Science without Borders

Avi Loeb
5 min readFeb 13, 2024

During my online lecture at the Science Week conference in Morocco today, I noticed a group of students wearing a hijab in the back of the auditorium who were fascinated by the science I was describing. Seeing them gave me hope for the future of humanity. At that moment, I felt more connected to their genuine wonder than to colleagues who resemble me culturally and physically but lost their raw curiosity. In two interviews with Moroccan reporters afterwards, I highlighted my sentiment that scientific curiosity brings people together.

The laws of physics do not adhere to national borders. All atoms obey the same equations of quantum mechanics, irrespective of which country owns them. As a result, scientific knowledge should be shared with all humans, irrespective of their nationality, ethnicity, culture, religion, socio-economic background, political affiliation, gender identity, geographical location, skin color or genetic making. Science is the real deal when it comes to our common ground.

Over the past few days, I had five independent international conversations with scientists from all over the world. One conversation was with Indonesian professors who are interested in sending exceptional students to work with me on the Galileo Project. I responded favorably, noting that one of these students could become the next Albert Einstein. A second discussion was with a representative from the Australian Space Agency who was seeking advice on space exploration. A third exchange was with science curators in Poland, a fourth with space industry leaders in Germany and the fifth with a science educator in Japan. Science is international, as noted by Louis de Broglie when he proposed the idea of a multi-nation collaboration on CERN in 1949.

The unifying character of science is best exemplified in dealing with what lies outside the solar system. The president of any particular nation should not be privy to data or materials from outside the solar system. All scientific knowledge about our cosmic neighborhood, including Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAPs), should be shared.

Physics is engaged with the physical reality we all experience, which is best measured by instruments. This is what I argued in the opening lecture that I gave at the Sol Foundation Conference at Stanford University on November 17, 2023. It is surprising how many people approach UAPs with religious or emotional convictions. Their approach deviates from the proper scientific narrative exemplified by the Galileo Project. What scientists find will likely differ from hypothetical ideas which are not based on detailed quantitative measurements. The difference between science and a belief system can be gleaned by comparing modern cosmology with the biblical story of genesis. In both cases, the Universe started at an initial point in time but the details associated with what happened afterwards are vastly different between the two versions.

It is important not to interpret low-quality data or eyewitness testimonies based on scientific speculations about new physics. In an hour-long conversation with David Grusch a couple of months ago, I advised him to avoid referring to the “holographic principle” or “extra dimensions” in the context of UAPs. These concepts constitute mathematical speculations in string-theory with no experimental support, even according to the scientists who proposed them. If these concepts were to provide a robust foundation for explaining real phenomena, the scientists who proposed them would have received the Nobel Prize in celebration of a validated theory of quantum gravity. New physics requires high-quality data, not partial data.

Novel scientific knowledge is ushered in by exquisite measurements with well-calibrated instruments. Obtaining such data requires hard work and extraordinary funding, often on the scale of millions to billions of dollars.

The range of possible realities is far larger than the one physical reality we all experience. What we know about that one reality is earned through the tedious process of collecting scientific evidence. It took the interstellar expedition team of the Galileo Project a full year to retrieve materials from the Pacific Ocean site of the interstellar meteor, IM1, and to analyze the sample of spherules in a new detailed paper. It took orders of magnitude less work and funds for people outside our research team to express their opinions.

Multiple belief systems tend to split humanity into tribes because they lack an independent arbitrator. In contrast, the power of experimental data in ruling out some ideas and validating others, makes science a unifying force. As we learn more about the physical reality, we can adapt and use it for the benefits of our shared prosperity. Scientific progress is the signature of our collective intelligence. If we find out that extraterrestrial civilizations gained more knowledge, we would advance by learning from them. This might unite us with them if all advanced cultures are based on science.

What needs to be done is clear. As Virgil wrote in his epic poem The Aneid: “sic itur ad astra,” or in translation: “thus, one journeys to the stars.” Stay tuned for the next interstellar expedition, currently being planned.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Credit: Chris Michel (October 2023)

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.

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Avi Loeb

Avi Loeb is the Baird Professor of Science and Institute director at Harvard University and the bestselling author of “Extraterrestrial” and "Interstellar".