Title: Believe What You Want
Canon: Contact (film)
Summary: My thoughts on what Scientist!Ellie should have said in the hearing. Written less to entertain than to think out loud; this has far less emotional impact than the real ending, but I feel it's more what a scientist like her would say (or think).
First of all, Mr. Kitz, I must balance your wording of the two scenarios.
I believe that we received a message from an advanced alien civilization as part of its ongoing program to contact species which have sufficient technology to communicate with it. The message consisted of schematics for a machine which contained several technologies previously unknown to humankind. That machine, through a combination of known phenomena, effects we have theorized may exist but have seen relatively little or no hard evidence of, and unknown processes, sent me on a nine-hour journey to visit a distant star system. Some combination of these effects interfered with the sensitive electronic equipment I was given. The inhabitants of that system interpreted my thoughts to construct an artificial scenario which they believed would not overwhelm me. They spoke to me briefly and then returned me to Earth, at the exact time I left.
My best guess is that the basis of their transit system is wormholes. Wormholes are phenomena which have not been observed, but which are consistent with our understanding of physics and which have been theorized to exist for several decades. Our theories suggest that they could operate through time as well as space, allowing for my instant return.
I do not pretend to understand why they did not provide any evidence, other than that their contact with Earth is part of an established routine and that the lack of evidence is typical of this routine. Nor can I explain specifically why the electronic equipment malfunctioned, but given that it did, we would not expect to have any evidence of our own. In hindsight, a simpler backup system--even a pencil and a pad of paper--would have been a wise addition to this project.
Your theory is that a billionaire constructed an elaborate hoax to transmit a fake message through a constellation of satellites designed to create the appearance that the signal was coming from a distant star system. This message contained schematics for an intricate machine containing many highly experimental technologies whose designers have not come forward. The billionaire then maneuvered his company, only one of several which could have constructed the machine, to get many of the contracts. However, his competitors presumably got some of them, meaning that the rights to some of his highly experimental technologies fell into their hands instead. All of the experimental systems in the machine worked--the experimental motors, hinges, rocket boosters, and even doors--but the overall machine did nothing except interfere with all recordings and give off a very bright light.
Simultaneously and separately, I, a person who passed the extensive psychological screening given to all the candidates, hallucinated a scientifically plausible event lasting eighteen hours in no more than a few minutes. Unless you claim that the machine caused me to hallucinate this event in some way, you must acknowledge that this timing is a complete coincidence.
Also simultaneously and also separately, an unknown event created a massive displacement in the water immediately surrounding the machine, causing a large control ship to list violently towards it. Again, unless you claim the machine caused this, you must acknowledge that this is a coincidence.
So your theory requires three somewhat unlikely events to coincidentally happen at the same time. That makes it less likely than it would at first seem.
I grant that, even with the decreased likelihood, your version may still be more probable than mine. “Advanced alien civilization” is a big step to take. However, your own explanation is not as plausible as you wish to suggest it is.
As a scientist faced with two theories of varying probability, I must acknowledge the more probable one is more likely the truth. However, that does not mean I must personally believe that it is true, or that I must cease to investigate the less likely explanation--especially if the less likely one is more fruitful, that is, can teach us more.
So as a scientist, I am permitted to investigate both theories. Off the top of my head, I can think of several experiments that we can perform to help us refine the relative likelihood of the two alternatives.
The first, and likely best, experiment we could perform is to attempt to use the machine again with a different passenger. If our stories match, and especially if the second traveler can record his or her journey in some way, this would provide the best evidence possible. However, it is possible that this option is prohibitively expensive; that’s a question for the engineers. Of course, we must also keep in mind that whatever beings designed the machine may not want us to use it again at this time, and may prevent it from functioning as it did for me. I have no idea if that is the case, but it’s possible.
Much more cheaply, we could investigate Hadden to see if we can find evidence of this hoax. Does he have the necessary satellites in place? Are they actually transmitting? Is there any evidence of the technologies having been designed there? If we find such evidence, and if it is sufficiently credible, we will strengthen your theory. I have no doubt that such an investigation will take place so that any people who might have collaborated in this conspiracy can be found.
On the other hand, we can look to the sky to look for evidence of my theory. The transmission is still going; when will it stop? If it’s 26 years from now, or shortly after, that means that the activation of the machine here might have caused a transmitter there to stop, or caused whoever controls it to stop it; that would suggest, though not prove, that the message genuinely came from Vega. More convincingly, we can watch for unusual events in the sky that correspond to the time when the machine was activated. For example, if in 26 years we see some sort of strange radiation from Vega, that might be a sign that I really did travel through that system a few months ago.
In the meantime, while we still don’t have much evidence either way, we may believe whichever theory we prefer. I believe that my journey was real; you may believe whatever you want to believe.