The Atlantic

I Don’t Believe in Aliens Anymore

Humanity must learn to find meaning without relying on gods or extraterrestrials.
Source: Colin Braley / Reuters

Ever since the Renaissance, the sciences have dealt human beings a steady stream of humiliations. The Copernican revolution dismantled the idea that humanity stood at the center of the universe. A cascade of discoveries from the late-18th to the early-20th century showed that humanity was a lot less significant than some had imagined. The revelation of the geological timescale stacked millions and billions of years atop our little cultural narratives, crumbling all of human history to dust. The revelation that we enjoy an evolutionary kinship to fish, bugs, and filth eroded the in-God’s-image stuff. The disclosure of the size of the galaxy—and our position on a randomly located infinitesimal dot in it—was another hit to human specialness. Then came relativity and quantum mechanics, and the realization that the way we see and hear the world bears no relation to the bizarre swarming of its intrinsic nature.

Literature began to taste and probe these discoveries. By the 19th century, some writers had already hit upon the theme—meaninglessness—that

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