Book Review by Bud Gundy
For years, I’ve been a fan of the SETI project. I produced several brief radio reports for their old Are We Alone?radio show and I’ve met the principal players – Jill Tarter, Seth Shostak and the legendary Frank Drake, creator of the famous Drake Equation. I’m lucky to live in Northern California, where you can easily attend their public events in Mountain View – a drive of no more than 45 minutes from San Francisco.
So it was with eager anticipation that I picked up The Eerie Silence by Paul Davies, published in 2010. In our age, three years since publication and thus three more years of what seems like exponential research and discovery can make any scientific report feel somewhat dated.
All the same, you can’t argue that there have been any changes to the major arguments he makes in the book. If anything, the continued silence reinforces his points, and I’m sorry to say that he leans strongly against the existence of life, let alone intelligent life, anywhere in the universe at all.
His arguments are insightful and compelling, and the book is organized to build to his somewhat dispiriting denouement (at least if you are a SETI fan) in a comprehensive and skillfully argued way. After an initial overview, he dives right into the likelihood of life (as distinct from intelligent life) existing in the cosmos, and offers some very exciting possibilities of finding quasi-alien life flourishing already here on earth (hint: it has to do with another evolutionary cycle distinct from our own.)
Then Davies takes us soaring into the universe with a series of skeptical, but always thrilling examinations about why aliens, if they exist, don’t seem very interested in communicating with us. I have to say, every single one of his scenarios sounds plausible to me.
Davies often offers ideas for the sole purpose of shutting them down. I, however, found much of this absorbing and riveting. He can shoot them down if he likes (and he does) but nonetheless they are fascinating to contemplate, particularly the image of a lonely quantum computer drifting alone in space.
In the end, he didn’t convince me that intelligent life does not exist. In fact, I lean heavily in the other direction, but I readily concede he is the one with the degrees. However, just observation alone leads me to think it likely that we have many cosmic neighbors. Like us, perhaps they see no real reason to broadcast their existence to the heavens, and even humans are scaling back radio and television signals in favor of more efficient modes of communication that don’t filter into space.
I think we’ll find intelligent life because it is easy to see that there is nothing extraordinary about where we live. If it happened here, it happened elsewhere and probably has - many times.
So even if you don’t agree with Davies, you’re bound to find this book interesting, even riveting at times.