Dolphins and Extra Terrestrials

August 17, 2015 Carl Sagan

This is an excerpt from Carl Sagan’s book, The Cosmic Connection, where he discusses the relation between dolphins and extra terrestrials. 

The Cetaceans hold an important lesson for us. The lesson is not about whales and dolphins, but about ourselves.

There is at least moderately convincing evidence that there is another class of intelligent beings on earth besides ourselves. They have behaved benignly and in many cases affectionately towards us. We have systematically slaughtered them.

It is at this point that the ultimate significance of dolphins in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence emerges. It is not a question of whether we are emotionally prepared in the long run to confront a message from the stars. It is whether we can develop a sense that beings with quite different evolutionary histories, beings who may look far different from us, even “monstrous,” may, nevertheless, be worthy of friendship and reverence, brotherhood and trust. We have far to go; while there is every sign that the human community is moving in this direction, the question is, are we moving fast enough? The most likely contact with extraterrestrial intelligence is with a society far more advanced than we. But we will not at any time in the foreseeable future be in the position of the American Indians or the Vietnamese – colonial barbarity practiced on us by a technologically more advanced civilization – because of the great spaces between the stars and what I believe is the neutrality or benigngness of any civilization that has survived long enough for us to make contact with it. Nor will the situation be the other way around, terrestrial predation on extraterrestrial civilizations – they are too far away from us and we are relatively powerless. Contact with another intelligent species on a planet of some other star- a species biologically far more different from us than dolphins or whales – may help us to cast off our baggage of accumulated jingoisms, from nationalism to human chauvinism. Though the search for extraterrestrial intelligence may take a very long time, we could not do better than to start with a program of rehumanization by making friends with the whales and the dolphins.

Image courtesy Scott Portelli.