War of the worlds!

Science literature and sci-fi publications have always been way ahead of the game in their own way

Khalid Saleem April 22, 2019
The writer is former Ambassador of Pakistan and ex-Assistant Secretary-General of OIC

Humankind has long been obsessed with the possibility of ‘extra-terrestrials’ landing on this blessed Earth one day. HG Wells with his book War of the Worlds took the lead in promoting the concept of worlds other than our own planet populated with intelligent alien beings. His influence is evident in several tomes as well as films that have dealt with the subject of alien beings landing on the planet Earth. Fiction aside, scientific researchers have long bent their efforts towards proving once for all the existence, otherwise, of life in outer space. To take just one instance, the various Mars probes are programmed, among other chores, to probe into the possibility of ‘existence of life’ on the red planet.

In a scoop, several years back, we were served with the ‘latest’ in research in this direction. According to a report published at that time in the New Scientist, “Hot and massive rocky worlds called ‘super-Earths’, even those orbiting close to their stars, may provide the right conditions for life.” Apparently, new technological advances may have led to the discovery of such new super-Earths.

Having said that, one may go on to reiterate the fact that men of science have been in quest of alien beings from outer space for as long as one can remember. For their part, extra-terrestrial beings (ETs, for short) may well be trying from their end to discover us Earthlings. The race has been on for quite a while now. What remains to be decided is: who (or what) is ahead of the game!

Science literature and sci-fi publications have always been way ahead of the game in their own way. There was a time when such literature – and that includes comic strips – was not taken at all seriously. They were perused and, no doubt, enjoyed by a certain cross-section of the reading public and then conveniently consigned to either the bookshelf or the dustbin, depending on their resale value. But, they were hardly ever taken seriously. However, things lately no longer remain the same. What was considered far-fetched and fanciful in days of yore is apparently no longer so. The imagery of such writers as Jules Verne and HG Wells is no longer the object of ridicule or derision. Their writings are now being seen in a new light and with a certain measure of awe. This change has come about because some of their ‘predictions’ may be coming true!

To get back to the subject of extra-terrestrial beings that one was dwelling on before getting derailed onto extraneous matters, the welcome tidings some years back – courtesy of Reuters – are that scientists searching the stars for aliens “are convinced an ET is out there”. It is just that they (the scientists that is) have lacked the knowhow thus far to detect such a being. Latest technological advances, it would appear, have opened up the way for scientists to check millions of previously unknown star systems, “dramatically increasing the chances of finding intelligent life in outer space in the next quarter century”.

For the aforesaid note of optimism, the world is indebted to California’s “Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI)”, which has been aptly described as the world’s largest private Extra-Terrestrial Agency. The senior astronomer of SETI, a Mr Shostak, put it rather graphically: “We are looking for needles in the haystack that is our galaxy, but there could be thousands of needles out there.” He added, meaningfully, that he was convinced “there is intelligent life out there”.

The perspicacious reader would agree that it would be a staggering advance to establish contact with extra-terrestrial beings, even if they may well have (again, according to the SETI astronomer afore-mentioned) gone light years beyond the intelligence of man? If one accepts this scenario, the ETs may well have come to the conclusion that risking contamination of their advanced system by the mundane stuff found on the Earth is hardly worth their while! Gives one food for thought, does it not?

Published in The Express Tribune, April 22nd, 2019.

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