08 September 2008
Not alone, but lonely
“How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress”. Niels Bohr (1)
In his fine and incisive humor, the celebrated scientist and Danish talent Niels Henrik David Bohr, has confronted us with a very serious instance: if we want to make progress in our scientific knowledge, we have to be ready to accept a paradox.
What could be that paradox for us?
Maybe the main one is to think that in spite of the lack of signals received from an intelligent civilization living somewhere else in the Space, probably it is there.
Or we better should say that they are there, meaning many intelligent civilizations.
But with all the odds that those civilizations exist, nevertheless, there is a practical impossibility that at any time we could get consciously in touch with them, because if they get in touch with us, we probably won’t be able to understand that they are doing so.
It is a matter of time and dimensions, it is a matter of size and scale. It is also a matter of technological development.
The deceased Arthur Clarke, with his idea of the monolith in the Moon, (2001 A Space Odyssey) wanted us to think that an intelligent civilization from outer space would try to leave signals of their existence and technological devices that we would be able to discover once we start being spacefarers, and not before.
Maybe the Moon or Mars are keeping for us great surprises, or maybe we’ll need to go far beyond those nearby celestial bodies, to find something. Or perhaps the whole solar system wouldn’t be enough in their size and scale, to find a craft done by other intelligence.
So the paradox is that we could maybe be surrounded by other intelligent civilizations but we’ll never be able to know them.
(1) As quoted in “Niels Bohr: The Man, His Science, & the World They Changed” (1966) by Ruth Moore, p. 1966