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As the search for life beyond Earth continues, some stop to ask if we should

By Lauren Gilger
Published: Wednesday, August 10, 2022 - 12:47pm

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Alien life has been imagined in pop culture in a variety of ways over the years. From the scary, to the silly,  to the benevolent, the question of what else — or who else — is out there is one for the ages.

Today, the images from the James Webb Space Telescope are captivating humanity across the globe as we are all seeing the vast depths of outer space for the first time.

But Willi Lempert thinks we should reframe the conversation around extraterrestrial life.

the carina nebula
NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI
This landscape of “mountains” and “valleys” speckled with glittering stars is actually the edge of a nearby, young, star-forming region called NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula.

Lempert is an assistant professor of anthropology at Bowdoin University who studies Indigenous cultures.

A few years ago, he got a request from Berkeley’s SETI Research Center, which uses radio telescopes and listening devices to search for signs of life in space. They wanted him and a team of scholars to help them think about the questions: To what end, and what they should do if they make contact?

The Show spoke with him about how history can help us answer this question — especially within the lens of colonialism.

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