But adopting a course of secrecy after a well-publicized encounter may be highly dangerous. Strategic and international political issues are brought most clearly into focus in the Surprise Contact scenario. From the point of view of the host nation, the ET represents a possibly valuable military resource. But from the vantage of others, the mere presence of the alien, his knowledge and his hardware in a neighboring (unfriendly) country constitutes a serious military threat. A landing in the territory of either of the two major superpowers may cause strategic destablization and raise the specter of a preemptive nuclear counterforce/countervalue strike. The concepts of anticipatory defense and anticipatory retaliation are not new and might be used to justify wanton military aggression.

Unless the investigation of’ the extraterrestrial is "internationalized," world tensions may increase dramatically. The Russian, Chinese, and others’ intelligence agencies might stop at nothing to retrieve the alien from the U.S. in order to interrogate him for military secrets and other technologies that might provide some advantage. If the tables were turned, the American government might well engage in similar sordid practices.

What if military authorities order government scientists to perform brutal experiments on the ET, perhaps torturing it to force it to divulge its secrets, or to dissect it to gain physiological knowledge to enable us to design effective weapons? Would they do it? According to the now-classic work of Stanley Milgram, the answer may be a horrifying "yes."

In studies that ultimately included more than a thousand participants, Milgram demonstrated that obedience to authority is basic to human nature. In the experiment, a person comes to a psychological laboratory and is told to carry out a series of acts that come increasingly into conflict with conscience. Typically, the subject is required to test the ability of a "learner" (one of Milgram’s confederates) to recall word pairs; wrong answers are punished by the application of increasingly "higher voltages" to the "learner" by the subject using an "electrical generator." Although no shock is actually applied, the subject is made to think it is real by the convincing grunts, protests, and screams of the "learner." Milgram found that most people will continue to apply shocks, even though they know they are inflicting pain, at the behest of the experimenter, and many will continue until, the "learner" apparently is rendered unconscious with pain.745 This does not leave the author very hopeful about the possible treatment of extraterrestrial visitors having "military value."

Milgram comments upon the ominous significance of his findings:

The behavior revealed in the experiments is normal human behavior: the capacity for man to abandon his humanity, indeed, the inevitability that he does so, as he merges his unique personality into larger institutional structures. ... Each individual possesses a conscience which to a greater or lesser degree serves to restrain the unimpeded flow of impulses destructive to others. But when he merges his person into an organizational structure, a new creature replaces autonomous man, unhindered by the limitations of individual morality, freed of humane inhibition, mindful only of the sanctions of authority.

The results, as seen and felt in the laboratory, are to this author disturbing. They raise the possibility that human nature, or more specifically the kind of character produced in American democratic society, cannot be counted on to insulate its citizens from brutality and inhumane treatment at the direction of malevolent authority. A substantial proportion of people do what they are told to do, irrespective of the content of the act and without limitations of conscience, so long as they perceive that the command comes from a legitimate authority. If, in this study, an anonymous experimenter could successfully command adults to subdue a 50-year-old man and force on him painful electric shocks against his protests, one can only wonder what government, with its vastly greater authority and prestige, can command of its citizenry.744


* NORAD's phased array system ignores all targets following nonballistic paths. Incoming meteorites are rejected automatically. NORAD's Electro-Optical Surveillance Tracking System takes pictures of manmade objects in space to provide high-accuracy tracking and identification data, but can only look for objects it has been preprogrammed observe. If an alien vessel were to approach Earth, chances are good that neither system would report it.

** See 14 C.F.R. §1204.509 and §1211.100 et seq, entitled "Extraterrestrial Exposure"

*** The Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and representatives from vegetarian groups may clamor for assurances that the ETs neither imbibe intoxicants nor consume animal flesh.



26.2  Public Reaction and the Press

There are many reasons why confirmation of the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence may bring a more muted public response than might otherwise be expected. To some extent, a great deal of cultural preconditioning has already taken place.1938 Science fiction and other speculative literature have already introduced people to the possibility, and the success of the television series "The Invaders" a decade ago and the recent box office hit "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" are testimony to considerable popular interest in and acceptance of the notion of alien life. Reports of UFOs and radiotelescope listening projects conducted by SETI investigators also have been much in the news.

In the case of a Remote Contact an alien message may take months or even years to verify, let alone translate and comprehend. The necessary compactness and complexity of such communications will require much time and effort to unravel, resulting in a slow trickle, rather than a raging torrent, of information about the aliens and their culture. Since radio signals between distant stars must creep along at the speed of light, decades or centuries may pass between receipt and response to an extraterrestrial transmission. This considerable time lag after the initial discovery is apt to dampen public and media enthusiasm for the story.

In a Direct Contact scenario the press will play a more critical role in shaping public reaction to the encounter event. The accuracy and tone of the initial media coverage during the first few days and weeks will direct and fix public perceptions and attitudes towards the ETs for years to come. The possibility of "yellow journalism" cannot be ruled out. Traditionally the news media lose interest in any story that fails to build, to provide new and ever more exciting details leading to a conclusion or climax.695 The attention span of the general public is quite brief. At least one science fiction writer has suggested that, in the face of a dearth of sensational newsworthy events, newsmen might fake their own headlline-grabbing stories:

The Des Moines stereocasting station sent mobile units in for spotcast. The pictures they sent out were all long shots, taken from the air. They showed nothing but a disk-shaped object [on the ground]. Then, for about two hours, no pictures and no news, followed later by close-ups and a new news slant: The thing was a hoax. The "spaceship" was a sheet-metal-and-plastic fraud, built by two farmboys in the woods near their home. The fake reports originated with an announcer who had put the boys up to it to make a story. He has been fired.2640

Science editor and reporter Kendrick Frazier, however, remains cautiously sanguine:

My hope is that from the very beginning there would be accurate and restrained news reports, complete with all the facts available at the moment and including the comments, insights, and perspectives of all the scientists and other persons informed and knowledgeable on the subject.1938

The strong desire among scientists and journalists for full, immediate and accurate disclosure must be balanced against the requirements of military security and the current global political climate. There may be valid reasons for holding back certain inflammatory or unverified information from public scrutiny, on a temporary basis. The immediate hazards of contact may be seriously aggravated if the Direct Contact occurs in a country having "no tradition of openness and candor in the release of news information." While it might be difficult to keep secret for long the fact of contact, details could easily be suppressed. Unfortunately any brief, distorted, or incomplete report, followed by a moratorium on further information, could lead to mistaken ideas, wild rumors, international outrage, mass hysteria, and serious political misunderstandings.

Frazier has pointed out that even if reasonably full disclosure is obtained from a nation without a tradition of a free press Western scientists might still experience great difficulties securing enough data about the event to make a reasoned analysis of the situation. There may be a kind of "dog in the manger" reaction:

Already there have been a few claims coming out of the Soviet Union of receipt of radio signals that were initially attributed to extraterrestrial intelligence. (They turned out not to be.) The difficulty that both the science press and scientists in the United States faced in getting further information from the Soviet Union in the days immediately following the initial news reports has not made me especially confident.1938

How should the news be released to the public? Jill Tarter of the NASA SETI Program team at Ames Research Center has revealed that many scientists have spent some time considering this very question. "Assuming the people who are involved in this field," she says, "we have this cocktail party game that we play: Compose your press release, knowing that you'll probably only get one shot at it. How do you get out all the information you want to, and be sure that it will get a lot of coverage? It is a touchy subject." Kendrick Frazier has the following suggestion:

Wherever the discovery of the first evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence is made, I do hope that the scientific leaders involved will be wise enough to prepare their public announcement with a certain amount of care and with careful attention to the need to supply accurate information and perspective. This would justify a delay of several days to make preparations. In the United States a joint news conference in Washington, with scientists and officers of the discovering observatory, the National Science Foundation, the National Academy of Sciences, and the White House, would perhaps be the preferable method of announcing the discovery. The international scientific community would be brought into the matter as rapidly as possible.1938

Still, when the time comes to announce that mankind is no longer alone, "those who prepare and issue the statement will have a truly terrifying responsibility." Says Arthur C. Clarke: "Though they will certainly try to sound reassuring, they will know that they are whistling in the dark."81


26.2.1  Rumor and Credibility

Sociologist Tamotsu Shibutani of the University of California at Santa Barbara has remarked that in disasters one of the first things men seek, after saving themselves, is news. Often they become so desperate for such information that they become careless about its source. If sufficient news is not available, it may develop spontaneously.1875

In a Surprise Contact scenario, and to a lesser degree in Direct Contact situations, the likelihood of such "spontaneous news" is high. Studies in the psychology of rumor by the late Gordon W. Allport and Leo Postman at Harvard University during the 1940’s showed that scare stories travel fastest and persist the longest when three critical elements are present:

1. Lack of News -- rumor flies in the absence of reliable and authoritative news reportage;

2. Personal Impact -- the theme of the rumor must have some significance both to speaker and listener in a highly personal and private sense; and

3. Ambiguity -- the true facts must be shrouded in some real or imagined ambiguity.741

Each of these elements should be present during a typical Surprise Contact. Simply because of the unusual nature of the event and the natural confusion which would result, news would be temporarily unavailable during the first few hours or days following the event. A deliberate governmental policy of suppression of the facts would only prolong the dearth of information.

As for personal impact, the event would be of maximum significance in the immediate locality of the contact. Modern telecommunications networks, which have created a "global village," would have the effect of spreading impact over greater geographical areas, statewide and perhaps nationally. Impact will also be heightened if there are reports of sudden confrontations with other unannounced ETs. The normal background of UFO reports may be blown out of proportion, and wild rumors of new landings and hostile activities by (nonexistent) alien visitors could begin to circulate elsewhere in the host country and in neighboring nations as well.

Finally, ambiguity may be induced by the absence or sketchiness of news, by the conflicting nature of the news, by distrust of the news (as where it is perceived that the government is deliberately hiding something), or by some emotional tensions that make the individual unable or unwilling to accept the facts set forth in the news.741 Since it is clear that all news of the Contact must necessarily remain ambiguous at first, we must conclude that highly compelling and disturbing rumors could spread like wildfire through urban population centers around the world.

One rather unusual psychological experiment reported by Philip Klass in his book UFOs Explained695 illustrates well the influence of the media on public perception of events. On 13 April 1971, John Forkenbrock and several of his sociology students at the West Central high school. in Maynard Iowa decided to test local public and media reaction to a UFO sighting. That night students, after making arrangements with a farmer, poured gasoline in a circle in his pasture and set it afire to form a three-meter-diameter circle and four smaller "landing pad" circles. Other students, not party to the hoax, became aware of the sighting the next morning and, thinking it real, called the local radio station KOEL. Soon, news of the event was being broadcast, reporters were interviewing students, and a local UFO expert showed up within the hour. In 24 hours, news of the UFO landing had been carried by radio stations in Chicago and Minneapolis and by a number of Iowa newspapers, and NICAP Headquarters in Washington had called to investigate.

Later, when the hoax was revealed, the participants were interviewed to determine their reactions to the event. Some had accepted the reports at face value and concluded that an alien craft had indeed landed in the field outside the town. Others said they suspected a secret military vehicle might have been involved, or that the burned circles might have been caused by a meteor or a Russian satellite. Only a few had suspected a hoax from the first.

One student remarked: "I didn’t believe it at first, but I came to school and heard my friends talking and I began to believe it." Another said: "I believed it and was even fooled into going over and seeing it [burned spots]. The main reason it was so convincing was hearing it on the radio and seeing it on television." Said. one of the students who had called KOEL: "On the way back to school, after we had called KOEL and told them the whole story, all I could think about was telling more kids about it. Later on I told everybody I could see." Among some local residents the incident provoked fear. One woman reported: "My husband came home from work and loaded his gun and put it on the shelf, so I knew he was scared. ... I was scared too." Another resident admitted: "I hadn’t locked the door for twenty-five years; but when I heard that, I ran to my door, locked it, and ran underneath the bed and stayed there until I heard it was a hoax."

How might people react psychologically to the fact of Contact? In a 1973 study of this question led by social psychologist Leon Festinger, Dr. Elliot Aronson of the University of. Texas concluded that a person’s reaction to disclosure that the Air Force had been secretly studying a humanoid ET (who remained behind after a surprise encounter at an Air Force Base several years before) would depend to a very large degree upon prior belief and the degree of commitment to that belief. Aronson believes that there may arise two major classes of response to the announcement. To make the analysis more clear, he selects the most extreme viewpoints: Sam, a person who is committed to the belief that there is life in outer space and the UFOs are a real phenomenon; and Mildred, someone who disdains the reality of UFOs and prior to the announcement was that there is no intelligent life elsewhere in space.

Aronson continues:

When the press conference was held breaking the news of the humanoid’s existence, Sam’s immediate reaction was intense and unmitigated joy. After all, his belief was confirmed. His commitment was exonerated. But after an initial hurrah, his dominant and persistent response was calm acceptance. He was convinced for years that human life existed in outer space and it is certainly not surprising to learn that the government now has absolute proof of that existence -- proof in the form of this person whom they have been interviewing for the past four years or so. They have been in direct contact with this person for four years and no disaster has struck and, accordingly, it is highly unlikely that any disaster would occur in the foreseeable future.

It should be emphasized that Sam’s calm acceptance of the news that human life from another planet does definitely exist is in part Sam’s way of demonstrating his confidence in his prior beliefs. That is, the calmer he can react in public and the. more accepting he is of the event without outward show of intense emotion, the more convincing he will be to himself and to other people. Thus, when Sam arrives at the office and his colleagues ask him if he’s heard the news, he simply shrugs and says, "It was simply a matter of time -- I knew it would happen sooner or later."1640

Mildred’s reaction, on the other hand, is extremely different:

When she sees the press conference and views the humanoid she immediately suspects that the government is lying. Because of the fact that she has committed herself to the belief that UFOs are a farce and do not exist and to the belief that there is no intelligent life in outer space, anything that implies she is wrong must be derogated and disposed of.3570 Thus, Mildred immediately assumes that the government has something to gain by implying or demonstrating that they do indeed have a humanoid from outer space. ("Perhaps Nixon is trying to divert attention from Watergate or the energy crisis.") Thus, in almost a paranoid manner she convinces herself that it is a sham, that the so-called humanoid is an actor playing an elaborate role, hoodwinking the gullible. If she can succeed in doing this, then she can succeed in maintaining her high self-concept and in not losing the running argument she’s been having with Sam (and others) over the past several years.

Now in order to do this, she has to go to great lengths to convince herself and others that the government has something to gain by doing this and that the government is dishonest and clever. Moreover, because her belief has been apparently disconfirmed, she will seek social support for the continuation of that belief. Thus, she will frantically run around to try to convince other people that there is no life in outer space, that the so-called humanoid is a fake.1640

Aronson’s reasoning stems largely from Leon Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance.3569 According to this theory, if an event occurs which is consistent with beliefs to which a person is committed, then that individual is pleased, happy, calm, relaxed, and generally unmotivated by the event. On the other hand, when events occur that are dissonant with the person’s beliefs and commitments, that individual strives to reduce the dissonance. According to Aronson:

One way to reduce the dissonance is to deny the fact that those events have actually occurred, and in order to deny that fact, one has to construct an apparently reasonable explanation for the events that is consistent with the primary belief. Moreover, since a state of dissonance is an unstable and psychologically uncomfortable situation, one really needs to bolster that explanation for the events and to strengthen one’s initial belief, in this case, the belief that there is no life in outer space. The more you can convince other people that you are right -- in this case, the more you can convince other people that there is a government plot -- the greater will be the reduction of dissonance and the more comfortable you will become.1640

In the same study in which Dr. Aronson participated, a prominent Yale University psychologist (who wished to remain anonymous) concluded that many respected scientists, statesmen, journalists and educators who had not been asked to be present to witness the encounter or subsequent investigations might regard the entire incident purely as a hoax:

The initial skepticism and outright disbelief publicly expressed by many eminent scientific authorities as well as by other prestigious leaders of the national community who were not insiders will have a marked effect on the reactions of the U.S. public. ... The announcement will also get a very bad press from leading scientists and politicians in the Soviet Union and in other countries where the U.S. government, and especially. the U.S. military establishment, is not trusted.

In the absence of any clear-cut demonstration that would be utterly convincing to the majority of scientists, outside the little circle of the Air Force Base, the authenticity of [the encounter] will continue to influence the public’s views and actions, even if supposedly convincing evidence is continuously being presented on later TV shows and in documentary movies by the Air Force and its scientists (and by other scientists invited to join the prestigious university lab to which the [alien] visitors have been transferred to counteract charges of an Air Force plot). Many of the scientists who initially attacked the credibility of the original TV show will have publicly committed themselves. And public commitment is a great source of resistance to persuasive communications that might otherwise change a person’s mind. It leads the person to reduce dissonance or conflict by bolstering his original position with new arguments. [See Deutsch, Krauss, and Rosenau,3572 Festinger3573 Gerad, Belvans, and Malcolm,3574 Kiesler,3663 and McGuire.3634] So the public will continue to be treated to a wide variety of impressive negativistic comments during the months following the TV show, which will make for considerable ambiguity.1640

But in a Surprise Contact’ scenario in which the actual landing receives widespread publicity, news is likely to be in short supply. People will turn first to institutional channels; but there, reporters and the public alike may find only frustration. Rumor, a form of news, arises in situations of tension when ordinary communication channels are operating inadequately. As Shibutani has pointed out: "Rumor construction is likely to occur if the demand for news in a public exceeds the supply made available through institutional channels."1875 Typical rumors might include stories of strange diseases going around or reports that mysterious signals had been detected from a supposed "invasion fleet" hovering just out of radar detection range. Unusual but natural disasters may be blamed on the aliens' arrival.

How should rumors be dealt with? Censorship has often been attempted in the past, but this only serves to aggravate the problem the public becomes aware of it. It is widely agreed that known or suspected censorship increases the incidence of rumors. Denials of widely-believed reports or the overt punishment of free speech makes official channels suspect. A feeling may develop that officials are trying to hide something, even when they aren't, and often what is suspected of being hidden is far more sinister than the facts. There is also a kind of poisoning effect: once censorship is suspected, other items from official sources are also distrusted. Rumors develop even when all known facts have been disclosed. Once official channels are regarded as unreliable, people are no longer reassured by denials and many rumors may develop.1875

Reflecting on the explosion of UFO reports during the last two decades and the widespread and persistent rumor that the government is withholding the "true facts," the late Dr. Edward U. Condon, noted physicist, director of a major study of UFOs completed in 1969, and arch UFO-skeptic, once lamented: "Developments of this kind leave no doubt in my mind that a serious mistake was made in early 1953 in not declassifying the entire subject and making a full presentation of what was known."741 In similar vein, the late Dr. Carl Gustavus Jung, the eminent Swiss psychoanalyst, offered the following advice:

If it is true that the American Air Force or the government withholds telling facts, then one can only say that this is the most unpsychological and stupid policy one could invent. Nothing helps rumors and panics more than ignorance. It is. self-evident that the public ought to be told the truth.1623

A fine example of free and orderly dissemination of potentially explosive information was provided in 1957 by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory after the surprise launching of Sputnik by the Soviets. Smithsonian scientists quickly decided to tell the public all that was known. They set up an information center where regular news conferences were held and all data were available, an openhanded approach that helped to dispel much of the fear the surprise launching invariably aroused.3608 Virtually all psychologists who have investigated rumor seriously have recommended providing adequate information through traditional institutional channels.

Another useful procedure which might be operated in parallel is the concept of the "rumor clinic." Although most such means have heretofore only been applied in wartime situations, the same technique might prove useful during a Direct or Surprise Contact encounter. During World War II, for instance, the Massachusetts Committee on Public Safety dedicated itself to the prevention and control of rumors through publicity. Reported rumors were collected at various listening posts, refuted by authorities or experts, and then published in a large newspaper chain. Reprints of these articles were then sent to interested parties elsewhere in the country.741 A more contemporary example was the Rumor Control Center established by Governor Thornburgh during the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant disaster in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1979. The Center provided a phone number that anyone could call to get updated reliable facts.3717

Of course, there is always the danger that such organizations may come to be perceived as the mere tool of special interests -- big business, the military, a political party, the government -- unless it is scrupulously honest and objective in its dealings with the public. News thought to be of interest to or screened by those in control is often dismissed as propaganda; when institutional channels are discredited, the supply of reliable news is cut off and unreliable rumors begin to fly.

Yet another technique is based on the "two-step" model of public communication.3554 In this model, "opinion leaders" act as mediators between the mass media and the "rank and file." That is, information flows from television, radio, and the printed page to opinion leaders and from them to the rest of the community. This same principle may be applied in the context of news dissemination during a Contact event. The best way to affect public attitudes towards the ETs might be a mass mailing of calming and informative data to community opinion leaders, both in politics (e.g., mayors, city managers, etc.) and various professional people (e.g., doctors, representatives, bankers, authors). As an additional measure, representatives from all major special interest groups should be invited to Washington for a full and complete briefing.



26.2.2  Panic and Mass Hysteria

A televised news conference with the ETs following a Direct Contact encounter would be the media event of the century. Xenologists believe that a large majority of Americans will display "news hunger," many remaining glued to the TV set for word of the latest developments. The credibility controversy will deepen this hunger and even those who suspect a hoax will be following events closely in an attempt to determine who is trying to fool whom. As tension heightens and ambiguity remains high, rumors will begin to fly concerning the nature of the aliens' visit, their intentions, their possible economic, philosophical and religious beliefs, and even their sexual practices.

According to the Yale social psychologist who participated in the 1973 study mentioned earlier:

The main behavioral consequence of all information-seeking and misinformation spreading will be absenteeism. While few workers and clerks will stay home during the day to watch TV, many of them will engage in mental absenteeism in the factory or office. Large numbers of people will be too busy talking to each other about the news, listening to transistor radios, and reading newspapers to do more than a small fraction of their normal daily work. How long this will last will depend partly on how long the story is kept alive by the mass media and partly on how long the major ambiguities persist. If the whole thing is promptly exposed as a hoax and the perpetrators are identified and their intent made clear, public interest will die. Or if the supply of fresh news quickly becomes exhausted, public interest will soon subside -- as in the case of the moon shots in the late 1960s. But otherwise for quite some time after the upcoming TV show, interest in [the ETs] will upstage the impeachment proceedings in the House and the trial in the Senate. Even Nixon’s resignation speech on the eve of the Senate vote will receive less attention.1640

It has often been suggested that the arrival of visitors from other worlds, or even the admission that they had already arrived, would give rise to widespread unreasoning panic. But studies of public reactions to wars, disasters, epidemics, and other similarly frightening events indicate that such will not normally be the case. Mass panic rarely occurs except under certain very usual circumstances.3642,3575 A number of key factors have been identified which, when present in a single event, may give rise to the most virulent forms of mass panic:

1. People are suddenly made aware of clear and present danger of overwhelming magnitude -- personal, physical danger -- that is rapidly approaching;

2. People perceive that all possible escape routes soon will be closed, leaving them trapped with the danger within a very short time (as in a crowded theater or nightclub on fire);

3. There is a lack of opportunity to engage in vigorous self-protective action under extreme conditions of potential entrapment;

4. People experience a loss or lack of contact with members of the family or with other primary socially supportive groups;

5. Ambiguity exists as to the extent and precise character of the danger; and

6. There is a lack of reassuring communications from esteemed persons or responsible authorities.

According to the Yale psychologist:

It should be noted that panic is not a likely response to verbal warnings that are ambiguous with regard to authenticity or that create uncertainty as to whether there might be severe, mild, or no danger at all in the offing. The disaster literature indicates that ambiguous warning messages are likely to be discounted and ignored by all except a small percentage of people, mainly hyperanxious neurotic persons.1640

Another misconception that is current in the popular press is that people are likely to wander about aimlessly like zombies on the heels of a major disaster. While it is true that stunned, dazed, near-psychotic withdrawal has been observed at the scene of catastrophes, studies show that this is the exception rather than the rule. Indeed, most victims of large-scale disasters expect their neighbors to panic or to become zombie-like, and are genuinely surprised when they do not.3603 Usually it is only those who have been severely traumatized (e.g., serious personal injury, injury or death to close family member) that suffer the most extreme forms of psychological disorientation.

None of the primary or contributory factors to mass panic or stunned psychotic behavior should be present in any reasonable Direct Contact scenario. The hallmarks of such an encounter, and its subsequent disclosure to the general public, will be safety, certainty, and control. (Indeed, the less exciting it is, the higher is the ethical content of the encounter, according to the rules of thermoethics.) Even. in a typical Surprise Contact any minor panics which did erupt would be confined to the locality in which the clear and present danger to physical survival existed.1876

Of course, widespread panic is possible if the extraterrestrials come not as friends or neutrals but as enemies of humankind. The immediate threat to personal safety might be deeply etched into the minds of every person on Earth if the ETs performed some spectacularly destructive act -- such as blowing up the Moon -- to demonstrate conclusively the invincibility of their weaponry. This, followed by a general announcement that specific metropolitan areas around the world would suffer similar treatment if certain demands were not met, could give rise to hysteria, mass panic and deep psychoses in the designated areas. Within the doomed areas, notes one commentator, wild panic might become widespread "unless extraordinarily skillful leaders took command of the situation, giving impressive reassurances, organizing the evacuation, and mobilizing other protective actions."* Indeed, such a scenario has already been rehearsed once in some detail -- Orson Welles' Mercury Theater invasion-from-Mars broadcast, which took place on Halloween night, 30 October 1938. The incident is of great xenological and historical interest, and is worth discussing in some detail.

Drawing from the 1898 novel by H.G. Wells of the same name,1951 Mr. Welles opened his "War of the Worlds" with a harmless weather report. The announcer stated that the program would continue from a hotel, with dance music. For a few moments a dance program was heard, but soon there was a break-in with a "news flash" about a professor at an observatory who had seen explosions on the surface of Mars. Then the music came back for about half a minute, interrupted again by another news the landing of a "meteor" near Princeton, New Jersey. On-the-spot reporters at the scene of the fall noted that the object was a strange metallic cylinder. All of a sudden, the lid unscrewed and out popped Martians with death rays, killing 1500 persons including military personnel, members of the press, and innocent bystanders. As the story slowly unraveled, more martian warships began to land all over the United States; people were dropping like flies before an alien assault force armed with deadly gas; Martians were reported entering New York; and so forth.

Long before the fictional broadcast had ended, people across the nation were "praying, crying, fleeing frantically to escape death from the Martians." Some ran to rescue loved ones; others telephoned farewells or warnings, hurriedly informed neighbors, sought information from newspapers and the radio, and summoned ambulances and the police. In Indianapolis a woman ran into a church screaming: "New York destroyed; it’s the end of the world. You might as well go home to die. I heard it on the radio." Services were dismissed immediately. In North Carolina, five Brevard College students fainted and others fought for telephones to call their parents to come and get them. One telephone caller in Kansas City said he had loaded all his children into his car, filled it with gas, and was going somewhere. "Where it is safe?" he wanted to know. A farmer near Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, took pot shots at a neighbor’s water tower, thinking it was an invading Martian war machine. A Pittsburgh man returned home in the midst of the broadcast to find his wife with a bottle of poison in her hand, screaming: "I'd rather die this way than like that."1756

According to Princeton social psychologist Hadley Cantril, who studied the Martian invasion broadcast in some detail, at least 6 million people heard the show, 1.7 million thought the broadcast was a valid news bulletin, and about 1.2 million were "excited" by it.738 According to Cantril, the unusual realism of the performance may be attributed to the fact that the early parts of the broadcast "fell within the existing standards of judgement of the listeners." Radio had become an accepted vehicle for important announcements, and polls indicated that three times more people thought radio was freer from prejudicial reportage than newspapers. During the weeks before the broadcast, everyone had been glued to their sets awaiting news of the outbreak of war in Europe, and the "news flash" technique had become the accepted practice to inform the public of fast-breaking news. The authorities who supposedly participated in the event were highly respected -- military and local Civil Defense commanders, astronomy professors from Princeton and other major universities, the Vice-President of the Red Cross, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, and so forth. Another factor of importance was that specific places were mentioned, lending immediacy to the invasion, and informal colloquialisms and skillful background sounds added in to impart realism. Finally, the fact that all observers seemed baffled by events increased the credibility of the reports in the minds of many listeners.

Cantril found that critical rational ability could be overpowered either by emotions generated by an unusual listening situation or by an individual's own susceptible personality. The trait of susceptibility was more frequent among economically insecure people, persons with phobias, people with less education, and among those having a lack of self-confidence, fatalism, and a high degree of religiosity and church attendance. People who thought at first that the broadcast was a regular news report (28.3% of all listeners) could be classified into four major categories, based on their response:

1. Those who analysed the internal evidence of the program and knew it could not be true. (6.5% of all listeners)

2. Those who checked up successfully with external sources to learn it was a play. (5.1% of all listeners)

3. Those who checked up unsuccessfully and continued to believe it was a news broadcast. (7.6% of all listeners)

4. Those who made no attempt to check the authenticity of the broadcast. (9.1% of all listeners)

Cantril also found "that the greater the possibility of checking against a variety of reliable standards of judgement, the less suggestible will a person be." This is an excellent argument for reasonably full disclosure by the appropriate authorities during a genuine event.

Clearly the news media must shoulder an enormous burden of public responsibility. A tone of hysteria, sensationalism or "media hype" in reports from the scene of a Direct or Surprise Contact could easily contribute to widespread mass hysteria,1759,1805,1747,740 although instances of classic panic will rarely occur except in certain very unusual situations, Dr. Cantril was confident that the press had learned its lesson:

The Orson Welles performance and its aftermath have instilled on the part of all major networks in the United States a deep sense of responsibility in seeing to it that such a situation does not occur again.738

A few writers have taken an even more extreme position than this, denying that a repeat of the Mercury Theater "panic" is even possible nowadays. According to Arthur C. Clarke:

The world has become much more sophisticated since the far-off days of Orson Welles’ famous radio broadcast. It is unlikely that a friendly or neutral contact -- except in primitive communities, or by creatures of outrageous appearance -- would produce an outburst of hysteria like that which afflicted New Jersey in 1938. Thousands of people would probably rush to their cars, but they would be in a hurry to get to the scene of such an historic event, not to escape from it.81

Unfortunately there is some evidence to dispute this claim. The Martian invasion broadcast was not the first nor the last reported incident of fictional public danger to give rise to local hysterias. The most similar predecessor to the Mercury Theater incident occurred on 16 January 1926, during a period of particularly strong labor unrest. As Cantril describes it:

On that day the traditionally complacent English listener was startled by a description given by Father Ronald Knox (in the customary news broadcast) of an unruly unemployed mob. The mob was said to have attempted demolition of the Houses of Parliament, its trench mortars had brought Big Ben to the ground, it had hanged the Minister of Traffic to a tramway post. The London broadcast ended with the "destruction" of the BBC's station. After the broadcast, the newspapers, police and radio stations were besieged with calls from frantic citizens. However, Father Knox's broadcast did not cause either as widespread or as intense a fear as the Orson Welles program.738

In 1939 the script of the Mercury Theater broadcast was translated into Spanish and the settings changed to locales in South America. Broadcast in Ecuador that year, the program again generated widespread hysteria among the radio public. When listeners discovered the production had not been factual news but was instead a hoax, the hysteria turned into rage. Apparently a huge mob converged on the offending radio station, burned it to the ground, and then murdered six of the show’s cast.2598 During the 1950's a smaller scale scare erupted in London when a fake news bulletin again described a very specific and immediate threat, in this case a flying saucer holding an atomic bomb over the city.1001

There are still more recent examples on record. For instance, in November 1973 a Swedish radio broadcast described a fictional nuclear power plant catastrophe in a nearby community. Widespread hysteria and isolated local panics were the immediate result. The telephone network broke down, jammed with calls from fearful and excited people. Within a span of ten minutes after the conclusion of the broadcast an enormous traffic jam tied up main thoroughfares, and frantic citizens were reluctant to accept official assurances that no accident had taken place.1674 (In the real Harrisburg, Pennsylvania nuclear plant breakdown in early 1979, there was no panic but about 100,000 of the 650,000 local inhabitants hastily departed the immediate area.)

Another case occurred on 26 November 1977 in southern England. As the evening news drew to a close on a local TV network, the signal was abruptly interrupted by an ominous-sounding "message from space." "This is the voice of Asteron," the speaker began. "You have only a short time to learn to live together in peace. All your weapons of evil must be destroyed." The six-minute transmission from the "Intergalactic Association" caused a deluge of hundreds of phone calls to local constabularies and to the Southern Television studio.3556 One child who was severely affected began screaming, and her mother remarked: "I'm not easily frightened, but at the end I was shaking like a leaf."3555 In another instance a police car had to be sent to calm an hysterical woman. Recalled one patrolman: "Most people had taken it quite seriously. They were frightened and generally scared."

According to Cantril's study of the Mercury Theater broadcast, 20% of all listeners were "excited" by the program. There is no reason to expect this percentage, which derives from the psychological susceptibility of the general population and not from characteristics of the specific incident, to be much different today. It has also been estimated that approximately 1.5 billion people witnessed the first Moon walk -- an event of comparable importance to the first human contact with intelligent extraterrestrial beings from another world. If an equivalent fraction of the viewing public became "excited" in the context of a Surprise Contact event due to inept reportage, more than 300,000,000 persons might be involved globally. Of course if there appears be no immediate threat to safety there can be no actual mass panic, but the implications even of moderate-scale hysteria in our world are staggering to contemplate.


*Psychologists are well aware that under such conditions of extreme threat, the need for affiliation and reliance on powerful leaders becomes very strong; see Gerard and Rabbie,3577 Hamblin,3578 Janis,3640,3641 Latane,3579 Rabbie,3580 and Schachter.3581



26.3  Legal Issues of First Contact

Law is a product of societal problems. When there are few problems, there is little law. Not surprisingly, there has been virtually no discussion in the literature of the status and legal rights of ETs, their messages, and their artifacts under our various terrestrial legal systems. There exist, so to speak, no legal precedents.

From the legal point of view, there are basically two classes of contact that are significant: Those in which no physical contact between man and alien is possible (Remote Contact), and those in which physical contact is expected to occur (Direct and Surprise Contact).

In the Remote Contact scenario, direct and immediate extraterrestrial influence on our society is comparatively slight. Consequently, legal issues are few. Since information and ideas are the only mechanism for cultural exchange, there may be a few freedom of speech questions (e.g., prior restraint), but these will probably resolved in favor of the government. The requirements of national security may force limitations on dissemination and use of knowledge contained in the alien transmissions. (For instance, the 1954 Atomic Energy Act prohibits disclosure of any nuclear secrets that could be used to make bombs, even if they originate with the author.) There may be a few attempts to use the Freedom of Information Act of 1974 to pry loose confidential or suppressed material, but these take an enormous amount of time to process and most likely will be to no avail.

There are a number of subsidiary legal questions in the context of Remote Contact. For instance, who will own the patent rights to various inventions and devices described in the messages from the stars: The government, who paid for the radiotelescope; the university scientists, who first translated the messages and drew the first blueprints; the engineers who produced the first working model; etc.? Under 35 U.S.C. §101, the invention or discovery of any new and useful process, machine, method of manufacture, or composition of matter is patentable. Data from the Galactic Library surely constitutes a discovery. Two possible restrictions, however, may moot the issue of patentability. First, inventions described in a printed publication in a foreign publication before the application for patent are not patentable. This may perhaps be inferred from the presence of the data in the beacon, but is another planet "a foreign country" for the purposes of this law? And what if the ETs don't print or "publish" anything (perhaps using a planetwide computerized solid state database)? Second, and most important, consider the wording of 35 U.S.C. §101 under which secrecy orders could be applied to alien technologies:

Whenever publication or disclosure by the grant of a patent on an invention in which the Government has a property interest might, in the opinion of the head of the interested Government agency, be detrimental to the national security, the Commissioner [of Patents] upon being so notified shall order that the invention be kept secret and shall withhold the grant of a patent.

Another legal question might involve issues of governmental tort liability. If information from the stars is released by a U.S. operated observatory, and that information is misused or causes harm in any way, is the government liable to the injured parties? (For example, suppose that a new alien formula for high explosives is released to industry, and the commercial testing station using it detonates unexpectedly, flattening an entire city.) In general the answer is no -- there would little if any governmental liability. Under the Federal Tort Claims Act of 1946, only "operational negligence" and not "policy negligence" is actionable. In the landmark case Dalehite v. United States (1953) 346 U.S. 15, in which Texas City was largely destroyed by a harbor explosion of two shiploads of ammonium nitrate placed there as a matter of government policy, the Supreme Court found that the negligent government decisions were at the planning or policy level, hence within the Tort Claims Act exception as to "discretionary function or duty" (so the government was not liable for the mishap).


26.3.1  Alien Animals

In a Direct Contact or Surprise Contact scenario, alien beings would actually come into physical (and hence juridical) contact with human society. The question then arises as to what place such creatures would have in our legal systems, and whether or not they would have any rights or responsibilities under our law. Of course, one might question how any extraterrestrial visitor to our planet could have any rights at all. The ET is not a member of our society, our species, or even our world. And, loosely speaking, these three qualifications are the most fundamental bases for justice under modern human law.

The history of the scope of protection and legal rights in general is most illuminating. In The Descent of Man (1871), Charles Darwin pointed out that among primitive tribal states it was widely accepted behavior to commit what we would regard today as rather serious crimes (robbery, murder) against strangers or innocent travelers. As an example, he cited the "North-American Indian...[who] is well-pleased with himself and honored by others, when he scalps a man of another tribe. ... In a rude state of civilization the robbery of strangers is generally considered as honorable."3612

The tales of Homer tell us that Odysseus, returning home after the Trojan Wars, summarily executed at least a dozen of his slave girls for suspected "misbehavior" during his absence. At that time, slave girls were regarded as mere property with no rights whatsoever. As one legal commentator put it, "the disposal of property was...a matter of expediency, not of right and wrong."3613 In early Roman times, prior to the introduction of Justinian law, a father retained jus vitae necisque -- the right of life and death -- over his children. Male parents could banish or execute their children, or sell them into slavery.3614 Children (nonadult humans) thus were not legal persons, in our modern understanding of the term.

More recently, certain other classes of humans have had less than complete rights under American law. For instance, in the well-known Dred Scott v. Sanford 60 U.S. (19 How.) 396 (1856) decision, Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney spoke for the, majority when he wrote that blacks were "a subordinate and inferior class of beings, who had been subjugated by the dominant race." In Baily v. Poindexter's Ex'r 56 Va. (14 Gratt.) 132 (1858) a Virginia court articulated this position with even greater clarity: "So far as civil rights and relations are concerned, the slave is not a person but a thing." Hence, little more than a century ago in this country, human beings of a particular race were deemed nonpersons (and therefore mere property) in the eyes of the law.

Over the years the status of personhood has gradually been extended to include blacks, women, children, Indians, aliens (foreigners), and prisoners, and in most recent times has come to signify any "human being." But it should be remembered that in each instance it was a long, hard uphill battle to extend rights to any new class of entities.715 It will be no different in the case of the extraterrestrial.

Furthermore, our Constitution and most of our laws, codes, treaties and statutes afford fundamental rights only to "persons." Nonpersons, such as animals, trees, rocks and machines,3617,1750,3622 have no rights and are treated as property. Property may not bring legal actions on its own behalf, although the human owner of property may do so to recover his own losses.3616 (Private groups and governmental authorities can also initiate lawsuits against an owner for misuse of his property, such as in nuisance or animal cruelty cases, but the reparation rarely flows to the benefit of the property itself.) All persons physically present within the borders of the United States are protected by the Bill of Rights; animals, however, are not.3620 The distinction between animals and persons is thus of critical importance.*

The strict legal definition of "animal" is: "Any living being, not a human, endowed with the power of voluntary motion." The ET is clearly not a member of the species Homo sapiens, and is therefore nonhuman by definition. He does, however, appear capable of voluntary motion. Hence, a rebuttable presumption of animalhood will arise; the ET will be considered a legal animal by default.

There are several kinds of legal animals. Under Roman law all animals were considered ferae naturae (wild animals) -- they were regarded as common property having no owner. As the law developed, and animals began to play more important roles in society, the courts created a second class, domitae naturae (domesticated animals). These were further subdivided into "generous" (of commercial value to man -- cows, sheep, and other herbivores) and those of "base nature" (animals not useful for work -- household dogs, cats, etc.).711 Domestic animals can be the subject of ownership, and therefore can be estrays (a kind of wandering property). Estrays may be impounded as public nuisances and destroyed after 3 days if no owner makes a claim.

Owning a domestic ET may entail a variety of legal risks if there is injury to third parties or property, depending upon whether the animal had any "known dangerous propensities" or not. If not, and if the owner had no knowledge of the potentially harmful character of the alien being, then in most U.S. jurisdictions he can only be held liable as negligent if he failed to use due care in restraining the creature’s activities. To paraphrase an old legal adage: "Every extraterrestrial is entitled to one free bite." On the other hand, if the ET has some "known dangerous propensity" then the owner would be held strictly liable for all harm to persons or property caused by the alien. The animal need not be vicious for this rule to apply -- if the ET is known to have a propensity for some normally harmless act which, in a certain instance, does cause harm for some reason, the owner will be held strictly liable for all damages suffered by injured parties.

If the alien visitor is to be regarded as an animal, he will undoubtedly be classified as ferae naturae, no proof of tameness or ownership being evident. A wild animal running loose on private property may be hunted, captured or killed, and thus reduced to personal possession (unless classified as an "endangered species"). Such an animal on federal lands is subject to the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Commission; on state lands, it is subject to the state’s Department of Fish and Game. Either authority may declare a "special season on said game," (e.g., RCM §26-135 in Montana) or the departments themselves may destroy the animal causing damage to property. Individuals in possession of a wild animal are generally strictly liable for any damage they cause, but there is one major and important exception. Where wild animals are kept under a public duty, negligence on the part of the keeper must be shown. This exception applies to zoos, common carriers, and presumably to incarcerated ETs (if they escape).

Even if the extraterrestrial is somehow regarded as being tame, his position is not much improved. The fact that, animal cruelty laws exist in virtually all states710 does not alter the creature’s basic rightlessness.3601 For instance, a surgical operation, even though it produces the most intense pain and suffering, may be justifiable and noncriminal if the operation is necessary to make the animal useful to man. So the castration of a young horse or bull is not considered to fall within the rules prohibiting cruelty to animals. And most cruelty statutes traditionally exclude invertebrate animals (e.g., Cruelty to Animals Act of 1876, Great Britian). If the ET resembles a cross between a sea scorpion and a grasshopper, he will have no legal protection whatsoever.


* The "guardianship model" recently proposed by Joyce S. Tischler would grant each nonhuman "rights consistent with its interests". Members of other species would not have equal rights with humans (they could be more or less) but would be "entitled to equal consideration based on their individual characteristics, their interest in life and their corollary interests in food, care, and maintenance."2708



26.3.2  Legal Standards of Personhood

The whole idea of treating the extraterrestrial visitor to our world as an animal may seem outrageous to many at first, but this is the letter, if not the spirit, of the law.2130 We’ve seen that human beings have often been denied the elementary status of personhood. (It should come as no surprise that in the 13th century, a law was passed in England proclaiming humans of the Jewish faith to be "men ferae naturae, protected by a quasi-forest law. Like the roe and the deer, they form an order apart."3615) Can we seriously expect better for aliens?

What is man? More broadly, what characteristics set persons apart from all other entities?819,3623 Ultimately, and in a legal sense, who we choose to give standing in our system of law is a basic policy decision. That is, to whom do we, as a society, want to give legal rights to? Assuming we have decided that it is a good policy to grant ETs personhood (as it was a good policy for blacks, women, children, and Jews), what is the best way to implement this policy?

The question is not an easy one (it has been debated for centuries3618), primarily because the law has never had the occasion to devise a precise definition of "person." When pressed, modern jurists must admit they don’t know what a person really is. For example, the usual definition of person is "human being." But in light of modern technology this is wholly inadequate. Is a human with a pacemaker a "human being"? How about someone with two artificial legs and an artificial kidney? And what shall we say of the decapitated head maintained by artificial blood and electronic artificial neural circuitry, perched atop a powerful humanoid robotic body? Or full human clones or androids?3619 How much human biology must be present to qualify as a person?

The human genome is no better a measure of personhood. Each human has perhaps 30,000 distinct gene loci, and a great deal of variation can occur at each site. Geneticists estimate that each of us carries about a dozen lethal recessive defective genes which, if paired with themselves (as in a clone), would cause instant death. And studies have shown that about 1% of all newborns have more or less than the normal 46 human chromosomes. Since none of us has a "perfect" genome, how far from the "average" genome should we draw the line of personhood? Should we include people with cystic fibrosis, PKU, or sickle cell anemia? How about Down's Syndrome mongoloids? Or E trisomic elves (malformed skull, webbed toes, crumpled ears, club foot, elfin head shape, simian creases in the palms of the hands)? Under current law even the most grossly deformed infant is considered a person, so where do we draw the line in the case of ETs?

If biological form is a poor measure of personhood, what about feeling? Jeremy Bentham once suggested that the ability to feel pain should be the touchstone of legal rights.3561 John W. Campbell, Jr. asserted that it was emotionality that made men human.1362 Both of these definitions fail because they sweep too wide. It is generally accepted that most mammals feel pain, and most are emotional to varying degrees due to the presence of the limbic structure in the brain, the hallmark of their evolution. Surely the titmouse and the bunny rabbit are not legal persons?

Rationality, by itself, is likewise insufficient, to qualify an entity for personhood. Dolphins and whales, elephants, dogs, pigs and many other animals are able to demonstrate surprisingly high intelligence in certain situations. The early belief that animals cannot reason is now widely rejected -- yet the law still doesn’t consider them legal persons. Yet infants and viable fetuses, drugged people, and the insane or the retarded are all considered persons, even though their mental faculties may be negligible or nonexistent. About all we can say is that some degree of intelligence is perhaps a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for personhood.

Possession and utilization of technology is not good enough either. Chimpanzees have long been known to use sticks, leaves ant other objects as tools for feeding, cleaning, and bedmaking, and to make tools, such as when one chimp piled several boxes atop one another to construct a staircase to reach a banana fastened to the roof of its cage. Even high technology (e.g., starships) cannot conclusively establish either intelligence or personhood. A race of ant-like group-mind creatures could conceivably develop a complex technology without any single member possessing independent intelligence. The concept of individuality lies closer to the heart of personality.

One characteristic which may be very important to all legal persons is the ability to communicate.613 Science fiction writers have often seized upon this characteristic in determining the legal rights of ETs. For instance, from a story by Philip Jose Farmer we have:

Terrestrial law maintained that the illegal killing of any member of a species capable of verbal symbolism was murder.3563

Or, from one of Robert Heinlein’s novels, the "Cygnus Decision":

Beings possessed of speech and manipulation must be presumed to be sentient and therefore to have innate human rights, unless conclusively proved otherwise.3007

Despite the fact that chimpanzees have demonstrated the ability to manipulate linguistic symbols,3004,3624 few animals other than man have can do this. All animals can communicate in one way or another, but only a handful can manipulate abstract symbols that represent intangibles. Of course, in all such definitions we must avoid such terms as "speech" in favor of "communication." That is, we must avoid sensory chauvinism -- it is easy to imagine a race of highly sentient but mute electrosensitive or osmic aliens who use nonsonic "speech" to talk among themselves.

Three other bases for personality are frequently asserted in the literature, all of which have a certain measure of validity in the context of extraterrestrial rights. The first of these, suggested by physicist G.J. Whitrow, is timebinding:

It seems that all animals except man live in a continual present. Unlike animals, man has a sense not only of the past but also of the future. We now have abundant evidence that our sense of these temporal distinctions is one of the most important mental faculties distinguishing men from all other living creatures.1847

Whitrow then goes on to point out that the burial practices of Neanderthal and earlier humanlike creatures in our ancestry show that these beings were timebinding too and, therefore, presumably entitled to be considered as persons. The evidence on chimpanzees and other animals is unclear on this point, but it does not seem likely that human society would wish to bestow the rights and responsibilities of personhood upon any sentient being that had no conception of past or future.

The second oft-cited basis for personhood is self-reference, self-awareness or "self-consciousness." For instance, philosopher Joseph Margolis of Temple University writes that:

Persons may be roughly distinguished as sentient beings capable of the use of language and of self-reference; they are normally embodied in specimens of Homo sapiens but may, in principle, be embodied in electronic gear or, as Martians or dolphins or chimpanzees, the evidence permitting, in other biological forms.3562

According to Michael Tooley, research scholar at the Australian National University, an organism is a person, possessing a serious right to life, when it is able to conceptualize about its own "self as a continuing subject of experiences and other mental states."3560 Elsewhere, Tooley applies his reasoning directly to the question of ETs:

What properties would an extraterrestrial being have to possess in order to be a person? The answer I have offered here is that it would have to be a conscious being possessing both the capacity for self-consciousness and the capacity for having desires about its continued existence. ... Intelligence is not essential to the concept of a person. ... An extraterrestrial being need not be alive [in the biological sense] in order to count as a person. There might be conditions under which we would attribute consciousness, self-consciousness and a desire for continued existence to robots that had been manufactured by some extraterrestrial intelligence, even though the robots in question had no capacity to repair or reproduce themselves.1940

A similar test was proposed in 1953 by the French writer Jean Bruller. In his own words:

In nature, a small difference in quantity can produce a total change in quality. For instance, when heating water, you can add more and more calories without the water changing its state. And then, at a given moment, one single degree is enough for it to pass from the liquid state to the gaseous one. Is not that what has occurred with our forebears' intelligence? The difference between the Neanderthal man’s intelligence and a great ape’s can't have been much in the way of quantity. But it made a vast difference to their relationship to nature: the animal continued to submit to it; man suddenly started to question it. Now, in order to question there must be two of you -- the one who questions, and the one who is questioned. Intimately bound up with nature, the animal cannot question it. The animal is one with nature, while man and nature make two. To pass from passive consciousness to questioning consciousness, there had to be that schism, that divorce, there had to be that wrenching away from nature. Is not that precisely the borderline? Animal before the wrench, man after it? De-natured animals, that’s what we are.1553

The Bruller Test, then, would require that the ET demonstrate some form of self awareness before it could receive the protection of our laws. (See also Green2163 and Silverberg.2176)

The third major basis for personhood that has appeared in the literature is grounded in the capacity for ethical behavior. Dr. Roland Puccetti, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Singapore, has proposed that we should equate "legal-persons" with "moral persons." Says he: "Persons are always moral agents and vice versa."71 The Puccetti Test thus asks the following of the extraterrestrial: Can he take a moral attitude? Alternatively, is he capable of making moral judgements? If so, if he possesses some system of ethics, Puccetti would classify him as a moral and legal person and extend the rights and responsibilities of our laws to him. A similar suggestion has been made by John Rawls in his book A Theory of Justice:

Moral persons are entitled to equal justice. Moral persons are distinguished by two features: first they are capable of having a conception of their good; and second they are capable of having a sense of justice, a normally effective desire to apply and to act upon the principles of justice.2584

In conclusion, then, there are four major qualities which xenologists believe may adequately characterize a "person":

1. Symbolic communication;

2. Time binding;

3. Self-awareness; and

4. Ethical behavior.

The author would like to toss his hat into the ring with his own definition of legal personality. It is a three-part test which incorporates most of the important aspects of the above. To be considered a legal person, an extraterrestrial being must demonstrate the following intellectual characteristics:

1. Temporal Relativity -- "there are other times, than now";

2. Spatial Relativity -- "there are other places than here"; and

3. Sociocultural Relativity -- "there are other societies than mine."

The first requirement ensures that the alien will view itself as temporally distinct from the environment,50 and so will have some notion of causation and consequences of acts. The second requirement ensures that the ET sees itself as physically distinct from the environment, with an awareness of self, individuality, and therefore of the selves of others. Such a being should have that degree of empathy necessary or an understanding of legal systems. The third requirement guarantees that the creature will have some concept of cultures generally, rather than merely of his own. This should lead to the social and ethical relativism needed for alien beings to live together in peace and harmony. Individuals who can conceive of no other mode of social ordering than their own are "barbarians," wholly unable to understand the diversity of human society, and therefore should not be entitled to the rights and responsibilities of human law. Since all three requirements by their very nature embrace conceptions of the abstract and the external, and since all sentient beings will be able to communicate in some fashion, possession of all three characteristics should ensure that all beings classified as legal persons are also capable of symbolic communication.



26.3.3  Extraterrestrial Persons

In ancient and medieval times, as well as in primitive tribal states, the general tendency was always to view the foreigner as an outlaw, a criminal, or an enemy. The jus gentium (the equitable law of nations) originated by the Romans, and the unity of all humans promoted by Christianity ("You shall have but one law for alien and native alike." Leviticus xxiv. 22), helped to encourage an attitude of greater universality. But it was not until modern times that the legal alien acquired significant rights under law.

As far as basic rights for the extraterrestrial visitor are concerned, once he has been declared a legal person he has crossed the most fundamental juridic threshold.404,4634 Our Constitution speaks of the rights of "people" and "persons," and the 14th Amendment extends this mantle of protection into state jurisdictions as well. Hence, any person physically present within the borders of our country will be protected by the basic Bill of Rights -- whether citizen, alien, or extraterrestrial.* This, however, does not tell the whole story, for there are many different kinds of legal persons under American law.

As far as the specifics of classification are concerned, there are a variety of ways judicially to view the ET. For example, he might possibly be considered a refugee. A refugee is a technically stateless person -- he is neither citizen (or national) nor subject of any foreign government on Earth.3564 One definition of the refugee goes as follows: "Any person uprooted from his home, who has crossed a frontier -- natural or artificial -- and looks for protection and sustenance to a government other than his former one."709,3611 In a crash-landing Surprise Contact situation, this would seem to fit the extraterrestrial rather well. In many foreign countries, where the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons is operative, refugees are guaranteed minimal legal rights commensurate with those held by foreign nationals. In the United States, however, even stateless persons are protected by the Bill of Rights.

Another way the ET may be viewed is as an alien, defined as "any person owing allegiance to a foreign government." The home planet of the extraterrestrial is certainly "foreign," in a very broad sense, so this classification probably makes more sense in the typical Direct or Surprise Contact scenario.

There are several kinds of aliens. An illegal alien is one who has entered the country illegally, without passing through the normal channels of admission (i.e., the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, under the Department of Justice). The extraterrestrial has certainly made an illegal entry, so theoretically should be immediately subject to deportation proceedings.** According to the detailed provisions set forth in 8 U.S.C. §1182, numerous general classes of persons may be excluded from entering the country. These include aliens who are mentally retarded or insane, of poor "moral character", or afflicted with "psychopathic personality," or who are drug addicts. Other excludable classes are aliens afflicted with any dangerous contagious diseases, aliens who practice or advocate polygamy, aliens who are likely at any time to become public charges, aliens who are stowaways, aliens who are anarchists, aliens "over 16 years of age, physically capable of reading, who cannot read and understand some language or dialect," and aliens who at any time have encouraged or assisted any other alien to enter or try to enter the United States illegally. Clearly there are many problems with each of these restrictions from the extraterrestrial perspective, and a decision to "deport" the ET would create more problems than it would solve.

Another kind of alien is the alien enemy (a citizen of some hostile foreign power). If the President proclaims that the landing of the ET is a prelude to (or represents a serious threat of) invasion and war, he is authorized under 50 U.S.C. §21 to order a federal marshal to "apprehend, restrain, secure and remove" all alien enemies. This course of action seems unlikely in the extreme, since the creature should already be in government, custody and, in a practical sense, cannot be "removed." If war must be declared, there is another little-known class of aliens in international law known as friendly enemies. Says one jurist: "A belligerent State is free to exempt enemy nationals or certain classes of them from the treatment applied, to persons vested with enemy character."2105

A way around the immigration problem is to classify the ET as an essential alien. 50 U.S.C. §403(h) provides that, with the Director of the CIA, the Attorney General, and the Commissioner of Immigration, any alien deemed "essential to the furtherance of the national intelligence mission" or vital to the interests of national security may be admitted for permanent residence (and ultimately naturalization and citizenship) without regard to admission procedures. This would seem quite possible in the case of the extraterrestrial, since a major foreign policy consideration will be the creature’s advanced technology. Any nation on Earth in possession of the visitor and his hardware would theoretically gain a significant psychological and military advantage.

The creature might also be classified simply as an alien amy -- a friendly alien. Although this normally requires proper immigration, there are several ways to get around this rule. Alien crewmen of foreign vessels, and aliens in transit, are exempt because their stay in this country is very temporary. Or, if the ET visitor is viewed as having entered the country for "business or pleasure," or as a "bona fide student, scholar, specialist, or leader in a field of specialized knowledge or skill," he is again exempt from the normal immigration proceedings by 8 U.S.C. §1101 as a visiting alien.

Another alternative to the "alien" approach is the possibility of granting ambassadorial status to the extraterrestrial. As a full diplomat, the ET would serve as the representative of his own government while on Earth. Diplomats have full immunity from prosecution in American courts. Or the ET may be seen only as a consul, a mere commercial agent for his government, entitling him to fewer immunities. Normally, however, there must be diplomatic reciprocity before a foreign envoy of any kind is afforded ambassadorial rank. Since we would know little or nothing of the extraterrestrial’s government, such unilateral diplomatic relations seem problematical.

Still, it is a fact that the President of the United States (and his designatees) are our sole representatives in dealing with foreign nations. The Constitutional power of the Chief. Executive to receive ambassadors and to recognize foreign governments is considered by many scholars to be virtually unlimited and exclusive. Presumably there would be no legal bar if the President chose to recognize the ET and his government, sight unseen; neither Congress nor the Judiciary could complain. Executive discretion is absolute in this matter, and this author would suggest that this technique is probably one of the better legal alternatives open to us.

Yet another option is available. The. Naturalization Clause of the U.S. Constitution expressly authorizes Congress to prescribe rules by which aliens may secure full citizenship. It is settled that Congressional authority is not limited to general rules governing the manner in which individuals are naturalized. There is nothing to prevent the grant of American citizenship to named persons by special act. For instance, in 1963 Congress passed 77 Stat. 5, which declared Sir Winston Churchill an "honorary citizen" of the United States. This procedure does not necessitate the swearing of the oath of citizenship normally required of all naturalized aliens, nor does it require the renunciation of "all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen."713 Thus the ET granted honorary United States citizen status could retain his extraterrestrial nationality, a rather unique kind of "dual citizenship."

Additionally, the naturalization power extends to provisions for collective naturalization of whole populations of legal persons. Thus did Congress provide for the collective citizenship of the citizens of Hawaii when that territory was annexed. The power can also be exercised with respect to particular classes, races, or, presumably, any sentient species or other worlds over which jurisdiction can be secured. For example, the American Indians were not considered U.S. citizens until Congress provided by statute that native-born Indians should be citizens at birth. In similar fashion an entire species or society of extraterrestrials could be granted full, partial, or honorary citizenship in the United States.

As a last resort, Congress certainly has the legal authority to create a special juridical class to be called "extraterrestrial persons." It would then have to be decided exactly which rights and responsibilities the ETs should possess.


* In cases of "pressing public necessity", even citizens can be summarized incarcerated in camps". See Korematsu v. U.S. 323 U.S. 214 (1944).

** If the ET gives birth in the United States and is itself deemed a "person", its offspring could be deemed full U.S. citizens.



26.3.4  Aliens and American Law

What we want to look at here is exactly how the ET would be treated under American law. That is, assuming the aliens, after contacting us, come here in droves to visit our planet and perhaps even to reside here for various lengths of time. Obviously some laws would have to be passed for the specific purpose of making a disposition of their legal rights in our society. The classification of "extraterrestrial person" may not include all the rights, duties, or implications of the legal "person," "alien," or "citizen" in our system. The ET person will have a unique legal character all its own.

If beings from other worlds come to live among us, then how will they be affected by our criminal laws? Let's consider a specific example. For humans the most serious crime is homicide. Most statutes define the corpus delicti of this offense as having two elements: (1) The killing of a human being, and (2) death ensues as a proximate result of the criminal acts of another human being.

In the case of the extraterrestrial creature, it does not appear that the corpus delicti for criminal homicide can be met. Criminal laws are always strictly construed under American law, especially in felony cases, and in favor of the accused.403 Even if an ET is deemed a legal person, it is not a "human being" any more than are "corporate persons," "municipal persons," counties, estates of dead people, or similar artificial persons. Therefore, if a man kills the alien visitor he is not guilty of murder since no human being has died, as Assistant Attorney General Norbert A. Schlei stated to a radio audience in 1963:

Since criminal laws are usually construed strictly, it is doubtful that laws against homicide would apply to the killing of intelligent, manlike creatures alien to this planet, unless such creatures were members of the human species. Whether killing these creatures would violate other criminal laws -- for instance, the laws against cruelty to animals or disorderly conduct -- would ordinarily depend on the laws of the particular state in which the killing occurred.1623

Conversely, if an alien visitor kills a man there is again no murder since death did not occur as a consequence of the acts of another human being. If two ETs kill each other there is again no basis for imposing American homicide laws, unless Congress defines an "extraterrestrial person" to be a "human being" for the purposes of the criminal law.

Similar problems arise in connection with the crime of rape. The common law definition of the offense goes as follows: "The unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman by a man forcibly and against her will." But "woman" is defined as a female member of the human species, "man" as a male of the human species. Hence, since the criminal law is strictly construed, no extraterrestrial nonhuman being can be the perpetrator or the victim of rape. Again, this is true in spite of the classification of the ET as a legal person, since all legal persons are not exactly equivalent to human beings. But even if the female in question does give her consent and no force is used, the human member of the couple is guilty of bestiality or "buggery" (copulation with a nonhuman of the opposite sex) and may be prosecuted under state sodomy statutes -- which usually carry rather extreme penalties.* The ET is this case gets off scot free, since nonhumans cannot presently be guilty of any crime.

A number of new crimes may have to be defined to cover the special case of the extraterrestrial person. First, and perhaps most obvious, would be the crime of xenocide -- the killing of a sentient nonhuman being by any legal person (natural, corporate, or extraterrestrial). Xenocide of the first degree would involve malice aforethought on the part of the perpetrator of the deed; xenocide of the second degree would not.** (The crime of homicide would also have to be upgraded to include killing of human beings by an extraterrestrial person.) If the alien beings have no personalized sentience but each entity is part of a group mind which is deemed, collectively, an extraterrestrial person, then the killing of any individual member of the group mind might be termed semicide. Like mayhem or battery, the criminal activity is directed only to a part of the person's "body."

Lawmakers may wish to invoke legal sanctions against those who engage in interspecies sexual relations. Humans are already covered by sodomy statutes; for the sentient nonhuman the equivalent offense might be called homosexus -- sexual activity of any kind by an ET with a human being. More specific versions of the crime are likely to be legislated -- adulterous homosexus, copulatory homosexus, oral homosexus, and so forth. (Further variations in human/nonhuman sexual relations, complicated by the endless possibilities of exotic alien physiology, are left to the imagination of the reader.) Laws may also be passed to prohibit xenogamy, the unlawful marriage between a human being and a nonhuman sentient creature.*** These rules may be modeled after the old miscegenation statutes which are now obsolete in this country.

Depending on the characteristics and abilities of the ET visitors, a whole set of peculiar crimes might have to be established which have little or no analog in human law. For instance, imagine a race of sentient extraterrestrial amphibians capable of regenerating in a short time various body parts and appendages -- fingers, hands, legs, and so forth. In their society, it might be the custom to nibble part of the bodies of one’s acquaintances to demonstrate affinity, especially when one is hungry. The bigger the bite, the deeper the friendship. Human beings, unable to regenerate lost parts, undoubtedly would want to define this behavior as a crime when practiced on people. Hence we might have a crime called petit cannibalism, the partial consumption of a human being by another sentient being.

Or consider the unusual creatures devised by science fiction writer Robert Sheckley in his short story "The Monsters."3566 Among these oviparous intelligent beings, married females lay at least one egg each day, which hatches in a ratio of eight females to one male. Since destroying eggs is a poor genetic strategy, and female infanticide would rob society of its primary workforce (unmarried females), the only way to hold down population is uxoricide. In the story, all wives must be killed after 25 days of marriage. Were such beings to come to Earth and live among us, we too would have an interest in the control of their numbers. This being the case, and respecting their needs as different from our own, we might be willing to pass a law defining vivuxory -- allowing one's wife to live -- applicable to these ETs only.

Countless other unique crimes may readily be imagined. Forcible morphogenesis would involve physically altering another sentient being against its wishes, perhaps using genetically tailored viruses or special "trigger" pheromones. Involuntary vility would be the crime of exposing one’s true alien appearance to the general public, if that appearance is so shockingly and horribly ugly as to cause fainting spells, heart seizures, riots or hysteria among the human onlookers. A crime for telepathic aliens would be telerape, consisting of unlawful empathic mindreading of the mind of one partner of a married human couple, without their consent, while they are having sex.

All charges of criminal conduct are subject to defenses which may be asserted to relieve the accused of liability for his acts. As perhaps might be expected, a variety of unusual defenses may exist in the cases where extraterrestrial beings are involved, such as the ex post facto defense illustrated by Bruller.1553 However, it should be pointed out at this point that the one defense popularly expected to apply to ETs -- ignorance (or mistake) of the law -- generally is no defense to criminal acts. This is a long-established rule of jurisprudence: Criminal intent requires only a showing that the accused intended to perform the prohibited activity, not that he knew it was illegal.

A traditional defense to crime is lack of capacity. The plea of insanity is the most common variant. Under the majority M’Naghten Rule, criminal acts committed by an alien being could be excused if the ET was "unable to understand the nature of his act" or, if he knew what he was doing, that he "lacked the capacity to distinguish whether his act was right or wrong." Lack of capacity may also be proved by a showing of feeblemindedness, as where the intelligence level of the extraterrestrial actor is significantly below the human norm, for whatever reason, at the time the crime was committed.

Perhaps the most fascinating question in this area is whether or not sociobiology565 can be raised as a valid defense in a criminal prosecution. That is, should alien beings be held accountable for biologically predetermined or preconditioned behavioral patterns?

For instance, it would seem that trisexual creatures (having three distinct genders necessary for reproduction) should be excused of the crime of bigamy. Another example: Intelligent beings having a physiology similar to that of the common mole (Antichinus stuarti) might have a brief but concentrated rutting season. Shortly after copulation a sudden surge of hormones kills the male, leaving more resources for the gravid female of the species. Although having sex is tantamount to suicide for the male, his reproductive biology forces him to do it. Should this not be a complete defense to the crime of suicide? And what of a sentient alien race patterned after the Adelie penguins of Antarctica,1028 who are sociobiologically predisposed to steal? Will this excuse them of the crime of larceny?

It is not entire clear whether courts would accept sociobiology as a full defense to criminal acts. Claims of compulsion and coercion generally are not allowed as defenses if the compulsion derives from some natural (i.e., biological) characteristic. Or, drawing another analogy from the defense of intoxication, chronic alcoholics or narcotics addicts are still responsible for crimes they commit while under the influence, even though addiction is now widely regarded as a medical condition to which some people may be more susceptible than others.

On the other hand, the defense of insanity or feeblemindedness may successfully be raised-when the perpetrator is suffering from an hereditary (genetic) disability. This is, in a sense, a sociobiological defense. Courts have so far rejected insanity pleas-based on the XYY chromosome defect (the extra Y chromosome supposedly causing antisocial behavior). However, there is evidence that the judiciary might be willing to allow this defense if there existed scientific evidence tying the genetic defect into the accepted tests for insanity.


Figure 26.1 A Jury of One's Peers?3621

"Your Honor, the defense contends its client could never get a fair trial in this court."


The legal difficulties created by extraterrestrials living on Earth in close proximity to human beings will be pervasive and diverse including major questions in such areas of the law as torts, conflicts of law, evidence, family law, wills, and property law (Figure 26.1). Toni M. Mattis, a California paralegal, suggested a few of the problems that might emerge in the law of contracts. If an alien visitor were approached by a literary agent, asked Mattis, could he enter into a legally binding contract to write his autobiography? The legal issues include:

Capacity -- A contract with a minor or mental defective is not usually binding. A person with knowledge or intelligence inferior to that of a "reasonable man" can’t sign a valid contract. If the alien were significantly less intelligent than the agent, he might not have the capacity to contract. If the agent were less intelligent, he (and all humans) would be incapable of contracting with an alien.

Mistake -- A contract is invalid if the parties are mistaken about its terms. The sale of a stud bull was once declared invalid because it was sterile, a "bull in name only." An alien is almost guaranteed to be mistaken about the terms of a human contract. He might lack some human senses (e.g., recall the story of the blind men and the elephant), or he might possess superior senses which would give him irrelevant data. In any case, cultural differences would impede communications.

Consideration -- An alien is unlikely to be collecting greenbacks. He may want his royalties paid in something valueless to humans (e.g., dog droppings or ragweed), excessively valuable (Brazil), illegal to obtain (the firstborn children of Akron), or nonexistent (filet of unicorn).3567


* As recently as 1953, eight states still provided a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.2486

** The crime of homicide would have to be upgraded to include killing of human beings by any legal persons.

*** What would be the legal status of the issue of an ET/human mating, if this were biologically possible, if the family were to remain on Earth?1528



26.4  Human Sociocultural Response

What will be the effects on human society when first contact with extraterrestrials takes place? Most writers, drawing upon the record of the European expeditions of conquest and colonization of African, Central American, Indian and aboriginal populations, automatically expect the worst. Carl Jung once wrote:

In a direct confrontation with superior creatures from another world, the reins would be torn from our hands and we would, as a tearful old medicine man once said to me, find ourselves "without dreams," that is, we would find our intellectual and spiritual aspirations so outmoded as to leave us completely paralysed.1920

For example, Mircea Eliade has described the wanderings of a group of Australian aborigines who always carried with them a pole which was planted in the middle of each new settlement to constitute "the center of the world." When missionaries arrived, they confiscated the pole to help cure the natives of their heathen superstitions. The tribe soon withered away and died, its collective belief structure shattered.3584 Perhaps the discovery of the existence of ETs similarly may collapse our basic human cultural paradigms by jolting mankind’s common anthropocentric delusion that we are the center of the universe. According to the Brookings Institute Report on the Implications of Peaceful Space Activities for Human Affairs in 1961:

Anthropological files contain many examples of societies, sure of their place in the universe, which have disintegrated when they had to associate with previously unfamiliar societies espousing different ideas and different life ways; others that survived such an experience usually did so by paying the price of changes in values and attitudes and behavior.1336

There is some dissent from this position, however. The English historian Arnold Toynbee believed that the rise of civilization was not a matter of racial, historical, or environmental differences, but rather was due to a people's response to a challenge in a situation of special difficulty and hardship that rouses them to make an unprecedented effort. Under this theory, difficult rather than easy conditions would prompt men to cultural achievement; an encounter with beings from space thus might be expected to trigger a cultural rebirth, a new renaissance, a great flowering of human civilization -- not its collapse.

Even more interesting are the ideas of the Canadian-born American historian William H. McNeill. According to McNeill, a people rise to civilization as a response to the threat of force from alien societies. The mobilization in the face of this threat is often accompanied or followed by an absorption of the aliens’ technology, institutions, and ideas. In McNeill's own words:

The history of civilized mankind can be considered largely as a product of the progressive breakdown of this isolation. When habit and custom, formalized into institutions, written into law, and supported by religious beliefs, are not exposed to the challenge offered by alien ideas, techniques, and manners, no very important changes in the sacred ancestral ways are likely to occur. But, when contact with aliens becomes extensive, something has to be done. Sometimes it is possible to reject the new as unholy; ... sometimes alien ways recommend themselves and are willingly adopted because they seem to offer practical or aesthetic advantages. Most often in history, however, what makes most powerfully for social change is the application of force. Alien ways can always be brought urgently to the attention of a people when the bearers of those ways are militarily powerful and threaten raids or conquest.3585

The historian admits that culture contact may prove harmful more often than not, but still maintains that these risks are necessary if sociocultural evolution is to occur:.

The argument does not imply that every collision between peoples with alien ways of life leads to a superior blending and recombination of elements. Such is of course not the case. Failures and abortions are probably far more usual than successful recombinations, though, almost by definition, the failures bulk far less large in our historical records. But I do suggest that contact with alien ideas and manners provided the mainspring for historical development through most of the recorded past. Without such contact, whether peaceable or violent, men would not have been stimulated to change their ancestral patterns of life; the rate of social evolution would certainly have been vastly slower.3585


26.4.1  The Acculturation of Humanity

Anthropologists have made a careful study of the problems and processes involved when two alien cultures enter into contact with each other. In a Remote Contact, when communication is limited to, say, data transmitted on radio waves with a lengthy time delay (decades, centuries, even millennia), most of cultural change takes place by way of diffusion. Diffusion is simply "the spreading of culture elements and complexes from one society to another."888 Diffusion is inevitable when peoples of diverse cultures are in contact, whether that contact is friendly or hostile, direct or through the medium of intermediate societies. Diffusion is generally considered a rather slow process -- new elements are fitted into the existing framework, a kind of cultural jigsaw puzzle, often with considerable modification in the process.3598

Since the 1930's many anthropologists have become interested in culture contact situations that involve, not the mere adapting of new elements to the existing cultural framework, but rather the significant and rapid restructuring of one or both of the cultures in contact. Xenologists have found such studies give much needed insight into the possible effects on human society of a Direct Contact with sentient extraterrestrial beings. Since travel, commerce, and even tourism between the stars should be a simple matter for Type II stellar and Type III galactic civilizations (the societies most likely to send visitors to Earth), xenologists believe it is important to study the kind of rapid change that can result from continuous physical encounters between alien races and humanity. This process has been called acculturation by anthropologists and social scientists.1765

A number of important variables are determinative of the process, extent, and rate of acculturation. According to specialists in the field, there are a number of primary factors:

1. Power. Culture contact may be marked by equal or unequal social dominance of the communities involved. In a situation of unequal dominance one of the parties controls by force or some other kind of power a disproportionate number of the responses made by the subordinate community. In equal dominance the relationship is between peers.

2. Mutual Respect. Culture contact may be marked by varying degrees of mutual appreciation. At one extreme is a situation in which each party respects the way of life of the other. If one is larger in scale and possesses greater social power and more knowledge, these resources are used not autocratically but to help the other party develop in whatever direction the latter chooses. Such a relationship exists as the ideal in colonial policy. At the opposite extreme one community is interested primarily in exploiting the other. The situation is marked by fear, rivalry, or ethnocentrism. Neither values the other's language. Change is regarded either as something to be avoided at all costs or as necessary in order to eradicate an unwholesome way of life.

3. Hostility. Acculturation that is hostile features not only violence but also discrimination and rejection. In the western United States during the Second World War American-born Japanese experienced considerable prejudice from local Americans. After they migrated to Chicago they entered a situation of 1ow discrimination that seemingly fostered a high rate of cultural borrowing.

4. Regulation. Controlled acculturation means that the culture contact situation is regulated deliberately. The purpose of such regulation is to govern the rate of change and maintain a fairly high degrees of general persistence or stability. The rules may be formulated by the subordinate community [in a Direct Contact, that's us] by any other party involved. The joint agreement between the United States and Canada to build radar stations and airstrips in far northern Canada contains a provision that "all contact with Eskimo, other than those whose employment on any aspect of the project is approved, is to be avoided except in cases of emergency."890

5. Cultural Difference. The extent to which cultures in contact differ in technology, ideology and values, social structure, and so on will play an important role in acculturation.

6. Intensity. Contacts may involve a few selected representatives of one or both cultures, or may involve colonization and massive contact. Are the persons in contact missionaries, traders, government officials, of high or low social status? To what extent is the flow of innovations one way or reciprocal? These variables may change through time when contacts are prolonged, and the nature of acculturation will vary accordingly.888

In general, we would expect. the most ethical Contacts to be marked by (at least apparently) equal power, mutual respect, lack of hostility, close regulation, minimal cultural differences, and the lowest feasible intensity of contact. But of course we have no guarantees that all contacts with humanity will be properly managed to maintain the highest possible ethical content.

According to Ralph L. Beals and Harry Hoijer of UCLA, depending upon the variables mentioned above, several kinds of processes may occur during culture contact between humanity and an alien race. Several may be operative at the same time:

Substitution -- a new trait or complex of traits that substitutes for pre-existing traits and performs the same functions may be adopted. Structural change is minimal.

Addition -- new traits, complexes, or institutions may not replace existing elements but may be added to them. Significant structural change may or may not be involved.

Syricretism -- new and old traits may be blended to form a new system or subsystem. Structural change is apt to be considerable.

Deculturation -- contacts may cause loss of part of the culture without replacement. For example, on the economic level, substitution of pre-made goods may cause loss of technology; imposition of exterior governmental authority may cause loss of institutions or functions.

Origination -- new structures that do not have obvious roots in either culture are invented to meet changing needs.

Rejection -- the changes demanded may be so great or so rapid that a large number of individuals cannot accept them. Efforts are made to resist change. In extreme form, rejection may be accompanied by high rates of abortion and infanticide, attempts to return to the past, rebellions, and religious movements involving supernatural support or sanctions. The irrational content of large-scale rejective movements often is high.888

Anthropologists have identified end-states of cultural contact when dissimilar communities interact. In the case of a Direct Contact, humanity may find itself in one of the following four "terminal processes":

1. Social Extermination -- Extermination comes to socially subordinate communities, especially those which seek to resist a more powerful invader by force. Others may be destroyed by the ravages of disease or by internal wars fought with newly acquired military hardware. One culture loses membership until it can no longer function.

2. Stabilized Pluralism -- One culture loses full independence but persists as a subculture, forming a caste, class, or plural society. Cultural borrowing is regulated, and the origination of change is stabilized. The subordinate society isolates itself as much as possible from interaction with the socially dominant community, allowing it to preserve a large portion of its own cultural heritage.

3. Symbiosis -- Two or more communities may be brought into a state of complex interdependence as a result of culture contact. Each society becomes specialized in a different direction but finds itself dependent on the roles or services provided by the other. A new internal and external structural equilibrium is achieved. Selective change may continue, but at a slower pace. Specialized elements may be compartmentalized, new structures added without abandonment of the old.

4. Assimilation -- Also known as merger or fusion. The two cultures become indistinguishable and in time form a single culture. Assimilation is favored by five specific conditions. First, the interacting parties should have considerable similarity and compatibility between linguistic and other cultural elements. Second, at least one party should be ready to learn from the other. Third, contacts, both direct and mediated, must be frequent between parties. Fourth, assimilation is rewarded (by employment, promotion, higher income, security, or prestige). Fifth, symbols and rituals should express unity in place of emphasizing social distinctions.890

Applying the above to the situation of a Direct Contact between humans and aliens, the worst thing that could happen to us is social extermination. Since most or all of the weaker culture’s heritage is lost, this alternative represents tremendous information waste and hence is maximally unethical according to our universal standards of first contact. Unfortunately, xenologists cannot guarantee that extinction may not occur.

Assimilation is somewhat more ethical, as some of the cultural data contained in the subordinate society is preserved. But the thermoethical arguments against colonization and imperialism apply here: Imposition of the cultural elements of one group upon another destroy a functioning sociocultural paradigm which decreases the ability of the living universe (taken as a whole) to process survival information. Similarly symbiosis, in which humanity becomes dependent upon an alien society for its livelihood and well-being, represents the partial loss of various aspects of the human survival paradigm. Information is lost, hence is unethical.

The best we can hope for is some form of stabilized pluralism, in which humanity is permitted to retain most of its present structure and institutions, with careful infusions of small bits and pieces of the alien culture over a long period of time. While we'll lack full independence, change will be sufficiently regulated to allow us to retain most of our own cultural heritage and to continue evolving in our own unique way.


Table 26.3 Patterns of Acculturation as a Function of Coercion and Cultural Similarity
(after Rothstein3369)

Level of Authority and Coercion

Low Cultural

High Cultural

Low Coercion 

Coexisting Dissimilar Cultures

Assimilation of Subordinate


Coexistence of structures, persistence of roles and institutions in each group

Merging of roles and institutions toward superordinate group

High Coercion

Culture Creation by Subordinate Group 

Parallel Similar Cultures


Emergence of new patterns of social organization in subordinate group 

Segregation or apartheid



Sociologist David Rothstein of Alfred University has studied the sociocultural dynamics of intergroup contact and is prepared to offer some predictions as to the outcome of culture contact given certain initial conditions.3369 Rothstein views two variables as primarily determinative of the adjustments to be expected during acculturation. First there is the level of coercion or force, the level of power or authority which the superordinate culture imposes on the subordinate culture during their mutual interaction. The second major variable is cultural similarity, the degree to which the worldviews and social structures of the two cultures are compatible. These two factors may be used to predict in a general way the probable result of interaction between humanity and an extraterrestrial civilization. As Table 26.3 demonstrates, Rothstein’s methodology indicates that in cases of contact with ETs (low cultural coincidence, low structural compatibility) the restrained use of force and overt authority will result in humanity retaining its own institutions and heritage. In the event of higher levels of coercion, historian McNeill's predictions may come to pass: Confronted with hostile aliens, mankind may be stimulated to produce new patterns of social organization and novel cultural elements.



26.4.2  Social Impact of First Contact

How will first contact affect our society? It is again important to distinguish between Remote Contacts (perhaps by radio), in which impact would be minimized, and scenarios involving Direct or Surprise Contacts (e.g., Bracewell probes, UFOs), wherein impact would be at a maximum.

When the first message from the stars is received, the impact may be expected to be similar to that of other major discoveries in the past. Most likely, life will continue on much as before. For instance, while the heliocentric cosmology advanced by Copernicus in 1543 was an intellectual bombshell for churchmen and university professors, the average man remained unaffected by the revelation. In the last century the revolutionary ideas of Charles Darwin caused quite a stir in high society at the time, but there was little social impact until decades later when the Scopes "monkey trial" came to public attention The discoveries of modern science in this century -- the expanding universe, the DNA molecule, and so on -- have diffused into society at a fairly slow pace. Nowadays, remarks one writer wryly, people are actually bored with the notion of men walking on the Moon. We are accustomed, he says, "to receiving graphic new cultural and intellectual inputs via TV and movies -- views of far-off lands, strange people, and curious customs -- but are very little affected by them. A long-distance radio message from the stars would seem relatively innocuous."3257

Many philosophers have insisted that, in the long run, humanity will undergo a dramatic change in perspective. The smallness and uniqueness of our Earth will suddenly be thrust upon us. Humans may become more aware of their common humanity. Philosophy Professor James L. Christian believes that "at last we will have a mirror by which we can look at ourselves as human beings."1620 Apparently Lenin, the founder of Soviet bolshevism, agreed. In a conversation with H.G. Wells in 1920, the Russian leader is reported to have remarked:

All human conceptions are on the scale of our planet. They are based on the pretension that the technical potential, although it will develop, will never exceed the terrestrial limit. If we succeed in establishing interplanetary communications, all our philosophical, moral and social views will have to be revised. In this case, the technical potential, become limitless, would impose the end of the role of violence as a means and method of progress.3586

But what of the average person? How would he react? It is possible that a few people, upon learning of the Contact, might plot to destroy all major radiotelescope facilities so that no messages could be sent out (the "Earth Security League"). Or the destruction of all observatories may be motivated by religious fervor to "avoid evil temptation" or to "turn one’s ear from the Devil."3630 Others might plot to send messages (where these had been prohibited by the government), in order to establish contact with the "angels from space," the "ministers of our salvation," or the much-needed "facilitators of higher consciousness" (the Sentience Liberation Front?) Still, the majority of people would probably remain unaffected. Says Arthur C. Clarke:

Although the philosophical -- and sensational -- impact of such a discovery would be enormous, after the initial excitement had ebbed, the world would probably continue on its way much as before. Once he had read a few Sunday supplements and watched a few TV specials, the proverbial man in the street would say: "This is all very interesting, but it happened a long time ago and hasn’t anything to do with me." And he would be quite right.373

Even in the context of a Direct Contact with extraterrestrial life, many writers believe that so much cultural preconditioning has taken place that the event would come as an anticlimax rather than a shock. Ian Ridpath speaks from personal experience:

I recall joining an audience of several hundred people at Caxton Hall, London, in 1973 to hear Duncan Lunan describe what he believed might be a radio message from an alien space probe. The scene reminded me of nothing so much as Professor Challenger’s public address on his return from the Lost World, in Conan Doyle’s book of the same name. The press had heard of Lunan's ideas, and the meeting had been widely publicized. But there was no panic; no hordes tried to force their way in, and the audience remained calm throughout. A similar religious orderliness prevails at UFO group meetings. From this I can only conclude that people are either thoroughly prepared to meet extraterrestrials, or that they don’t believe what they are being told.3257

Still, the social impact of meeting ETs "in the flesh" may be enormous. Public interest certainly will be at a peak.2166 In one of his recent science fiction novels, James P. Hogan describes the scene near a well-publicized first contact site:

A peppering of colors, becoming denser as the hours went by, appeared on the green inland slopes that overlooked Ganyville, as the first spectators arrived and set up camp with tents, sleeping bags, blankets and picnic stoves, determined to secure and hold a grandstand view. A continuous cordon of jovial but overworked policemen, including some from Italy, France and Germany since the numbers of tiny Swiss force were simply not up to the task, maintained a clear zone two hundred meters wide between the rapidly growing crowd and the perimeter fence, while on the lakeward side a flotilla of police launches scurried to and fro to keep at bay an armada of boats, yachts and craft of every description. Along the roadsides an instant market came into being as the more entrepreneurial members of the shopkeeping fraternity from the nearby towns loaded their stocks into trucks and brought the business to where the customers were. A lot of small fortunes were made that day, from selling everything from instant meals and woolly sweaters to hiking boots and high-power telescopes.3518

For weeks or months following the encounter, business worldwide will operate in slow motion due to absenteeism, daydreaming, extended coffee breaks, and higher incidents of industrial accidents. The stock market will fall precipitously for a brief time. Uncertainty, change, and threatened disasters always depress the Dow Jones,1173 but stocks will slowly recover as it is discovered that the aliens represent no serious immediate threat. Selected industries may suffer permanent depression if it appears their product may be rendered obsolete because of an influx of advanced extraterrestrial technology.

Media industries will boom; motion pictures, TV documentaries and interviews, fact books and novelizations, opinion polls, magazine articles, Broadway plays, "Sounds of Space" records, special exhibitions and other events pertaining to the ETs will capture and hold the public attention. Tourism will increase to the locale of the original alien landing site. "Alien jokes" will make the rounds in governmental and business circles; a wealth of "star-slang" should appear; new drinks will be named after the space creatures and their physical attributes; aggressive merchandising will exploit the ready market for ET-oriented toys, games, tee-shirts with catchy slogans, masks, alien dolls, helmets, buttons, bubble gum, bumper stickers, wall posters, models, pendants and rings, articles of clothing, automobile designs, haircuts and toothpaste and "authentic replica" alien artworks, instruments and musical scores.

Fads of imitation may spring up on college campuses and elsewhere in the community especially among younger people who are still searching for an identity. Much like the behavior of the devotees of Star Trek, and the imitative "toga parties" that sprang up across the U.S. following the release of the popular movie "Animal House," fans of the ETs and their culture may try to adopt alien ways, manners of dress, and customs. Some of these may prove particularly offensive to the general American public -- the aliens may have "disgusting" habits, such as that of Indian Prime Minister Morarji Desai who is accustomed to drinking his own urine (one 8 oz. glassful each morning) for its supposedly rejuvenative properties.3627 Others may promote détente. According to one "Trekkie" anecdote:

Fanzine publisher Fran Hitchcock was walking past the Soviet embassy in New York City recently when a ball flew over the fence and landed at her feet. As she threw it back, she noticed the waiting boy was wearing a blue Mr. Spock shirt. She made Spock's Vulcan sign for "live long and prosper" (palm facing out, hand split between the middle and fourth finger). Not a word was said but the Russian boy returned the Vulcan greeting.3587

There is a tremendous potential for the enrichment of art, music, dance, literature, architectural design, and other aspects of human culture. A wonderful new richness of experience could be ours. To witness the visual art forms of an alien species that "sees" with sound (such as intelligent extraterrestrial dolphins), the music of sentient creatures that "hear" with scent, or a ballet performance by graceful unjointed multiped alien dancers whose native habitat is three-dimensional (sea or space) could vastly expand the cultural horizons of mankind.

On the other hand, what happens to those artists who desperately want to adopt or mimic alien ways, but are physically incapable of doing so?2929 Weird skeletal structures, metabolisms, and muscle distributions within the body will permit some ETs to see, hear and do many things beyond human abilities. One can imagine severely culture-shocked dancers or painters willingly undergoing delicate, painful and expensive surgery on limbs or eyes in an attempt to emulate the extraterrestrial mode of expression.

The orgiastic frenzied nature of some religious dances such as the Greek Dionysiac rituals have emerged repeatedly throughout history, the most extreme examples being the quasi-religious dance hysterias that broke out during the Middle Ages. Periodically there are outbursts of "primitive" dancing, often touched off, many believe, by contact with some new dance influence. An example in recent times is the strong influence on Europe of North/South American and West Indian dance forms during and after each of the two World Wars. Exhibitions of peculiar alien dances in terrestrial theaters may cause similar effects.

Another response to Direct Contact may be a change in our eating habits. Besides the possibilities of strictly imitative behavior, consumption of meat may fall to an all-time low.2117,712 Human beings, note philosopher Robert Nozick, justify the eating of meat on the grounds that the animals we kill are too far beneath us in sensitivity and intelligence to bear comparison.3202 An encounter with another sentient species will focus attention on interspecies relations and the way we treat other "intelligent" species on this planet -- dolphins, primates, dogs, pigs, goats (we eat them).3380 If representatives of a truly superior extraterrestrial race were to visit Earth and apply the same criterion, they could proceed to eat us in good conscience. That is, if we allow ourselves to dine on the semisentient nonhumans who share our planet with us, what ethical barrier can stand in the way of highly advanced, hungry aliens seeking to augment their otherwise drab starship menu with a side order of hairless-primate meat?2136 There may be a strong resurgence of vegetarianism.

American society may be analytically divided into numerous subcultures, each of which will have its own peculiar reaction to the first contact event. While the exact response will depend heavily upon the nature of the alien, the method of encounter, and the character of the media coverage, a few tentative generalizations may perhaps be offered.

For instance, if the extraterrestrial sociobiology includes within the species a sentient male and a nonsentient female sub-race (like Larry Niven's fictional Kzinti), it is hard to imagine that the National Organization for Women (NOW) and other women’s rights groups would be very happy about it. Violent confrontations with representatives of the alien culture are not inconceivable. On the other hand, aliens with perfect equality among the genders (there may be more than two) or monosexual ETs might be more readily accepted, and could even serve as the basis of a new publicity campaign in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment or other similar political issues of the day. Hermaphroditic, parthenogenetic, and variable-sex aliens would be perplexing and difficult to deal with conceptually by all parties concerned.

Age could be another distinguishing element. Older people grown used to the prospect of imminent death and the expectation of Social Security benefits might resent the appearance of beings who hold out the promise of rejuvenation or medical cures for senescence and aging of which they could not personally partake (because of irreversible prior deterioration). Younger persons would welcome the opportunity to remain youthful forever, creating a new kind of "generation gap".

Diehard football and baseball fans would become incensed when the Super Bowl or the World Series was pre-empted to cover some event involving the aliens. Political activists would resent the government’s preoccupation with the extraterrestrials, believing that the encounter had diverted official attenton from the immediacy of their cause. (Some might turn to terrorism or other extreme tactics to regain the public spotlight.) Devout fundamentalists will curse the "atheists from space" (if the aliens are atheists), or denounce the aliens' own religion as heretical (if the aliens are theists). Industrialists will want to learn how to drill, mine, and mass produce goods more efficiently; environmentalists will want advanced lessons in planetary conservation. Antitechnologists will beg the ETs to keep their mouths shut, but their very arrival will bear testimony to the practicality and utility of high technology for any developing civilization. The space program will be vindicated and funding increases will be authorized without delay by Congress, provided the alien visitors do not preach a message of technological evil.

The ETs may become international celebrities, traveling around the country and the world meeting the public. The author is reminded of film clips of people cheering and chasing after a train, from whose caboose a strange large-eared creature waved a tiny hand and smiled at the crowd. The occasion was "Mickey Mouse’s Fiftieth Birthday," in November 1978. Asked Jack Perkins, an NBC newsman, with unexpected aptness: "Do you know many humans who would draw those kinds of crowds?"

Would new cults and other organizations spring up in response to the presence of the extraterrestrial visitors?262,3628 People who remain skeptical or uncertain as to the reality of the Contact are unlikely to develop a grassroots antigovernment campaign unless there is a clear-cut threat or deprivation to mobilize collective action.3636,3637 At the other end of the "believer" spectrum, however, many existing groups may be preadapted for extreme behavior and may mobilize into action (proselytizing, organizing demonstrations, etc.). The Directory of the Religious Bodies in the United States (Garland,1977) lists twenty-three distinct denominations which originated from purported contacts with beings in flying saucers.

According to the unidentified Yale psychologist who participated in the 1973 study chaired by Leon Festinger:

There are the religious doomsday cults that thrive on flying saucers and little blue humanoids. All the publicity about their "thing," on which they practically held a monopoly until the upcoming TV show, will mobilize them to become more active in making statements to the press; some will predict that the alien civilization will destroy the earth next Tuesday. When their prophecies fail, some of these groups will react the way the doomsday group studied by Festinger, Riecken and Schachter1757 did -- markedly increasing their proselytizing behavior. Other such groups, however, may limit themselves to a "joyous reunion" when their prophecies fail, as did the members of the "Church of the True World" studied by Hardyk and Braden.3576

The proselytizing activity of some of the doomsday groups will be matched and possibly exceeded by that of religious youth groups, like the jesus freaks, who will treat the [Contact] story as a long-awaited sign that superhuman forces are at work in the universe. Many of the people who were impressed by the Chariots of the Gods1326 (the book and the movie) and who are longing for an out-of-this-world hero like the Stranger in a Strange Land2643 will rally to the cause of the blue humanoids and endow them with superhuman loving kindness and messianic qualities. Support for the messianic religious movement -- in the form of joining the group, participating in religious ceremonies, etc. -- will be greatly increased insofar as the authenticity of the aliens is attested to by reputable scientists and political leaders. (A messianic movement in Europe several centuries ago was given just such impetus when leading authorities of the time endorsed the authenticity of the messiah, as described by G. Scholem in Sabbati Sevi.) But the messianic movement may be limited in its appeal, attracting mainly those already predisposed to religious fringe movements. It will have more widespread appeal if the aliens encourage it, directly or indirectly, by claiming that they will help earth people to save themselves from the evils that beset mankind. In this case, a much more popular messianic religious movement is to be expected, especially if it is endorsed by prestigious national leaders.1640

Xenophobia -- the distrust of strangers -- is another likely response by many people. Inhumane attitudes towards human "monsters" and congenital "freaks,"3609 the 17th century public persecutions of suspected witches in Salem, Massachusetts, and countless other episodes of poor treatment of foreigners1846 lead the author to conclude that some will welcome the aliens' arrival with hoots and jeers of derision, open hatred and jealousy, and sadistic plots for exploitation. Will we exhibit the infamous "Cockroach Response", where we try to stamp out an alien creature simply because it is different?720 (Asks Ray Bradbury: "Confronted with beings resembling cockroaches will we pause to consider whether their IQ is 50 or 250? Or will we simply build the grandest shoe in history and stamp them out?"147) According to science fiction writer Katherine MacLean:

When we read the National Geographic on historical fiction, and when we read science fiction we are eager to understand and enjoy the stranger and find adventure in the strange, we change from xenophobes to xenophiles, lovers of the outlandish, finding mental refreshment in the strange universe the world becomes when viewed through strange eyes.

The function of intelligence is to understand, predict, and control the unfamiliar. It enjoys functioning. So we will travel looking for alien races and they will travel looking for us. But when we see each other, interesting differences suddenly become terrifying abnormalities. Surprise becomes fear; fear becomes war.3097

Perhaps it will turn out that there is nothing in the natural world, however strange its appearance may be, that we cannot eventually grow accustomed to.81 But the fear that strangers may pose a threat to native culture is endemic to most societies on Earth.3525 During the 1800's fully one-third of the American population supported "nativist" (xenophobic) movements.1846 When extraterrestrial beings visit Earth, the perceived threat to human culture may become so intense as to impel many to search for a measure of security in organizations promising to perpetuate those traditions we call our own.3643,3344,3610

The Yale psychologist from the Festinger study continues:

If the dissimilaries between the aliens and us are stressed in the mass media, and if the visitors continue to be kept in isolation, and if there are no promises of interaction between mankind and other representatives of the extraterrestrial civilization, then the more hostile type of fringe-group movements will be aided in recruiting more participants. These groups are generally made up of people who have seen better days and who chronically project evil intentions to out-groups. Many of the members seem to be addicted to patriotic fervor, directed against enemies from within and from without, because it provides them with compensatory feelings of restoring their lost status.243,3638 (There may even be plots to abduct and kill the aliens.) But as long as the mass media continue to emphasize the main message of the upcoming TV press conference -- that the aliens are benign, friendly, and cooperative -- the Blue Menace movement is not likely to become anything more than a slightly expanded fringe movement.1640

There is also the distinct possibility that humankind may suffer from the effects of "culture shock" in varying degrees. Culture shock has been described as a profound disorientation suffered by the traveler who has plunged without adequate preparation into an alien culture. There is in any Direct Contact situation the immediate danger that first encounter might wreak such profound changes in terrestrial society that people would become alienated from their own culture.

Anthropologist A.L. Kroeber of the University of California at Berkeley has described the related phenomenon of "cultural fatigue" among the Polynesians of Hawaii. Captain Cook had discovered the islands in the late 16th century, and during this contact the natives had observed the Europeans repeatedly broaching a number of local religious taboos (women could not eat bananas or coconuts, men and women could not take meals together, etc.) without suffering any punishment at the hands of the gods. In 1819, five months before the first missionary landed on the islands, the Hawaiians in a single stroke abolished their religion. Says Kroeber: "The main factor seems to have been a kind of social staleness; the Hawaiians had become disillusioned, and tired of their religion. In addition, the whites enjoyed prestige with their guns, steel tools, and big ships; and, by extension, their only vaguely known religion was probably accounted superior."889 (Margaret Mead has described a similar effect among the Manus in New Guinea.3625)

The less advanced culture involved in the Contact may be subject to peculiar cultural pathologies. The New Guinea Cargo Cults are a familiar example of this.1218,895,3599 After extensive contact with Western culture and artifacts, native islanders developed a powerful conviction that spiritual entities would deliver large cargoes of technological goods into the hands of true believers. Other examples of such retrogressive behavioral systems include the Slave Society of Jamaica,3597 the Peyote Cults and Ghost Dance of certain American Indians,3635,812 the Kingdom of Father Divine,3645 and of destructive potlatch among the Kwakiutl, the aboriginal inhabitants of Vancouver Island in Canada.2581

Is this a likely prospect for Western civilization? Anthropological evidence seems to suggest that such extreme pathologies generally result either from extensive physical contact between disparate cultures, or from territorial expansion by the stronger society, or both. If we are overwhelmed by an aggressive extraterrestrial race, we may see the emergence of cults on Earth which zealously glorify or denigrate our interstellar captors. Furthermore, research shows that millenarian movements, uprisings and cargo cults generally accompany the first stages of culture contact, while political movements and the emergence of churches and separatist sects appear only in more advanced periods of contact.3590

Of course, physical contact and the exchange of artifacts are not essential for cultural response. Although it is probably true that no society has ever been dominated by another solely by radio contact, much of Western civilization is based on ancient Hellenic tradition. Like a kind of Remote Contact, our society today reflects many of the values and principles of an "alien" culture thousands of years, rather than thousands of light-years, distant from us.



26.4.3  The Religious Response

How would the major world religions, particularly Christianity, react to first contact? Here there is the opportunity for the gravest misunderstandings between races. This problem is well illustrated by the remarks of Robert Hamerton-Kelly, Dean of the Chapel of Stanford University, at a recent SETI Symposium:

Does an extraterrestrial intelligence have a conception of God? I'd guess that they do, and that it'd be like ours. If they don’t have a notion of God, frankly the first-thing I'd like to do is send missionaries.2160

According to Father Clifford Stevens, a Roman Catholic priest and former Air Force chaplain, the central issue is whether Christians should "attempt to convert and baptize intelligent creatures from other planets, creatures who are not children of Adam and who may not have received or needed the redemption brought by Christ."1333

As best the author can discern, modern Christian theology holds that beings from other worlds may be created in any of four distinct states, depending upon the qualities which the Creator has chosen to bestow upon the race. (See Donceel,719 Zubek,119 Raible,116 Lewis,107 Grasso,326,113 Perego,115 and Stevens.1014) There are two kinds of gifts -- preternatural (gifts of the body, such as knowledge, long life, freedom from disease and accident) and supernatural (gifts of the soul, such as sanctifying grace and other "privileges which partake of the nature of the divine") -- hence four possible combinations:

1. State of Pure Nature -- no gifts of the body or of the soul. Such beings would enjoy only ‘those qualities which are proper to a rational animal" and nothing more.

2. State of Integral Nature -- gifts of the body but not of the soul. These creatures would enjoy various preternatural advantages over mere rational beasts but would retain a "natural destiny."

3. State of Supernature -- gifts of the soul but not of the body. This would be a race of rational beings with a supernatural destiny and possessed of sanctifying grace which would make them capable of "quasi-divine acts," despite their lack of preternatural gifts.

4. State of Innocence -- gifts of the body and of the soul. Such beings would enjoy "a relatively carefree life," with "no disease, concupiscence, ignorance or death" and everlasting happiness. This enviable condition was the status of Adam and Eve before the commission of original sin.

Furthermore, any race endowed with supernatural gifts holds them in trust for God, and therefore conceivably may betray that trust. Hence, beings in a state of pure nature or integral nature cannot "fall" or sin against the Creator; races in a state of supernature or innocence may "fall" from Divine pleasure. These latter species may be considered "temptable" in the sense that they are susceptible to the temptation of original sin.

Once again, there are four possible conditions in which these "temptable" extraterrestrial races may be found, according to traditional theology:

1. Untempted by sin as yet.

2. Once tempted by sin, but successful in overcoming it.

3. Once tempted by sin, fallen, but redeemed by the Creator. (Mankind)

4. Once tempted by sin, fallen, and unredeemed by the Creator. (Seen as unlikely by most theologians, in view of "the infinite mercy of God.")

Redemption could occur in many ways. For example, He could simply forgive the transgression and re-elevate the race to its previous dignity. He might demand merely a partial satisfaction for the offense, perhaps accomplished by one or more representatives (Redeemers) of the fallen species. He could demand personal disposition from each individual, in the form of repentance, for the forgiveness of sins. Finally, God might choose a combination of the above, combining the mediation of a Redeemer with the cooperation of repentant sinners.

Another aspect of redemption that would depend entirely upon the will of God is the number and kind of gifts which He would return to the redeemed race. According to Father Daniel G. Raible of Brunnendale Seminary of the Society of the Precious Blood:

In the case of our mankind, He willed to return only the supernatural gift of sanctifying grace, without the preternatural gifts of infused knowledge, freedom from concupiscence (perfect control of the will over man’s lower faculties) and immortality. Another fallen race He might treat differently, by returning both the preternatural and the supernatural gifts.116

Taking this broad theological viewpoint, the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence presents no insurmountable difficulties to current conceptions. It is clear that the concepts of God, preternatural and supernatural gifts, and the basics of redemption are not called into question or challenged in any way by the existence of ETs. Theologists will merely classify the space creatures according to traditional categories. Religion and xenology are quite compatible.

Many writers have argued that the particularistic character of most of human revealed religion must inevitably doom it when sentient life is found in space.71 For example, Arthur C. Clarke suggested nearly two decades ago that:

The proof, which is now only a matter of time, that this young species of ours is low on the scale of cosmic intelligence will be a shattering blow to our pride. Few of our current religions can be expected to survive it, contrary to the optimistic forecasts from certain quarters. The assertion that "God created man in his own image" is ticking like a time bomb in the foundations of Christianity. As the hierarchy of the universe is slowly disclosed to us, we will have to face this chilling fact: If there are any gods whose concern is man, they cannot be very important gods.55

This and similar appraisals that appear frequently in the literature appear to be rather serious overstatements of the expected consequences of discovering alien lifeforms.3370,1231,206,3607 In light of the adaptation and survival of Roman Catholicism in spite of Copernicus, Galileo, and Darwin, it seems ludicrous to suggest that the Church would be destroyed by any Contact less severe than acculturation resulting in extinction or total assimilation of human society (in which case religion would be the least of our worries).3589,1776 As science writer Kendrick Frazier admits:

Institutions, especially those with a good record for endurance, have a certain amount of stretch built into them; thus it may be an underestimation of their resiliency to expect them automatically to crumble at the first hello from elsewhere in the galaxy.1938

There seems to be at least two viable viewpoints from which Christians (and members of other particularistic faiths) can view the problem of exterrestrial sentience without precipitating theological catastrophe or dogmatic crises of inconsistency. First, the terrestrial messiah may be regarded as unique in all the universe.103,978,104,562 In this conception, only Earth has been redeemed. For instance, since Christ took human form, only human beings have been rescued from spiritual oblivion by God. Alien races comprised of nonhumans, who are deemed "fallen" by the Church, cannot have been saved by Jesus, who was human. The ETs thus are either the fallen sinful, unworthy of the Creator’s salvation and hence to be quarantined and forever shunned by humanity (lest we become tainted with "diabolical" evil), or they are the redeemable unredeemed, in which case missionaries should be dispatched immediately to bring them the "good news" of Christ on Earth.3596 Any local messiah whom the extraterrestrials may claim as their own redeemer is a false prophet or "antichrist," an apparition of the Devil to be exorcised by special ritual cleansings, crusades or holy wars of extermination, or Divine intervention.

Besides violating the Principle Thermoethic, the above (self-consistent) conceptual framework also violates one of the cardinal assumptions of xenology -- the Hypothesis of Mediocrity. Roland Puccetti at the University of Singapore has calculated that if there are 100 million sites of extraterrestrial intelligence in our Milky Way galaxy, and at least 10 billion galaxies in the universe, then if each such community had but one distinct religion of its own there would exist some 1018 independent sacred traditions throughout the cosmos.71 By what horrendous effrontery to common sense, he asks, can Christians claim that Christ chose to redeem only Earth instead of one of the 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 other sentient races in the universe?

A few theologians are willing to do without the Hypothesis of Mediocrity. According to Dr. Andrew J. Burgess, visiting associate professor of religious studies at Cleveland State University, the setting of the bible is not in mighty Rome or Greece but in remote Palestine. The actors are a small band of slaves who migrate to an out-of-the-way territory and never even manage to control that for more than brief periods of time, rather than a powerful people shaping history. The Messiah was born of obscure parents, spent his early years in backwards Galilee, assembled an otherwise undistinguished crew of followers, and finally was executed as a common criminal. (God has shown "an exasperating tendency toward what, in other contexts, one would have to call slumming.") Thus it should not seem at all strange to speak of Christianity as beginning on "an insignificant planet of a secondary star of an unimpressive galaxy somewhere out in space."2606

More intellectually preferable is the second viable Christian viewpoint alluded to earlier: That the terrestrial messiah is not absolutely unique in all the universe, that other races may be redeemed by Him, and that Jesus may have assumed different physical forms on different worlds.1558,100,356,108,109,3632,3558 Notes Father Raible:

Suppose that God intended to demand adequate satisfaction from a fallen {extraterrestrial} race. That would necessitate that God become a member of the fallen race in order to redeem it. Could it be the same Second Person of the Blessed Trinity who became incarnate for our salvation? Yes, it would be possible for the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity to become a member of more than one human race. There is nothing at all repugnant in the idea of the same Divine Person taking on the nature of many human races. Conceivably, we may learn in heaven that there has been not one incarnation of God's son but many.116

Paul Tillich, one of the foremost Protestant theologians, is in basic agreement:

Incarnation is unique for the special group in which it happens, but it is not unique in the sense that other singular incarnations for other unique worlds are excluded. ... Man cannot claim to occupy the only possible place for Incarnation. ... The manifestation of saving power in one place implies that saving power is operating in all places.3591,3592

In this view the Church will not be interested in converting other planets to Christianity105,1014 C.S. Lewis stood firm against "all theological imperialism." Said he: "To different diseases, or different patients sick with the same disease, the great Physician may have applied different remedies."106 The Lord's mission was to Earth only, to the human race -- other intelligent species did not share in the Fall and thus do not require redemption. Or, if they are not in a state of grace then God will have made His own provision for them.3593 Jesuit Paul Curtin of Boston College insists that there exists no theological authority for man’s spiritual proselytizing beyond the Earth:

The only theology I know or can know is that of a revealed God in relationship to the children of Adam. If there are beings on another planet, then they must be the object of another Providence. They are not the children of Adam, and so they are not a part of our salvation history, which is that of a fallen and redeemed race.259

Professor Eduard Stakemeir, Roman Catholic theologian at the Philosophical-Theological Academy at Paderborn, Germany, is in full agreement:

The inhabitants of other worlds could be like us, but they could also be much superior to us in sense and will. And perhaps they also surpass us in gratitude to the Creator and in goodness and love to all that demands love and kindness. [But] in principle we must say that the Christian order of redemption was realized by God for this world. Only we, who are descended from Adam, are born in original sin, and God became man to redeem us. His church and His sacraments are not valid for other planets.118

Only one minor technical problem remains if the above position is adopted. Recall the calculation that there may be as many as 1018 religious traditions extant in the universe. Assuming most of these required a redemption, and if Jesus' lifetime on Earth is considered typical (about 30 years), then 3 x 1018 years would have to transpire for the Son of God to pass from birth to resurrection on each inhabited planet of the cosmos. This is about 100,000,000 times the estimated age of the universe, so either the cosmos are very much older than scientists suspect, or the relative fraction of redeemed civilizations is exceedingly small (i.e., most races never fall, or go unredeemed), or at any given time approximately 100,000,000 Incarnations must be occurring simultaneously throughout the cosmos. While a few philosophers have argued that one God cannot be in more than one place at a time,71 the better theological view seems to be that the Supreme Being, who is both omnipotent and omniscient, may also be omnipresent and infinitely partitionable without dilution.2865 There is theological precedent for this viewpoint in the traditional Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

All this is not to suggest that human religious institutions will be unaffected by the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence. Far from it. Major modifications and adjustments will have to be made in order to adapt to changed circumstances and to respond in a meaningful way to alien revelation (or the lack thereof). Hardest hit will be those people whose attitude is characterized by "I have a private conviction that They'll turn out to be Catholics after all."102 The more excessive the chauvinism, the greater the shock. But most world religions are probably sufficiently resilient to absorb such events without ill effects.



26.4.4  Impact on Science and Technology

Anthropologist Leslie White has suggested that all civilization ultimately rests upon a foundation of science and technological achievement. A culture's social order and philosophical assumptions are determined to some extent by scientific knowledge and its application. Xenologists are therefore very interested in the effects on human science if extraterrestrial intelligence were discovered elsewhere in the cosmos.

Arthur C. Clarke offers a highly optimistic vision:

The things we could learn might change our own society beyond recognition. It would be as if the America of Lincoln's time could tune into the TV programs of today; though there would be much that could not be understood, there would also be clues that could leapfrog whole technologies into the future. (Ironically enough, our commercials would contain some of the most valuable information!) Nineteenth Century viewers would see that heavier-than-air machines were possible and simple observation would reveal the principles of design. The still-unguessed uses of electricity would be deomstrated (the telephone, the electric light) and this would be enough to set scientists on the right track. For knowing that a thing can be done is more than half the battle.373

In a Remote Contact scenario, the impact of the message is likely to be fairly small.15,3241 At first only very little about it will be known, save that it exists, and perhaps some general information about the source. This in itself may be very significant, for it will tell us that it is possible for technological civilizations to survive long enough to gain control over tremendous energies and devices. Such information may prove extremely valuable for all of humankind: The Von Hoerner Feedback Effect named after its originator, hypothesizes that the mere knowledge that cultural longevity has been achieved by one culture may enable others to do the same.1054 Using this idea the most harmless message with the greatest potential for good (hence most ethical) would, according to Princeton physicist Gerard K. O'Neill, be "the flash of a lighthouse, a simple message endlessly repeated carrying just enough information so that we know it was formed by intelligence."2710 For the first time in many peoples lives, they would take a look at where they stood in the galaxy and the universe.

Assuming another civilization more generously beams us all the information they have, how would this affect human science? Says Philip Morrison:

And you will have pouring into the radiotelescope's recorders, week after week, month after month, decade after decade, an enormous body of obviously interesting and meaningful postals. You will be able to read them, slowly and fitfully, because they will not be coded but anticoded; the beings who designed them will have thought very carefully how to make the meaning clear. And it will be a large volume of material, not something that the New York Times will publish in its entirety. It will be too voluminous, too technical, too uncertain, too much in need of study. So I do not think we are talking about just a normal enterprise; we are talking about an enterprise more like the development of agriculture than even the discovery of America.24

Scientific shock will thus be mitigated by the long time necessary to receive, decode, and digest the information from the stars. It will require the full equipment of human scholarship over a period of many decades -- in the words of one xenologist, it will more resemble "a discipline rather than a headline or an oracle."22

Even taking the optimistic assumptions about human radio equipment and the maximum bit rates we can receive across interstellar distances, it is doubtful that such messages could ever come to totally dominate human experience. A simple calculation reveals the truth of this. Since about 1011 humans have ever lived; each with an average lifespan of about 109 seconds, and each processing conscious data at a rate of about 10 bits/second, the net human informational heritage is roughly 1021 bits total. According to Philip Morrison, the best analogy to a message from the stars would be the impact on modern thought of the Greek world. As a body of material it can be summed up in about 10,000 books, written from Hesiod to Hero down to the Alexandrians. If we add in the number of volumes of photographs and other materials necessary to describe the architecture, climate, pottery, fish, botany and whatever else is required to give us the context of Hellenic times, then the best estimate is that the total information transmitted to us from the Greeks is about 1012 bits.22 Across a distance of 100-1000 light-years the Arecibo radiotelescope would require decades to receive all of this.

What might the messages tell us? According to B.M. Oliver:

The galactic heritage could include a large body of science that we have yet to discover. It would include such things as pictures of the Galaxy taken several billion years ago; it would include the natural histories of all the myriads of life forms that must exist in the planets of their member races, We could see the unimaginable diverse kinds of life that evolution has produced in other worlds and learn their biochemistries, their varieties of sense organs, and their psychologies. Culturally, we might learn new art forms and aesthetic endeavors.

But more significant will be the societal benefits. We will be in touch with races that have achieved longevity. The galactic community would already have distilled out of its member cultures the political systems, the social forms, and the morality most conducive to survival, not for just a few generations, but for billions of years. We might learn how other races solved their pollution problems, their ecological problems, and how they have shouldered the responsibility for genetic evolution in a compassionate society.3606

There are two major concerns about extraterrestrial messages which crop up rather frequently in the literature. The first of these might be called the Inferiority Syndrome -- the notion that a meeting with a race that is too superior might produce a kind of racial inferiority complex, a sense of worthlessness and utter futility in being human.1766,2170,875,81,24 Or, as G.C. Homans has observed: Anyone who accepts from another a service he cannot repay in kind incurs inferiority as a cost of receiving the service. The esteem he gives the other he forgoes himself.3571 This phenomenon has also been refered to in the literature as "ego blow".3663 While this reaction is certainly possible, in general students do not become disturbed when their teachers appear smarter than they. And if the teachers are so vastly smarter than the pupil (as, for instance, when Einstein teaches his dog a trick), it is likely that the student will remain more or less unaware of the vast intellectual gulf that separates them. The further apart two beings are in sentience, the less they have to talk about and the fewer are the opportunities to display crushing mental superiority.62

The second and more serious objection to the receipt of alien messages might be called the Library Effect. As Joshua Lederberg recently asked,3241 might not the realization that it's "all in the library" somewhere have a demoralizing effect on research scientists?2210,24,2879 Comments O'Neill: "Why continue to study and search for scientific truth on our own? Gone then the possibility of new discovery, or surprise, and above all of pride and accomplishment; it seems to me horribly likely that as scientists we would simply become television addicts, contributing nothing of our own pain and work and effort to new discovery."2710

Philip Morrison counters with the argument that all scientists today must face the possibility that someone has already solved the problem they are working on, or will do so before they can.3241 This does not deter research. Few have rejected schools because teachers and textbooks exhibit learning of which they were thus far ignorant.2865 Whatever the extraterrestrials may know, there will always be new possibilities (recall Gödel’s theorem), and whatever we think we are learning from the ETs will have to be checked out experimentally before scientists should rely on it. Furthermore, says Morrison:

I think the most important thing the message will bring us, if we can finally understand it, will be a description, if one exists at all, of how these beings were able to fashion a world in which they could live, persevere, and maintain something of worth and beauty for a long period of time. Again, we will not be able to translate it directly and make our institutions like theirs; the circumstances will be too different. But something of it will come through in this way. This will be the most important message we could receive. But it will be more of a subtle, long-lasting, complex, debatable effect than a sudden revelation of truth, like letters written in fire in the sky.24

One major difficulty that scientists will have to face whenever they come into possession of alien information concerns trust. Can we trust them not to harm us intentionally? For instance, assume we receive a message which, directly or indirectly, suggests the following advice: "For maximum political stability worldwide, slow your material-technological growth rate to permit your social technology to catch up." While this would doubtless be accepted by many, skeptics might point out that ETs bent on invasion and conquest would find it most convenient to have us keep our material technology in a primitive state.

There is also the possibility that malevolent alien sociologists have learned that all developing technical civilizations must pass through certain critical points, during which time "triggers" inherent in our society or sociobiology could be tripped off to cause rapid destabilization3593 or self-destruction.3594 The ETs might, for example, beam us instructions on how to build compact antimatter doomsday bombs using current (primitive) human technology; similarly with bioneering technology, advanced ecology engineering techniques, and so forth. They may be handing us "poisoned candy," too sweet for us to resist yet too deadly for us to digest. Certainly it is hard to imagine a motive on their part, but since mere information is the energetically cheapest weapon (provided it is effective) xenologists cannot absolutely rule out the possibility. In any event, we should always be extremely wary of accepting any "free" advice.3286

As Michael Michaud, U.S. Foreign Service Officer, reminds us:

Our basic interest will be to protect ourselves from any possible threat to Earth's security. Our second concern would be to assist in developing or to participate in a stable system of interstellar politics that provides an acceptable level of security for all. Our third concern would be to learn from the aliens in order to advance our knowledge of the universe and to add to the tools of civilization. The last interest, so often placed first by writers on this subject, would be meaningless or impossible if the first two concerns had not been satisfied.272,1760

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