July 27, 2014

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Ruins, Knickknacks, & Aliens…Oh, My!

Humans are obsessed with the past.

Three million people visit the pyramids at Giza every year. Annually, somewhere between four and ten million people visit the Great Wall of China. Thus far, a million people have seen the World Trade Center Memorial each year since it opened in 2011. The Battle of Gettysburg reenactments draws thousands of viewers each year – in 2013, the 150th Anniversary reenactment drew an estimated 120,000 people.

Machu Piccu, Stonehenge, The Roman Baths, Hadrian’s Wall, Ellora Caves, Chichen Itza, Hieropolis? A million a year. Teotihuacan, The Acropolis, Pompeii? Two million a year. The Terracotta Army, The Forum, and the Coliseum? Three to seven million.

We love our history. We love our past. WE LOVE DRAMA! Think about what happened at each of those places! Think of the pain, the weeping, the joy, the victories!

Think of the movies. I cannot find a number that even hints at the number of historical films that have been made – and NOT just in the US! Russians make history films. So do the Chinese. Bollywood goes without saying. But the Israelis do, too. And the Brazilians.

Humans are stuck in the past, doomed to relive it so many times and in so many ways that eventually it becomes legendary, then mythical, then finally mystical. Anne McCaffrey wrote in 1968: “When is a legend, legend? Why is a myth, a myth? How old and disused must a fact be for it to be relegated to the category: Fairy tale? And why do certain facts remain incontrovertible, while others lose their validity to assume a shabby, unstable character?”

Will aliens have the same obsession as Humans? Will their obsession be greater? Less?

At Diversicon in 2013, the discussion was “Aliens + Alien Ruins + Human Past”, and while not moderating, Jack McDevitt’s work was the launching point of the session. ANCIENT SHORES, ETERNITY ROAD, the entire ACADEMY series, which deals with the origin of the mysterious Omega Clouds; and the Alex Benedict series, that deals with both Human and (possibly) alien antiquities are firmly based in this “future’s past”. In his third novel, THE ENGINES OF GOD, Humans find an ice statue that at least one intelligent alien left behind on Saturn’s moon, Iapetus. The assumption then is that they must think something like us because leaving a statue of yourself behind for posterity is a very “Human” thing to do – sort of an “ice sculpture selfie”.

Who’s to say this is a ridiculous assumption? Who’s to say what aliens will and will not think about? Others argue that “different ways of thinking” accounts for The Great Silence, ie: “Our Galaxy is so old that every corner of it should have been visited many, many times over by now. No theory to date has satisfactorily explained away this Great Silence, so it’s time to think outside the box.”
The fact is that we have no evidence for aliens. Expressed in his book, CONTACT, Carl Sagan’s argument that “If we are alone in the Universe, it sure seems like an awful waste of space.” (This is a paraphrase of Sagan quoting Thomas Carlyle: “A sad spectacle. If they be inhabited, what a scope for misery and folly. If they be not inhabited, what a waste of space.”), and is differently iterated in his narration of the original COSMOS TV show when he says, “...absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

So, the question is, do YOU think that aliens will have their own version of “Antique Road Show”? Why or why not? What other responses to the past might an alien have?

Me? I think aliens will be alien and probably incomprehensible – and have attitudes that won’t support Carl Sagan or any other preacher on Earth. Except maybe having an idea of God. I’m pretty sure that will be a part of any aliens we ever meet.

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