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The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence Hardcover – April 13, 2010
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In this fascinating book, Paul Davies tries to get us thinking about the much more fundamental questions literally about Life, The Universe, and Everything! First, despite the success of Darwinian Evolution in explaining how life changes and adapts, Davies points out that science has so far failed to explain how life got started in the first place. Although the Kepler satellite has given evidence of "earth like" planets, we have no way to predict the chances of life actually existing on any of these worlds.
A great deal of the book looks at the way traditional SETI has been conducted (by looking for signals similar to the the kinds employed by us humans in the last eighty or so years) and this is where the book really gets interesting, as the scientist/author tries to think outside the anthropocentric box and ask the question of how to look for technology that's as far ahead of us as we are beyond the Stone Age, and quite likely much further.
The role of gamma ray bursts in filtering embryonic life surges, the perils of Sol's oscillation in the galactic plane and autoteleological super systems - these are but a few of the topics treated in Davies' usual eclectic style. Davies also considers the possible detection of alternative phylogenies of life on Earth which could represent extraterrestrial life on our doorstep, seeded actively or inactively from beyond. These snippets, especially those from physics which is Davies' strong suit, are the strength of the book.
On the other hand, when seeking to answer the questions of extraterrestrial intelligence, it's hard to weigh up the importance of different factors - even Davies comments that an anything goes approach yields "speculative anarchy with no useful predictive power". Davies' assay of facts and theories ranges very broadly and at times, especially in his discussion of multiple geneses of life, his approach erred towards too broad and a little shallow. However, in fairness, he weighs up a multitude of factors as well as anyone could and I can't think of anything that should have been omitted. This is, after all, a field of science with many indeterminate parameters, as evidenced by Drake's equation itself. Some readers may be a little surprised at the concluding answer of Paul `The Scientist' Davies in respect of "are we alone in the Universe?"