Are there extraterrestrials among us

Is there perhaps more to the fruit fly than our little minds suspect? Are ghosts perhaps not apparitions of deceased people, but lively extraterrestrials? Or are we ourselves, including our entire environment, the refrigerators, mid-range cars and single-family homes, just cells in a huge organism that is beyond human capacity?

Lord Martin Rees did not get lost in such details, but recent remarks by the chairman of the British scientific association, the Royal Society, have opened the door to tempting speculation. Because the respected scientist has put forward the thesis that we may be surrounded by extraterrestrial intelligence, but cannot recognize it with our limited human abilities.

"I suspect that there could be life and intelligence out there in forms that we cannot perceive," explained Rees. "Just as a chimpanzee doesn't understand quantum theory, it could be that there are aspects of reality that are beyond the capabilities of our brains. They might stare us in the face, but we just don't see them."

Rees, who also bears the honorary title of court astronomer to the Queen, recently hosted an international conference on extraterrestrial intelligence. It was the first time the Royal Society looked at the subject in its 350-year history. Rees raised the question of whether the discovery of aliens somewhere in space on earth would rather trigger fear or delight. He left one answer open.

One of the most renowned alien researchers, the American astronomer and astrophysicist Frank Drake, however, expressed the opinion at this conference that the earth itself and its inhabitants could become increasingly invisible to alien life forms. With the switch to digital forms of transmission on television, the radiation signature that is generated by analogue TV signals and that wraps around the planet as a 50 light-year-long envelope is fading. Digital signals, on the other hand, said Drake, would only be perceived by potential aliens as noise, behind which Homo sapiens can hide.