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The universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose."
British biologist J.B.S. Haldane

It's always good fun when scientists argue about aliens, most of all because they don't have any proof aliens exist. They just like to hypothesize that they might. It provides a rare opportunity to watch great rational thinkers and empiricists become poets and dreamers, imagining other creatures, other life forms, and other worlds, and indulging in what almost appear to be flights of fancy.

And we have had plenty of opportunity in recent years, because more and more scientists have begun arguing that intelligent life must exist beyond Earth, despite the fact that there is no evidence of it. The science has not changed; scientists have. In fact, all of us now are more likely to believe in life beyond Earth than our grandparents were. These scientists are part of the E.T. Generation, those who as kids watched the cuddly alien (based on an imaginary friend Steven Spielberg conjured when his parents divorced), cried when he went home, and started to believe extraterrestrials might be out there. E.T. made aliens appealing, and not frightening, to children across the world.

When theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking warned this week in a Discovery Channel documentary that aliens might be unfriendly invaders not at all like our candy-munching friend from the '80s, he was not doing so because there was fresh evidence of faraway overlords. He was simply speculating. According to Hawking, if aliens finally were to respond to our radio signals, it might be like waving to pirates equipped with weaponry we have not even dreamed of and welcoming them aboard our little ship. "The outcome," he said in the film, "would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn't turn out very well for the Native Americans."

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Category: Science