In “Are we alone in the universe?” (Washington Post, December 29, 2011), Charles Krauthammer observes that despite the Drake equation and endless pop science hype, the space aliens are just so maddeningly not there. He adopts Carl Sagan’s explanation,
Carl Sagan (among others) thought that the answer is to be found, tragically, in the final variable: the high probability that advanced civilizations destroy themselves.
In other words, this silent universe is conveying not a flattering lesson about our uniqueness but a tragic story about our destiny. It is telling us that intelligence may be the most cursed faculty in the entire universe — an endowment not just ultimately fatal but, on the scale of cosmic time, nearly instantly so.
This is not mere theory. Look around. On the very day that astronomers rejoiced at the discovery of the two Earth-size planets, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity urged two leading scientific journals not to publish details of lab experiments that had created a lethal and highly transmittable form of bird flu virus, lest that fateful knowledge fall into the wrong hands.
Okay, but does it count for something that thousands of imminent doomsdays later, we are still here? And the space aliens are not? When does a rational assessment of that kind of thing begin to be possible?
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