It is quite possibly every middle-aged geek’s wet dream, aside of a working hover-board: That fateful day when humans finally get to shake hands, claws or tentacles with ambassadors from another world; the watershed moment when we’ll finally know for certain that we’re not alone in the universe, and a new chapter –or rather, an entire volume– in the history of our species would commence.
I’ve been ready for that moment all of my life, ever since I heard that seminal 5-tone sequence in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but what about humanity as a whole? That’s what Gabriel G. De la Torre, a professor of psychology from the University of Cádiz in Spain, sought to find out. His conclusions: We still need a looot of growin’ up to do before we can hang out with the big boys of the galactic playground.
De la Torre is a corresponding member of the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) and has been part of several committees related to space-oriented projects. In a paper published on the IAA’s Acta Astronautica titled Toward a New Cosmic Consciousness: Psychoeducational Aspects of Contact with Extraterrestrial Civilizations, he analyzed the preliminary results of a written questionnary he applied to 116 college students from Spain, Italy & the USA, to assess whether our current level of awareness would be capable of handling the deep psychological impact, of discoverying and/or contacting an extraterrestrial civilization. His concern is that several cultural factors –religion in particular– would tend to skew our opinion & expectations about the aliens; are they friends or enemies? conquerors or saviors? Like anything else we interact with, there would be an unconscious tendency to anthropomorphize these non-human entities.
We estimate that this type of event will have not only a social effect but also on both consciousness and biology as well. Some authors  believe that an anthropocentric vision can influence the benevolent or malevolent perception of a possible EC.The variables that produce these misperceptions or interpretation biases with regard to this type of event are related to what we called modular aspects of cosmic consciousness.
I must say that after reading De la Torre’s paper, I found it something of a mixed bag. Yes, organized religions tend to color the prejudice of a great percentage of the population –although it must be pointed out that all the participating students in his study were living in Christian nations, and that he initially focused on the 80 of them who were from Spain, where Catholicism still has a great influence– but I think most Grailers would agree with me when I say you can also find a lot of biased opinions among non-religious individuals. When Louis Pasteur was trying to support the case for germ theory, arguing that diseases like cholera or anthrax were caused by a whole realm of tiny organisms which are invisible to the naked eye, I hardly suspect whatever resistance he encountered was fueled by the lack of mention of microbes in the Bible…
What’s more, De la Torre seems to follow the party-line assumption that alien contact has yet to occur, even though a significant amount of his study subjects considered UFOs “are a real phenomenon that explains that beings from other worlds are visiting us today;” and yet further along on the paper he states that although an open contact would be the most likely scenario, “a covert or unconscious contact is another possibility we should not discard.” If De la Torre is so preoccupied with the social & biological effects of alien contact, perhaps he should pay more attention to Jacques Vallee’s ‘cultural thermostat’ theory of UFOs, and his ideas of how this phenomenon acts like a control system slowly shaping our cultural, and perhaps even physical evolution.
Not that De la Torre is a hard materialist per se, mind you. There’s a part in the paper where he gives a little shout-out to Roger Penrose & Stuart Hameroff’s quantum consciousness theory, and he even speculates whether consciousness may play a bigger role in the structure of the Universe than we’re currently aware of. Like I said, mixed bag.
In the end I guess the matter is something of a paradox: Nothing could ever fully prepare our world for the cultural shock of ET contact, and realizing it’s not just us floating about in all this ‘wasted space’; and yet facing that truth would greatly accelerate our shift from a local awareness to thinking in a much, much broader scale. Like Richard Dolan & Brice wrote in their book After Disclosure: The People’s Guide to Life After Contact, when they equated it to parenthood –no matter who you are, you’re NEVER ready to become a parent, but when the time comes you learn the ropes as you go along.
While he tries to continue with his research, applying his little questionnaire to more students from other nations, De la Torre has already found a deficiency in astronomy & space-related knowledge among the subjects studied so far; he proposes that aside from scanning the skies in search of that long-waited ET tweet, SETI should also focus some of its efforts in devising strategies to improve the education of astronomy is school curricula.
Extensive education outreach and efforts to increase awareness of Space related topics and existent relationships between Cosmos, Earth and life can be extremely helpful. SETI can take an important role in this regard.
That’s all well & good, but if we’re REALLY serious about achieving that cosmic consciousness of his, how about we start including some magic mushrooms in school lunches, too? 😉