How Would You Describe Life On Earth To An Extraterrestrial?

You are out one afternoon minding your own business. Not really thinking about anything in particular. As you walk through the underbrush near the edge of the forest you look up.  Did you just hear a theremin? Weird!

After a while, you are in a dense forest. You can just smell the pine needles and wood ticks. There is that sound again.  A totally unnatural sound. Metallic? Nooooope?  You walk a little further and through the canopy, you can see that the sun has almost set, the forest lights up with oranges and red tones.  You keep walking…

With no slip or break in time, your forest views change to gray metal walls. It was as if time stopped and you were transferred to a weird office room.  No windows, no sounds, no explanation.  Just a table platform with one chair on one side and what looks like a concave mirror the size of a large chair on the other side.  You wonder if you have fallen and hit your head and now are strapped into a hospital bed with brain damage experiencing a hallucinatory nightmare.  Panic kicks in and you can taste copper in your mouth.

With no warning, a panel in the wall opens up and a twelve-legged, nine-eyed, semi-transparent creature undulates in.  You hope you are strapped into a hospital bed drooling on yourself.  Your not!

A hammer-like blow hits you straight between the ears.  It impacts again. There is a sound with no obvious direction. It’s coming from somewhere but you can’t detect from which direction. After a while of introspection and thought you realize the hammer is not a hammer but words. English?

It seems to be coming from the multi-eyed, multi-limbed polyp looking creature. It repeats the message:

“As a being of Earth please tell us what Earth is like. All living creatures consciousness is important to us. Tell us how you see your planet.”

You sit in stunned silence as you believe you can feel the vague straps on your wrists and a blunt feeding tube, but no luck you are here in a dank little room with an alien life form. What can be said, what should not be said? Are there wrong answers?  Is this creature some kind of interstellar scientist, or does it just like to play with his food before devouring it?

You think for a long while then stammer out…

In some ways, life here, humanity I mean…is morbid and repugnant. In some ways, you would be better skipping town and arrive at the next planet. Our planet lays claim to bloody warfare and inhuman methodologies. Through our history, we have attacked and dehumanized others based on their appearance, and even now we judge them for their outwards beauty or lack thereof. We pretend that others don’t exist due to their way of life, and we commit horrific atrocities because we are blinded by the false truth of our gods.

But, if we wanted it, we can do anything. We can make language, cities, and culture. We can make stories that last centuries and can make discoveries that last the test of time. We can advance our sciences and knowledge of them to an infinite degree.

More important than that, though, is our bonds with each other. When we stand tall and brave, no tyranny can topple us. Our wills are steel and our morals iron, and our ideals are stronger than any metal. We can overcome any tragedy when we set our strength to it, and each one makes us stronger. Our arms wrapped around one another can mend any tear in our heart, and our tears for another will heal our damage.

You don’t know exactly why but you infer that the creature looks bored at your answer. You change gears on a dime. You put on your imaginary lab coat.

I believe that the single most astonishing attribute of life on Earth is that it is ALL related.

This is entirely counter-intuitive because on a macroscopic level, a bird is clearly not the same as a dolphin, or a spider the same as an octopus or a cabbage, and yet ALL of life uses the same basic cellular molecular processes, divided into three domains. Roughly 50% of our DNA is shared with cabbage and bananas.

Most of what we think of as “life” is just in that tiny three-pronged branch on the far right, including all animals and plants. Charts and images from bygone days of school materialize in the centre of the table.

If you look at the evidence at a molecular level, analyzing the structure of the DNA that life shares on Earth, you will find that EVERY living thing on Earth is related by descent. Our tree of life looks like this…

If you look at it over time, you can see how all of life branched out from a solitary surviving branch 3.8 billion years ago.

There is a long silence in the room.  Is the thing thinking? Does it sleep?

A single wave of the creatures lower right tentacle and you are back in the forest. It is past midnight now and you are cold and shaken up. You go home eat a cold dinner and consider if what just happened really happened or not.

You hope you gave useful answers.

Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people and I am just one of them.

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