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I (Don't) want to believe !

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Some say it is obvious that we are not alone in the universe. Some are reluctant to believe that the Earth is not the only planet with living beings. Existent or non-existent, we have always fancied or been skeptical about the concept of extraterrestrial life. However, science fiction writers identified the inquisitiveness in people that they created, and continue to create stories with the concept of the existence of extraterrestrial life.

Many movies and television series were created about extraterrestrials, alien abductions or visitors from other planets- maybe turning them into traditional horror villains. The X-Files (1993–2002), an American science fiction drama television series created by Chris Carter, is one of the best and most successful attempts at bringing about extraterritorial concept to the television screen.

There is good news for The X-files fans. FBI special agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are expected to return with a new series of the much admired television drama.

SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountain View, Calif, writing to the space.com, recently predicted that the first detection of intelligent extraterrestrial life will likely come within the next quarter-century. According to them, by 2040 or so, astronomers will have scanned enough star systems to give themselves a great shot at discovering alien-produced electromagnetic signals and they believe that they will find extraterrestrial life within two dozen years using these sorts of experiments.

Sri Lankan-born British mathematician, astronomer and astrobiologist Prof Chandra Wickramasinghe, from the University of Buckingham, in an email conversation with The Nation, said that he believes the universe must teem with sentient life. Prof Wickramasinghe is currently Professor and Director of the Buckingham Centre for Astrobiology at the University of Buckingham. Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe: extraterrestrial life and life on Earth.

“To think that intelligence arose in the process of evolution only on our minuscule habitat is arrogant and anthropocentric.  We now know that there is an estimate of some 100 billion habitable planets in our Milky Way galaxy alone,” he said. As he explained, the same genetic components of life in the form of viral and bacterial genes that came to be assembled into life forms on Earth are present on a grand cosmic scale.  “Similar linkages of genes into plants and animals and aliens must have occurred on countess planets,” he added.

He further explained that intelligence in the form we know is present in humans is a very recent development on Earth and that it is also scarcely possible that this development of intelligence is anywhere near the end of the road.  On the contrary we are probably at the very beginning.  “Life forms far more intelligent, a more advanced technologically, in my opinion must abound.  Sooner or later we would be destined to make contact with them,” Wickramasinghe opined.

Should it turn out that we are not alone in the Universe, it will fundamentally affect how humanity understands itself—and we need to be prepared for the consequences. Journalist and science writer Nalaka Gunawardene speaking about the scientific studies in search of extraterrestrial life said that it is more of a philosophical need of human beings that they want to believe that earthlings aren’t alone in the universe. “I can’t think of any practical benefits we could gain if we are to find out that there is life outside the planet earth,” he iterated adding that the search for alien life is deep rooted that goes back a few centuries.  

Reports about aliens or UFO sightings are not as frequently heard in Sri Lankan context. Yet, couple of years back, residents from several parts of the country panicked seeing lights emanating from unidentified objects flying in the sky and The Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) had to move to allay fears that aliens from outer space were hovering in the country's air space.

“Despite our literacy rate our people tend to uncritically believe in various fanciful stories including alien invasions in a similar manner to how we believe in unseen sources like astrology or horoscopes,” he said stressing that Sri Lanka as a nation is skeptical in believing in abnormal or paranormal events.  

However, he further said that work of science fiction writers cannot be taken into the account of empirical evidence of extraterrestrial lives. “People are intrigued and endlessly fascinated about the existence of aliens.

Therefore, stories like The X-files become highly commercial and successful when it comes out with as a modern twist on common notions,” he emphasized.“I am pretty sure that the creators of such themed stories are having a good laugh all the way, while we take things for real,” he mocked how people willingly enjoy imagined stories with suspend disbelief.

Adding insight on the psychological perspective of the inquisitiveness about aliens Dr. Priyanga de Zoysa said that the goal of reading or watching science fiction stories based on extraterrestrial life differs from person to person. As he pointed out, the reason could be to fulfill the need for fun, knowledge or for spiritual aspects. He also said that it is hard to identify any serious mental health issues caused by watching paranormal themed movies. “Again, this depends on the age of the child who is watching them and the peculiarity of it,” he said adding that such movies are watched and enjoyed by millions of people around the world with no damages to the cognitive process.

As he explained each phenomena of the universe could either be known or unknown. Further to this he said that there is another variety of phenomena which is unknowable, meaning that these go beyond the ordinary explanations and understanding capacity of a human.  Scientists try to draw links between symptoms of psychological disorders and the characteristics of people who claim to be alien abductees. When asked, Dr. de Zoysa said that the possibilities of this occurrence are unlimited. “Could be the mind, could be the aliens. Certain things could occur which is outside the boundaries of a person’s level of understanding. Therefore, we can’t be certain about the unknowable,” he said.

The unknowable can’t be overlooked as nonexistent. As Arthur C Clarke once wrote two possibilities still exist; either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both the possibilities are equally terrifying.

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