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Cosmic conversation

Cosmic conversation
Credit: NASA Ames SETI Institute JPLCaltech
Cosmic conversation
Cosmic conversation

The Exo show at the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium will finish up the year by asking that age-old question: Is anybody out there? This eternal interrogation has taken on a new dimension with the recent discoveries of so many exoplanets. The possibility of extraterrestrial life sparks all kinds of debates, both scientific and philosophical. Biology teacher Camille Lefebvre and philosophy lecturer François Dion share their thoughts on this topic. 

Camille Lefebvre

Is there life elsewhere in the Universe?

It’s a fascinating question! Would extraterrestrials look like us, as a life form based on carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen, and dependent on liquid water? Or would they be based on some kind of surprising alternative biochemistry, using arsenic, silicon, bathed in liquid methane?

What shape might these alien creatures take? They would probably be unicellular, like the bacteria that ruled the Earth for billions of years. After all, plants and animals emerged only recently. 

It is possible that complex and even intelligent life could have evolved somewhere else. If tomorrow we made the amazing discovery that there actually is life out there, just imagine the huge scientific opportunities. We might even be able to find the answer to another fascinating question: Where do we come from? In other words, to complete our knowledge about the origins and evolution of life itself.

Would meeting our cosmic cousins help us better define ourselves as Earthlings, and to find a better balance with the other life forms on our marvellous planet?

François Dion, philosopher

The discovery of extraterrestrial life, especially an intelligent life form, would turn humanity upside down in unimaginable ways. Scientific discoveries sometimes completely transform our view of ourselves and our place in the Universe. Just think of Copernicus, who dislodged the Earth and humanity from their place at the centre of the Universe, or Darwin, who questioned our vision of humans as more important than other animals.

Imagine how we would react if we found that life, even some form of intelligent life, existed on dozens, hundreds, even billions of other planets. Needless to say, just as in Copernicus’ and Darwin’s day, people would be disturbed by this new knowledge. But above all, it would be an exceptional opportunity to better understand ourselves: how we are related to the many forms of life in the Universe, what makes life on Earth unique in comparison with these other life forms, and ultimately what makes humanity unique in the Universe.

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