we know about extra-terrestrial intelligence is
simple: the universe is big, we are small, and somewhere
out there aliens might be trying to contact us.
That's about it.
the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI)--listening
for signals sent through outer space by aliens.
Pretty damn cool if you ask me. You could even argue
that the first alien contact would be a major turning
point in history. Hollywood and sci-fi buffs sure
seem to think so...
some view the search as wasteful. Congress won't
fund it and academia won't support it. Scientists
are even going out of their way to show that it's
futile. A new book by two such scientists is receiving
extreme media attention by purporting that we are
probably all alone in the universe.
alone? I find it hard to believe that these scientists
somehow know we're all alone. They definitely haven't
scoured the universe with a magnifying glass--so
what's going on here?
arguments center around one core assumption: that
we are special. Common examples are: that liquid
water is required for life, that life requires organic
chemicals, and that life requires an Earth-like
planet. These claims are of course true for terrestrial
life. But we're searching for extra-terrestrial
life. Just because life is one way down here on
Earth doesn't mean it's this way out there in space.
their arguments would seem more convincing if we
knew the details about the origin of life and intelligence.
Or if we could even define life and intelligence.
But we can't. We don't even understand ourselves.
The only reason to suspect extra-terrestrial intelligence
is like us is that we're the only example.
if you have read any science fiction (or seen the
movies), then you know that non-human intelligence
could exist (or are the Men In Black just that good?).
After all, thousands of scientists are in the business
of creating intelligence on computers--with silicon
and electrons, not with blood and amino acids. And
thousands more scientists are in the business of
discovering new aspects of chemistry and physics,
which may lead to new possibilities for life and
new ways to contact and travel to other parts of
all we know today is that outer space is huge and
most of its detail remains undiscovered. Outer space
may be the home of zero, one, hundreds, millions,
or trillions of intelligent species. And so we continue
the search because the search will never be over.
In the spirit of Copernicus, there's nothing necessarily
special about humans or Earth--no terrestrial arguments
can rule out extra-terrestrial intelligence.
© 2000 Gabe Weinberg All Rights Reserved