Yesterday morning, as I was late and racing to record an interview at the Wisconsin Public Radio studio--asking myself WHY I keep making appointments before noon despite the fact
that I am obviously a night person--I was forced to pause and reflect on the meaning of it all when a nice police officer stopped me for speeding at about 20 mph over the limit. At first, seeing the lights behind me added fuel to my flaming thoughts about having to get up early and not get paid for it. But sitting in the car at 0 mph watching the clock tick, I couldn't help reaching for the camera and pretty soon I was noticing how beautiful the area around me was. In that time, I had a brief moment of understanding that going to this interview was an opportunity custom-made for my abilities, and a perfect fit to my sense of doing good in the world. Is there more than that to ask for in life? Did I really want to undermine that gift by
taking myself so seriously? Abandoning fear, grateful for the chance to chill the heck out, I was all the more relieved when the cop handed me a warning. "You can throw that away if you want", he said.
The interview itself went reasonably well, and I may have even said some things that make sense. This was also the first on-air plug for the Global Science Institute. However, one question came up that I still do not have a positive answer for:
"Will the discovery of life on other planets help us understand the origin of life on Earth?" As a promoter of research in Astrobiology, I want there to be a simple, "yes it will"-ty
pe answer to this question. However, as a scientist, I honestly can't imagine how discovering something that may or may not have anything in common with us will shed light on what occurred 3.8 billion years ago on Earth to give rise to the first organisms here. I thought about this all the way home. My current belief is that this question simply cannot be answered. We have such a primitive, shadowy understanding of what life is, let alone where it comes from, that _any_ discovery of extraterrestrial life may begin to crack open human beliefs about what is possible. Human descriptions of life and its origin, whether recited from the church pulpit or from the ivory towers of academia, are like dust in the face of eternity. Regardless of the tons of CO2 that have been exhaled by Earthly philosophers debating this topic, I believe we are embedded in a network of life whose grandeur, when seen, will finally precipitate that long-promised moment, of "silence for the space of half an hour."
Anyway, at some point this interview will show up on CBC's "Quirks and Quarks" radio program. Meanwhile, the WPR station manager was so intrigued with that interview that I'll be doing a live show on Wisconsin Public Radio's "Route 51" next week Thursday, 5pm CST. Tune in, all! And call in with all your hardest questions, because you know I won't talk about this stuff at parties.