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April 29, 2022

The First Step to Helping Science and Human Progress with Dr. Avi Loeb

The First Step to Helping Science and Human Progress with Dr. Avi Loeb

The First Step to Helping Science and Human Progress with Dr. Avi Loeb

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BY: TARTLE

We are used to thinking that the universe revolves around us. That nothing superior to humanity could ever exist. But realistically, our time is only a small fraction in the billions and trillions of years that the universe has been in existence.

In this episode, Dr Avi Loeb returns to the podcast for a deeper dive into what the universe has to offer—and how human ego is preventing our capacity for human progress.

You Are Not That Special

Once upon a time, the biblical story of Abraham and Lot was written. The lives of these two coincided with the arrival of a meteor that obliterated the entire region. 

Religious narrative explains that this was a manifestation of God’s wrath. The city of Sodom was destroyed because of the sinfulness of its inhabitants. But the alternative is that it could have just been about a meteor that happened to hit that city.

Dr Avi Loeb’s point is that the narrative does not necessarily put humans at the center of a big event. This rock was heading for a collision course with Earth long before Sodom was constructed and inhabited by people who sinned.

For people to deserve punishment, we must assume that free will is a possibility. But how does this align with the reality that the meteor was already on its way to Earth millions of years before these people were even conceived? 

These are interesting contradictions to think about. They are borne out of humanity’s desire to assign meaning and purpose to these events, with us at the center of everything.

A Small Blip on an Infinite Timeline

Consider this: our recorded history only covers the past 10,000 years.

The amount of time it took for humans to create, develop, and launch rockets to the nearest star spans 50,000 years.

And stars were formed billions of years before the sun.

What does this tell you? It means that humanity is grappling with vast distances and incredibly long time scales. If there are other alien civilizations out there, it’s presumptuous to assume that they are the same as us.

What’s likelier is that they may not be synchronized with our progress, not just temporally but in terms of tech advancement as well. It wouldn’t be wise to assume that our existence has a massive impact on the entire timeline of the universe.

Is Superiority the Root of All Evil?

Human history has shown that groups of people are consistently trying to become superior over others. You only need to look at the results of the Second World War and the Nazi regime to see how destructive it can be to feel superior. 

So what would help unite us and prioritize our equality?

Dr Avi Loeb believes we need to accept that we are not the smartest kid on the block. If there are alien civilizations, it’s more than possible that they have progressed faster and further than we have. 

All our genetic differences are insignificant and meaningless. The Nazi doctrine, and other radical ideologies that seek to discriminate, will lose meaning.

“We will perhaps have more respect towards each other and regard all of us as equal members of the human species because there is a smarter kid on the block. How can you brag if there is someone much better than you are?” Dr Avi Loeb points out.

Closing Thoughts

What good is our technology if we only use it to advance a particular niche that does not help the totality of human understanding? Take a closer look at what’s being developed and you’ll notice that the benefits of these innovations are not always aligned with humanity. We need to stop advancing technology just for the sake of making bigger and better-looking technologies.

To guarantee our preservation, we need to humble ourselves and bring our focus back to humanity. We won’t progress if we don’t unite. We won’t know more if we’re too afraid to disprove the theories we hold so close and dear to ourselves. And we won’t know how to empower ourselves if we think that we already have the answers, by some misplaced idea that we are at the center of the universe.

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For those who are hard of hearing – the episode transcript can be read below:

TRANSCRIPT

Alexander McCaig (00:08):

Avi, thank you for coming back and joining me again. It's an absolute pleasure.

Dr Avi Loeb (00:13):

Thanks for having me.

Alexander McCaig (00:17):

I thought a lot about our episode when we spoke last and one of the distinct aspects of this is that when you spoke about going out and looking for civilizations, ones that happen to exist, but are no longer there, looking for their relics, looking for their artifacts, maybe it might be on Mars or some other distant planet, or maybe even a meteor, what I was considering was the fact was why did they disappear? Why are the relics there? Then I figured, well, how is it that we guarantee our own preservation so that if someone does come looking for us, vice versa, that they don't just find the relics? They actually find people still living and breathing, living, interacting, going about our lives. I've been thinking about that. That's something I was just like, how do I consider it? I felt like Rodan, the person you have in the background, the statue of. You know?

Dr Avi Loeb (01:10):

Yes. Well, we should keep in mind that our recorded history was only of 10,000 years, and that's a very short time. It takes 50,000 years for us to travel to the nearest star with chemical rockets. We should have launched that rocket back when the first humans left Africa in order for it to arrive right now. So, the distances are vast, the times scales are long. When Enrico Fermi said, "Where is everybody?" that was quite presumptuous because the assumption was that if we wait for someone to knock on our door and we don't hear a knock, and if we don't see anyone partying in our backyard, that means that we have no neighbors. But that's the wrong assumption because you just have to wait. Maybe in a million years, someone will knock on your door. Maybe in a billion years, someone will come and visit you. The last time they checked the Earth, there might have been microbes around or dinosaurs, but nobody really cared about their visits.

Dr Avi Loeb (02:13):

So, the point to keep in mind is the timescales and the length scales involved and the fact that most stars formed billions of years before the sun. So, their existence was not synchronized with ours, not just in terms of when we started our intelligence, so to speak, a million years ago, but also in terms of our exact technological phase right now. We develop radio transmitters. We are listening in some electromagnetic bands. Now, we just constructed the gravitational wave detector and so forth. But they may have done that a million years ago, a billion years ago, and by now, they're doing something else. So, if at all, maybe they perished. So, the whole point is the play is not about us. We are born into this world as actors put on a stage and we have no script and we tend to think that the play is about us.

Dr Avi Loeb (03:13):

We did it many times before. We thought that we're at the center of the universe, turns out no we're not, even though the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, asserted that and people believed him for a thousand years because it flattered their ego. Also, if you look at the Mayans, I visited Chichen Itza in Mexico and I learned during the visit that, in fact, the Mayans had the astronomers at the highest societal level, they were called astronomers priests. I wish we had the same status in the American society. We don't have that as astronomers. But why did they have such a high status? Because their data was important for political decisions because back then, they believed in astrology and they believed that the locations of the planets affect human actions. So, you can forecast the outcome of a war based on the location of Venus, the sun, and other things.

Dr Avi Loeb (04:16):

That gave a higher status in the society to the astronomers that could measure those locations. Again, the thought was it's all about us. But guess what? It's not about us. In fact, there was just a few days ago, there was a new article published in Nature Magazine arguing that perhaps the city of Sodom in Sodom and Gomorrah in the Bible, the biblical story, was destroyed by a meteor. So, a group of archeologists went there and realized that there is pottery that was melted with temperatures above 1,400 degrees kelvin and all kinds of other side effects from a fireball, an air bass that usually results from a meteor similar to the Tunguska meteor that [inaudible 00:05:17]. Yeah, in Russia and Siberia that flattened the whole forest without creating a creator. So, the idea is that there is this Tall el-Hammam in between the Dead Sea and the Jordan River, going to the Sea of Galilee.

Dr Avi Loeb (05:40):

About 2,600 years BC, there was a meteor that impacted that region and it was roughly the time that Abraham and Lot in the biblical story existed. So, the idea is that people back then said, "Oh, it's all triggered by the sins of the people in that city." But in fact, this event may have been just a meteor that happened to strike the location of that city, Sodom. The point is, again, it's not about us, because this rock was heading for a collision course with Earth long before this city was constructed, long before people contemplated conducting these sins, for which they were "punished". So, if you believe in free will, otherwise there is no point in punishing people if they don't have free will. So, if you believe in free will because you people do bad things and they need to be punished, these actions of the people were decided upon long after this piece of rock was heading towards Earth to collide with it.

Dr Avi Loeb (07:06):

Again, it's this view that it's all about us. Nowadays, the view is, okay, we are not at the center of the universe. We know that by observing the universe. Moreover, we know that the play has started 13.8 billion years ago since the Big Bang. So, the play is not about us really. But perhaps we are still the most intelligent species out there. Again, this sign of arrogance saying, "Okay, we don't have extraordinary evidence to the contrary. Let's just assume that we are special and unique." Once again, once again. The same was said about Earth being rare. We now know from the Kepler satellite data that the Earth is not rare. At least half of the satellite stars have a planet the size of the Earth, roughly or the same separation. So, at least in terms of arranging this planetary configuration of an Earth-sun system, that's not unusual.

Dr Avi Loeb (08:01):

Once again, nature tells us over and over again, "You are not special. You are not the main actor in this play," but we keep going back to it and now the only thing left is to argue, okay, maybe everything around us is not special, but we are special in the sense that we are the only intelligent species out there, and please give me extraordinary evidence to the contrary before I would even engage in a discussion that there might be another technological civilization out there, and anyone discussing that is being ridiculed. So, I ask you, how many times can we make that mistake? Obviously, we're heading towards another Copernican revolution where we would realize that there is a smarter kid on the block. It will happen.

Dr Avi Loeb (08:46):

There is no doubt about it. It happened so many times before that we thought we are at the center of the plane. So, my point is, let's be modest. Let's start from the assumption that there is nothing special about us and let's figure out if there are other actors out there. Maybe they have been around for longer than we do and maybe they know what the purpose or the sense of this, what is a better perspective about this play that we are engaged in. I think that's the nature of science to look for evidence rather than have a prejudice, but we keep coming back to our ego. I think that's really the source of all evil. Yeah.

Alexander McCaig (09:34):

So, do you think that when reviewing Chichen Itza, or even the biblical times of Sodom, that when we look at our preservation of civilizations, because we are not the greatest cosmic actor in terms of things that are happening and some things are outside of our own power, do we need to look at not eradicating our ego, but essentially keeping it in check so that it allows for the evolution of our technology, for the state of who we are or understanding of others, and even the preservation of our civilizations, not only on this planet, but hopefully in the future when we choose to leave this planet?

Dr Avi Loeb (10:13):

Definite.

Alexander McCaig (10:14):

Do you think that that is probably a large scientific wall for us that we have to get past is our own egos in terms of that understanding? Because if we can't understand ourselves and keep our own egos in check, well, then how am I supposed to understand you, Avi, or anyone else, or for instance, maybe an extraterrestrial visitor that may show up, right? I limit myself to that data because I'm blinding my perspective.

Dr Avi Loeb (10:38):

That's an excellent point. If you look at human history, what you find over and over again are groups of people trying to feel superior relative to other people. Again, the root of all evil. The reason, for example, the Second World War, there were 75 million people killed as a result of the Nazi regime feeling superior relative to other people. That was 3% of the world population in 1940. It's 20 times more than the number of deaths triggered so far by the COVID-19 pandemic that we keep talking about for a year and a half. So, just imagine a group of people deciding to feel superior triggering more deaths than COVID-19 by a factor of 20. My point is if we instead become modest, for example, if we all stare with awe at a piece of technology that is far more advanced than we ever produced, if we find that there is a smarter kid on the block, it will make all of our genetic differences insignificant, meaningless, and the foundation for a doctrine like the Nazi doctrine will lose meaning.

Dr Avi Loeb (12:04):

We will perhaps have more respect towards each other and regard all of us as equal members of the human species because there is a smarter kid on the block. So, how can you brag if there is someone much better than you are? That's similar to what my daughters went through when they were young. They were at home and they thought very high of themselves. But once we took them to the kindergarten, they met other kids and I very much see a parallel there that our civilization has to mature by meeting others.

Alexander McCaig (12:40):

So, do you feel that when we have technologies like Kepler, like Hubble, or deep radio telescope technology, that as we look out as an extent of our senses and actually see things that may be like, wait a minute, something is going on here, maybe there is something beyond our understanding, that that should actually keep us in check so that through that extension, through that realization, that data that's received by looking out into the cosmos, when we internally reflect on it, it allows us to help preserve ourselves and everyone else through that understanding? It allows us to put ourselves in check. Is that how I would understand that?

Dr Avi Loeb (13:24):

Yeah, but that's as long as we allow ourself to discover new things. You see, astronomy so far had been about physical objects that are lifeless. That has been astronomy. So, we discovered stars, we discovered black holes, the cosmic microwave background from the Big Bang. So, radiation and matter. We even discovered dark matter. We don't know what it's made of, but we think it's some other type of matter. So, all of these are bad things, things that do not have life in them, and the claim is we need extraordinary evidence before we will engage in a discussion about extraterrestrial life. That's the conventional wisdom. And I say, well, we see ourself here on Earth. We see that there are tens of billions of Earthlike planets out there in the Milky Way Galaxy alone and circumstances are similar. So, why wouldn't we expect to get similar outcomes?

Dr Avi Loeb (14:31):

That's common sense to me. That's much less of a stretch or an extrapolation than talking about extra dimensions, which are [crosstalk 00:14:41] the mainstream in physics, talking about the super string multiverse and the landscape that has no evidence in its support. It's just a sandbox for intellectual gymnastics that demonstrates that you're smart. So, I find that really remarkable that in the current intellectual landscape of academia that the concepts that are extremely speculative, that have no foundation in reality are being celebrated as part of the mainstream and people give each other awards just because they decided that this is a subject they should talk about, just like deciding about how many angels can sit on the tip of a pin in 10 dimensions. You can decide that and then argue about the mathematics that will describe it in the best way.

Dr Avi Loeb (15:29):

We can all be happy talking about it, just like there are religious cults that talk about things that they believe in. You can build a big enough community that will believe in something, but you won't expect it in academia, at least in the science. You expect the guillotine to be the experimental evidence and if there is no experimental evidence, that should be pushed to the sidelines of the mainstream. Instead, this is celebrated, whereas when we talk about things like us that may exist on other planets that have conditions, at least on the surface, similar to Earth [crosstalk 00:16:06].

Alexander McCaig (16:05):

Sounds like that's unreasonable. Yeah.

Dr Avi Loeb (16:08):

[crosstalk 00:16:08] Yeah. The other thing is think about Perseverance, the Rover on Mars right now. It's searching for possible evidence that perhaps there were microbes on Mars, and of course, we can still feel superior relative to microbes. Okay. We will discover microbes. We give the Nobel Prize to whoever finds the direct evidence for it. But we will still be happy because microbes are inferior to us. They're not intelligent. But just imagine a situation where the Perseverance Rover bumps against the wreckage of a spaceship far more advance than we ever produced. That will be a blow to our ego and a lot of people will get upset and will argue, oh, we need extraordinary evidence. We are not sure about it. My point is, that's not the way science should be done.

Dr Avi Loeb (17:00):

Just like we search for dark matter, we've been searching for four decades. We invested hundreds of millions of dollars looking for specific types of particles. Haven't found them. Nobody says, "Oh, that's a big failure of science." Okay. Let's search for technological equipment by other civilizations in space. For four decades, let's invest hundreds of millions of dollars and in 40 years, we will be in the same place where the search for dark matter is right now. So, I'm saying dark matter search is part of the mainstream. The search for the logical equipment from other civilizations is not. In 40 years, if you invest hundreds of millions of dollars, we will be at the same place as the dark matter search is right now. The point is, how can that be ridiculed? How can people argue that you need extraordinary evidence before even engaging in the search or investing funds in the search?

Dr Avi Loeb (17:55):

There was no scientific project to search for equipment from other civilizations. The first one is the Galileo Project that I established in July, just a couple of months ago, based on a few multibillionaires that came to the porch of my home and offered me in total $2 million in research funds because they were intrigued by my book, Extraterrestrial. So, this is really the first project, and I recruited about 70 scientists that are very enthusiastic about it, exceptional, mostly astronomers, and we are now selecting the instruments and we'll build those observational facilities that would search for equipment from other civilizations. But it's really the very first time that the search of this type is pursued.

Dr Avi Loeb (18:48):

I ask you, how is that possible? It makes no sense. This should have been part of the mainstream as early as the search for dark matter was part, or even before that. Instead, right now, it's being ridiculed. Basically, when I wrote my book, I said I'll bring money to science that was previously not allocated to science and I will attract people to signs that were not previously interested because this is an exciting subject, and I rest my case, the Galileo Project brought new funds that were not allocated to dark matter search or any other scientific project, and I got thousands of emails from people that were excited and willing to contribute from their expertise.

Alexander McCaig (19:31):

Yeah. I find this interesting. So, when I look at science and when individuals are doing super string theory and using mathematics of some sort of experimental nature to describe something completely hypothetical that can't be seen, it's like we've gone so far out on a limb that we have essentially lost ourselves to what we should be looking for, and that's the real obvious. When I understand this and the way you speak of it is like why don't we just use our research to look for things that we would've done? If we look at our own path of evolution, maybe that path of evolution is also shared by others. Regardless of where they are in that path, it should be out there. Probability states that. But there's nothing that is probable about supersymmetry. That's someone coming up with an idea to help explain mathematics that are otherwise unfinished.

Alexander McCaig (20:24):

So, when I think we come back to the natural aspects of it and look to the evolution and really begin to realize that when we look at the solar system or the universe as we understand it, it does not tout a hierarchy. But that sort of resource, those ideas have a hierarchy, which create what you are trying to follow and trying to champion, and they try and make that a nonstarter. They try and pull the attention away from what I would see is inherently obvious.

Alexander McCaig (20:49):

Your task is one that I see as looking for that data that allows for a preservation of our society because it does check our egos. It does remove that idea of hierarchy. It does show us that there is more beyond what we are doing. We are just in this course of cosmic evolution over here on the edge of our galaxy itself. We're not even in the direct center of it. So, why would you call yourself the center of the universe? You're not even the center of your own galaxy? So, when I think about those illogics, it's like why is it that there's such a continued focus on these things that really don't bring understanding to human beings on our own evolution?

Dr Avi Loeb (21:27):

Exactly. No. You are stating it precisely the way I see it. Basically, the way I see it is that I use common sense. A couple of days ago, I received an invitation to participate in a forum, a discussion forum, and they put the titles before my name. I said, "Look, I'm not about titles. I don't care about my titles. As far as I'm concerned, you just put my name and say a farm boy because I was born on a farm." What I'm trying to use is common sense. You see, I was not groomed into academia the way many of my colleagues were, in which they feel very privileged to be on a pedestal and not necessarily engage in what the public cares about. That's not what motivates me.

Dr Avi Loeb (22:15):

I'm trying to understand the world. As a kid, that was my main motivation. So, it's really foreign to me, this self-centered approach where you're trying to just demonstrate that you are smart and doing intellectual gymnastics for the benefit of getting honors and awards, which is pretty much the way that academia is constructed these days. I find it, okay, well, you might say it's part of reality. That's the way people behave. But the problem with this subject that we are discussing is that the question here is of great importance for the future of humanity and the scientific community is just on the wrong side. So, it's not a small shift from where it's supposed to be. It's 180 degrees, the opposite place of where it's supposed to be.

Dr Avi Loeb (23:05):

That's why I feel so strongly about it and that's why when I express myself, I get so much pushback from people and there's so much hate on social media sometimes just because I'm advocating for something that takes people out of their comfort zone and they're afraid to discuss it and they don't want to deal with it. I just don't understand that because to me, it sounds like if you go back a thousand years, there were people arguing that the human body has a soul and therefore, anatomy should be forbidden. Imagine if the science community would say this is a controversial subject or there is nonsense being said about it. Just like people say about unidentified flying objects, there is a lot of nonsense in the science fiction literature and so forth. We don't want to engage in that. Imagine where modern medicine would be if we didn't operate humans just because there was this nonsense being said about it a thousand years.

Dr Avi Loeb (24:04):

So, to me, it makes much more sense for science, for scientists to engage in topics that are of interest to the public because they're of existential relevance to people. For example, COVID-19. If we find a vaccine that helps society, that's important. It's a service to the rest of humanity. The same is true about the question, are we alone? Are we the smartest kid on the block? That's a question that everyone is interested in. So, how can scientists shy away from it rather than basically tell the public, "Okay, you care about it. We are here putting some effort in that direction rather than demonstrating that we are smart"? That's not the correct objective.

Alexander McCaig (24:48):

You're onto something and it's not just within the academic communities. We see this with anyone that's essentially developing technology. We have, frankly, pretty good technology, but all we do is advance the technology, but we're not advancing ourselves. Right? It's like if I think about supersymmetry as an advancement of mathematics in some sort of sense, all we've done is advance some sort of very small niche area that doesn't help the totality of human understanding, but just a small bit. It's all well and good that we've advanced our rockets, but it doesn't help us advance who we are in our own evolution. You see it in marketing. You see it with product manufacturing, automobiles. You're advancing the technology, but people aren't becoming better drivers. Right? People aren't understanding the root of the issues. When I look at that, it's like our focus is so much on these other things that really aren't helping to our preservation, understanding, or advancement of ourselves.

Dr Avi Loeb (25:49):

Right. No, no. So, the point is there are some important existential issues that affect human life and we should focus on those first, what matters to people. The way I see it, it's just like driving in the highway and the various exits that you can take. Now, it's true that a hundred years ago, scientists took some exits and we can drill down the side roads and all the way. We might get to a dead end or we might continue along those niches. Of course, that was celebrated for a century and these are the kinds of things that people have done since the quantum mechanics was developed, since Einstein's theory of generativity was developed. So, we can continue the same path of following those exits that were taken already. But instead, if we step back, we can ask, okay, which are the exits from the highway that really would affect our future, and perhaps we have not taken them yet.

Dr Avi Loeb (26:49):

That's the strategic thinking. You have to have a broad view of human existence to decide what are the questions that really matter? But instead, scientists are pretty much guided by what will gain respect within the existing intellectual landscape of science? So, if you are a young physicist entering theoretical physics and you see a lot of senior faculty arguing, yeah, in 10 dimensions, you can unify quantum mechanics and gravity, and then they measure each other by how well you can do the mathematics. So, then you follow that path and you just do the mathematics, but you don't think strategically. Otherwise, you won't get a job. You have to drill in the same direction that others have carved already. My point is, it's really the blame of the senior people that have tenure in academia.

Dr Avi Loeb (27:42):

What tenure means is that you have job security. So, you can think broadly rather than focusing on how to get honors and awards by promoting your own image. That's not the issue. The issue is what are we supposed to work on? You see, that's the bigger issue. I got to an age where I don't care much about what other people say. I don't care how many likes I have on Twitter. So, I basically gave up on those motivations that most people have. I don't care if I will not get any prize in my lifetime anymore. That's not the issue. I can celebrate prizes, but then I will end up eventually dead without contributing anything to the rest of humanity. On the other hand, if I focus on a question that matters for the future, that's a bigger reward, as far as I'm concerned. It's not about me personally. It's about the future of humanity. See? So, that's, that's what guides me right now. That's what makes me different. That's what brings me into friction with my colleagues.

Alexander McCaig (28:46):

So, let's consider this and let's think about this logically here, Avi. For instance, Chichen Itza. If I was on the outside looking at Earth and I would say where did that community go? Why did they disappear? Okay? Super string theory did not help them. Trying to predict when a war was going to occur did not predict their preservation. They're no longer there. The only thing that stands is the stone they stacked into their temples and pyramids within that relative area. But when I look at us and our own preservation, there's nothing if I was to view us from the outside to say what are we doing in our own understanding to find that preservation?

Dr Avi Loeb (29:30):

Exactly.

Alexander McCaig (29:30):

Where do we go? Why are we not looking at the things closest to us? Right> Where were their mistakes? Why is it that the atmosphere of Mars failed? Was it through some sort of intervention of other individuals that were smarter kids on the block and screwed up? What is it that we should be looking at?

Dr Avi Loeb (29:48):

Yeah. That's an excellent point because what really shapes our future is reality. We live in a reality. Now, for example, the reality that we live in is that the Earth moves around the sun. Now, when Galileo tried to suggest that at the time, people thought, no, the Earth is at the center. Everything moves around it. So, the philosophers refused to look through his telescope, put him in house arrest, but that only maintained their ignorance. Today, we design space missions based on the idea that the Earth moves around the sun. We know that for a fact. So, reality continues to be stubborn. It doesn't care what philosophers do. Today, they would've canceled Galileo on social media, but who care? So, my point is for the goal of preservation, the one that you defined, it's really important to side with reality, and it's not a popularity contest.

Dr Avi Loeb (30:44):

I don't care how many likes an idea gets on Twitter. What really matters is how much evidence there is to support it and how can we get more evidence to support it? That's really the guiding principle. If there is evidence that looks anomalous, we should get even more evidence to check what it means. So, in the case of 'Oumuamua, that's my suggestion. Let's monitor. Let's get a high resolution image of a future object that doesn't look like a comet or an asteroid, rather than denying that it's different from what you have seen before. By the way, those that deny it do not pay attention to the fact that whoever tried to explain it explained it as something that we've never seen before, like a hydrogen iceberg and nitrogen iceberg. How can you have those explanations as the prevailing explanations for natural origin of something that we have never seen before if it is something that we should have seen before, like many people claim, or it's natural?

Dr Avi Loeb (31:41):

The point is if it's nothing we have seen before, we should get more data because something is wrong with the way we think about the problem. That's all I'm saying. It's just like a caveman finding a cell phone and saying the cell phone is a rock of a type that I've never seen before. But of course, it's the beginning of a learning experience and he could press a button and record his voice, press another button, record his image. Then it'll be clear that it's not a cell phone. So, my point is we should learn by getting more ... Evidence is the key, not how many likes or dislikes are expressed towards an idea or a person, and that's the way by which we can preserve ourself.

Dr Avi Loeb (32:22):

Consider the sous is them as a mailbox and imagine that we have packages arriving to the mailbox. It's just that we're not checking them because the people that are supposed to check our mailbox say, "We don't want to check the mailbox unless there is extraordinary evidence that forces us to check the mailbox. There is no mail there." Obviously, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy and it's a circular argument because if you don't walk to the mailbox, if you are lazy enough not to invest any funds in the search, then you will never find it, and then you will continue to be ignorant. But not looking through our windows, it will not get rid of our neighbors. That's my point. They might be out there.

Dr Avi Loeb (33:01):

So, the tragic fact could be that it's just like a love letter that you find in the attic when its time has passed. If you don't check your mailbox for a package, you might lose an opportunity to learn something that would help to save the human species in the future. If we don't check the mail, we might be losing that message. So, my point is this is existential. It's not just a question of figuring out that the dark matter is made of weakly interacting massive particles. Who cares? That will not affect my daily life in any way. Here, I'm talking about the question that could affect the future of humanity. So, how dare we even shy away from it, ridicule it, not fund it at all?

Alexander McCaig (33:46):

Well, then let me ask, I got to ask you something now, and this is very specific to what you're talking about, especially when it says going into funding specific projects. Data is the reality. Unless the instruments are flat out lying, you have very agnostic thing that is observing essentially our reality around us. Now, this data is then brought over to those who thought that this is how the world was working through their own sort of perspective, essentially from a lack of information. As we move forward in time, there's an increase in information. So, the likelihood that some something offsets your previous theories is bound to happen. So, why is it that data in that sense is so threatening to the paradigm, which people hold?

Dr Avi Loeb (34:30):

Oh. Because people prefer see it a ... Basically, they see new data that invalidates what they assumed as a threat to their ego. Once again, we are going back to the ego. So, there was a lecture about 'Oumuamua at Harvard, and when I left the auditorium with a colleague of mine, he said, "'Oumuamua is so weird. I wish it never existed." That statement means that it doesn't conform with what I expected and therefore, I would prefer that it didn't exist. So, instead of a scientist celebrating the fact that nature is educating us about something new, many people resist it because they want to believe that they already know everything and if something appears that is unknown, that threatens their ego because it means that they don't have a complete knowledge., What they believed in is not necessarily true, and moreover, maybe someone else discovered it. So, how dare this other person get credit for something that they could have gotten credit for? And that jealousy also plays a role.

Dr Avi Loeb (35:35):

So, you put all of these together, it all stems from the ego. If you put the ego aside and you just say I'm trying to learn something about nature because I'm not pretending that I know much more. The most vivid memory that I have from childhood is sitting at dinner and asking a question and then realizing that all the adults in the room pretend that they know much more than they actually do. That was the good experience. The bad experience would be when the adults would simply dismiss the question and just put it to the side and say, "We don't want to discuss it," and move on to their comfort zone.

Dr Avi Loeb (36:14):

I thought that by entering science, I will be surrounded by people similar to me that would like to know what's out there and answer every question. But unfortunately, I have a similar experience where a lot of people pretend that they know more than they actually know with respect to 'Oumuamua, for example, and many of them dismiss the question. That's unfortunate because the purpose of science is supposed to be open-mindedness towards discovering what the world is about without prejudice.

Alexander McCaig (36:50):

Right. Listen. No offense to anybody, and I've been lucky enough to speak with individuals with great titles across many different backgrounds. What I've come to realize, and truthfully, no offense to anyone, is that we know so much about so little. When I've seen that after talking to these experts, it's like why is it that there's all this grandiose applause and media attention and all these things around ideas or theories or speech that people get emotionally sucked into, but it doesn't really help them understand. I feel like it's not really broadening the full understanding that we need so that when we look at nature, we look at the data it gives us, we can actually absorb it without any sort of false perspective or false sort of reality that we've drilled ourselves into.

Alexander McCaig (37:56):

It's sad that when I look through this, that everyone thinks we're all high and mighty. But from what I understand, and I've talked to quite a bit of people, there really isn't much that's actually known. It's a lot of guessing. It's a lot of people, armchair quarterback and thinking that they know better. But the second the data comes in and says otherwise, they either drop back, nobody wants to talk about it, or they're badmouth it until it no longer exists. Frankly, I think that's a shame if they don't want to understand each other or the others and themselves.

Dr Avi Loeb (38:28):

Yeah. The correct approach is to admit that what we know is an island in an ocean of ignorance. Once again, we are not almighty. We are not the main player here. Nature is much richer than our imagination. Once you adapt this sense of modesty, everything else falls into place. Let's just figure out what the world is about. Let's not assume we have no neighbors. Let's not assume we're the smartest kid on the block. Let's just go out and search and figure it out, and anyone that shares my view should join the Galileo Project.

Alexander McCaig (39:07):

If they want to find out more about the Galileo Project, where would they search for something like that?

Dr Avi Loeb (39:13):

Just put in Google, the Galileo Project, Harvard University, Avi Loeb, and you will get to the website. Also, if you go to my professional website, I have opinion essays, commentaries every few days, every week where I describe aspects of the Galileo Project. So, you can keep up to date by going to the opinion essays on my professional website.

Alexander McCaig (39:37):

No, that's fabulous. Avi, thank you for coming on here and having this discussion about our own preservation as human beings because the way I look at it in a probabilistic format, there's not a chance we're the only kids on the block. So, I appreciate you coming in and sharing that sort of perspective with me.

Dr Avi Loeb (39:54):

Thank you. I was asked in a forum, how much longer do we have as a civilization? I said when you pick a random day during your life, there is a chance of one in 10,000 that it would be the first day of your life after you are born because that's one day out of tens of thousands of days in the life of an adult. We have lived through one century of technological advancement and you might say, okay, maybe we will survive for a million years. Well, the chance of that is one in 10,000, because a million years is 10,000 times longer than a century. I would say it's much more likely that we would survive only a few more centuries that we are in the midst of our technological lifespan.

Dr Avi Loeb (40:52):

That's a very depressing thought that we don't have a lot of time left, but if we continue to behave the way we do, which means focusing on ourself, not focusing on learning about the world, not being modest enough to correct ourself in the way we decide about policy, then that's really what we have left. So, my hope is that somehow we would recognize the risk in doing that from changing the climate on the planet, from misbehaving towards each other, from the way we behave in academia, ridiculing existential questions that are of great importance to society. If we don't correct our course, indeed we have only a few centuries left.

Alexander McCaig (41:38):

No. I couldn't agree more. I don't think it's bleak, but I think it's actually realistic, and hopefully that wakes everybody up. So, Avi, thank you very much for coming on again. I really do appreciate it.

Dr Avi Loeb (41:48):

Thanks for having me.

Speaker 3 (41:57):

Thank you for listening to TARTLE Cast with your hosts, Alexander McCaig and Jason Rigby, where humanity steps into the future and source data defines the path. What's your data worth?

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