by Allen Tough, Ph.D.
University of Toronto
This is a slightly revised version of chapter 7 from the book
Crucial Questions About the Future by Allen Tough. In the U.S.A.,
the book was published in 1991 by University Press of America
(Lanham, Maryland); phone 1-800-462-6420 to order a copy (or order
from your usual source for books).
In other countries, the United
Kingdom version of the book (published in 1995 by Adamantine Press
Limited) can be ordered from Central Books, 99 Wallis Rd, London E9
5LN; telephone 181 986 4854 or fax 181 533 5821, or order from your
usual source for books.
The train of thought from this chapter eventually led on to Allen
Tough's 2000 paper about five promising strategies for achieving
How important is extraterrestrial intelligence?
helpful, benign, or hostile?
What are its capacities?
How should we
What will be the long-term consequences of contact?
life and intelligence survive forever?
Here are my thoughts on those questions.
In recent years, scientists and the general public have realized
that intelligent life may well be found throughout the universe. We
are probably not the only civilization in our galaxy; it may even
contain dozens or hundreds of civilizations scattered among its
400,000,000,000 stars. If we receive a richly detailed message from
one of these civilizations or have some other form of contact with
it, the effects on our civilization could be pervasive and profound.
The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) has now become
reasonably mainstream within the scientific enterprise (Angelo,
1985; McDonough, 1987). Radio astronomy's efforts to detect a signal
or message from another civilization are increasing rapidly.
Cosmology may be shifting toward emphasizing life throughout the
universe, not just stars and sterile dust (Dick, 1988). Gallup polls
find that 50% of adults believe there is intelligent life beyond the
Sometime in the future of human civilization, contact or interaction
with intelligent life from somewhere else in our galaxy will
probably occur. It might occur next year, for instance, or 100 years
from now. Our rapidly increasing efforts make contact particularly
likely within the next 20 or 30 years. Few events in the entire
sweep of human history would be as significant and far-reaching,
affecting our deepest beliefs about the nature of the universe, our
place in it, and what lies ahead for human civilization.
contact and preparing for successful interaction should be one of
the top priorities on our civilization's current agenda.
The Importance of Intelligent Life in the Universe
The study of the physical universe is very important. At the same
time, many people who study cosmic evolution and cosmology are
realizing that the evolution of life and intelligence throughout
that physical universe is at least as important. Steven Dick (1988)
has outlined a biophysical cosmology that emphasizes life and
intelligence as key components of the universe, thus redefining our
place and significance in that universe. Chaisson (1987), Harrison
(1981), and Sagan (1980) have also emphasized the importance of
intelligent life throughout the universe.
This is not a new idea, of course. The extraterrestrial life debate
over the last 2400 years has been documented by Crowe (1986) and
Dick (1982). My own interest was sparked in 1963 when I heard a
lecture by pioneer Harlow Shapley and read his book The View from a
Distant Star (1963).
Many astronomers, biologists, philosophers, and others now believe
that the existence of diverse life throughout the universe is a
supreme value. That is, in the entire universe, nothing is of
greater value, importance, or significance than advanced
civilizations and intelligent species - including our own, of course.
"What thing or idea is more important or valuable than
diverse life throughout the universe, including human civilization?"
many people would reply, "Nothing; human and other intelligent life
is the most important thing in the universe."
Perhaps a similar answer will be given by human beings 100 or 1000
years from now, especially if interaction with advanced
extraterrestrials has occurred by then. Advanced extraterrestrials
themselves might also give a similar answer.
It is important to note that there is no conflict between a belief
in a divine or supernatural God and a belief that advanced life is
the most important thing in the universe. God might well have
created and nourished a diversity of life throughout the universe.
Indeed, God's own supreme value might well be this diversity of
flourishing life. Let me emphasize that human civilization, at
present and in the future, is a significant part of all life in the
For us, long-continuing human life is a supreme value of
ultimate importance. Because we do not yet, as far as we know, have
contact with extraterrestrial life, our top priority at present must
be our own civilization. At the same time, however, we should
continue and enlarge our present efforts to make successful contact
with intelligent life from some other part of this galaxy.
The fundamental importance of intelligent life in the universe can
be confirmed by some of the thought-provoking mental exercises in
chapter 2. For instance, imagine that you are in some distant
galaxy, viewing our entire universe over many eons. From this
perspective, what is of supreme importance? To me, it seems most
important that humankind and most other advanced species throughout
the universe continue to survive and flourish and develop.
Perhaps some sort of grand project is underway to spread highly
positive life (marked by love, compassion, cooperation, wisdom,
intelligence, knowledge, harmony, and effectiveness) throughout the
universe. We cannot contribute much at present to the flourishing of
extraterrestrial species but we can choose a flourishing future for
our own human species as one of our fundamental priorities. As
Carl Sagan concluded in his
Cosmos television series,
"Our obligation to
survive and flourish is owed not just to ourselves but also to that
Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring."
How widespread and how diverse is the intelligent life that has
evolved in various places in our galaxy?
An enormous amount of scientific literature has been written about
these two questions. We are thinking here of naturally evolved (not
divine or supernatural) species that have reached at least our level
of intelligence, insight, knowledge, and culture. Among scientists
who have studied the question, the general consensus is that many
intelligent species have developed throughout our galaxy at one time
or another, and some of them may still be alive today.
Here is a summary of the four main reasons supporting the likelihood
that at least a few intelligent species have evolved in our galaxy
somewhere beyond our solar system.
1. The number of stars in our Milky Way galaxy (about
400,000,000,000) is so large that it is almost beyond our
imagination. A fair number of these stars probably have planets that
are potentially hospitable for the development of life.
2. The incredible variety of life crowded together here on earth,
ranging from microbes and moss to trees and people, suggests a
pervasive natural tendency for life to spring up and spread. Similar
tendencies and processes presumably pervade the universe, as do
similar chemical and biological principles. The laws of nature are
universal and nature is generally uniform. There is no reason to
suppose that our planet is the only place suitable for life in the
entire universe. Given the right conditions, life will develop on
any suitable planets or their satellites. Therefore, life has
probably arisen in various places in our galaxy.
3. Rudimentary communication, social organization, tools, and
intelligence have arisen independently in several species on earth.
At least one of these accomplishments can be found among
chimpanzees, gorillas, dolphins, whales, dogs, cats, and horses, for
example. It does not seem farfetched, then, to assume that such
characteristics have arisen over time on other planets.
4. An extraordinarily advanced species in another galaxy might have
figured out a way to cross the gap between their galaxy and ours.
Although this seems impossible to us within our present
understanding of physics, that understanding might someday be
modified or transcended.
Several patterns of evolution, dispersion, and organization of
advanced civilizations are possible in our galaxy. Perhaps a single
civilization long ago produced several settlements that then evolved
independently and became widely dispersed in the galaxy. Perhaps
many species have independently developed intelligent civilizations
on various planets and are still alive, either communicating and
interacting with others or not.
Perhaps a single civilization or
federation has conquered or even eliminated all other civilizations
except ours. Perhaps most intelligent species have voluntarily
merged their cultures or genes, thus becoming in effect a single
culture or species with internal diversity. We have to be careful
not to assume that we know which of these possibilities is the
actual case: none are so implausible, absurd, or illogical that they
should be crossed off the list of possibilities.
We must also keep in mind that some of the intelligent life in our
galaxy may be deeply alien to us. Their thinking patterns,
knowledge, emotions, bodies, perception, social organization,
communication, and norms may be even stranger than our strangest
science fiction images. Some intelligent beings in our universe
could turn out to be silicon-based entities or supercomputers.
It may not be pure fiction to imagine intelligent life evolving even
further, as it does in 2010 by Arthur C. Clarke (1982). One species
in that novel, beginning as flesh and blood, eventually learned to
transfer their brains and then their thoughts into shiny new homes
of metal and plastic.
Then they learned,
"to store knowledge in the
structure of space itself, and to preserve their thoughts for
eternity in frozen lattices of light. They could become creatures of
radiation, free at last from the tyranny of matter. Into pure
energy, therefore, they presently transformed themselves. They could
rove at will among the stars and sink like a subtle mist through the
very interstices of space" (p. 308).
Helpful, Benign, or Hostile?
If at least one form of advanced life somewhere in the universe is
aware of us, what will their aims and behavior be toward us? Will
they be helpful, benign, or hostile?
In order to wrestle with this question, I used a combination of four
methods (Tough, 1986).
(1) One method was an extensive search of
potentially relevant literature, located through abstracts in three
fields (astronomy and astrophysics, aerospace, and physics) and
through nine other bibliographic tools.
(2) As any writer does, I
spent many days thinking about the various issues and possibilities.
(3) When alone in my home, I held two lengthy tape-recorded mock
meetings in which a variety of advanced extraterrestrials expressed
their views on how to relate to fledgling civilizations,
particularly humankind. The purpose of these two mental exercises
was to empathically generate ideas about extraterrestrial aims and
behavior. Although I spontaneously created the various voices and
views myself in a normal state of consciousness, a surprising
diversity of views arose on some of the issues because each view
triggered another view. In 1988 I briefly repeated this exercise
(4) In two classes at the University of Toronto, I conducted
a tape-recorded meeting in which all the people present played the
role of advanced extraterrestrials. A printed agenda focused the
discussion on several major questions about helping the fledgling
I concluded that most or all of the advanced civilizations in the
universe avoid harming fledgling civilizations. The cardinal
principle guiding behavior toward all other civilizations is
probably this: avoid unnecessary harm and interference. Do not hurt
any other civilization, nor hinder their development.
civilization is clearly about to break the cardinal rule (through a
powerful attack or through spreading a plague, for instance), and if
this poses a definite and immediate threat to an advanced species,
then it is permissible to intervene powerfully and even harmfully in
order to prevent this. Under any other circumstances, however, an
advanced civilization will probably not interfere harmfully in the
development of another civilization.
There are several reasons for concluding that advanced beings are
helpful or at least benign, and are unlikely to harm fledgling
civilizations such as ours.
Here are the main reasons:
1. They still recall their own early history, including their
primitive stages, their dark periods, and their follies; therefore,
they may feel sympathetic toward our foibles.
2. Anyone bent on capturing our planet would have done so long ago,
before we despoiled it so much.
3. Any hostile civilization with advanced technology would have
programmed its robot Replicator probes to eliminate any potential
civilization long before reaching the stage at which it could attack
the Replicator; that is, long before our present stage (O'Neill,
198l, p. 265).
4. Advanced civilizations are probably letting us develop freely,
without interference, in order to maximize the amount of information
they gain; if they interfere and control us, they will learn less (Kuiper
and Morris, 1977). Their greatest gain from us may be sociological
and anthropological knowledge about our culture and civilization.
5. Intelligent life forms that are destructively aggressive and
irresponsible will usually eliminate themselves or revert back to
primitive conditions before they achieve interstellar communication
or travel (Harrison, 198l). If a ruthlessly hostile species manages
to avoid these usual consequences of natural selection, and then
prepares for interstellar communication or travel, it may well be
terminated by more advanced beings in the galaxy. "How this is done
is a matter of more than academic interest to the human race in the
next few centuries," adds Harrison, wryly (pp. 399-400).
How much help will they give us? Will they bother transmitting an
encyclopedic radio message to us, for example, or send detailed
information to us by means of a spacecraft controlled by computers
and robots or by live beings?
Some advanced civilizations may decide to send us no help or
information at all. Others may adopt a low-budget approach.
Particularly generous and altruistic civilizations may do a great
deal to foster a rich diversity of good, wise, intelligent,
compassionate, harmonious life throughout their region of the
Even the most generous civilizations, though, will not put
this goal ahead of the survival and development of their own
culture. Indeed, if humanity blunders, deteriorates, and even
becomes extinct, no other civilization will mourn this as the worst
possible tragedy. They might be about as upset as humanity would be
if all whales became extinct or if an earthquake sent Toronto to the
bottom of Lake Ontario.
Age and Capacities
Any other civilizations in our galaxy are probably much older than
Two factors support this assumption.
First, the vast majority of
stars in our galaxy are much older than our sun, many of them
millions of years older. It follows, then, that any civilizations on
planets revolving around those stars likely arose much earlier than
our own civilization did.
Second, it seems quite possible that some
civilizations survive for a million years or even longer. If the
civilizations in our galaxy range in age from a few thousand years
up to a million years old, then we are one of the youngest: by most
definitions, human civilization is not much more than 10,000 years
old. Indeed, thinking of ourselves for a moment as a species rather
than as a civilization, we realize that several species on earth are
300,000,000 years older than we are (Calder, 1983).
Because other civilizations in our galaxy are thousands of years
older than human civilization, they have probably advanced in
certain ways beyond our present level of development. Some
civilizations presumably fail to survive once they discover nuclear
weapons or other means of extinction, but surely others learn to
cope successfully with this problem and then survive for a very long
time. Some of them may be 100,000 years or even millions of years
more advanced than we are.
We cannot at present be certain about the particular capacities of
highly advanced civilizations in our galaxy. We can, however, make
some thoughtful guesses based on established human knowledge (such
as history and futures studies) combined with intelligent
Our own progress has been very dramatic in several areas of life
over the past 10,000 years. If we survive another 10,000 years, it
is highly likely that we will again make dramatic progress in
several areas. When we turn our attention to other civilizations
that are 10,000 or even a million years older than we are, there can
be little doubt that some of them will be far beyond us in their
biological, mental, technological, communication, or travel
Also, because they originated in bodies, physical
environments, and social environments that are vastly different from
ours, their patterns of perceiving, thinking, and relating may be
vastly different from ours.
It is highly likely, therefore, that many of the capacities in the
following list have already been developed by one advanced
civilization or another in our galaxy. It is unlikely that any one
civilization will have all of the listed capacities: it is quite
probable, though, that each of these capacities (with one or two
exceptions) exists somewhere in our galaxy.
We ourselves will
presumably possess many of these capacities if we continue to
develop for another 10,000 years.
virtually unlimited energy (solar, nuclear, etc.)
technology and know-how that are so advanced that they would appear
to us as miraculous
enormously evolved individual brainpower linked with a miniature
the absence of individual and collective behavior that is violent,
destructive, or harmful
loving cooperation, altruism, and compassion combined with sensible
knowledge and wisdom unimaginable to us
excellent control over biological reproduction and evolution
the technological ability to send information, receive information,
and observe across vast distances at the speed of light
extremely rapid, accurate, versatile, and powerful weapons.
Such a list may strike us as unbelievable when we first read it.
Would a human being 10,000 years ago, though, have reacted any
differently to a list of our present capacities? Electricity,
airplanes, astronauts, moon-walks, telescopes, selective breeding,
television, microbes, hospitals, DNA, computers, universities,
skyscrapers, nuclear weapons, and many other aspects of today's
world would have been dismissed 10,000 years ago as ridiculous or
That was the time when the Ice Age ended, humanity's
main crops became domesticated, and the world's first town arose.
Pigs, cattle, and horses had not yet been tamed 10,000 years ago.
Weaving, wagon wheels, and writing had not yet been invented. The
Bronze Age and Iron Age had not yet begun. Stone buildings,
philosophy, and science still lay in the future (Calder, 1983). No
wonder the people of that time could not have anticipated today's
For us, in turn, the actual capacities of a civilization
10,000 years beyond us will probably make my list seem
unimaginative. Their role in our galaxy could be magnificent and
What We Can Do
Information or advice from a highly advanced civilization, or even
gaining knowledge about its characteristics, could be
extraordinarily beneficial to humanity. A great increase in our
efforts to achieve successful contact or interaction would be a very
wise investment for us.
At an International Astronomical Union colloquium in Hungary, I
spelled out 20 possible strategies that are serious candidates for
next steps in such efforts (Tough, 1988).
Three assessments were
provided for each strategy:
(1) the likelihood of success if it is
given adequate funding and effort
(2) the magnitude of benefits to
human civilization if it is successful
(3) the likely payoff
from greatly increased efforts and resources. Here I will simply
summarize the strategies that emerged as particularly high priority.
They can be grouped into three clusters.
The first cluster emphasizes strengthening the whole field of study
devoted to life in the universe. This field is usually called bioastronomy,
exobiology, or the search for extraterrestrial
intelligence (SETI). One very useful direction is to develop this
entire field, its ideas, and their dissemination. Today this field
may be one of the most important scientific enterprises anywhere in
our civilization in the sense that its potential benefits, impact,
and significance are so great.
Although the bioastronomy field has
made great progress in the past 15 years, it still lacks its own
academic journal, its own annual international meeting, and its own
multi-discipline association. Another specific need is to study the
likely capacities, aims, guiding principles, projects, help, and
methods of advanced extraterrestrials.
(We have to figure out what
they are like and what they are doing before we can detect their
messages. Each search strategy is based on major assumptions, rarely
examined in sufficient depth, about extraterrestrial technology and
Yet another specific need is to prepare for contact or
interaction that will be successful and beneficial. In particular,
simulate possible scenarios, study possible consequences, implement
arrangements for immediate dissemination of anomalous data to other SETI scientists, seek international agreement for activities
(including possible replies) following the detection of a signal,
establish an international team to implement this agreement, and
prepare to handle negative possibilities (alien bandits, hostile
warriors, deadly probes, a threatening message).
in futures studies could contribute greatly to these various
A second major cluster of strategies is to search for richly
detailed messages that have been transmitted from far beyond the
solar system. Such messages may be reaching earth right now.
Detecting such a message is certainly a high priority. Certain
civilizations, at least at one stage of their development, may have
broadcast advice, knowledge, techniques, values, ethics, principles
of social and political organization, religious beliefs, even
instructions for building something. Consequently, our society
should continue our efforts to check various possibilities within
the electromagnetic spectrum.
The third cluster of strategies focuses on searching the solar
system and our own planet. There are four specific strategies.
It is quite possible that an intelligent civilization has chosen to
send some sort of automated probe to the solar system. The simplest
type of probe or sonde (beyond a fast flyby that is unable to stop)
would park or cruise in the solar system and send data back to its
home civilization. In addition, a more complex probe might be
programmed to release a significant detailed message to any beings
who trigger it by approaching it, by directing certain radio waves
or laser beams at it, or by achieving an advanced state of
technology. Creative efforts to detect any type of probe are clearly
It is also important to search the solar system
for signs of intelligent beings (not just machines) and their
activities. Such beings presumably would have come here in a
spacecraft, perhaps with a propulsion system that we have not yet
discovered. We could search the asteroid belt and other parts of the
solar system for signs of a space station, space colony, parked
spacecraft, mining operation, materials processing plant, or some
other ongoing astro-engineering project. Waste heat could be a sign,
for instance, and infrared data could yield valuable clues.
During the past few decades, many people have claimed that they have
seen an extraterrestrial spacecraft and even its occupants. Upon
investigation, most of these experiences turn out to be the result
of misperception, an inability to distinguish between fantasy
experiences and reality, or even a hoax. There is a chance, however,
that a few of the past or future reports will turn out to be valid.
Some additional effort should therefore be made to study any
promising cases or avenues.
We should try to create and develop
arrangements to obtain any potentially useful data from military,
security, intelligence, and other government agencies in various
countries. Such data could include any inexplicable anomalies that
might indicate extraterrestrial surveillance or messages, for
The Long-Term Consequences of Contact
An encyclopedic radio message, interaction with the intelligent
computer in an automated probe, or some other form of contact with
another civilization could be a highly significant event in our
future. It would probably have an extraordinary and central impact
on humanity's subsequent development.
Whether this impact occurs
next year or several hundred years from now, it will likely affect
our civilization profoundly at the time and for several centuries
afterwards. Indeed, as we look ahead at the long-term future of
human civilization, we realize that one of the highest-impact events
of all time will probably be contact with another civilization.
What will the specific effects of extraterrestrial messages,
interaction, or intervention turn out to be? This is a common theme
in science fiction. Unfortunately, few nonfiction writers treat the
question with much thought or depth. There are stimulating and
useful exceptions, however, such as Angelo (1985), Michaud (1977),
Prytz (1985), Regis (1985), Thatcher (1978), and hopefully
Let us note the most likely long-term consequence if three common
hopes and assumptions in the bioastronomy field turn out to be
First, let us assume that sometime in the next few decades,
our first contact with any extraterrestrial civilization is a
detailed radio message that covers a wide range of topics, something
like an encyclopedia.
Second, let us assume that the message is not
based on much knowledge about us; it is not geared specifically to
human civilization. Although this assumption may well be wrong
(Tough 1986), it is a common assumption today in the bioastronomy
Third, we eventually decode the message and make the
translation freely available to everyone.
Four sorts of long-term consequences are particularly likely to
(1) practical information
(2) new insights about certain
(3) a transformation in our view of ourselves and
our place in the universe
participation in a joint galactic project. Let us examine
each of these in more detail
1. We might well receive practical information and advice that helps
our human civilization to survive and flourish. Possible examples
include technology, transportation, a new form of energy, a new way
of producing food or nourishing ourselves, the importance of halting
population growth, more effective governance and social
organization, fresh views on values and ethics, inspiration to shift
direction dramatically in order to achieve a reasonably positive
The message might also bring home to people the importance
of eliminating warfare or at least eliminating weapons of
extraordinary destruction. Viewing ourselves from an
extraterrestrial perspective might be very useful in alleviating our
it "might help us to transcend our cultural
conceits and political divisions and think constructively about our
own global civilization"
(Finney, 1986, p. 9).
Such deep-seated changes will no doubt produce enormous disruption,
at least for a short time. We might suffer from massive culture
shock and temporarily feel inferior or lose our confidence in our
Disruption could also occur in the sciences, in
business and industry if we learn about new processes and products,
in the legal system if we move toward cosmic or universal laws, and
in the armed forces and their suppliers if we eliminate the threat
of war. Such disruption will probably be tolerable and short-lived.
It is best regarded as simply the major cost we have to pay for
incorporating new knowledge and possibilities.
2. We might gain new insights, understanding, and knowledge about
major questions that go far beyond ordinary practical day-to-day
matters. Topics in an encyclopedic message could include
astrophysics, the origin and evolution of the universe, religious
questions, the meaning and purpose of life.
The message could
include detailed information about the sending civilization, which
might be deeply alien to us, and about its philosophies and beliefs.
Similar information could be provided about several other
civilizations throughout our galaxy, too.
We might even receive a body of knowledge accumulated over the past
billion years through contributions by dozens of alien civilizations
throughout the galaxy.
"Included in this vast body of knowledge,
something we might call the 'galactic heritage,' could be the entire
natural and social histories of numerous species and planets. Also
included, perhaps, would be extensive astrophysical data that extend
back countless millennia, providing accurate insights into the
origin and destiny of the Universe"
(Angelo, 1985, p. 23).
What sorts of consequences will contact have for our religious ideas
and institutions? A historical survey found that several religions
have already incorporated the idea of extraterrestrial life (Crowe,
1986). Although some preachers may denounce an extraterrestrial
message as the work of the devil or the Anti-Christ, others will
surely embrace it as further evidence of God's infinite greatness.
Both religion and philosophy may be beneficially stimulated by a
message from an advanced civilization.
3. A richly detailed message from an alien civilization might
transform our view of ourselves and our place in the universe, even
our ultimate destination. We might gain a much deeper sense of
ourselves as part of intelligent life and evolving culture
throughout the universe.
Michaud (1977, p. 20) pointed out that,
"contact would be immensely
broadening and deprovincializing. It would be a quantum jump in our
awareness of things outside ourselves. It would change our criteria
of what matters. We would have to think in interstellar, even
galactic frames of reference.... We would leave the era of Earth
history, and enter an era of cosmic history. By implying cosmic
future, contact might suggest a more hopeful view of the universe
and our fate."
4. We might eventually play a role in some joint galactic project in
art, science, philosophy, or philanthropy. Such a project might aim
to solve fundamental mysteries of the universe, help other
civilizations develop and flourish, or spread harmonious intelligent
life throughout the galaxy. We could participate in this project
through two-way radio messages, despite the length of time required
for round-trip communication.
Angelo (1985, p. 23) has noted that contact,
"might lead to the
development of branches of art and science that simply cannot be
undertaken by just one planetary civilization but rather require
joint, multiple-civilization participation across interstellar
distances.... Perhaps the very survival and salvation of the human
race depends on finding ourselves cast in a larger cosmic role - a
role far greater in significance than any human can now imagine."
It is also possible that our culture will be overwhelmed by an
advanced alien culture. However, all terrestrial examples of contact
between two cultures have involved physical contact rather than
radio messages. Also, terrestrial contact has usually involved
territorial expansion by the stronger culture.
"If contact has
occurred without aggression, the lesser culture has often survived
and even prospered"
(Angelo, 1985, p. 27).
We might well adopt
portions of the alien culture but avoid being completely overwhelmed
Can Life and Intelligence Survive Forever?
If we look far enough into the future, we can imagine the end of our
physical universe, at least in any form that would support human
life as we know it. We can imagine the universe expanding forever,
becoming colder and colder, until finally it is completely frozen,
quiet, and barren. Alternatively we can imagine it collapsing
inwardly, becoming hotter and hotter, ending in a "Big Crunch."
Can life and intelligence somehow survive if the physical universe
meets either of these fates?
Intelligent life will have countless
billions of years to advance and change before there is any need to
adjust to the various stages of the "end" of the physical universe.
By that time, at least in some parts of the universe, intelligent
life may have progressed so much that it can figure out how to avoid
the extermination of all life, knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom.
Indeed, Freeman Dyson (1979, 1988) and Michael Michaud (1982) have
already explored some possible ways of achieving this.
a huge, cooperative, galactic or intergalactic project may find some
method of altering the physical universe (or one portion of it) in
some powerful and massive way that will enable life to continue. A
second possibility is that life itself will change and adapt in ways
that will permit it to continue forever.
If it is true,
"that life is
organization rather than substance, then it makes sense to imagine
life detached from flesh and blood and embodied in networks of
superconducting circuitry or in interstellar dust clouds"
1988, p. 107).
Alternatively, some way may be found to break out of
this universe into another one, either existing parallel to it or
arising subsequent to it. Perhaps the best of our knowledge,
intelligence, consciousness, or life can be transferred to this
As the result of the 137 equations presented in his 1979 paper,
Dyson concluded in his 1988 book (p. 117) that science provides a
solid foundation for a philosophy of hope.
"I have found a universe
growing without limit in richness and complexity, a universe of life
surviving forever and making itself known to its neighbors across
unimaginable gulfs of space and time."
Angelo, Joseph A., Jr. 1985. The extraterrestrial encyclopedia: Our
search for life in outer space. New York: Facts on File.
Calder, Nigel. 1983. Timescale: An atlas of the fourth dimension.
New York: Viking.
Chaisson, Eric. 1987. The life era: Cosmic selection and conscious
evolution. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press.
Clarke, Arthur C. 1982. 2010: Odyssey Two. New York: Ballantine.
Crowe, Michael. 1986. The extraterrestrial life debate, 1750-1900:
The idea of a plurality of worlds from Kant to Lowell. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Dick, Steven J. 1982. Plurality of worlds: The origins of the
extraterrestrial life debate from Democritus to Kant. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Dick, Steven J. 1988. The biophysical cosmology: The place of SETI
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