Saturday, February 28, 2015

Are we alone? Do we want to know?

It was near Green Bank, W.Va., in 1960 that a young radio astronomer named Frank Drake conducted the first extensive search for alien civilizations in deep space. He aimed the 85-foot dish of a radio telescope at two nearby, sun-like stars, tuning to a frequency he thought an alien civilization might use for interstellar communication.

But the stars had nothing to say.

So began SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, a form of astronomical inquiry that has captured the imaginations of people around the planet but has so far failed to detect a single “hello.” Pick your explanation: They’re not there; they’re too far away; they’re insular and aloof; they’re zoned out on computer games; they’re watching us in mild bemusement and wondering when we’ll grow up.

Now some SETI researchers are pushing a more aggressive agenda: Instead of just listening, we would transmit messages, targeting newly discovered planets orbiting distant stars. Through “active SETI,” we’d boldly announce our presence and try to get the conversation started.

Naturally this is controversial, because of . . . well, the Klingons. The bad aliens.

Read the rest here.

Actually it's not the Klingons I'm worried about. You can reason with Klingons. Klingons aren't usually genocidal in their conquests. I'm more concerned with... the Borg.

On a serious note, this is actually a legitimate concern. Let's assume for the sake of argument that we are not the only intelligent species in the universe. This seems pretty likely when you think about it. And let's further assume ad argumentum that one or more species have unlocked the secret to interstellar space travel. This proposition is much more problematic since it would require that most everything we think we know about the laws of physics is wrong. But again for the sake of discussion...

Anyone who is capable of hopping from one solar system to another is going to be so far beyond us in technological development, that we might as well still be living in caves. Add to this the extremely unlikely proposition that we are the only intelligent and predatorially aggressive species around and well... you get the picture.

At the very least I think this deserves some discussion at higher levels and some consensus before we start posting interstellar coming out announcements. What these people are doing is rather akin to sending out an invitation to everyone on the block to a party at your place, except you're not the only one who lives there, AND you don't know any of the neighbors. These "scientists" seem to be assuming that we are living in a high quality neighborhood, maybe the Upper East Side of the Milkyway. When in fact we might be living in the galactic projects of Spanish Harlem.

In short, I'd like to know a little more about the neighbors before we invite them over for dinner. If for no other reason than to be sure that we aren't likely to end up as the main course.


William Manning said...

Didn't Stephen Hawking once speculate that, should we ever actually encounter aliens, it would not likely be a pleasant experience?

The Anti-Gnostic said...

There's also the Great Filter hypothesis: that advanced civilizations collapse back on themselves after reaching a certain level of technological advancement.

So, is our Great Filter before us, or behind us?

CJ said...

CS Lewis said that if you want to know why a less advanced civilization should be wary meeting more advanced ones, ask the red man and the black man.

lannes said...

"You can reason with klingons" (whatever those are) ? You remind me of the minister who approached the flying saucer in George Pal's "War of the Worlds" saying "we want to be your
friends". Zzzzzt, and he was ashes.

James the Thickheaded said...

Long before reference to Hawking, the famous quip referring to the listening post query, "What if we hear something?" suggested "Don't tell them we're here" for precisely the reason that by the time their broadcasts reach us... it's been forever, and progress made would put them waaay beyond us. Encounters between the "Indians" and the better weaponized Europeans (not necessarily more civilized)... didn't go well for the Indians... and still don't.