Beep, beep, bop, be-bop. These could represent a new song or a communication from intelligent species on another world. With discoveries of more and more planets circling far away suns, there seems an increasing possibility that we have fellow, smart occupants sharing this universe. Michael Michaud takes this consideration seriously in his book Contact with Alien Civilizations. In a very forwarding looking text, he puts sound reasoning into analyzing the issues about if and when we find we’re not alone.
Throughout history and pre-history, across the globe and across races, people have recorded their thoughts and experiences of visitations from elsewhere. Some of these became religions, many were brought into religions and others were perhaps just from too fertile an imagination to be taken seriously. Yet, we exist and there is no proof that others don’t exist. We live on one planet among many. Innumerable other stars may harbour an even greater number of planets. And on these planets, something may be sending and/or receiving messages that transcend their local solar system.
Michaud notes that he’s had over 30 years serious involvement regarding alien life. His book shows his dedication and knowledge. Using passages from luminaries such as Sagan, Rees and Hoyle, he intones a solidly practical analysis of issues regarding contact with aliens. First he provides some definitions: intelligence, civilization, contact and others get careful study. Next, he contemplates possibilities through a studious analysis of the factors of Drake’s equation (see Frank Drake and SETI). Last, he wonders about the relevance to our existence given the finite possibility of aliens and potential interactions should some sort of contact occur. With this, he offers in his book a very broad, thought provoking study that will have the reader becoming quite reflective.
The book encourages reflection through two means. Throughout the book are short paragraphs entitled ‘Mind Stretches’. These take the concept of the previous paragraph or section and provide a very different but valid perspective. For instance, we expect that we can easily communicate with aliens upon contact. But stretch you mind and consider that dolphins may be an intelligent being, yet we can’t communicate with them. Michaud’s other point for reflection is that we only consider one sample set when postulating the actions of aliens. That set is ourselves. As such, he continually pulls historical examples and some very recent human actions into his book to show to the reader that our intelligence hasn’t made us very altruistic or benevolent. For instance, aliens may treat us they way Europeans treated native Americans. We may be a very small fish in a very big pond and, as Michaud suggests in his book’s later sections, we would be wise to be cautious.
With so many challenging preconceptions about alien contact already provided by fanciful movies and books, Michaud understandably has to be sedate in his writing approach. As he notes, there’s a lot of giggle factor related to this subject. Perhaps in response to this, his writing style is wordy. For example, he discusses each factor of Drake’s equation with its relevance when set to a particular value, when set to much less and when set to much more. He does this with almost every other unknown parameter as well. As we’ve never met an alien, there are many parameters. Thus, the book is indeed thorough, but at times tiring with its exhaustive inspection.
Yet, the book includes many fascinating and unexpected points. Understandably there’s lots on philosophy. Are we alone; does the universe revolve around our species; and, is everything in existence for the use of humans? As well, should humans be trying to contact aliens; with what urgency should we start populating outer space; and, how should we react to alien contact? As an example, what would we do if it came to our attention tomorrow that aliens were colonizing Mars? These questions about our actions, our purpose and ourselves serve hopefully, to make the reader delve a little deeper into their own existence.
Because of this, the reader who will get the most from this book is one who looks beyond the faÃ§ade. They have global interests with timelines that extend past the next meal. Theirs is the purvey of multi-generational, international efforts. Specialists in non-astronomical fields, generalists who have enhanced curiosity and visionaries would all find that this book has meaningful implications. The ideas and the verbiage are more appropriate to a learned audience, but anyone with a strong interest will appreciate the book treats the encountering of extraterrestrials.
Aliens may be little green creatures. They may come to save humanity. They may teach us to be a better race in a galactic club. They may not. Michael Michaud in his book looks at this and other valid questions in his book Contact with Alien Civilizations. He shows that encountering extraterrestrials can come in a variety of ways and with a variety of consequences. It shows that being prepared through scientific study would make a first encounter a better encounter.