So I was going to keep this a surprise for later, but I actually invented a time machine a while back. Today, I fired that bad boy up and decided to go back in time and let President Andrew Jackson know that he had been replaced by Harriet Tubman on our currency.
Me: President Jackson, it’s an honor Sir.
Andy Jackson: Who the Hell are you again?
Me: Catherine Vice. Time Traveler. I come from a time when the President of the United States is what you, in this era, would refer to as a negro…….. I mean um, that his knee is growing. Because he bumped it and it’s swelling up. Yea, that’s it. Please don’t shoot me.
Andy Jackson: Do you mind, Miss? I’m busy destroying the banking system.
Me: Yea, um, about that.. can you stop doing that? It’s been, like, 200 years or whatever and we’re still recovering from that.
Andy Jackson: The Union survives that long? Well, I guess I owe Van Buren a pint of whiskey.
Me: Yea, it survives, despite multiple economic depressions, many of which you directly caused. Also a Civil War which.. come to think of it, that pretty much started to brew during your administration. Then the Red Sox went 85 years without winning the World Series. Yet, we survive.
Andy Jackson: Well, I’ll be damned. Did I at least live long enough to shoot John C. Calhoun?
Me: Okay, no. And I’m here to get your thoughts on something. In the future, for no particular reason, we celebrate you by having you on our $20 bills despite the fact that you’re the 19th century version of Hitler.
Andy Jackson: What’s a Hitler?
Me: You know, I would tell you but I’m afraid you would take it as a challenge to aim higher. Anyway, you’re on our money.
Andy Jackson: That um, well that makes no sense since I was against the idea of banks. And what’s a bill?
Me: It’s paper currency.
Andy Jackson: Now you’re yanking my chain, ma’am. I was really against Paper Currency. Putting my face on paper money would be like putting Alexander Hamilton’s face on on the emblem of the National Rifle Association.
Me: Well, yea, but don’t worry. In 2016, you actually got taken off it.
Andy Jackson: Well, good.
Me: They replaced you with a picture of a black woman who helped free the slaves.
Andy Jackson: …………….
Me: Gotta go.
No, not the movie. The extraterrestrial life that in all likelihood we’ll only be able to appreciate under a microscope. Microscopic alien life is something we could find in my lifetime. We’re making plans to visit Europa, which likely has a liquid water ocean and all the basic building blocks of life. But, most people aren’t excited by space bacteria. They want the red meat aliens. The kinds that ride in bitch’in spaceships, fight Lex Luthor, and have a bizarre fascination with our assholes (both literal and figurative). I’ve never been much of a UFO person. It doesn’t help that most people with “experiences” are rednecks of questionable credibility who have near-fetishized fascination with butts and just happened to encounter aliens who share said fetish. And yea, Barry Goldwater and Jimmy Carter both had such experiences because they saw UFOs. UFO fanboys probably shouldn’t point to them though, unless losing a combined two elections by a total of 874 electoral gives you extra credibility. That’s probably not the case though. George McGovern never saw a UFO and he lost by 503. And he was from South Dakota. That’s one of those states aliens just love to go fanny-probing. If any high-profile failure would have gotten the galactic enema, it would have been McGoo.
I don’t deny the existence of life on other planets, even intelligent life. As we gain knowledge of the universe, it’s becoming pretty clear that Earth-like planets aren’t nearly as rare as we thought. There’s over forty-billion Earth-like planets in habitual zones in the Milky Way alone. That’s a shit-load. Now consider that at least one of them, Earth, sprung up life smart enough to count how many stars there are in our own galaxy. I don’t find it very likely that Earth somehow beat 1 in 40,000,000,000 odds. But, let’s say it did. Even going by that standard, considering that there’s over one-hundred billion galaxies in just the observable universe of various sizes, I would say intelligent life is probably very likely.
Let’s be extremely, extremely conservative and still blow our minds. Let’s say that at the most, a galaxy can only have one planet with intelligent life. Just one for all the billions of stars each contains. And, let’s say that only 0.01% of all galaxies ever get that one planet that has intelligent life. That would mean, in the observable universe, there’s over 10,000,000 planets that have intelligent life. Wow!
Life has to exist out there. But life will never visit us. Intelligent life at least. If you subscribe to the panspermia theory, alien life has already visited us, and you’re its great ancestor. But little grey men? No. It’s not impossible. It’s just highly unlikely. The distances are too great and the time windows for meaningful contact are too small. Think about life on the Earth itself. The dinosaurs never gazed up at the stars and said “Hmmmm, I wonder………” And they were the most dominant complex species our planet has had. We’re the first species to look at the universe and realize, oh my God, we’re not alone. But we’ve only had enough knowledge and education to realize that within the last couple hundred years at best. That’s a teeny-tiny window.
Fringe crackpots will tell you that the pyramids or the Nazca Lines or Stonehenge are clear proof of aliens, because, um, reasons. The logic of it always cracked me up. “Hey, we’ve just broken the laws of physics and traveled improbable distances to visit your planet. Here, let us show you how to carve stone and arrange it in highly artistic ways.” Fucking thanks, Aliens. Revealing the nature of the universe to us so that we wouldn’t waste time believing in God and putting roadblocks up to appease said God would have been helpful and served to evolve us at a faster pace, but no, it’s always abstract art and anal probes with you.
But real people doing real thinking have really thought about this. And they’ve come to a few conclusions. First off, if there’s alien life smart enough to travel between stars or even galaxies, that by itself must prove how common life is in the universe. With that being the case, they probably wouldn’t take too much of a shine to us on Earth. We wouldn’t be exceptional. They would be used to seeing life EVERYWHERE! If we were lucky, the discovery of Earth would get a two-minute blip from their version of Hank Green on their version of Sci-Show Space. Especially since alien life probably won’t look as radically different as once believed. Look at out how stuff evolved here on Earth, where many features common among all animals came into being separately: bilateral symmetry, appendages, eyes, wings, mouths, etc. Evolution must instinctively gravitate towards these advantages. For a species that has the ability to traverse the entire universe, really, wouldn’t they have seen and categorized a lot of things by time they reach us?
And, if they were interested in us, why would they even need to directly enter the Earth to observe us? It’s fairly narrow-minded to think that any creature that has the ability to journey across the stars would actually need to directly poke and prod us to learn about our biology. Such stories of this occurring are likely because of a phenomena known as sleep paralysis, and those poor people who have experienced them are deserving of pity. We should also try to sit down with them and work some logic into them. Like how we can predict where zebras will migrate to using satellite imagery, and we’re not quite awesome enough to even make it to the next planet over with our own physical bodies. If we can do that, surely beings with the technology to go star-hopping can simply scan us from space and learn all about our biology.
Of course, none of that is all too likely to begin with. The distances are just too great. Now granted, we’re early in the search for exoplanets like Earth, but the best candidate we’ve found yet is called Keplar 438b. And by best candidate, I mean it’s the closest to the size of the Earth and a close approximation to our Earth’s distance from its sun. Which is a red dwarf. We don’t even know if those can sustain life (some have doubts). But if it could, and if our motivation once we reach the stars outside of our solar system is simply to look for other life, we could send a probe. If that probe was traveling 20% of the speed of light, it would take 2,350 Earth-years to reach Kepler 438b. That’s because it’s 470 light-years from Earth. Any signals that probe would send back would take an additional 470 years to reach us, meaning that if we could launch a probe at the best candidate we’ve seen right now (we can’t) reaching speeds 20% of the speed of light (some think even that will never be within our reach), we wouldn’t get the answers we were searching for until the year 4,835.
Think of how many civilizations rise and fall over the span of 2,850 years. Think of how much people change in that span. Technology. Ideology. Would the people of 4,835 even retain the knowledge that a probe we launched in 2015 is beaming back information on the best candidate we knew of for life on other planets? Or, if they knew, would they even care anymore?
Intelligent life in other systems would likely face those same challenges too. The window for advanced civilization is smaller than anyone realizes just because of how fast things change. Regimes, empires, nations, and global populations. Life changes too fast for a very old, very uninterested universe to take notice. We’ll never meet extraterrestrial neighbors. While many will probably be disappointed by that, I actually find it incredibly comforting to know that, somewhere out there in the Cosmos, a being is looking up to the heavens and wondering about us too. What we’re like, where we came from and where we’re going. It has to be true. The numbers are just too great for it not to be. How can anyone not take comfort in that? Even more comforting is that we all come from the same ingredients. That we share this eternal bond that knows no distance is beautiful. And one day, trillions of years from now, the atoms in our bodies will return to the heavens, to dance with atoms that once belonged to star gazers from other worlds. In this sense, there is no such thing as alien life. We’re simply all just different parts of the universe, waiting to reunite some day.