Astronomers have identified 3,422 exoplanets – planets that orbit stars other than our own. Of these, they estimate that about a thousand might support something that we’d identify as life. That’s what they think. But barring some unforeseeable, game-changing Something, they’ll never know for sure. Because they haven’t really seen these worlds apart, these star-gazers, even through their most impressive telescopes. The doggone things are just too far away!
So they see stuff like spots crossing the far-away star and do spectroscopic analyses of light and apply esoteric disciplines that I’ve probably never heard of and then… I don’t know – make a best guess or two?
Frustrating, isn’t it? We have a wired-in appetite for Other and a good thing, too, because that appetite enables us to propagate the species, especially on warm spring nights scented with blossoms and that person over there, basking in the soft moonlight, is breathtakingly lovely… Whoa! We’re not in the smut-peddling game here and anyway, you get the idea. We Want Other.
And generally, we can’t have it. But we have another wired-in trait that can serve as a substitute. Beginning in infancy, we create cause and effect narratives. I cry, I get picked up kinds of things. That narrative-building trait evolves, along with the rest of us, and eventually we’re using it to create poems and jokes and plays and religions and comic books and who-knows-what-all, including extraterrestrials. Imaginary extraterrestrials, to be sure, but we take what we can get.
It’s an old, old trick. As early as 5000 years ago the Sumerians were making figurine of creatures from Planet X, and there may have been earlier mythic aliens that didn’t manage to get written down. The early gods were first cousins to these aliens and they go way back.
Well. We have Superman and Supergirl and Hawkman and Hawkwoman and ET and J’onn J’onzz, The Martian Manhunter (that J’onn J’onzz) and Yoda and pulpy Bug Eyed Monsters and whole lot of fictional Others and…
Maybe we’re not satisfied. Maybe we look into the night sky and wonder if we’re alone in the universe and if we are, what that might mean.
I’d sure like a taste of that candy. But maybe it should remain behind the glass. Might not be good for me.