Monday 24 October 2016

We need close encounters of a caring kind. . .

Fiona O'Connell

Published 09/08/2015 | 02:30

Stephen Hawking supports a project dedicated to the search for alien life
Stephen Hawking supports a project dedicated to the search for alien life

Someone once said that when we travel, we are simultaneously younger and older than we actually are.

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I'm not sure if moving to the country qualifies me for a wrinkle-free wanderlust through life. Though I do seem to always be either behind the times - protesting against much of what passes for progress - or too far ahead, since vegans are generally viewed as oddball fanatics.

Hmm. Given that it isn't necessary to take life in order to prolong our own, surely that makes carnivores the real extremists?

Such is the topsy-turvy way of our world.

Which probably explains why we are set to embark on the most intensive search for alien life yet. However, Professor Matthew Bailes, who is in charge of the Breakthrough Prize Foundation's $100m search for alien life (financed by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner and backed by Prof. Stephen Hawking), has warned it could potentially lead us into disaster. Because aliens are likely to be much more advanced.

Concern about the consequences of our cosmic curiosity is echoed by Hawking himself, who posits that some advanced alien civilisations might possess the same violent, aggressive and genocidal traits found among humans.

"If so, they may not see us as any more valuable than we see bacteria."

Which brings to mind the line that author John Harris wrote in Killing for Food back in the 70s. "Suppose that tomorrow a group of beings from another planet were to land on Earth, beings who considered themselves as superior to you as you feel yourself to be to other animals. Would they have the right to treat you as you treat the animals you breed, keep and kill for food?"

Our great adventure in outer space might be more laudable, were it not for our track record at home. Scientists have warned that the modern world is experiencing a "sixth great extinction" of animal species - even when the lowest estimates of extinction rate are considered. It is a threat for which we are almost wholly responsible.

This leads me to wonder if we are less time-travellers and more toddlers who have tantrums and throw all the toys out of their pram (or in our case the planet) without ever having learned to play properly with them.

For as Dan Werthimer, chief scientist on the Seti project muses, if our forage into space proves we are alone "we'd better take good care of life on this planet".

One wonders if we can.

According to Albert Einstein, "two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity - and I'm not sure about the universe".

It also makes one wonder why, consequently, people who follow a plant-based diet which preserves our planet are deemed lunatics - rather than light years ahead of a most unnatural norm.

Sunday Independent

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