Saturday, June 19, 2010

Is There Intelligent Life In Outer Space?

Last week's question about what happens when we die sparked some interesting dialogue so I thought I'd ask this question: is there intelligent life in outer space?

In the after death conversation I mentioned a near-death experience someone had in which they were shown a future life as an alien on a space colony, which blew my mind.

When I was in 6th or 7th grade, I was a huge Erich von Däniken fan. I read all of the "Chariots of the Gods" books, and while I'm not sure I believed all of what was in them, it certainly piqued my imagination. By high school I had graduated on to Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan--in fact, after college I applied for a job at Sagan's The Planetary Society in Pasadena, California. Got an interview, too! Kinda makes you wonder the turns one’s life takes, doesn't it?

Anyway, if that hasn't proved my SETI bonafides, I once dated a guy who said he had an alien encounter when he was a kid. He didn't like to talk about it, in fact seemed somewhat traumatized by it. I have a feeling anal probes were involved.

So I am certainly open to the idea of intelligent life in outer space. I’m aware that earth’s solar system is in a rather remote corner of a rather remote galaxy. We’re sort of in the boondocks in galactic terms, and when you think of how vast the universe is -- “BILL-yons and BILL-yons” of suns and planets orbiting those suns -- it seems rather arrogant to think that Earth would be the only place where “intelligent” life exists (I don’t happen to think we’re all that intelligent, seeing as how we’re poisoning ourselves, willingly and knowingly.)

Then again, the fact that life exists on Earth at all is such a fluke, such a bizarre set of circumstances that created just the right conditions that allowed just the right carbon-based life-form to evolve. Of course, there can be other kinds of life forms -- my favorite New Yorker cartoon shows a crashed space ship and an alien creature crawling through the desert gasping, “ammonia .... ammonia ...” Hah.

Anyway, if there is an intelligent life form out there, one which we assume has developed advanced technology and is able to slip the surly bonds of whatever planet they call home, why haven’t they made themselves known to us in a big way? Are we really that remote? Or maybe they’re just too wrapped up in their own stuff to worry about looking beyond their world. Maybe curiosity is an Earth thing, a human thing.

We do always assume there is an “intelligent” life form with an advanced culture and technology out there. But what if there’s not? What if there are just bacteria and amoeba and maybe insect-like creatures?

What if we’re the smartest kids in class? There’s a scary thought.