The Guardian recently challenged some of the greatest minds of our age to answer the 2009 All Souls' General Paper. OK, the greatest minds they could get for the money and who happened not to be doing anything more useful at the time. If you can read Will Self's pretentious attempt at answering the question "Is there something inherently coarsening about sport?" without vomiting and yelling then you are a better person that I.
The All Souls paper is something I've blogged about before - basically you get three hours to write three essays on subjects that deserve about a decade of intensive study each.
The question that grabbed my attention was "Does it matter whether there is life elsewhere in the universe?"
Here, in full, is my attempt :-
Does it matter ?? Does it flipping matter ??! Are you serious ? No, really - are you so thick and unimaginative and soulless that you would even ask this question ? Really ? Because if so, you should come over here and say that, but I should warn you that even though I am a pacifist, I really will have to slap you.
As you can tell from the above paragraph, it matters to me quite a bit. Here is one of the major philosophical questions and it's possible we can answer it once and for all. We're probably never going to see our souls under an electron microsope and we probably aren't going to get God's address and phone number. But it is possible that a faint stream of zeros and ones might one day reach our radio telescopes and prove absolutely that we are not alone in the universe.
Imagine - what Art will they have ? Fantastical inventions ? Philosophical Answers ? How about Religion ? In fact, you could work your way through the Dewey Decimal System and find that there would be not one area of human thought that would remain unaffected by contact with an alien intelligence.
And if that doesn't tempt you into caring, imagine this - one of these green dudes landing their saucer in Regents Park and walking/crawling/sliding down the ramp with a picnic basket full of the best things to eat from the Andromeda galaxy. Mmmm.
Of course, it's possible that they'd find humans quite tasty. And this is probably the most compelling reason of all to care about whether there is life elsewhere in the Universe.