Centauri Dreams has posted a number of interesting ideas in the past several days, perhaps none more thought provoking than finding (self) consciousness among the stars. Commenting on recent spate of news regarding the search for life elsewhere in the cosmos, Paul Gilster wonders if we will find minds to go along with that intelligence.
While the suggestion has very old philosophical roots - what is this other thing we call consciousness? - it springs from an even more basic question: what is life? Amplifying the first point, he quotes from the book Lonely Minds in the Universe.
...if it may be easier to give a theoretical definition of consciousness than of intelligence, it is much more difficult to tell whether a being is self-conscious or not.
And he concludes:
I suspect SETI will be a long, hard search. And if it ever does snag an undisputed signal from an extraterrestrial civilization, I would wager that it won’t be a directed beacon but an extraneous transmission that we’ll probably never be able to decipher. A huge event in human history, to be sure, but forever enigmatic, reminding us that in terms of communication, the distance between species, as sometimes between individuals, may dwarf our merely human comprehension.
If you are at all interested in the technologies and the questions behind the reach for the stars, please check out Centauri Dreams.