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What Is The Brookings Report?

Updated on January 18, 2011
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The official title is “Proposed Studies on the Implications of Peaceful Space Activities for Human Affairs,” but it is more often referred to as "the Brookings Report." NASA's Committee on Long Range Studies commissioned the Brookings Institution  to create this report in 1960. After it was completed in 1961 it was submitted to the Committee on Science and Astronautics of the United States House of Representatives.  The report was entered into the Congressional Record and can be found in any library possessing the Congressional Record.

The most famous section of the Brookings Report is titled, "Implications of a Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life.” As one might suspect, this section discusses what the implications the discovery of extraterrestrial life would have on the general public, how U.S. leadership should handle information about such a discovery, and if it would be advisable to withhold such information from the public.

Here are some quoted passages taken directly from this report: (Keep in mind that this report was written in 1960.)

"While face-to-face meetings with it [intelligent extraterrestrial life] will not occur within the next 20 years (unless its technology is more advanced than ours, qualifying it to visit Earth), artifacts left at some point in time by these life forms might possibly be discovered through our space activities on the moon, Mars, or Venus." – page 215

"Anthropological files contain many examples of societies, sure of their place in the universe, which have disintegrated when they had to associate with previously unfamiliar societies espousing different ideas and different ways of life; others that survived such an experience usually did so by paying the price of changes in values and attitudes and behavior." – page 215

"Since intelligent life might be discovered at any time via the radio telescope research currently underway, and since the consequences of such a discovery are presently unpredictable because of our limited knowledge of behavior under even an approximation of such dramatic circumstances, two research areas can be recommended––

Continuing studies to determine emotional and intellectual understanding, and attitudes–and successive alterations of them if any–regarding the possibility and consequences of discovering intelligent extraterrestrial life.**

Historical and empirical studies of the behavior of peoples and their leaders when confronted with dramatic and unfamiliar events or social pressures. Such studies might help to provide programs for meeting and adjusting to the implications of such a discovery. Questions one might wish to answer by such studies would include: How might such information, under what circumstances, be presented to or withheld from the public for what ends? What might be the role of the discovering scientists and other decision makers regarding release of the fact of discovery?" – pages 215-16

"The knowledge that life existed in other parts of the universe might lead to greater unity of men on Earth, based on the "oneness" of man or on the age-old assumption that any stranger is threatening. Much would depend on what, if anything, was communicated between man and the other beings . . ." – page 215

"The positions of the major American religious denominations, the Christian sects, and the eastern religions on the matter of extraterrestrial life need elucidation. Consider the following: 'The fundamentalist (and anti-science) sects are growing a[t a steady] pace around the world . . . For them, the discovery of other life–rather than any other space product–would be electrifying. . . . some scattered studies need to be made both in their home centers and churches and their missions, in relation to attitudes about space activities and extraterrestrial life.'" – page 225, n.34  (I wonder if this was ever done.  We know the Vatican has appointed a Extraterrestrial Expert to its staff -)

"If plant life or some subhuman intelligence were found on Mars or Venus, for example, there is on the face of it no good reason to suppose these discoveries, after the original novelty had been exploited to the fullest and worn off, would result in substantial changes in perspective or philosophy in large parts of the American public, at least any more than, let us say, did the discovery of the coelacanth or the panda. – page 225, n.34" (Are they kidding???)

"If superintelligence is discovered, the results become quite unpredictable. It is possible that if the intelligence of these creatures were sufficiently superior to ours, they would choose to have little if any contact with us. On the face of it, there is no reason to believe that we might learn a great deal from them, especially if their physiology and psychology were substantially different from ours."– page 225, n.34 (Oh, right!  Many believe much of our recent discoveries [during the past 50 years] came from contact with Extraterrestrials and/or their spacecraft.)

"It has been speculated that, of all groups, scientists and engineers might be the most devastated by the discovery of relatively superior creatures, since these professions are most clearly associated with the mastery of nature, rather than with the understanding and expression of man. Advanced understanding of nature might vitiate all our theories at the very least, if not also require a culture and perhaps a brain inaccessible to earth scientists." – page 225, n.34

"Such studies would include historical reactions to hoaxes, psychic manifestations, unidentified flying objects, etc. Hadley Cantrel's study, 'Invasion from Mars' (Princeton University Press, 1940), would provide a useful if limited guide in this area. Fruitful understanding might be gained from a comparative study of factors affecting the responses of primitive societies to exposure to technologically advanced societies. Some thrived, some endured, and some died." – page 226, n. 37

I’m wondering how this report might have changed in the past 50 years with developments most of us are not privy to.  I, for one, take offense at the government’s insulting theory that humans (Americans) are too dumb or would be too terrified to take such news without totally falling apart!  Chicken Little is dead—long live open minded individuals!!

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