[Article by Michael Widman]
What is intelligence? Can it be found in space or fabricated on earth? Who should we ask? On Tuesday June 24, 1997, yours truly was questioning his own mental quality, beset by remorse having cast aside job security bringing wife and kids to the United States from Sweden for the sake of embarking a start-up venture. How smart was that? While I pondered the wisdom in pursuing a path with such uncertain prospects, weak from weeks of worries, I explored the premises around my new employer’s office at Landings Drive in Mountain View, California. That’s when I stumbled upon the entrance to the SETI Institute. I recalled possibly from the pages of a book, Contact, that SETI stands for Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence, and I had landed near its quarters. My spirit rose because here were clearly people who had climbed really far out on a limb.
Unbeknownst to me, half a dozen scientists were pondering a much bigger question: Was the signal they were watching with keen eyes on their computer screens behind that door at that very moment of extraterrestrial origin? I had no idea ET might be checking in behind that door. Not yet.
SETI Senior Astronomer, Doctor in astrophysics Seth Shostak, was there to watch the suspect signal. Much later he opens his book, Confessions of an Alien Hunter, by telling that he thought that day “might be the most important day in the history of Homo Sapiens.” All this excitement passed me by because I did not knock the door. It would have been fun. Talk about a road not taken.
Now I intended to repair that oversight.
And so, when fourteen years later an opportunity emerges to visit the SETI Institute and interview Seth Shostak for Synchronized Chaos Magazine, I decide to take a few days break from sitting home alone in my and my wife’s Santa Clara apartment writing a novel about ghosts and instead research the current search for extraterrestrial intelligence popping my head out the door as a seal that pops its head out of the polar ice to breathe.
Michael Widman may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.