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Book Review:
Lonely Minds in the Universe
by Giancarlo Genta
published by Copernicus Books, 2007

reviewed by Ivan Almar

GALILEO discovered in 1610 with his new telescope the four big satellites orbiting Jupiter. Johannes Kepler, informed of the great event, wrote a long and enthusiastic letter to Galileo, the so-called Dissertario cum Nuncio Sidereo. In this opus he is referring to the discovery of the satellites as proof that planet Jupiter is inhabited:

Therefore, if four planets orbit Jupiter at different distances and times: one asks to the benefit of whom, if nobody is on planet Jupiter to admire this variety with his eyes? then, for what we are concerned with on this Earth, I wonder; for what convincing reason? Above all, how can they be useful to us who never see them; and we do not expect that everybody can use their eye-pieces to observe them.

and his conclusion:

The new four [planets] are not primarily for us who live on the Earth but without doubt for the creatures who live on Jupiter.

This is probably one of the first mentions of extraterrestrials in the present sense of the word. Planets were not considered habitable worlds during previous centuries, but only points of light in the sky, and alien beings were imagined mostly as folkloristic monsters.

But Kepler's arguments were accepted unaltered until the twentieth century, when astronomy and space research gradually discovered that the planetary bodies of the Solar System - except Earth itself - are not the property of intelligent beings. Even independent microbial life has not yet been discovered on the Moon, or on the planets. Astronomy during the last century enormously widened the limits of the observed Universe, surrounding an absolutely insignificant, tiny Earth. Billions of stars, nebulae, galaxies, and clusters of galaxies populate the empty space into billions of light-years outward. But there is as yet no proof that life as we know it exists anywhere else in. this enormous, diversified Universe.

On the other hand, life on Earth exists everywhere from the depths of the crust up to the stratosphere. Recent discoveries have demonstrated that the hidden, microbial part of life might represent the predominant majority of the biomass. Our Earth, our Solar System, and our Galaxy are simple components of the Universe, and there is no evidence that they are exceptional objects in any respect.

This is certainly a very serious assertion, probably one of the most important scientific problems of the twenty-first century. Lonely Minds in the Universe is a fascinating analysis of this controversial situation with all its important social, philosophical, and even theological implications. In spite of the technical background of its author, the book is an enjoyable read for every thoughtful person who is interested in the past, present, and future destiny of humanity. It raises important questions, but many answers are simply not yet available. The author is convinced that the scientific search for extraterrestrial life and intelligence in the Universe deserves every effort because the result will deeply influence our future. I recommend you read this book with an open mind, which will enrich you with new ideas.

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