“I know I’ve never completely freed myself of the suspicion that there are some extremely odd things about this mission.”
Kubrick’s original plan was to open 2001 with a ten-minute prologue (35mm film, black and white) — edited interviews on extraterrestrial possibilities with experts on space, theology, chemistry, biology, astronomy.
Kubrick says that he decided after the first screening of 2001 for M-G-M executives, in Culver City, California, that it wasn’t a good idea to open 2001 with a prologue, and it was eliminated immediately.
Partially edited transcripts of interviews follow.
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Academician A.I. Oparin
Director, A.N. Bach Institute of Biochemistry
Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R., Moscow
The origination of life is not an extraordinary event, a lucky circumstance, as has been a general concept until quite recently; i it is an inevitable phenomenon, part and parcel of the universal evolution. In particular, our terrestrial form of life is a result of the evolution of carbonic compounds and multimolecular ( systems formed in the process of this evolution.
Could similar phenomena occur on other celestial bodies? We can observe the initial stages of evolution everywhere on various celestial objects. There can be no doubt of the existence of highly molecular complex organic substances on such objects as the Moon or Mars. Even if these substances could not be a formed on those planets, they could be brought there by falling meteorites.
For evolution to have taken place on Earth, large expanses of water were necessary, which we could not observe and did not even expect to find on the Moon or Mars.
However, in the process of evolution of these planets, at the initial stage, these planets, for instance, Mars, could be more rich in water, and life could have emerged there along the same lines as on the Earth, and, having once emerged, it could develop and adjust to those severe, I would say unbearable for human beings, conditions existing on these celestial objects.
We possess, so to say, a single copy of the Book of Life, that of terrestrial life, while the knowledge of other forms of life could tell us about our past and, what’s more, it could supply us with many clues as to our future. The discovery of new forms of life superior to ours would immensely enrich our culture and expedite our development.
Thus, human venture into space, direct perception of the solar system and, in particular, of Earth-type planets will add much to our perception of life and its development.
I doubt if we can seriously talk of any visits to the Earth from outer space that took place in the past. It is still the sphere of science fiction more than that of science. Of course, science fiction is fine in its own right; however, we should in all honesty say that the boundaries of our knowledge are but too far from the point where we could seriously discuss this problem with- out having any evidence whatsoever of communications of this nature.
Doubtless, a great number of complex and highly developed forms of the evolution of matter are to be found in the limitless expanse of the universe. But it is in no way imperative that we call these forms “life” or consider them such, as they differ in principle from our terrestrial form of life. It is my opinion that should we come across such phenomena in the process of our increasing space effort, we can work out some name other than “life” for them.
We can hardly expect to find anywhere in space human beings or living organisms morphologically similar to those of our terrestrial world. I presume the highly organized forms that may be found elsewhere in the universe are completely different in their appearance, which does not, however, rule out the possibility of finding intelligent life of a new type, other than our terrestrial life. Taking into consideration a great number of planetary systems within our galaxy alone, there exists a strong probability of finding one or several planets similar to ours. However, the development of life is such a complex process that, even in this case, full coincidence of the forms of life on these duplicated planets with our terrestrial form of life is hardly possible. These forms may be very close; however, certain distinctions will be observed.
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Dr. Harlow Shapley
Paine Professor of Practical Astronomy Emeritus
Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Q: Dr. Shapley, what arguments mitigate against there being life on planets other than Earth?
The thought is rather clear that we aren’t going to have life in our solar system, because of the temperature problem. We can’t have life without it being metabolic or metabolism-working— and it’s not going to work if the water is all frozen or steamed away. We need water in a liquid state, and that we don’t think we have much of in this solar system, and so that is the argument that mitigates having life as we know life, as we practice life, in this solar system. But there are a lot of other systems which we could have life on. In fact, it would do for me to point out that our studies of the number of galaxies and the number of stars in galaxies in all lead us to the conclusion that there must be something like ten to the twentieth —at least ten to the twentieth power stars: ten to the twentieth, that’s a pretty big number, but if you write down one and put twenty zeros after it that would be the way it would look if you were expressing it in numbers. Well, that’s a whole lot of stars, and suppose we say that only one in a billion, one in a thousand million, is suitable for life, we’d still have a tremendous number—we would have a hundred thousand million galaxies and stars that might harbor life. If only one in a million were comfortable, we would still have an enormous amount of life.
We are peripheral — I like to use that word. I mean we are on the edge; we are not jn the center of a galaxy, we are not important in a galaxy, we’re just here.
Of course, we ought to define life, shouldn’t we —we should define life —and many people take shots at it, but I think the simplest one is to say that life is an activity of replication of macro-molecules. The macro-molecules, when they divide up, are self-replicating and represent what we would call life metabolic operations.
On Mars the conditions are so poor that I would not want to gamble that we are going to find life — but we are going to send apparatus out toward the vicinity of Mars—we are going to make a lot of photographs; we are going to do a bit of thinking on the subject and we may come to the conclusion that Mars probably does have a low form of operation that we call metabolic life—could be . . .
If one of my graduate students twenty-five years ago had said, “I want to write or study on the origin of life,” I would have asked him to close the door as he went out and do it quickly, because you didn’t do that then; it wasn’t proper, especially for the young, to commence speculating in a big way about the origin of life or even the size of the universe.
There is a little point that we are now getting brave enough to discuss, and that is cosmic evolution. My idea about cosmic evolution is that everything that we can name —material or immaterial —evolves and changes with time. It goes from simple to more complex, or moves away.
We had novae, you see, for that evolutionary step from hydrogen into helium, burning hydrogen fuel into helium ash; and now we realize that in the novae we have temperatures that will take us further up this sequence of atoms.
We now know how the elements evolve. Well, if the elements evolve that way and biology evolves that way and the stars and the galaxies evolve that way, we might as well go the whole distance —say there is a cosmic evolution. The whole works evolve with time. Time is a factor in the matter—I don’t know what the end is going to be. Some people ask, ‘‘What will happen when we run out of this fuel?” … I don’t know the answer to that.
Whence came the hydrogen out of which the universe has developed … we don’t know the answers — well, it may come from twists in the space time. Maybe a source we are building on. Okay, I say, who is the twister?
Life is going to appear where the chemical conditions are right: well, they are right now, on the surface of this planet, but back a few thousand million years ago, when the Earth was cooling off and rocks would be too hot, the life that could get started there would not have some of the necessary elements.
It would have methane and ammonia and water vapor and hydrogen gas and maybe one other. Those were the kind of elements of molecules that were on the surface of the Earth when life began. But now we can have those same elements in a laboratory.
Out in space, of course, you have electrical discharges from lightnings and, let us say, at the primal atmospheres … and you have these that I have just named—ammonia, methane, water vapor, hydrogen gas. You had those out in space, but we can have them in the laboratory.
That is what Stanley Miller, under the guidance of Harold Urey and some of the rest of us, put our oars in, what we could do also on the surface of the Earth. And so we set up a laboratory in Chicago that had just those things. . . . We didn’t have any lightning from outer space, but we could put in electric discharges, which we did. Stanley Miller one day told me, he could see that his apparatus was showing something pink in what was otherwise a transparent gaseous medium. He let it run for a week. At the end of that week it was decidedly pink. And then he stopped his experiment and analyzed what he had done. He had used the same machinery that omnipotence —if there be such —could use, and we used it and he tested it and he used the new techniques that we don’t know much about —mainly chronographic analysis —and what happened? He analyzed it and found he had amino acids, and that was one of the big jumps … I would say it was one of the best experiments of the last ten years.
First, just two or three, and then, at the end of the year, all twenty of the commonly accepted amino acids were found in this University of Chicago laboratory experiment. And that, of course, is a tremendous thing … a step toward life, because amino acids are what proteins are made of, and proteins are what human beings are made of. So we found out how to do those things, and since then we don’t need to appeal to the Almighty, I mean, to the supernatural, or to miracles for the origin of life. We know the tricks of how it can be done. How it undoubtedly was done on this peripheral planet in this one solar system and probably elsewhere.
Who is —what is, aware? Is a dog aware of himself… is a fish aware of himself… is this amoeba of mine aware? It knows that one thing is edible and digestible, and another is not. So intelligence, to me, is just a matter of degree.
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Francis J. Heyden, S.J.
Professor & Head of Dept, of Astronomy
Georgetown University Washington, D.C.
Now, as far as religion is concerned. I do not know of any eleventh commandment that says: “Thou shalt not talk to anyone off the face of the Earth.” As a matter of fact, though, this would be a big problem. I can understand where we would receive a message from some place out in space, but to talk back to them and exchange ideas, that I would say is close to physically impossible for the present, because all our communication is done by means of electromagnetic radiation, which travels at the speed of light. So that even if someone on a planet near the closest star were to send a message to us, it would take four-and- a-half years from the time he said “hello” there until we heard it here; by the time we answered “glad to hear from you” and “how are you?” it would be four-and-a-half years before he got our answer. So you see, it would take quite a lifetime just to have a very casual passing of the time of day.
If it doesn’t look like man at all and it is intelligent, we could communicate with it and have an exchange of ideas. I do not know whether we would call it man or not. We don’t call angels men, but all through the Old Testament we have had constant references to certain angels who are pure spirits —who have been messengers of God to men.
On this question of the meaning of religion in exploration of life outside of our own Earth—whether that life be on one of the planets in space, or whether it be on even some star in a solar system all of its own, we would only have one question that would come up and that would be the question of the fall of Adam and Eve and the inheritance that we have gotten from that fall. These people probably never had an Adam and Eve who ran into trouble in Paradise and got thrown out. Possibly they are in what the philosophers and theologians of the Middle Ages referred to as the state of pure nature, meaning that they do not have the darkened intellects and the weakened wills that we have, and therefore if we met them we would probably meet some of the finest guides and consultants and intelligent people that we could ever run into. It would be most beneficial for us. On the other hand, if the fall of Adam and Eve had been repeated, we might meet some people that would benefit by the same fruits of the redemption that we do, who would understand us, and speak almost the same language. But this is all speculation.
A being anywhere in space is a creature of God. So that if you even meet some living thing on the most distant galaxy, it would be a creature created by the same God that made us all.
In some respects, I suspect that eventually we may know, too, that we have the same biological or vital laws throughout the whole universe.
God can be known by any intelligent being. It is the belief of the philosophers, starting with Aristotle, and those who preceded him even, that an intelligent man looking at the wonders of nature —studying them, either from the standpoint of science or admiring them simply from the standpoint of beauty, with order and variety, to them … will come to the realization that there is a supreme being, or a God. On the other hand, we know from the Bible that God has revealed Himself to mankind on this Earth in a very, very special way, in order to help us appreciate Him more and more, or to come to know Him better. Now, as far as other beings in space are concerned, if they are intelligent they will know God the way a scientist would know Him—or the way Aristotle and other great philosophers down through the ages have instructed us that we can argue from the conditions of things in this world to the existence of a supreme being. Since we are intelligent, we would understand that God who made us is also intelligent. But we might not know whether or not these people have as full an understanding of God as we have through Revelation until we found out what form of Revelation was given to them.
What could man learn from contacting extraterrestrial intelligence? First of all, the extraterrestrial might know more than we do. We might get answers to a lot of things; but it would depend on whether or not we could contact him directly and not wait for the long time-lag between question and answer, perhaps as long as a couple of hundred years. On the other hand, he might be just giving out information, and as we gathered it in and interpreted it, we would be advancing our own reservoir of knowledge in any field that he happened to be communicating to us. In addition to that, I would say this: that the satisfaction of knowing that there is someone else out in space, who is able to communicate by intelligent signals, is a great advance in our own knowledge — and that helps us, I think, to appreciate the position that we have in this universe and our own role in the universe.
It is sometimes suggested to me that possibly there is a conflict over investigating whether or not there are intelligent beings somewhere else than on this Earth. People very often feel that we have been put here on this Earth to stay, and that is where we are going to stay, and that space is God’s locker—we are not supposed to pry into it. I do not believe that; after all, we do have the psalm that says, “The Heavens tell of Thy Glory, O God” and also, as a philosopher, we have the urge to learn as much as we can. We have restless minds as well as bodies. Minds that are always inquiring into things, to learn how they are made . . . how they work . . . what they are; and there is nothing in all of Revelation that is against learning more and more. As a matter of fact, I think myself that the man with what I call “scientific faith” is much more at rest in his soul than one who is just satisfied with what he knows from reading the scriptures.
There has always been the attitude among believers as far back as we go in the history of religion that God is in His Heaven- God is above. One reason for that, of course, is that we are conscious that we don’t see God face-to-face here on this Earth, and we have been accustomed to the beauties of, let us say, a sunset. If you stand looking at the sun as it sets, this beautiful panorama in the sky, something like Shelley’s “In the golden glory of the setting sun, o’er which clouds are brightening”- and so on — I can see where a person might want to make that a sort of a shrine for himself. I can see and understand the idea of a sun worshiper . . . just from that; and I think that it is because of that we are inclined to place the residence of all divinity in space or up in the Heavens above: because there is so much beauty and so much wonderment there that we do not understand. But again, as one having scientific faith, I know that God is everywhere and that God is as much in my little finger as he is in the most distant star.
There is a great conservatism among some people who feel we are not supposed to pry into, let us say, the mysteries of space. This is, of course, against all of the efforts of astronomers from time immemorial who have tried to know more and more about the stars and about the planets and the laws of their motion. What a tremendous achievement it was when, first of all, Johannes Kepler found from observational data the three laws of planetary motion, and having approached his goal from observational data, he was followed about two generations later by Isaac Newton, who started out with a theory, and from his theory of gravitation derived the same three laws that Kepler had gotten from observation. This is a real scientific advance. I do not think anyone in the world is ashamed of it. As a matter of fact, putting a satellite in orbit about the Earth in this generation — and I think we do live in a wonderful generation of discovery— was an achievement of a dream that Isaac Newton had. Isaac Newton suggested that we put a cannon on top of a high mountain and fire a projectile parallel to the direction of the gravity of the Earth at such a speed that the cannonball would go in orbit about the Earth. No one would say that we have done wrong by launching artificial satellites.’ We have actually achieved something that is worth all the money that we have put into the space effort at present. The weather satellite and communications satellites are examples. Now if we are to go further in our investigations of space, I do not think that we are going to violate any law of God. I don’t think any conservatism on the part of people should have any influence on us.
The origin of life on the Earth is a question that … I do not know if it is ever going to be solved. On the humorous side, we have some people who think that it evolved from some garbage that was left behind after the crew of a spaceship stopped here one time, had a picnic, and then departed for another planet. Other people believe that life started after a molecule had been developed to a certain degree of complexity, so that it would support life such as DNA. This happened after the conditions for life, such as the right temperature, and other chemical requirements, such as free oxygen and water, were formed. Then, somehow or other, a pre-life germ or some sort of impulse started the life process going, and you had your very simple cells gradually becoming complicated animals. Eventually, out of it all, came the body of an animal that God decided to give a human soul and call man. This is all right if you want to believe in that form of evolution, as long as you remember that the human soul that we have is not something that evolved out of a chemical test tube, or whatever you had in the early stages of development of the Earth. We know that life did not always exist on this Earth —we know that living forms have changed and do change over long periods of time on the surface of the Earth . .. but, all we do have is a brief history of homo sapiens, of the intelligent man. We do not know exactly where he came from, how long he has really been here.
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Professor of Physics, Columbia University
I think men will travel to the stars sooner or later; the factors that will decide this are that some men want to, and that even today we can think of ways in principle by which it can be accomplished. Some scientists have said that the stars are too far away for us to ever reach them. But distance by itself doesn’t mean anything. Distance is equal to speed multiplied by time, and if relativity and the amount of energy available keep us from traveling too fast, we can always try to extend the amount of time we have available. There are various ways we could do this. One is by extending the human life span, which would be a good idea for other reasons, also. Another would be by some kind of suspended animation for the travelers, either by lowering their body temperature, or by some kind of chemicals which decrease the rate of metabolism. Already some scientists are working on methods like this. So I think that sooner or later it is pretty likely that some men from Earth will travel to other planetary systems.
I think that in a million years the human race would be able to do anything one can think of right now, that doesn’t specifically violate the laws of nature; and, perhaps, many things that we think of as violating the laws of nature. So, by extension, I would say that some other form of intelligent life, which is already a million years ahead of us, would be able to do all of !| those different things.
Some of the things that such an intelligent race might do would be astronomical changes, like making their planets move differently, or perhaps even arranging them into some kind of geometrical array which had some value for whatever their purposes were. 1 think they would also do a great deal to reshape their own biology. Even if a race is much more intelligent than we are, it’s unlikely that they would have reached any kind of perfection; so one of the things I foresee an intelligent race wanting to do is to make itself even better than it is. I think we’ll do that to ourselves sooner or later, and I expect that another race would do the same thing.
It is a little surprising that if there are superintelligent races around, we haven’t seen some indication of them. One possibility is that they had visited us, say half a million years ago, when there probably wasn’t anybody around to know that we’d been visited. But the Earth has been around for a very long time, and man, at least in his present form, has been here only one ten thousandth or so of the life of the Earth, so that the chances that we would have been visited while we were able to recognize it is pretty small.
We’re just beginning to get some idea of how we can manipulate the genetic pattern to influence the functions of living cells. If we can do that, then I think it should be possible to produce human beings who can also think better and faster than we can. In fact, I think it’s a very exciting prospect that fairly soon there’ll be some kind of intellectual relationship between men and machines, in which each of us contributes those aspects of thought that we can do best. I think this is something very much in the cards, and something which I myself am looking forward to with a great deal of interest.
But I don’t think that the outlook for electronic machines is so poor, either. There are many advantages that electronic machines have over biological systems—one is that the rate at which information flows within them is many, many times faster: the information flows at near the speed of light. Within human beings, the nerve impulses flow at a few hundred feet a second, which is many, many orders of magnitude slower. I think that difference in itself gives the machines a very great advantage, and I see no reason why that advantage can’t be put into use. But I think that both developments will come.
I think there may be some trouble in deciding when a machine is conscious. An intelligent machine wouldn’t necessarily think the same way that human beings do —in fact, that I think is very unlikely.
But the fact that two systems don’t operate the same way doesn’t mean that you can’t recognize some kind of functional relation between what they do: what criterion we will use for i deciding that a particular creature, if I can call it that, is conscious—I don’t know. I think there are going to be some interesting philosophical questions involved in making that choice.
Human psychology is a hard enough subject. Robot psychology I think is right now an impossible subject to speculate against. But I suspect that it may be easier to treat the mental diseases I of machines than of people.
You might have one computer acting as psychiatrist to another one. I would hope that the superintelligent machine isn’t literally mankind’s last invention. Some people have worried that i we might invent these machines, and then they might decide j that human beings were unnecessary for the proper order of ; things. I don’t think that’s what’s going to happen myself. For I one thing, as far as I can see, machines are unmotivated, even | if they are superintelligent; their motivations have to be provided from the outside, presumably by us, and, therefore, even i if after we made the superintelligent machines, they then start I improving themselves or inventing new things, these will be as much our inventions as theirs. I think it all depends how you look at it.
I think one problem which is connected both with intelligent machines and with biologically improving human beings is — do we want to do it? Even if it becomes technically possible to make intelligent machines or supermen, we still have to decide what purpose it will serve.
I can imagine the human race might decide that it doesn’t want to make these creatures.
I don’t think that until now mankind ever has refused to do something really important that was technically possible for it. There have been some irreversible changes in man’s way of life in the past: such as the introduction of agriculture eight thousand years ago, or the introduction of industrialization about two hundred years ago. They just came about in the natural progression of technology and science. 1 think that the difference now is that we can foresee, if only by twenty or thirty years, the fact that some of these decisions are going to have to be made. And I think as long as we can foresee this, we should at least think about whether we want to do it.
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F.C. Durant, III
Assistant Director, Astronautics
National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution
It is hard to imagine that life could exist on this planet knowing that literally billions of stars exist, and the presumption of billions and billions of planets that revolve about them.
I believe the search for extraterrestrial life is certainly one of the most exciting kinds of exploration that could be accomplished, if it is done in a logical and scientific manner.
Radio observation, both passive and active, appears to be one of the more logical types of exploration underway, and I would presume that this is certainly a valid approach.
I think the mind boggles at the impact of discovery by man of an extraterrestrial civilization, or just extraterrestrial life in some form of development. Yet it is something which I think we will someday face. I think it will have the effect of bringing men closer together, certainly on our own planet. I suggest at that moment national boundaries might mean very much less.
As to the possibility that the Earth has been visited by extraterrestrial life — sometime in the past — I know of no reports that would lead me to be convinced, or feel, that this is so; and yet, it would be utterly ridiculous to say that it has not occurred at some time —hundreds, thousands, or even millions of years ago.
I know of no reports where there were signals which have been received from beyond the solar system; that have been received in any way which can be construed as coming from intelligent t beings.
The problem of conceiving the level of capability, technology, and the development of life that is millions of years old, or intelligent life that has been intelligent for millions of years, simply staggers one’s imagination. It is very difficult even to begin to conceive of the degree of communication that might be direct … the interests, pleasures, if you will, of such life.
Should man make contact with extraterrestrial intelligence very much more advanced than our own, it would be hoped that some type of friendly relations might be able to be established. The next step, it would seem to me, would be to be able to learn from such intelligence, presuming communication is established. If their intelligence is too far advanced, of course, one just doesn’t know, it might be that we would not even be considered important enough to bother about.
The possibilities of utilizing machine intelligence, advanced computer systems with memory circuits, in the future are, I think, immense. Surely as man develops more complex machine intelligence, he will learn to instruct such machines to perform routine acts; teach them how to make simple judgments. This is as far as one can predict, based on today’s technology. It would be foolish not to expect that as machines progress, the capability to make more and more complex decisions —eventually perhaps approaching those of intelligent man —would follow. It is even possible to imagine that more rational decisions might be made by a machine eventually than by man, which brings up the interesting possibility of turning over certain State decisions to the machines. However, this again is more than a decade away, which I think is the limit that anyone can predict these days.
I can imagine the possibilities that advanced forms of machinery at some time in the future might feel pain, pleasure—have emotional response. If it was found that by adding to computer design counterparts of man’s own experience and emotions some value was obtained, then machinery simulating such emotions and sensory perceptions might be deemed desirable and built.
Certainly, if man develops machines that have sensory perceptions and emotional response—machines, that, if you will, feel pain and pleasure —then it is reasonable to assume that they may become upset or have neuroses as man does today. Certainly, I could imagine that certain machines eventually might I even require rest periods and an opportunity to reconsider their t reactions. What we’re talking about really, now, is considering the possibility of building something that acts very much like man. I think there is another approach —in attempting to build • something that does not have perhaps the weaknesses of man.
I don’t believe that there are any ceilings or limits to man’s capability, given the technical tools to accomplish it. In other words, I do not believe man will ever stop exploring space. He will go farther, longer even perhaps with colony transportation, reproducing and raising whole new generations, exploring the universe. I do not myself accept that there is necessarily a limitation to traveling at the speed of light. Of course, we move at such a very small fraction of the speed of light, we do not know the future. There are evidences, of course, that one cannot approach more than a certain percentage of the speed of light, but I do not necessarily accept that there are not ways of traveling faster than the speed of light. I have no idea whatever how to do it any more than I would have an idea right now how one could in any way avoid the forces of gravity, and yet, in my opinion, the possibility exists … In my mind it is a possibility that could occur, that would be just as miraculous and magical as perhaps modern solid-state electronics—or solid-state physics—would have been to scientists of 1869. I say that things might be possible, although I do not have the foggiest notion how they may be accomplished. Such discoveries will probably appear just as magical to us today as a transistor radio or solid- state physics would have seemed to Thomas Edison. We could no more understand as we sit here today their accomplishment, and yet these are things that I do believe will occur … in the next year, decade, or later. But I believe they will eventually happen.
* * *
Jeremy Bernstein Professor of Physics
Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, N.J.
Staff Member, The New Yorker
One of the most impressive things that a quest into extraterrestrial life can lead to—if we ever discover intelligent civilizations and communicate with them —is to try to learn from them how they have dealt with death — what forms death has had for them.
The entire argument that attempts to generalize from our history in the solar system to what goes on in other planetary systems is really based on the notion that the evolution of our solar system is not in any way unique. This is. of course, from an exact point of view, impossible to establish. We simply do not know enough yet to state whether our solar system is or is not unique. What we do know is that there must be billions of other planetary systems. We know that there are stars that have planets—we even know that some of these planets are comparable in size to our own Jupiter—and therefore we are sure that there must be billions of planets in the universe, but all the rest of it is a conjecture which is based on probability.
The real future of space travel lies in making use of nuclear explosive propulsion systems, making use of the energy from controlled nuclear bombs. Therefore it has seemed to me that the time in which a civilization will learn to do really significant space travel and the time at which they will learn about atomic and hydrogen bombs would probably be about the same time. Then the question is whether it is possible for a civilization to exist that is sophisticated enough to survive its own technology. We don’t really know whether we are going to survive our own technology, and at least it’s one gloomy possibility that every civilization that has come up to the nuclear technological cleft-stick has not been able to survive its own technology.
The lesson of modern biology is that the distinction between living and nonliving material is almost arbitrary. And so it is possible that one would be able to make machines biologically, in test tubes rather than in an electronics factory, and then it will be almost an arbitrary question as to whether one wants to call such objects machines or living animals.
I think one of the most interesting aspects of the exploration of the Moon and, later on, of Mars will be its archaeology — if any: because of the low atmosphere, if anybody had visited the Moon or had left Mars at an earlier time, the remains should be extremely well-preserved, since there is nothing much in those atmospheres to have corroded them. But there is really no evidence at all that the Earth was visited at some prior time by extraterrestrials, although hope springs eternal.
It was assumed up until the experiments of Pasteur that life could evolve spontaneously from nonliving matter, although it was usually assumed at the same time that man had divine origin—well, of course, if man had divine origin, then the question of extraterrestrial life can no longer be discussed in a scientific way—it becomes rather an arbitrary one. But Pasteur’s experiments appeared to him to prove that life could not be generated from nonliving matter, which he took to be a triumph for science. Well, if life cannot be generated from nonliving matter, then life can only generate itself, and so you are led to an infinite regress where all hope of scientific explanation of the origin of life becomes impossible. So it is only with Darwin and his successors that the problem of generating life from nonliving matter has been reexamined, and therefore the thought that ‘there might be extraterrestrial life is in a certain sense a rather modern thought and rests very much on the blurring of distinctions between living and nonliving matter.
I think it is generally and rather naively assumed that extraterrestrial life will be benign. That there will be philosopher- kings reigning in the cosmos. Professor Freeman Dyson of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton made the point that if we detect signs of extraterrestrial life, what we’ll detect first will really be advanced technologies. We will detect signals generated by some very advanced technological system, and it is by no means clear that a civilization capable of such advances in technology is going to be a very benign civilization. The more technological our own civilization becomes in many ways the worse it becomes, and one could imagine terrible civilizations with a very high degree of technology.
One might hope that a civilization which has been going for hundreds of thousands of years might have worked out all of its aggressions and internal problems, but I think it is just as likely to have blown itself off the face of the Earth. I don’t know — that’s one of the fascinating things that either we or our descendants will learn.
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Freeman J. Dyson
Professor of Physics, The Institute for Advanced Study
I don’t believe that electronic machinery is going to go very much further than it is now. This is, of course, something that we’ll find out in the course of time. 1 may be completely wrong, but there seem to be some natural limitations on what one can do with electronics, which fall very short of what the human mind can do, so I would not believe that anybody with existing types of electronic machinery could build anything that resembles a human mind. But, on the other hand, I would say when we learn how to use biological techniques ourselves, and to build machines with biological materials, then it will be very different. Then it may well be possible to go far beyond anything we have at the moment, and we shall probably be able to create intelligence, and whether we will call that machine intelligence or not is of course a matter of words. I think it will not look like an electronic computer, but it will look much more like a living organism.
I know the biologists are in general very optimistic concerning the things they are going to do-they believe they are on the threshold of great things. I’m not able to judge independently, but I would think it’s very likely.
It seems to me clear that we could turn the galaxy upside down if we wanted to, within a million years; there’s nothing in the world of physics at least that would prevent us from doing that. There may be some good reasons for not doing it, and there may be good reasons why other intelligent species are not doing it.
I would have expected, if there existed any highly developed race of technological beings, that looking for them would be like looking for evidence of life on Manhattan Island —that they would have transformed the whole surroundings completely. Evidently they haven’t done this for some reason —if they exist.
We don’t see any traces of them when we look in the sky, and this is peculiar. If an Indian from four hundred years ago were to come into New York harbor, he might not understand what he sees, but he would at least notice there is something there.
If you look at the way our brains operate, we are subject to all kinds of problems merely because we can’t remember things, we can’t learn things fast and efficiently. There are many practical limitations that we’re subject to which one imagines one could overcome if one knew how to do it; so one could hope to improve our brains to the point where we could learn many languages and understand everything that is known in science, and in general be much more competent mentally than we are at present. And one hopes one could do this without radically changing our moral standards and our personalities. But, of course, it’s very likely that all kinds of unforeseen effects would appear at the same time, perhaps including new forms of neurosis—so it’s a game which one has to play extremely carefully; but I have no doubt whatever it’s going to be played. In some ways I’m excited at the prospect and in other ways afraid.
Q: Some physicists have suggested that some subnuclear particles are actually other subnuclear particles moving backwards in time, and so we might be able to travel backwards in time, too.
I don’t believe this makes any sense: the flow of time is again something that is fairly well understood in the physical sense. The fact that time has a definite direction of flow is a consequence of the fact that we are living beings and that we take in information and make use of it in accordance with certain definite physical and mathematical principles. I don’t believe this has much to do with subnuclear particles. The fact that you can talk in a sensible way about particles traveling backwards in time does not mean that we should ever be able to travel backwards in time or that we could imagine other beings to travel backwards in time. This is just a confusion of language.
Q: What parts of the physical universe are not understood?
The greatest area of ignorance is in the area of very high energies, where most of the exciting developments in physics are being made at the moment. This is the world of small particles crashing into each other at very high energies and producing other particles. … All these things are not at all well understood and are very exciting to scientists just for that reason.
I think it’s not only legitimate to start looking for signs of intelligence in the universe, it’s also extremely important, and it’s something which should be done much more intensively than it ever has been done. Up to now we have only looked for about a month at a couple of stars. That is all, and nothing more has been done. I hope very much that this search will be revived and made into a routine operation, and that it will be taken more and more seriously as time goes on. It clearly is an extremely important question to decide whether or not there are other intelligences in the universe, and it would have profound consequences if one found any positive evidence. Even though I’m very skeptical as to whether we shall find positive evidence, I’m all the more anxious that we should try.
It’s impossible to foresee what the consequences would be — which we have absolutely no way of imagining. I don’t remember who it was who said that any alien form of life would not only be stranger than we imagine but would be stranger than we can imagine: and this is profoundly true. So, what would be the consequences, we can’t imagine, either. Even if we had no communication but merely observed passively what was going on, we would probably see all kinds of things that are totally unexpected and different from things that we see normally, and this would certainly make big changes in our picture of things — probably big changes in our view of ourselves, in our view of our place in the world in general.
I don’t believe that anything will ever go faster than light. This is a basic limitation; it means that travel from one star to another will always take a long time —and therefore it will not be like going to visit one’s family in the next town. This limitation of the velocity of light is, I believe, quite fundamental —and I’m happy about it. I think it makes space travel much more interesting, that one can go to places that are remote not only in space but also in time. But I believe there are very few other limitations. It’s not difficult to imagine methods of propelling oneself with nuclear energy which go at some fraction of the speed of light — some few percent perhaps of the speed of light — and I believe in time one probably will get up fairly close to the speed of light; but this we don’t understand yet how to do.
The solar system as a whole is very accessible. I would think within a hundred years we could probably be traveling around the solar system fairly freely. If you take nuclear energy and — for example —a system of propulsion using electricity and nuclear energy generators and plasma jets, you can imagine fairly efficient and economical transportation around the solar system within a hundred years. Anything beyond that, of course, is a vastly more difficult proposition and would certainly take more than a hundred years.
I think that one of the interesting questions is whether we can make colonies in the solar system within the foreseeable future — whether the human race is going to spread out in many different parts of the solar system. I believe we shall, but of course, I have no means of telling where or how. We don’t yet know enough about the places that might be suitable — any more than Columbus knew what he was getting into when he sailed out from Spain. But, one place which I think looks very promising is the comets. Most science-fiction writers concentrate on planets, but it may be that the most interesting places for life to settle are the comets. In the solar system there are ten planets, and there are probably several millions or several billions of comets; a comet might be very suitable as a place to start a colony; it is made of materials that are familiar to us —water, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, just the materials one needs for living plants and animals. And the comets have the great advantage that there are a great many of them, and it would probably be easy to establish small colonies, given a certain degree of technical development that we don’t yet have.
* * *
Associate Director, Center for Radiophysics and Space Research Chairman, Department of Astronomy
Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.
The reasons why one believes there is intelligent life elsewhere is based on a body of knowledge which we have accumulated — this includes particularly the vast number of stars that exist in the universe, some one hundred million, million stars; the fact that most of these are like our Sun; the fact that we believe the existence of planetary systems is a very common thing in the universe; and, lastly, that the development of life on planets is not a difficult thing but rather something that occurs very easily when conditions are appropriate.
I think we are not capable of predicting what the capabilities would be of a civilization even a thousand years ahead of our own – perhaps not even a hundred years ahead of our own.
I think it’s clear that life will go through an evolutionary cycle everywhere. This is forced upon life —because no matter what planet life appears upon, there is going to be a limited supply of sunlight and therefore a limited supply of food —and this inevitably leads to a competition between species for this limited food supply— leading to the development of species that are capable of competing better for the available food. Now, it is more controversial as to whether intelligence is an inevitable result of this evolution. Some people believe it may not always appear in the course of evolution. However, if one examines the fossil record —the history of life on Earth—one sees that only one characteristic has continuously developed and improved throughout the history of life, and that is intelligence. Sure enough, animals have tried different numbers of legs — we’ve had six and eight legs and a hundred-legged things —we’ve had enormous creatures, such as the dinosaurs, and little ones; we’ve had winged creatures—everything has been tried. The only thing that has persisted and continuously developed is intelligence, and this argues strongly that intelligence will appear everywhere where life evolves.
There are no reasonable arguments that would lead us to believe that we are the only abode of life in the universe.
One cannot rule out the possibility that life on Earth was carried to Earth from elsewhere on a small meteorite or as some kind of a spore —in fact, there is a theory that this is how life came to Earth, called the Panspermia theory. However, it is very unlikely that this happened because the environment of space is so rigorous. Anything traveling across space is bombarded with cosmic rays, ultraviolet radiation, in such an intensity that anything — any life as we know it —would be destroyed over the eons of time that are required for transport across space. For these reasons, we think it unlikely that life was carried across space from one planet to another.
As to whether Earth has ever been visited by another intelligent species, we can compute that the chances of this happening are very small. Making some rather poor estimates, one can guess that this might happen at best once every ten thousand years or so, so that we should not expect frequent visits from other planets; by the same token we cannot rule them out. Now if they happened thousands of years ago all evidence of it has been destroyed. One thing does seem certain, and that is that we have never found yet on Earth any clear-cut evidence of an extraterrestrial visit.
Our planet is extremely easy to observe from elsewhere. It is partially cloud-covered at times; however, the clouds and the haze of the atmosphere do not present any serious hindrance to the observation of Earth. The satellites and such that surround our Earth present no problems at all to anything which attempts to observe the Earth from outside.
It is possible that radio signals of extraterrestrial origin are arriving at the Earth at the present time with an intensity which is detectable with existing equipment. We cannot say for sure that this is happening, and equally we cannot decide whether other civilizations are intentionally sending us such signals. There may be signals that other civilizations are using for their own purposes which are arriving at Earth. However, this is a very exciting and tantalizing thought, to realize that at this very moment perhaps detectable radio signals from other civilizations are passing right through this room.
Now there are people who believe it might be dangerous to answer. Perhaps they will attack us. Perhaps we are the finest beef animals they have ever discovered. But the fact is, and this is something we should understand right now, that we already transmit enough radio waves into space that we can be detected if they want to detect us. We cannot keep our presence secret if other civilizations really want to find us, so we might as well try to answer back. It is no use trying to avoid the issue.
It has been said that our relationship to a civilization that might detect us is about the same as the relationship of a Neanderthal man to our civilization. That is, we would understand and comprehend as little as would a Neanderthal man placed in one of our major cities today.
There is a possibility that there exists on Earth an artifact from an extraterrestrial visit. Now we have estimated that at the very best—under the best conditions—one would not expect a visit from another civilization, an actual landing, more often than once in many thousands of years. Now we would expect that such a visit would leave behind an artifact, because otherwise no evidence of such a visit would be left to the intelligent beings that might come along later. Such landings might leave artifacts. However, as you can see from the fact that they would come so infrequently, the number of such artifacts would be very small, and they would be buried perhaps now in archaeological ruins or what have you. Only a great deal of excavation and good luck combined could lead us to such an artifact.
One can’t really be sure whether one would detect the extraterrestrial nature of such an artifact. However, another civilization would probably go to great pains to make it clear that the object was of extraterrestrial origin. So I suspect that we would recognize it as extraterrestrial. We have to date found no artifact that could be construed as being of extraterrestrial origin. This is the prime evidence against the idea that UFOs, for instance, are spaceships from another civilization.
There are a number of examples of cave drawings-ancient scrolls, tablets, and so forth which have very provocative drawings, which appear in some cases to be drawings of creatures in spacesuits —and people have wondered if perhaps these are records of a visit from an extraterrestrial civilization. However, to date no one has been able to give convincing evidence that this is the proper explanation—and, by the same token, in each case a completely natural, non-extraterrestrial explanation can be provided.
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Fred L. Whipple
Director, Smithsonian Institution Astrophysical Observatory
Phillips Professor of Astronomy
Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
With regard to learning about extraterrestrial life, of course, our first move is to go to the planets and study them, as we are now planning —the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s program —that’s the first move. Now if we wish to consider the possibility of proving that there are intelligent living beings on other planets, it seems unlikely that this could happen in our solar system. The evidence that has accumulated with regard to the more likely planets is discouraging. Therefore, they will have to live on planets about stars, and all stars are physically very distant. Now, there is the possibility of just listening for them. People have generally assumed that intelligent creatures somewhere are so anxious to make their presence known, or to communicate, that they spend huge fractions of their resources, at least, huge resources, in powerful transmitters that could transmit for tens, hundreds, or thousands of light years into space on the vague hope that somebody will answer them. Now this type of communication I think is highly unlikely. I would suspect that although all cultures might not be like ours, there have to be some practical limitations for survival, and they are not going to spend great resources in this type of effort. But what might happen is that one will find a planetary system in which there are several inhabitable planets —two or more at least —and that then they will establish trade and communication. If we could locate such a system in which we lay very nearly on the plane of their mutual orbits or somewhere near that plane, then there might be a chance that we would pick up communication signals when two or more planets were properly aligned to send a signal in our direction. Now, whether this is worth listening for or not is a real question in my mind, whether the chances are high enough that we can ever detect such communication in such a reasonable period of time.
The question of the endeavor to send men into space and the changes of attitude that have taken place in astronomy represent a practical situation. Twenty-five years ago, I certainly, for one, and a great many other friends of mine who were interested in the possibilities of life in other parts of the universe, put a great deal of thought into the possibility of man going into space. I remember the exact day when I became certain that this would happen —this was back in 1944, twenty-two years ago, when the first V-2 was launched, albeit on a very hapless mission. Nevertheless, at that time my long-anticipated thought that we would go into space became in my mind a certainty. I don’t know how many other people thought in the same fashion. I would say for most of my life the expectation that man would go into space had been very real in the minds of many scientists. On the other hand, this had no practical aspect or application at a time when the technical possibilities had not been developed. There was no chance of exploiting a technology then. Now, since the V-2 in 1944, it has been quite clear that it is technically possible to do this, and the question has been just how soon.
This problem of man in space versus instruments in space is, of course, a difficult one. The question really revolves about the practical costs and the resources that we can invest in such matters. My own attitude has been that it is possible to send man into space. I believe that any culture or country, or even person for that matter, who sees a challenge to cross a new frontier, but who doesn’t accept the challenge and attempt to cross the frontier, is going decadent. I think we have to consider and plan definitely for man in space as well as for unmanned instrumentation in space.
With regard to sending man into deep space versus instruments into deep space —again, resources are the more important factor. I would be rather satisfied in studying Jupiter, for example, simply to send unmanned instruments. On the other hand, the landing of a man on the satellites of Jupiter could lead to some very exciting results. Then if one carries his imagination a bit farther into the future, visualizes the availability of almost infinite energy sources, stronger materials, and better technology, we might be able to put man down inside the thick atmosphere of Jupiter under high gravity. There he could conceivably make discoveries that the instruments might miss. Also, in this case, it might be extremely difficult getting information back by radio. It might be necessary to return something.
When it comes to the problem of the complexity of a life that we may or may not find on some other terrestrial planets, I speak with great conservatism. The older I get, the more I find that negative statements tend to be dangerous. It is quite true that the evidence, say, on Mars, suggests that you wouldn’t expect very large organisms, and this is very probably true. When one considers possibilities, he should speak very carefully, because it is quite possible that below the surface of Mars there might live sizable living organisms and, even conceivably but extremely unlikely, intelligent organisms. We are not sure enough in the case of Venus to state with absolute positivism that somewhere there isn’t a habitable area. So, I would say there is some chance that a paleontologist might be needed somewhere in the solar system.
Colonization in the solar system is at the present time in the dream stage. But I would say that if huge power sources such as the hydrogen fusion process become readily controllable and generally available, we could think very seriously of supplying an atmosphere for Mars or sustaining one on the Moon, if water is available there. In the case of Venus, I suspect that it may be impossible to do, although there has been some suggestion of altering the atmosphere by biological techniques, or possibly by other chemical techniques. One should not rule that out completely for the long run. I rather feel that the Moon, too, is one of the bodies that is less likely to become, shall we say, economically feasible for colonization, because of the difficulty of maintaining an atmosphere. The motions of the molecules will enable them to escape from the low gravity of the Moon too rapidly. On the other hand, the Moon offers some great opportunities for astronomy, particularly radio astronomy on the back side, away from man-made radio noise. This can be done without an atmosphere, and surely will be done sometime.
Can we travel faster than light? It is fair to say, on the basis of all the physics that we know today, it is impossible. The relativity limit for ions and electrons is proven by our large accelerators. We, ourselves, are made of ions and electrons. Therefore, we cannot travel faster than the velocity of light. It is a difficult argument to beat.
My point of view on people traveling through space to other stars is rather negative, at least for a long time. It is an extremely expensive process in terms of physical resources, and it demands
a goal-directed activity of such magnitude that I really question that it happens very frequently. I am sure attempts of this sort must have been made in galactic time, and may well be made by man if he survives for a few more centuries.
* * *
Philip Crosbie Morrison
Department of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Life could not be static —it has to evolve, in an eifort to maintain itself under changing circumstances and in an effort to extend itself, to take advantage of more and more ways of making a living.
We don’t know enough about the evolutionary process to say whether or not it has any inevitable results. We have the evidence before us that intelligence, manipulation of the environment, is one way, a successful way, of making a living. It appears to me that wherever life can find a way to do that, it will eventually manage to do so; but to say we know that it will is, I think, a mistake. It might be inevitable, but we do not know that.
The issue about the evolution of intelligence is, I think, simply this one: the evolution of intelligence is a very rapid matter, and the evolution of environmental control which depends upon it is still more rapid. The history of life on Earth is at least three or four billion years old, yet it is only within millions of years at the outside that primate forms of the sort we recognize being able to manipulate the environment extensively came into being; this is one part in a thousand or one part in two thousand. Therefore, even if the ages of the evolutionary patterns on different planets were similar to our own —I think they will be —I don’t think they would be very much older—that is not the way to look at it. The point is that the scale of evolution is so long compared to that special part of the scale which is the evolution of environmental control, that unless they started with absolute synchronism (which is absurd—there is no reason for them to synchronize, to start from a word “go” everywhere), then the natural drift will provide very great gaps in time, gaps in time very large compared to one part in a thousand. Say, one part in ten —that is still not a very large fraction; but that one part in ten would be a thousand times the entire life span of our species, and many thousands of times the entire life span of our civilizations. The point is that the growth of intelligence and environmental control are enormously rapid things on a cosmic scale. After all, agriculture is only ten thousand years old, and this ten thousand years, suppose that had started five hundred thousand years ago. There is no question of it: it would have taken about ten or maybe twenty or perhaps even thirty thousand years to evolve from agriculture, say, to industry; but then there are the other two hundred thousand years in the presence of industrial technique — that’s only a difference of one percent in the whole skipping of the time pattern. I think it a very strong argument that if there are a dozen patterns of intelligent life, half a dozen would be way ahead of us and half a dozen would either not have evolved at all —if that is not too much of a contradiction -or be well behind.
Talking about organisms of the size we are, anywhere between dozens of centimeters and a few meters, I think those organisms will never be able to dispose of anything much more than a few planets’ energy. Now, that’s a lot of energy, and it is enough to make a great many changes in the surround, but I don’t think it will enable them to change stars very much or to change galaxies appreciably —not to make a park out of a galaxy—to make a park out of a planet, yes, quite easily ; to double-deck the Earth —quite easily; to occupy the oceans —to travel from space to communicate —that would be no trouble at all; we will do that ourselves. But to move planets around, or to enclose the sun with a shell, or modulate the sun and make it send out signals —
I am rather skeptical about that. It could be . .. but I take conservative views … I wouldn’t like to extrapolate that far.
Whether we should send or listen for signals from extraterrestrial life is an engineering question, a question of engineering expediency. I believe that it is not sensible to send; it is a more difficult task; we should listen for a time comparable to the time that technologies improve vastly . . . and we haven’t been doing that long enough. I think maybe in decades or centuries we should start sending, on the grounds of perhaps everybody is waiting for the first word. That is a conceivable situation: but much more likely we are simply rather amateur about the whole matter … It is very much more difficult to build a transmitter than it is to build a receiver. Everybody can own a receiver in his house, but very few people own powerful transmitters. So, from that analogy we should listen sensibly for a long time until we are convinced that it is very hard to do better—and then we can try sending.
So far, I know of only three possibilities that anyone has suggested — perhaps four — the fourth being rather unlikely: radio in the thousand-megacycle region; optical light using coherent laser light in a blacked-out line of a common element; then high- energy gamma rays; and, finally, neutrinos. Of all of these, 1 still think much the most practical is the thousand-megacycle radio. You recognize that that’s where nature makes the least interference, and this is one basis for our saying that it’s rational. The noise is least in the radio channel.
I think that there is no reason at all for the position that says that there is great fear, great anxiety about answering some signal we might hear. 1 admit the conceivable position that these people take, namely that they might be hostile persons, hostile beings.
The task of doing physical damage is so much heavier over the distance of space, so much heavier than the task of making yourself known by signals, that if they are capable of doing physical damage, they already know about us. The fact that they are sending a signal would be the best sign to me that they really want to make intellectual contact and not something voracious or hostile. If those fellows can do it, they’re so far ahead they don’t ask for you to talk. It is as though we had to worry about ants signaling. If you saw an ant signal at you, would you be more likely to step on him or to step on the other ants who didn’t show any signs of such intelligence?
If the time comes, and I suspect someday it will come, and we do learn about some external community, 1 suppose this would be one of the greatest sources of new thought, in the deepest framework of human thought, that we would have had —comparable, I should say, but greater than, the discovery of ancient times in the Nineteenth Century, when men began to realize that human history was much longer than they had thought. Or perhaps comparable to the intercourse between Medieval Europe and China which restored to them the vision of a new and great world that they had lost sight of since the Fall of Rome; something of that sort, and probably still more pervasive in many ways which it would be impossible for me to detail — affecting, I think, all kinds of thought, from the most austerely moral and philosophical down to the severely practical.
I’m kind of caustic about man’s space flight —I think it’s a mistake. so I don’t think that manned space flight can do anything that unmanned space flight cannot do. It is mainly a symbolic thing, like exploring the South Pole. People always wanted to do that. I’m not against that, mind you, but I haven’t myself thought through what the steps are, because I’m not much interested in that kind of physical exploration —adventure —and so on. Naturally, I would like to see it. I watch with excitement the flights on television: I think it’s a great spectator sport; I approve of it in that sense, but it’s not much more than that. We can do just as well with servo links as the astronauts can do, and a lot more safely. I think perhaps the first time when a justification for sending people out into space will appear is once we are doing complicated investigations so far away that the linkage time to bring the signal back to Earth is an appreciable problem for the motion of the vehicles, and that is perhaps as close as Jupiter, but not closer. The Moon —I don’t think there is any great problem —anything we have to react to within a couple of seconds to the Moon is going to wreck the apparatus anyhow — I don’t think a man will do much better—and the cost of development seems to me out of all proportion. The risk to the individuals. I would rather see a remote control from an office table. I’m sure that people can build it now. You go down, do your job in Houston, and spend eight hours being on the Moon —that is to say, you see and you feel just what you would see and feel if you were on the Moon. You have apparatus on the Moon that is responding to your hands and to your eyes and giving you the same signal — and you work at it eight hours and go home and someone else comes and takes eight hours; nobody is ever in trouble; if the circuit goes bad, if you cannot fix it with the repair apparatus, which you can control and have there, then you cannot fix it. That’s the way it is —no one’s dead, though. It’s cheaper because you don’t have to supply the air and the water and all that stuff that the poor astronaut needs. I really think that astronautics is a kind of daring symbolic thing, and I am very proud of it. I admire the people who do it, but, from a scientific point of view, it has no great claim on my interests.
I believe that there is a complex of arguments —none of them certain, all of them, I admit, open to some question—but their tendency is to lead in one direction, namely: that flight over large distances, compared to interstellar distances, is impossible or next to impossible —that is to say, so prohibitively difficult compared to what you can gain by other channels that it will never be undertaken, except again possibly for some symbolic reason, such as the way in which statesmen fly. The head of the one state goes to see the head of another, and once there he doesn’t spend much time doing that; he travels, sees the country, shakes hands, goes back home again, representing some kind of rapprochement, some detente. 1 could well imagine that being mounted over a very long period for two communities that have been in contact for hundreds of years. They finally exchange one party just to make that gesture of community. But as a casual thing or even as a serious exploration venture, I don’t think it is very sensible. I think that machines will do better than man. Man should stay home and work and enjoy himself—but not go out into space, I believe, except for the occasional, the odd fellow who will do this.
You see, I think that interstellar communication also is most likely to be only one way —in terms of the lifetime of any one individual. That doesn’t bother me. Consider Greek society. It’s hard to imagine a single body of knowledge more influential for the formation of the ideas in the Western world than Greek society. There are one or two others —say, the religious traditions of the Testaments—but apart from that it certainly is Athenian society. Now no European from Renaissance times up to our time ever had any hope of having a two-way communication with Socrates, or Pericles, or Phidias, or anybody else. That did not prevent us from gaining enormously from that body of manuscript and art that we have. That is the way I think we will regard the communications that come from space—I don’t think that we are going to find them so close that we can get answers to our questions, except with great effort, preparing to wait for centuries. I do not believe in travel faster than time.
* * *
Rabbi, The Jewish Center, New York
Erna Michael Professor of Jewish Philosophy
Yeshiva University, New York
Judaism has throughout the ages generally confined itself to the problem of man as the sole concern of God in this world. As a result, there has come about the idea that man is the purpose of the entire universe. This has been a rather general tendency, and never formally incorporated in Jewish doctrine. However, ‘one of the very greatest of all Jewish thinkers, perhaps the most eminent Jewish philosopher of all times, Moses Maimonides — who flourished about eight hundred years ago —strongly opposed “anthropocentrism,” the view that man is the purpose of all creation. He maintained that man may be the superior creature on Earth, but he need not therefore be considered the purpose of the universe. In fact, he is not necessarily the most advanced being in the world. According to his approach, Judaism today can welcome with a remarkable openness the idea that intelligent races, even more intelligent than man, exist elsewhere.
As an individual, I think there probably is extraterrestrial life, and this belief is something that I would want to investigate theologically and religiously. But it is not something that monopolizes my thoughts or attention. My concerns, and I think the concerns of man on Earth, should be primarily the perennial problems of human existence. I think there is a great deal of truth in the man who asked the question, “Do you think there is intelligent life on Earth?”
1 think that if we should ever come into contact with an extraterrestrial highly intelligent race much older than our civilization that the primary lessons of the greatest significance we would learn from them would not be technological. If there is a civilization that has lasted that long, then by the very fact of its survival it has indicated that it has learned certain secrets of social justice and harmony and the ability for individuals to get along without killing themselves off on a large scale. I think that will be the main thing we can learn from them. I am less excited about the possibility of learning purely theological information from an older and more advanced civilization.
I am committed very deeply and very personally as a believing Jew to the idea of Revelation. This, however, does not preclude a Revelation to intelligent beings elsewhere, because the Jewish belief is that man, as the Bible taught, was created in the image of God. This means that man shares something with the Creator. This sharing may be interpreted as intelligence, as an ethical inclination, or as a creative ability. There is nothing in our tradition that insists that Earth-man uniquely shares these faculties with his Creator.
The fact that most religions have located God as residing, as it were, in Heaven I don’t think has any real relevance to the possibility that at one time extraterrestrial creatures visited the Earth by parachuting out of Heaven. In the Bible itself the term shamayim, or Heaven, as the dwelling place of God is meant purely metaphorically. When the Bible speaks of God residing in Heaven, it is used as a metaphor —because when one looks upward, one is overwhelmed by the vastness of space. The philosopher Immanuel Kant said that when he beheld the starry Heavens he was overwhelmed, and religious feelings were indeed in him; similarly, when he beheld the moral order within man.
Now in the Bible itself, in the sixth chapter of Genesis, there is a rather mysterious reference to the “Sons of God” who marry the “Daughters of Men”; and then a reference to something called Nephilim, which means, as it has been translated, “The Giants.” Whereas a good part of Jewish explanation and exegesis maintains that this was simply a race of strong men, there were certain Jewish sources — such as Philo in ancient Egypt and Josephus, the Jewish general and historian —who saw in this a reference to a mysterious kind of race, which, I suppose, in contemporary terms might be described as an extraterrestrial race.
Man must be ethical because God, too, is ethical. In the same manner we ought to imitate God in being creative. Judaism has always maintained that man is the co-creator of the universe; that God created the world unfinished, as it were, and gave it over to man, endowed with intelligence and instincts and technological inclinations, to finish the world and to improve it — to make it livable and habitable. Therefore, if man can, as it were, imitate God technologically with lifeless stuff, then there is no reason to assume that he has not been given the same grant of sovereignty to create life itself. This is, too, the imitation of God —provided, of course, that man remembers that it is his task to imitate but not to impersonate God.
One of our great difficulties is: who is to say that the physician, or the scientist, or anyone who has a Ph.D. and is in control of certain processes, has a right to determine the future of anyone’s, or anything’s, life and death. Man is monkeying around with his environment. He is monkeying around with himself as well. He is changing himself.
It is quite possible that whereas on Earth the period of prophecy has ended, and direct revelations of God to man have not occurred for many, many centuries, that nevertheless, on some other planet, God not only has revealed Himself more directly but is at present in a state of a more direct dialogue with its intelligent inhabitants. There is no reason, according to the Jewish perspective, why this should not be so.
We are other-worldly only to the extent that we believe that there is another kind of nonphysical existence in the presence of God; but we do not therefore deny this world. That is why the Jewish tradition has always had such an affirmative and positive attitude toward science and technology— when it is used creatively and constructively. It is in keeping with this tradition that I, as a Jew, am immensely concerned about the possibilities of life elsewhere. If such life is discovered, this will in all likelihood make man feel more humble, but it will not humiliate him. On the contrary, those of us who have a religious commitment will feel that our horizons —religiously— have been expanded by discovering that God is greater than even our most profound theologians and thinkers have ever imagined Him to be. “For the Lord is great above all His works” is a verse from our Bible that holds true now, and that I suspect we will learn is even more true as our knowledge of the cosmos advances and progresses.
Source: The Making of Kubrick’s 2001, Edited by Jerome Agel, Signet Books, 1970; pp. 27-57