Summer 2006 Issue


This I Believe

By Dr. H. Paul Shuch,* N6TX

So, Doc, do you believe in extraterrestrials? I hear this question frequently, from family and friends, students and strangers alike. Its a question to which Ive become accustomed, having invested a significant life-fraction in pursuing SETI, the scientific Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. My usual answer is that the search isnt so much about what I believe as it is about finding truth. Scientists must always separate faith from fact. However, that answer, I realize, is a cop-out.

Thanks to recent astronomical discoveries, we now know for certain that we live in a universe capable of supporting life. The skies are filled with stars abundant, and we have now detected unseen companions on a sizeable fraction of them. Among the multitudes of observed planets are a fair number with conditions capable of supporting life. Intelligence confers survival value, as does the ability to communicate, so its not a big stretch to envision hundreds of communicative civilizations calling to us across the cosmic void. Recent advances have brought us to the brink of contact, and yes, I do believe we have the capacity to cross that brink. But do we have the will?

SETI is a multi-generational enterprise. After a half-century of dedicated research, we are no closer to the proof we seek than we were at the outset. I believe that the journey upon which I have embarked will be completed by my distant descendants. That thought is humbling, but also motivating.

For perhaps the first time in human history, we live in a universe in which the notion of extraterrestrial life has become a testable hypothesis. Today as never before, we possess the tools, the technology, and the tenacity to embark upon a journey to answer that fundamental question which has haunted humankind since we first realized that the points of light in the night are other suns: Are we alone?

So, Doc, asked a shock jock on morning radio not long ago, do you believe in extra testicles?

The author is seen here with some of the equipment used to calibrate our place in the cosmos.

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