by Amir D. Aczel
Harcourt Brace & Company, 1998
ISBN 0-15-100376-9; $22.00 US
Reviewed by Brent Bedford <brentbedford @ hotmail.com>
Searching for extraterrestrial intelligence is no trifle of a search. Imagine searching through your local library for a particular book-without the aid of catalogues or data based searches. That is easy. Now try searching for a specific, distinguishable character - in every single library! If this analogy is somewhat disconcerting, keep in mind there are books along the way that you will find, books that will allay your fears of continually searching and turning up no results. What if you found a book written by a person with a similar quest as yours? A book that revives your seemingly vain efforts . . .
A summary of all things leading up to the scientifically credible belief of other intelligences, Probability 1: Why There Must Be Intelligent Life in the Universe goes beyond the standard "historian" approach and proves (?) the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence.
Amir D. Aczel asserts in Probability 1 that our existence as an intelligent, evolved species mathematically guarantees the outer-space existence of at least one other equally intelligent civilization. Author of Fermat's Last Theorem, Dr. Aczel approaches the ubiquitous question of ETI with a firm grasp on the concepts of mathematical probability.
This book takes a comprehensive tour of all factors involved in "the search," from Fermi's Paradox and Drake's equation to evolution and DNA to the Inspection paradox and even chaos theory. For the learned reader, already immersed in the world of ETI, this book will most likely summarize much of what you already know. For you, your quest starts with chapter 8: "Does God play Dice?" For the newcomer-or the forgetful incumbent-the book as a whole serves as a great introductory course in amateur exobiology, although sometimes the trip is a bit circuitous, and a bit apocalyptic, introducing a subtle, unthinkable question: Is it only a matter of time before the colossal forces of the universe indifferently wipe out 3.5 billion years of trivial evolution? But Aczel's digressions are never more than a recto/verso, and at 216 pages, the book is swift-paced and certainly enjoyable.
For me, the book became more interesting as Aczel introduced mathematics (don't worry-the concepts don't transcend high-school algebra and probability), and the combination of science and a statistical framework to find solutions to problems that were thought to contain no answer. The focus of this book, and what makes it different from all of the others, once again, is the attempt Aczel makes at mathematically proving extraterrestrial existence-and the kind of existence SETI is looking for. Think of the book as a eulogy to Carl Sagan, who himself wished to write an analogous book, but unfortunately never got around to writing it. Aczel is no Sagan, but then again, who really is?
Einstein once stated "God does not play dice with the universe." Aczel compares the outlook of a deterministic universe with one that is probabilistic, leading down the road of Cantor, Lorenz, and Mandelbrot, to chaos theory. As it is with the classic episodes of Star Trek or Twilight Zone, the real shocker comes at the end. So even if you do not plan on reading this book in its entirety, I strongly urge you to look at the last three or four chapters, for their implications are reassuring to those who believe.
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this page last updated 28 December 2002
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