Without direct evidence, a family living in isolation might imagine being alone on the street. Under such circumstances, imagine stepping out to the backyard and coming across a tennis ball thrown by a neighbor among all the familiar rocks out there. Would you hide the information that you have neighbors from your family members? Keeping it a secret would make little sense, because the neighbors might have other effects on your family’s life and could be knocking on your front door one day. A better approach would be to inform your family members of the finding, so that they would adapt to the reality of having neighbors. This will allow them to behave accordingly both at home and in the street. They might decide to maintain their privacy by closing off the window curtains, or they might visit the neighbors and learn more about their nature. If the neighbors happen to be intelligent and more knowledgeable, they could teach your family members new truths and inspire you to do better. Given these benefits, hiding the existence of neighbors from your family members would not be a good policy.
Adapting to the reality we share is for our benefit. It made no sense to place Galileo Galilei in house arrest four centuries ago and hide the inference from his telescope that our home planet, the Earth, is not at the center of the Universe. Our spacecraft would have never reached Mars if launched under the unsubstantiated belief that Mars orbits the Earth.
For the same reasons, it would be inappropriate for the US Government to hide information about our cosmic neighbors from other earthlings. Any related data should be shared with all humans as scientific knowledge. Interstellar spacecraft which started their journeys thousands of light years away do not care how we split the land on Earth, in the same way that distant neighbors on your street have no business interfering with the allocation of rooms to your family members.
It was therefore surprising to witness David Grusch stating during the hearing in the US House of Representatives on July 26, 2023, that the US government maintains secret programs of retrieval and reverse engineering of alien spacecraft. If true, hiding information about our cosmic neighbors from the general public makes little sense.
In a morning interview, Michael Smerconish on CNN asked whether I can imagine good reasons for the government to keep such activities secret. The only reasons I could imagine are maintaining a technological advantage relative to adversaries or commercial benefits, but neither are justified. Gladly, we are not at the mercy of the government to tell us what lies in interstellar space by surveying our backyard because the sky and our oceans are not classified. My research team is currently studying the composition of the 717 spherules from the first recognized interstellar meteor, IM1, that were retrieved in the expedition that I led last month to the Pacific Ocean. If the high material strength and high speed of IM1 originated from an extraterrestrial Voyager-like interstellar probe, then its molten droplets would appear different from those of familiar meteorites. Materials from interstellar space are of no relevance to national security and should be shared with scientists who can make sense of the findings. Michael concluded that any interstellar materials found by the US Government should be shared with scientists like myself who could make sense of them.
In another TV interview for “The Hill’s Rising,” I was asked by Jessica Burbank and Amber Athey about extra dimensions and the holographic principle, as mentioned by David Grusch, and explained that these mathematical concepts from string theory are speculative and cannot be used to explain phenomena in the real world where quantum corrections to gravity are miniscule.
In a separate interview, the Jewish Talkline broadcaster, Rabbi Zev Brenner, asked me whether an encounter with extraterrestrials would be good for humanity. I expressed my optimistic view that the inspiration from the actions of our neighbors may change our priorities from conflicts within our home planet to a peaceful cooperation of our fellow humans in exploring our cosmic neighborhood. Zev was pessimistic that humans would never change their affinity to conflicts and competition, but I reasoned that science offers an opportunity for an infinite-sum game instead of the past zero-sum games we are used to. Since a peaceful future is part of the Messianic forecast, I suggested that perhaps the Messiah will not be coming from Brooklyn in New-York, but rather from another planet.
The theologian and existential philosopher Martin Buber noted that Christians claim that the Messiah has already come and are now awaiting his second coming, while the Jews maintain that the Messiah has yet to come. So, it’s simple, reasoned Buber. When the Messiah finally gets here, as both sides agree, we’ll just ask him/her: “Have you been here before?” Similarly, there is no point in arguing about classified data or testimonies and fuzzy images from pilot cockpits as evidence for extraterrestrials. If the evidence for extraterrestrials will be absolutely clear in the future, we can check whether they visited us already, just as in the case of the Messiah.
Zev asked whether the notion of extraterrestrials might be threatening to religious beliefs, and I explained that exploring our cosmic neighborhood can only amplify our sense of awe about the cosmos. We are better prepared to appreciate the qualities of a car after studying its engine under the hood. Moreover, an advanced technological civilization could serve for secular people as an approximation to God. Its technological products would appear miraculous, akin to those perceived by a cave dweller during a visit to Times Square in New York City.
Altogether, the discovery of neighbors will provide us with a sense of community and improve our feelings of cosmic belonging in the otherwise lonely cosmos.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Avi Loeb is the head of the Galileo Project, founding director of Harvard University’s — Black Hole Initiative, director of the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and the former chair of the astronomy department at Harvard University (2011–2020). He chairs the advisory board for the Breakthrough Starshot project, and is a former member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and a former chair of the Board on Physics and Astronomy of the National Academies. He is the bestselling author of “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth” and a co-author of the textbook “Life in the Cosmos”, both published in 2021. His new book, titled “Interstellar”, is scheduled for publication in August 2023.