The Great Silence by Ted Chiang

★★★★☆ (4/5)

Their desire to make a connection is so strong that they’ve created an ear capable of hearing across the universe.

A quick and interesting read, Ted Chiang’s “The Great Silence” is narrated by a Puerto Rican parrot whose entire kind is on the brink of extinction. He addresses humans and their curiosity in regards to search for extraterrestrial beings in the vast expanse of our universe. There is great irony in humanity’s quest for intelligent life elsewhere in the cosmos whilst we willingly ignore intelligent beings on planet Earth.

The universe ought to be a cacophony of voices, but instead it’s disconcertingly quiet.

Fermi Paradox states that an intelligent specie would prefer silence and staying remote rather than aim for contact with a more advanced specie. The fear of possible destruction by a more dominant specie has resulted in the Great Silence. This is observable through Arecibo, a large radio telescope located in Puerto Rico (which is also home to the critically endangered species of parrots). The telescope functions as ears and mouth for Earth in the cosmos, attentive to any sounds emitted by intelligent life anywhere in the universe.

Humans have lived alongside parrots for thousands of years, and only recently have they considered the possibility that we might be intelligent.

Our parrot is most humbling in his narration. He acknowledges that human neglect has been the defining factor in pushing his specie towards extinction yet does not place any direct blame on mankind. Instead he simply states his concerns, commending humanity on their achievements and inquisitive nature. He draws similarities between his kind and Man – both are vocal learners and through language can give distinct form to their thoughts.

Soon this rainforest may be as silent as the rest of the universe.

The story is a damning but somber indictment on humanity’s future. Mankind may as well be heading for the same fate that we have knowingly condemned other species to, species with which we share this planet. In search for something larger than ourselves, we have conveniently forgotten the modest existence of beauty around us – terrains and animal and plant life thereby endangering everything that has ever occurred. Mercenary agendas have made us forgetful of our duties towards Nature.

The story functions as a reminder of our foremost responsibilities towards preserving life of all manners on Earth and later turn our ears towards the extraterrestrial. The Great Silence first manifested itself in mankind’s relationship with nature and has now been festering amongst men too. There is a dire lack of communication between humans. Widespread prevalence of technological advancements have made us immune to values of kindness, empathy and tolerance. We too are heading towards self-inflicted moral and ethical extinction.

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