A Universe of Possibilities

A night sky with a band of stars

We live on a fragile island of life, in a universe of possibilities. For many millennia, humans have been on a journey to find answers, answers to questions about naturalism and transcendence, about who we are and why we are, and of course, who else might be out there. Is it really just us? Are we alone in this vast universe of energy and matter and chemistry and physics? Well, if we are, it’s an awful waste of space. But, what if we’re not?

What if, out there, others are asking and answering similar questions? What if they look up at the night sky, at the same stars, but from the opposite side? Would the discovery of an older cultural civilization out there inspire us to find ways to survive our increasingly uncertain technological adolescence? Might it be the discovery of a distant civilization and our common cosmic origins that finally drives home the message of the bond among all humans? Whether we're born in San Francisco, or Sudan, or close to the heart of the Milky Way galaxy, we are the products of a billion-year lineage of wandering stardust. We, all of us, are what happens when a primordial mixture of hydrogen and helium evolves for so long that it begins to ask where it came from.

This is an excerpt of Jill Tarter's 2009 TED Talk, winner of the 2009 TED Prize.