What would happen if aliens made contact?

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Andreas Anton

To person

holds a doctorate in sociology and works as a research assistant at the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Hygiene in Freiburg im Breisgau. [email protected]

Michael Schetsche

To person

is research coordinator at the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health in Freiburg im Breisgau and teaches sociology as an adjunct professor at the Albert Ludwigs University there. [email protected]

We have known extraterrestrials from science fiction since the end of the 19th century. [1] In the past two decades, the topic has also become increasingly relevant for science. This is primarily due to the far-reaching discoveries in astrophysics and the newly emerged astrobiology: Today we know that our galaxy is teeming with planets, and many of these so-called exoplanets orbit their home stars at a distance that makes them more than ours due to the surface temperature earthly standards seem suitable for the development of life. In addition, it is now clear that earthly life has populated even the most inhospitable areas of our planet - life once it has evolved is obviously extremely robust and adaptable. Both findings, together with various theoretical considerations, have convinced many scientists that simple but also complex life could exist in many places in the universe. This suggests the possibility that intelligent life did not originate only on earth, so that we are not the only civilization in the universe. This is in turn immediately followed by the question of whether one day we will perhaps come into contact with an extraterrestrial intelligence.

At this point in the scientific reflection on aliens, the sole competence of the natural sciences ends. In addition, social and cultural science disciplines are required here, namely those that have long been concerned with communication between different species and the success or failure of contacts between different cultures.

Decades ago pioneers such as the Soviet radio astronomer Samuil Aronovich Kaplan and the American sociologist Jan H. Mejer pondered the role of the social sciences in the study of extraterrestrial civilizations. [2] But it is only because of the advances in scientific knowledge that exosociology, as they called the subject of their considerations at the time, can give really good reasons for investing time and financial resources in investigating this question: Today it seems conceivable, some even believe that humanity is about will come into contact with extraterrestrial civilizations for some time or for a long time. Accordingly, it is the task of sociological prognosis to develop scenarios for such a "case of the case", which does not have to become reality in the next few decades, but could certainly become reality.

The methodological tools for this are provided by scientific future research, futurology - a social science program that arose in the middle of the 20th century. Since then, methods such as computer simulation, Delphi surveys and scenario analysis have emerged in order to be able to make statements about the future development of a society or even of human civilization as a whole. [3] Exosociology refers to this tradition of research when it asks what would change for us on earth if we attained the certainty that mankind is not alone in the universe. Since that "first contact", according to everything we know for sure today, has not yet taken place, at least in historical times, this is initially a hypothetical question. In the context of future research, it is called what is known as Wild cardEvent investigated. [4] Such events are characterized by the fact that the likelihood of their occurrence is ultimately low, but if they should, they could have massive effects on all of our lives. Such events are usually analyzed methodically in the form of a scenario analysis in which various possible futures are examined comparatively. [5]

In the following, we will use such a scenario analysis for the Wild cardEvent of the first contact of mankind with an extraterrestrial civilization. We distinguish between three basic scenarios, which differ in the way they are done, how this contact comes about. [6]