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Is there a possibility of being subjected to eternal torture by aliens?

by onevoyager2 min read28th Aug 202015 comments

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I recently thought of the possibility of this scenario while reading about the Fermi paradox. This may sound highly unlikely and like the plot of a sci-fi horror movie, and there is no evidence that it will happen. However, is there a possibility of this happening?

Scenario:

Highly technologically advanced aliens become aware of our existence or are already aware and decide to torture us (possible motivations are listed below).

They are able to make themselves invisible to us and travel to Earth or to send AI to do the same. Then, they enter our bodies (e.g. through nanobots). They edit our genomes to make us immortal and only able to do things that are necessary to keep ourselves alive (e.g. drinking water). Or they upload our minds.

They can then cause us pain and even edit our genomes to cause us to experience more pain (e.g. by adding more pain receptors). It could be possible for them to torture us until the end of the universe, if they have the ability to generate enough energy to keep us conscious. Even after the end of the universe, it might be possible for them to torture us in a different universe (Zeeya Merali writes about the possibility of creating a new universe in A Big Bang in a Little Room).

The following consists of more of my ideas about this. Obviously, please feel free not to read it.

Possible motivations for why aliens may want to torture us include:

  • They (or a group or an individual) have evolved to feel sadistic pleasure when they harm others who don't belong to their group.
  • They may gain feelings of status or power from harming us.
  • They may feel a strong desire for justice and wish to punish us for the actions of a small number of people who harm others (e.g. animals).
  • They may wish for aliens from other societies/planets to know about their technological abilities or cruelty (less likely).
  • They (or a group or an individual) develop a mental illness that causes them to wish to harm others. This seems less likely because such a technologically advanced society would likely be able to edit their own genomes to prevent and treat mental illness or would have non-biological bodies.

A possible reason for why aliens may torture us, without necessarily wanting to, is:

  • If their AI is hacked or programmed to harm others who don't belong to their group, the AI may decide to harm us.

Reasons why this scenario, although unlikely, may be possible:

Reasons why this scenario is unlikely include:

  • There is the possibility that we are the only life (or intelligent life) in the universe. So far, we haven't found evidence of aliens.
  • As far as we know, no aliens have visited Earth (there is the possibility that they have without our knowledge). This suggests that it's likely that aliens cannot visit, don't want to visit, or/and are not aware of us.
  • Highly intelligent aliens who live in a technologically advanced society are unlikely to care about us or to be concerned about what's happening on Earth.
  • They would likely be able to edit their own genomes or to program themselves to always experience positive emotions and pleasure. They would then be less likely to be motivated to travel to Earth and torture others.
  • Highly intelligent aliens may be more likely to have evolved to be kind toward others.
  • It could take at least hundreds of years for aliens to travel to Earth, depending on how far away they are (unless they are able to travel faster than the speed of light).
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Technically, everything is possible (unless it violates the laws of physics, i.e. I am not sure about the part with making new universes), so yes, there is a posibility.

Is there a good reason to focus on this specific scenario, instead of the billion other possibilities?

The key problem with your question is that you ignore the evolutionary pressures. To become an intergalactic civilisation it's necessary to be very good at cooperation because it means that many actors have the capability to blow everything up.  

Other evolutionary pressures are about using resources effectively. Torturing people on earth wouldn't be an effective use of resources. 

If aliens could torture us, another alien race could come and save us.

I have similar anxieties over possible torture scenarios (although mine relate to AI instead of aliens), but this specifically seems somewhat unlikely to me. If you were to think of it the other way around, we'd be unlikely to have some weird sadistic "itch" to torture these aliens we found. Hell, we don't even know if aliens would suffer in the same way that we do; perhaps they evolved a completely separate and alien mechanism to alert themselves to injury. In the same way, human concepts like "suffering" would potentially be an alien concept to these supposedly evil aliens.


Also worth considering is that if they're far more intelligent than us, they'd likely view us as we do ants. There's little reason to believe that sadistic aliens would prefer torturing humans to dogs or insects, which are probably a similar distance away from the aliens on the intelligence scale as we are.


For this scenario to happen, we'd (1) need to be visited by aliens (it could've happened at any point in human history and is yet to happen, so seems unlikely); who (2) recognise and care about concepts like "suffering" that may seem arbitrary to them; (3) have some sort of sadistic or *extremely* vengeful attitude and desire to torture humans despite seemingly being a waste of resources; and (4) fail to recognise that torturing a race over something like this is likely to be considerably unpopular with other aliens and could result in their own "punishment" of sorts.


Those 4 points alone create a conjunction of very low probability. It's possible, but we have more pressing concerns.