Our first encounter with E.T. technology could be as baffling to us as a smartphone would have been to a Neandertal.
Despite the impression one gets from textbooks, our current knowledge of the universe represents a small island in a vast ocean of ignorance. The scientific enterprise is all about expanding the landmass of this island. And it is fun to engage in the activity of gaining knowledge; knowing everything in advance would have been much more boring. Still, it would be shocking to learn all at once of the discoveries of an alien civilization that been doing scientific and technological exploration for billions of years, in contrast to our mere few centuries. The eminent science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke codified this idea in the third of his three laws : “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Put another way, members of such a civilization would appear to us as a pretty good approximation to God.
Is there something we might be missing already here and now? When looking around us, the most mysterious phenomenon we encounter routinely is the sophistication of complex life. Some scientists wondered whether life itself was seeded on Earth by an alien civilization in a process called “directed panspermia.” One can imagine a probe that brought the seeds of life in the form of microbes or instead a 3-D printer that produced these seeds out of the raw materials on Earth based on a prescribed blueprint. The universal left-handedness (chirality) of all life-forms on Earth without exception can be interpreted as stemming from a single panspermia event, be it natural (through a rock arriving from space) or artificial in origin . Even in this context, our imagination of what aliens might do will improve once we are able to produce synthetic life in the laboratory.
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