In an inspiring WORLD.MINDS dinner, hosted by Neri Oxman and Bill Ackman, General David Petraeus described his vision for addressing the challenge of a new geopolitical reality after the Israel-Hamas war.
A scientific-artistic perspective from other attendees offered more optimism. The curator of the Museum of Modern Art, Paula Antonelli, summarized her vision in three words: “Love the aliens!”
Paula recommended that we love those who are different from us, a refreshing counter to the tribalism that dominates public discourse these days. The benefits of engaging with others are not appreciated enough in our current culture of “virtue signaling” among like-minded people. Instead, alienation is cultivated by algorithms of social media which reward hate of others.
In science, the glue that keeps scientists together is the attention to the same data and evidence, because we all share the same physical reality and must adapt to it in order to thrive. If the scientific data is inconclusive, the community splits to factions with different opinions on the interpretation of the partial evidence. If there is no empirical data whatsoever, the community loses a common narrative and splits into distinct notions of virtual realities. This state-of-affairs is manifested today in theoretical physics where competing concepts of string theory and quantum-loop gravity attempt to unify quantum mechanics and gravity. As of now, there is no experimental data to guide us and these schemes might be pure figments of our imagination, having little to do with nature. Yet, they have a long shelf life of many decades precisely because they were not tested by experiments. The same applies to philosophical worldviews which pollute our geopolitics because inconvenient data is ignored. In the current culture of short tweets, young people find it easy to subscribe to superficial opinions because their life experience is short.
It is easy to have an opinion without investing the effort to study a subject and collect the evidence needed to resolve it. This state-of-affairs is particularly apparent in the search for technological signatures of actual aliens, namely those born on exoplanets. My footnote to Paula’s recommendation is that we should love those aliens the most.
The reason is simple. Extraterrestrials could save humanity because the civilizations which managed to reach us across the vast interstellar space had to survive the existential challenges that we face. Hence, they would be an ideal role model for us to follow. All we need to do is check our backyard in the solar system for any packages sent by our neighbors. Our cosmic street offers much more real estate in interstellar space compared to the surface of the tiny rock we live on. The mass of Earth reflects the “few-dollar” change left over from the “million-dollar” transaction associated with the formation of the Sun. And the Sun is one out of hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky-Way galaxy alone, with trillions of galaxies like it in the observable volume of the Universe and many more beyond our cosmic horizon.
There is no doubt that the geopolitical world we live in needs repair. Throughout history, humans hoped for a Messianic age of peace and prosperity. My take is that the Messiah will not arrive “riding on a donkey” as suggested in Zechariah 9:9 but instead might be riding on a spacecraft from an exoplanet.
The scientific research program of the Galileo Project is to assemble and analyze data that would allow us to escape the virtual reality in which we are unique and represent the pinnacle of creation. It is evident from reading the daily news that humanity does not epitomize the ultimate intelligence and that there is room for improvement.
In order to arrive together to a better future, we should follow the evidence. The new scientific data comes from the Galileo Project Observatory at Harvard University as well as from the materials collected from the Pacific Ocean site of the first recognized interstellar meteor. During the last few months, the Galileo Project scientists got busy for the first time in history in the analysis of new data on potential techno-signatures near Earth.
Here’s hoping that our findings will propel humanity to a better future. At dinner, I promised Paula that I will bring any extraterrestrial technologies that the Galileo Project finds for exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. We both love the aliens, especially those who are smarter than us.
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.