THE SEARCH FOR EXTRATERRESTRIAL INTELLIGENCE

The exploration of space, the search for life and extraterrestrial intelligence, will not merely add to the weight of scientific facts; it will play a fundamental role in the transformation of science, its goals and methods, as well as a transformation of our relationship to the world around us. For scientific research is not merely about the accumulation of facts, it is also bound up with the transformation of facts and theories and inevitably with the transformation of human expectations. Space research in general will undoubtedly bring benefits, many of which will be unpredictable, with inevitable spin-offs affecting other branches of life, and some of them will introduce new problems and terrors which future generations will have to live with.

There is a need to recognize the importance of curiosity-driven research, not merely freedom for a few researchers to gather esoteric data, but in the service of a curiosity that is integral to our culture and the way it has evolved over the past two millennia. For a fundamental reason for SETI research is natural curiosity. Despite non-curious governments, curiosity has a way of triumphing in many guises, one of which involves persuading potential investors of profitable side-effects. The discovery of new continents in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the opening up of new frontiers in the nineteenth century and the  cultural expansion of the twentieth century, have all fostered a tradition of exploration that is still strong enough to excite and capture the imagination as did the first lunar landings over a quarter of a century ago. The search for life in the universe is, perhaps, one of the last great frontiers of science. The  information technology culture may be an Earthbound phenomenon, and many of SETI’s scientists point out that electronic information, not voyages, is what they have in mind. But if a signal is detected, an electronic exchange will be considered insufficient and we can expect renewed inspiration in the direction of manned space flight.

Recognition of the precarious status of life on Earth may herald a renewed interest in colonization. Repeated warnings of asteroid collisions with the Earth and similar global catastrophes which, in the past, have decimated life on Earth, may drive home the point that the human race has too many eggs in one fragile basket. For if we are alone it might be argued that we have a duty to export life.

The drive to discover and contact other intelligences will inevitably continue. In the belief that governments know of them but will not tell, in NASA’s and the SETI community’s radio searches and other searches throughout the world, and also among the UFO watchers, there is one common theme, a common spirit. They participate in an age-old conscious decision to act on their daydreams about other worlds, expressing the hope of contacting other souls across the universe and combating cosmic loneliness. Until very recently, arguments for and against the existence of extraterrestrial life have been confined to speculation and science fiction, but we now have the technology to conduct an empirical investigation. If life is common, then evidence might be found on Mars or Europa within the next twenty years. If extraterrestrial intelligence is found and contact is made, it will be truly important. If we do make contact our children

 

 

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will be astonished to discover that we made so little effort to do so, and then they will laugh at those who denied any possibility of contact. But if, after a massive search, we fail, that too will be important, as it will convince many of us that if this is all there is, we should do our best to protect it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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