Aliens Must Be Out There

In a dazzling new book, “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth,” the astrophysicist Avi Loeb offers a forceful rejoinder to Fermi. Loeb, a professor at Harvard, argues that the absence of evidence regarding life elsewhere is not evidence of its absence. What if the reason we haven’t come across life beyond Earth is the same reason I can never find my keys when I’m in a hurry — not because they don’t exist but because I did a slapdash job looking for them?

“The search for extraterrestrial life has never been more than an oddity to the vast majority of scientists,” Loeb writes. To “them, it is a subject worthy of, at best, glancing interest and at worst, outright derision.”

That attitude may be changing. In the past few years there has been a flurry of new interest in the search for aliens. Tech billionaires are funding novel efforts to scan the heavens for evidence of life, and after decades of giving the field short shrift, NASA recently joined the search.

Still, Loeb argues, we are not looking hard enough. Other areas of physics, especially abstruse mathematical concepts like supersymmetry, are showered with funding and academic respect, while one of the most profound questions humanity has ever pondered — Are we alone? — lingers largely on the sidelines. >>>

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