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Are We Alone?: Philosophical Implications of the Life of Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life Hardcover – 23 Aug 1995

4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (23 Aug. 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465004180
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465004188
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 15.2 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,190,135 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

From the Back Cover

Is life on earth a "cosmic joke"-- a unique, one-time occurrence? Or is life a "cosmic imperative"? Scientists and governments are vigorously searching for signs of life in the universe, but what would (and should) we do if they meet with success? Celebrate? Panic?

Paul Davies ponders the many ramifications of contact with extraterrestrial life, giving the general reader the latest and most scientifically sound thinking on this hot topic in the field of astronomy. As fascinating and readable as any science fiction novel, "Are We Alone?" delves deep into profound ideas in mathematics and philosophy, taking the layperson on an interstellar journey through issues in quantum theory, mind and matter, consciousness and time. Readers will be glued to the page as they learn why Davies believes that "they're out there" -- and what that implies. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Paul Davies is a professor of natural philosophy at the University of Adelaide, South Australia. He is the author of more than twenty books, including "The Mind of God, The Cosmic Blueprint, Superforce, " and "Are We Alone"? He won the 1995 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion for his contributions to religious thought and inquiry. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is an insightful and thought provoking book that is somewhat unclear of what it wants to be. A more appropriate sub-title for the book would have been; "Philosophical Implications of the Existence of Extraterrestrial Life." The greatest flaw of the entire book is that early on the author points out theories such as, "That which is possible in nature tends to become realized." and "In an infinite universe anything that can happen will happen, and happen infinitely often." The author then goes on to state his opinion a number of times that aliens could never traverse the great distances between stars so he will only discuss the implications of contact with aliens via radio communications. Apparently the last quote also applies to the human ability to underestimate science, intelligence and human (alien) will. I would have been willing to give a higher rating if the author had not made such an erroneous statement.
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By A Customer on 3 April 2001
Format: Paperback
I had to write in light of the review by "That which is possible in nature tends to become realized." (The reader should be pointed to another of Paul Davies' excellent books, The 5th Miracle) "In an infinite universe anything that can happen will happen, and happen infinitely often." - again another Davies book, Other Worlds is highly recommended for a more indepth study of these concepts only touched on in this philosophical book. Superb, and not tainted.
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By A Customer on 5 Oct. 1996
Format: Paperback
This is an excellent discussion of the concept of extraterrestrial life and its philosophical implications for humanity.This book also delves into the areas of complex systems, emergent phenomena and consciousness.I highly recommend it for anyone with even a mild interest in this area!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Great book, and great ideas to think about. Recommend it.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x97fedfb4) out of 5 stars 28 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x98011b4c) out of 5 stars Broad Scope 24 Jun. 2001
By Atheen - Published on
Format: Paperback
Paul Davies' book Are We Alone? is deceptively simple. While its purported topic is the possibility of alien life, it also covers and covers more extensively the various theories of sentience, what it is, why it is, and how common it might be. It also explains the anthropic principle, which uses the fact that we exist to explain why the universe is as it is. The volume is a little too short to cover the topics well, but it is definitely very lucid. It also contains a very nice bibliography, a veritable who's who of cosmology and the extraterrestrial question, including Barrow and Tipler (The Anthropic Cosmological Principle), Crick (Life Itself), Dawkins (The Blind Watchmaker), Drake (Is Anyone Out There?), Gould (Wonderful Life), Hoyle (The Intelligent Universe), and Sagan (The Cosmic Connection). This book definitely makes a fine start to understanding the topic of intelligent life and the possibility of its existence elsewhere.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x98011ba0) out of 5 stars Raising ultimate questions 7 Dec. 2004
By Shalom Freedman - Published on
Format: Paperback
I found this book extremely thought- provoking. I do not have a strong scientific background and so tend to let some of the more technical arguments go by me. But I did follow the overall thrust of Davies argument and he does make a good case for the idea that the discovery of extraterrestial life is an essence a positive phenomenom. In the concluding paragraph of his fifth chapter , on 'Consciousness'he writes," If this view is correct if consciousness is a basic phenomenon that is part of the natural outworking of the laws of the universe, then we can expect it to have emerged elsewhere.The search for alien beings can therefore be seen as a test of the world view that we live in a universe that is progressive, not only in the way that life and consciousness emerge from primeval chaos, but also in the way that mind plays a fundamental role. In my opinion, the most important upshot of the discovery of extraterrestial life would be to restore to human beings something of the dignity of which science has robbed them. Far from exposing Homo sapiens as an inferior creature in the vast cosmos, the certain existence of alien beings would give us cause to believe that we, in our humble way, are part of a larger, majestic process of cosmic self- knowledge."

Davies also in the course of the book makes arguments for the idea that human venturing into the cosmos, true space travel of any great significance is impossible. ie that physically we are not about to conquer the cosmos. He too suggests that the whole cosmic process of creation might be seen as one of evolution toward greater and greater complexity. In this again Humanity's meeting another kind of higher intelligence would seem to him to fit into this scenario of an overall Cosmic Process in which the development is toward a kind of total Consciousness.

I strongly recommend this work not simply for the ideas it raises but for its clarity in argument and presentation.

I would just add that a ' meeting with other minds more advanced than us' has always seemed to me a troubling possibility as I in my childlike way assumed it must mean that this compromises God's special relationship with humanity. I now am perhaps less troubled by this than by the possibility that we human beings are not going to wait to meet the ' higher consciousnesses without' but rather invent them from within. And this too raises the question of the ultimate meaning and mission of mankind .Here I turn in my thought to the Jewish idea of Mankind working with God to help complete Creation to do the Tikkun Olam which is the fixing of the world. But how this is to work out exactly and what this would mean should we truly meet minds of another civilization I would not now even begin to speculate about.

This book helps raise questions of ultimate significance, and in this sense I believe it an extremely worthwhile one.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x98011fd8) out of 5 stars Excellent , clear overview of astrobiology 4 May 2001
By Roger McEvilly (the guilty bystander) - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book is a very good overview of current debate and discovery concerning various aspects of the nature and origin of life. One of the best things about this book is the level of detail, sourced from a variety of disciplines. Another strength is Paul Davies' impassioned, clear, reasoned and objective writing style. He discusses all the various arguments, subjects them to critical analysis, and formulates conclusions based on the available evidence. It is delightful to read an overview of scientific debate which doesn't jump to sides, but critically examines alternative arguments, regardless of source. In other words, biology, physics, mathematics, history, poetry, geology, chemistry, biochemistry, theology, philosophy, etc etc (in no particular order) all have something to say about this topic. Moreover, Paul Davies doesn't seem to need to sell or convince anybody of his ideas. His job isn't on the line, he doesn't need the money, and he has enough experience to realise just how complicated processes in the universe can be. He is delightfully distant, and objectively impassioned. He simply reasons, and allows the reader to agree, or disagree. His knowledge of the various arguments are also pretty sound.
Paul Davies outlines the arguments both for and against intelligent life being common in the universe including Carter's Anthropic principle, Fermi's paradox, Darwinism, chaos theory, edge-of-chaos theory, Boolean algebra, and quantum indeterminism. There is an interesting discussion on Van Neumann Machines (intelligent space probes), and artificial intelligence. Keen advocates of these ideas, Mr Davies notes, are reminded that there may be more to the technology required in sending these intelligent machines off into space than we might think. Chaos and complexity theory might have something to say about the Von Neumann machine, as it did with several other bungled scientific endeavours.
Panspermia-the spreading of micro-organisms between star systems- is also discussed. It is a growing idea. For example, it was only recently reported (too recent for this book, unfortunately) that scientists have re-created conditions in space in the early formation of the solar system, and came up with more complex organic molecules than those previously found from early "Earth-soup" experiments. Maybe, life originated in the turbulent conditions of space-in which case it should be relatively common in the universe, developing further on planets where conditions are favourable. Furthermore, it was recently reported that microbes from a 300 million-year-old gas bubble were released, and promptly started to reproduce. Put these inside a large asteroid and send it off into space, and you could theoretically seed planets on the other side of the galaxy.
Mr Davies' thinks intelligent life is relatively common in the universe, based on the notion that it is the "natural outcome of the laws of physics"-but notes that perhaps the most compulsive argument against this is neo-Darwinism. (Although not all neo-Darwinists would agree). He is not a strict Darwinist, in the sense that he suspects something is incomplete-not wrong- about Darwinism. One recent notion for example to support intelligent being common, is that of the `edge of chaos', whereby some systems exist at a kind of boundary of `order', and are highly sensitive to very small changes-they can self-organise and/or rapidly jump in complexity, and/or revert to chaos rather easily. These systems have important implications to the nature and origin of life, in that they imply a directional component to the natural workings of the universe. Mr Davies does note however, that biologists are unhappy with any kind of `direction' in the `chaos' that is evolution, lest `Design' should slip in the back door. But the problem with this view is that `chaos' is not simple. The universe, Mr Davies suggests, tends towards complexity and organisation-it is fundamentally built-in to the physics of the universe. In which case, intelligence should arise as part of the normal processes of the laws of physics. These ideas are in stark contrast to the commonly held view that intelligence is so highly improbable even given abundant simple life, that it is unlikely to occur elsewhere.
This book is a very good overview of current knowledge and theory, only slightly dated as at May, 2001. Rare Earth is another book for keen readers of this field, which argues that intelligent life is very uncommon in the universe. In my view this book is more 'true to life', so to speak, with more varied ideas, and a greater understanding of humanity and science.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x97ef03c0) out of 5 stars Not Enough Philosophical Implications 5 Oct. 2012
By Joseph R. Sweeney - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was expecting a "what if?" scenario of the impact the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence would have on our society. Too much of this book was either historical or reflective of the 1996 wisdom regarding the existence of extraterrestrial intelligences.

The table of contents provides the best indicator of what this book is really about. Here it is with my observations about each chapter in parentheses.

1. A Brief History of SETI (self-explanatory)

2. Extraterrestrial Microbes (a biology lesson)

3. Alien Message (exploring the probable types of messages we might receive)

4. Against Aliens (exploring the probability of aliens and their similarity to us)

5. The Nature of Consciousness (self-explanatory)

6. Alien Contact and Religious Experience (current and biblical UFO stories)

If you are interested in history, biology, and dated wisdom, then this is a good book for you. For me, I don't think it "explores the ramifications" to the extent that I had hoped it would.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x97ef036c) out of 5 stars Is Life Contingent? 12 Jan. 2002
By John C. Landon - Published on
Format: Paperback
This short work gives a very clear introduction and summary to the issues of cosmic life, and in the process provokes a very intriguing series of questions about evolutionary theory. For the consideration that life has a cosmic basis immediately calls into question the contingency of life's emergence claimed by Neo-Darwinists. Davies tackles this and other questions very directly, and is especially open on the question of evolution, where other writers tend to speak in signs. "If human intelligence is just an evolutionary accident...then there is no reason to expect that life on other planets willever develop intelligence as far as we have..." There is also an interesting discussion of the type of doubt Alfred Wallace had about the descent of man, and the many talents in a potential state that seem hard to account for by natural selection. Very interesting book from two perspectives, SETI and evolutionary theory.
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