Friday, April 10, 2015

The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien IntelligenceThe Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence by Paul Charles William Davies
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Paul Davies, a British physicist, is the author of numerous popular books about science, in particular about physics, and related philosophical issues. His 2010 book "The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence" summarizes the state of the SETI program (Search for Extraterrestial Intelligence), on the 50th birthday of the program, and suggests how the search could be improved.

Each of the ten chapters of this book raises important and interesting questions - most of them obviously do not have answers - and explores various crucial issues in regard to our place in the universe. For sake of brevity I will mention just a selected few of these. In Chapter 2 the author explores the fundamental query: is the existence of life on Earth a "freak accident" (meaning something that occurred only once) or rather a "cosmic imperative" (which means that life emerged on possibly millions of planets similar to Earth, all over the universe)?

Chapter 4 brings the discussion of two captivating questions: Suppose life appeared on a planet and the process of evolution began. Is emergence of intelligence a necessary product of evolution? Is development of science a necessary product of evolution of intelligence? I would love to learn more about other scientists' and philosophers' views on these points.

In Chapter 8 the author explains why he is convinced that "biological intelligence is only a transitory phenomenon, a fleeting phase in the evolution of intelligence in the universe." According to Dr. Davies, intelligence will mostly migrate to the machine realm as machines are more durable, more reliable, and safer than biological systems, meaning human brains. The brains will become components in the overall structure of post-biological intelligence.

The last two chapters examine the question "what would happen if we, suddenly, found we were not alone in the universe?" (I, for one, think that if a proof were found that there are other intelligent civilizations out there, it would be one of the most important moments in my life.) On the last page of the book Dr. Davies gives his personal answer to the question "Do you believe we are alone in the universe, or are there intelligent beings out there somewhere?" I will not divulge the author's answer and will only say that if I, an absolute layman in the field, were asked that question, my answer would be the same as Dr. Davies', both before and after reading the book.

Three and a half stars.

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