Winston Churchill is perhaps most famous for his leadership during World War II, but a newfound essay on alien life reveals something more about this important historical figure: he was relentlessly curious about the universe.
“I, for one, am not so immensely impressed by the success we are making of our civilization here that I am prepared to think we are the only spot in the immense universe which contains living, thinking creatures or that we are the highest type of mental and physical develop which has ever appeared in the vast compass of space and time,” he wrote in the essay entitle ‘Are We Alone in the Universe?’.
Churchill was a prolific writer and a huge advocate of science. He was the first prime minister to have a science adviser. His passion for scientific exploration was revealed in the 11-page essay about the search for alien life.
“I was amazed to see the title of this article, first of all,” Mario Livio, an astrophysicist who read the work, commented. “And then I read it and was even more astonished because I saw that this great politician is musing about a real scientific topic, an intriguing scientific topic, [and] he is reasoning about this in the same way that a scientist today would go about it.”
In the essay, Churchill first attempts to define life, characterizing that the most important quality is the ability to reproduce. He focused on where to look for life and considered the necessary ingredients for life to exist.
“And he identified liquid water as one such ingredient,” Livio notes. “And that’s exactly what we do today. Our searchers for life in the universe today are primarily guided by liquid water.”
Remarkably, Churchill also decided that only Mars and Venus could have fulfilled that condition for life within our solar system. He discussed the possibility of planets outside the solar system which had not yet been discovered, noting that the abundance of double stars suggest that planetary systems could form commonly.
“I am not sufficiently conceited to think that my Sun is the only one with a family of planets,” Churchill wrote.
The paper reflects Churchill’s nuanced approach to science—he understood that it was necessary to win the war but also wanted it to be used to improve the world. Throughout his career, he emphasized that science should be used to advance humanity.
“Later in life, he also understood that one cannot do science in what he would call a moral vacuum,” Livio commented. “You need to embed all the scientific research and discoveries also in the context of human values, and an understanding of the human condition.”
Source: Space, Live Science