We are alone. Alone among the vastness of space. You may believe we are divinely ordained to be the only sentient species in our galaxy, and the entire known universe came into being just a few thousand years ago. I myself do not believe that, yet I do profess a belief in the organizing entity responsible for the act of creation. But there is no doubt we have not seen positive proof of other species letting us know of their existence through electronic signals. That should be humbling to us on Earth, and lead us to a greater admiration of our uniqueness and an appreciation for our commonality, rather than our differences.
Yet once more, we seem to find commonality with the hordes of different colored ants you can find on occasion battling to the death on sidewalks and in our grass lawns. Long ago when I was walking home from school, I saw one such battle between red and black ants. The combatants were flowing across the sidewalk, each ant playing a part in a war they neither started nor had any opinion about. All they knew was of the necessity of their battle. Knowing what I do now about the mental processing capabilities of ants, I assume they were driven to battle by chemical signals, and there was no conscious thought about why they were engaging in this mortal combat.
Humans have once more shown they are no more than ants, seeking to dominate other territories. Only now we have tools to make the horrors of war omnipresent and impersonal. The days when the horrors of warfare were only visited upon the participants in the battle are long past. Now you can launch precision guided munitions, and lately we’ve seen those weapons used against train depots, apartment flats, and nuclear power plants. So we end up creating generations of ants who will want to battle against each other as time goes on.
We still fight for territory, although we are bound upon a globe which limits our absolute powers. Somehow we are convinced that our differences are greater than our similarities. Who knows if we will grow past our beliefs that no one other than true citizens are able to participate in our piece of the world. All I know is the possibility of a single day bringing our civilization to a close has re-emerged. It has been nice not having to worry directly about nuclear exchanges, although as the years have gone by, it is clear that we as a species will have to deal with this existential menace. For we as a species have not grown past our foolish desires to use these weapons as we feel our options grow more and more limited. And since these weapons have proliferated over time and across nations, it is only a matter of time until such weaponry is used by a non-state actor as a tool to accomplish a goal that is abhorrent to those who believe in the sanctity of life.
When I was young, it was the heyday of space exploration. We as a species were able to place our marker upon another celestial object. Looking back, it seems the accomplishment was more an opportunity to display the superiority of one nation state over another instead of an effort to expand the bounds of our species. For nearly 50 years, we have rested upon our laurels on celestial exploration. Only recently have we developed a sub-species of humanity with the means and desire to resume human exploration of the cosmos. Vast egos of individuals have combined with the vast fortunes brought about through globalization to create a new era of exploration in space. Yet even if we are successful in placing our marker on Mars, we still are barely extending our little toes beyond the Earth. Only when we can envision exploration beyond our solar system will we begin to place our imprint on the galaxy.
All of this will come to naught if we are unable to rise above the ants and eliminate our species innate drive to conquer other ants and take their things. The Drake equation describes the number of intelligent species in our galaxy which are detectable by our species. During my lifetime we have made great strides in establishing bounds on some of the variables in that equation, like the number of stars with planets, and soon we will have estimates on the number of planets that show marks of life (an atmosphere with oxygen). Yet the one variable in the Drake equation we can only slowly work on is the last one, the length of time a civilization is able to send signals into space where it can be detected by other civilizations. We have only our own example to extrapolate from, and the nearly 100 years we’ve transmitted electronic signals from our surface is dwarfed by the age of the universe. Small wonder we’ve not discovered other civilizations, and also it is no surprise we’ve hungered as a species for confirmation we are not alone in the universe.
Many of our species do not care about such questions. They are content to be bound by their belief system into worrying only about their own nation’s or religion’s status. I myself hope we can actually detect another signal coming to us during my lifetime, and such a discovery can serve as a unifying occasion for our species. Before we end our time as one of those who are sending signals out into the vast cosmos we inhabit.