How Not To Envision Space Aliens

It’s become less than surprising news of late when some intellectual luminary gives a warning about the perils of AI (artificial intelligence), and I count myself among those skeptical of it’s merits. But an unexpected new sci-fi-esque controversy has arisen recently. Figures no less celebrated than astrophysicist Stephen Hawking have sounded the alarm about our collective complacency concerning aliens. As in extra-terrestrials.

[ imposing upright rock creature with asymmetric glowing sensors ; ominous Xindi insectoid being ; miniscule blue fuzzy creatures with crablike appendiges known as Sylvia and Korob ; Horta, a silicon-based lifeform with spherical eggs in it’s underground nesting chamber ]

Proviso: I am going to mostly limit the first part of this discussion to populist sci-fi characterizations of aliens, such as films and television or cable programs. For the most part I will exclude literary sci-fi. Though I read plenty of pulp sci-fi during my youth, I’ve largely given it up in favor of other things since my twenties. An exception which I can recommend is The Sparrow, a 1996 novel written by Mary Doria Russell. A wild ride concerning mankind’s first ‘encounter’ in which an expedition is mounted by the Jesuits (!) during the first half of the 21st century to Alpha Centauri in response to the detection of tantalizing alien music originating from that planetary system. While the two principal species met during the expedition are both reasonably non-vanilla, the real strength of the story is in Russell’s expressive and perceptive writing, as well as in the theological and cultural myopia themes played around with. (There’s been talk of adapting it into a mini-series.) Even if it turns out that I’d be seriously impressed after a thorough study of more recent stuff within the sci-fi genre, I believe my central points will hold. Because it is a niche cultural market at best, and whatever novel ideas may or may not be resident there do not seem to be spilling over into the popular mindset.

Star Trek As Barometer

If you watched Star Trek episodes back in the day, as I did, you may have noted a steady degradation within the variety and quality of alien life forms encountered by the human protagonists over time. The contrast is even more evident when comparing 1960s TV sci-fi with more recent decades, or with the latest batch of rock ’em sock ’em style Star Trek films. (Ultra sex-and-violence afficionado Quentin Tarantino is even rumored to be getting into the franchise.) Basically, the trend has moved from no-restriction freely imagined creatures bearing little resemblance to terrestrial beings, much less human beings, to facially-modified humanoids whose distinctive characteristics range from day-glo skin coloring to various arrangements of bumps and ridges on their heads or more than humanly prominent nostrils and earlobes. With this much uniformity in the galactic evolutionary telos, one seriously wonders whether Darwin would balk. As an added convenience, these ‘humans with glitches’ aliens usually seem to adopt English as their cosmic lingua franca.

Let’s tour some galactic examples. In the images above, we have some early sci-fi extraterrestrials. Their sizes range from 9 foot tall bulbous mineral entities down to 2-inch squawking avian land crabs. There’s a sinewy man-sized bipedal insect and a living silicon boulder with muddy regions and several slithery floppy feet and the ability to acid-burn tunnels through solid rock at high speeds wide enough for men to walk through (to the edification of the local mining consortium). There were also several Trek episodes centered around energy beings, resembling shimmering light patterns, lacking solid bodies or form, and a living sentient time portal which could talk with you and arrange temporal passage to remote eras by passing through it’s body. There was also the T-rex headed Gorn who captained a starship which got into a fracas with the heroes resulting in a deadly duel on a barren planet orchestrated by yet a third species who were completely non-corporeal telepathic intellects. No fears about stepping outside the box. But then there was the other tendency, which gradually assumed dominence. Uniformly 6-foot humanoids (except for the half-sized species utilizing dwarf actors) generated by transforming the heads and faces of their human foundations in various ways, ranging from subtle to outrageous.

[ a tender domestic moment with the Talaxians ; alien space babe from the latest Star Trek movie ; a dude from the cauliflower planet (same movie) ; blue-faced Andorian with antennae sensors ]

I know there are excellent exceptions, such as last year’s poignant and wonderful “Arrival”, which featured 12-feet tall heptapods who traveled to Earth within mile-high turd ships, lived in a foggy dew atmosphere, and squirted their language out onto glass-like surfaces in the form of inky rings with innumerable meaning-laden crenelations. Or in a lighter vein, there’s the gelatinous green blob creature from the present day space spoof “The Orville”. Still the point holds. For example, the other 95% of the aliens appearing in ‘Orville’ episodes are either directly humanoid with off-kilter clothing or, following the usual plot device, humanoids with varying degrees of facial distortion. For sure, part of it is a money thing. When the original Star Trek was a low budget, groundbreaking, risk-taking seat-of-the-pants undertaking, it relied upon the frenetic ingenuity of the art department to translate writers’ ideas into something filmable on a tight weekly basis. But the genre took off within the American television world and money producers exerted a more conservative influence. It was more efficient to hire an ensemble of character and guest actors, have the makeup departments subject them to hours of facial and cranial tweaking to get them camera-ready, and write plots around more ordinary dramatic conflicts. Business, orthodoxy, and self-consciously tailoring the production to the target audience without alienating their perceived expectations — all these factors are in evidence. But this does not completely explain the bland predictability of the vast proportion of imagined aliens. A simple failure of imagination is also operating as a factor.

[ “Arrival’s” enormous floating vertical turdships ; a heptapod communicating ; friendly Yaphit the affable green bloboid ; Yaphit’s absurdly erotic cross-species sex scene with the ship’s human medical officer ]

Failures Of Imagination

Personally, the first reasonable question I would put about an encounter with extraterrestrials is whether we would even recognize them. As in detect the encounter. Three increasing levels of intellectual provincialism can be seen to be imposing artificial limitations on our capacity to conceive extraterrestrials. These are operating as tendencies, not as absolutes. The first level is the purely physical anthropomorphism already described. We expect some degree, greater or lesser, of basic biological resemblance expressed in physical form.

The second level is what I’d describe as Neo-Darwinism writ large and run amok. At this level we do not merely project our self-informed notions about what aliens should look like onto the cosmos. Now we also release our compunctions about imposing our own psychologies, sociologies, technical histories, social impulses, and even ethical motivations and development upon all our galactic brethren. Which brings me to Stephen Hawking. Hawking is one of the drivers behind a project to survey the nearest one million solar systems for signs of civilization or intelligence, relying mostly upon radio signal signatures. He expressly advocates against us making any sort of response to any ‘signal’ we might detect, however. The chain of reasoning behind Hawking’s warning goes something like this: Statistically, any alien civilization capable of detecting, deciphering, and localizing a message we broadcast would likely have many millions of more years of evolutionary advancement behind them (than us). Thus it is likely they would view humanity as deeply inferior beings and perfectly suitable for invading, subjugating, utilizing as a resource for any of their impossible to predict whims, or demolishing. He cites the fate of the American Indians at the hands of Europeans after Columbus as a cautionary example. Except that the aliens would, in terms of probability, enjoy orders of magnitude greater sophistication than earthlings as compared to Europeans over Amerindian culture. The disparity between us, supposes Hawking, would be on the same scale as that between humans and bacteria.

Just consider the shameless array of human-centric assumptions inherent within this thinking. First, biological evolution, as currently pictured by science, is magically exported across time and space to every distant sun and planetary system. Without modification whatsoever. Even though there is no conceivable way to subject such a universal theory to experimental validation, it is held without a trace of concern about hubris. Next, not only do these evolutionary processes, which Darwinists assure us follow from an unlimited sequence of entirely random mutations, occur universally, but they even do so and accumulate generated changes within species at a predictably comparable rate, even thousands of light years away, even in distant galaxies. Therefore we can safely analyze alien species’ refinement over time and roughly compare this level with our own (according to present theory). Let’s be generous and omit objecting about the assumption of evolutionary telos being a cosmic law as well. In other words, even though the ‘direction’ of evolution is unpredictable because of it’s very mechanism of propagation, still on planet X around distant Canopus things accrue in the same general direction (towards intelligent self-conscious sentient life) given sufficient time. Heck — let’s not! But the prevailing sci-fi mythos doesn’t stop there. It blithely ascribes that all such advanced planetary species will universally gravitate towards obsession with technology and thus eventually (in roughly the equivalent timescale) produce the same questions, urges, and solutions as we have and will regarding space travel, weaponry, communications and engineering.

But the worst insult to our intelligence is that it is apparently unscientific to imagine that nowhere within this stream of excess millions of years of evolution and advancement beyond what terrestrials have enjoyed is there any room for the possible unfolding of a different sort of ethics or motivation. How depressing to discover that even if we survive a few more million years undetected in a hostile universe that we’d still be saddled with the same imperialistic morality! On top of all this, alien seekers even have the added worry that all their wishful work might come to naught simply because of timing. That’s right — chances are, apparently, that since earthly history ‘proves’ that any given species can only hope to last in a position of global supremacy for perhaps a few million years, and that historical civilizations tend to die and be replaced after only at most a couple of thousand, the window for humanity and suitable aliens to simultaneously occur is agonizingly tiny. We might be alone after all.

As for the 3rd level of provincial thinking way-inside-the-box, we need do a little setup before describing it.

Nerds Suspending Their Disbelief

Freeman Dyson proposed several futuristic propulsion ideas for interstellar travel back in the ’50s and ’60s of last century. He was a highly regarded nuclear physicist at the time; by now he has evolved into a genius-level polymath. Dyson’s key concepts were a laser sail and an electromagnetic railgun, thought capable of achieving 3% and 50% of the velocity of light, respectively. The development horizons for the two projects were considered “soon”, finances allowing, and ambitious (i.e. within two centuries at the projected technological growth pace). I regard Dyson’s thinking with great admiration (more than I usually can say about celebrity scientists). Not only was it he who conjured up the Dyson Sphere — a signature of technologically advanced civilizations that we might attempt to scan the stars for — but he also has wonderfully thoughtful things to say concerning cosmology, astrobiology, climate change, scientific hubris, and the relationship between science and theology as equally legitimate knowledge pursuits. Still, it should be held clearly in mind that even presuming the successful implementation of future Dysonian technology, it would consume anywhere between 9 and 140 years to travel one-way to the nearest solar system. And to reach the perimeter of 100 light years, a very modest distance in terms of likely possible nearby solar systems to be inhabited by sentients, the time cost rises to between 200 and 3300 years. One way. In other words, for interstellar neighbors to be visiting us regularly, or us them, would not merely require more time, technology, and financial commitment; it would also depend upon overcoming the laws of physics as we currently understand them. We wouldn’t just need to radically revolutionize our technical capacities; we’d need to discover that our Physics is wrong.

[ Dyson sphere ring for capturing a small percentage of a star’s energy output; local neighborhood: the nearby stars within a 20 light year perimeter ; artist’s depiction of an interstellar laser sail ; a fuller Dyson sphere around a yellow sun-like star ]

Now plenty of world class theoretical physicists cut their youthful teeth on science fiction. Ideas like teleportation devices and wormholes for galactic shortcuts are not immediately dismissed as physically impossible. Instead, many of them presume a way can eventually be found. There’s a wishfulness within their rationality, a subjective agenda within their avowed objective methodology. Even the multiverse can be put forth as a theoretical contrivance whenever some combination of universal constants prove inconvenient within our ‘home’ universe. Need different physical laws? Easy-peasy, just switch universes. Certainly someone will conceptualize a means of transfer between ‘adjacent’ formerly incommunicable universe bubbles as soon as it becomes desirable. And should it come to that, could not cleverly ingenious equations be found to substantiate the plausibility, however remote, of anything? All to bypass the speed of light limitation. When it comes to purely physical realities, scientific types can be surprisingly flexible with their imaginations.

Not so when aphysical, or extra-physical qualities are involved. Aliens must be physically similar to us, in that they must be subject to broadly similar physical restrictions. Planets where they arise must have broadly similar gravitation, water in liquid form, earthlike temperature ranges, a similar atmospheric mix, atmospheres in general, and organic molecules. These affirmations, considered prudent and modest, direct SETI researchers where to look and where not to look when the scanning the skies for promising exoplanets.

Spirits Not Welcome

Thwarting Time seems to be an issue here. Either we need beings with zillion-year lifetimes so they wont mind embarking on multi-thousand year journeys to different star systems or we need beings who are oblivious to time in some other way. Else, no aliens for you, nerdboy. But beings of spirit, unlike physical beings, have no speed barriers. Space/time beings have physical constraints, but eternity beings do not. Why is it that the scientific mentality, and I speak in general here but it is characteristic by a very wide margin, cannot entertain the notion of peering beyond the ‘physical’? Why couldn’t extraterrestrials reside in the sun or in all suns? Why couldn’t they be the non-physical raison d’etre behind the physical manifestation we know as suns or stars? Why is it that cutting edge cosmological speculation has no problem with floating absurdities like the possibility that the explanation for the universe lies within the concept of an incredibly sophisticated super-duper computer simulation conducted by uber-aliens having some recreation? Yet, any spiritual ideas are dismissed prior to any consideration whatsoever?

It is simply due to one thing: prejudice. And the name of that prejudice is materialism. Or if you like more formally philosophical rigor: physicalism.

There is a parallel between the increasingly global religious sclerosis across theological confessions, manifesting as various forms of excessively conservative fundamentalism, and the failure of imagination operating within science, especially the popularized image of science, which we see in the collective cultural imaginations about extraterrestrial beings.


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  1. I like your conclusion. As much as I like good sci-fi, I have little use for a science that is really a front for technocracy. Open minded intelligence is of cosmic origin and understands itself within the cosmic realm, i.e., within infinity. Time and consequently space are relatively recent “inventions”. All they are is illusions and for those illusions to work, all you need do is program certain intelligences with an acceptance of limits to everything. In other words, measurements which create endless limitations, are impositions on planetary and universal intelligence. Once the belief that life is mathematical is entrenched, say in the Homo Sapiens Earthian species, that entire world becomes locked into the space-time continuum, entrained or enslaved to it. Why? For control, pure and simple. While it may seem foolish to base our “material” understanding of the universe based on what takes place here, it is a rational approach. As below, so above. To understand how universal intelligence operates one studies planetary intelligence and projects. That is the material reality. There can be no other from that basis.

    Cosmic intelligence (which could loosely be called “spirit”) approaches life in a very different way; for one thing because it isn’t bound by either space or time. Cosmic beings can and do function as material beings, or in material form, but as we leave a car to enter a highrise, they can “park” their physical aspect and travel wherever, whenever they choose, free of the constraints of space and time which we, physically bound entities, assume as the only reality. That doesn’t mean they are problem free because of such freedom but their engagements are quite different in scope from ours.


    1. Bon 2018, and thanks for your remarks. I want to emphasize something about materialism and it’s acceptance. The simple working definition of the term is negative, in that it holds that there “is” nothing else but matter (and it’s more active sidekick energy). When you get into a discussion about what exists, ontology, with a knee-jerk materialist they will simply ask ‘What else is there?’ and consider this the most obvious and terminal response, ending all further discussion. So, the key to overcoming the illusion of physicalism is to notice that nothing, not even everyday phenomena in our experiences can be fully explained by materialism. Everything has, at a minimum, spirit behind it at least in the form of idea, of the thing’s concept. Things cannot occur without spiritual activity. Teacups, clothing, software. A materialist looks at a rock and says it is quartz or whatever, 30% this and 20% that and so on. But that is not the full nature of the rock, it is a description of one lowly aspect of it. When it comes to more complex things, pine trees, owls, and ourselves, the fiction that materialism holds, i.e. that the thing in question is 100% material, depends more and more upon theoretical abstractions having little to do with natural reality but which can befuddle the incurious into disdaining any further investigation. So the spiritual, or as you prefer cosmic intelligence, resides everywhere, including within us. Further it is our deepest aspect. In the ‘image of the divine’ is signified exactly this. When you say, near the end of your remarks, that we are physically bound creatures, this is only true so far as our belief and unconsidered acceptance of the dominant worldview. But any serious introspection reveals that within our very own thinking is living spirit substance, which is unable to be constrained within the purely material. The cosmic is right here – without sci-fi aliens. WE are cosmic beings functioning as material ones. But we are behind the veil of knowing this, often. But there are numerous paths out, and the veil cannot hold much longer. Our ethical and moral consistencies will have much influence upon what we can and cannot be allowed to behold.


      1. What you express in your comment is, to me, a truism, even if i seem to contradict myself re: materiality. When I say we are physically bound creatures, I mean it in the sense of the thinking of a pure materialist. Unless one is born with a key to understanding the Cosmos outside the material veil, it takes willingness, commitment and great effort to break out of System propaganda and project ourselves outside physicality. It’s actually scary and quite lonely in the beginning. All of the horror committed by man is due to this fear which result in living within a terrible confining and terminal condition. Earth is a prison planet. If we made the effort to understand, to break free, our current manifold flesh-based discomforts and unease resulting in racism, misogyny, wars, genocide, and exploitation/oppression would cease. They would be seen for what they are, the result of fear and limited thinking. Having explained how I see it, and what I meant, to the rest I can only say, I agree with you entirely. Well, that doesn’t happen very often! 🙂

    2. Hello! I have enjoyed reading this post as well as the many conversations between the two of you here and elsewhere. Let’s even consider intergalactic pantheism!

      Many sci-fi films have pushed the frontiers and envelops of existential forms, issues and possibilities. I really like the ending of the first Star Trek movie entitled “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”, in which the highly evolved space probe Voyager 6 called “V’Ger” unites and merges with Captain Willard Decker to become a new form of life that is incorporeal and travels into other dimensions!

      Given the escalating social problems and ongoing environmental crises on Earth, sometimes one might indeed feel that it would be very nice to join Roy Neary in the movie “Close Encounter of the Third Kind” and to leave the Earth for good to achieve or awaken interstellar or (inter)galactic Spiritual Revolutionaries!

      Considering the relevance and quality of what you have discussed here, I have also hyperlinked your current post to mine at

      May you enjoy the weekend! Happy New Year to both of you!


      1. Yes, I well recall the films you speak of. Sha’Tara and I have had some interesting discussions during the past year or so. She has a unique perspective. The two of us have a certain understanding of what the other is about, and ‘get’ each other more than some casual readers. She is more into fiction (stories) than I, although my most recent attempt at sci-fi was partly inspired by memories how she handled dialogue in some of her short stories. This article (which is only partially about space aliens despite the title) gets some interesting traffic from Europe, intermittently, even though it is now over a year old. By the way — noticed you ‘liked’ an enormous percentage of my articles and poems, etc. That is extraordinary if you’ve actually read all of these. If so, you have a decent picture of my thinking, I would say. So thanks. 🙂

      2. Hello Robert,

        Thank you for your reply. Sha’Tara and I have also interacted at my blog and others’ blogs. Indeed, she has a unique perspective but often delivered with strong views, often very effective and persuasive, but at times quite polemic rather than holistic, and at other times her arguments can be marred by poor logic or certain fallacies. Still, I admire and respect her strengths and convictions.

        I look forward to interacting with you on my blog as you begin to become familiar with some of my posts, as diverse as they are in style and content.

  2. Something to add: I have a feeling we are much more AI than natural creatures ourselves in our current form, hence why we fear AI – what we fear is competition; a new AI evolution that will best us because long ago we stopped evolving mentally to rely increasingly on physical bodies and senses. Just a thought.


    1. As Jaron Lanier has put it, and meditated exquisitely clearly on this topic: AI does not work by virtue of its own ‘intelligence’, rather it relies upon gradually making us more and more stupid as we stoop down to the level of machine choosing and software interfaces, seduced solely by convenience.

      Personally I have no fear about AI because I understand what spirit is and know that AI will forever lack it. Also, I see that those who likewise have this vantage point (among the community of critics and detractors of the concept) themselves do not criticize out of fear. Others, such as Elon Musk or Bill Gates, are materialists and cannot grasp that spirit is actual — so yes, these are governed fear. The real danger around the AI movement and its numerous associated technologies (social media, Internet-of-Things, centralized surveillance par unprecedented) is that it cajoles and then solidifies us, in potential, into being less human than we actually are.
      The solution is to “double down” on being human.

      I find zero persuasiveness in the theory that we ourselves are more AI than natural. This can only be achieved by playing around with the meanings of those terms.

      Finally: we have not long ago stopped evolving mentally. This is incorrect. We are actually evolving along these lines rapidly right now (although one would have to clarify what one means by ‘mentally’ here). The problem is that this mental progress is not being met with sufficient ethical and moral (which is to say inner spiritual) evolution, and so all chaotic hell is breaking loose. The disparity is too great, and thus the egotism too unchecked. Egotism, a ‘natural’ produced tendency of mentality-oriented spiritual evolution, is only balanced by increased moral perceptivity and actualization within, which is of course also of a spiritual nature. The opposing powers rely, and have relied since the end of the Renaissance, upon confusing evolving mankind into supposing that the powers of reason alone constitute the pinnacle of human advancement, of spiritual evolvement, while painting faculties like intuition, moral perception, and heart thinking as passe, adorably romantic, unpragmatic, and foolish. The revolution, if it works, must come from this direction, from dismantling these falsehoods, in education and social life. Each new child shows this truth, if one observes carefully. We must stop squelching them.

      Nice to see you again, ST. I know you are busy with your own fiction, but wish to invite you to look at a recent sci-fi-ish story I wrote — I would say partly influenced by your style of and devotion towards story telling. Near future, 2035, ‘AI’-mediated dating rituals, and how to overcome the limitations via grace. If you have time, look for ‘Hormone Train’.

      Hope all goes well with you & thanks for your comment here.


      1. I need to point this out, and quote: “I find zero persuasiveness in the theory that we ourselves are more AI than natural. This can only be achieved by playing around with the meanings of those terms.” There is a simple test for that: how many modern Earthians could live comfortably on this world without any of their accumulation of technology? No cities, no transportation, no prepackaged foods, no hospitals, drugs or medical help, no pre-fabbed housing or supporting infrastructure? Imagine everything we depend on for our next few hours gone overnight? How many of the 8 billions would survive even six months naked in nature? That is the litmus test of natural life versus artificial life. Man always was an artificial construct and has always been “programmed” to function at peak capacity not as a natural part of this world but as an extractor and extortioner of resources, including massive oppression of its own species. In fact man is even programmed to destroy all vestiges of human life not yet tied to his “civilization” and I’ll let history put a case closed on that observation. We are not natural creatures, we have never been natural creatures. Though our bodies bear some resemblance to nature, they are not designed to function in a natural state. That is not only our biggest conundrum but our Achilles’ heel.

        As for mental evolution, I have to disagree with you there also. Man is not evolving mentally. At best the species is going through a mental mutation and as you know most mutations are regressive. Man’s “hard-wired” connection between his brain and his technology is sucking life out of everything. The vast majority of teeming numbers of man on earth is no longer, if most ever were, even aware of any kind of spirit. You know of it, as do I, but we are the few because we remember and we can see, but mostly because we remember. The “infusion” of spirit in man did not happen naturally over long periods of time: it was an intervention done at a critical point which the inventors of man were unable to prevent. It was meant to bring us “out of darkness and into the light” i.e., to make us aware of Life and how we could be participants in it instead of just brute beasts doomed to be born into slavery, live brief and pointless lives and die “to dust and ashes.” I know of that intervention, maybe you do not, or you have a different explanation. In any case, over time and due to the effects of the programming (that infamous soul implant I keep on about) the effects of the infusion were lost to most and the makers invented controlled, organized religion to thoroughly muddy the concept. Only those who chose to remain “friends” of Life remembered and continued to live accordingly. Of those, millions were martyred by the System and its adherents.

      2. Hi Sha’Tara (and Robert),

        I enjoy reading your comment on humans’ impacts on nonhumans and the environment. I also have a lot to say about such matters at

        There are compelling reasons and great urgency for humanity to include other species and to exclude vestigial, intransigent and/or recalcitrant speciesism of any sort! We need panspecies spirituality and interspecies LOVE & HARMONY!

    2. On the other hand, ST, there is much to agree with in your comment-thought. 🙂 As I re-read it, I see that you perceive things similarly to the way I do, but express them differently. Yes, yes… we are being more and more seduced into viewing ourselves as mostly or entirely physical-plus-senses. Thanks!! 🙂


      1. Thanks for checking it out and I think my previous response provides a bit more explanation of how I perceive man’s downfall. I’m curious: have you ever read JRR Tolkien’s “The Silmarillion”? It’s a wonderful parable of the kinds of things we are experiencing. I will look up “Hormone Train”.

      2. Welcome. I will check out your other response soon, playing catch-up. I did once look at a copy of Silmarillion, which my brother had lying around, but I could not get into it at that time. I found its literary quality to be lower than the more well known Tolkien stuff (which I’d read years earlier), and I think maybe it read more factually, like a history almost. So, I am not familiar enough with it to compare to our present situation. Stimulating idea, though.

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