For Stephen Hawking, one of the world's most renowned scientists, there's little doubt that life exists elsewhere in the universe. The question then is what such beings would be like and whether or not we should extend an interplanetary hand if we happen to find any intelligent life. Despite all the curiosity we humans have about extraterrestrials, Hawking would urge us to keep our distance--not because any aliens are likely to be so different from us, but because we may be so much alike.
According to a report from the Telegraph, Hawking believes that because there are so many galaxies in the universe, "the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational." Although he admits that microbial life is likely far more prevalent, Hawking thinks there's still a good chance that we're not the only intelligent beings in the universe--but we shouldn't look forward to any stopping by for a visit.
We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn't want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach.
While we have yet to find evidence of basic life outside our own planet, let alone any intelligent potential visitors, Hawking's warnings have implications that hit much closer to home. Since the only examples of advanced life forms we have to base such speculation on is ourselves, perhaps it wouldn't be so unreasonable to assume they might be prone to destroying whole civilizations and ecosystems they come across as well.
There are no shortages of sci-fi films that imagine hostile alien visitors, arriving to kill and pillage our planet--but, as Hawking points out, similar scenarios are recurrent throughout human history. And, if we've learned anything from our own track record, we'll want to avoid any beings with those qualities.
If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn't turn out very well for the American Indians.
Hawking, who will appear in a documentary on the Discovery Channel next month, begs a much bigger question as he delivers his words of caution. As we stand at the cusp of numerous environmental disasters of our own, there's the unique opportunity to redefine all we know about the nature of intelligent life--by opting in favor of our more planet-conscious behavior and not our destructive impulses.
Because if we don't preserve our planet here and now, someday it may be us threatening to pillage another's.