SETI was in the news recently as they announced major upgrades to their searching capability. In the search for extraterrestrial intelligence speed is king – they need to be able to listen and analyze data coming from small parts of the sky as quickly as possible.
However this gives me a chance to soapbox on what I feel about SETI. Read on if you dare!
When I was but a lad I read a lot of science fiction and I suspect that resulted in me believing that there absolutely was life beyond our Earth. It certainly was fun to look up at the stars and know that there was life, intelligent life, out there but that we just hadn’t found it yet. And of course, I dreamed of a Star Trek-like first contact situation where the benevolent aliens arrive and share with us their advanced technology, leapfrogging us into areas we can barely speculate on today. All this was predicated on sci-fi concepts such as faster than light travel, teleportation, energy to matter converters, instant communications over vast distances, and the fervent hope that I personally would get the chance go to into space.
However, as I grew up, went to college and become more of a realist, I grew to realize that all those thoughts were just fantasy – that faster than light travel wasn’t possible and many other sci-fi staples just wouldn’t happen. We would not be teleporting around the city or globe, let alone into space – any more than I can convert energy to matter in a replicator turning ordinary household current into an orange.
At the time I also decided that my thoughts on life outside Earth were similarly fantastic.
However, I guess I’ve never quite given up on it because after reading a few books on cosmology and looking at the current thinking on the web (which by the way is an unparalleled tool for getting up to date on the latest thinking by the greatest minds on our planet) I’ve changed back. I do believe there is life on other planets, and intelligent life at that.
What has changed my mind? Well, largely it’s the number of stars (and thus planets) in the universe. To think that out of the billions of stars out there (on the order of 1021 is the latest estimate) that only our Sun would have a planet that grew intelligent life just seems too implausible. In fact, it smacks of hubris on the part of humans to think that they could possibly be the only intelligent life given the vastness of our universe. It seems exactly like Ptolemy’s geocentric model of the universe. Humans are bent toward prideful beliefs especially when it comes to things like this (i.e. cosmology and the only slightly more contentious topic, religion) so I’m not surprised.
Of course I’m wrong on many of those other fantasy fronts too – the high-energy physics folks have created matter from energy (that it also spawns antimatter which rapidly annihilates it back into energy is but a minor inconvenience) and are discussing teleportation. There are also continued advancements in personal space technology that just might, before I shuffle off this mortal coil, allow me to travel into space (and cost only a little more than a trip for my family to Disney World, but I digress.)
I’m curious to see what others think on this topic. Given that many of us (well likely all of us) here at SFSignal read Sci-Fi I’d expect that most are want to believe in extraterrestrial life too – but is there anybody who feels strongly that we must be the only intelligent beings in the universe? If so, please share you arguments!