Civilized Life in the Universe: Scientists on Intelligent Extraterrestrials

Oxford University Press
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This book is a selective and fascinating history of scientific speculation about intelligent extraterrestrial life. From Plutarch to Stephen Hawking, some of the most prominent western scientists have had quite detailed perceptions and misperceptions about alien civilizations: Johannes Kepler, fresh from transforming astronomy with his work on the shape of planetary orbits, was quite sure alien engineers on the moon were excavating circular pits to provide shelter; Christiaan Huygens, the most prominent physical scientist between Galileo and Newton, dismissed Kepler's speculations, but used the laws of probability to prove that "planetarians" on other worlds are much like humans, and had developed a sense of the visual arts; Carl Sagan sees clearly that Huygens is a biological chauvinist, but doesn't see as clearly that he, Sagan, may be a cultural/technological chauvinist when he assumes aliens have highly developed technology like ours, but better. Basalla traces the influence of one speculation on the next, showing an unbroken but twisting chain of ideas passed from one scientist to the next, and from science to popular culture. He even traces the influence of popular culture on science--Sagan always admitted how much E. R. Burroughs' Martian novels influenced his speculations about Mars. Throughout, Basalla weaves his theme that scientific belief in and search for extraterrestrial civilizations is a complex impulse, part secularized-religious, and part anthropomorphic. He questions the common modern scientific reasoning that life converges on intelligence, and intelligence converges on one science valid everywhere. He ends the book by agreeing with Stephen Hawking (usually a safe bet) that intelligence is overrated for survival in the universe, and that we are most likely alone.
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About the author

George Basalla is Professor of History at the University of Delaware (Emeritus).
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Additional Information

Publisher
Oxford University Press
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Published on
Jan 19, 2006
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Pages
248
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ISBN
9780190291402
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Language
English
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Genres
Science / Astronomy
Science / History
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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George Basalla
This book presents an evolutionary theory of technological change based upon recent scholarship in the history of technology and upon relevant material drawn from economic history and anthropology. It challenges the popular notion that technology advances by the efforts of a few heroic individuals who produce a series of revolutionary inventions owing little or nothing to the technological past. Therefore, the book's argument is shaped by analogies taken selectively from the theory of organic evolution, and not from the theory and practice of political revolution. Three themes appear, and reappear with variations, throughout the study. The first is diversity: an acknowledgment of the vast numbers of different kinds of made things (artifacts) that have long been available to humanity; the second is necessity: the belief that humans are driven to invent new artifacts in order to meet basic biological requirements such as food, shelter, and defense; and the third is technological evolution: an organic analogy that explains both the emergence of novel artifacts and their subsequent selection by society for incorporation into its material life without invoking either biological necessity or technological progress. Although the book is not intended to provide a strict chronological account of the development of technology, historical examples - including many of the major achievements of Western technology: the waterwheel, the printing press, the steam engine, automobiles and trucks, and the transistor - are used extensively to support its theoretical framework. The Evolution of Techology will be of interest to all readers seeking to learn how and why technology changes, including both students and specialists in the history of technology and science.
George Basalla
This book is a selective and fascinating history of scientific speculation about intelligent extraterrestrial life. From Plutarch to Stephen Hawking, some of the most prominent western scientists have had quite detailed perceptions and misperceptions about alien civilizations: Johannes Kepler, fresh from transforming astronomy with his work on the shape of planetary orbits, was quite sure alien engineers on the moon were excavating circular pits to provide shelter; Christiaan Huygens, the most prominent physical scientist between Galileo and Newton, dismissed Kepler's speculations, but used the laws of probability to prove that "planetarians" on other worlds are much like humans, and had developed a sense of the visual arts; Carl Sagan sees clearly that Huygens is a biological chauvinist, but doesn't see as clearly that he, Sagan, may be a cultural/technological chauvinist when he assumes aliens have highly developed technology like ours, but better. Basalla traces the influence of one speculation on the next, showing an unbroken but twisting chain of ideas passed from one scientist to the next, and from science to popular culture. He even traces the influence of popular culture on science--Sagan always admitted how much E. R. Burroughs' Martian novels influenced his speculations about Mars. Throughout, Basalla weaves his theme that scientific belief in and search for extraterrestrial civilizations is a complex impulse, part secularized-religious, and part anthropomorphic. He questions the common modern scientific reasoning that life converges on intelligence, and intelligence converges on one science valid everywhere. He ends the book by agreeing with Stephen Hawking (usually a safe bet) that intelligence is overrated for survival in the universe, and that we are most likely alone.
George Basalla
This book presents an evolutionary theory of technological change based upon recent scholarship in the history of technology and upon relevant material drawn from economic history and anthropology. It challenges the popular notion that technology advances by the efforts of a few heroic individuals who produce a series of revolutionary inventions owing little or nothing to the technological past. Therefore, the book's argument is shaped by analogies taken selectively from the theory of organic evolution, and not from the theory and practice of political revolution. Three themes appear, and reappear with variations, throughout the study. The first is diversity: an acknowledgment of the vast numbers of different kinds of made things (artifacts) that have long been available to humanity; the second is necessity: the belief that humans are driven to invent new artifacts in order to meet basic biological requirements such as food, shelter, and defense; and the third is technological evolution: an organic analogy that explains both the emergence of novel artifacts and their subsequent selection by society for incorporation into its material life without invoking either biological necessity or technological progress. Although the book is not intended to provide a strict chronological account of the development of technology, historical examples - including many of the major achievements of Western technology: the waterwheel, the printing press, the steam engine, automobiles and trucks, and the transistor - are used extensively to support its theoretical framework. The Evolution of Techology will be of interest to all readers seeking to learn how and why technology changes, including both students and specialists in the history of technology and science.
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