Monday, May 10, 2010

Who Is Hawking Really Worried About?

Stephen Hawking has been warning us lately that it might be a bad idea to risk contact with extraterrestrials because they might be malicious. There is no reason, he argues, to think that an advanced race of beings who could come this far would be friendly and not have colonial impulses.

At the risk of making an ad hominem attack, we might ask who would have the most to lose from constructive engagement with such an alien race with superior intelligence and knowledge. The answer, of course, is those whom we as humans hold up as the paragons of scientific understanding. If these aliens do exist and were to come to earth, they would instantly become a source of incredible advancement for our own sense of the universe. They, and not our top drawer astrophysicists -- Hawking first among them, would become the most influential experts on matters of astronomy and cosmology. Additionally, there would surely be among them one or two who would be quite skilled in communicating this advanced knowledge to us and it would not be hard for them to find a good agent and publisher, thereby rendering pop science classics like A Brief History of Time obsolete. If we make contact with other worldly beings, Hawking goes right to the remainders bin. So, we might wonder whether Professor Hawking is being authentically concerned about our well-being as a species or whether he is merely worried about his own royalties...