Life on other planets
Is there intelligent life on other planets and, if so, would it get anywhere near the World Economic Forum? That depends, I guess, on whether we are talking about ET (who would probably prefer kids on bicycles playing monotonous tonal music) or some extraterrestrial version of Bill Gates (if that isn’t redundant).
To ruminate on this problem, and reduce my weltschmerz quotient, I wandered over to a session on “Life on other planets” after the bleak luncheon talk by George Soros. The session featured a remarkable scientist named Jill Tarter, who holds a chair at the SETI Institute (as in Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence). The basic question she posed: What if someone out there is asking (and answering) the same questions we are?
Tarter explained that even with all the work being done to capture signals that might be sent from other worlds, this work has only begun. “To get a good numerical approximation, all the SETI searching we’ve been able to do on and off for the part 50 years is equivalent to examining just one glass of water from the Earth’s oceans.”
She described the new work being done to capture signals from distant worlds with ever-more-subtle instruments, and she suggested that to get ready for the coming “close encounter” with other life forms, we start adding “Earthling” to our Facebook and MySpace profiles. You first on that one, Jill.
This is the sort of mind-bending stuff you encounter at Davos, and it’s one reason I go back each year. The brain food makes up for the sometimes-not-so-cogent “special messages” from very earthbound world leaders who attend the conference.
I asked Tarter afterwards what it would do to our human culture here on Planet Earth -- to George Soros’s broken financial markets, for example -- when the moment comes that we realize, for sure, that we are not alone in the universe. She said she wasn’t certain -- the reaction could be good or bad -- but that’s one reason we should start talking about the possibility now: to mitigate the shock when the real moment arrives.
Tarter recalled her own closest alarm. In 1998, she was certain that she was recording new and inexplicable noise in the cosmos. For more than six hours, she was convinced this was IT -- the great moment of inter-galactic connection. It turned out that it was a European spacecraft that hadn’t been coded properly in the system. But for those few hours, she said, she was “exuberant.”
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