Searching for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

Part of the series The Frontiers Collection pp 429-449


A Contrarian Perspective on Altruism: The Dangers of First Contact

  • David BrinAffiliated withThe SETI League, Inc.

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


The key word in the title of this chapter – Altruism – generally conveys certain assumptions. The first of these is that altruism – a selfless imperative to assist others without expectation of reward – is likely to be a valued attribute among advanced technological civilizations. Moreover, in the SETI context, it implies that humanity should strive to display this attribute in communicating with extraterrestrial life forms that may be 1E8 to1E9 years ahead of us in development. Finally, one topic much under discussion within the SETI community – how to craft and send a deliberate message from Earth into space – is based on the supposition that we can dismiss any substantial likelihood that transmitting will expose humanity and our world to danger. Are all of these assumptions warranted? Or do they reflect the personal inclinations and wishes of a narrow group, arising from a particular culture and era? Given the potentially overwhelming implications of contact, we may be wise to reflect upon the full range of possible outcomes, not only those we yearn for. I, for one, would feel more confident in the inevitability of alien altruism if that beneficent trait appeared more often in nature.