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What If ET Is Out There? By Seth Shostak at TEDxSanJoseCA (Full Transcript)

Okay, so we’re interested in these sorts of things. And not just us. It’s also kids. This allows you to pay it forward by using this subject as a hook to science, because SETI involves all kinds of science, obviously biology, obviously astronomy, but also geology, also chemistry, various scientific disciplines all can be presented in the guise of, “We’re looking for E.T.” So to me this is interesting and important, and in fact, it’s my policy, even though I give a lot of talks to adults, you give talks to adults, and two days later they’re back to where they were. But if you give talks to kids, you know, one in 50 of them, some light bulb goes off, and they think, “Gee, I’d never thought of that,” and then they go, read a book or a magazine or whatever. They get interested in something.

Now it’s my theory, supported only by anecdotal, personal anecdotal evidence, but nonetheless, that kids get interested in something between the ages of eight and 11. You’ve got to get them there. So, all right, I give talks to adults, that’s fine, but I try and make 10% of the talks that I give, I try and make those for kids.

I remember when a guy came to our high school, actually, it was actually my junior high school. I was in sixth grade. And he gave some talk. All I remember from it was one word: electronics. It was like Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate,” right, when he said “plastics,” whatever that means, plastics. All right, so the guy said electronics. I don’t remember anything else. In fact, I don’t remember anything that my sixth grade teacher said all year, but I remember electronics. And so I got interested in electronics, and I studied to get my ham license. I was wiring up stuff. Here I am at about 15 or something, doing that sort of stuff. Okay? That had a big effect on me. So that’s my point, that you can have a big effect on these kids.

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In fact, this reminds me, I don’t know, a couple years ago I gave a talk at a school in Palo Alto where there were about a dozen 11-year-olds that had come to this talk. I had been brought in to talk to these kids for an hour. Eleven-year-olds, they’re all sitting in a little semi-circle looking up at me with big eyes, and I started, there was a white board behind me, and I started off by writing a one with 22 zeroes after it, and I said, “All right, now look, this is the number of stars in the visible universe, and this number is so big there’s not even a name for it.”

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And one of these kids shot up his hand, and he said, “Well, actually there is a name for it. It’s a sextra-quadra-hexa-something or other.” Right? Now, that kid was wrong by four orders of magnitude, but there was no doubt about it, these kids were smart. Okay? So I stopped giving the lecture. All they wanted to do was ask questions. In fact, my last comments to these kids, at the end I said, “You know, you kids are smarter than the people I work with.” Now — they didn’t even care about that. What they wanted was my email address so they could ask me more questions.

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Let me just say, look, my job is a privilege because we’re in a special time. Previous generations couldn’t do this experiment at all. In another generation down the line, I think we will have succeeded. So to me, it is a privilege, and when I look in the mirror, the facts are that I really don’t see myself. What I see is the generation behind me. These are some kids from the Huff School, fourth graders. I talked there, what, two weeks ago, something like that.

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I think that if you can instill some interest in science and how it works, well, that’s a payoff beyond easy measure.

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Thank you very much.

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By Pangambam S

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