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“It is part of the human experience to slowly realize we are each an isolated mind in a sea of other isolated minds, and then to spend our lives trying to cross the mighty gulfs between ourselves and others, striving to make a connection. Everybody wants to be found. So it’s natural, as our science has progressed, that the human race should project its collective hopes onto the cosmos and see if anyone else is reaching out to us. The last century is permeated with science fiction of alien visitors, and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (or SETI) is the manifestation of our hopes that someone out there is trying to find us. So great is our desire for contact, we instinctually see aliens in emissions of radiation, in planetary landscapes, and in comets on hyperbolic trajectories. In a sense, we anthropomorphize the universe.
Ascribing human characteristics or motives to natural objects is nothing new. What science has done is to set a grander stage for our anthropomorphizations. We have seen faces in vegetables and toast and mountainsides for millennia, and a quick search for “pareidolia” will reward the reader with examples. But it took the Viking mission for us to see a face on Mars. For ages, people have heard voices calling to them in the wind, even from the northern lights. Is it surprising that when astronomers Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Antony Hewish heard periodic radio emissions from a pulsar for the first time in 1967, they named the phenomenon LGM-1, for Little Green Men?
We interpret shadows on a curtain, or a tapping branch at the window, as the arrival of a visitor. So it was in 2016, when our minds leapt to the thoughts of “alien megastructures” when it was discovered that the face of Boyajian’s star was intermittently veiled. We now know, however, that what shadowed the star was simply clouds of dust. Eventually, thanks to the scientific method, the actual causes for these surprising discoveries get sorted out, but science’s initial impact is to grant our imaginations new vistas to run wild.”
JJ Editor's Picks
"On Christmas Eve of 1966, Paddy Roy Bates, a retired British army major, drove a small boat with an outboard motor seven miles off the coast of England into the North Sea. He had sneaked out of his house in the middle of the night, inspired..."
"The book that changed lecturer, activist, and current presidential candidate Marianne Williamson’s life, A Course in Miracles, is not available for free online, but its workbook is. You can find it on the website for the Foundation for..."
"Here are two sets of statements from far-distant opposites in the climate change debate. The first is from Naomi Klein, who in her book This Changes Everything paints a bleak picture of a global socioeconomic system gone wrong: “There is a..."
"Voters who trust their government — and each other — are more supportive of ambitious welfare states than those who do not. Across nations, high levels of social trust correlate with high levels of social spending. The relationship between these..."
"With the presidential campaign under way, expect to hear a lot more about a shiny new toy of progressive economic thinking, “modern monetary theory.” It seems to be the only intellectual contortion that might allow candidates to promise..."
"“We don’t want to fight y’all. We’re not trying to go to jail.” That’s what A$AP Rocky, the 30-year-old New York City rapper, can be heard saying in a video of an encounter with strangers in Sweden that has ballooned into an international crisis."
"Israel’s top officials are considering denying Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib entry to their country due to their outspoken, controversial criticism of Israel’s policy toward Palestinians, not to mention their slurs against American Jews as..."
"For most of our lives, we have been conditioned to share a piece of personal information without a moment’s hesitation: our phone number. We punch in our digits at the grocery store to get a member discount or at the pharmacy to pick up..."