Top critical review
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Webb casts his web widely but not widely enough
on 27 August 2014
The author discusses 50 solutions to Fermi's paradox. However, he does not come over as unbiased. His conclusion - that Earth is unique - seems to have already been formed before the discussion of the possible solutions.
The conclusion of the author could be correct, although he did not seem convincing.
There is very little real data on the subject. We have reasonable knowledge of the conditions on the 7 other planets in our solar system. There are over 1000 exo planets now known to exist. Some guesses can be made as to the likelihood of life on these planets, by virtue of their mass and proximity to their parent stars.
The author does not ask why some people would like to believe that the earth is unique. This seems to be an echo of pre Copernican thinking, which placed man at the centre of the universe. Surely this belief is as childish as a young child believing that the whole world revolves around its cries and temper tantrums. To believe that we are unique is to foster a childish outlook on another level.
Webb casts his web widely but not widely enough. There is too much concentration on what present technology can do.So he assumes that aliens may try contact via radio. What he does not investigate is how a meaningful conversation could take place. Assume for example a technological civilisation is 1000 light years away. So a simple 'Hello' would take at least 2000 years for a reply to come back.
Not enough emphasis has been given on how unstable the technogical civilisation on Earth is. It is simply not sustainable and is doomed to disappear quite soon. Think of the 4.5 billion years of the Earth and the probable lifetime of a radio using civilisation as not more than 300 years. Then think how rare a planet of the right size, constitution, benign parent star and so on is. The likelihood that there is another radio broadcasting civilisation in the Milky Way now must surely be very small.
It seems that advanced civilisations must use techiques beyond what we know, provided they have overcome the dangers of technology (war with destructive weapons, unsustainable use of their planet). Perhaps they have solved or partially solved the riddle of consciousness. John Lilly maintained that he had contacted beings from advanced civilisations via telepathy. Far fetched? If telepathy really does exist, then there may be little need for expensive space ships using enormous quantities of energy.
Webb does not investigate in enough detail why other civilisations would want to contact us. Would you want to contact someone who has discovered enough to make terrible weapons and is killing his fellow inmates ? You would only do so if you were convinced that he had matured enough not to use violence anymore. Impressing that person with the jewels of a greater civilisation would not ensure that the good in him is actually intrinsic, rather than imposed.
The apparent silence in the Universe, in my opinion, is because we expect advanced civilisations to be primarily technological civilisations. I do agree with the author that intelligent life is exceedingly rare, but not that the Earth is unique. If we overcome the present crisis of unsustainability, and war, I believe that other civilisations will then contact us as every intelligent and mature civilisation will be special in its own way and have gifts to offer others.
1) The black and white photos are quite poor. Some colour photos would have been appreciated.
2) As previous reviewers in the USA have noted, the author makes some mistakes in his calculations.
On the good side, the author has been quite systematic, the chapters are succint without excessive detail. It is provocative in a good way.