A new Space.com article asks the question “SETI: Is It Worth It?” It should be pointed out – as a look at the article’s byline will show – that the author of the piece is SETI’s Seth Shostak…so the article isn’t going to be an unbiased debate on the topic. Nonetheless, Shostak raises some good historical analogies (though he obviously picks the successful longshots in history, rather than the failures), and puts his finger on the ultimate reason why SETI captures our imaginations:
SETI speaks to a quintessential human need even without that carrot – the quest to know. More to the point: to know how we fit in. What is our part in the enormous cultural tapestry that we suspect threads the star fields of the Galaxy?
Are we truly biologically or intellectually special? One radio whistle from the cosmos would answer that question. Even if a discovery deflates our egos, it’s still something that would be incredibly interesting to know. Ignorance is not bliss – it’s only ignorance. When Copernicus argued that our view of an Earth-centered universe was parochial and wrong, he cracked a door in a stuffy house. SETI could blow out every window in the place.
Although the same reasoning could be employed for justifying ufology, and Seth Shostak seems to find plenty of time for ridiculing that endeavour…