Do aliens exist?
If you want me to answer this, then you’ll have to agree on one thing: don’t interrupt me until I say, “I’m done.” I’m going to ask a bunch of rhetorical questions you’re not supposed to answer. Do you agree with this stipulation?
Whenever people start asking the question, “Do you think aliens exist?” it becomes a test of faith, religion and belief. It’s all about feeling out the other person and getting to know their personality. It’s a very loaded question that avoids the “no politics no religion” policies of acceptable public discourse. You cannot hide the intent behind your assumption, which is, in this day and age: people who believe in aliens are more scientific and rational than people who believe in ghosts.
I will try to answer fairly, but my disdain will become evident.
Let’s take the way people learned about foreign objects in antiquity. Back in the Dark Ages, people did not travel very far. If a traveler talks about a Lion from Africa, about how it’s a giant cat with a mane and sandy in color, you still won’t know what a Lion is. For all intents and purposes, it’s about as real as a Unicorn. Maybe you’ve seen a Horn (of a Narwhal) and you believe Unicorns exist. This is why Medieval European depictions of elephants and lions are wildly inaccurate and funny, because the artists did not know what lions and elephants looked like. They only knew what they heard, and there was no functional difference between believing in Unicorns and believing in Lions.
(For some lighthearted viewing, see Hilariously Wrong Medieval Pictures of Animals)
*There were some people who had the privilege of seeing a real elephant or lion, and their drawings were more “true-to-life.”
Likewise, you cannot be sure that cats exist. You may own a pet cat, but as soon as you put your cat in a room, shut the door and leave it behind, you have no idea if your cat exists or not. While Schrödinger’s cat is about how you cannot know the state of a cat (i.e., dead or alive), and the cat is, in fact, both alive and dead at the same time until an observation confirms the state, the principle talks about existence.
Your observed reality is the only thing you can trust, which is precisely why schizophrenia is a terrible disease. Then this brings up the dreaded question, “Is reality real or a simulation?”
Ignore that question, as we won’t get into it.
With the modern acceptance of germ theory, we know that as soon as we leave our cat behind, it continues to exist. We are not the only observers in the universe, and it would be arrogant to assume that once we leave the cat behind, it’ll die or disappear. Millions of bacteria floating in the air and in the cat’s stomach, and also the mice that are hunted, will continue to interact with the cat. Through interaction with other observers, the cat reaffirms its existence.
Think and Thunk #
“Do you think aliens exist?”
If the asker is smart, they will use the word think instead of believe. The word think is one of the most base human words, with a slightly arbitrary distinction from the word feel.
Let’s assume that all modes of thinking and feeling are synaptical firings of nuerons. We may have linguistic differences between the words think, feel, know, and believe, but until we have an exact biological definition ascribed to those actions, I don’t think there is much of a distinction made. Does feel involve not just synaptic firings, but firings that elevate the heart rate? Or maybe encourages a stomach to produce enzymes faster, resulting in that visceral gut punch? And what about believe? If you believe, does it have to be a synaptic firing that corresponds with the production of extra seratonin and oxycotin?
No, of course not. There are no such silly definitions. If anyone is able to come up with scientific definitions to these words and gain traction, let me know.
As soon as you leave the room, you have faith that the cat continues to exist. It’s the same faith that makes people believe that aliens exist. In terms of neurology, there may be a slight distinction between your brain EEG pattern when you imagine what an alien might look like, watch an Aliens vs Predator movie, or think about how aliens must exist according to probability (the mathematical field of imaginary certainty).
On an atomic level, I don’t know if there is much distinction between the three activities. If you nitpick too much, all atoms look the same. The distinction is purely on the high-level, one that takes into account context, intent and history.
If you ask me the question, “Do you think aliens exist?” I can only answer, “At the time of my thinking, they exist in my mind.” It’s only my imagination of the possibility that aliens exist. Without being able to conjure the image of a “real” alien, I do not have the same knowing like when I think of a cat. And so in the same breath, I will also answer, “But I do not know if aliens exist in the same way I believe cats exist. I do not have the same faith that I do for cats, and thus I do not think aliens exist.”
So this is where people get confused. They may try to weasel out my inability to discern probability as some kind of moral failing: “Consider a constantly expanding, infinite universe, how can you be so arrogant as to think we’re the only lifeforms out there?”
People with an argumentative agenda miss the point. I don’t give a rat’s ass if the alien lifeform is from Mars or China. Of all the things you cannot control, why are you concerned about aliens which you’d have the least control of overall, instead of globalism which at least has a scope closer to what your actions can affect?
And in fact, do you even have the proper definition of an alien? We can assume the English definition of alien, in this context, is “an extraterrestial lifeform” as opposed to the colloquial “foreigner.” So of all the diversity in Space, even if we sent out astronauts to collect samples from other planets, and had our scientists and biologists pick at them, how would we know how to identify an alien? Do you think they’ll look like ET? Now, I do hope your discernment of probability is good enough to say, “No, they probably won’t look like ET.”
When astronomists talk about stars, they describe them in lifecycles, with birth and death. When businenessmen talk about products, they describe them in lifecycles, with booms and declines (true to their optimism, they leave out the morbid concept of death). Maybe our anthropomorphic bias is showing here, or maybe we just don’t have the language to describe things in a non-life way.
If we decide to stick to our narrow and Earthly biological definition of “life,” then we do not consider stars as a lifeform, despite them being self-sustaining entities with a birth and a death, and a sort of asexual reproduction. But if we do decide that stars are a type of lifeform, then aliens exist and become a fact of life, and the question becomes about as mundane as the statement “water is wet.”
There are two types of people in this world: those who find stars fascinating, and those who find giant squids more fascinating than stars. Indeed, we tend to forget that there are strange creatures living in the deep and nigh-impassable trenches of our oceans. We forget about the aliens under our noses.
Hence, the fascination with the question, “Do aliens exist?” is on the same level as, “Does God exist?” in that the answer is unknown. Once the answer is known, it becomes as interesting as the subject of gravity (which may fascinate some physicists, but most people find a bore). The question, as asked by most laypeople, has nothing to do with aliens. We ask to probe each other about beliefs and biases. It is the modern equivalent of, “Do you believe in Lions?”
Choices we make #
We can look back in hindsight and snicker at the dead Europeon peons who couldn’t believe that Lions exist. I find this activity dumb, pointless and annoying. I cannot be certain that you’re asking this question out of harmless curiosity, or asking so you can identify new peons to snicker at.
Being certain of the existence of aliens doesn’t have much to do with my day-to-day life, nor do I really care whether I’m wrong or right, because it’s something that neither of us have the means to prove.
If dangerous aliens did visit Earth and threatened to destroy us (because aliens must be conquerers, and any alien claiming peaceful reasons, like missionaries or scientists might, is a prelude giving their society the intel that’ll enable mass slaughter and exploitation), would that make you any more or less fearful than what happened in World War II? Would you feel better enlisting our sons and daughers to fight aliens instead of other humans?
Finally, there is one thing you should know. Voluntarists and Involuntarists argue about whether belief is a choice or not. A voluntarist argues that we have control over our beliefs, and our will is the major influence of our actions. An involuntarist argues that our beliefs are a culmination of experience, and we have about as much choice as choosing to be born.
The only thing we really have a choice over is how we define our terms and thoughts. Otherwise, we cannot just say that beliefs are a choice. Let me know how easy it is to “choose to believe” in the merits of eugenics, or Nazi theology.
We are always vulnerable to convenient logic. Maybe the day you care for a disabled person is the day you utterly renounce eugenics, as love is so great that it trumps all suffering, or maybe you turn 180 degrees and think, I wish eugenics was popular again to relieve me of my suffering.
In so much as beliefs are not a choice, I cannot choose to believe in aliens, and arguing about my “choices” is unproductive.
If I want to take the easy way out, I can answer “Yes” to the question, “Do aliens exist?” and mark myself as a “believer of rational science.” Of course, what may happen is that you will throw a slurry of more probing questions to test whether I am truly entrenched in the cult, and then my attitude will betray myself as someone who really doesn’t care. Or I can outright say, “No” and get to the heart of the debate: what is my faith?
And the answer: “It depends on whatever is most convenient. I believe in God the same way people believe in aliens, because the concept of infinity is imaginary and lends itself to anything, while the sustained holding of a thought, of a belief, is what makes the cat real. Aliens simultaneously exist and don’t exist, because existence is undefined.”
Photo by Adrian Lang from Pexels