Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Are We Alone?

A little while ago, I wrote about my youthful interest in science writing.  I described it as 're-enchanting the cosmos with precise weirdness'.  (Clunky, but you get the idea: it combines mathematical conciseness with almost religious awe and comedic strangeness.)

I recently read Paul Davies' The Eerie Silence: Are We Alone in the Universe?, and I'm happy to say the re-enchantement and weirdness continues.  While I think Davies is perhaps too confident about the eventual consciousness of computers, the overall tone of the book is curious but cautious.

I've a very, very brief review of The Eerie Silence in the most recent issue of The Big Issue, edition 363. A sample:
The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is now fifty years on: a fitting date for Davies’ re-examination. After a broad-ranging introduction, Davies explores several key questions. Is life itself a freak accident, or cosmic commonplace? Where there’s life, is there intelligence? Is it organic, technological, or some almost-magic, unrecognisable hybrid? Where and how do we look? With radio waves or neutrinos, in the Milky Way’s deserted arms, or the clement galactic south?
Discussing physics, chemistry, biology and philosophy, Davies is engaging and persuasive.
The book ends on contact scenarios. Who’d reply for Earth, and with what message? The fallout might be profound. On this, Davies’ sociological and philosophical asides – on Christianity’s anthropocentrism, for example – are well-made.
The Eerie Silence is classic science writing. If Davies is undecided on extra-terrestrial life, he does earthbound intelligence a great favour.

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