A New Study Uses Game Theory and Philosophy to Challenge Pessimistic Views on Extraterrestrial Encounters
The age-old narrative is familiar: Advanced extraterrestrials arrive on Earth, seemingly offering peace, only to harbor a hidden agenda that threatens human existence. Yet a recent study challenges this grim outlook, employing game theory and Hobbesian philosophy to explore what first contact with an alien civilization might actually look like.
Common arguments against welcoming alien contact often point to human history for precedent. When Europeans arrived in the Americas, the outcome was disastrous for the indigenous populations, including mass genocide. Hence, some believe that an encounter with an advanced alien race could spell doom for us as well.
A Different Kind of Exploration
However, the study argues that this comparison might be flawed. Unlike European colonizers, who had conquest and exploitation in mind, extraterrestrial visitors may not harbor the same intentions. Besides, the study suggests that it’s more plausible our initial interaction with aliens would be via radio communication, allowing us to gauge their intentions from a safe distance.
The study employs the concept known as the Hobbesian Trap or Schelling’s dilemma to consider the potential pitfalls of first contact. The logic here is similar to meeting a stranger in a dangerous situation: while cooperation would be the ideal outcome, the fear of betrayal often leads to pre-emptive hostility. Such a risk-averse mindset has even been cited as one explanation for the Fermi Paradox—why we’ve yet to find intelligent alien life.
A Reward-Oriented Approach: Breaking the Trap
However, the paper, published in Space Policy, challenges the traditional Hobbesian outlook. It suggests that rather than adopting a ‘better safe than sorry’ approach, both humans and aliens are more likely to benefit from a reward-based stance.
If we were to make contact with an alien race, we would have crucial information about them. They’d be from the same physical universe, facing similar evolutionary hurdles and societal challenges. This shared history would make the prospects for cooperation and mutual benefit highly likely. Therefore, the study argues, our best strategy—and theirs—would be to seek a beneficial relationship.
Axioms of First Contact: Rules of Engagement
Based on this argument, the paper introduces the Axioms of First Contact—a set of guidelines for establishing contact with an alien civilization. The axioms promote the idea that communication between us is feasible, that a cautious but optimistic approach should be adopted, and that first contact is unlikely to be an existential threat due to the substantial benefits of mutual interaction.
When people trust and work together, we create a safer, better world. According to the study, this principle might extend to our relationships with extraterrestrial beings as well.
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