Opinion | Hello? Is There Anybody Out There?

To the Editor:

Re “Aliens Must Be Out There,” by Farhad Manjoo (column, Feb. 15):

It took Earth about 4.5 billion years to evolve. During that time there was only about one chance in, say, a quadrillion that we would evolve into intelligent beings. But here we are in this one chance looking out at the rest of the universe and wondering if there is anyone else like us.

How much longer will we be here: a thousand years, 10,000 years? There have been mass extinctions in the past. It will happen again. Many of our species are becoming extinct now.

What makes us think that there is some other civilization out there that we can communicate with that happens to be in existence now? The chances are one in a quadrillion.

But let’s say we heard from an alien out in space. And they are only 10,000 light-years away. They sent their message 10,000 years ago. So what?

Let us concentrate on our civilization and see if we can stop killing one another and destroying this little speck of Earth.

Art Cornell
Osterville, Mass.

To the Editor:

Let’s face it: When we speak of hoping to find intelligent life in the universe, we’re talking about the special nature of intelligence exhibited by Homo sapiens. In other words, we’re in search of a species with symbolic skills.

I can’t imagine how a species without language could accumulate the knowledge necessary to design a spaceship. Language itself is wholly dependent on brain mutations that enable symbolic communication.

Of all the species that have populated Earth, only one, Homo sapiens, has mastered complex symbolic language. Now that’s exceptionalism! But our talent is a double-edged sword. One side of the blade enables the melding of all the innovations and scientific insights humans have acquired in our time on the planet; the other facilitates the destruction of the ecosystem on which all life, including ours, depends.

Unless the creators of the comet or asteroid Oumuamua, spotted in our galaxy in 2017, figured out how to enact policies to prevent symbolic ownership — and the resultant destruction — of their planet, I’d bet that although their lightsail is still racing through the universe, the designers themselves are long since dead and gone.

Heather Remoff
Arlington, Mass.
The writer is the author of the forthcoming book “What’s Sex Got to Do With It? Darwin, Love, Lust and the Anthropocene.”

To the Editor:

My graduate school mentor, a professor of astronomy at a major university in the mid-1960s, was convinced, as Farhad Manjoo is, that based on the size of the known universe (at that time), life existed beyond our Earth. But he was hesitant about contacting them because, he said, “the connection between intelligence and compassion is questionable.”

Michael R. Cohen
Indianapolis

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