Does science fiction hold the key to human interaction with aliens?

Riyadh Philosophy Conference discusses what humanity needs to learn and understand should alien contact ever occur

Prof Nicolas deWarren during his keynote talk 'Alien Encounters of Our Kind: Who shall we be for the Future?' at the Riyadh Philosophy Conference
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The world of science fiction is integral to understanding how human beings will be able to communicate and interact with future alien or artificial intelligence, the Riyadh Philosophy Conference heard on Friday.

“Science fiction literature is a form of philosophical literature, where writers have been continually trying to imagine what it means to become an interplanetary species,” said Nicolas deWarren, professor of philosophy at Penn State University.

During a panel discussion on the second day of the conference, Prof deWarren said that human beings should prepare for possible contact with extraterrestrial beings.

In order to do so, people should rely on the work of science fiction writers and philosophers who have pondered the question of how and why humans want to establish contact.

“Scientists should not write off the work of philosophers and sci-fi writers as their integral work on extraterrestrial contact and its ramifications precede space travel,” he said.

The works of writers such as Arthur C Clarke, Ann Leckie and Frank Herbert, have helped people to better understand why humans desire to go beyond Earth and explore other planets and existences.

"In trying to search for other life out there and [discover] whether we are alone, we have to embark on a journey to the limits of human imagination," said Dr Norbert Frischauf, chief technologist at SpaceTec Partners, who work together with the Saudi Space Commission.

Dr Mohammed Alwan, the man behind this conference, echoes the conviction that philosophy and philosophers need to be brought back to centre stage to get a better grasp of how humanity will and should react once extraterrestrial contact is established.

“Philosophy can help us formulate better answers to questions such as: Will human beings draw boundaries and frontiers on other planets as has been done on Earth? Is it possible for humanity to face challenges by exploring justly and authentically? What would that look like?” said Dr Alwan, chief executive of the Literature, Publishing and Translation Commission.

Prof deWarren said that science fiction has proven to be ahead of reality, asking questions that go “beyond the realm of now”.

“Many science fiction writers have even concluded that mathematics could be a primary way of communicating with aliens, and not the Arabic or English language,” he said, taking us beyond the comfort zone of words and opening up the possibility of communication via arithmetic.

Star Wars: behind the scenes in Abu Dhabi - video

Star Wars: behind the scenes in Abu Dhabi - video

He also reminded the audience that the relationship between humankind and aliens could be an antagonistic one, where an extraterrestrial presence would want to invade and take over.

Such an impending threat, which may be one of the strongest incentives for the human race to band together against the potential eradication of our species, led to the question as to what sort of event could become a binding agent between nations and peoples on Earth.

"Philosophy doesn't only focus on metaphysics or the question of the existence of God, the shallow perception that led to the notion that debating philosophy was controversial," Dr Alwan said.

“Ethics is a way to prepare the future for space exploration. This questioning nature sets us up as a race to better receive what lies ahead," Dr Alwan said.

Updated: December 02, 2022, 4:42 PM