Fifty years ago, a young astronomer named Frank Drake first pointed a radio telescope at nearby stars in the hope of picking up a signal from an alien civilization. Thus began one of the boldest scientific projects in history, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). After a half-century of scanning the skies, however, astronomers have little to report but an eerie silence—eerie because many scientists are convinced that the universe is teeming with life. Physicist and astrobiologist Paul Davies has been closely involved with SETI for three decades and chairs the SETI Post-Detection Taskgroup, charged with deciding what to do if we’re suddenly confronted with evidence of alien intelligence. He believes the search so far has fallen into an anthropocentric trap—assuming that an alien species will look, think, and behave much like us. In this provocative book Davies refocuses the search, challenging existing ideas of what form an alien intelligence might take, how it might try to communicate with us, and how we should respond if it does.
The Beckett heroes, whose experiences are discussed in this book, were conditioned by a "humanistic" education much like Beckett's; but they come to find that the self they were taught to see as their own is nonexistent. Having nothing in their acquired personality to cope with this crisis, Murphy, Molloy, Moran, Malone, and all that follow find themselves dying to their old self, to everything a Western liberal education could think of as self. Early on, Beckett saw clues to the situation in the work of Jung, the "mind doctor" who represented the opposite of the empirical tradition. Jung, like the esoteric schools, saw a potential human whose development was sometimes delayed or prevented by the very system the claimed to "educate" and "civilize" the personality. The existence of this potential self has been doubted by many modern thinkers, but Beckett's stories show "a soul denied in vain" since it is the enabler of all speech, whether apparently denying or affirming. No knowledge can be considered apart from the knower.
In The Ideal Real, Paul Davies argues that Beckett saw this potential self emerging in the world of imagination and symbol, especially in this age where language alone has come to be seen as the vehicle of education and the determiner of identity. He renders in prose the collapse of the illusive world of self to which the European cult of personality devoted three centuries, and witnesses its annihilation in the death before death - the white light of contemporary physics, the "void" of Zen - from which all trace of personality has fallen.
From the 1920s to Beckett's last year, this study follows all the stages his fiction writing went through in order to face this matter uncompromisingly. The perspective taken by Davies sees the postmodern critical climate as an inadequate and reductive context within which to contemplate and comment on works of art. It seeks to recognize that creative imagination is a vital aspect of all mental activity that is not doomed to the inferno of Beckett's lost world.