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Are we alone? Humans have a lot of questions about alien life. But those beings, if they exist, likely have some questions of their own about humans, queries we may want to answer before we find any life beyond Earth.
That's because the answers we reach will shape how we respond to any such discovery in ways that have profound implications for us and that hypothetical life beyond Earth alike, according to Kathryn Denning, an anthropologist at York University in Canada who focuses on space exploration and extraterrestrial life. Some of those questions, the more anthropocentric ones, are already in the air, underlying conversations about the search for life.
Questions - Shift - Mindset - Field - Denning
But other questions would benefit from a shift in mindset that is uncommon in the field, Denning told Space.com. "We're still thinking [about a detection of extraterrestrial life] in terms of an intellectual problem about us and our place in the universe," she said. "[We] haven't thought through the consequences for that other life."
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Struggle - Tendency - Question - Denning - History
One key struggle may be the tendency to emphasize the question "Are we alone?" which Denning said speaks more to the recent history of science than to humanity in general. "A lot of people have already made that leap. They've already assumed that life is prevalent," she said.
It was only when science-minded people could get a very good look at neighbors like the moon and Mars that those assumptions began to change. "Thanks to astronomy, the universe kind of emptied out briefly in the mid-20th century," Denning said. "Up until that point, most people assumed it was full." And deciding for ourselves whether we are alone can't necessarily shape our response to a discovery beyond the degree of surprise with which we meet it.
Extending our interrogative and contemplative energy beyond...
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