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Lonely Minds in the Universe (Review)

by Bernd Henschenmacher

Giancarlo Genta’s new book Lonely Minds in the Universe deals with many aspects of the search for extraterrestrial life and intelligence. As does Michael Michaud in his Contact with Alien Civilizations, Genta examines the scientific and philosophical implications of such contact. The book begins with an overview of Western thought on the subject from the ancient Greeks to the late 20th Century, including the question of how extraterrestrial contact might affect human religious beliefs.

Lonely Minds in the Universe

The book’s astrobiological chapters offer a rapid introduction to this emerging science. Readers who are familiar with concepts like habitable zones, speculations about life on Mars, Europa or Titan and the concept of a galactic habitable zone will find little new here, but this section offers a well written and easy to understand backgrounder.

The book’s treatment of evolution, intelligence and consciousness — including the problem of defining consciousness itself — is striking. Genta provides an introduction to the evolution and origin of the human mind, one that questions traditional concepts of the association between intelligence and consciousness. Can intelligence exist without consciousness? The book’s final chapters deal with the sociological and technical aspects of ETIs. Is interstellar travel inevitable for technological civilizations? What about dealing with contact? Can wars occur between different species? (The author rejects the idea because of the huge distances between the stars and the speed of light barrier).

Even though the possibility of faster than light travel and breakthrough propulsion by manipulating gravity, inertia or space-time are mentioned, the author concludes that fast interstellar flight (i.e., within single human lifetimes) will probably involve methods we cannot even imagine at the moment. This book is highly recommended for anyone looking for for an overview about the scientific and philosophical aspects of astrobiology and SETI.

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  • ljk March 4, 2008, 10:25

    Beyond UFOs: The Search for Extraterrestrial Life and Its
    Astonishing Implications for Our Future

    Jeffrey Bennett

    Cloth | 2008 | $26.95 / £15.95

    238 pp. | 6 x 9 | 8 color illus. 25 halftones.

    The quest for extraterrestrial life doesn’t happen only in science fiction. This book describes the startling discoveries being made in the very real science of astrobiology, an intriguing new field that blends astronomy, biology, and geology to explore the possibility of life on other planets. Jeffrey Bennett takes readers beyond UFOs to discuss some of the tantalizing questions astrobiologists grapple with every day: What is life and how does it begin? What makes a planet or moon habitable? Is there life on Mars or elsewhere in the solar system? How can life be recognized on distant worlds? Is it likely to be microbial, more biologically complex–or even intelligent? What would such a discovery mean for life here on Earth?

    Come along on this scientific adventure and learn the astonishing implications of discoveries made in this field for the future of the human race. Bennett, who believes that “science is a way of helping people come to agreement,” explains how the search for extraterrestrial life can help bridge the divide that sometimes exists between science and religion, defuse public rancor over the teaching of evolution, and quiet the debate over global warming. He likens humanity today to a troubled adolescent teetering on the edge between self-destruction and a future of virtually limitless possibilities. Beyond UFOs shows why the very quest to find alien life can help us to grow up as a species and chart a course for the stars.

    Jeffrey Bennett is an astrophysicist, author, and educator. He is the author or coauthor of leading college-level textbooks in astrobiology, astronomy, mathematics, and statistics, including Life in the Universe. He is also the author of On the Cosmic Horizon and the children’s books Max Goes to the Moon and Max Goes to Mars.

    http://press.princeton.edu/titles/8594.html