A related article which may be of interest - first published in The
At the Edinburgh International Science Festival: Aliens as Revealed
By Raj Persaud and Adrian Furnham
Janne Korhonen from the Department of Organization and Management
at Aalto University in Finland has just published an academic paper
exploring whether we should really be trying as hard as we
currently are, to make contact with extra-terrestrial
intelligences; our assumption that aliens 'out there' would be
benign, could be wrong.
The history of our own planet is that civilizations boasting
advanced technologies have subjugated and exploited the vulnerable.
Should that guide our thinking on how aliens might treat
The paper, published in an academic journal, 'Acta Astronautica'
(sponsored by the International Academy of Astronautics and devoted
to the scientific study of space) advocates that we should be
getting inside the minds of extra-terrestrial intelligences, before
we naively continue to send probes, and high powered
communications, out into space, attempting to make contact with
whoever, or whatever, might be out there.
The possibility that extra-terrestrial intelligences (ETIs) could
be hostile means we should be lying low, and not signalling our
presence to the universe.
One theory as to why when we currently peer into deep space, we
can't see any evidence of other civilisations, although
statistically speaking just our own galaxy should be teeming with
life, is that everyone else out there is camouflaged, and
All except us in the universe have already calculated the inherent
risks of making contact with strangers.
The paper entitled, 'MAD with aliens? Interstellar deterrence and
its implications' contends that the risks of an extra-terrestrial
attack are not properly debated because of an assumption that we
cannot analyse the decision making of an alien
Janne Korhonen argues, however, we can draw some inferences from
the history of deterrence and war on our planet. The acronym 'MAD'
in the title of the paper comes from 'Mutually Assured Destruction'
- which was the poker game that appeared to keep the Soviet Union
and the USA from blowing the world to bits during the Cold
In particular, Korhonen advocates special caution for proposed
interstellar missions, as star-faring capability itself might be
seen as a threat. Paranoid ETIs might also consider the possibility
that our messages are a deception designed to lure out hostile
civilizations, and pre-emptively destroy them. This would explain
why no one has been answering us back, as we try ever harder to
Even if a superior civilization found our technology appeared puny
compared to theirs - it's possible they might be wary - considering
this a classic military deception strategy. We could be appearing
weak and vulnerable to draw out the enemy, before striking with
overwhelming previously concealed firepower.
Novels and movies have portrayed aliens as compassionate and
helpful (eg ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind), but
extra-terrestrials don't have to be particularly paranoid or
xenophobic, according to Korhonen, for it to be simply logical to
preventively destroy other species, before they can pose a
Korhonen analyses the risks of the most disquieting scenario: that
an ETI would, upon detecting advanced civilization on Earth, launch
an unprovoked preventive attack, aimed at destroying
The paper points out an expansionist civilization which is busy
'strip-mining' solar systems for resources, is unlikely to be
interested in our fragile globe, as the resources available across
galaxies are so vast.
However, a species of extra-terrestrial confined to just a few
planets would likely feel more vulnerable.
Korhonen assesses that just ordinary interaction between two
inter-galactic adversaries could inadvertently destroy or seriously
damage one of them, through transmission of diseases, invasive
species, computer viruses or even, merely undesirable information
(there is no God).
Also any spacecraft capable of interstellar voyages in reasonable
time becomes an inadvertent weapon of mass destruction through
sheer momentum. Relatively simple interstellar probes -within our
capability soon - would be devastating warheads.
To illustrate this argument Korhonen calculates the kinetic energy
for each 1000 kg of spacecraft mass at different velocities,
demonstrating how easily one simple probe could exceed the entire
global nuclear stockpile. So even primitive interstellar probes,
travelling at an appreciable fraction of light speed, could be
extremely dangerous to planet-bound civilizations.
Given human history's tendency for 'cock up' as a cause of killing,
it is easy to imagine a scenario where a human 'ﬂy-by' probe to a
supposedly uninhabited system accidentally damages a civilization
that had chosen to remain quiet, perhaps due to paranoid fear of
detection. Said civilization might strike back in order to stop
But Korhonen contends it's the possibility of retaliation which
renders preventive attacks a ﬂawed strategy. Interstellar
civilizations would be disinclined to knowingly initiate
hostilities using this logic.
Yet this reasoning appears to have escaped those here on earth who
are currently planning a pre-emptive strike against Iran, and who
launched these against Iraq and Afghanistan. The psychology of
war-mongering governments is to persuade the public to sanction
pre-emptive strikes. This is achieved by avoiding considering post
attack consequences in the propaganda for war.
Korhonen acknowledges his analysis does not cover irrational
attacks - including those motivated by ideology or xenophobia - but
why might alien civilizations not be prone to the same
irrationalities as we have been?
Korhonenn relies on previous calculations from astronomers and
planetary scientists that there may be between a hundred thousand
to one million other civilisations in our galaxy alone. In which
case the key question is not why have we not detected other
civilizations out in space, but how come we haven't yet been
He believes the aliens have made a critical calculation - which is
around fear of retaliation. This is the essential deterrence and
also explains why no state has yet initiated a preventive nuclear
attack against another on our own planet. Deterrence is reliable if
it can inﬂict ''unacceptable'' damage to the attacker.
Apparently in the poker game of 'Mutually Assured Destruction'
between the Soviet Union and the USA, it was the capability to
destroy any ten cities in retaliation after a surprise attack,
which was seen as reliable and adequate nuclear
However, the miscalculation of those who advocate pre-emptive
strikes is that survivors and witnesses, in the longer term, take
revenge and eventually strike back. This is why we must discourage
our leaders from the irrationality of pre-emptive strikes. We are
still alive today, and have not been wiped out by a bolt from the
sky, because intelligence in outer space has already calculated the
foolhardy nature of the pre-emptive strike.
If Korhonen is right, we do have something to learn from the
silence of the aliens.
If you are interested in taking part in a brief on-line psychology
experiment in collaboration with the Edinburgh International
Science Festival, exploring how Hollywood handles science with the
implications for us - plus attend a talk on the subject - visit
this link here