In 1950, a physicist posed the question that has come to be known as the Fermi Paradox: given the high mathematical probability that other intelligent life forms exist elsewhere in the universe, why is there no evidence that they exist? In his blazingly original paper, “Radio Astronomy as Epistemology,” our guest, philosopher Anthony Weston, formulates a solution. What we take to be the silence of the universe, he writes, may teach us more about ourselves—and the challenges of receptivity to nonhuman minds in general—than about the prevalence of other life. The reason the universe appears to offer no evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence, Weston suggests, may be that we are paying the wrong kind of attention. We speak with Dr. Weston about self-fulfilling prophesies, the limits of animal intelligence tests, and how to cultivate what he calls “receptive listening.”
Dr. Peter Godfrey-Smith is professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Sydney and the author of Other Minds: The Octopus, The Sea, and The Deep Origins of Consciousness. We discuss how our distant evolutionary cousins, cephalopods, are challenging ancient assumptions about the nature of consciousness. For more information about the episode and about Dr. Godfrey-Smith’s work, visit whenwetalkaboutanimals.org.