The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence: A Philosophical Inquiry

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence: A Philosophical Inquiry

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence: A Philosophical Inquiry

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence: A Philosophical Inquiry

Synopsis

Is the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence a genuine scientific research programme? David Lamb evaluates claims and counter-claims, and examines recent attempts to establish contact with other intelligent life forms. He considers the benefits and drawbacks of this communication, how we should communicate and whether we actually can. He also assesses competing theories on the origin of life on Earth, discoveries of former solar planets, proposals for space colonies and the consequent technical and ethical issues.

Excerpt

I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind or more important for the long-range exploration of space; but none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.

(President John F. Kennedy, message to Congress, 25 May 1961)

Despite a wealth of science fiction and scientific speculation on the origins of the universe and life itself, professional philosophers have shown little interest in space exploration. Our culture is very much an Earthbound one and provides little imaginative foothold for the exploration of space. Yet we stand on the threshold of space exploration. We may decide to refrain from further explorations and draw to a halt the expansion of our technological culture, or we may begin a project of exploration that will, one day in the far-off future, lead to the stars. For most of us, while space travel is scientific fact, communication with extraterrestrials is science fiction (SF). But the line between the two is not rigid. Why should we, it might be asked, be the only culture in the universe to contemplate exploration? This question leads directly to the subject matter of this book, the investigation of theories and beliefs concerning the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial forms of life and the proposals for making contact with them. the name given to scientific research into the search for extraterrestrial intelligent life is seti, that is, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. One of the objectives of writing this book is to evaluate the respective claims that have been made about the status of seti as a serious scientific enterprise and the variety of hypotheses which have emerged during the past three or four decades of seti research.

How does seti research differ from science fiction? Both concern life on other worlds, conquest of space, communication with advance cultures and the possibility of a galactic community. There are many who would argue that science and sf are interchangeable, and that what is sf today could be routine science tomorrow. in this context sf prophets, such as Jules Verne and H.G. Wells are often cited as visionaries who imagined what scientists would later

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