Category Archives: aliens

Aliens and Angels

COINCIDENCE??!!  I think NOT!!!

In all seriousness, I think there is a logic here, but of a more subtle sort.  I touched on just the barest aspects of this similarity (though without mentioning angels) back here.  Today I want to go into greater detail on this topic, and in a slightly different direction.  In all seriousness, I think there are some striking similarities, and that’s what we’re going to look at.

I’ve written about angels before, so I will just give a brief rundown of the characteristics traditionally attributed to angels in the Western (Jewish, Christian, and Islamic) tradition (though I will emphasize the Christian, since the Christian theology of angels is the one with which I’m most familiar):

  1. Angels are immortal by nature.  Not only do they not die, they cannot die nor be killed or destroyed in any way (except by God, who could annihilate anything if He so wished).
  2. Angels are pure spirit, or pure mind (which is another way of saying the same thing).  They thus lack bodies and are not composed of matter in any way (but see here and here for dissenting views).  As a corollary to this, angels do not need to eat, drink, or breathe.  The general interpretation is that they refuse to do these things (see Judges 13:15-16) or that when they appear to do so (see Tobit 12:17-19), it is an illusion.
  3. Angels are not all-knowing (omniscient)–only God is–but what they do know they know perfectly and without confusion.  This is because, not having bodies, they are not subject to the frailties inherent in brains and physiological phenomena, and also because they know directly through the ideas (in the Platonic sense) infused into them at their creation by God.  Thus angels are, as noted above, more intelligent than humans and less prone (if at all) to error.*
  4. Angels are not usually asserted to be able to read human minds; but since they are more intelligent and understand human behavior perfectly, they can often infer what a human is thinking.  They can telepathically send suggestions to humans, though, thus being able to send thoughts, though they can’t receive them.
  5. Angels can travel instantaneously anywhere in the cosmos.  This is symbolically represented as “flying”, but being immaterial, angels do not fly, walk, or move in any way we understand.  They just pop up wherever they want to be.
  6. Angels are immensely more powerful than humans.  Though they are not made of matter, they are capable of interacting with matter.  They are thus able to perform acts (technically referred to in theology as “preternatural” acts) that are far beyond what humans can do, and which appear to humans to be miraculous.

That summarizes the properties of angels.  Let us now move on to aliens.

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Aliens, Robots, and Perpetual Motion

About three years ago I read an SF (science fiction) novel in which one of the protagonists suspects that the other is either an alien or a robot (or perhaps a bit of both, and thus in effect a cyborg, though that term was never used).  I enjoyed the novel, actually, but I noticed a trope that I’ve encountered before in SF.  The first tip-off about the possibly non-human nature of the second protagonist is when she is observed not breathing.  In a sequel novel, it is made explicit that the second protagonist is indeed a technologically-augmented alien (and thus, as noted, a cyborg) and that she does not need to breathe, eat, or sleep, although she chooses to do all three in order to blend in to human society, and also because she’s developed a liking for those actions.  Additionally, I should point out, she doesn’t need to go the bathroom, either.  Yes, the second novel went there….  I still liked it, though, which may say something about me.

Robots (and their variant, androids) don’t need to breathe, eat, or sleep, either, though some can eat.  It is made explicit in Star Trek:  The Next Generation that Data, the resident android, is capable of eating and drinking, though he doesn’t need to.  In fact, one humorous vignette in the first TNG movie, Generations, is this:

In the process of testing out his emotion chip, Data drinks the liquor that Guinan offers him.  He hates it, and orders another–but the point is that he is indeed capable of drinking it in the first place.

Another thing about robots is that they are immortal and seem never to need repair or recharging.  In the TNG two-part episode “Time’s Arrow”, the crew find Data’s head in an archeological dig in a cave in San Francisco.  It has apparently been there since the 19th Century–thus nearly half a millennium.  Later in the show, Data’s head is blown off, and his body is recovered.  His “future” head is reattached, and it works perfectly, while his “past” head is left in San Francisco, to be found in the 24th Century.

Similarly, in the Stephen Spielberg movie A. I. Artificial Intelligence, the boy android David spends two thousand years underwater, awaiting the granting of his wish by the Blue Fairy (you’ll have to see the movie if you want an explanation of the plot point!), until the future Mecha (sapient robots that have replaced the now-extinct human race) rescue him and restore him to the surface.  He is after two millennia fully functional.  In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, Marvin the Paranoid Android is functional after 576,000,003,579 years (he counted!) in the radio series, and “thirty-seven times older than the Universe itself” in So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, though there it is noted that he has had ongoing repairs.

So what am I getting at with all this?  Read on!

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In Search of Ancient Aliens

 

One of Rod Serling’s last voice appearances, and the inspiration for the 70’s TV series In Search Of.  I don’t endorse ancient astronaut theory, but it’s a fun blast from the past for a Saturday afternoon.

E.T.–Ho Hum….

aliens-like-us-image

I recently ran across this discussion at The Huffington Post of the effects of the discovery of extraterrestrial life.  I couldn’t even work up enough interest to do more than scan it at the time.  I actually read it in preparing this post, and I’m still underwhelmed.  I’ve discussed aspects of this before, but let me talk a bit about the current article.

First, both the HuffPo article and the original one to which it refers tend to maddeningly conflate “life” with “intelligent life”.  The original World Economic Forum article does toss in, near the end, the following:  “The discovery of even simple life would fuel speculation about the existence of other intelligent beings and challenge many assumptions that underpin human philosophy and religion.”  I’m not sure I see that.  Finding bacteria on Mars or eukaryotic cells on a planet around 40 Eridani would be a staggering discovery and would be immensely important in terms of biology.  I don’t see most people questioning their faith or their place in the universe over space germs, though.  I don’t see such huge philosophical repercussions occurring for anything short of intelligent life, which is a much different kettle of (possibly sapient) fish.  In any case, as is usual in such articles, there is a strong tendency to blur the distinction between “extraterrestrial life” and “extraterrestrial intelligence“.  Of course, the relative likelihood of the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence, of our finding it, and of our recognizing it if we do find it are another can of worms, but I’ll discuss them at a future date.

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Resistance is Futile!

I must say that this, via Megan McArdle’s old blog at The Atlantic online, is one of the weirdest things I’ve stumbled across lately.  I don’t have a lot to say about it other than I think it shows the difficulty people, even scientists, apparently, have in thinking about extraterrestrial life.
First off, I hate to say it but if you look at the physics of it, the likelihood of interstellar travel is very, very small.  The problems of speed, energy, and (for slow-moving “generation starships“) self-sustaining resources and machinery are staggering.  We don’t even have serious plans for sending a simple, unmanned probe to a near star such as Alpha Centauri, let alone any feasible plans for human travel.  The same difficulties and considerations would apply to any other would-be space-faring life form.
Second, though it’s more tenuous, the Galilean principle suggests that (assuming that life and intelligence are common–huge assumptions in themselves) there should have been many, many intelligent races around millions or even a billion or more years before us.  As Enrico Fermi pointed out, the implication is that there has been ample time for the entire galaxy to have been colonized long ago by any such race with interstellar capacity.  That it to all appearances hasn’t casts doubt on the premise.
Third, the article shows once more that even very intelligent people can’t help but anthropomorphize about aliens and assume they share our values and concerns (as Jonathan Adler points out in commenting on the same article here).  As has been pointed out many times, UFO phenomena very frequently have a strong religious component (just a couple of many, many discussions and examples of this are here and here).  The aliens are going to save us or help us or make things better, etc. etc. etc.  Even in the secular context of this article on scenarios, there is once again the concept that aliens are going to help us (they’re in effect secular angels) or harm us (secular devils).
Maybe we have to turn away from science and go to science fiction for some perspective here.  The excellent short story “The Dance of the Changer and Three“, by Terry Carr, is an instructive example of just how–well, alien–aliens might actually be.  Assuming that aliens even care–or can care–about our situation, for good or ill, means we’re not really thinking of them as aliens, but as funny-looking people in space, or perhaps as gods or demons, which comes down to much the same thing.
Of course, for any of this to be relevant–even if aliens were comprehensible to us and had opinions on global warming or next year’s Oscars–it assumes they could even get here, which brings me back to the improbability of that being the case.  I’m certainly not going to lose sleep over any of it.  Any problems we Earthlings have are going to have to be solved or exacerbated by us, not aliens.