Are we alone in the universe? That simple but deeply provocative question about the existence of extraterrestrial life lies at the heart of a new episode of the Science Channel series Through the Wormhole.
Hosted by series regular Morgan Freeman, the episode tackles topics ranging from the creative ways scientists are honing their search for extraterrestrial life to the possibility that aliens might prove to be warriors or ruthless predators.
Could E.T. be a ruthless predator? It's a scary thought. What does Freeman make of that possibility?
"Whoever shows up here may be a totally benign force looking for life in the universe," he told The Huffington Post in an email. "But if we show up someplace and they think of us as hostile, then they may be hostile. And that’s another kettle of fish."
But Freeman seems convinced that extraterrestrial life exists.
"The question of if we’re alone only occurs to you every now and then, when you look up and say, 'Oh goodness, this can’t be all there is,'" he said. "If you are going to try to logically answer the question of if we’re alone in the universe, the answer is, 'We can’t be.'”
Of course, before we meet any aliens, it's likely that we'll first communicate with them from a distance. And that raises another interesting question: How can we possibly tell which signals of the never-ending stream of signals from deep space are intergalactic gibberish--and which are legitimate evidence of alien life?
In the brief video below, excerpted from the episode--a HuffPost Science exclusive--SETI scientist Dr. Laurance R. Doyle explains how a slope of a line representing the frequency of individual signals within a stream of signals indicates whether the stream contains "linguistic or knowledge content."
If the line is horizontal, Doyle says in the video, there's no such content. But if the line slopes at 45 degrees, there is. And as Freeman explains in his narration, "This 45-degree slope appears for any message for any language in any medium, be it a book of print or a phone call in Japanese"--or, as the video makes clear, in the clicks and whistles of dolphins
And, presumably, in any messages that might be beamed our way by aliens.
The episode is entitled "Will We Survive First Contact?" It's timed to support SETILive, an initiative by the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence that enlists citizen-scientists in the search for alien life, and is set to premiere on Tuesday, March 6 at 10 p.m. Eastern/Pacific Time.