Photo ©2014 by The Maryland Science Center [CC-BY-ND-2.0]
So, the notion that we’re gonna find some intelligent life and have a conversation with it? When was the last time you stopped to have a conversation with a worm? Or a bird? So, we don’t have conversations with any other species on earth with whom we have DNA in common. To believe that some intelligent other species is gonna be interested in us, enough to have a conversation?
-Neil DeGrasse Tyson
I was binge watching videos featuring on of my favorite physicists, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, when I stumbled upon a fascinatingly disturbing thought. If you look at the closest genetic relative to human beings- the chimpanzees- we share over 98% identical DNA. Yet, we think we are so much smarter than chimpanzees. Let’s say intelligence is your ability to compose poetry, symphonies, do art, math and science. Because chimps can do virtually none of these, they are “stupid.” let me remind you again, we share almost 99% identical DNA. The most brilliant a chimp could maybe do sign language, something our toddlers can do.
What concerns me deeply is that everything that distinguishes who we are from chimps must emerge from that 1% difference in DNA. Imagine another life form that is 1% different from us in the direction that we are different from the chimp. Think about how smart they would be. We are 1% different than chimps, yet we are building the Hubble Space Telescope while they are peeling bananas. If there were life forms 1% more intelligent than us, “we would be drooling, blithering idiots in their presence.” Quantum mechanics and masterful symphonies would be intuitive to their children as sign language is to ours.
That is where the quote at the top of the page ties in. We often try to imaging in the media and in science, what extraterrestrial life might look like. But I often keep myself up at night thinking. While everyone is wondering if life beyond earth does or does not exist, what scares me more is if there is plenty of it, but we are just too stupid to understand the universe around us. Who knows, maybe having that life form 1% above us is a good thing. To keep stability, to have a sense of someone or something that can actually make sense of string theory and god particles as if they were natural intuition. I just hope that one day, I will finally be able to see my questions answered.