Distant Galaxies

I listened to a recent On Being episode with Jill Tarter, co-founder of SETI, an organization that tries to detect signals from distant planets and galaxies. She’s the one who inspired Jodie Foster’s character in the movie Contact, which is one of my favorites.

One of the most interesting points she made is that a signal coming from a galaxy in distant space would take so long to reach us that the civilization who sent the message might already be gone. She goes on to make the point that this would still have tremendous value even if we couldn’t communicate back with this civilization. In the same way that we learn and grow from reading Shakespeare (or any dead author), we can learn from a civilization that no longer exists. 

There are some, like author Alan Jacobs who even say that we’re better off interacting with dead authors. Jacobs has an upcoming book called Breaking Bread with the Dead.