Why the search for extraterrestrial intelligence is no longer just the province of science fiction but rather “the emergent belief of a generation of physicists, biologists and chemists that we are not alone.”
Quantum physicist Miller (It’s Not Rocket Science, 2014) dates the “sea change” from fiction to serious science to the discovery by NASA's recent Kepler mission that “planets like ours are common throughout the galaxy.” This raises the possibility that “our first encounter with alien life is rapidly approaching.” The author makes the provocative assumption that the discovery of microbial life in such extreme conditions tells us that “biology is as universal as chemistry.” If life can exist in such extreme conditions on Earth as the hot springs formed by geysers in Yellowstone Park, then why not on Mars or on Jupiter's moons? More to the point, writes the author, the “recent discovery of Earth-like planets by the Kepler Space Telescope” raises the possibility that they, too, might harbor intelligent life. Miller concisely and entertainingly reviews the evidence substantiating his contention that the preconditions necessary for life to exist and evolve, from microbes to intelligent beings like humans, are not necessarily unique to Earth. These include a gravitational field large enough to sustain an atmosphere and the existence of sufficient water and volcanoes to provide the chemical basis for life. However, the leap from microorganisms to intelligent life here on Earth is still not fully understood. The emergence of humans still appears to be a remarkable evolutionary event. Miller concludes with a big question. Assuming that there are other intelligent civilizations out there, how can we communicate with them? First, he wisely suggests, we must learn how to communicate with each other and the other beings that inhabit our planet.
A lively, thoughtful look at a scientific frontier that captures our imagination while posing a serious moral question about our responsibilities as citizens of the universe.