“The creator of the universe works in mysterious ways. But he uses a base ten counting system and likes round numbers” – Scott Adams
I hope aliens don’t get cable. If they do, I have little doubt they will think we are crazy. We have spent the last ninety years inventing alien invasion scenarios. From the Martian shock and awe of The War of the Worlds, to the subtle subterfuge of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, to the reptilian version of Top Chef in V, to the semi-mechanized high-tech apocalypses in Independence Day and Falling Skies, we manifest an unhealthy belief that if aliens do arrive, they will be here to administer the mother of all interstellar smackdowns, generally without a “how do you do” or an adequate explanation. Oddly, my measure of mainstream attitudes towards things that will likely kill me are the History Channel and National Geographic. The reason for this is that the History Channel, rather than living up to its highbrow educational moniker, seems to have always been deeply concerned with showing us how horrible things can get. That’s why the first few years of its existence were almost exclusively devoted to Hitler. You really have hard time finding another terrestrial contender (that was so continuously caught on film) for just how terrible this planet can get if someone is really determined. And these days, the History Channel is deeply worried about alien invasion. Similarly, National Geographic used to be a reliable source for bloody animal battles and seeing parts of the world that should have been deemed uninhabitable generations ago, but have begun to evince the same sort of strange fears as the History Channel. Ditto on the Discovery and Science Channels.
It seems like every time I turn around, another quasi-documentary on alien invasion is airing, replete with Defense Department interviews, renowned physicists like Stephen Hawkings reminding us that star-hopping extraterrestrials are unlikely to be friendly, and survivalists cataloging the necessities you should be squirreling away if you intend to be among the few, desperate survivors of an all-out alien jihad. Astronomers have conservatively estimated that something on the order of 8.8 billion planets in the biological sweet-spot we call the “Goldilocks Zone” exist in the Milky Way Galaxy alone. There have got to be billions of planets that have been much less trashed than our grimy, polluted little dirtball called Earth. I mean, our biosphere is nice compared to the rest of the planets in the solar system, but to be better than the worst is not a yardstick of our awesomeness on a universal scale. Why would someone waste their resources inventing warp drives, crossing deep space and atomizing us little monkeys, when there are probably so many other clean, exploitable planets out there? Simple. They wouldn’t. Aliens won’t be invading. Only our own vanity and the fact that we imagine other people will find all our stuff as cool as we do suggest otherwise. In galactic terms we probably wouldn’t even make very good slave labor, and as a food group we are far too saturated with preservatives. Luckily, my role in life is not to assuage your fears, rather give you something alternative to be paranoid about. What we should be spending our time preparing for and worrying about is the far more probable invasion from a parallel universe.
The closest confirmed mesoplanet (the fancy term astrobiologists, and wow is that an optimistic career choice, use to describe a world in its star’s habitable zone with an average temperature in the 0-50 degree Celsius range – the most likely candidate for intelligent life) is “Gliese 667 Cc”, a staggering twenty-four light years away. No alien general in his right mind would want to handle those logistics. Even travelling at the speed of light, by the time they hit our atmosphere, the aliens would be so sick of twenty-four years of MRE’s (or the alien culinary equivalent), we could avert catastrophe through the devious stratagem of giving them Cheesecake Factory gift cards. No my friends, as cool as we think we are, the time and effort involved in extraterrestrial invasion just isn’t worth it. We can certainly start talking about wormholes, compressing time and space, fantastic propulsion systems that defy anything we know about the physics of the universe, or other phenomena that render space travel more or less instantaneous and that would speed things along for an alien armada, but let’s face it, if you can get places that fast, why would you bother with Earth. The galaxy is your oyster, and with billions of potential planets to choose from on which intelligent life did not evolve, kicking some human ass just because you can get here seems a little pointless. If you’ve given these things any sort of thought and managed to stay awake in any of the required social science courses of your misspent college years, you’re probably thinking that the fallacy in my argument is that we can’t presume a truly alien psychology would come to the same conclusion. To this I respond, if aliens have learned how to manipulate the space-time continuum to get here in less than a generation, we can assume they know a little math. And a cost-benefit analysis is going to tell them that invading Earth just isn’t worth the trouble, unless of course they are using human brains in a nice Pâté that fetches top dollar in Tau Ceti, and then all they have to do is abduct enough of us for some selective breeding and factory farming operations (hey, wait a second….). Now the thing about parallel universes, is well, they are parallel.
Being parallel has a lot of advantages if you’re looking to make your fortune. For one, you know where everything is already. If we go with the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, and the possibility that the universal wave function never actually collapses, the implication is that all possible alternative histories and futures are real, and represent an infinite number of universes, each with its own physical reality. Each reality of course is occupied by greedy and aggressive folks just like us. Consider what it takes to mount an interstellar campaign against Earth (assuming someone came to the illogical conclusion that there is the remote possibility that it was in any way worth doing). You’ve got to come up with a way to get here. You have to pack your fleet with men, meals, and machines – enough to make it here and launch your blitzkrieg attack. Alternatively, you could stuff your alien battleships with factories and farms under the assumption that you would manufacture and grow whatever you needed until such time as you could eradicate our pestilent little species from the planet. Now this is an awful lot of effort. Presumably you’ve also squandered lots of resources scouting things out in order to determine that there was a reason to take over in the first place, that you could breathe the air, that there was a market for humans out on galactic Wall Street, or that your notion of “elbow room” spans light years. This is just not a very efficient way to handle things. Now, imagine you’ve ruined your own little corner of the multiverse (doesn’t really matter how, let’s just say that Universe B is looking a little less pleasant than Universe A). Maybe you’ve used up all your water and oxygen, poisoned the land, killed the plants and animals, messed up your reproduction, and are generally running out of all the cool things that make life worth living (e.g. tequila, gold, chocolate, etc.). And since you are a parallel Earthling with parallel predilections, you start looking around for whose stuff you can take. You could shoot some rockets up and harvest your water from Europa, get some fuel from the gas giants, and start the multi-light year wait for your scout ships to return with news of nice, habitable planets out there ripe for the picking. Why not instead just punch a hole into a parallel universe? Not that easy you say? Well, if you’re pressed for time and resources, the physics are no more complicated than figuring out how to get somebody to Kepler 22-b and back with enough goodies to make the trip worth making. That is to say, pretty darn complicated, but involving less of an initial outlay to get there, and a whole lot of strategic upsides including, but not reserved to, excellent and reliable intelligence information, the necessity only to build a door, rather than an entire infrastructure for moving people around, keeping them alive, waging war, and harvesting life’s little necessities to ship home, and given you choose your target parallel universe well, a strong notion that they have what you’re looking for and where they keep it. If I was a warlord in a parallel universe, I know which I would choose. Might even be able to co-opt some parallel versions of yourself into going along with the plan.
Maybe they are already here, hopping in from places we call fairyland (many have remarked on the military organization of “trooping” faeries), the “otherworld”, different realities, and posing as aliens, monsters, and Tea Party candidates. This would certainly account for the theatricality of our encounters with beings that we consider to be “not of our world”, from ghosts to aliens, to monsters. Are we seeing projections into our universe from parallels? Luminaries of the theater have noted the strange sensations that can arise in an audience from the appearance of a projection within our physical reality, commenting “Unless the projected image is painstakingly captured in the exact proportion to the stage and performers, and in perfect alignment with the sightlines of the spectators-something nearly impossible to achieve-the audience experiences the disjunction of perceiving a different world. In the Wooster Group’s production Rumstick Road in 1978, there was a moment in which an image of Spalding Gray’s mother was projected over an actress. As the actress violently flipped her long hair back and forth, she went in and out of the frame of the projected image. At those moments when the live and projected image coincided, the effect was electrifying. Usually, however, with projected imagery there is no spatial continuity between stage and auditorium and consequently no ability to comprehend time. As in some sort of science fiction story, it is as if a parallel universe has somehow entered into our space-time continuum” (Aronson, 2005, p88). Are we seeing the vanguard slipping through and cataloging the stuff they need to liberate with extreme prejudice? Imagine a people who had mastered the theory and practice of travelling between parallel universes, and as poet and philosopher Stanley Victor Paskavich noted, “If there are ‘Infinite Dimensions’ then there would be infinite alternate realities, and if there are infinite alternate realities we would exist in almost all of them that would make all of us omnipresent. And if anyone of those beings was connected with all knowledge in all the realities they would fall under what most call a God”. It’s a whole lot harder to fight the master of inter-dimensional travel than a flesh and blood alien.
For this reason, I am a lot more worried about the arrival of shock troops from a parallel universe than some worn out extraterrestrial astronaut and the remnants of his space fleet. Obviously, if infinite possibilities exist, we could be facing sentient carnivorous dinosaurs, intelligent homicidal jellyfish, or Mongol hordes. It’s hard to say. William Makepeace Thakery once said, “The World is a looking glass and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face”, but what if your reflection looks back and says, “this is a stick-up”. Stop watching the skies and keep an eye on those mirrors. One never knows what might come through them.
Aronson, Arnold. Looking Into the Abyss: Essays On Scenography. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005.