Civilized Life in the Universe: Scientists on Intelligent Extraterrestrials

Civilized Life in the Universe: Scientists on Intelligent Extraterrestrials

Civilized Life in the Universe: Scientists on Intelligent Extraterrestrials

Civilized Life in the Universe: Scientists on Intelligent Extraterrestrials

Synopsis

"From aristotle to Stephen Hawking, some of the most prominent Western scientists have had definite perceptions and misperceptions about the existence of civilized life on other planets. Johannes Kepler, who transformed astronomy with his work on the shape of planetary orbits, was quite sure that engineers on the Moon excavated circular pits to provide shelter for lunar inhabitants. Christian Huygens, the most prominent scientist between Galileo and Newton, criticized Kepler's speculations but used probability theory to prove that "planetarians" on other worlds were much like humans and practiced the science of astronomy. Carl Sagan indicted Huygens as a biological chauvinist but failed to see that he was a cultural chauvinist when he assumed that alien life would have a technology similar to ours, though far more advanced. This book traces the influence of one speculation on the next, showing an unbroken but twisting chain of ideas as it passes from ancient to modern times and from science to culture and back again. Throughout, the author interweaves his own view that scientific belief in and search for extraterrestrial civilizations is an impulse that is part anthropomorphic and part secularized-religious."

Excerpt

In 1980 astronomer Carl Sagan presented a popular television series (Cosmos) in which he guided viewers on a spectacular tour of the universe. the series covered 15 billion years of cosmic evolution, including the birth of the stars, the origins of our solar system, the emergence of intelligent life on Earth and on worlds in outer space, the history of humanity, and the development of space science and technology.

Near the end of Cosmos, Sagan estimated the number of advanced technological civilizations thriving in the Milky Way Galaxy. He said there were millions of civilizations scattered throughout our Galaxy and that interstellar space was filled with radio messages sent by extraterrestrial transmitters. the messages constitute an Encyclopedia Galactica, the knowledge and wisdom gathered by millions of civilizations over millions of years of Galactic history.

According to Sagan, the Encyclopedia Galactica was ours to discover. By properly orienting large numbers of radio telescopes to capture signals coming from deep space, humans could gain access to the Encyclopedia. Here they would find solutions to many problems troubling modern society: war, environmental pollution, natural resource depletion, overpopulation, energy shortages, and so on.

This book explains how prominent scientists like Carl Sagan came to believe in the existence of superior alien civilizations and the importance of contacting them. It draws upon the works of respected astronomers, physicists, chemists, and biologists who speculated about extraterrestrial civilizations for more than 400 years. Their conjectures appear in articles and books written to advance scientific knowledge and educate the general public.

Civilization implies the existence of intelligent creatures who create complex social and cultural institutions and cultivate science and technology. Because I

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