Hello? ET, are you there?

April 29, 2008 at 2:00 am 1 comment

If you ask astrophysicist, Prof Stephen Hawking, if there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, he is likely to quip: “Primitive life is very common and intelligent life is fairly rare.. some would say it has yet to occur on earth.”

Hawking gave a lecture last week to commemorate NASA’s 50th anniversary. Can you believe that a half century has already gone by since we first flung ourselves into space in tiny capsules (flying death traps if you ask me being someone who’s not keen on confined spaces). I read anything by Hawking, what a mind. And his NASA lecture, Why We Should Go Into Space, was fascinating and gave me hope that we will resuscitate our efforts to “seek out new worlds”. You can read his lecture here on the NASA site and check out the streaming video of Hawking’s lecture (if you can stick through all the introductory comments, it’s worth it get to the Prof and his daughter, Lucy).

The Prof considered whether intelligent life is “out there” (mmm…I know it’s not in some organisations I’ve worked in!) and started off with this reflection:

Why we should go into space? What is the justification for spending all that effort and money on getting a few lumps of moon rock? Aren’t there better causes here on Earth? In a way, the situation was like that in Europe before 1492. People might well have argued that it was a waste of money to send Columbus on a wild goose chase. Yet, the discovery of the new world made a profound difference to the old. Just think, we wouldn’t have had a Big Mac or a KFC.”

And with all the crap that goes on in our world these days (sorry, in dark, brooding phase about humanity), this comment from the Prof had me thinking:

“Spreading out into space will have an even greater effect. It will completely change the future of the human race and maybe determine whether we have any future at all…..It won’t solve any of our immediate problems on Planet Earth, but it will give us a new perspective on them and cause us to look outwards and inwards. Hopefully, it would unite us to face a common challenge“.

Considering that we are fast depleting our natural resources, searching out new worlds could be the only factor that could possibly unite human kind. Mind you, we’d then rapidly pillage any new world we arrived on.

Now, we all know the decline in the education system around science and the arts and this was highlighted for me when Lucy Hawking said: “In the United Kingdom, a recent survey found that a third of U.K. school children believe that wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill was the first man to walk on the Moon.” Cough: I’m sure Neil Armstrong will be really pleased to read this. Some blonde bimbos around 17 years old on some reality TV show recently said they’d never even heard of Winston Churchill. Obviously, to conquer space we need a new breed of scientists (along with some trained historians I’d suggest!).

Worse, the same survey found that “40% of children thought Mars was a chocolate bar, 35% of children said the Earth was not an official planet, and extraordinarily, 72% could not identify the Moon from pictures.” Quell horror! Not sure how we’ll be “going where no-one has gone before” if we keep taking the emphasis off science, history, classics and arts education. Thank goodness Lucy and her father are producing kids’ books on science to whet the appetite with great questions like – what exactly does happen when you get to the edge of the Universe? well, very clearly you fall into the abyss of a KM programme that is languishing in some organisation….sorry.

The Prof goes on to consider panspermia (the chance that life hitchhiked from planet to planet on a meteor for example), so maybe other worlds have species that share a similar DNA with us. Although Hawking added: “On the other hand, an independent occurrence of life would be extremely unlikely to be DNA based. So watch out if you meet an alien. You could be infected with a disease against which you have no resistance.”

My UFO fans: sorry Hawking, doesn’t believe we’ve been visited by aliens and says: “We don’t appear to have been visited by aliens. I am discounting reports of UFOs. Why would they appear only to cranks and weirdos?”. And despite “an extensive search by the SETI project, we haven’t heard any alien television quiz shows. This probably indicates that there are no alien civilizations at our stage of development within the radius of a few hundred lightyears.”

This could be a good thing though: there might be a sensible alien civilization out there, one that doesn’t have nuclear weapons; one that doesn’t spend the majority of its time in hedonistic pursuits or killing off their world; one that respects and tolerates “difference” instead of trying to annihilate it in the name of some higher authority (probably not called God).

Hawking reckons there are three possible reasons aliens haven’t tried to contact us (well, one is that they are super smart and are giving us the flick):

  • the probability of primitive life appearing on a suitable planet is very low
  • the probability of primitive life appearing may be reasonably high, but the probability of that life developing intelligence like ours may be very low
  • life appears and in some cases develops into intelligent beings, but when it reaches a stage of sending radio signals, it will also have the technology to make nuclear bombs and other weapons of mass destruction. It will, therefore, be in danger of .destroying itself before long (and adds: let us hope this third possibility is not the reason we haven’t seen ET yet).

Lots of great stuff in this lecture, including whether we could actually live on other worlds with a different atmosphere. Go on, pamper the inner Hawking in you and read it.

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Entry filed under: Aliens, NASA, Space, Stephen Hawking, Useful resources.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. philippe martin  |  April 29, 2008 at 9:30 am

    I just hope to be able even if it is to late,summit my basic but faith full,stupid and full of hope,vision to one of my MENTOR. The only alive and the KING of BLACK HOLE.I am never late since time mean unit and to personal for a guy like me,always feel strange,to be not really sure ,but if I just say a late word,Hawking was my only PROF,ever feel the need to explore an other!!!!!I saw you on my SHOULDER.You were a huge part as KNOWLEDGE,,,and the most beautiful it is you are still ,,,,,,,my direction………………to late it just mean relativistic,,,,,,,,,,but without any violation……your disciple…. Philippe martin,

    Reply

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