…to not one, but *two* much to be desired discoveries:
We’re ‘Very Close’ to Finding Life Beyond Earth: NASA. Not just close, very close. I’m holding out for very, *very* close, myself.
These headlines are a sort of logic test. In the first case, in the body of the article, scientists echo Sagan’s ‘terrible waste of space’ argument (if you can call it that): that there’s just too much empty space out there, too many stars and planets, for only earth to have life. Try putting that into a valid syllogism and its circularity becomes patent.
But the robots are more interesting: they could mean they’re ‘close’ in that all that remains in creating shape-shifting, self healing robots is a better application of well-understood technology that already exists, in which case ‘close’ may be the right word. This is the sense in which we are close to wiping out world hunger and providing safe drinking water and state of the art sanitation to every person in the world. OR they may mean that we’re ‘close’ in that we’re only a couple more technological breakthroughs from having all the technology we’d need to build such machines – this is the sense in which we’re close to AI and commercial nuclear fusion power. (Although strong AI may be a metaphysical impossibility, while commercial fusion power is merely really, really hard.) In this second case, we’d be using ‘close’ in the same way in both headlines: we’re ‘close’ to having what we need, which happens to be proof of what we’re trying to prove. We’ll only be close once we have what we do not now have – claiming we’re close to having it is oracular, in that we don’t, you know, have it. The implied short time frame for the ‘close’ works as well for warp drive as it does for alien life or other undiscovered technological breakthroughs – how far out in time? We can only answer that once we’ve discovered it. ‘A million years’ and ‘never’ are, logically, every bit as much in play as ‘tomorrow’ or ‘within 20 years’.
So, I’m ready to be amazed and thrilled. How close I am to being amazed and thrilled is and will remain an open question until that undetermined time when it’s not.