An Alien Impression
It’s hard to step back, to see things in a different way, to extract one’s self from the myopic view of daily life. But imagine if you can, a visitor from another world peeking in on our pale blue dot for the first time. What would it see? What would its first impressions of us be?
It would see Earth’s dominant creature huddled on a land composing only one third of our planet’s surface. Two thirds of our planet, covered in water, the life nurturing element we seek on all other space rocks, avoided here at home. We want to live near it, but cannot live in it. It would see our frail, little bodies carried around in individual metal conveyances. Cars, everywhere cars! 2010 saw the earth surpass the 1 billion automobile mark for the first time. Nikolaus Otto created a stationary four-cycle internal combustion engine in 1876. Karl Benz, at the urging of his wife Bertha, registered patent (DRP 37435) on January 29, 1886 for a three wheel, four-cycle motor car. Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach used a mobile version of Otto’s engine on a stagecoach in 1886. Everything since, every innovation, advancement and safety feature, is built on this transformational, but dated, internal combustion engine. Choking on self-inflicted pollution and limited in access by the venous network of roads across our planet, our visitor might wonder at our lack of imagination. Our visitor would see the tricked-out pickup truck next to us scream down the highway at 80 miles an hour, cutting across four lanes of highway, oblivious to the welfare of his fellow travelers. From above, this looks callous and entitled, and yet almost stationary! Even our air travel looks lethargic. Metal tubes with protruding wings shepherded by specially trained operators, herding people like cattle across states, countries, oceans and continents, flying at a mere 350 mph (or 0.000052% the speed of light) and limited in their decent to specialized patches of cement bedazzled with various colored lights, from which more tendrils of road emerge.
And speaking of light, it would see that we still use the incandescent light bulb! Thomas Edison’s first commercially practical light bulb was created in 1879. We still use this as our primary source of artificial light, in spite of the fact that 95% of the energy created is wasted as heat, while only 5% is converted to visible light. If our visitor could travel the world at night and take a panoramic picture, this is what it would see:
It would also notice that we cannot speak to one another! At last count, there were at least 6,700 active languages in the world. According to Ethnologue, here are the top twenty (in terms of the number of speakers):
You may notice that this accounts for only 3,679,800,000 of the 6,973,738,433 inhabitants of our planet, or 52.8% of the earth’s population. You might also be interested to know that the United Nations, the “international organization founded in 1945 after the Second World War by 51 countries (but now composing 191 countries) committed to maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations and promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights,” has only six official languages: Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), English, French, Russian and Spanish (representing only 33% of the world’s population).
Another look by our visitor would see that we have invented incredible methods of murdering one another. We kill each other at an amazing rate and over reasons quite unfathomable to our guest. And it is always 20/20 hindsight for these “inventors of death.” Robert Oppenheimer, “Father of the Atomic Bomb” quoted the Bhagavad Gita saying,
Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.
Albert Einstein said,
I made one great mistake in my life—when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made; but there was some justification—the danger that the Germans would make them.
Mikhail Kalashnikov, creator of the AK-47 said,
I would prefer to have invented a machine that people could use and that would help farmers with their work — for example a lawn mower.
Even Alfred Nobel, the man whose name is synonymous with peace, but who also invented dynamite, considered his invention for the mining industry to ultimately be a peacemaker.
My dynamite will sooner lead to peace than a thousand world conventions. As soon as men will find that in one instant whole armies can be utterly destroyed, they surely will abide by golden peace.
Should our visitor land on our soil (without being shot out of the sky), breathe our specific atmosphere (without inhaling instantaneous toxic death) and speak to us (in flawless English the caricatured words of science fiction movies from the 1950’s, “Take me to your leader”) who amongst us can speak for all of us? Who can stand and represent us to the galaxy? The answer, I think, is not the President of the United States, the Secretary General of the United Nations or the Pope, it is our children. Unburdened by the fractious effects of race, religion or sex, they retain their wonder, their imagination and, most importantly, hope. Science and mathematics may be the galactic language, but every child, with the flame of hope burning brightly within, is our best envoy.
So the next time you’re stuck in traffic at night and pass a billboard written in a foreign language for “Bulk Ammo and Silencers”, think of our imaginary visitor and wonder, can’t we do better?