At Home With the Aliens

David Grinspoon. Lonely Planets: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life. Harper Collins, 2003.
Space scientist David Grinspoon is the son of Lester Grinspoon, the psychiatrist who suggested UFO reports were caused by hallucinations of the mother’s breast, and counted Carl Sagan and John Mack among his honorary uncles. So space exploration, extraterrestrial life and even UFOs have been part of his life since childhood

This book traces the history of belief in ET life and current scientific attitudes, and includes an unusually sympathetic look at ufology, even if in the end Grinspoon doesn’t buy the product. Like rather more scientists than ufologists imagine, it’s the ufologists themselves rather than the data which turns him off. He even discusses his own teenage abduction dreams, which might have something to do with the science fiction milieu he was raised him, or his parents and Carl Sagan and James Macdonald playing the tapes of the Hill regression in his house! Grinspoon senior came to the conclusion that the Hill’s were suffering from some kind of folie a deux, with Betty being definitely the dominant partner.

In the final chapters Grinspoon rather lets his romanticism get away with him, and jumps definitely onto the notorious ‘panglossian escalator’, in which evolution is seen as some kind of progress to a predetermined goal. The result is vague notions of immortal machines spreading consciousness and love throughout the galaxy. The problem with this is that love and hate, joy and sorrow, hope and despair and a lot more besides are absolutely grounded in the wet chemistry of the whole human body and are not ethereal things which can be downloaded into computers.

He also would like to ask any aliens he would meet or talk to over the radio telescope how they survived their difficult times. Even assuming that millennia of space travel bring about more wisdom than millennia of sea travel, the answer is unlikely to be even remotely comprehensible let alone applicable, to us.  -- Peter Rogerson

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