Friday, June 06, 2008

Where is the alien Bach?

Every once and a while, someone asks the question: if there are aliens out there, and they are visiting us here, why haven't they shown us evidence of their cultural achievements, such as music, or art, or literature? In short, where is the alien Mozart, or Bach, or Shakespeare, or Monet?

Leaving aside for the moment the possibility that perhaps aliens have done exactly that, but in ways that we perhaps cannot comprehend or do not recognize as "art" or "literature" or even "music" (I wonder how many people in ancient Rome would consider the Sex Pistols to be "music", at least as they understood it), one should entertain two other possibilities - one rooted in the way we behaved when dealing with less technologically advanced cultures, and one that is rooted in the question of who, or what, might be coming here.

In terms of the former, it is useful to remember that when Western explorers landed on unfamiliar shores, art, literature and music were by and large the last things that they had in mind when dealing with the local populace. Power, as Mao observed, comes from the barrel of a gun, not from a toccata. Perhaps aliens are "human" enough to behave in much the same way that we once did. In other words, perhaps they are here to do with us what they want to do with us, and not give us a crash course in modern music on Zeta Reticuli.

More likely, however, is the prospect that any "aliens" who would be visiting here are artificial life forms - robots, to use the classic reference, or AI to use the more modern term. The so-called "finer things" in life may well be beyond them, or were not included in their programming or mission by whatever beings sent them on their way, in the same way that the plucky little Mars Rover isn't packing an IPod full of Paul Simon songs.

There is one final possibility - perhaps an alien culture would be, you know, "alien", in the sense that they would have vastly different priorities and concerns than we do. Maybe music, and art, and literature, are meaningless to them, in the same way that they hold little or no meaning for some human beings?

All of this is grist for discussion over a few beers, but when you read someone telling you that there can't be aliens coming here, because they have never shown us their "finer things", don't take it seriously.

As can be seen, we have no idea what their "finer things" are - one could just as easily ask why the aliens don't show us porn, which, judging by its prevalence on the Internet, is more popular than Bach.

Maybe, just maybe, we should be looking for an alien Jenna Jamieson ... and maybe, just maybe, given the number of alien abduction encounters that include a sexual element, we've already had one!

Paul Kimball


Shu'Gi said...

Interesting Thoughts! Maybe their "appearences" are an art-form which we don't recognise as such? Reality Abduction Theatre on Planet Earth?

Greg Bishop said...

What happened to the hiatus? : )

As you suggest, perhaps if there was such a thing as alien art, we wouldn't recognize it as such.

For us, art is usually the expression of something that cannot be put into words (or something that can, but is much better and subtly expressed in other ways.) Other intelligences may have no need for metaphor or symbolism--i,e, they may be beyond that, or simply live it.

P.S. Are your email accounts working?

Cliff W said...

Alien intervention as performance art, anyone?

Greg Bishop said...


Have you read my blog posts about this?

NickJones said...

Since I am in the cryptoterrestrial camp, I see in many of encounters throughout history examples of what we called, in my college years, 'fucking with our heads.'Think the French knights in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" ("I told him we already had one.") Or some of the reported conversations with the 'airship pilots' of the 19th century. Or the bizarre actions of the MIBs: trying to drink Jell-o, being handed a ballpoint pen and running away to jump into a black car, like Indiana Jones with some precious relic. Anarchic Dada/Surrealist comedians?

Or they could be like Zen masters, trying to spark our enlightenment with simple, mundane tasks, like the 'ufonauts' that made the Simonton Pancakes.

But let's assume that the entities are extraterrestrial. Think of the beautiful pictures of nebulae that the Hubble Telescope has produced. If you have a galaxy-wide audience, wouldn't you need a REALLY big "canvas"...?

Ray said...

Earth is off-Broadway.

The main advantage of an alien abduction drama: captive audience.