The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021
DEAR FRIEND OF 8 BOOKS A YEAR,
Have I mentioned before that I’m a huge admirer of Japanese artist On Kawara’s “date paintings”? (If you don’t have them in front of your eyes right now, you can just google them.) By painting a specific date – and only ever within the 24 associated hours – On Kawara directs our gaze to the value and uniqueness of every single day. Without exception, each day in our world is a maximally complex structure of natural and artificial processes, interactions and consequences. And yet it is not too often that a very specific date finds its way into the collective memory of mankind. 07/20/1969, 11/09/1989, 09/11/2001 – maybe only those, after 1945? However, the most fascinating dates might be the ones that will one day appear in all history books (or their digital equivalents), even though all of us did not perceive them as “earth-shattering”. The invention of the telephone or the Internet may be such examples – although in both cases there is disagreement about the exact authorship and especially about the exact date. Thursday, October 19, 2017 may become a candidate for being learned and remembered by future generations of students. That day, in fact, marked the beginning of the sighting of an object that crossed our solar system. Probably no one would have noticed anything special about it had it not behaved rather abnormally in terms of its trajectory and speed. Avi Loeb, professor of astrophysics and former chairman of the Department of Astronomy at Harvard University, sees only one possible explanation. Since On Kawara died in 2014, there won’t ever be a date painting for that day.
All my best,
Christian Kaspar Schwarm