- Since ancient times people have been fascinated by the idea of extra-terrestrial life; today we are searching systematically for it. Paul Davies's striking new book examines the assumptions that go into this search and draws out the startling implications for science, religion and our world-view should we discover that we are not alone.
- Current research projects are using radio telescopes to try and ‘eavesdrop' on messages being sent by advanced alien civilizations. Yet if we do manage to receive such signals, or even discover bacterial life on Mars or in a meteorite, evidence of the existence of extra-terrestrial life would confront us with many fundamental questions.
- Has life spread out from a single source or arisen in several places independently? Is it a ‘miracle', an improbable accident or an inevitable result of the laws of biology and physics? Is there a purpose, a general trend from simple to complex, from microbes to mind, built into the scheme of things? And what would the existence of conscious and intelligent aliens tell us about ourselves and our place in the universe? For generations, such issues have been classified under theology or science fiction; Paul Davies demonstrates how they are now being illuminated by scientific reasoning and hard-headed research.
Preface – xi
- A Brief History of SETI – 1
- Extraterrestrial Microbes – 15
- Alien Message – 26
- Against Aliens – 41
- The Nature of Consciousness – 59
- Alien Contact and Religious Experience – 86
- Appendix 1: Project Phoenix – 92
Appendix 2: The Argument for Duplicate1 Beings – 97
- Bibliography – 101
Index – 103
"Davies (Paul C.W.) - Are We Alone? Implications of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life"
Source: Davies (Paul) - Are We Alone? Implications of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life
Preface (Full Text)
- The question of whether or not mankind is alone in the universe is one of the oldest problems of philosophy, and has deep implications for our world view. In recent years, the subject has become increasingly important to science too. Advances in biochemistry and molecular biology have begun unravelling the mystery of the origin of life. Discoveries in astronomy are casting light on the existence of other planets and their chemical and physical make-up, while the space programme has provided the opportunity to search for life directly on our neighbouring planets. In addition, a major new project has begun which sets as its goal the detection of radio signals from advanced technological communities elsewhere in the galaxy. It is therefore very timely to consider in detail what the discovery of extra-terrestrial life would mean for our view of ourselves and our place in the cosmos.
- I make no attempt at a complete survey of the subjects of exobiology, or the SETI programme as such (SETI stands for Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence), as these have already been fully explained in many books. Instead, my concern is with the philosophical assumptions that underlie the belief in, and search for, life beyond the Earth, and the impact that the discovery of alien life forms would imply for our science, religion and beliefs about mankind.
- There is little doubt that even the discovery of a single extra-terrestrial microbe, if it could be shown to have evolved independently of life on Earth, would drastically alter our world view and change our society as profoundly as the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions. It could truly be described as the greatest scientific discovery of all time. In the more extreme case of the detection of an alien message, the likely effects on mankind would be awesome.
- In view of the far-reaching implications of SETI, it is surprising that so little contemporary thought has been given to the philosophical issues involved. This stands in stark contrast to the speculation of earlier generations. Contrary to popular belief, the possibility of extra-terrestrials was often debated, and the ramifications analysed, in previous ages. The historian Michael Crowe estimates that 170 books on the subject were published between Greek times and 1917. My book is an attempt to rekindle this debate, and place it in a modern scientific context, by charting what aspects of contemporary science, and of our belief systems in general, are at stake. As we shall see, the assumptions made by SETI enthusiasts strike at the very heart of neo-Darwinism and tangle with key contemporary scientific and philosophical issues such as the decline of mechanistic thought and the emergence of holistic and ecological world views. The search for extra-terrestrial life challenges the longstanding paradigm of the dying universe: that cosmic change is dominated by the degenerative effects of the second law of thermodynamics. It provides a crucial test of the contrasting theory of a progressive, self-organizing universe celebrated in the works of Ilya Prigogine, Erich Jantsch and others.
- The treatment given here is intended for the non-scientist. I have tried to keep technical jargon to a minimum. A bibliography is provided.
- I am indebted to John Barrow, David Blair and George Coyne for interesting discussions on the topics covered in this book.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)