I felt subdued in recent weeks.
On October 7, 2023, hours after 1,400 Israeli civilians were massacred, including women, toddlers and elderly who were brutally butchered by Hamas terrorists, 34 Harvard student organizations signed a letter with the opening sentence: “We, the undersigned student organizations, hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.”
Ten days later, the New York Times filed a report with a large headline at the top of its website about an explosion in a hospital in Gaza City, based on claims by Hamas government officials that an Israeli airstrike was the cause and that hundreds of people were dead or injured. Israel denied being at fault and suggested an errant rocket launch by the Palestinian faction group Islamic Jihad. American and international officials confirmed this assertion based on direct evidence that a rocket came from a Palestinian fighter position and landed near the hospital. The number of casualties was an order of magnitude smaller than the Times reported.
I voiced my frustration about these events in a WORLD.MINDS discussion today with General David Petraeus, and he agreed that it is crucial to publicize facts in order to defeat deniers. Today’s landscape is more challenging than he experienced decades ago. Social media amplifies tribal sentiments, sacrificing facts to avoid contradiction of cherished narratives. This in turn triggers unsubstantiated hate.
The threat is not limited to wartime conflicts but also to the practice of science by those who violate the scientific method while claiming to defend it. This summer I led an expedition to the Pacific Ocean that collected and analyzed spherules with extrasolar composition near the path of an interstellar meteor, based on satellite data analyzed by the US Space Command and reported in an official letter to NASA. At the same time, The Astrophysical Journal published a paper denying the validity of the data because the reported speed did not fit the narrative of the authors.
What should be done about those who pretend to be on the side of truth and tolerance while denying facts because they contradict their cherished narratives? These pretenders commit a double sin by ignoring facts and suggesting simultaneously that they do so to protect the truth. They echo George Orwell’s words in his book titled 1984: “War is peace … Ignorance is strength.”
Have we learned nothing from our tumultuous past?
These saddening terrestrial musings give me another reason to seek a higher intelligence among the stars. If I ever encounter intelligent beings from afar, my main question would attempt to heal my terrestrial wounds: “Where is the nearest interstellar book club where fact-seeking humans can connect with like-minded extraterrestrials?”
Yesterday, I had a visit by a fan and her daughter who brought a large set of hardcopies of my book, Interstellar, for me to autograph for a book-club that they are members of. They arrived in a fantastically looking black McLaren car. In greeting them, I could not avoid my own wishful thinking about an extraterrestrial visit and so I said: “Thank you for bringing your spaceship to my driveway.”
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”, was published in August 2023.