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