August 22, 2010

Cosmos Episode 12: Encyclopedia Galactica

It's not that I am unfamiliar with the topics that Sagan covers in this series. In fact, I've read Cosmos and many of Sagan's other books. So, I guess the reason why I am lovin' it so much is because it has been quite a while since I touched base with all these concepts that are so close to my heart.

In this episode, Sagan daring touches upon what one might describe as the somewhat treacherous and murky grounds of UFOs and extraterrestrial intelligence. It was instructive to see him emphasize and repeat that 'extraordinary claims require extraordinary proofs.'

The way he categorically ruled out that all the sightings of UFOs are anything but figment's of people's imaginations showed the essential spirit of scientific inquiry at its best — one might almost have concluded that Sagan doesn't really think that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe at all.

But in fact Sagan and most other scientists do believe in the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence. They are positive that our galaxy must be teeming with them. That of course poses the question of why we have not yet made contact with any. A question to which there is no answer really.

It boggles the mind that we are not yet conducting an exhausting survey of the universe across all available radio channels to detect if any such civilization out there is sending out any messages intentionally or otherwise.

After all, we have been broadcasting out into space our TV messages unintentionally ... the unfortunate historical fact being that Hitler's opening ceremony speech from the Berlin Olympics in 1936 is going to be one of the first TV signals that has gone out into space from the human race.

The question of our ability to decipher such a message if and when we receive it is another issue as well and Sagan goes back to the story of how the Egyptian hieroglyphics were deciphered after a lot of effort and missteps to illustrate the difficulties involved in the process.

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