Given that the universe is estimated to be approximately 13.8 billion years old, and the Earth a mere 4.54 billion years old (with the appearance of modern humans occurring far more recently than that), it isn’t unreasonable to assume that of the intelligent alien species that may exist, a number of them came before us. If they came before us, that means they’ve had longer to evolve and to develop their technological capabilities.
Babylon 5 shows this with the First Ones. For the most part, the First Ones are unconcerned with the affairs of less advances species. To them, we are like the insects you pass by on your way to run important errands. Unless we grab their attention by being exceptionally irritating, they go about their business as if we aren’t there.
Anyone who has spent enough time immersed in the Star Trek universe knows about the Q. At least, we know as much as they want us to know. To humans, the Q seem to be omnipotent, immortal, god-like beings. They can manipulate events with the snap of a finger. They can transport your ship to another time, or a distant region of space. They can make people disappear and reappear with little effort. Some consider them to be a threat, while others view them as a nuisance. Either way, when the Q show up, it can be difficult to convince them to leave.
Take this quote from Arthur C. Clarke: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” The Q may appear to us to be all-powerful, but that’s because they’ve got a huge head start on us. If we stood in their shoes, the ability to manipulate matter with the snap of a finger would not be considered magical. Imagine a person from the modern day traveling back in time a thousand years with a supply of modern medicines. You give a sick person antibiotics, and they get better. Would that seem magical to them? It probably would, simply because they don’t have the knowledge to understand how medicine works.
Why do we inject these kinds of beings into our science fiction narratives? Is a part of us naturally drawn to the idea of beings that are infinitely more powerful than ourselves? Do we hope that we too could achieve the kind of evolutionary pinnacle we see with the Q? Are we acknowledging the idea that even the most bizarre of things we encounter probably has a rational explanation, even when we may not have any idea as to what it might be? Is this a symptom of our scientific minds and our drive to unlock the secrets of our universe? Or do we force the heroes of our stories to encounter such creatures because, in facing them and coming out on top in some way, those heroes reaffirm the idea that with determination and ingenuity, human beings are capable of accomplishing anything?