Sunday, May 2, 2010

IMHO: If you seek other intelligent life, look around you

The title of this post is a play on words of the state of Michigan's motto, "If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you."

If you didn't know Michigan had a motto, well, now you do.

I think the phrase "look about you" is very important because so often when we seek answers to life's questions or problems we face, they are right there in front of us, but for whatever reason -- perhaps our own pride or ignorance -- we can't see them.

When we feel dissatisfaction with our lives, we need to remind ourselves to look around us and appreciate what we have right here in our own backyards.

Such is the case with the search for intelligent life in outer space. NASA and others have been beaming messages into deep space hoping for a response.

This week, physicist Stephen Hawking cautioned against alien contact. He said humankind might not be ready.

Hawking speculates that advanced life forms would likely be "nomads, looking to conquer and colonize.

This sounds a lot like my favorite summer movie, "Independence Day," starring Will Smith and one of my favorite actors, Bill Pullman, as the president of the United States.

Truly, I have always believed that there is other intelligent life right here on our planet. But perhaps humankind, despite all the technological accomplishments, is still not advanced enough to see it and reach out to it.

An article in USA Today tells how chimpanzees have been observed practicing grief rituals similar to those of humans. These moving moments were caught on tape for the first time at Blair Drumond Safari Park in Scotland.

Researcher James Anderson told the Los Angeles Times, "I'm not saying chimpanzees have a human understanding of death ... but we were immediately struck during the video by the phenomena we observed ... we know chimpanzees are capable of a wide range of emotions very much akin to human emotions."

I was blown away earlier this year by an interview with acoustic biologist Katy Payne. On NPR's "Speaking of Faith" program, Payne said, "My church is outdoors mostly. What's sacred to me is this planet we live on. It’s been here for more than 4 billion years. Life has been on it only for 3 billion years. Life as we know it, you know, for a very short time. It’s the only planet where life has been found. And that, to me, I think, is ultimately, you know, what I consider it sacred."

Payne's book, "Silent Thunder: In the presence of elephants," details the discovery of infrasonic communication between elephants, her experiences with elephants, and the implications of culling on these magnificent, ancient creatures.

She has also studied the complexities of hump back whale communications.

If humankind could get past its constant need to prove its superiority, and dominate species that it views as inferior, new channels of communication would open to impart knowledge of our long-distant past and a view of ourselves through a different lens. Better yet, there's a chance for a future filled with greater advances than we can imagine if we take the time to look and listen.

Am I dreaming? Maybe.

But, why search the cold depths of space for intelligent life -- it's right here with us.

Just look about you.

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