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SETI, METI… and Assessing Risk like Adults

David Brin is a familiar name to science fiction readers worldwide, the award-winning author of the highly regarded ‘uplift’ novels that include Startide Rising (1983), The Uplift War (1987) and Brightness Reef (1995). Among his numerous other titles are The Postman (1985), Kiln People (2002) and Existence (2012). But Brin is also known as a futurist whose scientific work ranges over topics in astronautics and astronomy to forms of dispute resolution and the role of neoteny in human evolution. His Ph.D in Physics from the University of California at San Diego followed a masters in optics and an undergraduate degree in astrophysics from Caltech. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the California Space Institute and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Brin has served on advisory committees dealing with subjects as diverse as national defense, space exploration, SETI and nanotechnology, future/prediction and philanthropy. His essay The Great Silence (available here) is but one of his many investigations into SETI and METI that weigh the consequences of contact with other civilizations, a subject that occupies him in the post below.

by David Brin


In a previous Centauri Dreams posting (SETI, METI and Existential Risk), J.N. Nielsen made an earnest effort to appraise both sides of the current debate over “messaging” to the cosmos, or METI. He started with an apt comparison to the way that passive-listening sonar differs from the brashly-seeking active kind — the “pinging-and-echoes” we’ve all heard in submarine movies.

Alas, he then poses the current dispute over METI in oversimplifying terms: “Is the universe such a dangerous place that it behooves us to maintain radio silence?”

This posits a glaring misapprehension — that the dissidents who mistrust METI are acting out fear of the unknown, dreading possible consequences of shouting for attention into the sky. In fact, however, Dr. Jim Benford, the late Dr. John Billingham, former senior US diplomat Michael Michaud and I have all resigned from SETI-related international commissions — and taken the matter public — in protest over behavior that has taken on an increasingly cult-like quality.

This troubling trend became apparent a couple of years ago, the one and only time that a substantial and open discussion of the matter took place in a neutral and respected venue, before a special gathering organized by the Royal Society. The proceedings of that gathering will soon be published by the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, and I urge all interested readers to keep their eyes open for that event, when the whole matter will be laid out before you all, in far greater detail than I can do here.

(For those who are impatient to learn more (a trait I find most-becoming!) here is a link to articles and speculations by David Brin about the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

Keeping my response to Mr. Nielsen succinct in this place, let me say that he gets the “dissidents’ motives entirely wrong. We freely admit that the odds of any one bad-outcome scenario from METI broadcasts or beams might be small. We are, however, capable of admitting one thing that METI zealots obstinately refuse to avow — that we don’t know what those odds are, not even within many orders of magnitude. In the new and important realm of Risk Analysis, that kind of uncertainty ought to prompt adults to at least talk about ways to reduce the uncertainty.

But talk and discussion and appraisal of risk are exactly what the zealots — aided and abetted by certain folks at the SETI Institute — bend all their efforts to avoid. The Royal Society meeting was a fluke and efforts to expand the discussion are met with stony silence or open disdain.

To make things perfectly clear, what we METI dissidents have asked — and ALL that we have asked — is for a series of open, eclectic, vigorous and thorough discussions to be held, probing this matter of risk from all sides, before individuals and small groups jump the gun, peremptorily blaring yoohoo ‘messages,’ arrogating the right to speak to aliens on behalf of all humanity. So far, these stunts are being pulled by a small subset of radio astronomers and fans — or commercial owners of tracking dishes that had been built by taxpayer funds — who deliberately avoid collegiality with other sciences, fleeing input from experts in pertinent fields like history, biology, anthropology, planetary science or, indeed, any other discipline that might shed light onto a vast range of conceivable outcomes from First Contact.

Some of which (by the way) do not depend upon any ability to travel physically between the stars.

At risk of tedious repetition, because it has proved relentlessly necessary — all that we dissidents have asked for has been the kind of earnest and eclectic pre-discussion that worked so well, decades ago, when the genetic biology community engaged in the extremely successful and positive sum “Asilomar Process” to explore their then-nascent field and thereupon decide on procedures to get both safety and rapid discovery.

That has been our request and position. Anyone who claims that we have sought anything else — out of “fear of slathering Cardassian invaders,” snarked one deceiver — is a damned liar.

(By the way, just envision those open and public symposia I talked about, drawing on all realms of pertinent human excellence, revolving around every topic that might shed light upon either aliens or ourselves. Wouldn’t such symposia make for terrific television? Might they not capture the imagination of — and edify — millions or even billions? Why would anyone oppose such exposure to the full range of ideas and analyses or our place (and possible others’) in the universe? The pro-METI opposition to this speaks a lot about their honesty and fealty to science.)

Getting down to specifics

Having explained that key point, let me go on to say that Mr. Nielsen shows a calm logic that would be welcome in any discussion. Alas, he also displays the blithe assurance we see all-too often in this field — and that was rife among the commenters underneath his posting — that one does not have to read-up any of the background material, in order to be an instant expert. Just arm-wave a pat few sentences of “logic” and you’ve solved the most perplexing puzzle in the cosmos!

Nielsen’s dismissal of the Benford paper on interstellar communications economics – for example – is toe-shallow. Indeed, does Nielsen contend that advanced ETCs — no matter how rich they are — would not still very likely prefer one means of making contact that is six to ten orders of magnitude cheaper than another?

A factor of a million or a billion may affect your choice of method, even if you are a super-Kardashev society of near-gods.

Thus, the Benfords clearly proved that “pinging” potential new civilization sites – at intervals – would be far more efficient and likely than gaudy, omni-directional beacons. Indeed, that strategy is consistent with the famous “Wow” signal… and with the fact that no gaudy, omni-blaring tutorial beacons have ever been found. The one null-result of SETI that is already definite, sufficient and proved.

Nielsen is at his best – though still very superficial – in discussing possible ways and reasons for intentional silence. Certainly I have listed in my Great Silence catalogue many variations on that theme, ranging from cowering dread all the way to beneficently allowing Earth culture to grow without cultural interference. Indeed, some of these are drawn out dramatically in my novel Existence. Still, I have trouble when Nielsen says the following:

“…just as these peer civilizations would likely incorporate our curiosity about the universe, they would also likely incorporate our willingness to take risks.”

This is yet another blithe assumption, a dilettante arm-waving that begs, rather than asks key questions. Nielsen posits that the descendants of the alien equivalents of bears or lions or geese or herbivores would share a similar psychology with we humans, who happen to come from exogamously-exploring, gregariously-interdependent yet individualistic apes, a combination that is – in truth – rather rare in nature. Oh, sure, there may indeed be others like us! But then his broad generalization is broken.

Add to that the social effects we’ve seen, in which 99% of human societies strove hard to repress curiosity and inventiveness, and you have reason to suggest that Mr. Nielsen talk things out and expose his assumptions to critical scrutiny. Preferably before publication.

Like the following:

“If our civilization determines that METI is too great an existential risk to bear, then existential risk perception begets risk aversion and possibly culminates in permanent stagnation.”

Um… where on Earth did THAT come from? Yes, I just said that most human societies squelched curiosity. But that was a personality trait arising organically from feudalism, not an outgrowth of any single act of risk analysis.

The crux

Our exceptional enlightenment civilization is outgoing and daring — traits that other human societies would have deemed foolish but that we consider noble. That spirit is under siege right now, as forces try to re-assert feudalism. But one thing is for sure. A little pre-discussion about the highly outward-looking topic of extraterrestrial civilization is not going to be the thing to bring down a curtain of stagnation! Our outwardness will not change if we act with a little prudence and pause to analyze METI risk factors, like adults. The way the biologists did, at Asilomar. Mr. Nielsen is presenting us with a strawman, and a deeply pernicious one, at that.

Indeed, no one on this planet has pursued Otherness and exploration of the topic of the alien more relentlessly than I have, in both fiction and in science. I do not view the cosmos with trepidation. I am proud to be a member of the only civilization on Earth (and perhaps anywhere) that ever stared at the stars with eagerness, salivating with intense hunger.

But overlaid upon both curiosity and romance is something else called maturity. I have children. Care for their posterity is a duty I intend to fulfill. If that means spending a decade listening and learning and discussing, instead of yammering like idiots into a cosmos that is unexpectedly and perhaps dauntingly quiet? Well then call me the adult in the room.

To impatient adolescents that is a crime. Well then…. mea culpa.

On the other hand, maybe folks could stop yelling “gotcha!” in a topic that is actually rather complex. Indeed, those complexities are the spice, the juice, the excitement in this field. If your contribution is a quick, snarky “of course” about… aliens? Well… take my word for it. You have no idea what you are talking about.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Mundus Gubernavi November 15, 2013, 5:04

    Although passion is greatly appreciated (and refreshing), I think that some of the above discussion is being taken (just a little) too seriously.

    Let’s assume that we aren’t alone in the universe and that our messages have reached an intelligent species capable of interpreting them–TOO BAD! We’re already too late. They’re on their way here, will arrive tomarrow and will proceed to kill, liquefy and drink all life on the planet and proceed with their colonization. We asked them not to do it when they got here, but they said they had to fulfill the prophecies found in ‘Across the Universe’.

    The real question then is–SO WHAT?

    Let it be.

    We can type away at our keyboards or thumb-punch our cellular devices about how much we love life, each other, our offspring and personal belongings like good-ol’ happy-apes, but if we really cared that much why did you make the decision to procreate in the first place? Why be a part of a cycle of life, survival, and extinction without having immediate access to the total assurance of perpetual conscious existence? [Rhetorical]

    To use the parental sentiment is weak and a non-issue when we’re not even safe from each other OR even our own dwelling place (good-ol’ peaceful Earth). LOL We simply are here for the long haul, so let’s make the most out of it and prepare oursleves for the best possible methods of survival, whatever they may be (even though we make them up as we go)–As said by Mr. Eric Kansa in an above comment; “Survival seems like it’s largely a matter of luck.”

    Is it possible that we are creating more evolutionary pressures through our interstellar endeavors?–Sure. Is that necessarily a risk we aren’t supposed to be a part of? Nope. Welcome to the multiverse, and put back on your blinders… you’ll need ’em for the stars anyway. :D

    P.S. You’re awesome, Dr. Brin.

  • Brett Bellmore November 15, 2013, 7:38

    “Artificial structures and energy signatures of global civilization are mostly impossible to conceal in wider space context. ”

    Impossible, and unless the aliens are fairly close by, unnecessary. The further away you get, the more extreme the technologies you have to posit, to suppose these signatures will be detected. And yet, we have to ask, given the extreme age of the galaxy, and how short a time we went from knapping flint to nuclear power, how likely is it that another race, capable of those technologies, would be close enough to detect such a signal, and yet not already here.

  • Gregory Benford November 15, 2013, 8:47

    Those who commented on economics in this and earlier posts: this is
    just the same old Altruistic Alien Argument we discussed in

    It assumes some transcendent economy where nothing costs anything,
    like the fantasy novels of Iain Banks’ Culture. (He had to find
    various irrational reasons for conflict, since there was no struggle
    for resources. No money, either, a la Star Trek. Pure nonsense to any

    The Altruistic Alien Argument implied that the beacon builders will be vastly
    wealthy and make everything easy for us. We’ve tested that for half a
    century: no results. Indeed, since the Altruistic Aliens have no
    theoretical bound, you must explain why there’s no bright neon sign in
    the sky saying WE’RE HERE, FOLKS that everybody in the galaxy can see.
    (Any why skimp? All other galaxies, too.)

    Consider our own time. We’re millions of times more rich than cultures
    of thousands of years ago. (I’m writing this in Petra, Jordan, which
    left carved sandstone tombs, the only reason we know that impoverished
    time.) How come there’s still a vexing struggle for wealth, since costs for
    resources have shrunk? Because labor still costs. It always will.
    People need jobs.

    You can imagine robots who carry out your every wish (Jill Tarter
    tried to counter our economic focus by saying, “Maybe they’ll have
    slaves!” I’m not making this up.) But slaves cost something too, and others
    will want them to do something else.

    I think the Great Silence implies a lot of bad things: life is rare;
    life is strange and maybe hostile (so shut up); SETI is too far from alien
    lives to be worth the price–and many combinations of the above. So
    METI is a risk of unknown size. Prudence should rule.

    Further, we should frown at attempts to profit from people who would
    “send your message to the stars!” style advertising. This not only
    cheapens the entire field. It also defrauds the public, as Jim and
    others have shown by direct calculation. (Numbers matter!) METI could
    drive away support for SETI.

  • ljk November 15, 2013, 12:43

    November 15, 2013

    “Detection of Laser Light May Signal Presence of Alien Technological Civilizations” (Today’s Most Popular)

    Concentrated laser light in the universe may signal the presence of a technological civilizations that might be living on distant planets.

    “Think about humanity 300 hundred years from now,” said Geoffrey Marcy this past August. Marcy is currently Professor of Astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley, famous for discovering 70 out of the first 100 exo planets. “Suppose we set up a colony on another planet … the most likely way we will communicate with (humans on those planets) is with radio signals or light beams.”

    Marcy believes that there may be other civilizations in the universe that are years ahead of human society and might currently be communicating with radio signals in a network he calls a “galactic Internet.”

    Marcy uses advanced telescopes to detect concentrated signals in space. He believes these signals may indicate the existence of another advanced civilization, because nothing in the universe is known to emit such signals. The Templeton Foundation recently granted him $200,000 for his proposal.

    Full article here:


  • David Cummings November 15, 2013, 13:33

    “According to a poll, 61% of the UK public believe this is just the start of communication with ET life and that we will enter into regular communication with an alien species at some stage in the future.”

    From: http://www.universetoday.com/15043/doritos-in-space/

    Which leads me to think that the chances of having a productive discussion on this subject are not very high. Whatever else is in our future, big METI projects will probably go forward.

    I personally am consoled by my own unsubstantiated gut feeling that the Great Silence should be taken at face value and that any METI signal has a long, long way to travel before it falls on anything resembling discerning ears.

  • Alex Tolley November 15, 2013, 13:35

    You can imagine robots who carry out your every wish (Jill Tarter
    tried to counter our economic focus by saying, “Maybe they’ll have
    slaves!” I’m not making this up.) But slaves cost something too, and others
    will want them to do something else.

    Even with replicators that make. e.g. giant mirrors/sunshades that could act as optical modulators their star, economics will come into play – best use of the mirror materials, etc. Almost any scenario, including technology based on synthetic life, will require some economic thought about input and output uses.

    Which doesn’t preclude ETCs decisions to build devices that may be economically inefficient, especially if their economies are very large and they deem it affordable. We landed a man on the moon in a very costly manner for geo-political reasons. Historically, what might the economic value of building massive religious structures have been? Impressive yes, but the most economic way to achieve the goal – transporting kings to afterlives, or praying to deities? Economics doesn’t capture the all human activity, and probably not all alien ones either.

  • Thomas W. Hair November 15, 2013, 18:22

    Paul, you are a great guy and I love your site, but David Brin is driving me away with his unprofessional responses…he doesn’t know what he is talking about anymore than many other fine folks commenting on this website on a very speculative subject, but he will tell us that he does and that is precisely why he gets the “snarky” comments that he pre-emptively warns us not to send. You usually get what you give and being a famous science fiction author does not give one a pass to be rude.

    For David, so you and Benford say these megawatt, narrow beam, high signal gain transmissions coming from the powerful phased array radars I propose will die out far short of possible detection…if that’s true why worry about METI?

    Beyond that, Benford proposed on these pages in July 2010 that we should use a long stare strategy to search for signals like these and others through what he termed a “long stare” strategy. If they are undetectable, why bother?

    Beyond that, communications signals by their communicative nature tend not to be unidirectional and thus of far lower signal gain than those I mention. If the phased array radar signal fades, then the communications signal fades even faster. I have read your response to a form of this question and I don’t buy into your neat, tidy answer. But that is no reason to resort to the nastiness I see in some of your responses to myself and others.


  • Eniac November 15, 2013, 21:59

    Gregory Benford

    You can imagine robots who carry out your every wish (Jill Tarter
    tried to counter our economic focus by saying, “Maybe they’ll have
    slaves!” I’m not making this up.) But slaves cost something too, and others
    will want them to do something else.

    I agree that there will still be costs associated with any endeavor, and human “labor” will always be valued. However, that “labor” will more an more be measured in terms of intellectual effort. Research, design, engineering, management and politics will dominate the cost/benefit calculation, not material resources or energy. If you think about it, we are already most of the way there.

    With advanced means of production that can be scaled arbitrarily using self-replication, it is quite conceivable that scaling up a beacon 100,000-fold in output power (perhaps achieved by simply making 100,000 copies of the same equipment) will require only marginal additional amounts of human resources, easily affordable in such a future world.

  • Gregory Benford November 16, 2013, 9:05

    T. Hair:
    “if that’s true why worry about METI?” Read the Smart SETI papers more carefully. We laid out the technical problems & costs, and Jim’s further papers show that METI messages to date have been too weak to be detectable by plausible receivers at ranges of many light years.
    We don’t make blanket claims that all signals are undetectable. We just show what’s needed.
    I further fear that selling METI to the public will cheapen this entire field, making us all seem like fakers.

  • Doug M. November 16, 2013, 11:49

    Pointing out that there aren’t a lot of women or minorities in this field? People get upset. Brin is… oh, the third or fourth commenter here to how-dare-you ragequit on this topic in the last year.

    For the record, I don’t bring this up on most threads. When the topic is asteroid detection, great — let’s talk about albedos and the power curve on NEO radii. But when the topics are things like groupthink, outreach, public perception, and “otherness”, then I think the really astonishing lack of diversity in this field becomes a relevant field of discussion.

    One poster mentioned Athena Andreadis. Athena used to be a regular commenter here. She quit. And while I don’t want to put words in her mouth, yes, her being female was part of the reason she walked away. (Don’t take my word for it; she has an online presence and answers e-mails, go and ask her.)

    On the plus side, Paul Gilster has done a respectable job recently of inviting female guest posters — we’ve had two or three in the last six months, which is well above average for the field. Good on you, Paul; your efforts are not going unnoticed.

    Doug M.

  • Kappy November 16, 2013, 16:21

    Dr. Brin,

    I would note that in many of your comments here you discuss the lack of knowledge and the fact that there is almost no known subject matter and yet you assert:

    “But you apparently conflate the detection of biospheres with the detection of technological sapience, which almost certainly erupts out of biospheres only rarely. ”

    What gives you such certainty? In fact I could argue that so far the reverse is more likely, if only slightly so. We humans have only studied one biosphere and that biosphere has technological sapience. I could make the argument here that 100% of biospheres, given sufficient time, will develop technological sapience and so far the evidence would be on my side. I won’t make that argument as any good statistician would laugh at my sample size, and yet my argument would still be stronger than yours.

    I’m not decided on the METI issue and I think both sides have compelling points, but you can’t argue about the other taking weak assertions as fact and then do the same yourself.


  • ljk November 17, 2013, 0:59

    A Scientist Wants To Issue A Bond That Pays Big Once We Find Alien Life

    SARANYA KAPUR NOV. 16, 2013, 7:10 AM

    In modern finance, you can hedge against anything.

    But the market for hedging against alien invasions is pretty thin.

    Marginal Revolution’s Tyler Cowen pointed us to an interesting proposal addressing the matter.

    In an article (http://arxiv.org/pdf/1311.2467v1.pdf) for the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, Jacob Haqq-Misra of the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science proposes a novel way to insure against the coming close encounter, while also helping fund the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

    He proposes a bond which pays out when extraterrestrial life is proved to exist by researchers on earth. It would be a “lottery bond,” which is a security usually issued to fund projects when the issuer foresees low demand for the bonds. In order to drum up demand, some randomly selected bonds within the issue are redeemed at a higher value than the face value of the bond once the project is completed; this enhances the value of the bond.

    All of the bonds get a regular, but low coupon payment, and once the project is completed, the holders of the “lucky” bonds get a high payout, while everyone else gets less or nothing.

    Full article here:


  • ljk November 17, 2013, 2:57

    On February 25, 2013 At 9:06 Pm By Joshua Filmer

    Are Earth’s Radio Signals Being Intercepted by Aliens?

    The SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute has been searching for intelligent life in our universe for the last 29 years. People have been searching for signals for longer than that – I presume since the dawn of radio astronomy. Of course, they haven’t turned up any signs. But let’s dive into a hypothetical real quick. Suppose tomorrow, we detected the first radio broadcasts of an alien civilization that lives on a star 1,000 light-years from Earth – on the other side of the Milky Way.

    We listen to their initial broadcasts, and eventually start seeing their earliest television broadcasts. The greatest minds on Earth eventually decipher the alien’s language. and we are able to understand what we see and hear. We watch their politics, culture, science, and religions evolve over time. We potentially learn some lessons along the way as the aliens crack problems we struggle with. We listen to our new friends for a thousand years.

    Maybe, something happens that destroys the civilization – through their own cataclysmic wars, a naturally occurring apocalyptic event they just didn’t see coming, or their mishandling of the environment. Maybe they switch to a different way of broadcasting that we simply can’t hear. Maybe, they vanish–radio silence–and we don’t know why. Maybe, an alien race 1,000 light-years away eavesdrops on our own radio and television broadcasts and experiences the same thing as our own civilizations rise and fall over time. Could such a scenario occur?

    Full article here:


  • Doug M. November 17, 2013, 4:32

    I’m mildly surprised that nobody has linked to this yet: http://xkcd.com/638/.

    Anyway: one thing that gets missed about this field is that it’s rather small, and as a result is dominated by a handful of overlapping social groups. This is why, for instance, you can have an entire large, well-funded conference consisting basically of “friends of Greg Benford”.

    This has its advantages — ideas can move very quickly through a network of friends and colleagues, it’s easy to get people together, folks will pitch in and help each other, and so forth. But it also has its disadvantages — corners of the field get very clique-y, authority starts to get claimed based on social connections rather than actual achievements, and outsiders who presume too much get either ignored or attacked.

    In this particular case, note the very strong _de haut en bas_ tone of authority that suffuses the original article. At one point Brin literally claims that *nobody in the world* has thought more about these issues than he has! He is “mature” and “the adult in the room”; the other fellow is “shallow”, “superficial”, and “an arm-waving dilettante”. And that tone is carried through the comments: commenters who agree are patted on the head, those who disagree are ignored or slathered with contempt. It’s status-reinforcing behavior.

    [shrug] The interstellar field overlaps heavily with science fiction fandom, and shares many of the same charms and pathologies.

    Doug M.

  • NS November 17, 2013, 15:02

    For an interesting (if pessimistic) discussion on the chances for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, see here (pdf file):


  • Rob Henry November 17, 2013, 16:02

    It is a very human trait that if one works on anything too long, your mind becomes distorted by your speciality. Notice there are TWO crucial probabilities to assign here.

    1) If a METI signal is ever picked up, what is the chance that the response is deleterious for us.

    2) What is the chance that any given METI (or even all such signals as a class) will have negative implications for us.

    If you are optimistic enough to send a signal it makes sense to concentrate on evaluating the first probability. If you try to prevent others doing so, you have to use the second as justification. I posit that our limited current knowledge would put wildly different values on 1) and 2).

    Is David Brin framing the problem correctly?

  • Mundus Gubernavi November 18, 2013, 6:00

    I don’t see how a response (in the form of a message), in itself, could be deleterious… It would just be a matter of ‘sticks and stones’. If you’re talking about a physical response, like an actual attack, then yes it may be bad news.

    Therefore, the chances of receiving a reply as a message (in radio form, obviously) I would think would be the only way we would be able to deduce the implications. However, if the ETI simply responded to the METI signal without warning us before hand, then there’s nothing we can do but fight with what we have (as there would be no time to prepare). It’d be whoever has the best sticks and stones… or bones, at the very least.

    And if they take the latter action, then the chances (for us) are pretty slim. I can’t help but think of the film ‘The Darkest Hour’. [SPOILER ALERT]

    I wanted to get into the film, because I thought that it would have made the aliens actual aliens and not creatures that are probably related to us (i.e. have DNA). When I saw the trailers I thought, whoa, these things look like living light forms–wave-particles that evolved in an entirely different direction than life as we know it; making light into a biologically complex form of quantum matter. But as the movie progresses, you find out the moving alien lights that vaporize Earth’s inhabitants are just weapons, containing quasi-bipedal lifeforms shielded inside. Big let down.

    But let’s imagine that things like that are in the universe (aliens existing as what we understand as quantum energy/waves and/or matter) and would thus be able to travel at light speed as a rule of their existence (of being complex forms of light waves) and the only way to kill or destroy one would require amounts of energy (or anti/dark energy) we don’t have access to (or more realistically, KNOWLEDGE we don’t have access to).

    We are incredibly stupid compared to the “intelligence” of the universe and its ability to regulate itself without us trying to manipulate and hack it.

    Is Dr. Brin framing the problem correctly? No.

    BECAUSE THERE IS NO PROBLEM. We are the problem. Our ignorance is the problem.

    Getting people involved on all levels of space exploration, no matter what social or intellectual level they come from is important. It seems to me like the people who want to reform or reprove METI enthusiasts are delving too narrowly into the much bigger issue of public interest.

    Both good publicity and bad publicity accomplish the same goal if done properly. If METI becomes a group of fanatical cult-like alien hunters, great! Fanaticism and whacky characters get more attention than prudent sci-fi thumpers and stern academics… lol

    To me, Dr. Brin is using this pretentious tone of dialogue for that very purpose–to get people to react, muster ideas and colorful responses, and entertain himself.

    I am a twenty-something year old from an ethnically and gender-diverse background. To me, I simply don’t care about an alien attack. I would only really genuinely care if we first figured out a way to cure and prevent the cessation of our biological (or conscious) function (e.x. death). It would give a whole new meaning to existence in the universe. But until then, we’re all just a part of the game to accomplish that feat.

    Hell, if you want, invent stealth FTL travel (so we can’t detect you) and start your own secret space/astrobiology mission; travel to a place we sent one of the messages, collect it and create your own race of aliens to come back to Earth in a couple of generations for a surprise attack and make up a good lie to make us believe you (or your creations) are an unrelated civilization, claiming to have found out about us from such a radio signal. Maybe someone is already in the process. Uncertainty is indiscriminate.

  • David Cummings November 18, 2013, 10:04

    Doug M. November 16, 2013 at 11:49: “Pointing out that there aren’t a lot of women or minorities in this field? People get upset.”

    Are you saying Paul rejects posts from women and minorities?

    Are you saying each posted idea should be rated for its Genitalia Content, and Skin Pigmentation Content?

    I’m sorry, I really don’t see what you’re getting at. Shouldn’t ideas stand or fall on their own merit? Is it even possible to have an Affirmative Action plan for ideas? Is that what you are advocating?

    What ARE you advocating? I really don’t see it. You just come across as irritating, argumentative, like a teenager in a basement with a very angry keyboard.

    Sorry, but that’s the impression I get.

  • Joe November 18, 2013, 12:20

    I read Thomas Hairs Response to David Brin. On his website Professor Hair writes: “Therefore, if we are not alone in the galaxy …. then intelligent life has evolved on numerous occasions in the distant past, has had tens of millions of years or more to migrate across the galaxy, and has intentionally left us alone each time.

    Left us alone? Why would they do that? It’s like Captain Cook sailing around in the Pacific and spotting some mountains that turn out to be Hawaii. “Naw,” he says. “Just leave them alone. Let’s just continue wasting time sailing in circles instead.”

    ETCs are by definition curious. Rather than suggesting we are being left alone, a more rational explanation for the Great Silence is that we are alone.

    As Don Henley sings “They’re not here, they’re not coming.” http://www.metrolyrics.com/theyre-not-here-theyre-not-coming-lyrics-don-henley.html

  • ljk November 18, 2013, 15:43

    Magellan managed to cross the entire Pacific Ocean without running into any islands along the way until he reached the Philippines. The Milky Way galaxy is a slightly larger place with many more “islands” spread much farther apart. And you need more than a few wooden boats to traverse it.

  • Wojciech J November 18, 2013, 17:35

    Joe wroteL

    “Left us alone? Why would they do that? It’s like Captain Cook sailing around in the Pacific and spotting some mountains that turn out to be Hawaii. “Naw,” he says. “Just leave them alone. Let’s just continue wasting time sailing in circles instead.”
    ETCs are by definition curious. Rather than suggesting we are being left alone, a more rational explanation for the Great Silence is that we are alone.”

    That would assume that ETC are on the same level of development as civilization of Captain Cook and with the same need for resources and living space. Which even our current civilization has started to abandon.
    The current governmental policies towards uncontacted native tribes is largely isolationism and quarantine. We have also decide to leave alone a whole continent(with much friendlier conditions than any planet we know of and probably of many that we will know).
    Once material resources are sufficient then resources like ideas and culture become highly valued. By contacting an early civilization ETC would spoil future potential of existence of highly unique culture it could experience(with the native civilization easily dominated culturally by something millions of years advanced). To be honest I am not even sure our culture would survive such thing.
    Or perhaps the distances in time and space are too big…
    In any case the only thing we can do is to watch to stars.
    As to METI opponents and supporters-they never really addressed the issue of Earth’s visibility to non-radio detection and makes their argument pointless.

  • James Benford November 18, 2013, 21:24

    Doug M: Indeed, the Starship Century Symposium in La Jolla could be seen as consisting of “friends of Greg Benford”, but the reality is more complex. After all, we know a lot of people, and have been organizing such events since 1955.

    The Symposium was, after all, based on the book Starship Century and consisted almost entirely of contributors to the book. Those contributors were in turn chosen for their interesting thoughts, their track record in producing good prose, and their agreement to meet our terms, primarily due dates.

    Therefore we ended up in La Jolla largely with professionals from academia and science fiction. Of the 15 active participants at La Jolla, 12 were known to Greg, 12 to me and 2 to neither of us.

    There were 2 women among the 15. Their absence of some females is due to the females. The majority of those women invited had various reasons for not attending. On the other hand, all but one of the men invited attended and participated.

    As Woody Allen said in his film Zelig, “Half of history is just showing up”. So the question of why white males tend to be the majority of participants should be turned around. The real question is: Why don’t the other folk show up? This is especially perplexing in the Symposium because the University funded the participants’ expenses.

  • Doug M. November 19, 2013, 9:39

    “Are you saying Paul rejects posts from women and minorities?”

    I think you missed the part where I mentioned that Paul has been raising his game on outreach lately. ‘Good on you, Paul,’ I said.

    “What ARE you advocating? I really don’t see it.”

    I’m advocating outreach.

    This field is dominated by white dudes. That’s a fact. The blogs, the commenters, the speakers at conferences, the the attendees at conferences, the authors of papers that get accepted for publication, the journal editors, the people running the various interstellar societies… in the US and Great Britain, overwhelmingly white dudes. (And disproportionately white dudes over 40 years old, but that’s a separate issue.)

    I see this as a problem, for several reasons. One, there are a lot of people that we’re failing to reach. (In some cases, we may be actively alienating them.) Two, we’re narrowing the discourse; by drawing from such a narrow demographic, we’re limiting the range of viewpoints and life experiences that. Three, there’s an optics issue. And four, in a country that’s rapidly becoming more diverse, we run the risk of marginalizing ourselves and our topic.

    “Is it even possible to have an Affirmative Action plan for ideas?”

    So, we judge commenters purely based on their ideas? That’s nice.

    I make it a rule to never even mention affirmative action, quotas, or any other sort of rule or obligation. Nevertheless, every time this topic comes up, people start yelling about quotas and affirmative action.

    For the record, I support an entirely voluntary outreach effort, by which individuals in the interstellar community try to invite more women (and minorities, and young people) to participate. Even this very modest proposal seems to send some people into spasms of outrage; I’m truly not sure why.

    Doug M.

  • David Cummings November 19, 2013, 14:56

    And I’m truly not sure why any “outreach” is necessary. To say otherwise is to imply that women and minorities need some kind of specific push to get interested in these ideas, a push not related to the ideas themselves.

    I think that’s not only wrong but demeaning. If I’m not interested in an idea, please don’t “outreach” to me based on my race (which you do not know), but on the basis of the idea itself.

    There should be an “outreach”, alright, and that “outreach” should be a brilliant discussion (myself not included in that adjective) of interstellar travel.

    And you know what, that “outreach” exists (among other places) right here on this blog.

    Let the ideas sell themselves. Let the “outreach” stem from the ideas themselves.

    If women and minorities aren’t interested in this subject (a proposition I reject, by the way), then that’s just the way it is at this time in our history… and it will surely change of its own accord.

  • Doug M. November 19, 2013, 16:15


    Thanks for responding. As to your conference, two things. One, you make a valid point when you say you’ve been around for a while. That said, this goes to my earlier point about the chummy, occasionally cliquish, perhaps somewhat ingrown nature of the field. As I noted upthread, this has both good and bad aspects, but it’s anyway a thing.

    Two, I watched several of the presentations of the conference on video. Very interesting — but there was a very marked lack of women, minorities, and young people, both among the presenters and in the audience. As you note, there were two women out of 15 presenters; all of the presenters were white; and the median age of the presenters was over 65. (That’s after excluding Freeman Dyson as an outlier.) The one time the camera panned the audience, it looked very similar — mostly male, almost entirely white, and almost all middle aged or older.

    This is not a criticism of the presenters, nor of the organizers. But there is, at a minimum, an optics issue here. You note that you were drawing from science fiction and from academe. Those are both fields that have become dramatically more diverse in the last decade. SFWA is over 30% female. The American Association of Astronomers (to name a plausibly relevant professional / academic hard science organization) is 28% female and — by their own count — 18% minority. All those numbers have risen sharply in the last ten years, and are almost certainly still rising.

    As to interstellar conferences, the interesting proof-of-concept here is the 100 Year Starship conference. 100 YSS went to some effort to do outreach. And with considerable success; glance at their list of speakers, or look at photographs of their attendees. Both their speakers’ group and their audience ended up being much more diverse — and much younger. It was perhaps the only interstellar gathering of the last few years where the median age was under 40.

    — One strongly suspects those two things are connected. Young people are growing up in a much more diverse America. To give a single data point, the incoming freshman class at MIT this year was 46% female and 56% nonwhite. (And, FWIW, 6% openly gay or bi.) Ten years from now, those kids are going to be the rising generation of physicists and engineers. Fifty years from now, they’ll be respected senior leaders in their fields. If the 21st is going to be a Starship Century, they’re the ones who will make it happen. They’re the ones we need to connect with. And they are comfortable with diversity to a degree that’s almost difficult for us older folks to grasp.

    Anyway. You mentioned that some invitees didn’t show up. That’s an interesting point. Perhaps you could ask them why? (Not being snarky; sincerely curious.)

    Thanks again for your response,

    Doug M.

  • Lokanski November 19, 2013, 18:48

    “This field is dominated by white dudes”
    Doesn’t mean much. Grouping together all people just based on their skin color is wrong. A white Czech or Pole working in UK has less in common with white English person than a Hindu person who comes from family living there for generations.
    I think you are stereotyping too much.

  • Larry DePuy November 20, 2013, 3:08

    Now that we know for certain there are a multitude of worlds out there, as has long been suspected. It seems fantastically remote that intelligent civilizations have not yet arisen, other than our own. Then why haven’t we picked up radio or laser signals from them? I think the answer lies, in part, with the research Sonny White is doing. If warp drive or something comparable has been achieved by ET than surely they don’t travel light years in days or weeks but send messages at the speed of light. They must have at least warp drive communication capsules, or more likely a version of Star Trek “sub-space communication”. This would explain why we can’t hear the interstellar buzz, as civilizations only use radio for a few centuries. I think sending a message to anything other than our very close neighbors would be a total waste of time. With the pace our technology is changing, a century from now our understanding and capabilities will be so changed as to render most of what we do to contact ET today, to be pointless. Sending messages at light speed to planets 100 or more LYs away, if FTL does not exist, would be harmless. Who is going to travel a hundred LYs to wage war? The number of planetary bodies in space available for exploitation are virtually endless. Why fight for something when you can get it in great abundance hassle free?

    Any very advanced civilization would most likely have huge telescopes interlinked over many AU, giving amazing resolution of distant worlds. They may have them scattered throughout the galaxy. They would be able to observe not only gases indicative of life, but they would detect artificial light emanating from the night side of planets. If Et is out there, and I suspect there are many and diverse species, then they are already aware of us.

    The big question in my mind is; Why have they not contacted us? Is Star Trek right again? Do they wait until a civilization has developed warp drive? Do they avoid religious planets as too volatile? Do they exclude planets where war is waged or one sentient species murders another sentient species and then eats them? (Humans still eat whales and great apes etc.) Surely there must be one civilization that is within a few thousand years of our development. One that is not so far beyond us they choose to leave us behind.

    Maybe Sonny White’s experiment to generate a warp field will do it. It may be like plucking a thread in the web or fabric of space time that will send a signal to ET that we are almost ready to join the interstellar or intergalactic club.

    I have wondered and waited most of my 65 years. Where the hell are they? They have a cure for all diseases including aging. They have clean efficient fuel. They have the answers to all our problems. Maybe, all we have to do is ask nicely for their help. After all, as a child like race, shouldn’t we get a little parental supervision? But how do we ask? Could it be as simple as the President of the United States or President of the United Nations officially asking on all broadcast communications, which may be monitored by ET. Surely they have studied us and can use their advanced technology to communicate with us. They could send a synthetic ambassador to us, if none of them are remotely human, to avoid culture shock.

    One night in the desert I watched meteors streaking across the sky. One came in like the others but then came to an instantaneous stop, dimmed, dropped straight down, then brightened up and took off in another direction and dissapeared. My friend and I looked at each other and back up at the night sky and said “What the F*#k was that?!” I still don’t know. Was it an optical illusion? A lot of observed UFOs are reported to defy the laws of nature, by completely ignoring inertia. They go from high speed to zero and back to high speed again with no period of acceleration or deceleration or make right angle turns at high speed. If just one “sighting” was real, then ET already knows we are here. It fills my head with questions that might follow a first date: Why haven’t they called? Did I do something wrong? Am I that ugly? Too much deodorant? Not enough? Was it the onions I ate? What?

    I guess the bottom line is, if their is a way to speed up contact with ET, I am in favor. The question is how do we do it? We may have yet to invent the right technology. There may be questions and variables that no human has considered. They must know of our existence and have done us no harm. Humanity could use a first contact experience with a “logical” race but also one that has compassion as well. Not that we can choose, but all interstellar races must be aware of each other, which would lead me to think they have an agreement or understanding among themselves. There may well be xenophobes that have separated themselves from the more social species and what if we are in their territory? How does that get worked out? If there were a hostile species that was 10,000 years in advance of us and they wanted to destroy us, our fate would be sealed. We have been very detectable for too long, and our defenses against them would be pointless. I’m sure we will find out this century. I just hope it’s not the day after I die.

  • David Cummings November 20, 2013, 11:58

    “The number of planetary bodies in space available for exploitation are virtually endless. Why fight for something when you can get it in great abundance hassle free?” — Larry DePuy

    I agree with that assessment. I believe that the “prime real estate” in this galaxy — and any galaxy — in the minds of an advanced civilization (either bio or robo), has to be rocky planets orbiting Red Dwarfs, particularly small Red Dwarfs, the smaller the better. That’s where the longevity is. If you want an multi-trillion-year-long energy source, that’s where you want to plant your flags, in orbits around Red Dwarfs.

    So yes, it is unlikely that something would travel hundreds or thousands of light years to take our land or to conquer us or to act according to any of the motivations that have reared their heads throughout our short history on this planet.

    But there are certainly motivations out there that we can’t even comprehend… and some sinister ones that any of us can conjure up with a little imagination. Example: a group of robotic entities that hate all biological existence in principle, and want to destroy it all, as a matter of principle.

    Far-fetched? Of course. But in the total and complete absence of any evidence of any kind, all speculations are far-fetched.

    There is only 1 fact: The Great Silence exists.

    As for speculations, I agree with David Brin… let’s talk about it before we shout it out.

  • Athena Andreadis November 20, 2013, 13:49

    I hadn’t come over for a while and bumped into this particular entry sideways. Doug M. is right about my reasons for no longer coming, the knuckledragging noise was overwhelming whatever signal there was. Newsflash (and characteristic of the reigning tone deafness): “female” is an adjective unless used for animals. As for the “diversity” of the original 100 Year Starship symposium, here’s my view.

    Regarding METI, speculations are about as useful as those over the Himalayan Yeti. If aliens have technology advanced enough, no hiding will avail us. If they’re at our level, they will never reach us.

  • David Hoskins November 21, 2013, 8:57

    I appologize in advance I usually try to read the comments in totality before posting myself but have to get to work.

    Does anyone recall not more than a month ago on physorg reading about a company that was going to start beaming messages to one of the Kepler systems where there were confirmed planets? If memory serves anyone could send a message up to 140 characters a-la twitter for like $1? With longer messages costing more depending on the length?

    I will live with the real fear until that idea is nixed that our initial contact with an ET is going to be a .jpeg. from some idiot of that certain part of male anatomy of which men seem to be so proud.

    No one had mentioned that I had seen a scenario where we happen to contact an ET which is very close to us in technology. Assuming again that aren’t so far away as to expend more resources getting here than could be reaped. I could see a situation where that could spur their entire culture to dedicate themselves to reaching us.

    If they are hostile or not that would almost certainly end badly for us if history is any guide. The worst part would be that we announced ourselves then sat here on facebook watching reality Tv as they underwent a golden age.

    Flip that scenario around for the sake of argument, if we had that kind of a motivation how quickly could we get our stuff together and at least have a probe underway to check them out if they were 5lyr out?

    My uneducated guess would be 5-10 years we’d probably have to use a few passes by Jupiter & the sun to get the speed we’d need but I wager we could that time frame get something together.

  • ljk November 21, 2013, 13:36

    The METI group is known as Lone Signal:


    They are exactly the kind of organization I have been talking about, the kind that conduct METI because they can. Their arguments, which you can read on the corresponding Wikipedia page, are also exactly what has been contested in this article and comments thread. Yet none of this has stopped them from sending signals into the galaxy.

    Whether their messages will ever be detected and interpreted is not so much the point as is the fact that it has been done, and will happen again unless every radio telescope is either tightly regulated or dismantled.

  • Adam November 21, 2013, 18:26

    Athena has presented a false dichotomy. There’s surely a spread of capabilities amongst ETCs – as someone noted 30 years ago, ETs who might notice us and decide to visit may not represent the whole of their species. Uber-advanced equivalents of car-jackers or street-preachers might end up dropping in on us if we broadcast naively at the sky.

    And if They are here then we might be in the equivalent of a nature park – or a game preserve.

  • Tarmen November 21, 2013, 20:13

    If we do tragically invite extinction upon our planet, this debate will end with it.
    No one to say “I told you so.”

  • ljk November 22, 2013, 14:25
  • David Cummings November 24, 2013, 9:23

    David Hoskins November 21, 2013 at 8:57: “The worst part would be that we announced ourselves then sat here on facebook watching reality Tv as they underwent a golden age.”

    Excellent point. The scenario of them knowing about us (because of METI) but us not knowing about them is a troubling one. But it does happen to be similar to the scenario of them knowing about us (not because of METI but because of their superior detection techniques) and us not knowing about them.

    The bottom line in my mind is: put all resources possible into improving our detection technologies.

  • Ron S November 24, 2013, 22:59

    “…put all resources possible into improving our detection technologies.”

    Or we could just use METI to “friend” them on Facebook. If they are hostile that will distract them for years and years.

  • Mundus Gubernavi November 25, 2013, 4:48


    Car-jackers and street-preachers, though only facets of a society, do in fact represent the society as a whole. If such social groups exist, it means that the said species has a complex social organization, giving us clues as to what types of psychological and sociological factors are present within their socially cohesive infrastructure.

    That’s why in my above comment I made the Beetles reference about prophecy and ‘Across the Universe’, in response to ljk’s comment about NASA sending it, as a METI signal, into space; because, as you may know, Charles Manson was influenced by their song ‘Helter Skelter’, citing his own version of the lyrics as inspiration for racist, criminal, and cult activity. He may not represent what we want as a part of our species, but unfortunately he does, and is a facet of our species as a whole.

    And with that in mind, if someone like Charles Manson exists within our own species, why would we think ETI are absent of such characters capable of the same psychological diversity? We are being extremely optimistic, in a naive way, when our own history, both ancient and modern, has taught us otherwise. Therefore, Dr. Brin does have a point, but its not one that is probably going to matter anyway, sadly.

  • David Hoskins November 28, 2013, 14:34

    @ljk. Yep, Lone Signal that’s the ones.

    Am I the only one who fears that if some ETI does pickup their signal the first impression of Earthlings these beings are going to have is either going to a .gif of a cat or a .jpg of that certain part of the male anatomy young men are so prone to photographing and sharing with the world?

  • AcesHigh November 29, 2013, 0:21

    I do agree with David Brin. Exactly because he is NOT sure of anything regarding extraterrestrial life. He is not saying contacting them WILL result in catastrophe, only that it CAN. It´s the other side of the argument who is so sure that extraterrestrial civiliziations will be “goody”.

    I posit another question, which of course, is also full of uncertainties: what if some extraterrestrial civilization takes METI signals as a sign of GOOD intentions, and will attack civilizations that DO NOT try to communicate?

    Announcing you are there may be seen as a sign of pacifism. While trying to hide from the cosmos may be seen as a sign of a malevolent society who is going for the “I will to find you first and try to eliminate you with relativistic kinectic weapons”.

    Of course, this civilization that is expecting everyone else do announce themselves to the cosmos and will attack everyone else is guilty of EXTREME paranoia and worst of all: hipocrisy. They do not announce themselves but expect everyone else to do, and take as a sign of hostility civilizations that try to hide… which is exactly what they do… hide and attack others.

    But, the odds that another sapient beings will be the kings of hipocrisy (and obviously have perfect logical excuses for that) are as good as anything else.

  • andy December 1, 2013, 18:43

    @Doug M. – thanks for your contributions to this, unfortunately I was otherwise engaged in real life events that prevented me from commenting here.

    I’d just like to add that outreach is only one aspect to consider. It is also necessary to have an environment where people of diverse backgrounds feel welcome and comfortable to stay, or we will lose people as soon as we invite them into the community. So we must also look inwards, and take a long hard look at ourselves to see how we can improve this.

    Clearly we failed here in the Centauri Dreams comment threads, and with the loss of Athena Andreadis our community is all the poorer as a result.

  • ljk December 2, 2013, 11:14

    David Hoskins said on November 28, 2013 at 14:34:

    “@ljk. Yep, Lone Signal that’s the ones.

    “Am I the only one who fears that if some ETI does pickup their signal the first impression of Earthlings these beings are going to have is either going to a .gif of a cat or a .jpg of that certain part of the male anatomy young men are so prone to photographing and sharing with the world?”

    Assuming ETI can understand such images, they will get some idea of our various biological aspects, even though we may see them as cultural “junk” (pun not intended, at least initially). Our prudishiness kept certain reproductive aspects off the Pioneer Plaques and Voyager Records, which will only lend confusion to the recipients trying to understand how we make copies of ourselves.

    As a college professor of mine once said, you learn a lot more about a society from sifting through their garbage dumps than their monuments and official records. While we may not consider it to be very “polite” to air what we think of as our dirty laundry in initial encounters with ETI, if their anthropologists bother to study humanity in detail, they will learn much about us warts and all (literally) in short order just from tapping into our Internet alone.

    Plus, if biology and societal development has certain literal universal fundamentals, they may not be as shocked as we worry about in regards to what a young and growing species thinks, says, and does. Or we may be too alien to even “get” us at all.

  • ljk December 2, 2013, 11:44

    Launched into geosynchronous orbit just over one year ago attached to the EchoStar XVI communications satellite, artist Trevor Paglen put together a collection of 100 images deliberately representing the less glorious aspects of humanity he called The Last Pictures.


    Paglen did this in part to counter what he thought was the culturally sanitary nature of the items engraved into the Voyager Interstellar Records.

    The Voyager Records were largely a scientific attempt at communication; many of the images and other information were designed to attempt to get across basic facts and concepts about humanity and our world to recipients who may have no inkling about our species and Earth. Paglen’s project was primarily a social commentary aimed at and about current society and its foibles.

    Ironically, David Zondy found the Voyager Record to be a pessimistic take on humanity in the sense that he felt their creators were assuming the Cold War era civilization would soon nuke itself into oblivion and these two golden discs and their space probe carriers would be among the last surviving artifacts of our existence. Zondy even chided the record makers for trying too hard to be culturally inclusive and politically correct!


    Again, we do not really know what an alien mind may understand or become offended about us. If they are curious and advanced enough, they will be able to gather enough data on human beings to make up their own minds about who and what we are and what might happen if our two cultures interacted with each other.

  • ljk December 4, 2013, 9:49

    See this article on the music engraved into the Voyager Interstellar Records. The one by Blind Willie Johnson titled “Dark Was the Night” was a comment and tribute to the homeless – for those who think the record contained only a sanitized version of our species for others to study.


  • ljk December 18, 2013, 11:37

    Balancing progress | progressing balance creative explorations of METI design

    Carla Marie Heathcote, University of Iowa


  • ljk December 23, 2013, 11:02

    Searching for the Sounds of Life – Interview with Jill Tarter

    Posted on December 23, 2013 by jtozer

    We come from one noisy planet, don’t we? Life, as we know it, is loud.

    Remember the movie Contact? A group of human astronomers and scientists hear an extraterrestrial signal coming from Vega, which ends up being transmitted blueprints for a giant space-travelling contraption that proves we’re not alone in the universe.

    Full article here:


  • ljk January 5, 2014, 0:52

    Drought: SETI is a bargain

    Published 5:16 pm, Friday, January 3, 2014

    “In all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable is each other.” – Carl Sagan, Contact

    During budget crises, politicians often treat spending programs that have tiny budgets as sacrificial lambs. Slashing funding for PBS or the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) promotes the illusion they’re responsible adults dealing with the national debt, without touching the controversial, big-ticket line items that actually create the deficit.

    For example, the SETI Institute was defunded in April 2011. As the Kepler satellite’s telescope continued to identify large numbers of potentially habitable, Earth-sized planets, the Curiosity Rover has discovered dried freshwater lake beds on Mars, the Hubble Telescope has observed water vapor on Jupiter’s moon Europa and the Cassini orbiter has detected water vapor on Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Meanwhile, SETI remains inactive.

    The presence of water in our solar system increases the likelihood of extraterrestrial life, as do recent discoveries of organisms flourishing in some very inhospitable pressure and temperature environments here on Earth. But, as the odds of finding alien life improve, Congress has reduced NASA’s 2014 budget to its lowest levels in nearly a decade.

    Full article here:


  • ljk January 11, 2014, 22:41

    The Search for Signals From Space

    JANUARY 11, 2014 – 5:00 AM

    By Carl Sagan

    Editor’s note: This article by Carl Sagan was originally published in the Sept. 19, 1993, issue of Parade.

    As children, we fear the dark. Anything might be out there. The unknown troubles us. But, ironically, it is our fate to live in the dark. Head out from the Earth in any direction you choose, and—after an initial flash of blue and a longer wait while the Sun fades—you are surrounded by blackness, punctuated only here and there by the faint and distant stars.

    Even after we are grown, the darkness retains its power to frighten us. And so there are those who say we should not inquire too closely into who else might be living in that darkness. Better not to know, they say.

    There are 400 billion stars comprising the Milky Way Galaxy. Of this immense multitude, could it be that our humdrum Sun is the only one with an inhabited planet? Maybe. Maybe the origin of life or intelligence is exceedingly improbable. Maybe civilizations arise all the time but promptly wipe themselves out.

    Or, here and there, peppered across space, orbiting other suns, maybe there are worlds something like our own on which other beings wonder about who else lives in the dark. Could the Milky Way be rippling with life and intelligence—worlds calling out to one another—while we on Earth are alive at the critical moment when we first decide to listen?

    Full article here:


  • ljk January 29, 2014, 23:10

    Extraterrestrial Intelligence: The Challenge of Comprehending E.T.’s IQ

    Jan 27, 2014


  • ljk February 11, 2014, 11:48