The Atlantic on how China is leading the way in listening out ofr extraterrestrial intelligence. With the powers that be in the USA demonstrating spectacular disinterest in the scientific way of understanding the world, we're ceding so much to the rest of the world.
December 15, 2017
Donald Trump's call for a moonshot not withstanding- to my biased eye it sounds like an unfunded mandate, and I also understand that the conservatives are much more interested in retrograde "Put America In Space" ambition than NASA's attempts to understand what we're doing on the planet all but 536 of us have been stuck on, lest they suggest it might be premature to screw this place over.
I guess the American model is putting all our eggs in the Tony Stark / Ayn Rand-hero type genius who manages to have big long-shot ambition despite the capitalist desire for quarterly profit, the most notable example being Elon Musk.
The Atlantic piece came out before word of `Oumuamua, an intringuingly shaped interstellar asteroid swinging our way. So far efforts to detect any sign of intelligent construction or signal have come to nothing, but it's one of the more provocative things we've seen, shades of Arthur C Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama...
Anyway, the piece ends with a musing on what evidence of alien intelligence would mean for humanity in a spiritual sense:
Even if no geopolitical strife ensued, humans would certainly experience a radical cultural transformation, as every belief system on Earth grappled with the bare fact of first contact. Buddhists would get off easy: Their faith already assumes an infinite universe of untold antiquity, its every corner alive with the vibrating energies of living beings. The Hindu cosmos is similarly grand and teeming. The Koran references Allah's "creation of the heavens and the earth, and the living creatures that He has scattered through them." Jews believe that God's power has no limits, certainly none that would restrain his creative powers to this planet's cosmically small surface.The author is painting all these belief systems with an awfully wide brush! But I disagree especially with the take on humanism. I think the modern humanist views humans not as a pinnacle and certainly not as a goal - we take pride in seeming to be the only thing *in this neighborhood* capable of constructing complex culture and a model of the universe, but it has been a long dream of the science fiction that has inspired so many of us - our secular inspiring fables - that the universe has rolled the dice better elsewhere. And maybe those more advanced ones can help us out! (The secular view isn't that we're created in the image of God, unless maybe you say that we're all a hodge podge of steadily selecting beneficial traits from a chaotic, unpredictable blend.... hmm, that might be sort of true, after all...)
Christianity might have it tougher. There is a debate in contemporary Christian theology as to whether Christ's salvation extends to every soul that exists in the wider universe, or whether the sin-tainted inhabitants of distant planets require their own divine interventions. The Vatican is especially keen to massage extraterrestrial life into its doctrine, perhaps sensing that another scientific revolution may be imminent. The shameful persecution of Galileo is still fresh in its long institutional memory.
Secular humanists won't be spared a sobering intellectual reckoning with first contact. Copernicus removed Earth from the center of the universe, and Darwin yanked humans down into the muck with the rest of the animal kingdom. But even within this framework, human beings have continued to regard ourselves as nature's pinnacle. We have continued treating "lower" creatures with great cruelty. We have marveled that existence itself was authored in such a way as to generate, from the simplest materials and axioms, beings like us. We have flattered ourselves that we are, in the words of Carl Sagan, "the universe's way of knowing itself." These are secular ways of saying we are made in the image of God.
In the wake of "Team Magic Unicorn" (the nextgen UI team) us stragglers formed "Team Cardboard Manatee" and today I decided to demarcate our territory with handcrafted wall art...
An artisanal authentic cardboard manatee. we don't know if there's real magic in the magic unicorn but the cardboard in the manatee is 100%