Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.
Our fascination with aliens is, I fear, closely correlated to our ignorance about them.
We speculate, we dream, we make movies. At heart, though, we have no idea whether our microwaves, our plastic bags, even our marble dough-rollers aren't actually beings from outer space. (I'm also suspicious of some of the "humans" who live on my street.)
Instead, we imagine little green people.
I bring you, therefore, threatening news. Little green people might actually be very, very big.
University of Barcelona cosmologist Fergus Simpson has been thinking deeply about alien size. He recently published a paper entitled "The Nature of Inhabited Planets And Their Inhabitants."
He relies on a mathematical model that says other planets conserve energy just like we do. "Throughout the animal kingdom, species which are physically larger invariably possess a lower population density, possibly due to their enhanced energy demands," he says.
Bigger beings consume more and release more energy than do smaller beings.
Earth, he says, "constitutes a simple random sample amongst inhabited planets." We have more smaller beings than larger ones. He doesn't believe, however, that Earth is a fair sample. Instead, he says that "most inhabited planets are likely to be closer in size to Mars than the Earth."
If that is true, then "since population density is widely observed to decline with increasing body mass, we conclude that most intelligent species are expected to exceed 300kg." Yes, that would be 650 pounds.
Your average polar bear weighs around 650 pounds. But as Seth Shostak, researcher at the SETI (Search For Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) Institute told Newsweek: "Polar bears are large but do not write great literature and build radio towers and a lot of that is probably because they are walking around on all fours."
Ultimately, we know very little because we've seen very little. Shostak, who has done some previous work suggesting any extraterrestrials we might find would be on the large side, notes the speculative nature of Simpson's paper. "It's interesting, but there's really no concrete data to work with."
We base many of our assumptions on our own incomplete knowledge, when there might be entirely other forms of being that we simply haven't imagined or encountered. There might be forms of matter that are beyond the scope of our current thinking.
It's still stimulating to imagine that beings twice our size or more could be looking down at us. It's also worrying that Stephen Hawking. Might they, though, be looking at us with a tinge of contempt?
Might they consider that we are, both physically and intellectually, mere self-aggrandizing ants who believe that we know and see when all we're really doing is blowing our primitive trumpets?
Might they giggle to each other and snort: "Humans? They're just not worth it, are they?"