Is anybody out there? It’s a question that’s inspired generations of writers and filmmakers, religious leaders, astrophysicists and, of course, conspiracy theorists. Accompanied by a beautifully illustrated presentation, Alexander Kelly — a long-time obsessive when it comes to the Voyager space programme — delivers a sincere, informative, and touching performance lecture covering the possibility of alien life, Fermi’s paradox, extinction events, space travel, genetic modification, and even what it means to be human.
Funny, earnest, engaging presentation.
Entering the room, you take your seat accompanied by a string of greetings in myriad different languages. These are taken from the famous ‘Golden Record’ placed aboard both Voyager spacecraft launched in the 1970s. These discs carry, among other information, photos and audio recordings of life on earth, and a message of peace to anyone who might find (and work out how to operate) it: “We step out of our solar system, into the universe, seeking only peace and friendship”. In a time when our species is bombing itself to pieces day after day, the Voyager mission’s spirit of peace and optimism embodies an ideal to which we could all hope to strive.
600 People is not just about space: humanity’s attempt to find this alien life also has a lot to teach us about life back home. Our search for ‘intelligent’ life begs the question of what intelligent life actually is. Birds are tool-users building nests; chimps recognise themselves in mirrors; dolphins even carry out premeditated acts of murder. So what is it that separates humans? What, for that matter, separated our species from the other members of the Homo genus?
One of the distinguishing features of Homo Sapiens, Kelly argues, is our love of storytelling. And his show is an accomplished piece of storytelling in its own right. The fascinating subject matter — of humanity’s relationship with space exploration, technology, our planet, ourselves — is brought to life by Kelly’s entertaining narration, characterised by his jovial personality and engaging sincerity. It’s not perfect (there are occasional lulls), but he cares deeply about the topic, and makes a strong case for why you should too.
There might very well be nobody out there. We might be all alone in a vast, lifeless universe; we might not be. We can’t really know for sure, but either possibility is truly amazing: Kelly reminds us — in this funny, earnest, engaging presentation — of the value, and humility, of wonder.