Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On Loathing Stories of Aliens (and somehow, Chimay)

Podcasts are not like books or movies in that one is not compelled to go back to them again, even if they are good ones. But I actually listened to this Leonard Lopate Show on Growing Aliens in a Laboratory twice. Sure, the guest host Aasif Mandvi’s fresh voice and genuine intrigue are enough to engaged anyone, but for me, the episode made me realize why I loathed stories of aliens.

Alien stories get mixed up with conspiracy theories and premises of not-so-inspired sci-fi books. Our depictions of them are often reduced to grotesque creatures from another universe threatening the future of the human race (e.g., Independence Day) or a friendlier version with tremendous “merch” opportunities (e.g., E.T.). On the scientific front, we get excited when we discover underground ice on Mars because that shows that life is possible.

The podcast is based on an article in Popular Science by Corey Powell, who interviewed scientists who discovered new species that deposited electrons directly on minerals, as if they were “breathing solid substance via tiny chemical wires”. It was fascinating to learn about from a scientific standpoint, questioning our definition of living organisms. But most of all, I appreciated the shift in perspective we should be making: we should question the assumption that aliens look like us (bipeds, with a face, etc.). It is a self-absorbed perspective to assume aliens require environmental conditions similar to the ones we thrive in. We need to rid ourselves of these prejudices if we were to be true to science. The podcast further stated that when you look for life in what we consider harsh conditions, the organisms we find maybe simpler in how we rank biological life, but highly complex in their ability to collaborate and thrive.

Imagine how many opportunities and discoveries we are missing out on, because we are too busy looking for something that looks like us, in places that look like where we live? Being able to break out from our own mold may be our biggest challenge and the best insurance for disruptive innovation and discoveries.

For the longest time, I didn’t like beer. Then one day, someone bought me a Chimay Blue Cap. I realized then that I liked beer, I just didn’t care for crappy beer. For the longest time, I didn’t like alien stories. Then with this podcast, I realized I just didn’t care for crappy alien stories.

Now I’ve expanded to other fine Trappist ales, and I hope, I’ll be open to more alien stories like this one.

2013-08-23 18.26.22

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This entry was posted on February 12, 2015 by in Identity, Science and tagged , , .
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