Sunday 30 October, 9.45am until 10.30am, Lecture Theatre 1
What is the likelihood of life existing elsewhere in the universe? More crucially, what is the likelihood of intelligent life existing elsewhere in the universe? These questions have returned to the centre of attention in the new millennium, especially since the launch of NASA’s Kepler mission in 2009. The specific objective of this mission is to search for Earth-like planets in our galaxy. Already, intriguing discoveries have been made and there have been numerous media announcements. Hundreds of so-called exoplanets have been discovered, and the first potentially habitable planets are being identified. Mankind’s long search for direct evidence of other life forms may be nearing completion.
It is an appropriate moment to take stock and consider the implications of what would happen if life – especially sentient life – were detected elsewhere in the galaxy, and how this would affect our perception of what it means to be human. If we are no longer alone, we will need to redefine our place in the universe.
The discovery of any kind of life outside our solar system would surely cause us to reassess the way life originates and develops, and perhaps this alone would cause us to question whether life is an accidental or purposeful phenomenon. The existence of any kind of sentient life, however, would have much greater implications. How might this affect our sense of identity, our religions and our spirituality? Could we incorporate extra-terrestrial life into our current belief systems, philosophies and religions, or would we need to start again? Would we need new beliefs for a new age?
Listen to session audio:
|Dr John Elliott|
reader in intelligence engineering, Leeds Metropolitan University; member, International Academy of Astronautics SETI Permanent Study Group and Post Detection Task Force
writer and teacher; former vice-principal, Harvey Grammar School, Folkestone
journalist; author, God: all that matters and The Big Questions: God
communications officer, Progress Educational Trust; webmaster, BioNews
Our species has developed its beliefs, its cultures, its religions on the basis of our uniqueness, on the theory that the universe was designed expressly, perhaps solely, for us. Incontrovertible proof that we are not alone would force us to re-examine all our knowledge, to build new theories of life, its origins, its diversity, perhaps its purpose.Richard Swan, Independent, 27 October 2011
Richard Swan and Sandy Starr debate the significance that finding alien life would have on humanity.Richard Swan and Sandy Starr, InDebate, October 2011
However, many discussions of this question assume that contact will follow a particular scenario that derives from the hopes and fears of the author. In this paper, we analyze a broad range of contact scenarios in terms of whether contact with ETI would benefit or harm humanity. This type of broad analysis can help us prepare for actual contact with ETI even if the details of contact do not fully resemble any specific scenario.Seth D. Baum, Jacob D. Haqq-Misra, Shawn D. Domagal-Goldman, Popular Physics, 23 August 2011
Rising greenhouse emissions could tip off aliens that we are a rapidly expanding threat, warns a reportIan Sample, Guardian, 18 August 2011
If aliens ever contact us, it will be perhaps the single most significant event in human history. And Paul Davies will be responsible for saying something back. For fifty years the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence has been scanning the skies. Now Davies, head of SETI's Post Detection Task Group, explores what the mysterious silence it has so far encountered could mean. Here he looks at exciting new ways to make contact with extra-terrestrial life. He considers what form advanced alien intelligence is likely to take if it exists. And perhaps more importantly, what exactly it would mean if it didn't - how extraordinary it would be if we were alone, to be human and here in this staggering, eerie silence
Paul Davies, Penguin, 3 March 2011
Astronomers are now able to detect planets orbiting stars other than the Sun where life may exist, and living generations could see the signatures of extra-terrestrial life being detected. Should it turn out that we are not alone in the Universe, it will fundamentally affect how humanity understands itself—and we need to be prepared for the consequences. A Discussion Meeting held at the Royal Society in London, 6–9 Carlton House Terrace, on 25–26 January 2010, addressed not only the scientific but also the societal agenda, with presentations covering a large diversity of topics.Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 13 February 2011
Imagine standing on the west coast of Ireland a thousand years ago, told to remain on guard against a potential invasion. Then imagine looking out across the ocean, not knowing if there are any lands out there to be invaded from. Even if there are any lands, there is no way of telling whether they’re inhabited. You could spend your lifetime watching out for invaders who couldn’t exist.Richard Swan, Culture Wars, 31 January 2011
Dr Martin Dominik of St Andrews School of Physics and Astronomy and Simon Conway Morris, an evolution specialist from the Department of Earth Scientists at Cambridge, debate the way we should think about ET's existence.BBC Radio 4, 10 January 2011
Astronomers have discovered the smallest planet outside our Solar System, and the first that is undoubtedly rocky like Earth. The discovery has been hailed asJason Palmer, BBC News, 10 January 2011