Saturday, April 23, 2016

Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence?

AS IS well known, Christian theology, with its dogmas of creation out of nothing and in time, gave the clue to Buridan and Oresme for a breakthrough toward a right doctrine about inertial motion. Pierre Duhem, a giant among historians of science, said this early in this century [20th cent.], and some others after him, though they remained ignored in this respect as much as he is. I do not mention this point here as a further question of whether the rise of those two dogmas would repeat itself on other planets having science. My reason relates to the fact that the same Christian theology also has it as a dogma that every human mind or soul is a special creation. Those holding to that dogma cannot, of course, dictate to God where and when to infuse intelligence or soul into flesh and blood primates. Those holding that dogma can, however, be assured that all descendants will have essential uniformity of intellect, the very uniformity that protagonists of ETI [Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence] cannot assume while trying to detect radio signals, coded in terms of our intellect, from outer space. Again, on the basis of the same dogma, extra-terrestrial beings may safely be expected to know something about love and brotherhood, whereas ETI champions must assume that all encounters with ETI will be encounters with another species locked in a grim struggle for life with us. C.N. Yang, a Nobel-laureate physicist, was very much to the point when he said, about twenty-five years ago, that on detecting radio signals from outer space we should go into hiding.

On too many points the ETI program is a deliberate snubbing of the true history of scientific progress and a deliberately flippant espousal of plain contradictions in terms of their basic premises. Of course, the great breakthroughs of science have always implied at least some apparent contradiction. But Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Maxwell, Planck, and Einstein offered something tangibly positive in exchange for some apparently impossible claims. The ETI program has nothing similar to offer. That investigations performed in its name resulted in considerable scientific benefits is, in my opinion, most doubtful, even concerning the past two decades, to say nothing of earlier times.

But there should be no doubt that the cavalier approach of ETI champions to the question of human intellect is acting in the cultural context in a most harmful way. The ETI program is a systematic devaluation of the dignity of human intellect. The ETI program is doing now—on a far vaster scale and with the help of global TV—what had been done earlier by the popularization of mechanistic science. In looking back on the rise of Hitler and Stalin and the horrors of World War II, W. Heitler, one of the founders of quantum mechanics, aptly stated in 1949: “In the decline of ethical standards which the history of the past fifteen years exhibited, it is not difficult to trace the influence of mechanistic concepts which have unconsciously but deeply crept into human minds.”

This is a fact of history, the kind that historians of ETI must take seriously if they want to be seen as serious historians. Otherwise, they will be the flippant raconteurs of what happened on the level where facile games are played with the intellect. Tellingly, such games rate high in today’s publishing world and in the academic establishment in cahoots with it.

~Stanley L. Jaki: Extra-Terrestrials and Scientific Progress. (1985)