Chris McKay, a planetary scientist at NASA Ames Research Center, reviews Paul Davies’s latest book, The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence/Are We Alone In The Universe? , which argues that we should expand the hunt for intelligent life:
McKay considers why we should look closer to home — perhaps even in our DNA.
Although supporting the current quest, Davies recommends bold and sometimes bizarre avenues of exploration. For example, if migratory Galactic civilizations passed this way some time ago, they might have posted an alien message in our DNA or depleted our region of the Universe of some resource, such as (undiscovered) magnetic monopoles. Perhaps they left a device in the Solar System as a calling card, and are patiently waiting for us to discover and activate it. There are many places to look, many ways to expand the search.
Davies devotes pages to what will happen if a signal is received and how we should respond. Most readers will find these questions remote and hypothetical — not least because once a signal is received, events are likely to be quickly taken out of the hands of the astronomers.
The greatest joy of The Eerie Silence is the ending, in which Davies gives his own perspective. He splits his personality into three: scientist, philosopher and human. As a scientist, he is sceptical that we will detect extraterrestrial life, yet he finds that possibility plausible as a philosopher and longs for it to be true as a human. Read at least this page, even if you do not have time for the rest of this excellent book.
– Chris McKay, Is there anybody out there? (Nature, 464, 34 (4 March 2010) doi:10.1038/464034a)
Why does all this remind my of a woman wittering alone at home by the telephone (Why doesn’t he call? Why doesn’t he text?) waiting for a familiar knock on the door and checking her e-mail every two minutes. No one can cure anyone else of this romantic disorder just by talking sense to them. Usually, women cure themselves when they are ready by asking a simple question: What would happen if I just forgot about him and lived my life and was happy?
Well, he’s already forgotten her, so ….
But she, at least, knew for sure that he existed.
So, now, what’s the matter with Paul Davies? SETI? Why can’t they just let go?
And don’t tell me that this is all just about finding bacteria on another planet. That’s like the lonely, pacing woman claiming she’s really only worried about him. Sure.
Here’s more on extraterrestrial life:
Extraterrestrials: The recent pilgrimage to Darwin’s shrine
Does our solar system occupy a unique position in the universe or just an ordinary one?
Rare? Solar systems like ours are rare?
Astronomer argues that we can test whether Earth is fine-tuned as a science lab
Serious push to find more exoplanets
Exoplanets: Will intelligence be common or rare?