Author’s note: All thanks to Stephen Hawking and his funding of what most be one of the most
important discoveries for humans.
In 2015, Hawking announced the launch of a new search for extraterrestrial life. That day was to
prove fateful and yet here we are many years later and what have we learned? Times like these,
it’s best to look at the entire matter as rationally as possible. So here is an attempt to parse out
exactly where we stand.
The day we found out we possibly weren’t alone was a day like any other. The weather was
improving as the earth’s axis titled us northerners towards favorable angles of the sun’s rays.
When they made the announcement, they didn’t announce some rock of bacteria—after all,
what the hell would we do with that information?—but the full fledged thing: possible intelligent
life with signs in the form of a glowing system all circuit board shaped; pulsing, quite unlike
anything natural physical forces could create. All this on a moon of a planet near a sun-like star.
The world’s governments immediately said they were sending a new telescope out into space
so that we could see more details. The next two years were odd times, weren’t they? Everyone
waited with bated breath as the telescope was built piece by piece and assembled in space with
astronauts from all over the world. There even broke out something close to a world peace as
people watched the live feed of the distant world and the new telescope being built.
Not that all was well. You should have heard some of the theories on the feeds and pictures of
The atheists, (in belief, or lack of belief in the life here) they claimed that it could be natural
canals in the planet’s teutonic surface and the light could very well be some magma beneath the
surface; at best, said some agnostics, it might be bacteria or jellyfish in cracks. Others yet
thought it was certainly a secular utopia, the circuit as planet showing that all forms of evolution
end with some machination of life and thus the planet was possibly a computer.
Religions, all of them, immediately found a line or two to back how their prophets—and
ostensibly Gods—knew so much about such things before these meek scientists did. These
reevaluations of the religions meant either that the new planet was also some faraway land,
further proof that the Higher power(s) wanted his children not to be alone or perhaps this
represented heaven—most leaders of religion denounced this latter theory as heretical since it
was the one hypothesis that seemed the most easily refuted once the telescope would be
placed up in the sky; or that it was a ruse by Him/It t test people’s beliefs, that we should know
better since we were his children (or some patriarchal version of that relationship).
Yes, some thought this, or thought the telescope would be blasphemous, and so the Great
Peace (no murders for months across the world) was cracked by acts of terrorism aiming to stop
the launch of the telescope. Miraculously, the terrorists, of all different religions, only delayed
the completion date by a few weeks.
In my neighborhood, everyone was talking about what if, what if… they were advanced and
sage, wouldn’t we have to improve ourselves? (Like a soulmate we would have to improve
ourselves to improve the chances for that first meet, however far in the future that meet was). If
they were more barbaric, would we let ourselves go? What about their technology, less or more,
would we feel threatened, emboldened? What sort of economic system would they have?
And if you were one of the poor saps, as I was in the beginning, who wouldn’t venture an
opinion, then you were shunned or derided. Remember, this was a topic on which there were no
real experts. Hence, everyone was an expert. Why wouldn’t one try to be an expert? So, tired of
my social ostracism, I sat and brooded over the pictures, trying to think of something erudite to
say on the matter. The only really argument or discussion I brought into was the one on life:
what out there would be defined as life. But the Greek Chorus demanded then, as it demands
now, allegiance. And so I needed to figure out what it meant, or would mean, this alien life force,
I settled on an answer. I was soon scuffling with people on the streets for I said it was a
Rorschach test and as with many ephemeral things it would allow those wicked enough to gain
power, while those saintly enough would push for humanity to simply not be evil to each—to no
avail. Christ, the words I was called.
Then the telescope was launched and assembled in space. The live feeds were beamed down.
Crowd-sourcing and algorithms all working together to make sure that we as humans were
maximizing our ability to find the so called other-life. The Great Peace was back, the previous
“lull”—I’m speaking of the violence here—ignored as an anomaly. It was enough to warm this
cynic’s cold heart.
And man, I looked at the lights as canals glowing and I looked as close as was possible and I
could see that the light itself was composed of globules of these smaller lights and if I wasn’t
properly schooled in what to look for, I would have mistaken it for life. It looked very much like a
trillion lit-up-ants crawling over each other, some stopping to confer with another glob before
moving on. (all the live feeds allowed for one to zoom in where needed and to take photos or
video of what was being watched, impressive, truly)
Many others made the same mistake and the Inter-terrestrial Space Agency (I know, but they’re
bureaucrats), or the ISA, set up a conference, much too dry, saying that as promising as the
movement was, most mammals to include us had this very similar instinct to see certain
movements as live and what was helpful in one world can’t be assumed to be helpful in another
And the ISA media spokesperson answered a hundred questions, all variants of “don’t they look
like ants?”, with firm “no’s” and by the end one could see her exasperation with having to deal
with such dolts and afterwards the ISA must have discussed cutting the whole “let the public in
on it” part.
The next day people, still certain that we were dealing with some version of a light-emitting ant/
insect—after all, didn’t that woman look haggard, maybe emotional, they said in snide tones—
they all wondered how the ISA was filled with such book smart idiots.
This derision soon morphed into how and why were the ISA trying to hide something so obvious
from everyone. That last line of thought truly proved to be the most fecund with a million
thoughts growing from it and a million TV hosts pondering; and the people were soon wondering
what it was about the ant people that had the ISA so fast on the run.
It was very possible, some said, that if the aliens had a hive mentality, even if they were smart,
they would have evolved in such a manner that there would be no choice but to wage war; after
all, having you seen how ants are? These unfeeling little creatures—through no fault of their
own, of course—were nothing short of vile and perhaps the ISA was going to preemptively
attack them. And the world protested and soon there were protests and riots and the terrorism
picked back up again.
This last idea was asked at the next ISA press conference the following week. And the ISA rep,
another woman, rolled her eyes, asked the press to think, please, and said she would come the
next day with higher expectations from the apparent adults in the room. If she expected this
admonishment to work, she must have been sadly disappointed as the media exploded with
certainties of the ant aliens and wasn’t the ISA rep rude and perhaps a spinster?
Luckily, the next day, in some dark corner away from the light canals, some child in Western
Sahara interested in caves took a video of something at the mouths of a few caves that freckled
a mountain side. And he managed to video tape a very odd, yes insect-like, creature. In the
video the creature moves out of the cave, its jumping movement very earth-life like, and it stops
as what seems to be two globs of jelly slowly approach it; the creature darts back into the cave
and one globule disappears while another stops at the mouth of the cave. These images are
played everywhere. The ISA did not hold a conference that week. The Great Peace restarted.
Of course they wouldn’t, people said, those idiots mocked us when we saw insect-like
movement and look at what we found—no, it doesn’t matter that it wasn’t the light globs, or in
the light canals where we found this, idiot, what matters is that this is an insect-planet with globs
as well, just what the ISA claimed we wouldn’t find. Hell, these book worms, who are still trying
to figure out how to define life, probably never had sex before—are they even married? Why are
they in charge? In my company we put the dorks in the basement and throw numbers at them,
why not with our ISA?
After everyone had fun eviscerating the ISA, they started to discuss the creature, the globs, and
what could one make of their interaction? Was it an inherently violent one, or was that our own
application of our earthly values upon the reaction everyone saw? Nonsense, said some, this
wasn’t hard: violence is forcing another to bend to one’s will, against their will or wishes, and
this was certainly that. Many took the view that the latter idea was mad and the meek were now
vomiting their flowers and peace onto everything.
Of course, such were the inherent weaknesses of looking at the world from above, but that
didn’t deter the world from taking sides. So, thundered some, would these meek fools look at
the pictures of war, of the Holocaust, and say they must wait for motivations to find out if it was
Oh, said this particular accused group (some losing their jobs, being taken off their shows) that’s
not the only kind of violence to define, what about when there’s no killing? Surely some violence
is, still others said rather snootily—the kind that lingers in the air, the implied kind, the step out
of line and we’ll end you, but until then smile, motherfucker, kind of violence. What nonsense
said others. And so the protests grew as did the terrorist groups—the Great Peace seemingly
over again—everyone trying to show the other what violence really was.
Fact is, most scientists were still arguing about whether this was life, or even alluded to life, or
were we humans projecting? Most people, thinking this was further proof of the scientists’
inability to get laid or have common sense; and we’re all for science don’t get us wrong, they’ve
done a lot, but this mission might be too important to leave to the likes of some eggheads who
aren’t really certain about how to define life.
On both counts I had to come down on one side or another or face social censure. Let’s break it
down, I said on my blog. What we saw was something like a visual exchange between three
creatures, though we couldn’t be certain it was visual or chemical or what have you. But there
was an interaction which seemed to take place when the three creatures were close—indicating
a visual or chemical interaction—and from there this started a physical reaction (extreme in two
of them) and that was all we could say.
I’m not sure how many people read, the comments all mocked me mercilessly, some people
saying I shouldn’t eat lead chips, others saying it was a shame I didn’t die in Iraq. Nevertheless,
the discussions around the world soon took on the same idea that mine did. Not that I’m taking
credit, since surely I was tapping the same zeitgeist as others. The Great Peace returned, much
to everyone’s surprise.
But that was neither here nor there. The ISA finally held a conference. The rep answered a few
questions about life, admitted that the movement of the creatures at the very least hinted at life
or globs of energy capable of contained and controlled use or transfer of their energy. But she
claimed that the scientific consensus was that the interaction, whatever it was, wasn’t important.
The light canals and what happened there mattered since this was the most energy-rich part of
the planet and this was where people should focus their energy. I mean look at North Korea and
South Korea at night, where would you want to go?
The storm that followed her words of focusing people’s energy on the light-canals, this is what
mattered, was most ferocious. Riots broke out. My neighborhood, always more genteel, was
calmer but still filled with street art against the obviously fascist ISA. Meanwhile terrorist groups
across the world stepped up their fights against the ISA and the implications in its request. Even
some state leaders joined in. The world’s intelligence agencies soon labelled these groups the
“stone age rights” terror groups. This only further antagonized them.
And so while some people tried to buck what the ISA asked for, most people focused back on
the light canals and its globs while only some dissidents, usually from backwards countries,
were bold enough to look at the caves. They tried to convince others to watch the same thing by
invoking the specter of conspiracy, that the ISA was trying to hide something, but most people
had already called the light canals examples of the Enlightenment and so they wanted to watch
it intently; and after all, weren’t these cave watchers just being contrarian? So those who looked
at caves, or were brave enough to say that they looked at the caves were scorned or mocked in
everyday conversation. Cave-looker became an insult. Some were arrested and even though it
was matter of national security—after all, they were wasting resources by looking where they
shouldn’t—a rebellion in full kicked off.
We should have seen it, spending so much on the telescope, but it hit pretty hard and fast. Soon
almost every nation was putting out a rebellion or wrestling with the demons of civil war.
And that’s where we stand today, without a single stable government, everyone fighting one
another and the live feeds coming through, not a testament to another life but merely another
testament to ourselves and our one truth: what is united must shatter; what is shattered can only
become one. Meanwhile I look to the sky and wonder what any alien watching us thinks, if
they’re bothering to watch.