So, the question I am taking up now is: What can we learn about ourselves by encountering an alien?
Easy answer Number One: We can learn how quickly our underwear can be soiled.
Easy answer Number Two: Can a man wearing sneakers reach speeds approaching the speed of light?
Easy answer Number Three: …Well, I could only think of two that were even slightly funny.
The truth is, the thing we would most likely take away from a close encounter of the Third Kind is a deeper understanding of what it truly means to be a human being from planet Earth.
We live on a planet where people once thought the Earth itself was the center of the universe and even the sun orbited around us. The Bible speaks of angels watching the ways of men on Earth and being impelled to “adore and draw near.” Are we really as vain as all that? Well, unfortunately, yes, we are. People believe that God created the universe for mankind and put us in dominion over all the beasts in the fields, the birds in the air, and the fish in the ocean. It would serve us right if an alien came down to planet Earth and decided humankind were basically only good for another in a long series of exotic items on the menu. If that happens, the best we can hope for is that we don’t taste very good.
I think, though, that it is by noting the differences between a human being and a traveler from a distant planet in a solar system not our own that we really would gain the most insights into what makes us special and unique. We would clearly discern that an alien who can travel interstellar distances to reach Earth would make us feel like total dim-bulbs when it comes to science. They know Science with a capital S. We only know science like the time in Miss Murphy’s class when we cut open a frog and saw all the nasty-colored squishy bits. We take clocks and small engines apart. Sometimes we can’t correctly put them back together. They can take complex biological systems, brains and eco-systems for example, and put them together as easily as finishing a jigsaw puzzle that only had four pieces.
So is that the only meaningful comparison? We are much stupider than they are? Not by a long shot. Advanced, super-smart alien societies will have lost the ability that goes with being stupider… er, I mean, being simpler in their understanding. They will have lost the ability to wonder and be amazed. They will have lost the ability to be thrilled to their core at encountering something that no man has ever seen before. They will simply have protocols in place for dealing with anomalies they have not previously encountered. How dead, boring, and sterile is that? It doesn’t make us superior in any way, but we have so many um-gollies ahead of us in the realm of interstellar travel that I would not trade places with even the best of them. What is an um-golly, you say? That’s when you see that bright pulsing light hovering above the pavement of Highway Three after midnight, and the green man with a fin on the top of his head instead of hair comes out to meet you. And what do you say? “Um… golly!”