A university student in Memphis poses the question:
Did the Ancient Maya have extraterrestrial help to achieve their civilization?
Ever since I was a child wondering at the night sky, I have hoped and wished to see a UFO. I collected stories from magazines and newspapers about them; read all I could get my hands on, of the literature by Donald Kehoe, Project Blue Book, etc. But it never happened; I have never laid eyes on a flying saucer, or even a suspicious moving point of light.
I still would welcome a proof of their existence, but to date I have never seen any evidence that anyone is out there. As a scientist, I must conclude that, without more substantial evidence, we have never been visited by extraterrestrial intelligence. As a scientist, I am also impressed by the arithmetic that suggests overwhelmingly that we are not alone in the galaxy. Everywhere we look we seem to find planetary systems, and a calculable portion of these fall in the same range of life-sustaining features that we enjoy here on the thin habitable skin of the Earth. If only one out of a million solar systems is inhabited, then there are 200,000 such star systems in our galaxy. If we are just an average planet, then perhaps half of these will have a civilization more advanced than ours. That’s still 100,000 potential star-sailing civilizations. As far as I am concerned, it’s certain that they are out there.
So why aren’t they here too? Why haven’t some of them come here and conquered us just as Europeans conquered the Americas, the Pacific Islands, and most of Africa? I think it is simple economics. The Galaxy is about 100,000 light-years across; that is, it has a radius of 50,000 light-years.
Let’s assume that star-sailing civilizations within 50 light-years might consider it worth the expense to send a probe to Earth. That radius of 50 light-years constitutes about one-millionth the area of the Galaxy. Of the 100,000 candidates, the chance of any one of them falling within 50 light-years is thus about 10%. You have to expand the radius to 150 light-years to get a reasonable chance of finding one of those 100,000 civilizations.
All this is predicated on my vaporous guess of one in a million stars harboring starfaring civilizations… If the proportion be higher, the radius shrinks, and if there are fewer, then they are likely even farther away. But in any case, suppose they determined which planets were worth visiting by picking up our radio signals. We’ve only had radio for a century. They’d have to be within 100 light-years to even know where to look for us.
Then there is the cost. In Star Trek and Star Wars, we assume the existence of Warp Drive, some way of violating the speed of light, called c. As far as our primitive physics is concerned, c is a speed limit for any travel. Suppose you live near Sirius (8.6 light-years away), and want to visit Earth. Unless you have Warp Drive, you might, with tremendous expense of energy, be able to attain a speed of, say, 1/10 of c. It would take you 86 years to get here. And 86 more to get back. Who would volunteer for such a mission? They’d spend their lives in space, and only their kids and grandkids would be able to visit Earth. And only their grandkids might be able to return with a report. Consider what it cost to send men to the Moon –so much we haven’t done so since 1972. The Apollo Program cost about 25 billion 1972 dollars, which would be about 100 billion today. We, the wealthiest nation on Earth, have chosen not to spend that kind of money again, not for Mars, not even for the Moon again… . The Moon is like a quarter-million miles away. How much more would it cost to mount a spaceship to the stars? Who has that kind of money? Add to that, a starship to Sirius and back (or vice versa) would not produce any benefit for at least 170 years… . Who would undertake such an expense, for a possible result no-one sees for five generations? I remain skeptical that any race, human or not, is so far-sighted.
Okay, you say, when Warp Drive is invented, the time issue will no longer be a problem. Maybe not. But who is to say that Warp will be less expensive than going the long way? I would bet, if it can exist (and no-one has come close to explaining how it could), it will cost more, much more. Remember the Concorde? From 1976 to 2003, one could fly New York to Paris in three hours. For a ticket price that rose to over $8000 by 2001. Yeah, supersonic flight is possible, but it cost so much that they closed it down.
Maybe we will someday discover how to Warp our way across the universe in less than twenty lifetimes. But it’ll probably use energy the equivalent of the sun’s entire output for a year, and cost the GDP of ten major nations… .
This is why I think we –and the ancient Maya– have never hosted any Visitors from Space. As likely as it is that intelligent life is up there, it is even more likely that they cannot afford to get here.
The question also brings up the issue of Diffusionism. To say that the Maya needed the help of Spacemen (or Vikings, or Egyptians, or whomever) to create their civilization is simply racist. It is to say they were incapable of building pyramids, or inventing writing, or taming the jungle, by themselves. It is to say that they are inferior to White Folks, who did build pyramids, did invent writing, and did tame their environment (for a while, but that’s another question!)… . I maintain that Amerindians, and Africans, and Polynesians, and any people on Earth, are capable of all these things (under the right circumstances), and to ascribe their stupendous achievements to “superior” visitors, simply because we cannot conceive of having the means or the will to do it ourselves, is nothing more than lack of imagination. Racist lack of imagination. And to say that they had to have help from Extraterrestrials is racism against the whole human race. Now that is low self-esteem!
The Maya were indeed marvelous and awe-inspiring, and they were so by themselves, without any help from outside.
We humans are shortsighted, violent, and self-destructive. But we are also generous, loving, and full of glorious creativity. The seesaw of history is simply the swing back and forth between these qualities.