Anthony Weston, Stanislaw Lamb, Yale University discussed on When We Talk About Animals
Welcome to when we talk about animals a yale university podcast devoted added to exploring the big questions animals raised about what it means to be human. I'm lindsay stern and i'm viveka morris in his paper. A new kuzma janie the polish writer stanislaw lamb asked how it can be possible that from the vast cosmos most likely filled with intelligent beings other than ourselves. We have so far are heard nothing. The problem is more commonly known as the fermi paradox given the high probability that other intelligent lifeforms exist elsewhere in the universe. Why does does it seem that none of them has ever tried to contact us. Fourteen years later lamb published a fictional response to the paradox in the novel called his master's astor's voice. Lemmy imagines radio astronomers intercept what appears to be just such a message and neutrino signal from a distant constellation. The fermi paradox fox has been solved but it is here that the problems begin governments and scientific factions scrambled to control privatize and even weaponized the signal. No one manages manages to decode it. It's not even clear by the books end that the signal represents a message at all in his blazingly original paper radio astronomy as epistemology demolished our guest philosopher anthony weston formulates a similarly irreverend response to the fermi paradox what we take to be the silence of the a universe he suggests may teach us more about ourselves and the challenges of receptivity to non human minds in general then about the prevalence of other life suppose he writes for the sake of argument that some extraterrestrial intelligence briefly scans are portion of their sky in search of messages. Could they recognize our tv transmissions for them. Just one fluctuating electromagnetic impulse among billions as a product of intelligent life. A tv signal is certainly not constructed to be easily decoded by anyone else. We cannot assume western continues that the e._d._i.'s are so unlucky as to have thought thought of television the reason the universe appears to offer no evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence or a t._i. Weston suggests may be that we are paying the wrong kind of attention in his books. He invites us to imagine the possibility that other forms of intelligence quote do manifest themselves constantly and directly in ways that we simply simply do not expect and are not prepared to welcome or even notice for evidence of this blindness he continues we need look no further than our poor track record with non human terrestrial intelligences the dolphins whales and chimps right here among us with whom we have such a poor record of communicating. If we have such trouble acknowledging them he asks when we have lived with them since time out of mind. How can we even begin to say what it will take to recognize a truly alien intelligence or life form possibly we would miss it even if we were face to face with it and even if it was going to extraordinary lengths to try to reach us dr anthony weston is professor of philosophy and environmental studies at elon university university north carolina where he teaches ethics environmental studies and of course on millennial imagination he is the author of thirteen books including how utter reimagined the world and back to earth as well as dozens of articles on ethics critical thinking education and contemporary culture at elon western has won the university's premier awards for both teaching and scholarship. He is also a founding member of heart smell eco-village north carolina an experiment in self sufficient sustainable living. We are thrilled to have him here with us today. Dr anthony western welcome to when we talk about animals. Thank you great to be talking and you guys so you teach a class on the fermi paradox and by the end every student has to offer their own solution to it as far as i understand. Can you just walk us through the paradox and why you find it took compelling so again the the classic stories firming himself was a vicious kind of a polymath and not two ways at lunch with some colleagues wednesday and they were talking about the likelihood of intelligent life elsewhere and all of a sudden <unk> where are they and that's a paradox but a little bit more in detail so if you start with the idea that you said in your introduction that it seems pretty likely that the other life and intelligent life out there considering well in tax for me. This story originates from the fifties early. The late forties when we didn't even know that were planets around any other star that was just conjecture but now we know that just about that every star has planets and there a couple of hundred billion of them just in our galaxy and their multiple hundreds of billions of galaxies so even the clear that the preconditions of life are rare. Maybe they're even very rare but if you have a hundred billion chances probably there's going to be live somewhere somewhere else. So that seems like a reasonable hypothesis is argued the then you'd think if there were life somewhere on some of it since the universe is fourteen fourteen billion years old <hes> some of it would be advanced enough to be able to travel and make contact and if they were you'd think that we would have noticed so so since we don't seem to have noticed that conclusion as we got a problem that we have to really conclude that there there isn't other intelligent life out there or that ah somehow <hes> we shouldn't expect to be able to perceive them worse. Something's wrong with our way of perceiving so something's you gotta give somewhere in that a little more detail. That's the paradox and how would you articulate your solution my own solution well. Let me start with you mentioned the class class so we do a variety of things i could teach with astronomer this class. We do a variety of things there but we one of the things we do. I read a book called whereas everybody the fermi story and book is a collection of fifty possible. Answers is he's really doing is teaching basic astronomy astrology but that's the way he's doing it so anyway we turn apple's own answers and then the students do their own answers so it's very interesting my answer though is really i think why why did you send to the kinds of things that you're interested in your podcast. Which is my answer is kind of to look at the people must usually considered the least questionable assumption behind us which is in other intelligence present or trying to contact us that we would of course notice and you look around. It seems like that's clearly not case because well really forgot trouble enough. Noticing each other's intelligence right has the time or communicating or for that matter even our own sometimes but that's just among among families but let's say other human beings history of human contact with other quite different civilizations <hes> or here's the kicker for this podcast series other animals in general abysmal in your introduction. You said something in but a poor track record but it's not even a poor track record. It's disastrous the human record of recognizing particularly officially recognizing any kind of intelligence expressively communication from other animals especially ones that are a little bit farther relief from us in evolutionary terms is just is just awful so you know for one thing one more story is to start at home sugar how to communicate with or be open to the expressive -ness of other creatures right here on this planet is all i mean i'm not saying we should stop doing the searching for aliens. We should should do that too but you know the the challenge for me september on awareness and alertness to a world that's already profoundly communicative breath. It's much bigger than just a question of some astronomers searching radio spectrum australians. This is a much bigger thing much richer and more promising and right next to us. That's really the moral stories from me. And how do you define intelligence when you're speaking both both animals or extraterrestrial terrestial life in this case of course controversial topic even among humans totally and and that's kind of the point. It seems to me that almost all the concepts that we try to. I think we're thinking about elliott with thinks it's so useful about thinking about aliens is all the concepts lose grip on them but really that story is. We don't have to start with even about each other. Let alone other creatures so intelligence while you know there was a time when intelligence was supposedly measured by certain kinds of tests <hes> or certain kinds of problem solving even that's now sort of fractured into whole variety of ways of thinking dot intelligence so that kind of standard in psychology is seven or eight kinds of intelligence emotional new miracle but even at in you know in test-taking context and kind of self proving context proof you know are you intelligent are so well okay so one example would be. I i listened recently to the number of your podcast one of them about octopus and it seems like people <hes> a really impressed by certain things that i always want to say occupy but octopus guy said so okay and professor guttering smith said <hes> so people are very impressed by the fact that octopus can escape from cages under certain conditions. It's england probably humans like through the drainpipe so they're very good at getting out of traps <hes> so that seemed to kind of impress people but <hes> i suppose that's the kind of intelligence but it might be quite marginal to the animal is actually mostly doing more about right so it proves something. I suppose. We probably shouldn't be at that impressive but we should correspondingly. We ought to be a lot more interested in what is central to the animal's life inexpressive impressiveness. We might call intelligence so we might need to learn to take seriously something other than escape capacity right it's intelligence but not many that central and even so but i think a lot of terms are like that in the language itself and communication even all these notions are profoundly anthropomorphized in in ways that we you know again thinking about aliens and correspondingly other uh-huh none other than human life forms really helps us to think of reminds us so i'm basically dodging question. I don't think intelligence thinkable notion and i don't i think the way to work on this problem or issue is to try to figure out criteria for intelligence. I think much broader kind of openness and expectation dictation of mystery or you know things that we don't anticipate <hes> what is going on with these creatures rather than do. They need some standards. We have even if they're broader water more inclusive than they used to be an. I still find that a suspicious way of proceeding. That's very interesting. I <hes> recently read a book by david abrahams who knows a philosopher and thinker. He resonates with you as well called the spell of the centrist in which he discusses among other things how language can have a distancing distancing effect on our ability to perceive other life forms for what they are and i think that that's really demonstrated by what you were just talking about the need to define intelligence in a way inhibits us from actually being able to see and appreciate it because any any definition we come up with is going to be woefully insufficient to encompass breath of life. You need to talk to david <unk>. That would be go back. Go back a long way so one of the two to in his terms for a second so one of my things is even the most basic concepts we have for thinking about animals and aliens really lose their grip so this notion communication so communication which tends to get reduced to language and language to a certain kind of familiar syntax and semantics the antics type of thing which runs through a lot of animal experimentation as you know in general abram says well you know a broader. Maybe more useful and certainly more. I guess you could say receptive or even civil category. Instead of communication might be communion so <hes> so that's an that's just something so if we think of ourselves as because communion is not necessarily sesotho conveyance of proposition information or some canal in long to that but his alert aware being together somewhere somewhere moving together.