Is Anybody There?
Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars
by Lee Billings
In The Principles of Philosophy (1642) Descartes lamented: "We do not doubt but that many things exist, or formerly existed and have now ceased to be, which were never seen or known by man, and were never of use to him." Descartes didn't know the half of it. As our understanding of the natural world has improved across the past half-millennium there has been a clear trend of dethronement, of blows to the collective self-esteem of Homo sap.
No, our Earth is not at the center of things, only a middling planet among several, all in orbit around the Sun. The Sun itself is a humdrum star, one of billions in our galaxy, which is likewise one of billions of similar objects in the universe — "galaxies like grains of sand" (Aldiss). In recent years some serious physicists have even put forth a "multiverse" theory of creation, in which our very universe is merely one among innumerable others. Along the way there we passed Charles Darwin telling us that we are not transcendent beings, only twigs on the great tree of terrestrial life. It's been humiliating.
Once scientists became aware of this trend — Lee Billings calls it the Principle of Mediocrity — it influenced their speculations about extraterrestrial life …
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[Read the entire review in the November 2013 issue of The American Spectator.]