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Aliens

The search for extraterrestrial life is a funny thing in science. It’s like a private hobby, best not discussed at work with colleagues,…By Kevin Berger

The search for extraterrestrial life is a funny thing in science. It’s like a private hobby, best not discussed at work with colleagues, nor with friends at parties. If your interlocutors don’t share your alien passion, they will be bored out of their human minds, like you were telling them about fantasy baseball.

But it is a fascinating subject. As Caleb Scharf, director of astrobiology at Columbia University, has written in Nautilus, “We still want to know whether we’re alone or not. Scientific curiosity and logic surely demands this for any rational entity. It’s a central piece of the puzzle for trying to understand our own origins and nature, our place in the universe.”

Scharf makes the salient point that people who insist the search is futile, that we are well and truly alone on Earth, are being a tad hasty. “Time and again,” he writes, “we grossly overestimate our ability to sense what’s happening in the universe around us.” Skepticism is fine but an open mind provides the best view.

So it’s OK now and again to illuminate the search for alien life, an interlude in the symphony of scientific work. And that’s just what we’re offering this week in Nautilus, an idyll in our month-long issues that range across the sciences. This week it’s just aliens. But not just. After all, the search for extraterrestrials is a healthy metaphor of science’s most visionary quests.

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