So What if KIC 8462852 Did Have Megastructures?

Although the speculation that the odd star KIC 8462852 might have something very unnatural orbiting it–a Dyson swarm or some other megastructure–seems to have been unfounded, it’s worth contemplating what it might mean for humanity should the speculation prove to be accurate. From the start, SETI scientists assumed the odds were very much against our neighbor 1,400 light years away having anything other than some natural phenomenon that we simply didn’t know about before orbiting it. And observations both by the SETI Institute using the Allen Telescope Array and optical SETI observations in Panama by SETI International have shown no evidence of ET. But even with a lack of empirical data, there is a chance, slight as it may be, that we’ve finally hit the jackpot and found evidence that humans have or had neighbors in the universe.

So what if we’re not alone? Many in the SETI community and elsewhere have argued that this would be one of the biggest discoveries in human history and that it would change our way of seeing ourselves. I agree with the first point, but I’m less sanguine about the second part of the equation. Clearly, learning that we are not alone represents one of the great discoveries in human history. It will only happen once in our entire existence–like stepping on the moon was the only first-time humans stepped on another object in our universe beyond Earth.

But assuming that this will change humanity is tricky. Among educated elites like theologians, artists or philosophers it should certainly have an impact on how they see our place in the universe and, perhaps, open the door to new ways of thinking about the meaning of our existence. For religious zealots who are convinced that humanity is in —> Read More