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Lost Winston Churchill Essay Reveals His Thoughts On Alien Life (theverge.com) 187

"A newly discovered essay by Winston Churchill shows that the British statesman gave a lot of thought to the existential question that has inspired years of scientific research and blockbuster movies: are we alone in the University?" reports The Verge. "The essay was drafted in the 1930s, but unearthed in a museum in Missouri last year." Astrophysicist Mario Livio was the first scientist to analyze the article and has published his comments in the journal Nature. The Verge reports: Livio was "stunned" when he first saw the unpublished, 11-page essay on the existence of alien life, he tells The Verge. The astrophysicist was visiting Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, for a talk last year, when he was approached by Timothy Riley, the director of Fulton's US National Churchill Museum. Riley showed him the essay, titled "Are We Alone in the Universe?" In the essay, Churchill reasons that we can't possibly be alone in the Universe -- and that many other Suns will likely have many other planets that could harbor life. Because of how enormously distant these extrasolar planets are, we may never know if they "house living creatures, or even plants," Churchill concludes. He wrote this decades before exoplanets were discovered in the 1990s; hundreds have since been detected. What's impressive about the essay is the way Churchill approaches the existential and scientific question of whether life exists on other planets, Livio says. Churchill's reasoning mirrors extremely well the way scientists think about this problem today. The British leader also talks about several theories that still guide the search for alien life, Livio says. For example, he notes that water is the key ingredient for life on Earth, and so finding water on other planets could mean finding life there. Churchill also notes that life can only survive in regions "between a few degrees of frost and the boiling point of water" -- what today we call the habitable zone, the region around a star that is neither too hot or too cold, so that liquid water may exist on the planet's surface.
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Lost Winston Churchill Essay Reveals His Thoughts On Alien Life

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  • Well... (Score:5, Funny)

    by ColaMan ( 37550 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @03:07AM (#53878499) Homepage Journal

    I don't know if we are *truly* alone in the University, but it sure is empty here in the proof-reading department.

    • I don't know if we are *truly* alone in the University, but it sure is empty here in the proof-reading department.

      In my student days, there were a lot of alien - or at least strange - beings wandering the campus.

      • Not from College student. "RE: Aliens in my University. We are hiding in a safe space and have no idea what is out there. Please write something nice on a note and slip it under the door after sanitizing the document. As we consider the amount of analprobaphobes on campus it should be known that messages not fitting our confirmation bias will be ignored."

    • I don't know if we are *truly* alone in the University, but it sure is empty here in the proof-reading department.

      I wish the same could be said of the computer rooms. I keep ending up on my iPad cos all the machines are taken.

  • by pushing-robot ( 1037830 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @03:08AM (#53878503)

    'Intellectual' used to be an admired quality in a leader.

    • by FooAtWFU ( 699187 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @04:01AM (#53878615) Homepage

      But these days - in America at least - intellectuals trained in the same classical tradition as Winston Churchill are derided as beholden to the white male patriarchy. Hell, even figures previously associated with high minded ideals and liberty like Thomas Jefferson are now considered personas non grata. Meanwhile, the typical modern university does its best to train Alinskyite radicals.

      Of course intellectuals are disdained. Thought is dead.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Anti-intellectualism in America is nothing new. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Or, apparently, the rest of the world.

          Remember, Romanticism was a rejection of the Age of Enlightenment characterized by its emphasis on emotion and glorification of nature. Sounds a lot like the internet these days.

      • You can't call someone "intellectual" just for pursuing alien life issue. Humanity has nearly no information on this topic thus most things you can arrive to are either obvious or subtly wrong but not disprovable due to lack of experimental data. There's nearly no possibility to come up with testable hypotheses there and most of work done on the subject is intellectual circlejerk. Thus it's easy avenue for any dumbass who wants to pretend to be an "intellectual". There's simply no conclusion that could end
      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        But these days - in America at least - intellectuals trained in the same classical tradition as Winston Churchill are derided as beholden to the white male patriarchy.

        Strange, because Churchill was actually quite progressive by the standards of the day, in many respects.

      • "Of course intellectuals are disdained. Thought is dead."

        There's noting new about anti-intellectualism. What is new, and scary, is that it is happening on college campuses.

      • by e r ( 2847683 )

        Of course intellectuals are disdained. Thought is dead.

        And it is post-modern nihilism and relativity (not the quantum kind) that killed it.

    • What Churchill says in his essay is hardly what I call intellectual. He's repeating the kind of stuff plenty of kids fathom out for themselves without any scholarly guidance.
      Put it another way, if someone found an essay by Joe Unknown that said exactly the same thing, would they be astonished?

    • I came here to lead, not to read!
  • Ahead of his time (Score:5, Interesting)

    by poodlediagram ( 1944244 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @03:33AM (#53878543)
    He also wrote:

    "Might not a bomb no bigger than an orange be found to possess a secret power to destroy a whole block of buildings -- nay, to concentrate the force of a thousand tons of cordite and blast a township at a stroke? Could not explosives even of the existing type be guided automatically in flying machines by wireless or other rays, without a human pilot, in ceaseless procession upon a hostile city, arsenal, camp or dockyard?"

    in 1924.
    • I think in the late 19th and early 20th centuries intelligent alien life was a concept more widely accepted than today. For example life on Mars was considered a possibility. Visible features of Mars being interpreted as canals received some support until better optics were developed and the "canals" were determined to be an illusion.
  • Tsss, no education!
    • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Thursday February 16, 2017 @04:23AM (#53878651) Homepage Journal

      Tsss, no education!

      I, for one, leave off the "sir" nonsense deliberately, as I do not give one whit for who your queen reveres. We got the right to ignore that crap when we kicked British arse.

      • I do not give one whit for who your queen reveres

        in my case the only queen I know is my girlfriend ...

        • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @06:37AM (#53878865) Homepage

          If you were writing that hundreds of years ago, that's be a perfectly normal statement. Queen comes from Old English cwen (queen, woman, wife) - having originally been in the context of "wife (of a king)", and only later to refer only specifically to royals. It stems from the proto-germanic kwoeniz (wife), from PIE gwen (woman, wife), cognate of Greek gyne (woman, wife), Gaelic bean (woman), Sanskrit janis (woman), etc.

          Lots of words related to women have changed over time, it's sort of weird. In Middle and Old English, woman was wif, which later became wife; the word "woman" comes from "wifman", or "woman-man", in the context of the gender-neutral usage of man that's been steadily dropped from English over the past half century (aka, more like "woman-person"). Wif still exists in English in a context closer to its original meaning in the word "midwife" - "woman who is with" (mid being a cognate of the Old Norse miðr (with), seen today in languages like Icelandic "með", Danish "med", etc)

          Even "girl" has changed. "Gyrle" used to refer to babies only (more commonly female, but of either sex). Boys were "knave gyrles" and girls were "gay gyrles" (yeah, the latter term has changed a bit ;) ). The word "boy" existed at the time, but more often referred to a servant or commoner rather than being a generic term for "young male".

          • by Menkhaf ( 627996 )

            Without fail, every time I read one of your posts I think to myself, "what a wonderful and though-out post displaying an impressive amount of knowledge". At that point I know who wrote it and only look to the author line to verify that it's you. Thanks for posting!

  • H G Wells (Score:5, Informative)

    by AHuxley ( 892839 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @04:08AM (#53878631) Homepage Journal
    The Winston Churchill connection to H G Wells was well known.
    The why of Frederick Lindermann who was liked over a lot of other staff and the design of the British nuclear project.
    Lindermann sent Churchill a book on nuclear physics in 1926 and gave a talk that ensured Churchill was ready for nuclear issues.
    H G Wells was just one of the people Churchill kept in contact given the interest in The World Set Free https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org].
    So Churchill had been reading and meeting a lot of interesting people over many decades. Given the early contact with Wells and the topics in his books,
    Churchill was much more ready for nuclear e.g. the work of Frederick Soddy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org] and space topics.
    That later interest in science, nuclear weapons was what saved the UK's nuclear weapons design work from the USA.
    The "other planets" question would have been talked about a lot given the interest in H G Wells.
    What can political leaders learn from this? Read a lot, be interesting and talk a lot to the best minds of your generation.
    Find the scientist who can speak about emerging topics and who can hold a conversation. The best scientists to work on any project are easy to find later on.
    Never trust another nation with your own science, they will not share or give back.
    That allowed the UK to be ready for a nuclear future.
    • Is that why it was the US that actually developed it and not the UK?

      • Re:H G Wells (Score:4, Informative)

        by AHuxley ( 892839 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @06:03AM (#53878811) Homepage Journal
        Tube Alloys has most of the history of the UK's nuclear efforts, thanks to early political and science leadership.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
        By the time the UK worked out the US would not be sharing back, it was too late. Th UK had given the US most of what it had.
        After WW2 the UK had to work on its own projects.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          I don't know why we keep falling for the "special relationship" line, we get screwed every time.

          • I don't know why we keep falling for the "special relationship" line, we get screwed every time.

            The way I see it, it's propaganda to get the US to do what the UK wants. Churchill was good at managing it, and Thatcher was good at managing it. Tony Blair failed big time.

            Also, it drove Bismark crazy. Doesn't matter how skilled Merkel is with diplomacy, the US still isn't joining them in WW3.

        • by PPH ( 736903 )

          What is really interesting about the Tube Alloys program (joint UK, Canadian) is the price estimates for the various proposed facilities compared to what the Manhattan Project cost the USA. We (in the States) got butt-raped by the private industry involved in construction. Often by costs a few orders of magnitude greater than British R&D costs.

    • That allowed the UK to be ready for a nuclear future.

      Is that the future where we have to kowtow to the US to (supposedly) defend ourselves?

      I wonder just how more expensive Trident will get over the next 4 years, after May has got down on her knees for Donald...?

  • by lorinc ( 2470890 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @04:25AM (#53878655) Homepage Journal

    That's a question I usually ask myself when the holidays kick in. The answer has still to be found.

  • by Uberbah ( 647458 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @04:52AM (#53878701)

    The western, romanticized image of Churchill is of the stoic rock that beat the Nazis in WWII, bravely leading the British people to oppose fascism while America dithered.

    The rest of his bio is rounded out by his fond nostalgia for shooting "savages" in Africa - i.e. blacks not yet subjugated by European colonialism. And the post WWII crushing of Kenya's rebellion against British rule, [theguardian.com] where you'd have a hard time looking at the treatment of prisoners and thinking you weren't hearing descriptions of a Nazi concentration camp. Shit like shoving sand in anuses with metal rods, crushing men's testicles and shoving glass into women's vaginas. "I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes" [theguardian.com] was a real knee-slapper, too.

    Churchill wasn't opposed to barbarous tranny, as long as it was coming from his own country.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Ask Africa: has kicking out the Europeans helped? Who, among the Africans, has benefited from their departure? There seems to be no lack of savages in the continent. Cf. Congo. Or Rwanda. Or Nigeria. Or SA. All of which are various levels of fucked-up disaster. Best you can get is, maybe, Kenya, where there are still beggars everywhere (in the midst of an incredibly fertile land) and gates blocking the entry to the driveways of hotels in Nairobi - and that was before the mall catastrophe.
      • by Uberbah ( 647458 )

        Ask Africa: has kicking out the Europeans helped? Who, among the Africans, has benefited from their departure? There seems to be no lack of savages in the continent. Cf. Congo. Or Rwanda. Or Nigeria. Or SA. All of which are various levels of fucked-up disaster. Best you can get is, maybe, Kenya, where there are still beggars everywhere (in the midst of an incredibly fertile land) and gates blocking the entry to the driveways of hotels in Nairobi - and that was before the mall catastrophe.

        Do you also pretend

    • by Bearhouse ( 1034238 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @10:40AM (#53879581)

      Churchill wasn't opposed to barbarous tranny, as long as it was coming from his own country.

      Unfortunately, his position on shemales and ladyboys remains unknown.

  • by DrXym ( 126579 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @07:22AM (#53878931)
    That neither link actually leads to the essay. The Verge link is basically regurgitated clickbait summary of the Nature link. Utterly redundant in and of itself.

    The Nature article while more informative only provides a handful of selective quotes from the essay but still no link. Instead it frames the essay in the context of Churchill's interest in science. How about an actual link to the actual essay?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That neither link actually leads to the essay.

      http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-38985425 [bbc.com]
      Dr Livio told BBC News that there were no firm plans to publish the article because of issues surrounding the copyright. However, he said the Churchill Museum was working to resolve these so that the historically important essay can eventually see the light of day.

    • Well it's the Verge.
      Does any one really think this is creditable?

  • A brave little theory, and actually quite coherent for a system of five or seven dimensions -- if only we lived in one. Academician Prokhor Zakharov, "Now We Are Alone"
  • It might have been lost once upon a time, but now surely it's a found essay.

    OK, semantic moment, I should have known better.

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