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"Are We Alone?" Bombshell

Monday, April 12, 2010 - 12:31 PM

Hi guys, Robert here. Just letting you know about a conversation I'll be having at the 92nd St. Y this Thursday. I hope you can come on by!

"People inevitably ask me," says Paul Davies, celebrated physicist,"Do you believe we are alone in the universe, or are there other intelligent beings out there somewhere?"

Davies is not only the author of some of the most compelling popular science books ever, he is an early and ardent supporter of SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, he now chairs of one its important committees, so you would expect him to say the universe is teeming with life and of course we will meet - or at least find a message from --- an intelligent life form some day.

So imagine my surprise when I opened his new book and found this :

"Do I, Paul 'The Scientist' Davies, think we are alone? As a scientist, my mind is open to new evidence and therefore not yet made up. I can assign some sort of probability for aliens to exist, based on sifting all the facts, weighted in turn by the relative importance I attach to the various arguments. When all that is put together, my answer is that we are probably the only intelligent beings in the universe, and I would not be very surprised if the solar system contains the only life in the universe."

Whaaaaat? This from a SETI guy?

This Thursday in New York City at 8:15pm at the 92nd Street Y on Lexington Avenue
, I will be cross examining Professor Davies, reviewing the biological, cosmological, technological and spiritual arguments that led him to this startling point of view. I will also present him with the one "contact" or noise from deep space -- it took place on August 15, 1977, that the most conservative scientists, including (up to now?) Davies himself have never been able to explain except to say it seems like an intentional signal. If you are a member of SETI, you might want to be there. If you love Radiolab, I hope you can come. If you know a curious extraterrestrial who can fit into one human-sized seat, please ask it to come. We have ET discounts.



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Comments [16]


Ya know, I'd be willing to PAY for the podcast ... this just sounds like my cuppa tea ... (am also in market for profound thinker as event companion (preferably male, mid-50s, liberal, catholic, music/dance a plus - try Magreve on hooYa)).

May. 18 2010 05:54 PM

I was at this talk (visiting from Austin, TX)... it was a real treat. Thanks for hosting and I second the request for the podcast version... mostly because I want to share it with more people.

We may not yet be "ready/mature" enough to start broadcasting our own crafted beacon into space... but surely we are mature enough to broadcast this talk! ;-)

May. 11 2010 12:53 PM

audio please!!! would love to hear this.

May. 02 2010 01:50 AM

So how long until we get to hear why we're probably alone? I'm really itching to hear the argument at the moment.

Carolyn Porco’s TED talk on the Saturn Cassini findings (especially the part about the water spouts on the moon Enceladus) makes it hard to think life isn’t probable elsewhere. (It's hard not to drop your jaw)

Apr. 23 2010 07:25 PM

any chance you can post the mysterious noise from 1977 that you mention?

Apr. 15 2010 10:56 PM

I want a podcast too!

Apr. 15 2010 04:27 PM

Please record this and podcast it! This sounds VERY interesting, but I can't get tickets. . . I'm 11, after all. LOL.

Apr. 14 2010 07:44 PM

Please post the audio in a podcast!

Apr. 14 2010 11:50 AM
Terry Collins

It is difficult for me to believe that life would be rare in the universe. I have often thought that it might just be as common as anything else. When we see how easily things become "infected" with life it is hard to believe the universe is a sterile environment.

Apr. 13 2010 08:16 PM

Also, Mutually Assured Destruction, MAD, comes into play here. If the universe is populated with many intelligences, then the most effective staragety in the Prisoner's Dilemma is to kill the other guy. Knowing of only one other intelligence would cement a course of destruction for us, we would have to wipe them out before they us.

A grim prospect indeed, but a choice that they are faced with as well. The dynamics of intersetllar war are also interesting, as technology disparities are introduced. Imagine the gulf between the conquistadors and the Soviet Union magnified a million times. Would a superior intelligence even consider us smart, even worth talking to? Would they see us as we see aomebas, ants, chimps? What then, we find a brother in the cosmos and can even muster up the ability to talk to them, we are just too dumb.

Let alone the ramifications it would have here, the cults, the wack jobs, the deniers, the economies, the philosphers. They say contact would be the most single important event in all history ever, and it easy to see why.

Wow, realy cool to think about actually, but, I digress.

Apr. 13 2010 06:28 PM

To Steve:

Yes, I think that is the point. Yes, life does exist, but what are the odds?
Well, since the dude is an expert in the subject, and he thinks it's unitary in probablility, I am going to believe him.
Do I think it exists somewhere else out there? Surely, just look at the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, each light souce in that picture holds a hundred thousand stars. Life, for me, is assured in that random glittering mess.
Now, talking, walking, loving, singing life? I can be pretty sure were will be it as far as intelligence. Yes, there probably are other intelligences out there, but 2 things will stop us for ever knowing that.
1) The distance and time. All those glimmering light beams might hold smarts, but we will never hear them. Light is going to be the best way to talk, as far as we know today, and getting a signal out louder than the star near the planet, clear across time and space for 13 billion years, at the exact time we are able to hear/see it, well, that is THE engineering challenge, the last and ultimate one, the literal swan song of a civilization calling out to other life that may call back, but whose origional suitors may have long since evaporated. That is the last challenge.
2) Recognizing the signal will be all but fruitless. Assuming that it even gets here at the right time and place, what will it say? Will we ever be able to know if it said anything at all? The odds of it being incomprehensible to us are damn near perfect. Whatever will have croaked, vibrated, emissed, thumped, rumbled, flashed or blinked, or thought out the signal will be so completely alien to us, so different, so unimaginable as life let alone smart life, that we will most likely think of it as a loud pop from a distant speck, an anomly dutifuly recorded and forgotten. And even if we hear it and process it, what then? A return signal, we are still effectively alone on the raft, though a piece of debris from another ship has passed us by. We are alone, and will be ever more alone if we hear our cousins, for then we will know that though we have brothers, we can never embrace.

I do dearly hope not, that I am impossibly wrong, that it is glorous music and we recognize our kin from close by.

Apr. 13 2010 06:17 PM

FYI, I'm a huge Radiolab fan.

I'm a little tired of the use of probability theories regarding the question of whether life, intellegent or otherwise, exists elsewhere in the universe. Obviously life is rare, even in the known part of the universe. Its so rare as to approach a probability of zero. However, we have a significant counter-example to the non-existence of life. Thus the probability must be greater than zero. Calculating even an approximate probability by multiplying small chances of this or that seem only likely to be swallowed up by error.

Thus, it seems more unlikely to me that life is unique in a universe that is this vast and long lasting.

Life seems to be an "attractor", in a loose mathematical use of the word. Once you have something that reproduces (i.e. life), you have a strong tendency to stay in a self perpetuating state of having things that reproduce.

Whether these things end up with cognition is no given, but, again, it happened once, so you cannot rule out the possibility of it happening again.

Apr. 13 2010 12:42 PM

to skipper, imo his Templeton prize address is a good start if you are looking to understand his line of reasoning:

Apr. 13 2010 09:22 AM

Will you be recording this conversation for a later broadcast or interviewing the good professor for a program? It sounds like it will be a fascinating conversation.

Apr. 12 2010 09:51 PM

I wish I could come to NY for stuff like this...

Has Professor Davies published anything online regarding his ideas that you'll be discussing? His theory seems to contradict the usual probabilistic estimation and I'm very curious to see his deductive reasoning.

Apr. 12 2010 07:38 PM

Why don't I live in NYC? someday...

Apr. 12 2010 02:21 PM

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