I was probably six years old when my parents and I had a conversation about space exploration at the dinner table. I think I had seen something on the McNeil-Lehrer News Hour (sponsored by Laclede Gas, aired after the afternoon installment of Sesame Street) about NASA and how they were working around (or, more appropriately, with) holes in the ozone layer. According to my memory, NASA was shooting rockets through these holes instead of around them, with the assumption that if the holes weren’t going anywhere, anyway, they might as well use them for rocket launching instead of punching new holes through what ozone was left.
(I may have missed a few details, but I’m fairly sure this was the case.)
Anyway, my parents I were talking about it at the dinner table, and I came up with some six-year-old idea about how NASA could launch rockets. It wasn’t terrifically smart or anything, but I was in first grade and watched a lot of public television. “What if they…” I said, and came up with something I thought was a good idea.
“Don’t bother,” one of my parents said, “Any idea you come up with has already been tried by someone else.”
Even when I was six, this struck me an unnecessarily mean. You know, I’m sure that my idea had been tried by NASA before (or possibly a classroom full of seventh graders, whatever), but I’d thought it was original and this was the first (and nearly only) time I was ever interested in the space program. And this is why since then, I am always skeptical of myself before I express what I believe is an original thought.
The parent’s voice in my head depends on whichever one I’m more angry with at the moment, but I hear “any idea you come up with has already been tried by someone else” immediately after something I had previously never thought of occurs to me. This is probably why I’m a terrible stoner. On the occasions that I do smoke, I have no inclination towards having moronic conversations filled with philosophical ramblings and half-baked solutions. I just sit there quietly. I know that very few of my thoughts are original or even useful, so I keep them to myself.
Having original thoughts is especially problematic “in this day and age,” and I put that in quotations because a) it’s not original and b) I hate the way it sounds but can’t come up with anything else. So much of the information we absorb is saturated with pop culture, and we’re bombarded with it during nearly every waking moment of our lives, whether we’re conscious of it or not. I can make a joke at a bar and everyone laughs, but it’s not until weeks later when I’m sitting in front of the TV that I realize my inflection was totally stolen from Mr. Belding during a season two episode of Saved By The Bell. Too many people have put clever thoughts into TV, movies, books, and songs, and there’s too much of it for us to make the distinction between that and original anymore.
For years, I’d had this thought that I never really expressed because not only was I afraid that it wasn’t original, but I also thought it was good. I was sure that I’d never heard it from anyone else, but I was afraid that if I did share the thought and someone accused me of stealing it from somewhere, I’d be really embarrassed not only in front of them, but also inside my own head. When I finally told someone else about my thought, they said they’d had it, too, but they also assured me that I hadn’t stolen it from anywhere. And I believe them because they spend way more time on the Internet than I do.
So here’s the thought: there are no aliens.
Well, not like we think there are. See, I firmly believe that there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. There must be. The universe is vaster than our comprehension allows, so maintaining that we are the only beings capable of communication and industry and rocketry is just plain wrong. It’s narcissistic and jealous. It’s afraid.
So I concede that there are other intelligent life forms out there that are presumably capable of some form of space travel, just like we are here on Earth. But I don’t think they are what people see when they see aliens.
For a long time, I’ve thought that what people call aliens (ie, the greyling ones that so scared me when I was a kid and saw them on Unsolved Mysteries that I was hysterical over the thought of getting abducted by them) are actually super-evolved humans who have mastered quantum physics and traveled backwards in time to study humans from the past.
It’s not like I spend a ton of time thinking about this, and I don’t believe that all of the bright ideas we have now are because of the aliens (sometimes you just have to call a pyramid a pyramid, folks), but you have to admit that my theory is just as possible as regular, distant planet-style aliens who shove cattle prods up people’s butts in the middle of Nebraska.
And, as far as original thoughts go, it’s as good as anything I had on NASA.