Choose Something Like a Star

darkforestIn front pages and news feeds cluttered with instantaneous tweet-sized proclamations and reactions, the announcement earlier this week that astronomers discovered seven Earth-sized planets that might be able to sustain life was difficult to categorize and easy to dismiss. But what if life was indeed found in one of these planets?  How would our public discourse change?

It is likely that a part of the world population would treat this news as another scientific “hoax” unworthy of further consideration, but it is hard to imagine that society as a whole, as well as national and international institutions, would be unaffected. Would there be popular movements advocating for escapist space explorations (perhaps facetiously) or even for an alien takeover with religious undertones? Would politicians be able to continue running on nationalist platforms centered on curbing immigration? Would the international community come together to face the threats, challenges and opportunities posed by unknown life forms (as in “The dark forest“)? Or would instead nations compete for scientific, or possibly colonial, dominance in a repeat of the European experience at the onset of the modern age?

(The title of this post is that of Robert Frost’s poem invoked by Dan Rather as a commentary to the news discussed here. The poem includes the following: “It asks of us a certain height,/ So when at times the mob is swayed/ To carry praise or blame too far,/ We may choose something like a star/ To stay our minds on and be staid.“)

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