Can We Assume We Are Alone?

coronal mass ejectionThe sheer number and diversity of stars indicate the possibility the universe is brimming with life in forms perhaps unimagined by us. Others believe this planet is extremely rare and fortuitous that life has developed to the levels we witness on earth. Numerous scientists have and continue to explore the observable universe through radio spectrometry, advanced telescopic digitization and various probes, some of them launched decades ago.

Science fiction authors have written tomes about aliens of all sorts with desires for conquest with technology far in advance of our own. We have also read or listened to stories by people who say they saw a UFO or alien creatures.2001 A Space Odyssey - Jupiter mission Some have gone so far as to declare they were temporarily abducted and observed by extraterrestrials.

There have been many popular movies and television programs capitalizing on the imagination of gifted and not so gifted authors. Few stray from a formula which includes beautiful women in peril, attempted conquest by aliens, advance weaponry with required pyrotechnics and a death ray or two.

Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.

– Visions : How Science Will Revolutionize the Twenty-First Century (1999) by Michio Kaku, p. 295

There is one movie however that didn’t try to be humorous, melodramatic or portray evil 2001 A Space Odyssey - Jupiter mission - astronaut closeupempires conquering hapless romantics in deep space.  Its primary authorship was by someone with an honors degree in physics, mathematics and applied astronomy. This author wrote a technical paper in 1945 originating the concept of communications through satellites. He described accurately how they function, a dozen years before the first Sputnik launch and awakening our technical world with its beeps.

Arthur C. Clarke wrote a short story “The Sentinel” in 1948, later adapted by Stanley Kubrick for the film 2001: A Space Odyssey which was released 40 years ago. This movie attempts to fill in where the prevailing scientific view, that simple organisms slowly and randomly developed over billions of years to become not only ourselves but everything that’s ever lived, doesn’t really do the job. This was well researched and brought forth by a gifted film maker and presents an unflinching look at what if we do have an encounter with superior alien intelligence. Will we be able to communicate or fathom the significance of the encounter?

From this 1968 movie about human contact with other extraterrestrial intelligence, we find a renown scientist in the 21st century suggesting contact with other intelligent life forms might not turn out as optimistic as some want to think.

Aliens almost certainly exist but humans should avoid making contact, Professor Stephen Hawking has warned. Professor Hawking

In a series for the Discovery Channel the renowned astrophysicist said it was “perfectly rational” to assume intelligent life exists elsewhere.

But he warned that aliens might simply raid Earth for resources, then move on.

“If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans,” he said.

Prof Hawking thinks that, rather than actively trying to communicate with extra-terrestrials, humans should do everything possible to avoid contact.

He explained: “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.”

from kubrick.com

Fiction films are commonplace but most of them deal with impossible worlds set in far-off futures, filled with death rays and weird monsters. In MGM’s presentation of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick has tried to imagine how things are really going to be a few decades.

“The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent, but if we can come to terms with this indifference, then our existence as a species can have genuine meaning. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”

Behind every man alive stand thirty ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living. Since the dawn of time, a hundred billion human beings have walked the planet Earth

Now this is an interesting number, for by a curious coincidence there are approximately a hundred billion stars in our local universe, the Milky Way. So for every man and woman who has ever lived, in this universe there shines a star.

But every one of those stars is a sun, often far more brilliant and glorious than the small, nearby star we call the Sun. And many-perhaps most-of those alien suns have planets circling them. So almost certainly there is enough land in the sky to give every member of the human species, back to the first ape-man, his own private world-sized heaven-or hell.

How many of those potential heavens and hells are inhabited, and by what manner of creatures, we have no way of guessing; the very nearest of them is a million times further away than Mars or Venus, those still remote goals of the next generation. But the barriers of distance are crumbling – one day we shall meet our equals, or our masters, among the stars.

Men have been slow to face this prospect. Increasing numbers, however, are asking: “Why have such meetings not occurred already?”

What are the beings that inhabit these worlds? Will we be able to recognize them or will they appear so alien that if we were to see them we should hardly know them as intelligent life at all? Will they be biological life forms, machines or even disembodied creatures of pure energy? will they be hostile towards us, or will they think that we are so primitive that they will pass us by and look elsewhere for other beings more nearly equal to them?

If we get a signal from outer space, what should we do about it? Should we answer it  and invite visitors, or should we ignore it and continue to live in the Universe as if we are alone? Or have we already been visited? Has some extraterrestrial civilization left artifacts for us to find?

If we find life in the Universe-perhaps beings more intelligent than ourselves, what will we come to think of ourselves, our problems and our struggles, all of which take place on an obscure rocky planet not far from one of billions of average stars?

ADDITIONAL CREDITS

According to an argument, made by scientists Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking, it would be improbable for life not to exist somewhere other than Earth.

If we have learned one thing from the history of invention and discovery, it is that, in the long run — and often in the short one — the most daring prophecies seem laughably conservative.
ARTHUR C. CLARKE ~ The Exploration of Space (1951), p. 111

We stand now at the turning point between two eras. Behind us is a past to which we can never return…  The coming of the rocket brought to an end a million years of isolation … The childhood of our race was over and history as we know it began.
ARTHUR C. CLARKE ~ Exploration of Space (1952)

It is not easy to see how the more extreme forms of nationalism can long survive when men have seen the Earth in its true perspective as a single small globe against the stars.
ARTHUR C. CLARKE ~ The Exploration of Space (1951), p. 187

ARTHUR C. CLARKE ~ Predicts the Internet & Personal Computer

A 1974 explanation on future computers as well as their intercommunication. Not a bad prediction of the Internet before DARPA.

Searching for life On other Planets – we are NOT alone

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