I am intrigued by one element in this report. Actually I'm intrigued by more than just one element, but I'm going to blog about the element by which I'm especially intrigued. It is contained in the following excerpt:
[A] team led by British astronomers is launching an ambitious search for planets that orbit the nearest, brightest stars to Earth. Their aim is to find prime candidates for the most important question of all: is there life elsewhere?
"In the end, this is about understanding our place in all this around us. Why are we here? What are the chances that similar things can occur elsewhere? What range of life is there?" says Don Pollacco, a planet hunter at the University of Warwick. "We are at a point in history where we are close to being able to answer these questions."
Crikey! On the point of being able to answer the question 'Why are we here?' If this turns out to be so, I'll be more than a bit miffed. I'll be miffed because of the place I was fated to occupy in the succession of human generations. Being now in my 70th year and so not likely to be around all that much longer if one measures things in big historical terms, I think it's more than possible that I'll miss the moment when 'they' answer that big old question. Damn.
Anyway, I can think of at least four types of answer to the question 'Why are we here?' The first type construes it as meaning: for what (higher) purpose are we here? And since I don't believe that we are here for any higher purpose, should the question get answered in that sense it would be a big surprise to me. A shame, therefore, to miss it.
Second, the question could be taken as asking for the causes of our being here. If this is what they're about to discover, the links in the causal chain that appear right back there, from the origins of our universe to the formation of planets with intelligent life, I probably won't be missing much at all since I don't understand most of what is already said about these things. That stuff about multiple universes all existing at the same time (or whatever it is), it's even more complicated than human emotions and those are so complicated you can get to feeling you have less and less of a grasp of them the longer you go on.
Third, 'Why are we here?' might be thought to invite suggestions about the meanings we ourselves give ourselves: such as 'to be happy', 'to love', 'to achieve things', or (Kurt Vonnegut's idea) 'to fart around'. We already have a lot of answers to the question so construed and in any case I don't expect it's the sort of thing Don Pollacco had in mind in what he said there.
Finally, there's the answer 'No reason'. The latter answer takes 'reason' as being the wrong word for the context in that it can imply some intent on someone's part, and (like I already indicated above) we weren't intended, we just are. This might sound a bit nihilistic, but I've got to go walking now.