Michio Kaku: Let’s not advertise our existence to aliens

If aliens do exist, posits theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, why would they want anything to do with us?

Michio Kaku: We have this mental image that a flying saucer will circle the White House lawn, land on the White House lawn and give us a bounty of all sorts of technological goodies to initiate an age of Aquarius on the planet earth. Personally, I don’t think that’s going to happen. For example, if you’re in the forest do you go out and talk to the squirrels and the deer? Maybe you do for a while, but after a while, you get bored because they don’t talk back to you because they have nothing interesting to tell you because they can’t relate to our values and our ideas. If you go down to an anthill do you go down to the ants and say I bring you trinkets; I bring you bees; take me to your aunt queen; I give you nuclear energy. So I think for the most part the aliens are probably not going to be interested in us because we’re so arrogant to believe that we have something to offer them. Realize that they could be thousands, maybe millions of years ahead of us in technology and they may have no interest in interacting with us in the same way that we don’t necessarily want to deal with the squirrels and the deer in the forest.

Now some people say that we should not try to make contact with them because they could be potentially dangerous. For the most part, I think they’re going to be peaceful because they’ll be thousands of years ahead of us, but we cannot take the chance. So I personally believe that we should not try to advertise our existence to alien life in outer space because of the fact that we don’t know their intentions.

Then the other question is what happens if they’re evil? Well, I think the question of evil is actually a relative question because the real danger to a deer in the forest is not the hunter with a gigantic rifle; he’s not the main danger to a deer in the forest. The main danger to a deer in the forest is the developer; the guy with blueprints; the guy in a three-piece suit; the guy with a slide rule and calculator; the guy that’s going to pave the forest and perhaps destroy whole ecosystems.

In other words, the aliens don’t have to be evil in order to be dangerous to us, they might not care, they just might not care about us and in the process pave us over. In fact, if you read the novel War of the Worlds the Martians in HG Wells seminal novel were not evil in the sense they wanted to torture us and they wanted to do all sorts of barbaric things to humanity. No, we were just in the way. And so I think that is a potential problem. We could be in the way of a very advanced civilization that simply is not evil but simply views us as we would view squirrels and deer in the forest. So personally I think that we should not advertise our existence when we go into outer space. For the most part, however, I do think they are going to be peaceful, they're not going to want to plunder the earth because there are plenty of planets out there that have nobody on them that they can plunder at will without having to worry about restive natives called humanity. And so I think they’re not going to come to visit the earth to plunder us, to do all sorts of mischief. For the most part, I think they’ll just leave us alone.

If advanced alien civilizations do exist, theoretical physicist Michio Kaku asks, why would they want anything to do with us? It would be like an academic talking to a squirrel, he suggests, and he has a great point. Hollywood and science fiction novels have conditioned us for years to believe that aliens either want to hang out on our intellectual level and learn from us... or destroy us. If alien life really does have the technology and know-how to make it all the way here, perhaps we should just play it cool and not assume that we are the top species in the universe. Besides, if we play our cards wrong and go all Will Smith in Independence Day on our smart new neighbors, it could be the end of us. Mankind's biggest folly, Kaku suggests, might just be in its insistence that we are an exceptional species. Michio Kaku's latest book is the wonderful and enlightening The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth.

Your genetics influence how resilient you are to the cold

What makes some people more likely to shiver than others?

KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images
Surprising Science

Some people just aren't bothered by the cold, no matter how low the temperature dips. And the reason for this may be in a person's genes.

Keep reading Show less

Harvard study finds perfect blend of fruits and vegetables to lower risk of death

Eating veggies is good for you. Now we can stop debating how much we should eat.

Credit: Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • A massive new study confirms that five servings of fruit and veggies a day can lower the risk of death.
  • The maximum benefit is found at two servings of fruit and three of veggies—anything more offers no extra benefit according to the researchers.
  • Not all fruits and veggies are equal. Leafy greens are better for you than starchy corn and potatoes.
Keep reading Show less

A landslide is imminent and so is its tsunami

An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
  • A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
  • Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.

The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

Cephalopod aces 'marshmallow test' designed for eager children

The famous cognition test was reworked for cuttlefish. They did better than expected.

Credit: Hans Hillewaert via Wikicommons
Surprising Science
  • Scientists recently ran the Stanford marshmallow experiment on cuttlefish and found they were pretty good at it.
  • The test subjects could wait up to two minutes for a better tasting treat.
  • The study suggests cuttlefish are smarter than you think but isn't the final word on how bright they are.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast