The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence
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One of the world’s leading scientists explains why—and how—the search for intelligent life beyond Earth should be expanded.
Fifty years ago, a young astronomer named Frank Drake first pointed a radio telescope at nearby stars in the hope of picking up a signal from an alien civilization. Thus began one of the boldest scientific projects in history, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). After a half-century of scanning the skies, however, astronomers have little to report but an eerie silence—eerie because many scientists are convinced that the universe is teeming with life. Physicist and astrobiologist Paul Davies has been closely involved with SETI for three decades and chairs the SETI Post-Detection Taskgroup, charged with deciding what to do if we’re suddenly confronted with evidence of alien intelligence. He believes the search so far has fallen into an anthropocentric trap—assuming that an alien species will look, think, and behave much like us. In this provocative book Davies refocuses the search, challenging existing ideas of what form an alien intelligence might take, how it might try to communicate with us, and how we should respond if it does.
Material of the host organism’s germ cells (that’s what so-called endogenous retroviruses do), and the cell obligingly replicates it and passes the message on to all future generations. In this way the virus would spread like wildfire through the host ecosystem, its information preserved for millions of years until some future Craig Venter begins sequencing genomes and stumbles across the message. Certainly DNA does get inserted into living cells in this manner; whole chunks of human DNA are the.
Of design, originally (in the case of future Earth) by humans or (in the case of an alien civilization) their extraterrestrial counterparts. Later they would be self-designed and redesigned. They would be systems that grow, improve and adapt, not by some long-winded Darwinian mechanism, but through their own intellectual creativity. The best term I can come up with is the horrendous-sounding ‘auto-teleological super-systems’ (ATS); the adjective implies the property of goal-oriented self-design.
Scientists had evidence for life in a Mars meteorite (see p. 61), the world’s journalists were electrified by the news. Presenting evidence for intelligent life would be an order of magnitude more startling. For a few weeks, the story would run and run. Scientists would be pursued for interviews, commentators would offer impromptu assessments, and the blogosphere would buzz with half-baked theories. But after a while the newsworthiness would begin to fade, and the media would return to their.
To the existence of aliens.27 Nevertheless, the contrary view – that there are countless planets hosting positively saintly beings – has proved popular among Christians too. In 1758, Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish scientist, philosopher and mystic, who still commands a cult following today, offered a way out of the theological quagmire in a curious little book entitled Earths in the Universe.28 Like many eighteenth-century scholars, Swedenborg was convinced – also on theological grounds! – that.
Anything to go by, it may require no more than a thin pretext for extraterrestrials to ‘take out our weapons of mass destruction’. But even if this gloomy assessment is correct, METI would not increase the risk of bringing fire and brimstone down on us. In fact, it may serve a useful purpose if we could signal our best intentions to ET, in spite of our penchant for warmongering at home. Just how we could convince aliens that we wouldn’t try to blow them away with our missiles and nuclear warheads.