Curiosity, Science, and the Possibility of Aliens With Dr. Avi Loeb

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Is there life out there?

This is the question astronomers and astrophysicists have been exploring for decades. 

In late 2017, scientists at a Hawaiian observatory glimpsed an object soaring through our inner solar system, moving so quickly that it could only have come from another star. Dr. Avi Loeb, Harvard’s top astronomer, showed it was not an asteroid; it was moving too fast along a strange orbit, and left no trail of gas or debris in its wake. There was only one conceivable explanation: the object was a piece of advanced technology created by a distant alien civilization.

In today’s conversation we’re exploring the question, is there life out there? with Dr. Loeb, who is the Frank B. Baird, Jr., Professor of Science at Harvard University, chair of Harvard’s Department of Astronomy, founding director of Harvard’s Black Hole Initiative, and director of the Institute for Theory and Computation (ITC) within the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

In Dr. Loeb’s new book, Extraterrestrial, the First Signs of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth, we learn about Oumuamua, the first known interstellar object detected passing through the Solar System.

But this book isn’t really about Oumuamua.  It’s a story about why curiosity is essential to science and how curiosity gets squelched when the scientific process is influenced by the pressure for research dollars. 

It’s also a story about the challenge of shifting paradigms and how our first response, both in the scientific community and in the world at large is NOT to wonder and be amazed by new information, but to push new information away and to resist data – especially if the data itself defies what we think we know.

The “system” that we call science is competitive. The pressure to be first for the sake of credit, ego, and money often causes researchers to sew up conclusions in record time, without the necessary curiosity and willingness to entertain new possibilities. 

New data has to stand the test of time and repetition.  It also has to be measured against what we already know with the willingness to entertain new possibilities with curiosity. A system that is run by money and the fear of losing funding perverts our interpretation of the data.

It also causes a collective lack of trust in science and increases the time it takes to implement new, innovative solutions in collective systems, such as the education or health care system. 

When we liberate curiosity and knowledge from the pressure to be first or right in order to secure funding for more research, we increase the possibility that we will find the solutions to the challenges facing humanity today.

Join us as Dr. Loeb explores, with curiosity, what is out there? 

Dr. Avi Loeb is the Frank B. Baird, Jr., Professor of Science at Harvard University. He received a PhD in Physics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel at age 24 (1980-1986), led the first international project supported by the Strategic Defense Initiative (1983-1988), and was subsequently a long-term member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton (1988-1993). Loeb has written 8 books including, most recently, Extraterrestrial (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021), and about 800 papers (with an h-index of 112) on a wide range of topics, including black holes, the first stars, the search for extraterrestrial life and the future of the Universe. He had been the longest serving Chair of Harvard’s Department of Astronomy (2011-2020), Founding Director of Harvard’s Black Hole Initiative (2016-present) and Director of the Institute for Theory and Computation (2007-present) within the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics 

Click here (https://lweb.cfa.harvard.edu/~loeb/Opinion.html) for Dr. Loeb’s commentaries.  

Click here to find Dr. Loeb’s new book on Amazon: Extraterrestrial, the First Signs of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth (https://www.amazon.com/Extraterrestrial-First-Intelligent-Beyond-Earth-ebook/dp/B081TTY4NX)

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