The contact paradox : challenging our assumptions in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence

by Cooper, Keith (Journalist),

Format: Print Book 2019
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Inside the difficult questions about humanity's search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

What will happen if humanity makes contact with another civilization on a different planet? In The Contact Paradox , space journalist Keith Cooper tackles some of the myths and assumptions that underlie SETI--the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

In 1974 a message was beamed towards the stars by the giant Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico, a brief blast of radio waves designed to alert extraterrestrial civilizations to our existence. Of course, we don't know if such civilizations really exist. But for the past six decades a small cadre of researchers have been on a quest to find out, as part of SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

The silence from the stars is prompting some researchers, inspired by the Arecibo transmission, to transmit more messages into space, in an effort to provoke a response from any civilizations out there that might otherwise be staying quiet. However, the act of transmitting raises troubling questions about the process of contact. We look for qualities such as altruism and intelligence in extraterrestrial life, but what do these mean to humankind? Can we learn something about our own history when we explore what happens when two civilizations come into contact? Finally, do the answers tell us that it is safe to transmit, even though we know nothing about extraterrestrial life, or as Stephen Hawking argued, are we placing humanity in jeopardy by doing so?

In The Contact Paradox , author Keith Cooper looks at how far SETI has come since its modest beginnings, and where it is going, by speaking to the leading names in the field and beyond. SETI forces us to confront our nature in a way that we seldom have before--where did we come from, where are we going, and who are we in the cosmic context of things? This book considers the assumptions that we make in our search for extraterrestrial life, and explores how those assumptions can teach us about ourselves.

Published Reviews
Publisher's Weekly Review: "Debut author Cooper, the editor of Astronomy Now and Astrobiology Magazine, lays out the possibilities, good and bad, humanity faces in contemplating alien contact in his intriguing study. He opens in 1967, with an epochal astronomical discovery. While searching for radio signals from quasars, PhD student Jocelyn Bell picked up a powerful pulse that repeated every 1.3 seconds. The signal turned out to be from a spinning neutron star--a pulsar--rather than "little green men," but scientists began to think more seriously about the consequences of contacting extraterrestrials. For instance, to what degree might they share humans' innate "proclivity for altruism toward individuals that we're not related to," as opposed to another widespread human trait--xenophobia? And even if intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe, would humans recognize it as such? Cooper observes that "if technology is not ubiquitous with intelligence," then the dominant current model for detecting extraterrestrial sentience, via radio signals and other signs of technological activity, might all be in vain. Exploring these and many other concerns with concise and approachable writing, Cooper crafts a worthwhile popular science work about questions that, as scientists continually improve the human capacity for gathering information about the rest of the universe, are becoming increasingly important. (Jan.)"
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Additional Information
Series Bloomsbury sigma series ; bk. 49.
Subjects Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (Study group : U.S.)
Extraterrestrial beings.
Life on other planets.
Instructional and educational works.
Creative nonfiction.
Publisher London :2019
Language English
Description 336 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm.
Bibliography Notes Includes bibliographical references (pages 322-326) and index.
ISBN 9781472960429
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