Human Aliens

Human Aliens

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A key criticism of our search for extraterrestrial  intelligence, or SETI, is that we might be looking   in the wrong places. The wrong type of stars  or planets, or that we should be investigating   sightings here on Earth. But what if the easiest  place to find aliens is to look in the mirror? So today is our monthly Sci-Fi Sunday here on  SFIA, where we look at concepts better known   from sci-fi than science and ask how realistic  they are or if science allows any pathway to a   given technology or situation. And today we  are also making a long-awaited return to our   Alien Civilizations Series, as it’s been over  40 episodes since our last entry in the series,   Hungry Aliens, back in the spring. So, I thought  it was past time for a return, and when one of our  

audience members suggested this to me, I didn’t  even put it in one of our audience image polls,   I just stuck it right on the schedule, because  it’s a topic that’s long overdue. Because there’s   very few topics that come up in regard to aliens  more often than that we are in some way related   to them, that we’re a lost colony or that they  visited us and bred with us, or that they’re   doing it now to create some hybrid race, and  we will discuss those all today and more..  Now our Alien Civs Series is a somewhat tongue in  cheek twin to our Fermi Paradox series, as what   we do in Alien Civs is mostly to take a proposed  behavior of aliens and try to figure out why they   would be doing it, and if a given motivation  might have easier approaches. For instance,  

an alien invader might want Earth’s resources,  aliens wanting Earth’s mineral wealth or water   supply pops up a lot as plot motivation in sci-fi  but doesn’t make any sense when there are so many   more easily accessed or abundant supplies. And  since astronomy tell us, very emphatically,   that those supplies are still around us in every  direction, it would seem like an invader would   have chosen to bypass several rivers and lakes  and unguarded jewelry stores in order to come   to a small oasis to steal a tiny pond’s worth of  water and the cheap pair of gold-plated earrings   one resident had. From that we deduce that if  aliens were invading Earth for some resource, it   would be because they wanted something only Earth  had, like unique biological specimens or art.  Of course, they could just park in orbit and  say “Hey earthling, we’ll trade you a digital   copy of all your art and literature for this  clunky old fusion reactor design of ours. Also,   we have a couple other technologies we’ll file  patents on and use the cash to fund an embassy   and a bunch of biologists to collect samples  for us. Deal?” and we’d be making that deal so   fast they would think we had FTL, even if  they were demanding the physical contents   of the Smithsonian and Louvre as part of trade. It’s a good deal since they can also presumably  

take it by force, unless there’s other big actors  on the galactic stage who’d get them if they got   us. There’s always the option of aliens among  us too, that they’re hiding here, and decided   to take over, as we see with Skrulls and Nick Fury  in the recent Disney version of Secret Invasion.   There’s definitely some plot holes there in the  reasoning but one could imagine aliens sneaking   to hide among Earth as a protected planet from  some enemy that hunted them and over time just   melded into the population. Indeed, their disguise  might be rigorous, shape might be fluid in some   more advanced or post-biological civilizations  and they might be perfectly fine with cramming   their brains into cloned up human bodies. They  might not be planning to steal our planet either,   and view themselves as paying their rent by  slowly feeding us technology, possibly with the   ulterior motive of turning us into an eventual  ally against whoever forced them into hiding. 

That deal and the one I just mentioned  before it of tech for cultural data,   would both be examples of Technological  Uplifting, giving a primitive species more   advanced technology. Our other two types are  Physiological Uplifting, which would include   something like giving a critter some opposable  thumbs, so they can manipulate objects better,   and Neurological Uplifting, which is making them  smarter or otherwise adjusting their brain to   be more suited for civilization. More debatable  examples might be altering their genetics so they   bred fewer kids and didn’t rapidly overpopulate  or were less aggressive so they didn’t go to war   with each other constantly – or other aliens  once they became spacefaring themselves. For   more on the concept see our two-part episode  on Uplifting with John Michael Godier, or David   Brin’s amazing scifi classic, the Uplift Saga. And this falls into another major category of   reasons aliens might be coming here. That they are  interested in us specifically, or because they’re  

chasing someone who came here either because  they were interested in us or to hide among the   primitives. One example of all-of-the-above would  be an alien scientist coming here because it was   curious about the primitive apes a probe spotted,  and wanted to experiment on us and uplift us,   and its own species was coming here hunting  for him, or it, maybe because they wanted to   give it a medal, or put it in front of firing  squad, or possibly both at once. For the crime   of tampering with a poor primitive species and  making them into mutants, or, alternatively,   for creating a competitor race they now have  to decide if they need to kill off or not. 

Or maybe they think humans look  pretty good and want to get to   know them better, if you know what I mean. History or mythology, and modern sighting   testimony, is full of accounts of beings on  high coming here to have kids with humans,   the example of the Nephilim from Genesis  being perhaps best known, along with Zeus,   who virtually every major character in Greek  Mythology seems to be a son or daughter of,   but I’m not sure if I know of a single religion  that doesn’t have half-human demigods in it.  One notion is that these are literally true,  and angels or gods bred with humans, after all   there are a ton of witnesses and claims, so surely  they can’t all be wrong, and while I don’t agree,   that is nonetheless a reasonable stance  to take. People claim something a lot,   it is reasonable to consider that it might  be true. Another perspective is that these  

are so prevalent in mythology not because they  are real, but because the human mind likes to   ascribe ever more mighty deeds to its heroes  as the stories grow, and many a leader finds   it useful to claim godhood. So, you get a pantheon  built around this growing pool of quasi-historical   figures that were not superhuman in that way,  but which people believe were, and again this is   reasonable perspective to take and thus not one  that it’s surprising to find popped up all over   the world in many different times and cultures. Now the third option, and one of the points of   interest for today, is very appropriately a  hybrid of the first two, in that’s assuming   the beings from on high are aliens from outer  space rather than a supernatural being from a   higher place of reality. Or sometimes both, and  the line between very high tech and supernatural   powers can get blurry, as with Arthur C. Clarke’s  famous observation that any sufficiently advanced   technology is indistinguishable from  magic. And on this show, we refer to  

technology like that as Clarketech, in his honor. And again, this is a reasonable enough position.   Science has inclined us to expect natural  answers are the norm and the whole point of   the Fermi Paradox is that life arising naturally  is probably normal and the Universe is so huge   and ancient there’s probably more ancient galactic  empires throughout it than trees in a forest. Or   maybe grains of sand on a beach, as the Universe  is really, really big, and really, really old.   If they are around and were around back when  humanity was younger, there is no surprise   some of them might have visited our planet and  gotten interested in us. That their behaviors and  

actions would seem strange and majestic and be the  stuff of stories and legends to later generations.  So again, all three points are reasonable with  coherent logical arguments at their foundations,   and we have no way of disproving any of them, but  we can start asking some questions… and some have   surprising answers that can be used to support  the idea that aliens might have mixed in with us.  First off, the big one is that you  and I couldn’t breed with an animal,   let alone a tree, so the idea that some alien  evolved on another planet might be able to mix   genes with us is absurd. Except, it isn’t. I  don’t mean because of convergent evolution,   we looked at that in its own episode two years  back and while the basic premise of convergent   evolution has its strong points, this extends  to ideas like aliens also developing eyeballs   or fingers and thumbs. It doesn’t imply it’s any  more compatible with our biology than we are with   an octopus just because we both have eyeballs, or  that a program would run on two different computer   operating systems without any modification. This needs a few caveats though. First,   we don’t really know how alien reproduction  works, and most lifeforms on this planet do   not use sexual reproduction. They use mitosis,  the organism grows and eventually divides itself  

and all its internal bits and pieces, in a  process that’s more like cellular divorce   than marriage. There’s a lot of ways and reasons  two cells might come to mix DNA – or whatever they   use for that purpose – much as why they might  band together into multicellular organisms or   communities. One path might be to grab a cell  and hijack it, replacing its DNA with yours,   and it would be plausible enough that this could  result in a mix-and-match stalemate where hybrids   pop up too, or that on same alien world the way  life works there might allow for large crossings   of genetic data, so that half-human half-animal  hybrids were very common on their world.  They also might have more parasitic approaches  to reproduction, not just laying eggs in another   organism like a wasp does, but something more  elaborate such as an organism that just laid   an egg in the head of any large animal and it  grew into a new brain there. Or even something   like a second lobe of their brain and over time  this evolves to be more symbiotic and more like   neurological uplifting than body stealing. The  organism remembers its early life in a haze, and  

begins growing smarter, in a case reminiscent of  Algernon or Charlie Gordon from the story Flowers   for Algernon, though without the sad ending. Our first reaction to a case like this is disgust   at a parasite, but let us instead contemplate a  hypothetical alien, the Gordonites, whose race way   back in the early days was nothing but parasites  but as they began getting more clever to handle   their various prey getting smarter at evading or  neutralizing them, they developed a strong ability   at empathy to help predict their prey and fit  in among them covertly. Over time they grew more   civilized, and began caring for their prey and  raising them, much as humans did with livestock   and beasts of burden, particularly with those  beasts of burden. Eventually it got a lot closer   to a pet relationship too, because every Gordonite  dimly recalls their own time as a little alien   horse or puppy frolicking around the mushroom  forest and pasture of their homeworld before   their Gordonite spore was implanted and grew them  into a smart alien horse or dog, one that often   cared for and help tend their youthful  companions who weren’t chosen for pairing.  And the Gordonites came to view themselves  as doing those critters a serious favor since   all of them used to be one of those critters.  So, when the Gordonites get to space and start  

encountering primitive aliens, and discussing  whether or not uplifting primitives is ethical,   it’s a no brainer for them, time to  give these aliens some bigger brains.  Now they may simply use their vast knowledge of  genetics and other sciences to do this since it   wouldn’t be terribly likely they could jump into  any body, no matter how alien its physiology,   and just hijack or merge with it. A giant  squid has a donut-shaped brain for instance,   arachnids keep part of their brain in their  legs, and it would seem a stretch to imagine   any organism could become that versatile in  puppeteering entirely new body architecture.  

Possible though, but more importantly, humans  don't have the ability to magically grow hair   for cold climates or longer arms for reaching  high objects. We build tools and principally   around enhancing activities important to us. The Gordonites entire technology base is   founded on making them better and faster and  more versatile at hijacking or integrating   into a strange host organism. One of their big  quasi-historical or mythological figure is Beluga,   the Gordonite who first figured out  how to integrate into sea mammals of   their world and from which all the submarine  Gordonites claim descent. There is also Cetus,   the Gordonite who first integrated into one of  their big flying sky whales that could migrate   back and forth to the large and close moon  their planet has as an effective double planet,   and Cetus is regarded as the Gordonite equivalent  of a combination of Icarus and Neil Armstrong. 

Those sky whales and their cousins had carried  simple life to every larger planet and icy body   in their native solar system over a billion  years since they evolved, and as a result,   the Gordonites’ first forays into their  own solar system found countless examples   of simple ecologies with very diverse animal  life in them, often with animals big enough for   them to try integrating with. A lot of times that  wasn’t possible, and more so as they got to other   planets, but to them the normal reproduction  method was not inherently special or romantic,   so it was just a fine in their eyes to study  that life and find a way to change their DNA   a little to result in a locally natural  intelligence arising. And some of them,   using their superior tech, either built android  bodies for themselves or hijacked a recently dead   proto-human to fit in and refine their art. A symbolic and metaphorical integration. And  

if early Gordonites seemed superhuman, that  was merely all the personal tech they have,   same as any modern human might compared to a  primitive. Unfortunately, for the Gordonites, the   process they used here was not terribly effective  or stable, and because of how fluid their own body   shape tends to be from hosting inside hundreds  of different large animal types, they don’t   standardize their personal tech much in favor of  custom jobs. They never can buy clothes off the   rack, so to speak, or gadgets, it’s all tailored.  So when the already delayed messages from the   Gordonite homeworld, 1000 light years away,  arrived telling of a large schism and civil war,   the Gordonites here were on their own and couldn’t  reproduce because they only had those androids and   revivified bodies, the process they were using  on proto humans was making those proto-humans   smarter, not actually making more Gordonites  or humans smart enough for technology yet.  They weren’t very numerous and slowly died off and  when their home civilization finally got itself   put back together again and investigated this  planet, more than a hundred thousand years later,   they weren’t too sure what they were  looking at and what’s more, the empire   they had formed had broken into an awful lot  of factions, including some that, like humans,   were only spiritual descendants and not really  interested in any integrated empire with them,   but nobody wants an interstellar war,  that’s just a nightmare scenario all around,   so they have a lot treaties and some give Earth a  bit of blanket protection. So, some factions are  

on Earth trying to tinker with our DNA to make us  compatible hosts, some are interfering with that,   many are pursuing other agendas entirely.  One of the factions’ intelligence agencies   pronounced the confused and conspiratorial  situation on Earth “Even weirder and more   convoluted than the conspiracy theories they  have about Unidentified saucer shaped Skywhales   crewed by little gray bipedal Gordonites”. This gives us a good reminder, as absurd as a   half-human, half-alien character like Spock or  Deanna Troi might seem in a normal biological   context, with sufficient technology you can  brute-force make that happen. Even if your   half-human, half-tentacle-monster love-child  is the equivalent of an android using an   artificial fusion or reimagining of human and  tentacle-monster mind and body that can hatch   from it’s techno-womb and latch onto mom’s spine  and brain stem for safety and nourishment and   nurturing, like all good little tentacle monsters  do, till it's old enough to go to daycare.  As I like to say, the main point of technology  is to be able to have your cake and eat it   too. Something the Gordonites are fond of  saying too, though the literal translation   of their versions is about brains not cake…  but to each his, her, or its own, I suppose. 

The thing is, while I would have dismissed this  in past times as technically possible but rare,   one thing the internet has taught us, in its full  and traumatizing glory, is that tastes vary. And   while we wouldn’t normally have to worry much  about the dozen or so folks on our whole planet   who might happen to find marrying a giant leech  or starfish compelling, the situation changes   drastically when we start adding in post-scarcity,  post-biological, or Kardashev-scale civilizations   into the mix. When you have a star system  of quintillions of people, not billions,   those dozen or so folks proportionally become  12 billion in number, half again as many   people as currently alive. That’s definitely  a big fan club and funding base for going to  

visit earlier Earth and meet some Neanderthals. So too, post-scarcity civilizations are those   that permit someone to decide the following,  instead of dressing as a dragon for Halloween,   they’re going to have their brain surgically  implanted into an artificial one for the day   instead. Post-biological ones are the kind where  someone might dwell in virtual worlds in which   normal physics, let alone biology, doesn’t  even apply. So you start mixing in all those   together and our normal assumptions move a bit.  You may already have a weirder collection of   humans or human-descendant entities in just  one solar system than anything you’d find in   an entire universal catalog of critters  who made it to human-level intelligence   by their planet’s normal Darwinian evolution. What’s more, interstellar space is so big and  

slow to travel that you are almost bound to have  colonies near some other critters’ territory that   are pretty focused on those critters. If  you’re near the Klingons, those colonies   closest to them might be mostly indifferent,  with some hating them, and some loving them,   and none of that really being a true fringe  element because their proximity keeps it forefront   in minds. In that regard, finding out that a lot  of anthropologists wanted to get implanted into   androids or bio-duplicates of the primitive  aliens on some newly discovered world and   eventually went native is just not that hard to  believe. Indeed we see a parallel case to that in   Adrian Tchaikovsky’s excellent novel Children  of Ruin from his Children of Time series.  There’s many more scenarios for this sort  of mixing behavior. They may even have vast  

numbers of space habitats or virtual worlds back  in their home system that were some mix of nature   preserve and historical reenactment of our world,  possibly massively exceeding Earth’s own size too.  In the end, this really is a sequence of  alien behavior on Earth that is not really   implausible. So, what’s the hole in the reasoning? Well there’s quite a few of the normal variety   though most can be answered plausibly. But they  too get problematic and in conjunction make it   a tough sell. For instance, when we ask what  happened to the aliens who visited us long ago,   where’s their big empire that should only have  grown in size since, it can get tempting to point   out that simply assuming aliens are very rare  is no stranger than thinking they are extinct.  

But in this case, you’re already assuming  aliens were rare, as if they were common,   someone new would just show up and visit even if  the prior folks died off or ascended or whatever,   and now you’re stacking on the additional  improbability that they managed to wreck their   whole interstellar civilization, or get wrecked by  someone who then disappeared too, and we discussed   how unlikely that would be to happen in our Fermi  Paradox: Fallen Empires episode two months back.  So you’re replacing a seemingly improbable set of  circumstances with that same set of circumstances   plus another one on top of it, life is very rare  and dies off a lot, but not until it’s spread out   a bunch to go visit and guide other worlds for  whole centuries at a time. Remember our three   default perspectives on the Fermi Paradox beyond  intelligent life just being insanely rare is that   there isn’t a paradox, aliens are hanging out  here now, or there isn’t a paradox, space travel   and colonization is very hard, or there isn’t a  paradox, intelligent life just doesn’t occur much   and blows itself up before it can colonize much. For this sort of theory, that humans are an alien   colony or hybrid, it requires all of those,  and stretches each further. Life is very rare  

but space travel is practical, enough to let  someone reasonably near us in our own galaxy   have visited Earth in a big way, and yet so prone  to blowing itself up that it did, and blew itself   up on every world it had colonies or outposts,  but not until after being spacefaring for many   centuries at least. Super self-destructive  in inclination and capability but lucked   out for millenia. Possible but really improbable. Now an alternative is that we are aliens but from   4 billion years ago, and either simple microbes  permeate space in a Panspermia scenario,   seeding worlds naturally, or some  alien visited us 4 billion years ago   and accidentally vented some microbes who then  colonized the world, rather than those aliens.  The issue here is that the Universe has been  growing more hospitable to life in general as   it aged, with more heavy elements and planets  forming, and with each of those planets having   more time for life to begin and to develop.  So to assume someone was flying around the  

galaxy in spaceships 4 billion years ago is  fine, but then it strongly implies we should   have exponentially more of them popping up since  then, who all also do space travel. Which again is   requiring a sequence of events that is stacking  up unrelated improbable scenarios in a way that   Occam’s Razor will tend to cut to shreds. Though to be fair, we have lot of question   marks in our fossil record that take for granted  that a given hazy step did actually occur, when   in reality it might have been life was here and 2  billion years ago a clumsy xenobiologist studying   it forgot to sterilize their suit and introduced  alien microbes to the existing environment,   wiping out everything that was here back when  life was still primitive enough that we couldn’t   really show a definitive linkage between this  existing terrestrial amoeba and some utterly alien   microbe of a similar general design, microbial  convergent evolution is reasonably plausible,   especially when that convergence need not  be much more than the general shape it   had and it’s approximate chemical composition. We don’t have any DNA from anything much older   than our own recorded history, so technically  an alien war might have flat out sterilized   the planet and the victors felt bad about  the collateral damage that they had their   scientists’ guesstimate the ecosystem and  biology from video clips and bones. Do not   assume such an environment was even pyrotechnic,  as we discussed in Fallen Empires, they might have   unleashed a swarm intelligence that literally  surgically disassembled anything big enough to   hold a sentient intelligence - which might be a  bacteria if we’re talking post-biological life. 

But I think if they were in that league,  it’s not that they couldn’t have done that,   it is more that they are probably good enough to  genuinely put humpty-dumpty back together again,   since they probably were transmitting extreme  levels of details to command and control during   the process, where even the take out of single  rat – or it’s proto-mammalian ancestor – might   have gigabytes of reports on what went down. Which raises the option that they might have   done that rebuilding in a virtual world.  As we’ve often noted, if you’re already   post-biological yourself and don’t hate  other aliens, just don’t want to share the   Universe with them in a way that requires  you constantly looking over your shoulder,   you can just murder them all, copy their brains,  and convert their planet into a giant computer   able to run their simulated world and many more  for trillions of years. It’s not really ethical  

but it’s a strategically decent move and a lot  less evil than just killing them. Or maybe you’ve   got the tech to dump them into a pocket Universe  rather than a computer simulation, arguably the   same difference. And if you even feel a need to  justify the apparently empty universe they see,   you can just tweak a few astronomical details  to make the Fermi Paradox seem less paradoxical.  In the end there’s no issue with motivation here  being implausible, as we usually have with the   topics of the Alien Civilizations series, it’s  just that these options all require the aliens   to have shown up and done stuff and left,  and no one to have come by since then. Maybe   they set us up well as children they loved but  wanted to let us finish growing up on our own,   though that would seem a stretch since that  analogy is implying abandoning your kids at   some point is a healthy choice, but maybe they  left us a big inheritance, a small cluster of   stars of our of own to settle nearby and  a million star fortresses concealed around   the solar system to protect us from predators. Still sounds like bad parenting though. Of course,   they could be keeping their distance for  fear of getting hit with a species-scale   paternity suit in the galactic courts, they  owed us money, and a hundred thousand years   of compound interest and late fees might  bring down even the mightiest star empire.

Speaking of Star empires and getting  out into the cosmos, a moment ago I was   talking about how things might look if some  advanced civilization had seeded our planet   at some point and the idea of seeding life  and seeing it grow all the way up to being   a civilization is one that’s always intrigued me. If it intrigues you too, there’s an excellent and   free-to-play science-based game called Cell to  Singularity that walks you up the evolutionary   and tech trees from that first moment all the  way through a technological singularity and   settling neighboring worlds, and I’m particularly  glad to say that Cell to Singularity’s developers   are part of our audience, so it also explores  many concepts and themes we’ve discussed and   the game is accurate and based on real science  and research, even though it has wonderful sci   fi theme too. Explore from Early Earth out to  among the stars, in a game that fits easily   into your busy day and again is free to play.  Try it out on Steam or on your phone, available  

on iOS and Google Play, and start building your  civilization up from Cell to Singularity today. So that will wrap us up for another Sci Fi Sunday  and next month’s episode will continue our look   at alien civilizations with Nihilistic aliens,  civilizations that may have decided that purpose   in life and free will didn’t exist. But we have  plenty of episodes before then, starting this   Thursday with how to build domes on Mars, and  if we should compared to underground habitats,   and we will see the construction options and weigh  the pros and Cons next Thursday, November 16th,   2023. Then we’ll examine the astronomy of Double  Planets, where the big object in the sky isn’t   a moon but a much larger and bluer and greener  planet, and ask if life might be able to arise   on such worlds and migrate between them. Then our  monthly livestream Q&A is canceled this month,   and indeed next month will be our last Livestream  for the foreseeable future, but we will still   be having a short episode that day on Space  Hygiene, our most recent poll-winning topic,   before closing the Month out on November 30th  with Agriworlds, and a discussion of how you   could farm an entire planet. And if you didn’t  catch it already, our feature length episode,  

the Fermi Paradox Compendium of Terms  and Solutions came out earlier this week. If you’d like to get alerts when those and other  episodes come out, make sure to hit the like,   subscribe, and notification buttons. You  can also help support the show on Patreon,   and if you want to donate and help in other ways,  you can see those options by visiting our website, You can also catch all  of SFIA’s episodes early and ad free on   our streaming service, Nebula, along with hours  of bonus content, at 

As always, thanks for watching,  and have a Great Week!

2023-11-14 04:09

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