A little back story.
I’m currently teaching a course dealing with science and technology (in broad terms) starting with a unit on astronomy, cosmology and the big, bad universe. One theme I address is the possibility of intelligent life in the universe. I mention Giordano Bruno and the three S’s: Sci-fi, SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and Sagan (et. al.). But the best pedagogical paradigm for this stuff is the Drake Equation. Frank Drake, a pioneer in exobiology, laid out the parameters for the possibility (and probability) of contacting another sentient life form, possessing a technological civilization, somewhere in our galaxy. The equation is an exercise in odds, each variable (distribution of habitable planets and life, emergence of consciousness and technology, and, perhaps most importantly, longevity of any given civilization) exploring an important factor in the overall idea.
Even given the 100 or so billion stars in our galaxy, the odds are generally long.
Which is why it’s silly to me when someone seeing a few unexplained lights in the Christmas night sky around Nanaimo becomes the pretext for a discussion about intelligent life in the universe.
Admittedly, I saw the witnesses on the local news and they seemed…Credible. Yet, untrained observers often think they see strange lights in the sky (heck, the most commonly seen UFO is the planet Venus), and as Jung ably argued, there’s something in the collective unconscious that strongly linked these “observations” to “flying saucers” in the atomic age. Of course, the aliens were us.
Actual encounter with extraterrestrials, if it ever comes, will not be of the “little green men” variety. More likely a brief moment of communication picked up from a distant (and in all probability, long since dead) alien civilization. Good thing, since they are also liable to be completely incomprehensible, scary and something we wouldn’t want on our doorstep…
Still, I think, perhaps overly optimistically, that 2010 will be the year we discover we’re not alone.
This fact alone would change everything.