Finding an alien civilization will change humanity dramatically, but not so much in the obvious ways. Will we interact, trade, learn from one another’s technology, or start intergalactic wars? None of that is highly likely, mostly for logistical reasons. Bill Nye thinks that the change will be more of an internal, philosophical, and spiritual change. What will it mean for humans to not be the only living thing in the cosmos? Many of us want to know and so, operating on just a small budget running in the background of all other scientific pursuits, there are astronomers and physicists continually looking and listening for life out there so that we may one day be able to ask ourselves that very question. Bill Nye’s most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.
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QUESTION: If humanity at some point in the future discovered another alien civilization, at least mildly comparable to our own, if society as it is now stayed basically the same, how do you think we would react to it, you know: be violent or have a new colonial era, or make peace and advance with everyone or something like that? Thank you.
BILL NYE: What if we found or discovered another alien civilization, would there be colonization? I hope not. I just feel that another alien civilization probably couldn’t live on the earth and we probably couldn’t live there. There’s too many details that wouldn’t work, unless we’re all wearing spacesuits. But maybe. I just don’t think that there would be that much interaction. That is to say, I think it’s much more like we will find an alien civilization on a world so distant, so remote, that there won’t be going back and forth in spaceships. If it’s, let’s say, 40 lightyears, as it is to these TRAPPIST-1 planets, the ones they found around this very cold or relatively cold small star—cool star, then the way we’d communicate with them is by radio or by light, electromagnetic waves. And so there wouldn’t be a chance for colonization or misplaced bank accounts or whatever else would go wrong—or warfare. That just wouldn’t be possible. Instead though, it would be profound. It would change the way everybody feels about being a living thing in the cosmos. It would be extraordinary. And furthermore we do this research looking for alien civilizations at a tiny fraction of our international budget. It’s a worthy thing to always be doing in the background. Listening and looking for aliens.