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Should SETI Turn Active?

Centauri Dreams admits to troubling new doubts about a variant of SETI called METI — Messaging to Extraterrestrial Intelligence. The notion, also known as ‘active SETI,’ is backed by some members of the SETI community and is especially strong in Russia. Its premise is that rather than listening passively for signs of extraterrestrials, we should actively try to achieve contact through messages of our own. This would constitute a ‘brightening’ of our civilization in the radio sky, making us more noticeable by many orders of magnitude.

A number of intentional signals besides the famous Arecibo message of 1974 have already been sent. The so-called ‘Cosmic Call 1’ message was transmitted from the Evpatoria Planetary Radar site in the Crimea in 1999, targeting four Sun-like stars and sending an overview of terrestrial life written in a code called Lexicon. Cosmic Call 2, sent to five Sun-like stars, followed in 2003. Based on the target list and the distances involved, the window for a possible response to these messages opens in sixty years.

Is this a good idea? We are only beginning to have some understanding of how many planetary systems are out there and to learn about the properties of their largest planets. Knowing what we know now about the tenacity of life on Earth even in the most extreme environments, and knowing that there may well be Earth-like worlds in solar systems throughout the galaxy, we face the real possibility of alerting other civilizations to our presence before we know anything whatsoever about them. This may or may not prove dangerous, but it seems like something that deserves wide discussion.

But the conversations now going on in the SETI community focus on the work of a small committee of the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), one chaired by the SETI Institute’s Seth Shostak. You may know of this committee from its earlier work, as it developed the so-called ‘First SETI Protocol’ that outlines a rational response to the detection of an extraterrestrial intelligence. Such protocols are highly productive, for they bring the scientific community together before such a paradigm-changing event can occur, allowing for a thoughtful look at the issues and encouraging debate.

But there is a second protocol under discussion, one that asks METI proponents to hold back from deliberate transmissions until their plans can be examined in open gatherings by a broad community of experts in various disciplines. What is now under debate is whether such restraint is sensible or simply represents a paranoid response to a non-existent threat. The IAA meeting this October in Valencia may well ratify a protocol that accepts METI transmissions without requiring any further discussions to occur.

It is striking to me that there is only one science fiction author — astrophysicist David Brin — on the IAA committee that will decide these things. I would argue that writers like Brin, Gregory Benford, Greg Bear and others have spent years pondering the possibilities of interstellar contact and its ramifications. Their contribution would broaden this debate, which seems from my perspective to be focused on a tightly defined group of SETI proponents whose work could nonetheless have serious repercussions for the human future.

It would be useful to find out what readers think about this issue. Some have argued that it is already too late, that the broadening sphere of our radio and television transmissions is already well past numerous star systems and in any case cannot be called back. But such signals are far less visible than the beacon-like effects contemplated by some proponents of active SETI. METI proposes a genuine change in tactics, one that seems to cry out for sustained and highly visible debate before we raise Earth’s visibility.

Your thoughts?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • philw September 26, 2006, 10:46

    Bad idea.
    Color me skeptical about the existance of any alien tech civilizations, but we have no real data. The downside risk of wolves out there far exceeds the minimal probability of reward. Let’s explore and learn about our galactic environs before advertising our ignorance and naivete. It’s hubris in the extreme to take the risk of destroying humanity’s existance should there be jealous, exploitive or some undecipherable motive species that could do us harm. We don’t let toddlers participate in adult activities with consequences they cannot comprehend. Let’s not do that as a technological secies.

  • Joseph Baneth Allen September 26, 2006, 12:47

    There is something distrubing about a self-selected group of individuals who are going to decide what course of action is best for Humanity as a whole. Especially when those individuals, like Dr. Shostak, are so closed minded to honest debate about SETI, that they refuse to even acknowledge any potential danger that a SETI contact may bring.
    If Dr. Shostak was a science historian, he would know the impact technology has on diminishing once insurmountable distances. Ask any Native American Indian if they honestly believe that the year 1492 positively impacted the various cultures and civilizations of the First Peoples. Bet the answer’s going to be a resounding “NO!”
    A span of light years isn’t necessarily a safety barrier that will protect Humanity or any other cilivilazation from a dangerous SETI contact. The SETI hacker work done by D. Carrigan is just one example of how SETI/METI can go disaterously wrong despite Humanity’s good intentions.
    If Dr. Shostak and his colleagues simply endorse a “go ahead and yell to get SETI’s attention” policy they will be acting in sheer, unmitigated arrogance – similiar to the Catholic Church in Galileo’s time – that they know what’s right and true. Simply examine how Dr. Shostak treats any SETI dissenters in any of his rebuttal writtings. He is the “Ann Coulter” of SETI/METI extremism – openly riddiculing anyone who does not march in lockstep with his view of SETI-ism.
    The IAA definately needs to have a broadened public debate before adopting any METI policies. But why limit such a debate to scientists? If Dr. Shostak and his colleagues truly believe SETI/METI is going to be so beneficial, why not have just plain old regular people contribute to the decision making process by being a part of it by voting on approving or disapproving of a METI protocol?
    If Dr. Shostak and his colleagues are closed minded to ordinary people having a say and vote in a policy that could alter the course of human history for better or worst, then they should be removed by the IAA from the METI decision making process because they will have shown themselves to be blinded by the religion of SETI-ism of which they are the high priests of.

  • philw September 26, 2006, 13:58

    I agree with JBA’s sentiment but I am unaware of Dr Shostak’s Ann Coulter-ish behaviour. Any references?

  • Richard Factor September 26, 2006, 14:17

    Too long to cut and paste, but I have written an article on this subject. It can be found here:


    It doesn’t pretend to resolve the “should we transmit” issue, but it discusses some reasons why Active SETI might be problematic.


  • Fred Kiesche September 26, 2006, 16:00

    Brin and Benford are more than writers (maybe Bear as well, but I’m not as familar with his background). They are also Real Live Scientists. Maybe by also being SF writers they can jump through more (mental) hoops.

    So perhaps a few more scientist/authors should be included.

    Me, even though we aren’t doing “beacons” yet, I think the cat has been out of the bag for quite a while.

  • Marko Cebokli September 26, 2006, 16:40

    Anybody out there who could do us harm (=capable of interstellar flight) would be at least a few hundred years ahead of us, technologically.

    If all goes well, in a decade or two we will have the capability to analyze extrasolar planets for their atmospheric composition and possible life indicator gasses. (NASA Terrestrial Planet Finder, ESA Darwin, JWST occultation mask….)

    Ergo, anybody capable of doing us harm, knows already for a long time that we are here – without us ever transmitting. They do not need our beacons to detect us – they have MUCH better methods.

    Just think: if you were the cosmic marauder, looking for “planetary resources”, whatever they might be, using artificial beacons to find your victim planets would be EXTREMELY inefficient. For each planet having a transmitting society, there are at
    least a thousand others, bearing the same resources, but without a civilisation.

    Besides, these resources will be easier to reap from an uninhabited planet than one full of nuclear bomb toting apes.

    Even if they are after MEAT, they would certainly prefer unpolluted “BIO” dinosaur steaks to the herbicide-pesticide-heavy metal etc stuff from a civilized planet.

    And regardless what Hollywood says, I don’t believe they are after our fair maidens, for all we know, an octpus might be more attractive to them than our beauty queens…

    So let anybody transmit if they want – it makes no difference to Earth’s securuty.

    Marko Cebokli

  • David Brin September 26, 2006, 17:26

    Alas, Marko is displaying a stunning lack of imagination, limiting himself to scenarios from cheap sci fi movies. Not ONE of those urging restraint has EVER raised “alien invasion” as one of the top scenarios for bad outcome from METI.

    I am sure, if he tries, on a dare, Marko could come up with a DOZEN more plausible failure modes, on his own. But dig it. If he cannot… I’ll bet he’s at least interested in hearing some of them, sometime, in order to discuss and evaluate, before a small group of a dozen people bets our posterity on their hypothesis.

    (No? Really? How… un-curious.)

    I wonder what Hiawatha said, about how unlikely those sailors from Europe could possibly bring any harm.

    Richard’s “wimps” paper certainly poses a credible hypothesis. Indeed, it is one of 50 or so mentioned in my “classic” Great Silence article. Moreover, indeed, the RUSSIANS who are pushing METI have adopted the position that most ETIS out there are wimpy cowards… despite also being automatically (according to Lysenkoist doctrine) altruistic. Thus it is up to us courageous newcomers to initiate the grand conversation by speaking up first.

    Um… an interesting hypothesis, as I said. But to ASSUME it’s right, a priori? In preference of the equally founded theory that ETIS are being silent because they know something we don’t? About how dangerous the cosmos can be?

    WHich is more likely? That ALL ETIS happen to simultaneously share the personality trait of mild disinterest in communications? Or that all surviving ETIS have learned some common piece of information that sets up a disincentive to broadcasting? The latter may be low in apparent probability, but at least it isn’t flat-out illogical!

    What it comes t=down to is simple prudence. If we are the newest kids — orphans in a mysterious and dark jungle-cosmos, who have our own dire history regarding past “first contacts” — doesn’t it make sense to listen quietly (the standard SETI program) a while longer before shouting “Yoohoo!” at the top of our lungs?

    Regarding the following argument:

    * “Earth civilization is already glaringly visible in radio, so it’s too late to stay silent.”

    This widely-held supposition was, in fact, decisively disproved years ago, in a paper written by Dr. Shostak himself! In fact, even military radars and television signals appear to dissipate below interstellar noise levels within just a few light years. Certainly they are far less visible — by many orders of magnitude — than a directed beam from any of Earth’s large, or even intermediate, radio telescopes.

    Moreover, this reasoning is illogical, since METI’s whole purpose is to draw attention to Earth by dramatically increasing our visibility over whatever baseline value it currently has. If it’s already “too late,” then what are they aiming to achieve?

    These and many other arguments are being posted on a new web site to deal with the topic.

    Alas, I must keep that site private for a little while longer. There are responsible people — adults — who are hoping to mediate this dispute in semi-private, using collegial persuasion to resolve the issue, without bringing too much unfavorable attention to SETI. I am eager to see these efforts succeed.

    HENCE I urge all of you to keep this low-key for now. It is a fraternal spat among folks who love SETI… for now. There is no need to make this a public imbroglio.

    For now.

    Oh! Everybody tune in (and spread the word) to my NEW HISTORY CHANNEL SHOW, the ArciTECHS!

    See: http://www.history.com/shows.do?action=detail&episodeId=192813


    Wednesday, October 11 11:00 PM

    Thursday, October 12 03:00 AM

    Saturday, October 14 11:00 AM

    !!!! You’ll love it!!!!

  • Joseph Baneth Allen September 26, 2006, 21:18

    My question to Dr. Brin is this: Why are SETI scientists the only ones qualified to hold a debate on a course of action which could greatly impact the human race? If SETI and astrobiology has a tradition of cutting across scientific disciplines, certainly METI needs broader input from the public.

    Responsible “adults” Dr. Brin, don’t resort to secrecy – that is the refuge of “adults” who know they are doing something wrong.

    The debate over METI needs to be an open and public one. The statement, “Trust me, I’m a SETI expert,” doesn’t make logical sense since there hasn’t been a legitimate first contact to make Dr. Brin or anyone else an expert on SETI affairs.

    Remember, it was just a little over 10 years ago when astronomers where stunned by the existence of “Hot Jupiters” in tight orbits around their parent stars. The “experts” were certainly wrong about how they thought solar systems formed – “Hot Jupiters” weren’t a part of planetary formation theory back then.

    Both the SETI and so-called “METI” experts would do well to remember that and listen to the common sense of those who live outside the vaulted Ivory Towers of Academia, they might learn something of value from the common folk.

  • Rob September 26, 2006, 22:29

    I can’t help but feel that Mr. Brin is making a less than honest assessment of the potential dangers and benefits of active SETI.

    The simple truth is that it is much easier to detect a civilization from a distance than to cause harm to it. The intersection of civilizations who have the ability to cause harm but have not already figured out that there is intelligent life here is likely to be very small.

    Yes, sending armies over the vast voids of space is impractical but in the end you will have to send something. You do need interstellar flight or something that we have not even thought of. On the smallest energy scale you can send a computer virus but then you need a fair bit of sophistication to make that work on systems you hardly know (and in fact have not existed when you sent it). In the end we are talking about civilizations that are much more advanced than we are who could with little effort detect us just by looking for markers of technology in our atmosphere, having already maped out habitable planets in their vicinity (looking for radio leak is not the easiest way to find a technological civilization.)

    Also if someone is willing to go through the trouble of going after us, they probably also made the much smaller effort to map out every technological civilization in their neighbourhood.

    Of course one could imagine scenarios where a civilization for some reason has not detected us, yet has the ability to harm or destroy us. It is quite unlikely but the probability is not nil.

    So what are the benefits? Well, there’s only one. It increases the probability of contact with civilizations at or near our level of technology. Those civilizations could not be a threat to us yet there are huge potential benefits (probably no need to explain that to SETI people.) Some of these benefits might well increase our chances of survival so even the argument “the threat might be small but not zero, so we’d better stay put” doesn’t hold water.

  • Eric James September 27, 2006, 0:44

    I agree with Rob. Most of the rest of you are paranoid xenophobes.

    IF an alien technology were developed enough to pose a threat, it surely would be developed enough to detect us already. IF practical interstellar space flight were even possible, don’t you think they’d have the sense to map out the extreme ranges of their accessible territory? Aren’t we already doing that? Aren’t we extending our gaze far beyond any reasonable range we might hypothetically reach? Therefore, IF they were particularly militaristic their generals would already be well aware of any potential and accessible military targets, right? Don’t you think they’d be particularly interested in worlds with detectable biospheres? They’d be here already!

    Of course this is all supposing that some form of cheating the laws of relativity even exists. If not, then sending troops would be pointless because the civilization they’d be trying to attack would have thousands of years to develop before their troops could even arrive! We’d laugh at their silly little weapons! We’d long since see them coming!

    Isolationism historically weakens civilizations from within. Exploration and trade usually strengthens them.

    If we could communicate this might be a boon to our civilization both technically and spiritually. We might learn a thing or two and we might teach a thing or two. I think we’re much more likely to find potential friends than enemies.

  • Ron Fernandez September 27, 2006, 1:43

    I, too, am rather sanguine about the risks involved in more broadly and actively promoting our existence. My interpretation of this effort as an almost toddler-like demand for attention (“Look at me, look at ME, LOOK AT ME!”) is most assuredly a cultural-specific reaction and one I’m willing to put aside for the benefits of ET contact. I don’t claim to be original in my thinking, but I summarize it thus:

    1. Life, at a unicellular or even multi-cellular level is ubiquitous in the universe.
    2. Given the sheer size of the universe there have to be many technological civilizations.
    3. Given the sheer size of the universe the odds are that these many civilizations are still stunningly distant from one another.
    4. Contact, not simply detection, is most likely to happen via radio, light, or some other exchange of electromagnetic energy and is thus limited to the speed of light. If contact takes place physically, it will be in the form of small probes or generational ships. See the comment above about dealing with atomic bomb equipped apes for some context of the risk this poses.
    5. Contact, if it happens, will be beneficial to the human race. Period. Therefore, let’s actively pursue it.

    Point #5 gets to the heart of the whole issue. What are humankind’s likely responses to ET contact? I suspect they will fall into three groups: scientific, societal, and theological. Scientifically, the benefits are obvious. Societally, I think the notion that someone might be watching (and I’m summarizing mightily here) might actually help us behave a bit better to one another. Theologically, I hope (and pray, using the term colloquially) that it’ll put a stake in the heart of organized religion and its absurd claims for human uniqueness and all the ridiculous and dangerous behavior that belief engenders.

    Of course, it may just inspire fundamentalist radio stations to increase their signal strength and point their antennas to the skies.

    I still say it’s worth it.

  • Joseph Baneth Allen September 27, 2006, 8:36

    Extremeophiles – single cell organisms that are capable of surviving and thriving in extreme conditions of heat, cold, and acidity here on Earth – are often cited as examples of the types of life we will hopefully find on Mars, Europa, Venus, Io, and other worlds and moons in our solar system.

    Yet SETI/METI refuses to consider examples of Human history when it extrapolating what type of cultures and motivations any ETI will have. ETI will be too alien to be motivated by the same crassness that motivates Humans, the SETI/METI arguement goes. Fortunately there are other species on Earth that can be studied for clues as to how any ETI may act. Dolphins, gorillas, chimpanzees, parrots, prairie dogs, and crows are just a few examples of species on Earth that have cultures, languages, and use tools.

    Dolphins, gorillas, chimpanzees, parrots, prairie dogs, and crows also kill members of their own species and other, foreign species as well. Dolphins, gorillas, chimpanzees, parrots, prairie dogs, and crows don’t interact with each other on an interspecies level.

    If SETI/METI points to a plurality of single celled life across the Universe, then it must also accept that nature, which any ETI would be a part of, is dangerous and should be approached with caution in the cosmic wilds.

  • Adam September 27, 2006, 9:03

    Hi All

    Firstly, our oxygen atmosphere has been advertising a habitable planet for over 500 million years and is a trivial task of interstellar telescopic detection for any interstellar capable species. Since they haven’t come here and driven us to extinction at any time in over half a billion years I would say it’s unlikely they will do so if we suddenly turn up the radio.

    Secondly, as interstellar travel requires immense interplanetary industrialisation and probably a large in-space population I’ve got to wonder just which bit of our solar system is looking like decent real estate to Anyone Out There. Odds are it’s some region full of useful in-space mass like the Jovian Trojan Asteroids or the Kuiper Belt. Earth, being an annoying steep gravity well, probably isn’t very inviting.

    Thirdly, any life will have evolved and will have evolved via natural selection – thus instinctual drives will be similar across a wide variety of evolutionary lineages thanks to convergence. We all need to drink, eat, survive and reproduce. So They won’t be so ‘alien’.

    But will any species that is xenophobic and shunning of diversity and novelty ever make it off-world and thrive sufficiently to make it into interstellar space???

    No. Not a chance. Self-destruction via predatory meme-sets is a far more likely fate, and is currently still one Damoclean sword hanging over our heads.


  • Adam September 27, 2006, 9:12

    Oh, and a final point. To be noticed by other intelligences via direct beaming is a plan with far more targets than we can reasonably poke a dedicated radio-telescope at for a sufficient length of time for Someone to notice us. We could cover the Moon in radio dishes and still have more targets. No one has any useful estimate on habitable planets, let alone inhabited planets.

    On that score alone I think METI is utterly premature. Maybe in 50 years once we know just how many habitable planets we can expect and have a rough idea on their probable ages and locations. Perhaps we’ll even see the glow of their city lights via large in-space optical telescopes?

    Once we find Them, then this debate will actually have some meaning. For now it’s totally speculative, with a slight reduction in uncertainty now that we know exoplanets really do exist.

  • Adam September 27, 2006, 9:17

    Oh, one final thought. A thoroughly disturbing response by a xenophobic attitude is to launch pre-emptive strikes against other ETIs. Chillingly rational arguments can be made for such from suitably paranoid assumptions, and there’s nothing limiting Others jumping to the same conclusions before we do.

    The most effective pre-emptive strike would be relativistic missiles massing a few thousand tons and quite capable of wrecking the Earth’s biosphere.

    I still think such attitudes would be self-extinguishing before such capabilities are achieved. But the possibility remains.

  • Joseph Baneth Allen September 27, 2006, 9:45

    A common sense approach that recoginizes both the dangers and benefits to SETI/METI goals is not paranoid xenophobia.

  • andy September 27, 2006, 10:23

    One of the unspoken assumptions that often seems to crop up here is that the civilisation’s attitudes don’t evolve after they become spacefaring.

    It’s all well and good saying that a destructive species would not get into space, but evolution would presumably not stop there. Can we really say that a spacefaring civilisation will not evolve into something destructive after it has become spacefaring?

  • Edg Duveyoung September 27, 2006, 11:07

    Expanding on my previous comment, ( https://centauri-dreams.org/?p=825#comments ) let’s underline the paucity of our present abilities to imagine what it will be like for humanity when technology gets Star Trekish. But, here’s the rub: Gene Roddenberry’s imagined future is highly unlikely. The term “space soap opera” comes to mind.

    It seems certain that at our present rate, in less than a 100 years, we’ll KNOW if we can/cannot get around the speed of light limitation. If it is possible, then hey, we’ll know that our planet probably has been catalogued — if not actually visited — MILLIONS of years ago. If, zipping around space is possible, then RIGHT NOW, if aliens are not harvesting our oxygen or meat or water — whatever — they aren’t going to be in the future.

    See?, that’s “thinking small.” Think Star Trek technology instead — remember their replicators? They made their food by assembling the molecules from basic sub-atomic elements — and if any advanced aliens want ANYTHING that’s physical, they can just presto-magico it to their specifications instantly just that easily. They won’t need to chew up whole planets to get their raw materials — they’ll get it straight from the virtual field’s potential or collect interstellar gas.

    Nope, in merely a few hundred years more of our technology advancing, it won’t be materiality that’s got our attention if we meet aliens — it won’t be their technology — it’ll be their spirituality. There’s simply no other reason to explore space.

    We’re only a few hundred years at most from being able to tap all the secrets of physics to do just about anything. If there is a galactic society waiting for us to mature to space-faring, they’ll have handled the terrible fact that virtually anyone can have unlimited power with the knowledge that humanity is about to possess in our very near term.

    Humanity is only a few hundred or few thousand years from what? How long before we figure out how to “aim” a gamma ray burst, trigger a star into a super-nova event, send a black hole into a planetary system, or, hey, how long before we figure out how to STOP a GRB, reverse a super-nova, destroy a black hole, etc.? See?

    Nope, we’re going to be facing something bigger than merely becoming a Type Three galactic civilization.


    G.O.D. is where we’re going.

    G.O.D. = Get Over Defining. Every definition is artificial, arbitrary. Stop thinking there’s anything that can be called a “limitation.” A water molecule is only “water” as long as you act as if it is water-only. But we all know it is two gases too, right, and we know there’s all those sub-atomics too, right? Nothing waterish seen in those realms, eh? Just so, stop limiting yourself from being anything, doing anything, achieving anything — that’ll be the kindergarten lesson for humanity.

    Once technology can “play” with materiality, anything’s possible for anyone — that’s the new dynamic that will stagger our imaginations. No limitations. Anyone can be smart and in perfect health. Anyone can live forever. Anyone can go anywhere in the universe, speak to anyone, directly experience the stream of consciousness of anyone else.

    When materiality is so precisely graspable, happiness becomes the only aspect of existence worth seeking. Any species that has reached Trek-levels, is only seeking happiness — they’ll have everything else they could want.

    And, whammo, happiness just won’t be there. Nope, how happy are you right now that you have an automobile to use? Got over that “happiness” at age 17, right? Got jaded on sex, food, entertainment, yet? You will.

    THAT’S THE PROBLEM that maybe the aliens will have solved. When one has the powers of God, what does one do?

    What happens is that there is only one thing left to do: attend — that is, love.

    When you see the Mona Lisa, you aren’t looking for mistakes — the mastery of painting-expertise, the technology of art, is there in spades. Nope, your mind goes to ethereal matters — one is not worshipping Da Vinci’s skills, one is not “happy” to be amazed at the product of his “technology.” Instead, the mind goes to those slippery parts — the transcendental parts — the virtual field parts of the Mona-spectrum. Her thoughts, her feelings.

    Just so, aliens will be loving us. They’ll have faced the same problem God had to face, and discovered that the wisest response to existence is the bliss of loving EVERYTHING by facilitating and supporting the fecundity of God in the least particle of manifestation. There’s these saints who say they’ll re-incarnate until the very dust under their feet have achieved sentience and then enlightenment. That’ll be the attitude of the aliens — loving us by supporting the emergence of the unique contributions that only human nervous systems can give to existence. They’ll be absolutely curious about everything’s potential — God’s creativity will be a vibrant presence in everything to them, and shortly, to humanity too.

    There’s been enough time for space faring civilizations to figure out EVERYTHING.

    But, as large as space is, there’s no room for fear, for limitations, for absolute materiality. Artistically soaring on the wings of love — aliens will be indistinguishable from angels, nay, may actually BE angels.


  • Joseph Baneth Allen September 27, 2006, 11:42

    If ETIs are going to be equated with angels, it’s important to note that not all angels are filled with divine grace. Lucifer was called the Shining One before he rebelled and was cast out of heaven.
    And if anyone objects to Judeo/Christian religious themes in discussing ETIs, just remember that Zeus – a divine Greek god – had a habit of raping both men and women who did not submit to his passionate advances. Zeus also got horrible revenge on Prometheus, a fellow god who passed along fire – that advanced bit of technology that only gods had and humans didn’t back then.
    SETI/METI is supposed to be a scientific endevour, not a cult that wants to supplant mainstream religion.

  • Marko Cebokli September 27, 2006, 12:43

    What mr. Brin fails to see, is that my argument holds no matter WHAT is the perceived
    “danger” – be it physical invasion or else “informational”, “cultural”, “genetic”, “spiritual” subversion, or whatever his superior imagination might cook out:

    If they are out there, they KNOW we are here, regardless of whether we transmit or not.

    Put in a different way, “there is nowhere to hide” before a technologicaly superior race.

    Marko Cebokli

  • Edg Duveyoung September 27, 2006, 12:52

    Joseph Baneth Allen,

    You have not addressed the concept that, once mastery over materiality is achieved, a civilization has a profound challenge to its spirit.

    Watch the film Bruce Almighty — Godlike powers develop a powerful thirst for a happiness that materiality cannot fulfill.

    Certainly there’s a transition phase for some civilizations — where the powers can be used wrongly, but soon, probably very soon after such powers are gained, then using them wisely will be the next goal, or, BOOM.

    The universe is so old that any civilization that starts zipping around and messing things up is going to find that there’s a much much older and wiser and even more powerful civilization in its face. Nope, they ain’t gunna be able to do much without finding themselves “handled.”

    Materiality is going to be so last week.

    Only harmony, happiness, fulfillment, bliss will be worthy goals. Only loving minds can explore divine creativity.

    If there is evil out there, it will be powerless. The Devil won’t be able to offer you anything you can’t get from a replicator, and the Devil won’t be able to offer you heavenly bliss. See? Powerless to influence you with temptations. And the Devil isn’t going to offer you the universe, because HE WANTS IT.

    Only developing one’s own heart will be motivating.

    The lust for power just won’t be operative when everyone has power to spare. Money as a concept will disappear. Literally your life will be an artwork as your imagination and the replicator fulfills any material desire.

    Any material desire. Any.

    Where’s the motivation to have the whole universe under your control? Soon, greed will be a dead concept — something only obscure scholars know about.

    The concept of “advanced” civilizations having a war is something SciFi writers have played with, but they all are cowboy shootouts of the oddest goofiness — such as, Luke Skywalker having to shoot down other ships like in an arcade game — as if computer intelligence wouldn’t have fired off the laser beams from, say, a billion miles away from the enemy.

    This is typical Hollywood abuse on our culture, and it’s as bogus as a green cheese moon.

    We aren’t there yet by a long shot, and until then, we’ll eat our popcorn in front of illusions of extreme evil and violence and have our imaginations pruned to stay within a very tiny set of feared possibilities. . . . while the “ocean of truth lays just beyond.”


  • ljk September 27, 2006, 13:11

    I sense much fear in y’all.

    I guess a century or so of mostly alien invasion stories – to say nothing
    of what the Europeans did to much of the “primitive” world – hasn’t lost
    its grip on the human mind.

    It is one thing to have a group of the same species cross a mere ocean
    to encounter another group of the very same species and duke it out
    for territory and resources. It is another to expect an alien species to
    cross the ocean of space in a galaxy of hundreds of billions of star
    systems just to come after one world that is already occupied.

    Whether any ETI’s intentions towards us are peaceful or otherwise, it
    isn’t going to make much of a difference. If they are peaceful, we’ll
    finally get to grow up. If they aren’t, then you tell me what we could
    do to stop them?

    All they need to do is attach some rocket motors to a few NEOs, aim
    them at our major population centers, then wait for the dust to settle.
    Or release a virus that’s deadly to us but harmless to them (especially
    if they are not organic) and wait again.

    But I really, really don’t see the point in “invading” Earth when they
    have a whole galaxy to utilize. I bet there’s more than room and
    resources enough for everybody.

    As I have said before, an advanced ETI will likely have very little to
    either say or do for or to us. And we sure as heck wouldn’t be a
    threat to them, or even an annoyance.

    Now the other fear, that if we find an advanced society with all their
    fancy, superior gadgets that we’ll just curl up and die from feeling so

    Do you really think that will happen? Are we that primitive and insecure
    a species that learning something new from an alien species will cause
    us to get really depressed and suicidal? If that’s the case, then we
    should just tear down all the rocket facilities, burn the observatories,
    and smash all the science labs, because otherwise we explore and
    learn if it’s just going to cause us misery and self-inflicted extermination?

    We may be primitive enough to envision conquering and destroying others,
    but I have to think that anyone who can master interstellar travel is just
    a little bit beyond that attitude. I could be wrong, but I am far more
    concerned about the clearly dangerous species on this planet doing us in
    than any invading aliens from outer space.

  • Joseph Baneth Allen September 27, 2006, 13:41

    Two-way communication is the ultimate goal of SETI/METI.
    Yet to achieve this communication, ETIs are going to have to have the Human desire to kick leisurely kick back and chat for awhile. At even the most optimistic estimate, exhanging plesantaries over intersteller distances is going to take several decades.
    So far, Humans are the only known intelligent species that seek out others of their kind for verbal, written, and broadcast communication. Any ETI that seeks to communicate with other ETIs is engaging in a Human activity.
    If ETIs are capable of pursuing one type of Human activity, then Humanity must assume that ETIs are capable of exhibiting and participating in all kinds of Human acvitity – the good, the bad, and the indifferent.
    It is sheer folly to assume that all ETIs have renounced all the physical and metal traits and characteristics – including a diversity of languages and religious faiths that allowed them to develop a technological society.

  • Rob September 27, 2006, 14:21

    Joseph would you like to address the point, first made by Marko, that any civilization capable of harming us already knows of our existence?

  • Tibor September 27, 2006, 14:26

    I agree with ljk – there seems to be fear around. I can understand this fear – sometimes I feel it myself – but I do not see any logical reason for it. The arguments are already said above why it is highly improbable that we get a problem from ETI by sending. And tell me too, how to stop ETI should it turn out to be evil-minded?

    I feel the real value of thinking about METI/SETI is to think about ourselves. Anyway, most of the discussion revolves around us, necessarily. The parallel question to that of how to stop malicious ETI is how to keep EVERYBODY on Earth off from sending messages?

    Some of you may already have enjoyed the classic story of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Roadside Picnic and the movie Stalker made by Tarkowski (hey, the Russians, again! :-). All the others may take a look at


    and start their search for the “golden sphere”.

  • Joseph Baneth Allen September 27, 2006, 15:32

    Most smart homeowners don’t leave a note for burgulars that give them the code to shut off the alarm system.

  • Rob September 27, 2006, 15:54

    I’m having a hard time making the analogy work.

  • andy September 27, 2006, 17:11

    As has been said, our radio transmissions are probably not detectable at interstellar distances. While it is difficult to see how to hide the fact that there is a terrestrial waterworld with an oxygen-rich atmosphere in the solar system’s habitable zone, that doesn’t mean there is a technological civilisation here. It doesn’t even mean there’s multicellular life.

    Furthermore, could industrial pollution be distinguished from, say, extensive volcanism or an asteroid impact, at interstellar distances?

    If malicious ETI (mETI? ha ha) isn’t going on an incredibly zealous program of sterilising all oxy-life, regardless of advancement, and unless malicious ETI is in the solar neighbourhood, we haven’t yet done anything that would necessarily alert them.

    Personally I think appealing to transcendence is incredibly naive. Predation, parasitism, expansion, resource consumption, etc. are universals. They did not get lost in the transition from single-celled life to multicellular life. The advent of intelligence did not remove them, nor did technology. Why should the transition from planet-based to spacefaring life be a transition to benevolence?

    Space is not a resource-rich environment: it consists of tiny isolated concentrations of resources in a collossal emptiness. That does not sound like the kind of environment which would select for a spiritual transition to some kind of benevolent godhood. The deep oceans might be the analogy for the kind of ecology that such an environment selects for: energy and resource hoarding, organisms adapted to be able to consume whatever they come across. A light in the darkness attracts unwanted attention, so the organisms remain hidden… or it might be the lure of a predatory anglerfish.

  • Joseph Baneth Allen September 27, 2006, 18:07

    SETI has evolved into a global cult that offers the promise of universal salvation.

    The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence is a significant and legitimate scientific endeavor. SETI seeks to ponder, and just perhaps, answer, whether or not the promise and potential of Homo sapiens exists elsewhere in the universe, or is just a solitary fluke of cosmic chance. So it’s doubtful that Frank Drake knew he was also giving birth to a global cult when began the first modern attempt to listen for the faint radio whispers emanating from other suns back in opening years of the Space Age.

    Only natural static greeted Drake’s first scientific attempt back in 1960 to passively eavesdrop on any chatter that might have been emanating from Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridani near the 1.420-gigahertz marker frequency. Project Ozma, as the first modern SETI search was called, fizzled. Yet SETI-ISM grew from its ashes.

    SETI-ISM has evolved to a quasi-religious movement replete with doctrine and icons to explain the absence of any tangible radio signals from any nearby and/or faraway extra-terrestrial civilizations. All religions require a believer to make a leap of faith without tangible evidence. So does SETI and the search for life beyond Earth: We know it must exist, but we don’t have any tangible evidence for it.

    SETI-ISM also has other aspects in common with all major Western and Eastern faiths. It has a strict doctrine of belief that must be adhered to; otherwise others in the SETI community may take steps and actions to disavow the heretics – which is another aspect of all religions. [Of course, I’m not referring a belief in LGMs and UFOs.]

    Most religions have iconic symbols. So does SETI-ISM. An artistic impression of an Earth-like planet orbiting another star is just one example of iconic imagery that SETI-ISM has used.

    The shared basic tenant of all major Western and Eastern religions and SETI-ISM is simple: Belief in a higher being/s and belief that human beings are inferior to that higher being/s. Fervent followers of SETI-ISM [SETI-ists] believe that human beings are the low species on the totem pole when it comes the Cosmic Brotherhood Of Superior Technological Species.

    Mainstream SETI isn’t seeking contact with an extra-terrestrial civilization that has the equivalent of 21st century technology. SETI is seeking optical and radio signals from more technologically advanced civilizations. SETI-ISM believes that the more advanced a civilization is, the more benign it is. Just ask Native North American Indians or any native culture on Earth if this is a logical argument.

    Most religions have iconic symbols. So does SETI-ISM. An artistic impression of an Earth-like planet orbiting another star is just one example of iconic imagery that SETI-ISM has used. Even the act of deflecting an asteroid that is threatening Earth has taken on a mythology of epic pseudo-grail proportions. If humanity changes the orbit of an asteroid, then humanity will gain entrance into the Cosmic Brotherhood because we, as a species, will have proven we’re intelligent goes one of the arguments for demonstrating the capability of moving a space rock out of harm’s way. Planting a flag on the moon doesn’t count in the minds of SETI-ists.

    George Basalla is a historian who believes that SETI is more of a faith-based enterprise than a genuine science. A professor emeritus of history at the University of Delaware, Dr. Basalla points to SETI’s failure to make “contact” after more than forty years of trying and its continuing efforts in the absence of any positive evidence as a sign that it relies more on a kind of religious zeal than anything else.

    He explores the quasi-religious conversion SETI has undertaken in his book Civilized Life in the Universe (Oxford University Press: 2006)- a book politely dismissed by Jill Tarter and others SETI Institute members because it doesn’t adhere to SETI-ISM’s strict, hard-line doctrine.

    Dr. Basalla recognizes that the length of a scientific pursuit does not grant it immunity for taking on quasi-religious overtones. Mainstream SETI researchers shouldn’t turn a deaf ear to a noted historian’s words of caution because they don’t like the message. Across the board communication is supposed to be the goal of SETI – not selective hearing.

    Astronomer and writer David Darling believes dolphins and great apes are examples of intelligence elsewhere in the universe that just happens to live on Earth. He’s even willing to throw Homo sapiens into mix of intelligent species. Yet David Darling neglects to take into account that dolphins and great apes are capable of displaying a broad range of emotion. Dolphins and great apes can express anger and rage. Dolphins and great apes do commit murder.

    If intelligence is a natural result of universal evolution, then so too is the broad spectrum of positive and negative emotions. SETI-ists overlook the fact that even under the façade of a vastly superior cultural and technological advance higher being can lay the beating heart of a roguish lout.

    Zeus is perhaps the best-known example of just how “human” a god/higher being can be.

    The Greek/Roman god wasn’t exactly a role model of ideal human behavior. Though married to his sister goddess Hera, he wasn’t faithful. If a young maiden spurned his romantic overtures, Zeus resorted to rape to satisfy any and all lustful urges he felt. In the form of a swan, Zeus raped Leda. Her sanity was never the same afterwards. Zeus was also a pedophile who liked to bugger young teenage boys. Ganymede was a bit more fortunate than other of Zeus’s rape victims – he got to be a cupbearer on Olympus for a while until he matured and got tossed aside for a younger boy. Zeus also tortured Prometheus for giving mankind fire and other bits of “divine” knowledge.

    Even YAHWEH of the Old Testament displays some outright “human” behavior. YAHWEH is a jealous god – HE says so in the first of the Ten Commandments. Often overlooked in the traditional Passover story is the fact that Yahweh at one point had gotten worked up into a blood rage and was going to murder Moses. Fortunately for Moses, his wife was pretty handy with a knife and was able to perform an emergency circumcision on her sleeping husband. YAHWEH’s frothing anger with his prophet was sated when a bloody foreskin was tossed down to HIS feet.

    Koko the gorilla is another prime example of a higher advanced being who plays silly games. Caring for a pet housecat and having an impressive sign language vocabulary is just part of her impressive resume. Koko has also garnered the dubious status of being the first non-human intelligent being to be sued for sexual harassment. For some reason, Koko demanded that her female caregivers expose their breasts to her for visual examination. A lawsuit quickly followed and a rather strange defense was offered for Koko’s aberrant behavior – her female caregivers were to blame because they were not sophisticated enough to understand gorilla culture. Apparently Koko doesn’t need to understand human culture.

    The moral of these three tales is relatively a simple one – ignoring the fact that technologically and culturally superior beings are also subject to emotional whims is a choice lesser technological beings make at their own peril. Just ask Native North American Indians or any native culture if any doubt lingers on.

    Mainstream SETI is in danger of losing its way to the hard line extremism of SETI-ISM.

    SETI can recapture the ground it lost to SETI-ISM by repeating a simple mantra to the listening public: Extra-terrestrial civilizations should not be equated with gods.

    Humanity will share common ground with any extra-terrestrial civilization we find. Citizens of both worlds will put their pants on one leg at a time. Like mere humans, these other intelligent beings will laugh, cry, smile, live, love, and eventually die- returning to the dust of stars and worlds from where they once came from.

    Any extra-terrestrials we eventually may discover and listen to will prove themselves to be mere mortals after all.

  • Rob September 27, 2006, 19:21

    Andy: I think the recent increase in CO2 levels is a dead givaway. Volcanic eruptions are sudden events you would see the whole effect in less than one year. If there is a natural phenomenon that increase CO2 levels this way I’m not aware of it. In any case it would be rare so it would warrant suspicion from our paranoid or nefrious ET friends.

    In the end by using larger telescopes and more sensitive spectrographs you could detect all kinds of industrial byproducts.

    The point is we are not talking about some fancy sci-fi technology here. These are things we could do here on the Earth with (almost) our present level of technology. Certainly no fundamental advances are required. The main reason we are not doing it is that such a telescope is best placed in space and would cost a pretty penny.

  • Ron S September 27, 2006, 19:41

    I largely agree with JBA’s latest post (except for the characterization of SETI advocates, which I have no opinion on since I don’t know them).

    I would add this. To me, SETI in its pure form is a legitimate scientific endeavour. I neither support it nor object to it, though I passively watch with some interest. I don’t expect results any time soon, but what do I know.

    As for METI, well that’s something quite different. I see it as politics. It’s all very fine to have long and heart-felt debates about what if this and what if that (with it seems no empirical data), but as soon as any person reaches for the transmit switch everything changes.

    So what do I believe? Who cares. I’m just one person – with one vote in the particular democratic country I call home. And I demand to have my say whether directly or through my elected representatives. We can all laugh about the various idiocies (and idiots) in the political sphere but that is our imperfect way of enabling societies to make choices. Using that switch is such a choice.

    There are few useful laws around to prevent METI, so while someone with the inclination and equipment could likely get away with it, for a while, I believe it to be ethically wrong until there’s been a public/political process to do so. However, switches will likely get thrown by some METI enthusiasts before the issue gains prominence as something to outlaw or pursue. It’ll happen. It has happened already on a small scale.

  • JD September 27, 2006, 23:58

    Hmm interesting discussion. The three most obviouse facets are

    1. Impractical due to distance or survivability of a predatory species.

    2. Benign super civilization patiently waiting for us to mature.

    3. Be carefull and keep the guns handy.

    Whichever choice someone takes is dependent on their outlook. I would point out though that one question must be answered first. Where are they?
    All these choices make the assumption that technologically competent lifeforms are prevalent.

    If such is true then choice one will eventually be invalidated just through random chance. Eventually a race that defies the odds will arise and go “a vikining.” Human history gives ample examples of such possibilites.

    If choice two is valid then where are all the early to mid range civilizations that should have blasted out signals before being taken in hand by the oldsters and made to be quiet (that visualization has some chilling import if you consider it). If civilizations could arise a billion or more years ago when the galaxy was even more lethal then surely there should be droves of other races just now ascending now when the galaxy is probably far more hospitable.

    Choice three. Taking this line of thought is not paranoid or xenophobic. Making the assumption that other civilizations must automatically be benign truly brings forth the crude definition of the word “assumption.”

    My own thoughts are that we are either the first or among the first techno civilizations in this galaxy. As I’ve ranted before, the galaxy is a pretty lethal place and may only now have evolved enough to allow lifeforms a shot at intelligence. In a few years we’ll be able to garner more detailed info from stars within a few parsecs of earth. We eventually may be able to scan systems over 100 ly’s away. That’s still a mighty small area overall and it’s probably not possible to scan a lot further. Equipment may advance but there’s a point where distance is so great you just don’t get enough photons to determine such things as atmospheric composition etc. with any reliability (note that looking for CO2 in an atmospher means very little. Consider Venus or Cretaceous period Earth).

    Overall either tech using life is very rare or something else is going on.
    As an addition I have to agree with Mr. Allen. After reading some of the SETI forums I’m left with some unsettling feeling about how some people are taking that project.

  • Eric James September 28, 2006, 2:07

    Forgive me for being corny, but I had presumed this site would tend to attract those that would embrace Gene Roddenberry’s ideological mission statement from the Star Trek series:

    “Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Her five-year mission: To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before!”

    What a shock to discover so many isolationists!

  • Joseph Baneth Allen September 28, 2006, 5:58

    The problem with glorified mission statements of fictional television shows is that they tend to reflect an impossible ideal that usually is unobtainable in real life. Yet it’s important to note that not even Don Quixote threw himself to the wolves.

    Advocating a cautious approach to SETI and a more reasoned approach to METI is not promoting isolationism – it’s promoting common sense, which is sadly lacking it seems in a majority of SETI experts, who still don’t have any practical, real universe experience in making that successful “First Contact.”

  • Adam September 28, 2006, 7:54

    Personally I think it’s an empty argument because we don’t know where They are to start pointing a decent amount of wattage at Them for long enough for Them to notice us. Once we have in-space telescopes powerful enough to see signs of planetary or celestial engineering, then we will actually have a viable target. Until that day this is discussion is more revealling of our projections and biases than discerning of any kind of universal principles.

    Some of us are scared of our own Shadows.

    Some of us are scared of being treated like lesser species – maybe we should start feeling uncomfortable about our ‘ethics’ towards non-humans.

    Some of us are scared because fear is was grabs more headlines than ‘Smiley Faces’ across the Milky Way.

    Anyone I’ve missed?

  • Joseph Baneth Allen September 28, 2006, 9:53

    The arguement that people are just “fearfull of the truth” is often used by cultists to belittle anyone who doubts their “reasoned” arguements.

    My question again to Dr. Brin is this: Why are SETI scientists the only ones qualified to hold a debate on a course of action which could greatly impact the human race? If SETI and astrobiology has a tradition of cutting across scientific disciplines, certainly METI needs broader input from the public.

    Responsible “adults” Dr. Brin, don’t resort to secrecy – that is the refuge of “adults” who know they are doing something wrong.

    The debate over METI needs to be an open and public one. The statement, “Trust me, I’m a SETI expert,” doesn’t make logical sense since there hasn’t been a legitimate first contact to make Dr. Brin or anyone else an expert on SETI affairs.

    Remember, it was just a little over 10 years ago when astronomers where stunned by the existence of “Hot Jupiters” in tight orbits around their parent stars. The “experts” were certainly wrong about how they thought solar systems formed – “Hot Jupiters” weren’t a part of planetary formation theory back then.

    Both the SETI and so-called “METI” experts would do well to remember that and listen to the common sense of those who live outside the vaulted Ivory Towers of Academia, they might learn something of value from the common folk.

  • Joseph Baneth Allen September 28, 2006, 9:55

    My question to Dr. Brin is this: Why are SETI scientists the only ones qualified to hold a debate on a course of action which could greatly impact the human race? If SETI and astrobiology has a tradition of cutting across scientific disciplines, certainly METI needs broader input from the public.

    Responsible “adults” Dr. Brin, don’t resort to secrecy – that is the refuge of “adults” who know they are doing something wrong.

    The debate over METI needs to be an open and public one. The statement, “Trust me, I’m a SETI expert,” doesn’t make logical sense since there hasn’t been a legitimate first contact to make Dr. Brin or anyone else an expert on SETI affairs.

    Remember, it was just a little over 10 years ago when astronomers where stunned by the existence of “Hot Jupiters” in tight orbits around their parent stars. The “experts” were certainly wrong about how they thought solar systems formed – “Hot Jupiters” weren’t a part of planetary formation theory back then.

    Both the SETI and so-called “METI” experts would do well to remember that and listen to the common sense of those who live outside the vaulted Ivory Towers of Academia, they might learn something of value from the common folk.

  • Jean-Paul Smartre September 28, 2006, 10:05

    While “invasions” of the ’50s drive-in sort are obviously preposterous, we genuinely have no clue about what could exist out there. A sufficiently advanced ETI, or even an interstellar “ecosystem” of it/them, might not even be capable of consciously recognizing something as basic as humans, and yet have “physiologic responses” triggered by sensing our presence. This is just one example of the weirdness that might exist, and we should learn to appreciate that if something is out there, it is likely on an entirely different level of emergent organization–one far larger, more complex, and at the same time more subtle than we can understand.

    We can’t credibly guess what kind of self-organizing systems are possible on those scales, especially if they originated under far different physical conditions (e.g., galactic cores). Nor can we meaningfully deduce how advertising like METI would be perceived, beyond not likely being interpreted as “intelligence”–after all, humans aren’t particularly impressed when their cells detect an amoeba.

    However, despite the impossibility of certainty, it’s not hard to imagine our presence being seen as mere “microturbulence” to be smoothed out by a simple, effortless (possibly even instinctual) corrective. We know that organisms evolve to perceive their environments only in ways that tend to propagate their pattern, and if organisms similar to ourselves (in categories we’re not aware of being in) have a pattern of evolution that tends to interfere with something else, it could be thought a bad idea to become conspicuous in early stages of development. This isn’t to imagine malice or destructive will on the part of ETIs, but life evolves based on feedbacks, and if things like us generally “grow up” to interfere with things not like us, feedback will result in their evolving preventive instincts.

    If it’s even possible, in that scenario, for something like humans to survive and grow in such an environment, the galaxy (and possibly universe at large) would be in essence an ecosystem–a jungle, in fact. Patterns would propagate and interfere, like ripples on water, and whether any one particular ripple survived would be of little consequence. But it is ridiculous to impose the idea of benevolence on life just because it is larger and more advanced than we–living things are neither benign or malign, they simply follow the path of their emergent evolution. Equally absurd would be the idea that there is too little out there to be relevant–in all likelihood we are enmeshed in an ecosystem too awesome to comprehend, and whose properties we’re unlikely to even approach understanding with these inherited brains.

    So, caution is the best approach. In the dim human past, we had to survive the cougars and the bears in small groups long before we could achieve large-scale contact with each other, so perhaps this is analogous. It may take a while to find other “civilizations” in the sense that we understand them, but being in radio contact with such beings wouldn’t be very useful if their first reply is a panicked “Shhhh! They’ll hear you!”

  • Marc Millis September 28, 2006, 11:44

    Before delving into my own risk/benefit assessment, I thought I’d look up what has already been done by the proponents, to better understand the potential benefits.

    The document “”Proposing a METI Institute” by propoent Alexander Zaitsev was too short to have any subtantive content.

    Next, I found the following quote from an FAQ site answering this question:
    “Are there any risks associated with issuing this Invitation?”

    “Although no human activity is entirely without some risk, the dangers inherent in issuing our Invitation to ETI have been demonstrated to be negligible. Within the SETI Permanent Study Group of the International Academy of Astronautics, a new analytical tool is being developed to quantify the risks of transmitting interstellar messages from Earth. On that ordinal, integer San Marino Scale, this experiment rates a 2 (on a scale of 1 to 10), confirming that its potential hazard is low.”

    This answer sounds reassuring, but since I’ve never heard of the “San Marino Scale,” I looked it up. It turns out that this “San Marino Scale” it is not a measure of risk, but of ‘activity,’ just labeled as ‘risk.’ The input factors are the (1) intensity of transmission and (2) the “character of Transmission.” There is absolutely nothing in the document that considers consequences.
    [Based on: Almår and Shuch, The San Marino Scale: A New Analytical Tool for Assessing Transmission Risk,” IAC-05-A4.1.03 (2005). ]

    Personally, I found the assertion that “confirming that its potential hazard is low” from this particular method to be gross misrepresentation.

    Please, if any of you know of substantive, rigorous, benefit/risk assessments that can be looked up and then rationally discussed, now is the time to bring them to our attention.


  • Will September 28, 2006, 13:22

    The Great Old Ones know all, see all. With Their cold, vast eyes They see the CO2 rising above the decaying cities of man, and with Their dark parabolic arrays They listen keenly to the crackling, decadent noises of our wireless telephony. Soon the feverish cultists of SETI will be ready to receive Their howling, life-sapping dreams, trapped for a spell in the prison the night. Soon, very soon, the stars will be right. Where then shall the prophets of restraint hide from Their ravenous advent? Nowhere; let us then hasten our doom. Let us gather round the idols of METI, deep in the frozen wastes of Muscovy, and chant our hideous song:

    Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!

  • Joseph Baneth Allen September 28, 2006, 14:55

    My orginial question to Dr. Brin was this: Why are SETI scientists the only ones qualified to hold a debate on a course of action which could greatly impact the human race? If SETI and astrobiology has a tradition of cutting across scientific disciplines, certainly METI needs broader input from the public.

    As of this post, Dr. Brin never responded.

  • Joseph Allen September 28, 2006, 14:55

    My orginial question to Dr. Brin was this: Why are SETI scientists the only ones qualified to hold a debate on a course of action which could greatly impact the human race? If SETI and astrobiology has a tradition of cutting across scientific disciplines, certainly METI needs broader input from the public.

    As of this post, Dr. Brin never responded.

  • Adam September 28, 2006, 17:32

    Ch’thulhu aside there is the indisputable fact that aliens will be alien. A couple of Australian SF authors, Sean Williams and Shane Dix, wrote “The Echoes of Earth” trilogy which has a very interesting ‘First Contact’ story. In sum our First Contact is seemingly with incredibly generous, benign aliens whose automatic machinery gives us an incredible wealth of technological gifts.

    But… the first aliens aren’t alone and they’re being followed by a literal ecosystem of scavengers and quite incomprehensible higher orders within the Galactic ecosystem. And some of Those aren’t fond of the Gift Givers. They proceed to systematically annihilate the (Post-Singularity!) human race because of Their own obscure motives because we made contact with the first species.

    I thought the ecosystem was described quite well in the trilogy, as was Post-Singular transhumanity. While I am quite sceptical of such nightmare scenarios it’s still a possibility. As someone has said here even after a species achieves the stars there’s no standing still in cultural or ethical evolution and quite radical transformations may undermine all my ethical reasoning.

    I can only invoke the Fermi Paradox – They’ve had half a billion years to infest this planet since it became an Oxic biosphere, and They haven’t. Either They don’t exist or to survive They have developed incredible restraint. Or They get ‘eaten’ if They start looking like infesting the Galaxy (aka William’s & Dix’s, and Vinge’s, Galactic ecosystem.)

    But I may be wrong. METI is premature until we know if They exist and where They are at. It’s the only logical course of action if we spot a starship – there’s no hiding then – but until we remote sense Their planets or astrophysical structures, the whole exercise is futile. The odds are insanely against success through random beaming at Sol-like stars.

  • Joseph Baneth Allen September 28, 2006, 18:20

    My originial question to Dr. Brin still remains unanswered: Why are SETI scientists the only ones qualified to hold a debate on a course of action which could greatly impact the human race? If SETI and astrobiology has a tradition of cutting across scientific disciplines, certainly METI needs broader input from the public.

    Responsible “adults” Dr. Brin, don’t resort to secrecy – that is the refuge of “adults” who know they are doing something wrong.

    The debate over METI needs to be an open and public one. The statement, “Trust me, I’m a SETI expert,” doesn’t make logical sense since there hasn’t been a legitimate first contact to make Dr. Brin or anyone else an expert on SETI affairs.

  • Eric James September 29, 2006, 1:27
  • Eric James September 29, 2006, 1:30
  • Alexander Zaitsev September 29, 2006, 2:25

    Recently I detected the paper of Dr. Peter Backus

    [b]”Three SETI Myths”[/b]

    at SETI League web site http://www.setileague.org/editor/myths.htm , and would like to say that it seem to me I know

    [b]Myth # 4: “SETI is Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence”[/b]

    Michael Michaud (see http://www.setileague.org/editor/actvseti.htm ), David Brin (see http://www.setileague.org/editor/brin.htm ), authors and apologists of The Rio & San Marino Scales (see http://www.setileague.org/iaaseti/smiscale.htm ) etc, in a friendly fashion insist that Messaging to address of probable Aliens is a danger and foolish adventurism. In short, only idiots are not afraid of transmitting to space.

    From this it follows that the true abbreviation expansion of

    [b]SETI is Search for Extraterrestrial Idiots.[/b]

    Of course, it is a joke, but if we create Allen Telescope Array and plan an extensive studies of [b]TRANSMISSION from ETIs,[/b] we should understand this delicate aspect of messaging to Space…


  • philw September 29, 2006, 9:06

    JBA wrote: “My originial question to Dr. Brin still remains unanswered: Why are SETI scientists the only ones qualified to hold a debate on a course of action which could greatly impact the human race?”

    Problem being that there is a strong academic ‘management’ tradition that IS authority based, brokers no heresy from accepted thought, and views those without the proper credentials as having little to offer. They know what’s best for the great unwashed. And, SETI folks adopted the begnin aliens dictum right from the start. These Star Chamber tactics would be strongly derided by Brin et. al. were they applied to other areas of human endeavor.

    BTW, great thread people!

    P.S. to JD above. In my lead post I did NOT assume tech civs were prevalent in this galactic cluster. I believe that we might well be the first.

  • philw September 29, 2006, 9:12

    What I wrote above might read to imply that Brin supports the Good Aliens philosophy. I do not mean to imply that as I do not know his position; based on his writings that I’ve read, I think he feels otherwise. I intended to object to the concept of closed discussion.