Last & Least
Hawking's alien scare
Dr. Binoy Barman
Recently world famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking has said that there are aliens in outer space and we the earth dwellers must not try to contact them as it may bring disaster for us. The aliens may harm us, even destroying the earth and human civilization. In a television documentary series “Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking” whose airing started on Discovery Channel in the USA on 25 April 2010, the 68-year-old scientist observed that some aliens might have made their own planet barren and now they are on the hunt to find and plunder resources from wherever they can. And if they come across earth, they may colonise it, whose consequence will be bad. He said, “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn't turn out well for the Native Americans.”
Stephen Hawking is one of the most brilliant scientists of today's world. A graduate of University College, Oxford, Hawking was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge for thirty years till 2009 when he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. He is a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge and a Distinguished Research Chair at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario. He is most famous for his best seller popular science books “A Brief History of Time” and “The Universe in a Nutshell”. He contributed greatly to the theory of black hole and his theoretical prediction that black holes emit radiation is now known as 'Hawking radiation'. Though he is a patient of neuro-muscular dystrophy which made him almost paralysed, he never succumbed to its crippling effect. He kept his brain active, working with computer, utilising the benefits of IT.
Hawking is exceptionally talented as an applied mathematician and theoretical physicist, who is said to possess a mathematical brain, which calculated high possibility of alien's existence. When a towering figure of science like Hawking says something, it must be taken with due importance. There is no scope to turned it down or brushed it aside lightly. We are bound to meditate upon and examine carefully for the rejection or acceptance of his calculation. Hawking's comment on the existence of aliens and their malevolent character has stirred tremendous debate among the scientists as well as laymen. The debate revolves around two basic questions: first, are there really aliens in other planets, and second, in case they exist, are they really going to harm us? Here I will present my own observations on the debate.
Hawking's belief in alien is firm and based on his self-made statistics. There are billions of solar systems in the universe where there might be liveable planets like ours. Organisms might evolve in those planets, though we do not know in what form. The evolutionary history of earth has a distinct course and it is most unlikely to be the same in other places. The cosmic environment the earth underwent through millions of years is unique. The germination of life and its gradual development and diversification are incomparable. Especially the emergence of human as a bipedal intelligent species is miraculous. Whatever statistics we may apply, there is little chance that any other planets will have biological treasures as earth, especially the Homo sapiens like us.
Then, what kind of animals might the other planets have that we call aliens? On the question, even Hawking is not sure. According to him, the aliens might be some sort of animals or simply microbes. In fact, they might be very different from what we are familiar with here. We can only figure out some with all our imaginative power in cranium while others are beyond imagination. They may have limbs with totally different shape and function. They may have more or less sense organs, with varying capacity, placed in body locations not like ours. They must look very bizarre, indeed. Some of them have been shown by our science fiction writers and film makers. With their efforts, the terms ET (extraterrestrial) and UFO (unidentified flying object) have been popular. They have obsessed the public psyche. And many have now started to believe in the existence of yet-to-be-seen creatures.
We do not know whether the aliens are intelligent or not; if they have intelligence, we do not as well know, to what extent they have it. We are also in the dark about whether they have been able to develop technology; if they have technology, at what stage it is now. Of course, it is possible that in different parts of the universe, there prevail different pictures. Some aliens may have attained more intelligence than us and others may have it at lower level. Similarly, some may have developed better technology than us while others may be lagging behind. But all these are mere possibility and speculation, sponsored by Hawking calculation.
Contrary to Hawking sum, it is also possible that there are no aliens at all. We the humans are just alone in the whole universe as an intelligent species. The universe is vibrated with the echo of cosmic loneliness emanating from the deep annuls of eternity. We have nobody equal to communicate with. There is nobody to rival or befriend us. We cannot say there are aliens before we meet any. In the last two thousand years of recorded history, nobody came from outer space to talk to us. Absolutely none. We may be tempted to consider Erich von Däniken's arguments and evidences for the arrival of aliens here on earth in prehistoric times but those prove very tenuous. Alien is just the modern version of the old concept of fairy or genie. It only tickles our imagination and satisfies our fantasy.
Even if we suppose that aliens are sitting out there and monitoring us with their powerful telescopes, how can we be sure that they are hatching a conspiracy against us? Hawking apprehends the colonisation of earth by the aliens. It is too pessimistic an idea. It is an unnecessary worry. Hawking's concern is not supported by solid evidence or strong logic.
Why don't we think the other way round? The aliens, if they exist at all, are good-natured and benevolent. They are not ferocious but kind, not savage but civilised. They are out there to help us in every way. They may guide us to further scientific and technological advances. They may ease space travelling, breaking through the unresolved mysteries of nature. We may get pragmatic suggestions from them to overcome the problems in politics and economics. Measures may be found to fight serious diseases and ultimately to attain immortality. Why don't we expect all those positive things rather than hostile behaviour from them? Our own history of mind shows that human consciousness develops gradually with higher form of organism, having a propensity towards 'good and welfare'. If there are intelligent creatures in other planets and if they happen to be advanced in physical and mental formations, they are most likely to be blessed with higher degree of conscience. It is the demand of uniformity -- an unfailing natural law.
Hawking's aliens pose danger from another front. His conviction may hinder the pace of research in astrophysics and cosmology, affecting space exploration. For science, there is no way to stay back. Humans must fly out to explore the sky, visible and beyond, and must know what is there. There may be danger but that should not prevent them from going ahead. If there are aliens they must be found out and confronted. The encounter, be it easy or tough, is inevitable and we must be prepared for that. We may win or we may be defeated. We shall learn from the encounter and determine our next course of action. The human race must be resolute to conquer the universe and know it out and out. Until then, there is no rest.
Already humans have made some efforts to contact the intelligent creatures in the remote sky, though it is just a scratch in cosmic scale. In 2008, NASA beamed the Beatles song 'Across the Universe' into deep space, with a message of peace to any alien living in the region of Polaris to be reached in 2439. The US probes Pioneer 10 and 11 were launched in 1972 and 1973 bearing plaques of human figures and symbols to convey the positions of our earth and sun. Voyager 1 and 2, launched in 1977, each carry a gold-plated copper phonogram disk with recordings of sounds and images from earth. All these are our humble efforts for a possible encounter with the aliens.
The basic nature of human intellect is curiosity, which is an indomitable power. Curiosity is what has elevated man to its present state. Without curiosity, a human is just a lump of flesh akin to non-primate animals. As long as man has curiosity, they will keep up their efforts to know what is around. Hawking's alien scare cannot suppress that basic human instinct. His mathematical brain might have been possessed by the ghost of alien. I will rather bond my hands with the late great space scientist Carl Sagan, who also believed in the existence of aliens and fervently aspired to communicate with them. Sagan's dream will show us the way, clearing the cloud of Hawking's dreadful nightmare.
(The writer is Assistant Professor and Head, Department of English, Daffodil International University.)