October 30, 1938 brought panic to the streets of New York. Orson Welles had adapted H. G. Wells’ science fiction novel The War of the Worlds for radio, and many listeners thought they were hearing a live broadcast on a Martian invasion.
Scientific American speculates on how we might react to the discovery of alien life. In an article awash with evolutionary assumptions, author Yasemin Saplakoglu quotes some true believers, including SETI’s Seth Shostak:
“Perhaps it might make sense for our brains—tuned by millions of years of evolution to be wary of predators—to freak out over immensely powerful alien beings arriving on our cosmic doorstep from parts unknown.”
Saplakoglu also discusses the views of neuroscientist Cornelius Gross:
“Gross thinks we would probably first try to understand it, a reaction that can be interpreted as yet another ancient, evolutionarily sculpted defense system aimed at gaining control of a novel situation.”