Do Aliens Make Art?


S.C. Farrow

8/27/20239 min read

The other day I was scrolling through YouTube shorts (as you do) when I came across a short video featuring Michio Kaku, the theoretical physicist, activist, futurologist, and science writer. Now, I’m not a scientist but I do love science and I am fascinated by space and the mind-blowing discoveries that are being revealed to us via physics and astronomy.

In this short video, Kaku is talking about the possibility of the existence of other life forms in the universe. He said that if there are other life forms, it is highly unlikely that they would be interested in Earth or in humans as a species. He speculates that they would have no need for our precious metals, minerals, or other natural resources, and that we would actually have nothing to offer them at all. He continued by adding this:

“People love Shakespeare, and they love the arts and poetry, but outside of the earth, they mean nothing. Absolutely nothing. I mean, when I write down an equation in string theory, I would hope that on the other side of the galaxy there’s an alien writing down that very same equation in different notation. But that alien on the other side of the galaxy, Shakespeare, poetry, Hemingway… It would mean nothing to him. Or her. Or it.”

I understand that Kaku was stating a fact and that he was making a point. However, I took umbrage with his claim. The man is undoubtedly a genius; however, to say that art and poetry would mean nothing to an alien lifeform seems to demonstrate a remarkable lack of critical thinking, especially when in another short video he said:

“…all we have to understand the level of sophistication of an alien life form if we make contact with them, I think in this century, we’ll probably pick up signals from an extraterrestrial civilisation. We’ll pick up their I Love Lucy and their Leave it to Beaver, just ordinary day-to-day transmissions that they emit…”


The clash between art and science has historical, cultural, and philosophical roots, and it often stems from differences in their underlying principles, goals, and methods. Reasons why this clash exists include different approaches to knowledge, objectivity versus subjectivity, methods and criteria, worldview and values, miscommunication and misunderstanding, cultural traditions, public perception, and philosophical differences.

Art has been present in human cultures for millennia, long before the formal development of modern scientific methods. Many ancient artworks, such as cave paintings and sculptures, were created without a deep understanding of scientific principles. Artistic expression often arises from human creativity, emotions, cultural contexts, and the desire to communicate and convey meaning.

Science, on the other hand, is primarily concerned with understanding the natural world through systematic observation, experimentation, and the formulation of theories and models based on empirical evidence. It aims to uncover the underlying principles that govern various phenomena, from the smallest particles to the vast expanse of the universe.

The practice of science relies on rigorous methodologies, logical reasoning, and the pursuit of objectivity. Scientists strive to minimise bias and subjectivity in their work to ensure that their findings are reliable and reproducible. Artistic practice relies upon imagination, creativity, creative communication, visualisation, emotion and expression, aesthetics, intuition and intention, metaphor, medium and technique, cultural and historical context, and innovation and experimentation. These elements can enhance the presentation of scientific ideas, but they are not essential for the core processes of scientific inquiry.

In universities all over the world, " science (natural or social) competes with literature in the curriculum, and the positivists with their reduction of art to mere emotion (and therefore, it would seem, to mere self-indulgence), "have given the humanities some bad moments."*

All of this brings us to the root of Kaku’s claim, which is this: some scientific disciplines such as mathematics and theoretical physics often prioritise abstraction and formalism over artistic expression. Mathematical equations, for instance, are a means of describing complex relationships and patterns in a concise and precise manner, without relying on artistic interpretation. Science doesn't inherently require artistic expression to exist, but artistic elements might be involved in presenting scientific concepts or making them more accessible to a broader audience.

So, aliens are going to have their own version of art (albeit dumb TV shows) yet are not going to give a hoot about our version of art and culture?


I would think that any species that is capable of traversing the incomprehensibly vast distances of space, or that has a consciousness which affords creativity and the ability to tell stories, even if those stories are dumb TV shows, will undoubtedly be a higher being capable of producing their own forms of artistic expression, which would, in turn, give them something in common with us.

Maybe I’ve got my panties in a bunch because I love art and Shakespeare, but to suggest that other life forms that are capable of deciphering the mathematical language of the universe, would not be interested in our, or even their own, forms of art, seems to be either wilfully ignorant or inexcusably arrogant.

If another lifeform exists and is across the universe writing Kaku’s equation in string theory, presumably that lifeform also has the means and ability to ask the same questions we do about its existence.


Brian Cox is a physicist and former musician who is a professor of particle physics in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester and The Royal Society Professor for Public Engagement in Science. He is arguably the poster boy for the modern scientific community.

In another YouTube video (I know, I know, I need to wasting time on the Tube!) Cox said…

…would go as far as to say there would be nowhere else where meaning exists in the Milky Way because meaning… It’s one of those things that scientists don’t talk about very much. Although Richard Feynman, one of my great heroes, did talk about it. There’s a quote where he says, what is the meaning of it all? It’s a great essay called The Value of Science. And so, what is self-evidently true is that meaning exists here because it means something to us. So, that’s kind of an obvious statement. Life means something to you and me, and so meaning exists. But I think it is a local and temporary phenomenon. I think it emerges, meaning emerges, from configurations of atoms, which is what we are. We are simply that. We are nothing more than that. We’re very, very rare configurations of atoms, I think. And so that means we are… If you go all the way down that line of logic, we are the only island of meaning in the galaxy.”


Richard Feynman was a brilliant, influential, and iconoclastic American theoretical physicist who made significant contributions to various fields of physics, especially quantum electrodynamics. He was born in New York City in 1918 and died in Los Angeles in 1988. He received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965. During World War II Feynman was recruited to serve as a staff member of the U.S. atomic bomb project at Princeton University and then at the new secret laboratory at Los Alamos, New Mexico. At Los Alamos, he became the youngest group leader in the theoretical division of the Manhattan Project (Britannica). He delivered a public address titled The Value of Science at the 1955 autumn meeting of the National Academy of Sciences.

It’s a rambling and somewhat disjointed essay, which begins with Feynman arguing that scientists do think about social issues, but that when it comes to social issues, they are just confounded by them as everyone else is.

He then argues that scientists have “been led to imagine all sorts of things infinitely more marvelous than the imaginings of poets and dreamers of the past. It shows that the imagination of nature is far, far greater than the imagination of man.”

I beg to differ, but that will be a long post best left for another day…

Following that, Feynman describes, using a kind of poetry, his experience of profound thoughts “which no one could ever have had in the past because people then didn’t have the information we have about the world today.”

Finally, he laments the fact that few, if any, poets or “unscientific people” are capable of penetrating or understanding the incredible mysteries of the cosmos. He said:

“The same thrill, the same awe and mystery, comes again and again when we look at any question deeply enough. With more knowledge comes a deeper, more wonderful mystery, luring one on to penetrate deeper still.

Never concerned that the answer may prove disappointing, with pleasure and confidence, we turn over each new stone to find unimagined strangeness leading on to more wonderful questions and mysteries – certainly a grand adventure!

It is true that few unscientific people have this particular type of religious experience. Our poets do not write about it; our artists do not try to portray this remarkable thing. I don’t know why. Is no one inspired by our present picture of the universe? This value of science remains unsung by singers: you are reduced to hearing not a song or poem, but an evening lecture about it. This is not yet a scientific age. Perhaps one of the reasons for this silence is that you have to know how to read the music.”


I could be reading it the wrong way, but it seems hard to believe that this insight came from one of the scientific community’s shiniest of shining stars—and one who was instrumental in figuring out how to split the atom so the world could be gifted with the atomic bomb.

You can read Feynman’s entire essay here: feynman.pdf (


The only modern scientist who seems to have appreciated the harmony of art and science is Carl Sagan.

Back in the day, Leonardo Da Vinci understood it, but he was a freak of nature, a human being who was truly without equal.

Now, I don’t know every scientist on the planet, of course, but in terms of science communicators, Carl Sagan, the American professor, astronomer, planetary scientist, science communicator, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, and novelist, who clearly understood that even though art and science are separate and fundamentally different disciplines, their compatibility means they can exist in the same space and can indeed influence each other.

I don’t know if you’ve read the book, or even seen the hard science fiction film Contact by Carl Sagan, but if you haven’t, I recommend you do. The main character, Ellie Arroway is a SETI scientist who finds evidence of extraterrestrial life and is chosen to make first contact. Arroway ultimately travels via wormhole to a distant place in the cosmos. There is speculation amongst readers as to whether she really does go there or whether it was all just a dream.

Throughout the story, Ellie is shown to be a person who is always in control of her emotional responses. However, is overcome at the sight this distant galaxy up close and is at a loss for words when she attempts to describe what she sees.

“A celestial event. No… No words can describe it. Poetry. They should have sent… a poet.”


Like these great scientists, I too am fascinated with universe, how it came into being, and what lies beyond the boundary of the observable universe. However, I am not fascinated to the degree of pursuing science for the sake of it, nor at any cost. Feynman, it seems, was happy to be part of a team whose pursuit of splitting the atom placed the world in a perpetual state of unease.

As of right now, the Doomsday Clock is set at 90 seconds to midnight. The whole world is enduring a time of unprecedented danger.

Doomsday Clock - Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (

It seems ludicrous to me that world-renowned scientists, who are, without doubt, geniuses in their fields of expertise, have gone to great lengths to dismiss the value of art.

What we can observe in space has already happened. Light from stars and galaxies observe through telescopes such as the James Webb Space Telescope has been travelling across the universe for hundreds of thousands of years, if not millions or billions of years. When we look at the universe, we are looking at the past.

Scientists are looking at this past for answers to questions about the origins of the universe and the origins of life on this planet. They are also looking for evidence of other lifeforms. However, given the vastness of space, does any of that really matter? After all, we do not live in outer space. We do not live in the past. We are unlikely to create the technology that will allow us to travel into interstellar space for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Therefore, what is happening here on Earth is arguably more important than what is happening in space because we live here, right now, in the present, which means that we, as human beings endowed with the condition of being human, should be focusing on the health and well-being of ourselves and our home planet.

Perhaps these genius scientists should pause for a moment in order to truly consider some of the topics examined by arts and the condition of being human. Perhaps then they could turn their brilliant minds and attention to solving some of the issues that affect us all on daily basis.

Hopefully, the intelligent alien who exists on the other side of the cosmos, who is also a collection of atoms, a rare collection of atoms of which they are nothing more (the same as we are), is not only grappling with an equation in string theory but is also embracing art and philosophy in an effort to not only solve the daily problems experienced by members of their species, but to also find meaning in their existence.

* Literary Truth, Albert William Levi -

  • Science

  • Art

  • Aliens