One concept of alien life which has stuck with me, came from an interview with an ex-Air Force pilot on a late night alien stories on YouTube binge. He said there is no, “if” aliens exist. He said they exist and they’ve been here with us the whole time. The interview blew my mind in the concept of aliens not being in the form we know but living alongside us in a fourth, fifth, sixth, and so on... dimension. We can’t see them. They see us.
The ex-pilot warned humanity doesn’t want to see aliens because when they do make themselves visible to us, that means they want something we have. And that’s not good news. So no aliens is better than aliens.
British science writer Philip Ball has the same impression of what aliens probably are vs. what humans have conceptualized them to be. He says science fiction has actually limited our ability to conceptualize aliens. Maybe we haven't found signs because we aren’t looking correctly. Maybe they’re in other dimensions. Maybe they come in spray form. Maybe they’re just really basic forms of life.
For as long as scientists have looked for alien life, they have conceived them in our own image. The quest arguably began with a 1959 Nature paper by the physicists Giuseppe Cocconi and Philip Morrison, who argued that ‘near some star rather like the Sun there are civilisations with scientific interests and with technical possibilities much greater than those now available to us’. The two scientists further posited that such aliens would have ‘established a channel of communication that would one day become known to us’. Such alien signals would most likely take the form of shortwave radio, which is ubiquitous through the Universe, and would contain an obviously artificial message such as ‘a sequence of small prime numbers of pulses, or simple arithmetical sums’.
Nothing in this suggestion was unreasonable, but it’s self-evidently the result of two smart scientists asking: ‘What would we do?’ Cocconi and Morrison’s proposal to look for familiar types of signals, coming from familiar types of technology, has heavily conditioned the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) ever since. Today, the Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb thinks it might be good to look for spectroscopic signatures of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the atmospheres of alien planets, apparently in the conviction that aliens have fridges like ours (or perhaps they’re just crazy about hairspray). Other scientists have proposed finding aliens by looking for their light-polluting cities; their starship Enterprise-style antimatter drives; or the radiation flashes from extraterrestrial nuclear war. It all sounds dreadfully… human.