Brett: Scientifically minded types say, “Perhaps we won’t be able to understand the next set of laws of physics. Perhaps we won’t be able to understand the aliens.” It’s nothing but the appeal to the supernatural. It’s logically equivalent to “God is out there, and you can’t possibly understand what God is. God is this infinite, omniscient being that is beyond us.”
You can believe that if you like. You can believe the simulation hypothesis. You can believe any one of these things. They’re all metaphysical claims about a reality that we have no access to. Whether or not you want to introduce aliens who will have ideas that we can’t comprehend, that’s all standing on the same footing.
Naval: At least in God’s metaphysics you could say, “OK, that’s in a different universe. That’s outside of our laws of physics.” But the aliens presumably would be under the same laws of physics, so I don’t even see what the basis for that is.
Any species that is smart enough to get off its home planet knows that the limiting factor is ideas. So the thing that they should want the most from any other species they encounter is new ideas. And the trade that they should be making is the trade of ideas.
There’s this Malthusian philosophy in science fiction—now called the Dark Forest Hypothesis—that every human species is like bacteria and we’re going to run out of room. No, the universe is infinite in size; it’s expanding. The multiverse is even more infinite in size.
We are at the beginning of infinity. We’re not running out of resources. Everybody’s creating ideas. Smart alien civilizations trade ideas and successful human civilizations trade ideas. Because those ideas take things that were useless before and turn them into resources.
Every alien civilization can trade ideas with every other civilization because they’re all universal explainers. They’re capable of maximal understanding.
In fact, the mind-blowing thing here is that your mind cannot be blown. There’s no idea out there that your mind cannot absorb given the time and the effort.
So if we encounter an alien species, we should probably rejoice. They don’t want anything from our planet other than our ideas. And the best way to trade ideas is to have a dynamic, abundant, thriving civilization.
Because I grew up on rote sci-fi, I used to be pessimistic about alien encounters. “Oh yeah, if we encounter aliens, they’ll just destroy us.” Like, in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the Vogons thoughtlessly demolished Earth to make room for a hyperspace bypass.
The reality of it is that any species that finds us is going to immediately give us all the knowledge that they have. And they’re going to crave new knowledge that we have, because they will realize that would allow them to light up the dark matter, the dark energy, the unused resources in the universe, to allow them to thrive as well.