The eventual discovery of alien life, and the hope that it exists in various life-conducive pockets within our universe, is hardly a motivation relegated just to ufologists. Physicists, philosophers, and historians will no doubt have equal interest in this paradigm-shifting eventuality, and for different reasons. Think of what technology we can hope to utilize, for instance, in the event that an intelligent alien race begins to interact with Earthlings? Even in the event that we were only to discover more primitive life than ours on a nearby planet, the implications regarding our own evolution as a species could be placed in a new perspective, through the simple observation of how life evolves on a non-Earth environment.
It remains the hope of many ufologists that unidentified aircraft with capabilities far exceeding our known laws of physics might represent extraterrestrials. Elsewhere, space programs employ cosmologists with hope of determining where “out there” such life might exist. However, it always seems to be the case that the search for intelligent life is something that, while hopeful (and even probable), requires a tremendous amount of diversity in thinking applied to the actual process.
It’s only natural that humans will tend toward anthropomorphizing any subject we approach; in the absence of any clear, concrete understanding of what extraterrestrial life might be like, what else might we use as a frame of reference, other than ourselves? Even when we begin to consider the implications of alleged ET contact in the form of alien abductions, we see the same reoccurring trends: painfully anthropomorphic, bipedal beings with heads, torso, arms, legs, and often humanesque features such as stereoscopic vision, ears, noses, mouths–or orifices resembling any of these, at very least–all tend to appear rather frequently. While one could argue that it is simply a likelihood that this bipedal form is the most advanced rendering a biological being might adopt through evolutionary processes anywhere in the universe, we must also question this criteria, especially from the perspective that advanced extraterrestrials may be thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of years more technologically advanced than us.
Given such possibilities, it is hard to fathom exactly what forms technologically-enhanced “life” might take; and thus, supposing there is any veracity to the notion of extraterrestrial contact with humans via UFO abduction, the appearances of alien “greys” and the like could quite easily represent, for instance, psychic manifestations projected into the conscious human mind, which merely represent a form of intelligence that is simply far too advanced to be perceived by a biological being observing space-time in three dimensions. In other words, the perception that aliens might appear as biological beings might in itself be illusory; an artifact presented to us by advanced intelligence to help humans reconcile with the otherwise extraordinary (or perhaps even imperceptible) elements such an advanced technology might possess.
While we may be light years from being able to perceive nonhuman intelligence in terms of what I’ve described above, at very least, the scientific establishment seems to be taking measures toward broadening the criteria for finding life. Wired recently reported at it’s blog that a team headed by scientists that include Abel Mendez of the University of Puerto Rico at Aricebo have hoped to establish a new index that ranks planetary habitability:
The team proposes to rank planets on both an Earth Similarity Index (ESI) and also a broader Planetary Habitability Index (PHI). The first index looks at how close a planet is to Earth in mass, temperature, and composition while the second is based on the whether or not it possesses more exotic chemistries, liquids, and energy sources than found on our planet. Alien life could be based on elements other than carbon, require liquids other than water, and gain energy through means other than sunlight.
Granted, this new index also still relegates potentials for “alien life” to those which exhibit obvious biology; I’ve often wondered whether our hope for discovering advanced intelligence elsewhere in the universe might rest not on the search for life as we know it, but perhaps instead on finding “life-like” organism that could possess various degrees of animation and autonomy… or even sentience. Regardless, we have a long way to go, but for the time being, perhaps a trend toward diversifying our own thought processes will prove more useful in finding alien life than even the most advanced telescopes and space probes… in which case, solving this masterful riddle of the greater universe may involve using our greatest available technology: our own minds.