Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

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Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Sep 06, 2013 5:29 pm UTC

While the other thread was a bit of a disaster, there is some potential for interesting discussion here.

Why would aliens from light years away have any interest in visiting Earth? What conditions would lead to them being interested in egalitarian trade with us, versus subjugation, versus annihilating us without a second thought to use our resources for their own ends?

There's already an old thread about setting a currency exchange rate for an alien/human economy, but it was fairly narrow in scope and, as mentioned, fairly old. So if the minutiae of exchange rates interest you, you can revive that discussion in this thread as well.
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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby davidstarlingm » Fri Sep 06, 2013 5:54 pm UTC

I'd imagine that there are three broad classes of reasons-for-a-visit:

  • Destruction. This is probably the most likely reason. Just like a tribe of African natives would wipe out a pride of lions that set up too close to their village, so an advanced alien species would quite readily glass the Earth if they worried we might pose a threat to them. Other reasons for destruction are ideological imperatives ("we're the superior race") and religious motivation ("cleanse the galaxy of all beings not created by N'kahle'eh!!").
  • Something they want. This one is pretty broad, and ranges from scientific observation (which could conceivably be peaceful) to building a nature preserve (unpleasant, but at least we survive) to experimentation/enslavement (even less pleasant) to resource acquisition (least likely, but also the lowest chance for humanity's survival).
  • Peaceful congress. There's a very slim chance that the aliens would automatically value us as sentient beings, be capable of communicating with us, and value interaction or trade. This is the only truly beneficial outcome for us. It's also the least probable class of reasons.
The fact that the more probable outcomes are typically the least pleasant ones feeds back into Reasons For Destruction as seen above.

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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby Klear » Fri Sep 06, 2013 5:59 pm UTC

Suppose we got interstellar travel capability... why would we visit aliens?

I'd like to think that we wouldn't interfere with planets with life, even if there was no intelligent civilization.

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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby Izawwlgood » Fri Sep 06, 2013 6:02 pm UTC

Genetic materials (which is actually probably closer to the next point) and 'intangibles', like art, music, technologies, ideas.

Luxury goods might also be a thing, but ultimately, I wager they're more in line with the intangibles; genuine Terran bedspread! Centaurian prawn fillets!

I doubt an intergalactic species is going to utilize resources on an interstellar level, unless wormhole tech is a thing.
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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby Yoshisummons » Fri Sep 06, 2013 6:29 pm UTC

Like others said trade in non-bulk goods luxuries and ideas/art etc. and even the potential ability to have a group of sentient beings that think very different than you(provided the small chance of them even recognizing us as creatures worth talking to (apes and angels and all of that).

A culturally motivated reason that isn't directly related to anything tangible such as xenophobia on anything within sight Tyranid style not necessarily tied to protection, to perhaps even an overactive maternal drive to protect and nurture the pre-FTL humans.

"Humanity is running out of resources, so we travel 200+ light years to crack planets for Silicon" When I heard that being said in Dead Space I was laughing so hard :lol:.

Edit: Oh and there is the whole humans are special line but that makes me feel dirty saying.
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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby Adam H » Fri Sep 06, 2013 8:23 pm UTC

I would think that by far the most likely motivation would be to study us.

That's why we'd visit aliens, yes?
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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby Klear » Fri Sep 06, 2013 9:34 pm UTC

Adam H wrote:I would think that by far the most likely motivation would be to study us.

That's why we'd visit aliens, yes?


I was just about to post it. Study, and perhaps communication, if at all possible (and deemed desirablke/ethical - I'm thinking the prime directive here).

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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby Iulus Cofield » Fri Sep 06, 2013 9:52 pm UTC

I agree that the most likely reasons would be for exploration and curiosity. Even if they are drastically more technologically advanced than us in every possible field, just the potential adaptations from our relatively primitive technology could be enormous. What if they had clockwork supercomputers but for some reason they had never developed transistors? A 486 processor could revolutionize their technology.

Trade is totally out of the question. Even if they could travel at 10 times the speed of light, we're still talking a six month journey just between Earth and Alpha Centauri and 10,000 years to go from one edge the galaxy to the far side. I can't conceive of any bulk trade good that could offset those kinds of costs, barring convenient wormholes.

I could also see them coming here for colonization. Their planet might be overcrowded or approaching destruction/uninhabitability and they need to send a chunk of their population elsewhere or, like humans, they might just value the struggle of going to live in different solar system. Whether or not they were peaceful about it would depend on how far ahead of us they are (Do you they consider us more intelligent than a chimp?), ability to intercommunicate (These monkeys are clever, too bad they don't have "language".), their values (Disgusting alien scum!), and their numbers (It's too late to go somewhere else, should we really sacrifice ourselves just because this planet can't support both of our populations at once?).

It's also worth noting that aliens most likely wouldn't even know we exist until they enter our solar system. They'd have no ability to do so at all if they left their planet before 1900.

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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby Klear » Fri Sep 06, 2013 11:31 pm UTC

Iulus Cofield wrote:It's also worth noting that aliens most likely wouldn't even know we exist until they enter our solar system. They'd have no ability to do so at all if they left their planet before 1900.


With the apparent relative scarcity of life in the galaxy, I doubt they'd come to us by accident. I think they would have scouted us out beforehand.

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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby Iulus Cofield » Fri Sep 06, 2013 11:39 pm UTC

By what means though? Doesn't that alter the parameters somewhat to assume a scouting expedition?

Not that we need to be too concerned with realism here.

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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby Klear » Fri Sep 06, 2013 11:48 pm UTC

I think it's much more likely that the first contact will be with an automatic probe rather than an expedition (if we somehow manage to detect it).

Alternatively, perhaps they could have some means of detecting out presence on interstellar scale? Though if I knew how they'd do it, I'd patent it right away...

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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby Xanthir » Sat Sep 07, 2013 12:52 am UTC

Yeah, as multiple people have noted, there is *no* basic resource you can get at the bottom of a planetary gravity well that you can't get much more cheaply out of asteroids, comets, and other intersteller media. Raw elements are nearly free once you're already in space, and the few things that are still rare are rare on Earth too.

The sole reason to come into a gravity well is to deal with the things *on* the planet, rather than *in*. There's lots of reasons to want to study alien life or intelligence, and once they discover there's a technologically advanced race, that opens up the trade of cultural artifacts.

And... that's about it. You'd only land on a planet if you wanted something from the life there.
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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby PM 2Ring » Sat Sep 07, 2013 2:33 pm UTC

Klear wrote:I think it's much more likely that the first contact will be with an automatic probe rather than an expedition (if we somehow manage to detect it).

Alternatively, perhaps they could have some means of detecting out presence on interstellar scale? Though if I knew how they'd do it, I'd patent it right away...


Are we assuming the aliens have some form of FTL?

I guess if the aliens civilization is sufficiently stable they could slowly map the galaxy with non-FTL von Neumann probes. And (presuming they are oxygen breathers) the probes could preferentially target planets with high levels of free oxygen in their atmospheres. While high O2 doesn't prove the presence of life, it's probably a pretty good indicator, and it can be detected optically from quite a distance even with our "primitive" technology.

Sure, just because a planet has life doesn't mean it will necessarily develop intelligent life, or if it does, that the intelligent life will be at the destination when your probe arrives, it's still better than checking every ball of rock in the galaxy.

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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby speising » Sat Sep 07, 2013 9:35 pm UTC

all of this depends very much on the level of technology available, and on the physiology of the aliens.
if they are lumbering around in generation ships, they'll probably want to settle here, if earth suits them. it is hardly conceiveable they could wipe us out without making earth inhospitable in the process, unless they can infect us with an efficient biological weapon. so either there'd be a brief shooting with a big hulk for us to investigate in the end, or they would try to trade knowledge for settling rights.

on the oher hand, a civilization zipping around in ftl, with days or weeks of travel time, wouldn't see us as any kind of equals. so depending of their interests they'd wipe us, or study us and take anything that tickles their fancy, possibly giving us some glass beads in exchange.

if there are a lot of intelligences out there, we'd probably not be very interesting at all, which would almost seem as the best case scenario. but as this is an improbable scenario, what with fermi and all, we'd be at their mercy.

finally, if earthly living conditions are as rare as we think, our living space is a very valuable resource, the only one for an ftl culture in fact. if they want it, they'll take it.

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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby Copper Bezel » Sun Sep 08, 2013 2:07 am UTC

If Earthly living conditions (our rather, any conditions within the livable range for a particular species) are as rare as we think, then our living space is valuable to the tiniest subset of hypothetical species. Even with FTL, is it really likely that a species would be able to find another planet it could actually live on without life support of some kind and without terraforming? And that finding one will be easier than creating similar habitats, and that a species gets to the point of such galactic-scale frivolities before "evolving" into computronium?

I can't help the image of a species who comes to Earth to invade Antarctica. That's cool, guys. We weren't actually using it for anything.

I always find discussions of realistic alien motivations weird. Within our sample size of one, 100% of known intelligent species* do 99.999% of everything they do according to totally arbitrary psychology and custom that couldn't have been predicted from knowledge of Earth's biology 100 Ma ago. And Earth's biology took a path we couldn't have remotely predicted from total knowledge of its LUCA.

* Well, for certain definitions of intelligent. Dolphins mostly make sense, save for maybe the sport-hunting of seals, etc.
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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby Meteoric » Sun Sep 08, 2013 4:49 am UTC

I think it's worth adding the possibility that aliens might come here for the star, rather than the planets/asteroids/etc. Either for sciencey reasons (but Sol's pretty unremarkable as stars go, isn't it?) or to turn it into a Matrioshka brain or something. Finding a radio-capable species on the third planet might just be a pleasant surprise/annoying obstacle/irrelevant factoid/overriding threat, depending on their disposition.

edit: removed an extra extra word
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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby Thesh » Sun Sep 08, 2013 10:21 am UTC

I haven't seen it mentioned yet, but there is the possibility that their motivation for visiting us could be purely altruistic. Maybe they simply want to help us clean up our environment, unite the world, and end all hunger and poverty.
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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby snowyowl » Mon Sep 09, 2013 9:22 am UTC

Motivations of aliens to destroy Earth: they want to build a hyperspace bypass though our star system.

That's the general tone of the interaction with aliens I think we're most likely to have. It wouldn't necessarily be malicious, but if an alien race has some huge engineering project they're building, the last thing they'd worry about would be an intelligent species on one planet that's not a threat to them.

Hyperspace bypasses are obviously a joke, but imagine their engines produce a lot of dangerous radiation and they also decide to get a gravitational boost from the Sun. Or they need so many resources that blowing up planets is actually cost-effective. Or there's an industrial accident, or a war, and the wreckage barrels into our solar system at relativistic speeds. The aliens don't need to notice us to destroy us.
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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon Sep 09, 2013 1:06 pm UTC

Thesh wrote:I haven't seen it mentioned yet, but there is the possibility that their motivation for visiting us could be purely altruistic. Maybe they simply want to help us clean up our environment, unite the world, and end all hunger and poverty.
I think the Childhoods End scenario is quite feasible. 'Intelligent' life is rare, so finding it, even in the primitive pre-quantic vibronoium phase of technological advancement, means it is cultivated, observed, protected.
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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby PM 2Ring » Mon Sep 09, 2013 2:16 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:
Thesh wrote:I haven't seen it mentioned yet, but there is the possibility that their motivation for visiting us could be purely altruistic. Maybe they simply want to help us clean up our environment, unite the world, and end all hunger and poverty.
I think the Childhoods End scenario is quite feasible. 'Intelligent' life is rare, so finding it, even in the primitive pre-quantic vibronoium phase of technological advancement, means it is cultivated, observed, protected.


I'd expect altruistic aliens to obey the Prime Directive, unless they believe that they need to reveal themselves to prevent us from wiping ourselves out &/or doing severe damage to our planetary ecosystem. Surely, a sapient species should be permitted to develop in their own way, both out of respect for their autonomy, and to promote galactic cultural diversity. But I suspect intervention is preferable to extinction / ecocide.

I admit that the motivations of galaxy-roaming aliens may be totally incomprehensible to mere Earth-bound humans. In which case, there's not much point in having this thread. So for the sake of discussion I prefer to assume otherwise. :)

As others have pointed out, there's little point in aliens coming to Earth for mere material resources. Even if they have some form of FTL technology it would be ludicrous to travel all this way just to extract matter from the bottom of our gravity well. So the only "trade goods" that we have that could be of conceivable interest to aliens would be information-based. Our works of art, our histories, philosophies, and religions; our planet's geological & biological history and genomic data. Etc.

Of course, aliens may not be able to fully appreciate our various artworks if their sensory organization is too alien to ours. That would be a shame.


FWIW, Childhood's End was one of the first SF novels I ever read; I was probably too young, and I guess I ought to re-read it at some stage...

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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby scarecrovv » Mon Sep 09, 2013 3:17 pm UTC

PM 2Ring wrote:
Izawwlgood wrote:
Thesh wrote:I haven't seen it mentioned yet, but there is the possibility that their motivation for visiting us could be purely altruistic. Maybe they simply want to help us clean up our environment, unite the world, and end all hunger and poverty.
I think the Childhoods End scenario is quite feasible. 'Intelligent' life is rare, so finding it, even in the primitive pre-quantic vibronoium phase of technological advancement, means it is cultivated, observed, protected.
I'd expect altruistic aliens to obey the Prime Directive, unless they believe that they need to reveal themselves to prevent us from wiping ourselves out &/or doing severe damage to our planetary ecosystem. Surely, a sapient species should be permitted to develop in their own way, both out of respect for their autonomy, and to promote galactic cultural diversity. But I suspect intervention is preferable to extinction / ecocide.


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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon Sep 09, 2013 4:22 pm UTC

Just a discussion point, but I don't see 'protection of the ecosystem' as particularly important over 'ushering young sapient species into the Galactic Federation of Really Awesome Smart Things'. Ecosystems are just the equilibrium state of diverse life. Sapient life popping up in said ecosystems will probably struggle to balance progress and not destroying the ecosystem, and it is my opinion that sentient life elsewhere will preferentially protect sentient life over ecosystems.
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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby speising » Mon Sep 09, 2013 5:22 pm UTC

You think aliens would make a distinction between humans and any other species in earth's ecosphere?

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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon Sep 09, 2013 6:01 pm UTC

speising wrote:You think aliens would make a distinction between humans and any other species in earth's ecosphere?
Assuming aliens are looking for intelligent tool using globe trotting and space faring critters, yes, I think aliens that have observed Earth for more than an hour will ignore the dogs, cows, whales, chimps, and dolphins of the planet, and instead address a human.

The ecosphere of Earth is very clearly being used, manipulated, and in some cases, out right controlled by us, the dominant species of the planet. Whether an alien race would deem us intelligent enough to contact is another matter entirely, but no alien race in search of intelligence is going to be confused.
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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby Thesh » Mon Sep 09, 2013 6:26 pm UTC

It's also possible that the aliens aren't very intelligent, and are instead interested in earth technologies like homeopathic medicine and structured water.
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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby Iulus Cofield » Mon Sep 09, 2013 9:44 pm UTC

A very naive species could seriously benefit from the natural human ability to make the unreal real(ish).

Altruistic aliens are an interesting question. If they value us as unique cultures, then they'd most likely take a Prime Directive approach, because they would probably realize that any kind of interference would most likely destroy us, culturally anyway. The Three Worlds Collide's Super Happys are also a very real possibility, if the aliens value us as intelligent life for the sake of intelligent life and the particulars about us as unimportant. A paternalistic mix of both could be interesting, too. They might refuse to share technology with us, but if we start any wars they'll vaporize the offenders.

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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby Copper Bezel » Tue Sep 10, 2013 1:17 am UTC

A very naive species could seriously benefit from the natural human ability to make the unreal real(ish).

In humans, don't we mostly call that ability naivete?
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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby Iulus Cofield » Tue Sep 10, 2013 3:42 am UTC

I believe it's called marketing.

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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby davidstarlingm » Tue Sep 10, 2013 5:42 pm UTC

I, for one, was endlessly amused with how the technoalien TET construct in Oblivion merely wanted water from Earth's oceans.

Water is, for all chemical and physical purposes, exhaust. What would they be using it for? Reaction mass for a FTL drive? I mean, sure, Earth's gravity is fairly low for the amount of inert liquid on its surface, but surely one could come up with a better reaction mass than that.

Although perhaps certain things like gold ARE more easily obtainable on Earth than elsewhere. Earth's fairly stable geologic processes have allowed for lots of gold ore to be collected in veins and whatnot; I doubt gold can be found in such high concentration anywhere else, unless you're willing to go diving into a gas giant (which has a much higher deltaV).

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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby speising » Tue Sep 10, 2013 6:05 pm UTC

better than aliens who invade earth, only to be defeated because they are allergic to water. which covers only 70% of the surface, so they couldn't very well have known they'd run into trouble...

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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby Copper Bezel » Tue Sep 10, 2013 6:07 pm UTC

Ha.

Well, I'm suddenly glad I avoided the Cowboys and Aliens reference earlier in the thread, now I know that the movie secretly made sense.

Edit: Dropped a word.
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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby Klear » Tue Sep 10, 2013 8:08 pm UTC

davidstarlingm wrote:I, for one, was endlessly amused with how the technoalien TET construct in Oblivion merely wanted water from Earth's oceans.

Water is, for all chemical and physical purposes, exhaust. What would they be using it for? Reaction mass for a FTL drive? I mean, sure, Earth's gravity is fairly low for the amount of inert liquid on its surface, but surely one could come up with a better reaction mass than that.

Although perhaps certain things like gold ARE more easily obtainable on Earth than elsewhere. Earth's fairly stable geologic processes have allowed for lots of gold ore to be collected in veins and whatnot; I doubt gold can be found in such high concentration anywhere else, unless you're willing to go diving into a gas giant (which has a much higher deltaV).


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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby PM 2Ring » Wed Sep 11, 2013 2:55 am UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:Just a discussion point, but I don't see 'protection of the ecosystem' as particularly important over 'ushering young sapient species into the Galactic Federation of Really Awesome Smart Things'. Ecosystems are just the equilibrium state of diverse life. Sapient life popping up in said ecosystems will probably struggle to balance progress and not destroying the ecosystem, and it is my opinion that sentient life elsewhere will preferentially protect sentient life over ecosystems.


Perhaps I've read too much Brin (the Uplift saga), but I reckon that a sapient species that trashes its ecosystem may not be considered to be high-grade candidates for membership in the Galactic Federation. The Federation may feel it necessary to compromise our autonomy in order to prevent us from killing ourselves (or at least severely hampering our own progress) and reducing the diversity of our planet. Apart from the sentimental reasons to protect non-sapient species, if genome / biological information is considered valuable by the aliens, then causing major ecological disruption and the extinction of species is essentially burning potentially valuable galactic currency.

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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Sep 11, 2013 3:24 am UTC

Maybe. Or maybe they'll view ecosystems as tools, and any individual species is only as important as it's function or novelty within the system at large. That grazing primate? Meh. That keystone predator? Useful.

A civilization that has colonized multiple worlds and bent physics to their whim is, I would hazard, probably not terribly touchy-feely about the horrors of deforestation. Or shit, maybe they're rocking a seamless integration of biotechnology, and are the most annoying of Cosmic Jainists, eating only starlight and cosmic debris, worshiping at the altar of cell division.
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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby gmalivuk » Wed Sep 11, 2013 11:46 pm UTC

The reason Uplift aliens are environmentalists, iirc, is because they place the highest value on sapience, and destroying an ecosystem amounts to destroying any potential presapient life forms in the process.

Sure, it's by no means meant to prove that galactic civilization *must* be strongly environmentalist, but it does give a pretty reasonable explanation as to why it *might* be.
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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby Izawwlgood » Thu Sep 12, 2013 1:07 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:The reason Uplift aliens are environmentalists, iirc, is because they place the highest value on sapience, and destroying an ecosystem amounts to destroying any potential presapient life forms in the process.

Sure, it's by no means meant to prove that galactic civilization *must* be strongly environmentalist, but it does give a pretty reasonable explanation as to why it *might* be.
I haven't read the series, and that's certainly a sound logic to stand by, but surely there's a statute of limitations on that shit? I mean, am I monster for forgetting to water the plant in my office, because a million years from now that species of ivy may start experimenting with tool use and math...?
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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby ahammel » Thu Sep 12, 2013 2:55 am UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:I haven't read the series, and that's certainly a sound logic to stand by, but surely there's a statute of limitations on that shit? I mean, am I monster for forgetting to water the plant in my office, because a million years from now that species of ivy may start experimenting with tool use and math...?
By Galactic lights in the Uplift books, no, there is no statute of limitation. If you fuck up your ecosystem though incompetence, your species pays for it until it goes extinct, possibly very soon and as a result of that incident. The only reason human weren't evicted from Earth for bad management was that, unlike almost every other intelligent species in the galaxy, we weren't uplifted, and therefore couldn't be expected to know any better.
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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Sep 12, 2013 3:04 am UTC

Also, because we had managed to get our shit together and even started uplifting our own client species (chimps) by the time the rest of the galaxy became aware of our existence.
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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby ahammel » Thu Sep 12, 2013 3:15 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:Also, because we had managed to get our shit together and even started uplifting our own client species (chimps) by the time the rest of the galaxy became aware of our existence.
Right. Any aliens we encounter in real life would presumably be immune to plot convenience, and might be perfectly happy to ship us all off to the Gamma Boötis penal colonies for extinguishing the Neanderthals.
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Re: Motivations of Aliens to Visit Earth

Postby Copper Bezel » Thu Sep 12, 2013 4:42 am UTC

If that had happened, since it didn't. Then again, maybe species that fuss about playing galactic police only have a twentieth century understanding of population genetics re: human evolutionary history.
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