I remember my older brother wondering aloud if life on other planets might be carbon-based. I didn't care what they were made of, as long as they didn't have disintegrator rays. I read "War of the Worlds," but I wasn't counting on any flu virus to take out the BEMs that were undoubtedly headed our way. What were the chances, my brother would ask the heavens, that we were the only intelligent life in this galaxy? In this universe? It just didn't make any sense. It also didn't help me sleep at night.
Now that I am much older and wiser, I tend not to panic at the suggestion of extraterrestrial visits. I have had years of soothing images from Steven Spielberg to comfort that part of me that is still traumatized by tales of abduction and probing found in so many other forms of media. Beings from another planet would just drop by to show off their profound wisdom and empathy, and a common taste for tasty candies.
"If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn't turn out well for the Native Americans," says Stephen Hawking. "Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach." Thank you very much, Professor Hawking. Why wouldn't they be charmed by our whimsical attempts to contact them by beaming a Beatle's song "Across The Universe?" We already sent them Chuck Berry, why can't they just leave us in peace?
Maybe the answer is simpler than that. Like the guy said in "Close Encounters," in response to one of his flunkies suggesting that Einstein was right: "Einstein was probably one of them." In this case, I might suggest that Stephen Hawking is actually a visitor from a distant planet, who sadly miscalculated the effects of our gravity on his musculature. Now he's just talking tough to scare us. At least that's what I'm going to tell myself when I look up at the stars at night.