Friday, August 13, 2010

Paul Davies' "The Eerie Silence"

This wasn't as dramatic a read as I had hoped. It was solid and workmanlike. It covers the field in answering the question: Is there Life Out There?

There were no shocks, no sudden new insights, or other bits to excite me. He does walk through the history of speculation about extraterrestrial life and spends a good deal of time on SETI, an organization which he has a special connection to since he runs the panel that defines the protocol for what to do after contact.

He covers all the bases. He walks through the Drake equation. He is knowledgeable about what science there is surrounding the search for ET. If you want to know the basic facts and the basic science behind the search for extraterrestrial life, and especially ET intelligence, then this is a good book to read. It won't make you want to get up and shout when you finish it. It won't arm you with special knowledge to take on the world. It will just give you the basic facts, and it ends up that those facts are fairly depressing. It is likely that there is no life and much more certain that there is no intelligent life out there.

I got a chuckle out of the section where he talks of religion and the search for ETs. He makes it very clear that Christians have an especially tough bit to handle since they claim that their god uniquely incarnated himself as a human. But if there are vast numbers of distinct ET species scattered across the universe, this is exceedingly hard to comprehend. Why earth? Why humans?

The one place where he opens up and lets you in to his innermost thoughts is in the final chapter where he talks about what he thinks/feels/knows wearing three hats: (1) scientist, (2) philosopher, (3) human. He is pessimistic with regard to life under (1) and (2), but he confesses that as a human he has had great hopes for finding ET since he was a child. I can second him on that. And I accept his views on (1) and (2) as fairly definitive. He has spent the time thinking about this and knows his science. It is pessimistic, but them's the facts. We are alone in an incredibly vast universe and are wired to think we have a "purpose" in life which obviously we are a meaningless speck in a vanishingly small speck of a planet on one medium sun in a mediocre galaxy in a universe that stretches 13.5 billion lights years, a distance that is truly impossible to really comprehend.

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