Communion Of Dreams


The Day the Universe Changed

In my previous post, I commented that the universe had just changed with the discovery of 581 c. A friend who saw this responded that no, the uninverse didn’t change – our perception of it did.

Well, yes, and that was exactly what I meant. I was referring to the wonderful series The Day the Universe Changed by science historian James Burke. If you are unfamiliar with it, by all means track down the series and enjoy. It is primarily about Kuhn’s concept of paradigm shift, leavened with a nice helping of applied philosophy. If you’ve seen any of the Connections series that Burke has done, you’ve probably got an idea how he would approach this issue.

The idea that our perception of the universe fundamentally determines our actions is one that I use explicitly in Communion of Dreams. [Spoiler alert.] In the book, the entirety of the scientific community believes that ours is the only civilization still active in at least our little corner of the universe. That belief is challenged by the discovery of an alien artifact on Titan, the moon of Saturn. From then on the story line spins out exploring the very nature of perception and knowledge in the very midst of a paradigm shift – all tightly controlled (at least at first) within the small community of people involved. At each stage of revelation, the characters have to confront and integrate new knowledge, and how they cope with that radical shift is at the very heart of the story that I tell.

This is why after posting my brief “welcome” last night, I kicked back and had a wee dram of my favorite scotch. Because whether or not most people realize it, this event was a turning point in our history. Yes, we all expected that sooner or later such a planet would be found – but now it has happened, and the universe around us is now viewed differently. Sure, the universe itself hasn’t changed – but how we understand it has undergone a shift. Just a small one, but an important one nonetheless.

And just think what will happen when we discover life elsewhere. Particularly intelligent, technological life. And after you start to understand the impact that will have, sit back and once again consider what it is my characters in Communion are going through.

Jim Downey


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I’ve been forming the opinion over the past decade or so that the big question of ETI will be answered in stages. First we learned of extrasolar Jupiters. (Well, okay, that’s an arbitrary point–but you have to start somewhere.) Then we learned of (still disputed) Martian microfossils. Now we have a candidate extrasolar terrestrial planet. By the time SETI nabs a signal, we’ll be well prepared via all these incremental developments to assimilate the possibility of genuine ETI. I’m guessing there will be a similar progression in the clarity of evidence about ETI signals, too. First we’ll intercept a genuinely anomalous signal–clearly artificial, but unintelligible. It’ll be something not meant for us, something we overhear. Then we’ll catch a hint of ETI starship drives, like gamma ray emissions from an antimatter plasma rocket. Then, some day, we’ll actually receive a message.

Or not. Maybe we’re the first civilization in this galaxy. Ultimately, though the odds for ETI are getting better with every discovery, with every variable of the Drake equation that gets clearer, we still have nothing firm to date. And in the absence of evidence, we remain…agnostic. But hopeful.

Comment by Ken Sibley

One might suspect that this is all unfolding from some kind of script…sounds like the sort of thing that Seth would have come up with. Not to be too paranoid or anything…

Jim Downey

Comment by Communion of Dreams

[…] so I am looking forward to enjoying it this weekend.  Thought I’d share, since I had written previously about Burke and his different […]

Pingback by Re-Connect. « Communion Of Dreams

[…] I have written about the series, and Burke previously.  It really is excellent – and you should either add the thing to your […]

Pingback by Communion Of Dreams

[…] And, unsurprisingly, it still has a major influence on how I see the world. Which is why sometimes I am willing to try seemingly absurd things: not because I think that they will necessarily succeed, but because I am looking for an inflection point, a fulcrum, which will allow me to assess and perhaps change perspective. […]

Pingback by Paradigm shift. « Communion Of Dreams




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