Saturday, February 20, 2010

Who really are the aliens?

Whenever I watch Discovery channel or browse through science websites, there is always something being discussed about outer space and aliens. Everyone seems to be asking questions like "What would aliens look like?" and "Are they dangerous?" It seems that we have an obsession with aliens. The thought of aliens fascinates people for an unusually long time. I saw a cartoon about aliens with their huge green heads, black oblong eyes and fast UFOs when I was 7 years old and I can still vividly remember it. However, I can't remember my favourite toy at that time. This peculiar obsession got me thinking and led me to an interesting thought- Who really are the aliens?

Animals are intelligent. We know that. But if we compare their intelligence with that of humans, my first statement begins to sound like a politically correct one! The fact is that animals are no where as intelligent as humans. Our intelligence is anomalous in the biological system because no other animal, not even the smartest, possesses intelligence anywhere near ours.

Image from

This graph above is called a predator-prey curve. It is a generalized model which illustrates the changes of predator and prey populations with time. In this case, the predator is the fox while the prey is the hare. Initially, the hare population increases in number, as shown by point A. This could be due to an increase in the consumption of food, allowing more of the hares to live longer and reproduce. This larger population of hare provides more food for the fox population. The foxes then begin to prey on the increased hare population. With more food available, more of the foxes live longer and reproduce. This results in an increase in the fox population, as shown by point B. However, due to increased predation, the hare population drops till point C. With very little hare available for food, the fox population also begins to decrease in number till point D. The cycle then repeats itself and results in a sine curve for both the hare and fox population. It illustrates the biological continuity in an ecosystem without human beings.

Now, if one inserts intelligent human beings into the picture, something else happens. The human population increases exponentially while the animal population decreases exponentially. This is happening in today's world. The human race is expanding at an increasing rate. We are using up the Earth's resources rapidly and in the process, directly and indirectly, killing off animals at an increasing rate. Graphically, this result is very different from the previous predator-prey curve. It shows that in an ecosystem with animals alone, there is evident biological continuity. However, with humans and animals in an ecosystem together, the biological continuity get's disrupted. This shows that there is an anomaly in human nature relative to animal nature.

Another anomalous trait of humans is our fascination with the cosmos. Centuries of research and study has been done just to understand outer-space. I was reading the Feb 2010 issue of National Geographic Magazine and one of the opening articles described a plan on how humans could relocate to Mars. It vividly illustrated how Mars could be made hospitable for a human colony to live in. I was fascinated by the idea but then a thought struck me. Why do we want to leave? Why can't we be happy on Earth? How come other animals don't think about leaving? Is it due to their intelligence or their nature? I came up with a speculative, but possible, answer to explain this phenomenon.

Let me share a personal example. I was born in India and came to live in Singapore when I was 7 years old. India is my native country and I have a natural affinity for her; I always have a yearning to go back and stay in India. Similarly, I believe we humans also have a natural affinity for outer-space. I mean if we are ready to abandon Earth and settle somewhere else in outer-space, we must have a deep connection with outer-space. This connection could be a possible explanation of our fascination with the cosmos and our obsession with aliens.

Now for the big picture. We have many anomalous characteristics relative to animals. As I mentioned earlier, some examples are that we disrupt biological continuity, we are intelligent and we have a natural affinity with outer-space. We are also ready to leave Earth for another planet and are obsessed with alien life-forms. This evidently shows that our nature is very different from that of animals. Thus, we cannot be indigenous to Earth.

Regarding our curiosity/obsession with aliens, perhaps we should take a closer look at ourselves instead of continuing to look outside. Could the man in the mirror be the real alien?