A short while back a friend of mine mentioned a philosophy professor working at Notre Dame and his “anti-SETI” views. Although I am stridently pro-space and would be absolutely fascinated to meet a member of another sentient extraterrestrial species, I felt I had to do the research before I condemned the professor for his views, shown as they were only in brief by this [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ogJEnuuAmo ] video on the English Al-Jazeera. His brief sound byte was the sort that could easily be taken out of context.
I took the liberty of emailing Professor Gutting myself in order to get the full story.

[ http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/05/will-the-aliens-be-nice-dont-bet-on-it/ ]

In short, he presents us with a real-world inverse of Blaise Pascal’s famous wager: if there are aliens out there, and we reveal ourselves to them right now, we have no guarantee they will do positive things for us. If they could get here, however, more than likely they would be far in advance of us technologically. Even if they were not, the possibility of infection by alien organisms, accidental nastiness resulting from any number of possibilities, or simply malign intent is non-zero. I know it might sound outrageous, but consider that while Pascal is talking only about a putative supernatural entity and consequent putative metaphysical afterlife. In the real world, we really do know there are millions of galaxies visible from where we are, containing billions upon billions of stars and worlds beyond counting. One of those worlds might have incubated life too.

Every time I see the gold disc we sent with Voyagers 1 and 2, I feel a slight chill–we never know who or what might get that information. It just seems like posting one’s social security number, banking information, phone number and place of residence online and expecting only good things to happen.

In light of this, I am brought back to the topic of today’s Bashful Bookish Bear: Ben Bova’s Forge of God. This work of speculative science fiction answers the question SETI research has caused Professor Gutting to ask with a penetrating examination of the nature of the human response to the imminence of mortality and the fragility of our position on this planet and in the solar system.

While I could give you a summary, it is not my purpose to broker a Cliffsnotes exchange wherein I convert the novel into readily digestible morsels for your delectation and coffee-table conversation. I would rather you read the novel and have the experience of considering these things yourself. It is, I think, essential reading for a civilization perched on the brink of a leap into space but unwilling to stick its toe into the water.

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