War of the Worlds

Will the Martians land in New Jersey? Or even on Horsell Common, as in the original story? Given the choice, I would hope it would be Horsell, which is about a mile from where I live. If we are all going to die, I might as well get a front row view.

Of course, there are no Martians. There may, or may not, be intelligent life outside this solar system (see my article "Life on other planets") but there is almost certainly none elsewhere in this solar system.

But if there is extra-terrestrial life, the two main themes of science fiction - that we will either trade with the aliens or make war on them - are both almost certainly wrong.

Both trade and war assume two things, one of which is unlikely and the other is as near to impossible as makes no difference. Both assume that we have something the aliens want. Trade also assumes the reverse. But this seems unlikely. The TV series "V" assumed that Earth was unusual in being exceptionally well-endowed with water. Maybe - though there are trillions of tons of it floating in ice form in the asteroid belt. But life-forms dependent on water are not going to have evolved on planets without water or on which it is in short supply. It is extremely unlikely that we have anything in abundance that the aliens really need. Need so much they will travel for years across space to get it and travel years back again.

There is a chance they might want our entire planet - but that would seem to preclude the possibility of trade.

So what of war? Both war and trade presume an acceptance of equality. We don't trade with rabbits. When humans discovered Madagascar, they neither traded with the lemurs nor declared war. They took it.

It is absurd to assume that two neighbouring species can have started to evolve on the same day and evolved at the same rate. Yet a combined error of 0.01% over the past million years would mean a difference in technology of 100 years - the difference between cavalry charges and inter-continental ballistic missiles. A difference of thousands or millions of years is more likely.

If the aliens have travelled here, they are the more advanced species. (We will not be travelling to other systems for at least a century, probably two or three). And if they are centuries more advanced than us, and choose to take our planet, it won't be war, it will be pest control.

Of course, if no-one comes here, in a few centuries time we may be the space-faring species encountering species thousands of years less advanced than use. For now, any encounter is likely to mean they either ignore us or wipe us out.

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