Monday, November 1, 2010

Notre Dame Prof Talks About Extraterrestrial Life Debate

Last Thursday I went to Valparaiso University for a lecture by Dr. Michael J. Crowe of the University of Notre Dame called, “The Extraterrestrial Life Debate: A Historical Perspective.”



Dr. Michael J. Crowe of the University of Notre Dame (left).

Dr. Crowe chronicled 17 key developments in the debate about extraterrestrial life in western philosophy. I did not take notes (which I am regretting as I write), but it follows his book The Extraterrestrial Life Debate, 1750-1900. Astronomers and philosophers including Bruno, Kant, Huygens, William Herschel, Percival Lowell have all argued in favor of the plurality of worlds and/or life in the universe. However, I was surprised to find out that Peter the Great of Russia wanted Huygens’s writings translated into Russian, including the possibility of alien life. At the time, there were no books translated into Russian regarding the Copernican system. Dr. Crowe explained that the printer was so shocked by the content that he tried to destroy the copies because he thought they were Satanic!

Dr. Crowe’s research debunks the common modern notion that the debate over extraterrestrial life began in recent decades, and has gone back to Leucippus, Democritus, and Epicuris in ancient Greek times. While astrobiologists and astrophysicists are making great strides toward finding extraterrestrial life, the debate is sure to go on for decades, and perhaps centuries to come.

Dr. Crowe's lecture can be found in PDF form here:


  1. Wow Paulie, you and Hillary are so lucky to have went to this lecture! This is right up my alley! Did Hillary enjoy the lecture?

    You can tell Hillary that her favorite planet is going to cause a racket for people who don't know much about astronomy. Have her check this link:

    I'll be keeping an eye out for it and telling people not to worry: aliens aren't landing anytime soon!

  2. To be honest, I didn't ask her what she thought of it. I have so much more background knowledge going into these things. I try to whisper little comments to her when I can, but that can be rude for the people around us.

    We just had a guy last Saturday ask on Chicago Astronomer what he saw that morning. He started the thread, "my knowledge of space and stars is very limited," and later stated, "I'm not an expert by any means but I do know when something is way out of the norm and that is."

    I thought, "Really?" We tried to explain that it was probably Sirius, but he didn't want to take that for an answer. I loved the guy's confidence that what he saw was unusual, even though he has no clue what IS usual. Run and ask the astronomers, I guess.

    I know Venus will be coming into view next week, but hopefully with the time change, it will be rising before most people are awake. It's kind of a sad commentary of general knowledge of the night sky that Venus is so often mistaken for an alien ship. I guess that's one of the reasons I do sidewalk astronomy, huh? "Hey, what is that?"


    "No. Really?"

    Yeah, check it out.

    Of course it really takes months of repeated observations, watching the changing phases and magnitude to appreciate, but at least it's a start. And of course, as a morning planet, I'm not going to be showing it at sidewalk sessions.

    Oh well...

  3. Wow, that was a great link! I don't have years of observing the transition of Venus from the evening to morning sky, but it makes sense that it will pop right back out, and be just as outstanding as it was a month ago around sunset. I also didn't realize it would be up before Daylight Savings Time ends. I will let Hillary know she will be able to see it very soon!

    I gave up on it as an evening planet after October 7th. We were looking for the day old Moon, and found Venus with our binoculars, but didn't see it naked eye that night. I went one month without Saturn; now my wait for Venus may be even shorter. And they should be meeting each other very soon. That will be a conjunction I don't want to miss!

  4. Quoting Hillary's comment from my identical post on Chicago Astronomer:

    "like the speaker talking about the planets. He was really really good. It goes back to the future. I am saying this again he was really really good..."

  5. I'm glad Hillary liked the lecture! It must've been great!

  6. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention I changed my "pic." I got sick of the alien one. At least with my new one when I get sick of that one too I can change the background, outfit and even my hair! Gotta love Yahoo Avatars!