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  • Writer's pictureSimone Skopek

Beyond the Stars: A Dinner Discussion on the Elusive Quest for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

Updated: Jul 16, 2023

Simone Pertuiset blog beyond the stars  dinner discussion on the elusive quest for extraterrestrial life
Our blue planet as seen from the barren moon

As a writer of 19th and 20th-century social history, I am captivated by the intersection of concepts such as social Darwinism and the destructive consequences of human intelligence. These themes unexpectedly wove together during a fascinating dinner conversation with our neighbor, Mike Silver, an amateur astronomer. Amidst the meandering discussions, we found ourselves asking Mike about his views on the likelihood of discovering intelligent extraterrestrial life. His response left me with a deep mixture of awe and poignancy,

Earth is an anomaly

According to Mike, while simple ameboid organisms may exist scattered across the universe, the chances of discovering a planet that possesses the intricacies necessary to support higher life forms are astonishingly slim.

It's not just about Earth's mass, which exerts the exact amount of gravitational pull ideal for holding onto oceans on its surface, a stable atmosphere above, and us! It's also the fact that Earth's iron core generates a protective magnetic field that shields us from deadly radiation from space. Additionally, Earth's fortunate position within the habitable zone around the sun provides the exact suitable temperatures, rotational balance, seasons, and our moon, precisely aligned, stabilizes our planet's tilt and acts as a gravitational anchor.

It's only thanks to this rare configuration, Mike says, that planet Earth offers the perfect conditions that support the incredible flourishing of life, with its diversity and complexity of species that have produced the perfect mixture of gases and nourishment to maintain the system in balanced equilibrium. In Mike's words, "It's like we hit the cosmic jackpot, having all these extraordinary factors necessary for creating such an environment. Earth truly is a rare jewel lost on an endless beach of cosmic sand."

A poignant perspective

We have all heard accounts from astronauts gazing back at our fragile planet from the cold expanse of space. The view of the blue planet shining amidst the vastness of the universe against the backdrop of infinite emptiness moves them to their core. While the possibility of other jewels may exist, the vast distances across space and time make their discovery a monumental challenge.

An astonishing journey of evolution into advanced sentient beings

We know that the evolutionary advantage of species often arises from physical superiority, as seen in the reign of the dinosaurs, or collective cooperation like ants acting as a unified powerful organism, or the invasive nature of some species like humans shaping their environment to gain superiority, but which leads to the destruction of other species.

However, our journey from amoeba to beings capable of communicating knowledge, creating symphonies like Beethoven, doing abstract mathematics like Einstein, pondering existential questions, seeking to understand our own brains, and creating artificial intelligence is truly extraordinary. It highlights the exceptional qualities of advanced sentient intelligence and creativity resulting from the uniqueness of our evolutionary path, paralleling the exceptional qualities of the planet we call home.

The tragic fallout of human intelligence

Sadly, our success has also resulted in catastrophic consequences. Our tribalism, ability to terrorize our enemies, our uniquely developed propensity for cruelty, our deep-seated primal instinct for short-sighted gain, and our disregard for the interconnectedness of all life have led us astray. In the blink of a geological eye, a mere 200 years since the Industrial Revolution, we have caused irreparable damage to a planet that took billions of years to evolve into its delicate Gaia form.

Elon Musk's vision of space colonization

Following our conversation with Mike and setting aside my personal views of Elon Musk, I now have a deeper understanding of his vision to establish human colonies in outer space. Besides the quest for minerals, one of Musk's motivations stems from a desire to preserve the extraordinary qualities of advanced sentient intelligence, communication, and accumulated knowledge. He acknowledges that our own human intellect, despite its remarkable achievements, has also brought us perilously close to a catastrophic fate. Our once advantageous evolutionary position has turned into a curse, pushing humanity and life on Earth to the edge of disaster.

While I appreciate Musk's perspective, I find myself aligning more with American astrophysicist, author, and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson's viewpoint. Tyson emphasizes that if we neglect our responsibilities towards Earth, we won't have many alternatives to escape to. If Musk believes in our capacity for geo-engineering to create livable conditions on Mars, then surely we possess the power of geoengineering to restore Earth to its former glory.

Instead of an elusive quest for extraterrestrial intelligence, we need to develop our own here on earth

NASA has been funding research for biosignatures and signs of primitive forms like fossil microbes at a cost of billions of dollars, without finding evidence of technologically advanced intelligence. After searching for sixty years, the absence of any evidence of advanced extraterrestrial intelligence is starting to baffle some scientists.

One theory is that any civilizations, once they achieve the level of technological advancement which includes nuclear weapons, climate altering gases and artificial intelligence, will typically wipe themselves out or destroy their planets.

The rarity of a planet like Earth, capable of nurturing advanced life forms, combined with the unparalleled sentient intelligence of the human species, adds poignancy to the tragic consequences that have unfolded. The elusive quest for extraterrestrial intelligence not only draws resources away from urgent Earthly concerns. Given the uncertain likelihood of success, is it not wiser to prioritize addressing challenges on our own planet?

As we teeter on the edge of self-destruction, all of this makes me wonder whether the human species, despite our intelligence, is more strongly driven by primal instincts over which we seem to have little control, and whether we shall ever be able to summon the wisdom to change course.

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