All That Life Out There, Part 2

Several times I’ve written in this blog about the possibility of life on other planets in the Milky Way Galaxy.  (Or other galaxies for that matter.)  It’s almost certain that life exists somewhere else, even though we here on Earth have never been able to find any evidence for it.  The recent findings that water existed on Mars in the distant past offers a good possibility that life will be found amidst the rocks and dirt of the red planet, although if life ever existed on Mars, it’s probably gone by now.  Life—whatever the type or style—is almost certainly out there.  Somewhere.

But science fiction writers (and I include myself here even though I haven’t published anything yet) seem to be focused on one type of life: that of the humanoid, logical, reasonable, communicative type.  As an example, I saw an episode of the old TV series “The Outer Limits” a few weeks ago, and I was struck by the manner in which the writers of that particular episode had endowed the creature that had invaded Earth with all sorts of human traits.  The invader was “trapped” here on Earth, and Earthlings had to help “him” escape.  A fairly typical sci-fi story.  The invader was depicted on the screen by saw-tooth-like lightning bolts that made up his body.  He was a two-dimensional creature, able to slip through 3-D walls since he had no thickness.  Again, a fairly typical concoction for science fiction.  And when the Earthlings gave him the object that he needed to return to his own planet, the invader told them how he very much appreciated what they did.  In other words, the invader acted exactly as you would expect a reasonable human to act in the same situation.

A lot of sci-fi is written that way.  I have to admit that the characters in my novels are “humanoid” and act as humans in most respects.  (I do that to let us get a good look at ourselves.)  We human writers put human traits into many of the aliens we meet in out fictional travels around the universe.  But it seems to me that that situation is almost certainly not what we are going to see when we really do meet the first aliens out there.  Life on other planets is almost certainly going to be weirder and more unusual than we can imagine.  None of them are going to “thank” us if we do something for them.  Giving thanks is a human trait.  Is it reasonable to expect that life on another planet—regardless of what it looks like—is going to operate by the social rules of Earth?  If we find life on Mars, or at least the remnants of Martian life, it probably won’t be what we think it will be.  We may go looking for Martian bacteria.  But who’s to say that life on Mars ever had bacterial forms?  There was an episode of Star Trek, The Next Generation where the alien life the characters encountered was a thin film of salty water deep within the bowels of an otherwise uninhabited planet.  It was able to communicate with the Enterprise’s crew through the ship’s computer.  That was good, and a very good example of what I’m talking about.  Different.  Wild and weird.

We need to open our minds to other things.  Things we never thought of before.

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