Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Recalling 2010: And we thought this sort of thing only happened in science fiction ...

Tim Radford told us, in The Guardian:
Paul Davies is a cosmologist who turned to the problem of life in the cosmos at least 15 years ago: this is, on my count, his fourth book on the theme. He is chairman of the Seti post-detection task group, a little committee of rationalists prepared to confront one of the most intoxicating and terrifying challenges of all time: if we do hear from ET, Davies and colleagues will be the first to know. This improbable burden could explain why The Eerie Silence may not be his most thrilling book, but is certainly one of his most thoughtful: there is hardly an aspect of the great Seti puzzle that he does not address, in clear, almost laconic vernacular.

- review of The Eerie Silence: Are We Alone in the Universe? and James Kasting’s How to Find a Habitable Planet (27 March, 2010)
Well, what if Davies did get The Call. What would one say? “What kept you?” doesn’t quite cut it.

Radford sensibly wonders,
Is there silence because extraterrestrials simply do not exist? Are the conditions for the emergence of life so far-fetched, so ludicrously improbable that it happened only once, on one planet orbiting one star in just one galaxy during the whole 13.7-billion-year lifetime of the universe? Or is the universe humming with life, but humming so quietly that we cannot hear it?
and a number of interesting speculations orbit these.

Then we hear,
The scientist in him, says Davies, suspects that humans may be the only intelligent beings in the universe. The philosopher in him hates the idea. "Frankly, it makes me uneasy. I wonder what all that stuff out there is for, when only lowly Homo sapiens gets to see it."
Hmmm. Maybe to provide a work opportunity for otherwise unemployed astronomers? Well, the least they could do then is go for it.