Aliens, Oumuamua, and Imagination

As science continues to provide us more inkblot tests like ‘Oumuamua, the scientific method will continue to help us make sense of what we’re seeing. As an astronomer, I’m grateful for that objective process. But it doesn’t mean we should subordinate imagination to science. It wouldn’t even make sense to try: The scientific method can only test hypotheses, and someone has to first imagine those possible hypotheses. As long as we’re testing the more prosaic and likely explanations, such as asteroids and comets, it does no harm while we’re at it to test the interstellar spacecraft hypothesis through a responsible peer-reviewed scientific process. The greater harm might be to have the evidence of alien contact in front of us someday but fail to see it because we didn’t dare to imagine the question. In any case, it’s obvious that many scientists long for the nonprosaic explanation. The name ‘Oumuamua is Hawaiian for scout , and planetary astronomer Andy Rivkin has written and performed a lovely song full of longing to get to know our interstellar visitor. It’s such an integral part of the human experience to long for contact, to see faces in inanimate objects. The world would be less wonderful if human scientists didn’t also sometimes help us all anthropomorphize the cosmos

The greatest scientists are very creative, with very active imaginations.