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Are We Alone?: Philosophical Implications Of The Discovery Of Extraterrestrial Life Paperback – June 28, 1996

ISBN-13: 978-0465004195 ISBN-10: 0465004199

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (June 28, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465004199
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465004195
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.1 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #900,475 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The authentic discovery of extraterrestrial life would usher in a scientific revolution on par with Copernicus or Darwin, says Paul Davies. Just as these ideas sparked religious and philosophical controversy when they were first offered, so would proof of life arising away from Earth. With this brief book (160 pages, including two appendices and an index), Davies tries to get ahead of the curve and begin to sort out the metaphysical mess before it happens. Many science fiction writers have preceded him, of course, but here the matter is plainly put. This is a very good introduction to a compelling subject.

From Publishers Weekly

This bite-size volume for the nonscientist reviews fact and speculation concerning the possible existence of extraterrestrial life. In the process, Davies (The Mind of God) explores metaphysical arguments and attitudes that would be affected by discovery of other life. A physicist, natural philosopher and winner of the 1995 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, he presents an approach that is broad and inquiring, not dogmatic. In clear and comfortable prose, he renders some deep thoughts in terms of simple, intuitive concepts, with many effective references to relevant theology, philosophy and science fiction as well as natural science. Contents include a sketch of NASA's current search program (SETT) and a survey of the vested viewpoints at risk. An intriguing chapter considers the nature of consciousness (distinguished from intelligence) as it may exist in the universe. Davies concludes that boundaries between religious and scientific facets of the topic may be illusory. Illustrations.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Paul Davies is an internationally acclaimed physicist, cosmologist, and astrobiologist at Arizona State University, where he runs the pioneering Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science. He also chairs the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Post-Detection Taskgroup, so that if SETI succeeds in finding intelligent life, he will be among the first to know. The asteroid 1992OG was officially renamed Pauldavies in his honor. In addition to his many scientific awards, Davies is the recipient of the 1995 Templeton Prize--the world's largest annual prize--for his work on science and religion. He is the author of more than twenty books, including The Mind of God, About Time, How to Build a Time Machine, and The Goldilocks Enigma. He lives in Tempe, Arizona.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Dick Marti on March 3, 2008
Format: Paperback
The author is a cosmologist and winner of the Templeton Prize, the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for religiously-oriented science writing, or scientifically-oriented religious writing. This is a very small book, purportedly about the possible existence of alien life on other worlds. As such, one would expect it to be a science book. But, true to his Templeton prize, the author sneaks too much religion into the text. A particularly useless and pointless discussion revolved around whether "God" might have become incarnate in alien life the way one particular Earth religion believes happened on this planet. The author actually mentions this as a means of salvation of the putative aliens from sin. Seriously. The author thinks he is writing a science book here, folks. The only religion mentioned is Christianity. Why is that? To be fair, all the several hundred or thousands of Earth religions should be discussed to see how the theology of each fits into the scenarios discussed about the search for alien life or the possibility of alien life. An elementary error, or perhaps a convenient point of view, is that the author states several times that the universe is infinite. He goes on to make some unjustified conclusions based on that view. Another egregious error is that the claim is made that if alien life is discovered to be based on DNA and proteins, this will somehow invalidate Darwinism and point to a teleology, which of course indicates a plan or purpose in the universe. And that seems to be what this religion author is driving at in this poorly disguised religious tract.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Atheen M. Wilson on June 23, 2001
Format: Paperback
Paul Davies' book Are We Alone? is deceptively simple. While its purported topic is the possibility of alien life, it also covers and covers more extensively the various theories of sentience, what it is, why it is, and how common it might be. It also explains the anthropic principle, which uses the fact that we exist to explain why the universe is as it is. The volume is a little too short to cover the topics well, but it is definitely very lucid. It also contains a very nice bibliography, a veritable who's who of cosmology and the extraterrestrial question, including Barrow and Tipler (The Anthropic Cosmological Principle), Crick (Life Itself), Dawkins (The Blind Watchmaker), Drake (Is Anyone Out There?), Gould (Wonderful Life), Hoyle (The Intelligent Universe), and Sagan (The Cosmic Connection). This book definitely makes a fine start to understanding the topic of intelligent life and the possibility of its existence elsewhere.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on December 7, 2004
Format: Paperback
I found this book extremely thought- provoking. I do not have a strong scientific background and so tend to let some of the more technical arguments go by me. But I did follow the overall thrust of Davies argument and he does make a good case for the idea that the discovery of extraterrestial life is an essence a positive phenomenom. In the concluding paragraph of his fifth chapter , on 'Consciousness'he writes," If this view is correct if consciousness is a basic phenomenon that is part of the natural outworking of the laws of the universe, then we can expect it to have emerged elsewhere.The search for alien beings can therefore be seen as a test of the world view that we live in a universe that is progressive, not only in the way that life and consciousness emerge from primeval chaos, but also in the way that mind plays a fundamental role. In my opinion, the most important upshot of the discovery of extraterrestial life would be to restore to human beings something of the dignity of which science has robbed them. Far from exposing Homo sapiens as an inferior creature in the vast cosmos, the certain existence of alien beings would give us cause to believe that we, in our humble way, are part of a larger, majestic process of cosmic self- knowledge."

Davies also in the course of the book makes arguments for the idea that human venturing into the cosmos, true space travel of any great significance is impossible. ie that physically we are not about to conquer the cosmos. He too suggests that the whole cosmic process of creation might be seen as one of evolution toward greater and greater complexity.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Roger McEvilly (the guilty bystander) on May 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book is a very good overview of current debate and discovery concerning various aspects of the nature and origin of life. One of the best things about this book is the level of detail, sourced from a variety of disciplines. Another strength is Paul Davies' impassioned, clear, reasoned and objective writing style. He discusses all the various arguments, subjects them to critical analysis, and formulates conclusions based on the available evidence. It is delightful to read an overview of scientific debate which doesn't jump to sides, but critically examines alternative arguments, regardless of source. In other words, biology, physics, mathematics, history, poetry, geology, chemistry, biochemistry, theology, philosophy, etc etc (in no particular order) all have something to say about this topic. Moreover, Paul Davies doesn't seem to need to sell or convince anybody of his ideas. His job isn't on the line, he doesn't need the money, and he has enough experience to realise just how complicated processes in the universe can be. He is delightfully distant, and objectively impassioned. He simply reasons, and allows the reader to agree, or disagree. His knowledge of the various arguments are also pretty sound.
Paul Davies outlines the arguments both for and against intelligent life being common in the universe including Carter's Anthropic principle, Fermi's paradox, Darwinism, chaos theory, edge-of-chaos theory, Boolean algebra, and quantum indeterminism. There is an interesting discussion on Van Neumann Machines (intelligent space probes), and artificial intelligence. Keen advocates of these ideas, Mr Davies notes, are reminded that there may be more to the technology required in sending these intelligent machines off into space than we might think.
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