SETI has long occupied a unique niche in modern intellectual life, combining serious and far-reaching science with a kind of gosh-wow zeal that seems (at times) to border on the mystical — perhaps as much religious as a product of science or science fiction. Indeed, to some, the notion of contact with advanced alien civilizations may carry much the same transcendental or hopeful significance as any more traditional notion of “salvation from above”. But, should small groups of opinionated people here on Earth decide for the rest of us - without even consulting us - whether to attract the attention of aliens out there? It's a more sober and serious topic that you might expect. And I take a position that might surprise you, for a sci fi author. But I also happen to be a scientist. And I believe important matters should be discussed and done right.
Understanding the so-called "Fermi Paradox" – the mysterious Great Silence where we had expected to see and hear signs of alien life in the cosmos – requires a grounding in SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). Persistent ...
Science fiction writer David Brin is an outspoken critic of Active SETI. He points to the history of our own planet, in which encounters between cultures of greatly differing technological sophistication rarely go well. “We have many examples where a technologically advanced civilization contacted a technologically less advanced civilization,” he says. (European colonizing efforts in Africa and the Americas come to mind.) “And in every one of those cases, there was pain. Even when both sides had the best of intentions.”
Understanding the controversy over "Messages to Extra Terrestrial Intelligence" or METI requires a grounding in the history and rationale of SETI (Search for ETI). Insights since the turn of the century have changed SETI's scientific basis. Persistent null results from the radio search do not invalidate continuing effort, but they do raise questions about long-held assumptions. Modified search strategies are discussed. The Great Silence or Fermi Paradox is appraised, along with the disruptive plausibility of interstellar travel. Psychological motivations for METI are considered. With this underpinning, we consider why a small cadre of SETI-ist radio astronomers have resisted the notion of international consultations before humanity takes a brash and irreversible step into METI, shouting our presence into the cosmos.
The Fermi Paradox refers to a question posed by the great physicist Enrico Fermi in the 1940s, demanding: "If it seems so likely the universe may host other life forms, how come we haven't seen any signs?" Not just of radio beacons, but of mighty structures that our own descendants might someday build out there in space. Or leakage from chatty commerce between civilizations. Or indeed, any trace that the Earth was visited during the 2 billion years that it was "prime real estate" with an oxygen atmosphere, but nothing higher than slime molds to defend it.
In the early 1960s, while the world was entranced by the spectacle of human beings hurled into space in rocket ships, a series of philosophical earthquakes shook the sedate field of astronomy. Just when the skies were beginning to seem known and familiar, all at once things changed. Stellar astronomers suddenly faced unsettling data from new classes of objects called "quasars" and "radio galaxies."And now an abundance of exoplanets. Still, the greatest intellectual challenge to the worldview of modern astronomers came in the early sixties, not because of new space probes, telescopes, and computers but because of an idea.
To Any Alien Lurkers Prowling or Waiting Out There
If you are reading this, perusing the electronic communications network of our lonely little planet, please pick whichever of the following applies to you, and ignore the rest:
If you've spent years monitoring our radio, our television -- and now our internet-- and the reason you haven't answered is that you are afraid of the rash or violent behavior you see depicted in our media... please be reassured!
Here is the most detailed and comprehensive analysis of the so-called "Fermi Paradox" or "The Great Silence"... the puzzling fact that we see no signs of advanced civilizations among the stars. Nor evidence that Earth was ever even visited, during the two billion years that it has been prime real estate, with an oxygen-rich atmosphere. Many theories have been offered fervently by very smart people, each of them convinced that he or she has the aha-answer. But way back in 1983 I published what is still - to this day - the only major review article about alien contact, surveying almost a hundred different hypotheses and ranking them according to plausibility. Surprisingly, there have been almost no new ideas since then, though plenty of heated opinion! (Quarterly Journal of Royal Astronomical Society, fall1983, v.24, pp283-309)
Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI, sometimes called Active SETI), is much like diving into the party and making your presence felt. Dr Alexander Zaitsev of the Russian Academy of Science in Moscow, is attempting to take Earth into the party by transmitting messages to nearby stars that he hopes harbour intelligent beings. However, his efforts have been met with stiff resistance from some quarters; a core group of SETI scientists forcefully argue that we should not be shouting into the jungle, that we shouldn’t be looking to strike up a conversation with strangers whose motivations and capabilities are completely unknown to us.
Some of the world's leading astronomers -- including Great Britain's astronomer royal, Sir Martin Rees -- believe advanced extraterrestrial civilizations, rather than using different radio waves or visible light to signal, may be using an entirely...
In response to a flurry of interest that’s been stirred by Stephen Hawking’s new Discovery Channel show—specifically, his lead-in episode about extraterrestrials, wherein he recommended against our calling attention to ourselves—David Brin continues the discussion about Hawking and aliens, with added contributions by and about Paul Davies, Robin Hanson, and others.
Should we beam messages to the cosmos? Science fiction author David Brin debates SETI and METI (Messaging to Extraterrestrials) with author and journalist Nick Pope. David Brin states, "My main concern as a scientist is the incredibly unprofessional way in which this has been proceeding."
METI has been conducted sporadically in the past, but recently a surge of individuals and organizations have initiated or suggested new METI programs, both academic and commercial in nature. METI programs carry unknown and potentially enormous implications and consequences. We feel the decision whether or not to transmit must be based upon a worldwide consensus, and not a decision based upon the wishes of a few individuals with access to powerful communications equipment. We strongly encourage vigorous international debate by a broadly representative body prior to engaging further in this activity.
--statement signed by George Dyson, James Benford, David Brin, Paul Davies, Elon Musk....
Why haven't we heard from aliens? What explains the Great Silence? Author David Brin comments on the Fermi Paradox -- and why we haven't found any extraterrestrial neighbors yet. These comments are from an interview conducted on April 7, 2013.
Should the endeavor called SETI (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) augment and transform itself into something new? Should "Active SETI" depart from the traditional passive program -- patiently listening and sifting for signs of advanced civilizations -- and switch over to doing something new: Deliberately and vigorously transmitting into space, in order to draw attention our way?
Taking issue with Neil de Grasse Tyson on worms, aliens...and human intelligence: What it comes down to is that the “we’re like worms” explanation for lack of contact is worth discussing! But it is not an “of course” that can blithely dismiss the Fermi Paradox. It is one hypothesis - and not one of the top ones - among a hundred or so that range from barely-possible, to somewhat plausible, all the way to "kind-of likely."
In order to give you pleasant dreams tonight, let me offer a few possibilities about the days that lie ahead — changes that may occur within the next twenty or so years, roughly a single human generation. Possibilities that are taken seriously by some of today’s best minds. Potential transformations of human life on Earth and, perhaps, even what it means to be human.
What are the obstacles toward interstellar travel? Should humanity announce its presence to the cosmos? Active SETI, also called METI, or Message to ETI, proposes beaming messages to space, multiplying Earth's radio detectability signature by orders of magnitude. But who is deciding this on the part of humanity? Shouldn't we be consulted first? This assumes that extraterrestrials are altruistic...
What does SETI stand for? And what is its mission? How does this organization go about their search? What technologies form the basis of this search? What have been some of the more advanced and successful technological breakthroughs in the recent years that have enhanced the SETI approach? What is the SETI@Home project and what is the meaning of volunteer “gridware”? These questions answered by: David Brin - Scientist, Futurist and Best- Selling Author of the future oriented book The Transparent Society.
Are We Alone? It's a fundamental question, which has haunted humankind since first we realized that the points of light in the night sky are other suns. Today we have the technology to seek a definitive answer! The SETI League, Inc. is participatory science. Founded in 1994, we are the international grass-roots organization dedicated to privatizing the electromagnetic Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. Together, fifteen hundred members in five dozen countries on all seven continents are keeping alive the quest for our cosmic companions.
After an incredible decade, in which the number of planets known beyond our solar system increased from zero to several thousand, astronomers have detected an Earth-sized world orbiting between the two stars nearest to our system, Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B. Much too hot to sustain life, it nevertheless will help in narrowing down the search space for others. Moreover, now we have a target for the first interstellar probes, which are already under discussion. Indeed, the youngest of you readers may live to see the launch.
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