T.C. phone home

The alien invasion flick War of the Worlds opened this week, and Tom Cruise has gone out on yet another limb and said he doesn't think humans aren't the only beings out there. "Are you really so arrogant as to believe we are alone in this universe?" he told a German tabloid. "Millions of stars, and we're supposed to be the only living creatures? No."

Predictably, the press had a field day. "Tom Cruise Says He Believes in Aliens" screamed a Reuters headline. "Has Cruise Cracked?" asked the London Free Press.

Whether or not Tom Cruise has lost his marbles in recent weeks is another story. But his contention that we are probably not the only planet with life in this entire universe is not new, or crazy. The Center for SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Research has been scrutinizing nearby stars to search for artificially produced radio signals for years. They admit they may never find anything at all, but according to the National Academy of Science's Astronomy Survey Committee,

The discovery in the last decade of planetary disks (around other stars), and the continuing discovery of highly complex organic molecules in the interstellar medium, lend even greater scientific support to [The SETI] enterprise.... More and more scientists feel that contact with other civilizations is no longer something beyond our dreams but a natural event in the history of mankind that will perhaps occur in the lifetime of many of us.
Carl Sagan, the brilliant astronomer and biologist who was a leader of the American Space program and wrote Cosmos, the best-selling English-language book of its time, said it best:
Those afraid of the universe as it really is, those who pretend to nonexistent knowledge and envision a Cosmos centered on human beings will prefer the fleeting comforts of superstition. They avoid rather than confront the world. But those with the courage to explore the weave and structure of the Cosmos, even where it differs profoundly from their wishes and prejudices, will penetrate its deepest mysteries.
So do I think there are aliens with green heads and laser guns jetting around out there in UFOs, or disguised among us? No. Those images are a figment of Hollywood's imagination, derived from one of humankind's deepest fears that we will someday be obliterated in a very violent way. And that's not what Cruise said he believed, either.

But the concept of intelligent life, or something like it, thriving on another one of the roughly 400 billion other stars in our galaxy, and nearly 100 billion other galaxies in the universe? As Carl Sagan said: "If we are alone in the universe, it sure seems like an awful waste of space."

P.S.: Here's a prophetic comment Sagan made in 1995, given today's political climate:
I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges nearer, pseudo-science and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive.
I'm sure, were he still alive, he'd have some incisive comments to make about the right wing's "truth" crusades.

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