It seems that human beings have been searching for another planet for as long as they have had telescopes. They have dreamed of other people from other planets. They have had fantasies of being abducted by them. They have dreamed of other planet to which they could move. They have hoped to meet advanced aliens who could teach them how to live.
Where does this search for another planet come from? There are many explanations for it. At the surface, it appears to be about curiosity. Are we the only living beings in the universe, or are there others? On a deeper level, it seems to be related to loneliness. We feel a desire to connect with others. We want to know that we’re not the only people in the universe. And perhaps there is the wish to meet others who are more advanced and can lead us out of our misery.
It is not hard to understand that we are destroying our planet. The history of humankind is a history of selfish regard for ourselves and disregard of others on our planet and our planet itself. And it is a history of denial of what we are doing to our planet. We are cutting down our rain forests, polluting our air, our rivers and our oceans. We are disturbing our ecosystem. Our planet is warming up to the point where it will no longer sustain life. We are dumping tons of garbage into the oceans and shooting tons of stuff into space that will later fall someplace. We are building larger and larger bombs that will be used sooner or later to blow up our planet.
We have always had madmen on our planet, and when they are so mad they no longer care what happens to our planet and they no longer care what happens to them, they are dangerously mad. A madman will become a suicide bomber, and a mad leader may become a mega-suicide-bomber and fill the world with H-bombs. On some level we all know this and constantly live in fear.
No wonder we want to find another planet. Let’s get out of here while we can. Let’s go find another planet to inhabit. Let’s have a new beginning on another planet. Maybe it will go better this time. We’ll learn from our mistakes. We’ll have high ideals. No more selfishness. No more pollution. No more bombs. No more war. That is the hope. But is that hope based on reality or wishful thinking?
Like an insecure single man or woman who looks to marry someone who is richer, more attractive, or more confident, we long to find aliens from another planet to help us out of our doomed existence. We have romantic fantasies about being abducted by them and taken away to a happy after. We speculate that they will lift us to their level and explain the purpose of life and the universe.
On a shadowy level, the search for another planet represents an escape from our own inner turmoil. That inner turmoil begins when we become aware of our mortality, usually at an early stage. We learn that we have been born into this world for no other apparent reason but to propagate our species before we die. We spend our time here on earth trying to distract ourselves from that knowledge in one way or another. But we can’t totally escape the certainty that we are all going to die. We try to believe in religions of an afterlife, but in the meantime we have to die and there is nothing to do about it.
We have invented many ways to distract ourselves. We dope ourselves with drugs. We become rich and powerful. We keep ourselves entertained and focus on the trivialities of life. We destroy each other in personal conflicts that get out of hand and wars that spread throughout the world. But death is always there, lurking in some corner of our mind. The search for another planet is a search for a way to find immortality.
The reality, however, is that if we ever did find another habitable planet, and if we started over on this planet, before long we would destroy it just as we are destroying our own. Before long we would pollute it, overcrowd it, and build weapons of war that would threaten that planet as they do ours at present. If we met other aliens we would get into conflicts and wars with them, just as we get into inevitable conflicts and war among ourselves. A few humans occasionally reach advanced levels of maturity in which they understand the basic principles for attaining peace and harmony, but such people are not listened to by the majority of humankind. If we met advanced aliens, we wouldn’t listen to them because they would seem suspicious to us.
Instead of looking for other planets deep in space, we need to look deeply into our own psyches. We need to understand what makes us destroy our planet and what makes us destroy ourselves. Why do we spend most of our time and money building cars that emit toxins into the sky, electronic devices that make our lives easier while at the same time alienating us from each other, bombs that could kill the planet in a few seconds, planes and drones that can fly invisibly into enemy countries? The money we spent for war is about 100 time the money we spend to understand ourselves better.
Sigmund Freud, who was one of those who urged humankind to understand itself, noted that the id (the primitive and most destructive part of the mind) was much stronger than the ego (the realistic part of the mind). He compared the id and ego to a horse and rider. The ego must hold tightly to the reins, because if the horse gets out of control, there will be nothing the rider can do.
Before we find other planets, we need to learn how to hold our horses.