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What If? Creative problem-solving in unlikely situations

I remember have heated debates with my boyfriend at the time over dinner as I collated notes for the student. Later, it was a great exercise for me too to write answers to the propositions. I can see now, how I would answer some things differently, so likely a future post will have an updated version of my responses. How would you respond to the propositions presented...?

launch problem solving_pixabay

"Proposition 1- Earthlings, faced with rapidly dwindling natural resources necessary to sustain life, discover a very earthlike planet in a nearby solar system, but still representing a journey that will take something excess of 100 years. Earthlings determine that a few hundred thousand people could be transported by means of a fleet of nuclear-powered spacecraft, understanding that it will be necessary to send families in order to arrive with a viable population of young people capable of taking up the task of establishing the first settlements. It is suspected, however, that the planet-we'll call Eden2-may be home to a technologically advanced species, given some of the evidence gathered over time by astronomers and space science missions. There is very little information, though the assumption is that Earthlings might not be welcomed with open arms. Problem: Should we look elsewhere? If not, how should we approach Eden2? Shall we ask the inhabitants for permission, try to work out a deal? Or, should we attempt a conquest?” (Anonymous, 2007). Response

As the Earth is depleted in resources and none of the available options within the problem include finding ways to maintain life of some from on Earth, we need to think about the assumptions we are making to solve our problem: 1) Look elsewhere besides Eden2

2) Approach Eden2 either as diplomats

3) Approach Eden2 as an invasion force

In each of these scenarios we assume that the populations we approach are at least humanoid enough for us to communicate with them on some level. If we are unable to establish some form of communication with others ‘out there’, the option of diplomatic advancement becomes extremely constrained. As such, it is highly unlikely that we would be able to settle on another planet with beings already present, or in the area, if we can’t communicate with them.

If we assume that the population of Eden2 can be communicated with, then it is in our best interest to take a diplomatic approach. By virtue of our assumption that they may be more technologically advanced then Earth, it would be illogical for us to choose invasion. The odds are we would be stopped or eliminated from existence. Either way we do not leave a good impression of our species with the population of Eden2, and or others elsewhere. Alternatively, Eden2 may have evolved into a society that is non-violent or even pacifist; however, it would be illogical to think that they would not have defences of some sort, especially given their advancement in technology. For example, they may have an impenetrable barrier around the planet or their places of dwelling; or firepower that is activated by too close an approach to their planet or dwelling; or they may be able to disarm their foe by way of being able to phase-shift (i.e., become invisible). As such, we it is best that we approach in a deferential manner, taking a slightly submissive role as ‘guest’ in their part of the galaxy, who need somewhere to live.

We could assume that the population of Eden2 would want something in exchange for allowing us to settle on their planet; as diplomacy is about negotiation, and there needs to be some benefit to them, for sharing resources with us. As they may have more advanced technology, we would need to get to know them better to know what we have to offer in exchange.

Alternatively, they may want something from us that we do not want to give, which leaves a lot to the imagination and calls into question many other assumptions that are better elucidated by the specifics of the situation in which they arise, if they do at all. The idea that another species would engage in Earth behaviours such as reciprocity, ‘scratch my back I’ll scratch yours’ is ethnocentric, however given they are technologically advanced, it is unlikely this has occurred without cooperation, compromise and reciprocity. At the very least though, we will have to continuously monitor ourselves for projection of our human concepts onto another species.

Given the probable higher levels of technology on Eden2, we could assume that they have advanced sociological systems as well, seeing as they have not used up all the natural resources nor are nearing extermination of themselves through technology advancement. Assuming that Eden2 has advanced socially, we could assume that they would be open to diplomatic negotiations regarding our settlement on their planet.

Being socially advanced, they would to have ways of accommodating other cultures they encounter. Large scale societies require social practices that incorporate differences and tolerances of others, whereas small scale societies ensure their survival by way of family or kin networks that help to identify ‘others’ who may threaten limited resources. Thus, it could be assumed that diplomatic negotiations with Eden2 would have a good to high probability of success, and to we should approach and ask if we can co-habit with them.

Although it must be kept in mind, that due to our lack of faster than light (FTL) technology, that the transport to Eden2 would take over 100 years, which is three generations of humans. Hence, our representatives that arrive for diplomatic negotiations would not in fact be Earthlings, as they would have not experienced our culture as we experience it today, and they could not even be considered ‘terrestrial’.

Their culture would be one of space and it is unlikely that the ones that arrive at Eden2 would even have known somebody who had once inhabited Earth. In this case, it may be feasible for ‘Earthlings’ to settle down within another solar system, as all exploding stars provide the raw material necessary to produce energy, with which to produce oxygen, water, food and materials to repair the ships.

The ‘Earthlings’ may become nomadic, or if they decide to settle down would perhaps do best in the solar system Earth is a part of, seeing as we are confident that no one else inhabits it with us, to date, and so competition for resources would be low or non-existent. As such, the ‘Earthlings’ have a Plan B if negotiations do not go well with Eden2, and so could look elsewhere.

Ultimately, neither solution to the problem involves invasion. Also, it appears feasible that the ‘Earthlings’ stand a good chance of settling Eden2. However, it could be argued that if we on Earth now had the foresight to plan so far ahead (i.e., to build transport ships, populate them and provide sustenance and power sources, and launch them), making great unselfish gestures in ignoring our ‘wants’ of today for a viable human future, that we would not actually be in the situation we would have to jettison to other planet.

Why would we bother to think so far ahead about the future of our species, our children, if we do exactly the opposite now? To be at a point where we would plan so carefully for a viable future, would necessitate that we were not in that situation in the first place. Presently, we do not appear to be a species as a whole that would pool resources, give up ‘what I want now’, and use the last of our energy, to provide for a viable future for those who are to come.

Those who would theoretically start the preparations would most likely not even live long enough to see the launch of the transport ships. Though, if the money and other benefits were compensated adequately, a few brilliant minds and laborers could make it happen. This would though, require others on Earth to make sacrifices, perhaps in the form of taxes, so that funds could be made available to pay the workers and to source and process materials to build, launch and sustain the convoy and early settlement.

Proposition 2- Turn the situation around. The inhabitants of Eden2, recognising they have all but exhausted the resources on their home planet, discover Earth. Being technologically able, they plan to send a fleet of potential colonists to Earth. They arrive, ask for permission to take up residence, but it throws the planet into political chaos. Everybody says: "Not in my backyard."

Moreover, the addition of these intelligent creatures, regardless of what they might give us in the way of new technology, will place a further burden of Earth's dwindling resources. Problem: What should we do? Welcome them? Find a way to accommodate them? Or, send them away? Prepare to defend the planet?” (Anonymous, 2007).


Assuming that a more technologically advance species would travel to Earth to seek settlement negotiations with a planet that is dying itself, we should welcome them. We could assume that those who are opposed to the idea of alien cohabitation are not those in political power, as those who are in power would likely be focused on health and weapons technology that those from Eden2 could provide.

The opposition is likely coming from people who would be expected to ‘sacrifice’ their resources, that is, the ‘common people’. However, it is likely that with the settlement of Eden2 to our planet, many of our fears regarding dwindling resources could be negated. All they would need is a foothold, such as being allowed to settle down, and then they could if they wished, drip feed us technological knowledge regarding weaponry, which may, given our creative resourcefulness evident across history, enable us to develop more productive ways of creating energy that did not deplete what we have.

As such, the population of Eden2 could contribute positively to our re-thinking the way we currently engage with each other and our planet. They would provide us with a model of what happens when a species doesn’t act cohesively.

However, as their planet already has dwindling resources, it can be assumed that their species is very much like us, and advancements in technology have not assured their survival, rather have enhanced their possible extinction.

So that we could assume that, like us, the Eden2 population is not overly concerned with its survival as a species otherwise they would not be in the position they are in at the moment. Also, it is likely that between us, as two species, we could speed up the extinction of ourselves collectively as we appear to be so similar in mind set.

The dominant issue in the current problem is that the population of Eden2 can be assumed to have grater firepower than is currently available on Earth, and that it would be illogical for us to encourage them to use it against us, as they would most likely win.

Perhaps a compromise could be reached, in that we could negotiate for them to live within our solar system and that we would provide support, in exchange for technology. We would not want them in orbit around our planet as they have superior firepower, and to date we do not have efficient means of building, launching and navigating ships that could intercept or invade their vessels.

We could perhaps intercept their missiles fired from space though. It is to be assumed that Eden2 have come to our solar system because we are the closest to their planet. However, due to their technology it is also likely that they are able to fare better in space than we are ourselves.

As such, Eden2 could take residence near the rings of Saturn for example, where there is an abundance of asteroid materials for mining of raw metals. Collaboration with Earth could provide them with resources such as salt-water for refinement to fresh water, and plant species so they could produce their own oxygen. The diplomats of the two species could ‘day-trip’ to each other’s place of dwelling to exchange resources and technology and to learn about each other. Ideally, we would work together towards a ‘common good’ that ensured the survival of both species.

Alternatively, we could find ways to pool our resources so that other planets within our solar system could provide viable habitats, and provide both species with a wider choice as to where to live.

Ultimately though, given that Eden2 is in its present predicament because they think so much like our species, I think it most likely that Eden2 would take advantage of their more powerful position. That is, for ‘the greater good’ they would choose to invade us. They may rationalise that our species is nearer to self-extermination than their own.

I think that they would use their greater fire power to take control of our planet; ‘survival of the fittest’. It may be that they approach the situation in a dichotic manner – there has to be a winner and a loser, or one of us is better than the other; a zero-sum game. Overall, I don’t think they would have any problem exterminating us, or at least making us the subordinate species, which is quite likely as we would be able to enhance their standard of living by being their slaves or something akin to this class.

In conclusion, I think we agree for them to settle within our solar system (although we would be unable to stop them anyway), in the hopes that we could work together as two species to benefit ourselves as a whole.

We could take a leaf from military strategists of history, and ‘host’ those of high political influence (e.g., kingdoms would exchange royal children to be brought up by the other), which is another way of saying ‘political hostages’, to increase the likelihood we will not be attacked. However, we would be relying on Eden2 to identify who are politically important to them. Meanwhile, we should also prepare to defend the Earth as best we could, because if they think like us, they will see it as their right to invade to survive.

Also, we should be learning as much as we can about them, so we can become more of an asset to them in a way that averts war, and so that we can defend ourselves effectively from them if needs be.

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