• Dirk Schulze-Makuch

Preparing for the Discovery of Alien Life

Exploring Otherness on Earth and Beyond

Image Credit: Ai Takeda (Unsplash).

A new research initiative, funded by the Einstein Foundation, is officially starting in a few days. It is called Exploring Otherness on Earth and Beyond and consists of an interdisciplinary team of researchers, mostly from Berlin, Germany, with the goal to integrate perspectives from natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities. It is based on the idea that humans have long struggled with “otherness,” mostly with other human races and ethnicities. Aliens would be on the extreme end of this category because we expect them not to be related nor familiar to us.

One major aspect of the research initiative is how humans would react to the discovery of alien life. From a cultural or societal viewpoint, alien life is often perceived as strange or frightening. Encountering this type of extreme “otherness” may even threaten the cohesion of our societies. Some people may welcome aliens with open arms and expect them to solve our problems— from climate change to cancer. Perhaps they’ll even be considered gods. Others would be vehemently opposed because they would fear that aliens would take over Earth and humans would be at their mercy.

On the other hand, from a natural science standpoint exploring alien environments and proving the existence of alien life is considered something desirable. We could learn so much more about the diversity of life and biological processes. It would also resolve the ancient philosophical question of whether we are alone in the Universe.

The goal of Exploring Otherness on Earth and Beyond is to establish a bridge between these different perspectives and gain new insights. Three preliminary identified questions which we are trying to solve are:

1. How can we deal with environmental changes due to natural catastrophes such as an asteroid striking Earth or solar plasma storms?

2. How can we deal with possible scenarios and challenges of colonization of other planetary objects such as the Moon and Mars?

3. How can we prepare for facing the discovery of alien life?

The discovery of alien life is something we have to anticipate in the near future. It may even be within the next decade as samples will be returned from Mars. And just a few days ago, Chinese researchers claimed to have possibly detected intelligent life with their telescope. This claim sparked a lot of interest but is most likely a false alarm. Nevertheless, not being prepared would be a mistake— as we’ve learned from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Certainly, the effects of such a discovery will depend largely on whether we find microbial life or intelligent life. If it would be intelligent life, it makes a big difference whether it would be nearby or far away.

For more details of the research initiative and a project timeline, see

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