Last night, while I was reading Richard Dawkins excellent 2011 book for teen-age children (though in all honesty most adults would benefit from reading it too) “The Magic of Reality – How We Know Whats Real?”, a chilling thought occurred to me.
Premise: A telescope can work like a time-machine. What we see when we look at anything is actually light, and light takes time to travel, about 300,000 kilometers per second. Considering cosmic distances, that’s not so awfully fast. As a result, if you look at the nearest star Proxima Centauri in 2012, what you’re seeing is happening in 2008. We are in the Milky Way galaxy. When we look at our next-door neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy, we are looking 2 and a half million years back in time.
Conversely, if there were intelligent beings in one of the five galaxies called Stephan’s Quintet, looking at us with a powerful telescope, what they are seeing on earth, at this very moment, are not us but remote ancestors of dinosaurs! For anyone to be observing us, humans of the 21st century, they would have to be looking at earth thousands of years in the future. It stands to reason, thus, that if there were any intelligent beings in the universe, wanting to communicate with us, they would have to do so between many hundred to many thousand, or even many million years in the future, depending upon how far they are from us.
We have acquired the capacity to send and receive cosmic signals, and understand them, only over the past 100 years or so, and already today we posses such destructive weapons which, by intention or accident, could spell the end of all life on planet earth. Even if we were to survive a thousand years more before destroying ourselves, by which time we would also possess far more deadly weapons, on a cosmic time-scale, it’s nothing more than the blink of an eye.
The SETI project (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) has been searching for signs of intelligent life and listening to any cosmic signals sent our way for over 50 years now, without success.
It makes me wonder, is this because:
- There are no other intelligent beings in that incredibly vast universe, or
- After acquiring the capability to send and receive cosmic signals, we survived for such a short time that no one had the time or the luck to notice us.
If (1) is true, it’s hard to explain the presence of over 728 already confirmed exoplanets capable of supporting life, with another 2326 unconfirmed candidates from the Kepler telescope. And we’ve only been looking for a few years!
If (2) is true, then perhaps amidst all our wars for oil, the ever-more destructive weapons created by our super(destructive)-powers, the population explosion and the continuing environmental damage we inflict on our planet, we should all step back for a moment and stop to think, is this really what we humans wanted to become? Is this the best we can do? Is that all we were worth? A species that never got noticed.