The Contact Paradox: Challenging our Assumptions in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

Keith Cooper. Sigma, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4729-6042-9
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.)
Reviewed on : 09/18/2019
Release date: 01/21/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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