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First off, I am rarely in this section of ATS (I mostly stick to politics), so please excuse any regurgitation or subsequent boredom with the 'first contact' topic.
Before I even get into my setup, I want to say that I'd like this discussion to be around the leverage (what we have to offer/barter with) that humanity would have during a First Contact situation. I'm also assuming, for the sake of this discussion, that out of the three possible scenarios (beneficial, neutral, and harmful) that we would experience a peaceful initial contact (I know unlikely, Christopher Columbus anyone?). On the flip-side, perhaps this leverage would help us in the hopes of avoiding a destructive outcome. Now I'm not talking about military leverage (although there are plenty of developments that have spurred from military conflict). I'm talking about what we have to offer an alien race… our discoveries, our knowledge, and some materials that we, as humans, have access to.
This discussion is going to assume a few things (that I may get bashed for assuming). I'm first going to assume that DNA is a universal building block in the universe. And that if there is other intelligent life, it would resemble us at least to a degree that there is some form of developed intelligence and conscience, an ability to communicate, and an innate drive to survive and progress.
I'd like to propose that there are a couple areas in which our leverage lies (because any alien race that has the ability to travel to us is already going to be fairly advanced). The first being organic. We know what elemental combinations are rare in the universe and that we have, here on earth, a rather unique combination that has produced some amazingly rare results. The first that comes to mind are non-renewable energy sources (although most still eventually renewable given enough time). But as another thought, these resources burn hot and fast, but cannot sustain long term, so perhaps a more intelligent race would deem them insignificant? But their rarity in the universe should not be a mere passing thought, perhaps we can explore more specifics on this idea in this thread.
Oil, natural gas, coal, uranium, others?
In the most obvious sense, we, humanity, are also a rather rare occurrence (certainly as this exact genetic combination - and this is perhaps the most valuable leverage of all). I think that our own organic value (to a superior race) is something to consider (and has also been explored in many a science fiction tale - human slaves and experiments such).
The second bit of leverage is our knowledge. What we have learned. What we know about the universe, technological developments or known possibilities. And this is the area that I think would be interesting to hear other opinions on. I know I am just starting a tiny list here, and this is likely a massive list, so these are merely thought starters. And yes, human understanding of the universe is barely in it's infancy, but there have been some incredible achievements and know-how that we could share…
Music/Art - The ability to manipulate wave forms (perceiving wave forms not being specific to the humans, but to the majority of life forms) into a pattern that is pleasing (at least to us, but also shown to be pleasing to other animals as well). An incredible, and seemingly natural development, humanity has been driven to express for personal and peer satisfaction, connection, and transcendence. And we know there will be nothing out there exactly like it. An incredible and unique liability.
Modern Medicine - This is of some debate as far as relevance to an alien race (although withholding this information about humanity/our earth could also be leverage), and probably full of a large amount of speculation. But there is no doubt that germ theory, antibiotics, anesthetics, genome mapping, cloning, stem cell research, birth control (the ability for a race to self-regulate population expansion), etc changed how we maintain control over a (our) species (and this ability is not necessarily relegated to humanity). Most importantly, we also have some knowledge in fighting off the things that they (the alien race) would be encountering for the first time, and likely have not developed immunity to.
Mathematics and E=mc2 - Just writing this alone is probably worth it's own thread as it relates to novels worth of information, understanding & prediction that we as humans have achieved. But as much as this has led to (in understanding), I fear that where we are with it may be small potatoes in the eyes of an alien race that has the ability to find us (although we could always have found each other - in a passerby or accidental situation).
Plastics - Although likely that an alien race that could reach us would understand how to manipulate chemistry in order to create new self-serving combinations, it's a question of speculation. Plastics can, and did, change everything. Most don't exist naturally in the universe, and since they are made from oil, they are a product of a non-renewable resource. Also, being chemically inert, almost anything can be stored in it.
Many random scientific advancements could be considered - measuring and analyzing systems - relative atomic mass, radiometric dating, redshift, etc.
I'll stop there and let others add. This is already bigger than I initially realized.
**This is not a list of human's greatest achievements. Many of those have served us well, or have allowed for us to grow and connect as a species (especially some early scientific achievements), but would not necessarily provide leverage in First Contact with an alien race.
Perhaps our greatest leverage are the things that we know could be possible if we just had the right ingredients. Collaboration, if you will. Things we understand but cannot achieve due to lack of progress… perhaps a "coming together" of ideas to create something that could be possible (assuming aliens had some missing elements yet hadn't thought of these ideas yet)…
Quantum mechanics and computing, Bio-tech developments in computing, medicine, real AI, etc., Force shielding. Neural interfaces. Fusion, etc.
This is perhaps a seemingly infinite topic. And obviously, this can get rather complex as sometimes the best leverage is based on the specific need or desire of the alien race.
I'm going to stop at this point. I wanted to put these thoughts out there. Interested to hear thoughts!
They'll never knock on our doors saying "Hi! We're here!"
... I do not know exactly what we have here on earth that is rare.
'Love' is an interesting proposition.