Civilizations Beyond Earth: A Different Angle

by Paul Gilster on June 3, 2013

What kind of assumptions do we bring to SETI, and how are those assumptions changing? Tau Zero’s Larry Klaes has some thoughts on that, along with suggestions about what a new book on the subject may want to include in its second edition.

By Larry Klaes

SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, has traditionally operated on the premise that there may be beings in the Milky Way galaxy and beyond who are smart, aware, and interested enough to deliberately attempt to contact other similarly advanced societies in the Universe.

The primary purpose for such an effort would be to alert any potential celestial neighbors to their presence for the exchange of information and ideas about themselves, their home world, and their take on existence. Their methods of transmission would include certain forms of electromagnetic radiation which the various parties should have in common, such as radio and light waves. This Messaging to Extraterrestrial Intelligences, or METI, is considered to be not only less complex and faster than sending a robotic or crewed vessel from one star system to another – barring the discovery of a way to move faster than light (FTL) – but also far less expensive and much safer for both sides.

The alien version of METI is presumed to be conducted by scientists using not their native language but rather some form of basic mathematics for the initial efforts at getting our attention and conducting basic conversations. This remedial arithmetic would serve as the assumed common key to eventually allow both species to use their own conventional languages to exchange more detailed information.

imgcarl sagan1

This thinking is strongly reflected in the 1985 novel Contact (and the 1997 film version), the only major work of science fiction produced by astronomer, science popularizer, and SETI/METI pioneer Carl Sagan. In his story, Sagan envisioned a highly advanced, vast, and ancient alien technological civilization which transmits an initial message via radio waves to species they deem potentially worthy of dealing with. One day humanity receives this opening greeting from them in the form of the first one hundred prime numbers, which are digits divisible only by themselves and one. Prime numbers are a pattern produced by no known natural phenomenon.

On SETI Assumptions

If the bipedal residents of the planet Earth can detect and recognize the artificial nature of the primes being sent (“mathematics [is] the only truly universal language” declares the main character Ellie Arroway at one point in response to a visiting senator who wanted to know why the aliens didn’t just speak English) along with the subsequently more complex information which then follows, then one day we might be able join an entire galactic community of civilizations. This society would be similar to the United Nations, only on a celestial scale and with members of many different species from a diversity of alien worlds across space and time, yet somehow all managing to work together for the common cosmic good.

These assumptions, while not implausible, do reflect a particular scientific take regarding SETI, METI, and the nature and behavior of technological alien beings. The question is, does the fact that we have yet to confirm a recognizably artificial signal of extraterrestrial origin after six decades of modern SETI (and a handful of METI) activities mean that our scientific assumptions about intelligent aliens need to be revised, or have we just not been searching long and hard enough? Or perhaps both?

Since astronomer Frank Drake performed the first modern extraterrestrial hunt program in 1960 with a radio telescope search he called Ozma, SETI has traditionally been dominated by radio (and later optical) astronomers, as they are the ones who have conducted the majority of the searches for alien signals to the present era. Their parameters were and are still dictated by the contemporary limitations of what humanity can accomplish when it comes to interstellar distances and the paradigms of their fields and views on intelligent life elsewhere.

As for relevant disciplines outside of astronomy involved in SETI, there have been token representatives present going back to the first modern era SETI conferences, thanks in large part to Sagan. But usually the conferences and the projects were dominated by astronomers, who focused heavily on radio SETI and the technical details of such interstellar communications. Often they would use the famous Drake Equation (N = R* x fp x ne x fl x fi x fc x L) as their template but tend to gloss over the parts of that linear equation which were hard to quantify, which included most of it. This was especially done with fc and L, the fraction of civilizations that develop the means to let others in the galaxy know they exist and the overall lifetime of such technological societies, respectively.

Like most scientists, they felt comfortable with numbers, tangible facts, and mechanics. Why would an alien signal us? Well, because they could, so they would. They wanted to exchange knowledge because the operators had to be fellow scientists, which meant that even though they were alien, they had to think similarly to us, otherwise they would not be conducting METI/SETI. We were looking for versions of us, very specific versions if truth be told.


The accuracy of the statements is attested by Mark A. Sheriden’s excellent and insightful work titled SETI: A Critical History. From Chapter 10, Sheriden gives this quote from Dr. Jill C. Tarter, the recently retired director of the Center for SETI Research at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California:

Not long after the [1979 NASA Life in the Universe] conference Jill Tarter, a key member of SETI’s second-generation leadership team, acknowledged that SETI was, indeed, “tuned” to find humanoids. “Those forms that we do find in this manner [i.e., a SETI-style search] will be more similar to life as we understand it than other forms that may exist. We put a filter on the problem.”

When asked what she would do differently if starting over again to study ETIs, Tarter responded with an echo of Shklovskii’s complaint prior to Byurakan-II, that the American SETI scientists failed to acknowledge the “complexity” of the problem they faced and, in particular, were ignoring the “humanities and biological aspects.” Tarter said, “I neglected biology, and civilizations, and paleontology.” In other words, she would have paid more attention to the “nature” aspects of the opportunity SETI represented.

Puzzling Out Alien Motivations

Why would an alien intelligence want to contact the stars? The possible motivations for such actions – or lack thereof – are just as important for the success of SETI and METI as figuring out how beings from another world (assuming the majority live on a planet or moon in the first place; another paradigm, perhaps?) might go about sending out signals into the galaxy.

Anthropologists, sociologists, biologists, and historians might have a clue in this area. At present they may have the native dwellers of only one planet to base their research and ideas upon, but at least it is a world with a very wide variety of life and an ancestry dating back at least 3.8 billion years.


These fields and their practitioners are given their due in the book Civilizations Beyond Earth: Extraterrestrial Life and Society, edited by Douglas A. Vakoch and Albert A. Harrison and published by Berghahn Books (New York, 2011). Vakoch, who also edited the book Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SUNY Press, New York, 2011) is the Director of Interstellar Message Composition at the SETI Institute and Professor of Clinical Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies. Harrison is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Davis.

Reading through the collected papers in Civilizations Beyond Earth reminded me of one of the first works I came across that was directly critical of the parameters modern SETI had laid down in its milestone years of 1959 and 1960, The Inner Limits of Outer Space by Dartmouth professor John C. Baird (Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 1987). The author of the first major book on SETI by a professional psychologist, Baird was also part of Project Oasis, a NASA plan in 1979 to help design the multi-channel spectrum analyzer to be used in the space agency’s own burgeoning SETI project.

Baird pointed out how those involved in searching for extraterrestrial intelligences were spending a great deal of their time and resources in designing and building the instruments they planned to use, but not nearly as much in turn when it came to really thinking about what kind of beings might be out there and why they might want to conduct METI at all. Baird’s words and thoughts throughout The Inner Limits of Outer Space mirror what one finds twenty-four years later in Civilizations Beyond Earth. Neither work wants to do away with SETI so much as redefine it to improve the chances for success based on a more realistic or at least more open approach to alien life. The similarities also include the conclusion that even though current SETI is problematical in terms of detecting an actual extraterrestrial signal, it cannot hurt to keep trying for, to quote the current advertising motto of the New York State Lottery: “You never know.”

Among the highlights of Civilizations Beyond Earth which take it beyond the usual examinations of SETI and its related fields is the focus on what the general public, or laypersons, think and say about extraterrestrial life, in particular the intelligent kind.

Public Perceptions of ETI

Professional SETI researchers and other scientists tend to avoid the public perceptions about aliens, which they find to be full of undisciplined ideas and a tendency to buy into stories and reports about sightings of alien spaceships and their occupants. A fear of being lumped into the fringe realm of pseudoscience is among the top reasons why SETI has stuck with remote searches of distant star systems. However, there is a slowly opening acceptance that some ETI might send probes to our Sol system to observe us discreetly, perhaps in the Main Planetoid Belt or using nanotech devices or even smaller observing and data collecting technology scattered across Earth.

Several chapters of the book are devoted to polling the general public on the subject of alien life. Unrestrained by scientific parameters and paradigms, their theories and beliefs range from having aliens be the saviors of humanity to our destroyers. They also tend to be much more accepting of the idea that many ETI may already be here monitoring us.

In an ironic twist, the public often thinks of the physical appearance of alien beings as essentially humanoids with a large head and eyes, no visible ears, and slim bodies. On the other hand, scientists who focus on exobiology see life taking on many different forms on different worlds due to evolution. Nevertheless, because we know so little about life beyond Earth, a wide variety of viewpoints can be a welcome thing, as there are times when a different perspective on such a subject could be the key to discovery.

Among the most interesting papers in this collection were the ones where different human cultures interact with each other in space and time. In “Encountering Alternative Intelligences: Cognitive Archaeology and SETI”, Paul K. Wason looks at one of the fifteen humanoid species which have shared this planet with us, namely the Neanderthals. Although they existed in Europe around the same time with modern humans and even interbred with each other, their branch of the family tree died out roughly thirty thousand years ago. Clues from the archaeological record indicate that Neanderthals were quite different in many fundamental ways from current humanity despite being hominids which evolved on Earth. Even though their brains were a bit larger than ours, Neanderthal was not as sophisticated in many ways if we go by the evidence that has survived the ages. Regarding how scientists have learned as much as they do know about Neanderthals, Wason said: “Could it be also that one of the best ways of preparing for interstellar communication with other intelligences would be to engage in more study of how human intelligence works?”


Several centuries ago, there were two genetically related but otherwise very different human cultures which did interact with each other and for which we have extensive records of those encounters. In “The Inscrutable Names of God: The Jesuit Missions of New France as a Model for SETI-Related Spiritual Questions,” Jason T. Kuznicki, a research fellow at the Cato Institute, describes what happened when a group of Roman Catholic Jesuits sailed to North America starting in the Seventeenth Century to convert the native tribes living around the Canadian side of the Great Lakes region.

Armed with the tools of their religion, which included the presumptions of French philosopher Rene Descartes and Saint Thomas Aquinas that reason would inevitably bring everyone to the conclusion that the Christian God and souls exist, the Jesuit missionaries soon discovered that the Native Americans they met did not share these views or come to any of the same conclusions as the Jesuits thought would happen in matters of deities and the afterlife.

Here were fellow humans separated by a few thousand miles of ocean and yet the two cultures not only had wildly different views on many things, they also lacked the words of their languages to clearly get across their ideas on spiritual and religious matters. Now imagine what might take place between two entirely different species from separate worlds light years apart. Would an alien species even have a religion?

One aspect of Kuznicki’s paper which was not touched upon were the underlying motives for the Jesuits being in North America and attempting to convert the natives there: The French wanted to secure the New World for themselves from the competing British and Spanish powers. Having the Native Americans as allies would certainly help their cause, either through assimilation or coercion. Should an ETI contact us via interstellar transmissions or arrive in person at our world, this is one aspect of such an encounter that requires the study of historical precedents from our species. The scientists would assume the alien visitors are just explorers, but the historian might think otherwise. Even an ETI that came here with the purpose of doing what it thinks is good for us might have unexpected consequences for humanity.

The Question of Artificial Intelligence

Civilizations Beyond Earth does have its limitations. The focus is mainly on biological entities, which makes sense considering the authors. However, to not offer at least a few papers by some computer experts on artificial intellects, or Artilects as coined by Hugo de Garis, is hardly advancing our knowledge base of all scientific aspects of ETI. In this respect it is no better than focusing on radio as a means of interstellar detection and communication while ignoring Optical SETI and searching for Dyson Shells and alien probes in our Sol system.


Granted, there is a paper by William Sims Bainbridge titled “Direct Contact with Extraterrestrials via Computer Emulation”, which proposes the idea that a person could have themselves downloaded into a computer simulation as an avatar, or at least a psychological reproduction of themselves. Bainbridge envisions the avatars being beamed into space via radio waves to do the exploring and contacting with ETI.

Presumably this would have to be an enhanced version of the humans who choose to go this route, otherwise we encounter the limits of understanding an alien mind that would be little different than if we tried to comprehend an ETI with our own selves. Other chapters do deal with the complexities and difficulties in trying to communicate even basic concepts to an alien species, especially if we have few frames of reference. Would an Artilect with its faster computing speeds and much larger data storage do this better? Would sentience be required for this task or just a highly sophisticated simulation resembling awareness? Perhaps a revised edition of this book will add papers devoted to these questions concerning Artilects.

As Seth Shostak says in his article “Are We Alone?” regarding the Drake Equation, but which could also mirror what is missing and incomplete from this book:

“In other respects, [the Drake] equation might be too cautious. It assumes that all transmitting cultures are still located in the solar system of their birth. This ignores the possibility of colonization of other star systems (difficult, but not forbidden by physics), or the possible deployment of transmitting facilities far from home. In addition, it does not deal with the development of synthetic intelligence – thinking machines that would not be constrained to watery worlds orbiting long-lasting stars. In short, it makes the assumption that “they” are much like “us.”

For those who might argue that we may be unable to deduce the thought processes and motives of artificial minds far larger and faster than our own, the same could be said for any kind of biological alien species: Such beings could take on many forms and be just as inscrutable as an Artilect, yet that has not stopped many humans of all stripes on this planet from offering their views on organic ETI. One advantage with Artilects is that we can work towards actually creating or simulating them and thus have direct access to another intelligent mind.

Unfortunately, many people fear that Artilects could use their superior intellects to dominate or destroy humanity, just as they also expect advanced ETI to arrive in starships with similar goals. Whether that may ultimately happen or not, this general fear combined with a limited education on and cultural ridicule about the subjects relevant to SETI/METI have made their “contributions” to the reality that over half a century after the first serious SETI program, traditional searches continue in a largely sporadic fashion with limited funds, seldom expand beyond the radio and optical realms, and remain dominated by astronomers and engineers.

Human Expansion into the Galaxy

These views and paradigms also extrapolate to interstellar efforts such as Worldships, self-contained vessels carrying thousands of people on multigenerational journeys to other star systems. The goal of these Worldships is to colonize suitable planets and moons in the target system or at least collect resources from them before moving on to other galactic destinations.

How those who will remain onboard for perhaps many centuries will survive and adapt has been studied far more in the pages of science fiction than anywhere else, for obvious reasons. Will those who arrive at their intended worlds be radically different from their ancestors back on Earth? Will their interaction with any ETI they encounter diverge from the initial intentions of those who sent them off into the galaxy? As said earlier regarding Artilects, perhaps a revised edition of this work or a new book altogether devoted to very long term exploration and its consequences on those who make the voyage both aboard the Worldship and upon the places they settle will make inroads to answering these questions.

There is a strong desire or perhaps even a natural reaction to colonize any Earthlike exoworlds as part of some cosmic manifest destiny. Unless we terraform some barren rock, a planet similar to our own will be so not only in terms of size and environment, but also due to having life upon it. Even if none of the organisms on this alien world are sentient (and how exactly will we define that?), do we have the right to introduce terrestrial species there? If the situation was reversed and an ETI arrived at Earth to set up a new home, even if they desired a peaceful coexistence, imagine the reaction from humanity.

Even a robotic mission could cause unforeseen issues in the future. Already at this early stage in our expansion into space we have five probes and most of their final rocket stages heading beyond the boundaries of the Sol system into the wider Milky Way galaxy. Although none of them will be functioning by the time they could ever reach another star system, their very existence drifting and tumbling uncontrolled and aimless through deep space might one day become a problem for beings of which we are completely unaware at present.

We can declare that the galaxy is much too vast and these probes far too small to ever gain notice by any intelligences out there. We can say that any beings who could find these emissaries from Earth would have to be quite sophisticated and savvy with the ways of the interstellar realm and thus capable of dealing with a comparatively primitive, ancient, and inactive derelict from a species such as us.

In the end, however, the truth is that we do not yet know who or what is occupying the galaxy with humanity. We cannot say with certainty how an alien species might react and respond to an unexpected visitor from another world – though we can make some pretty good guesses as to how our civilization would behave in a similar scenario.


As we have already discussed with regards to SETI and METI, again the astronomical scientists and space engineering and technical fields often differ in their views on these matters compared to the anthropologists, sociologists, biologists, and historians. At least some of the gaps between the disciplines were bridged by the incorporation of messages and information packages on the Pioneer, Voyager, and New Horizons space probes. Whether these “gifts” will be recognized and understood by the recipients is yet another unknown factor, but they are a step in the right direction.

The issue of our physical intrusion into the Milky Way will become even more prominent and serious as we develop and launch probes – operated by Artilects most likely – designed to reach and explore other solar systems. In this case, humanity may receive responses from other intelligent beings in a matter of years or decades as opposed to millennia. What may happen and how our descendants might handle an ETI reaction will depend on how far our culture has come in terms of being more wide ranging and inclusive in our understanding of the Cosmos.

Civilizations Beyond Earth may be a slim book, but it is a good introduction to fields that need to be vital parts of any serious discussion of the scientific activities regarding extraterrestrial intelligences. If SETI and METI remain lopsided in their thinking, methods, and executions, the stars will likely continue to remain silent for the human species for a long time to come.

Not to know if we are either alone or one of many living beings in the Universe when we finally have the awareness and ability to answer this very important question would be a tragic shame, an affront to the very reason we have science and a civilized society in the first place. Let us not answer the L portion of the Drake Equation too soon from a lack of wonder, education, and funds.


Tarmen June 6, 2013 at 13:45

Oblivion doesn’t deserve to get lumped in with all the bad alien invasion movies. It had a lot of thoughtful angles. It had the first free ranging AI spaceship since Dave unplugged Hal2000. This Oblivion AI was a scary liar and manipulator. Added to its godlike intelligence and disdain for local life (and moons). A nightmare possibility that Hawking and many of you are aware of.

Dmitri June 6, 2013 at 15:19

ljk, the Kathryn Denning interview is stunningly good. It actually shows that SETI has widened it’s view on issue and tries to achieve the goal interdisciplinary. I’ll write on this a bit later.

Regarding the movies you listed the point is correct that Hollywood and its strive for commercial success have severely hindered the SETI theme and public perception. Yet there are good examples as Gattaca (1997), Moon (2009), K-Pax (2001). I would also mention the upcoming Europa Report ( depicting manned mission to Jupiter’s moon Europe. The preview on science perspective is strong.

It’s difficult to screen a good book / script and gain success either as a classic movie or commercial.

Reading Roadside Picnic I was perplexed why Tarkovsky made Stalker as it’s know for now. The book is much better on delivering on the intended message. The Strugatsky brothers made close co-operation on the script and clearly fear of censors and censorship played the role. Yet both are timeless classics one for the subtle interpretation of the deep thoughts and the other for the new perspectives how movies should be made.

I was amazed that Hollywood actually intended in 2006 screen Roadside Picnic by the original. It didn’t happen due to finances. Would that been better off for the content, world status and popularity in the pop culture? I don’t know but if they would have done a scene with Monkey howling in the middle of night showing Schuhart & Guta dealing with it that would be an equivalent of the dripping water / clunking chain scene in Alien or Psycho bathroom curtain scene.

For comparison how good sci-fi looked in the soviet period – 3 movies. They all deal with ET in different perspective and had widespread cult status in the former USSR territory. Difficult to say how these are perceived by western audience. With English subs.

Consume cautiously!

(1) Stalker (1980) by Tarkovsky based on Roadside Picnic (2 x 1h) –

(2) Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel (1979) [Hukkunud alpinisti hotell] based on Strugatsky brothers the same name book. Sci-fi crime drama. Soundtrack is epic. (1h 19min) –

(3) Kin-dza-dza! [Кин-дза-дза!] Original script directed by Georgian director about 2 earthlings accidentally ending up on another planet in another galaxy w/ instant interstellar travel on-demand. Pro smoking. (2 x 1h) –

ljk June 6, 2013 at 16:52

Tarmen, you are confusing style with substance when it comes to Oblivion. No, it was not the worst science fiction film ever made, it had some beautiful imagery, and some unexpected but highly welcome moments of actual quiet (in a mainstream Hollywood summer blockbuster starring Tom Cruise, no less!). Otherwise it was a standard alien invasion flick which from what I can tell by interviews with the makers of the film they honestly thought they were making the next 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I suppose I should be happy they were trying for good at all, as compared to Battleship which was a horrible piece of unimaginative dreck no matter how you slice it. Any film that has a transmission sent to a world 20 light years away plus a response which all seem to happen in a matter of weeks is always a bad sign.

The Artilect in Oblivion and its ship (body?) were rather neat looking, but again we have a highly advanced alien intelligence – and a machine one at that – which has nothing better to do than take down humanity and steal water and rocks from our planet. You want water and rocks, aliens? How about rummaging through the rest of the Sol system, where there is plenty of both for the taking with no natives to get in the way. The talking primates on the third planet might panic and complain, but it will be quickly obvious that that is about all they can do effectively against you.

If you aliens are set on taking out humanity in case we might pose some galactic competition way down the road or you just don’t like our current state of television programs, a few well-aimed space rocks should do the trick, along with a few other ideas that do not require massive troops or complex weapons for which we have little to no defense against at this time.

And once again, a highly advanced Artilect which presumably has plundered many stars systems before ours and successfully dealt with their unhappy residents is tricked to its destruction in a way it should have anticipated a thousand times over before Cruise et al even left Earth for it, because human spirit and pluckiness trumps all in films like this. Go rent The Forbin Project if you want to see how a plausible Artilect would deal with crafty, selfish humans.

This just shows the sad state of current Hollywood science fiction cinema in the post-Star Wars era that anything with even a hint of being intelligent is taken as great. At least I am happy to know, thanks to Oblivion, that we will have a manned expedition to Titan in 2017!

Regarding your Hawking comment, he may be a great cosmologist but when it comes to the motives of aliens he knows as much as the rest of us. His ideas in fact sound like they came straight from Independence Day. Please read the Kathryn Denning interview I just linked to in this comment thread for further evidence from a professional anthropologist that Hawking is talking out of his depth in this area.

ljk June 6, 2013 at 17:36

Dmitri said on June 6, 2013 at 15:19 (in quotes):

“ljk, the Kathryn Denning interview is stunningly good. It actually shows that SETI has widened it’s view on issue and tries to achieve the goal interdisciplinary. I’ll write on this a bit later.”

Well, it is safer to say that Kathryn Denning has a wider perspective on SETI than what is still taking place in most of SETI reality. Mainstream SETI is finally admitting at least a bit to some non-traditional ideas as possibilities such as Dyson Shells and alien probes hiding in our Sol system, but note that the ATA is a collection of radio telescopes (a mini Cyclops) and the majority of their celestial targets so far have been Earthish exoplanets found by Kepler. Of course their more immediate concerns are trying to stay funded and finding someone to process all the data they have collected from the ATA.

“Regarding the movies you listed the point is correct that Hollywood and its strive for commercial success have severely hindered the SETI theme and public perception. Yet there are good examples as Gattaca (1997), Moon (2009), K-Pax (2001). I would also mention the upcoming Europa Report ( depicting manned mission to Jupiter’s moon Europe. The preview on science perspective is strong.”

With rather few exceptions, Hollywood does not seem to terribly care how it depicts SETI or science in general, just so long as those little green pieces of paper keep flooding in. I do hope Europa Report bucks the trend. I did not mention Gattaca or Moon because they did not deal with aliens, though both were good science fiction films overall. K-Pax I consider to be more of a somewhat psychological melodrama with the science fiction element used only to add suspense.

“Reading Roadside Picnic I was perplexed why Tarkovsky made Stalker as it’s know for now. The book is much better on delivering on the intended message. The Strugatsky brothers made close co-operation on the script and clearly fear of censors and censorship played the role. Yet both are timeless classics one for the subtle interpretation of the deep thoughts and the other for the new perspectives how movies should be made.”

I must confess: I liked Roadside Picnic but I was expecting something more ala Stanislaw Lem. Otherwise it just seemed like a straightforward action drama with the element of mysterious and dangerous alien artifacts thrown in. I compare this to my first encounter with Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code after reading Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose: I was expecting Brown to be similar to Eco based on the theme, but instead I got a summer beach novel. By the way, it seems that just about all of Brown’s subsequent novels are variations on the Da Vinci Code plot, but that doesn’t stop him from raking in the big money.

“For comparison how good sci-fi looked in the soviet period – 3 movies. They all deal with ET in different perspective and had widespread cult status in the former USSR territory. Difficult to say how these are perceived by western audience. With English subs.”

I look forward to checking them out, thanks for the links, Dimtri. In the USA, these films tend to get pushed into urban art houses, where relatively few people get to see them. But the big, noisy, and expensive summer blockbusters, we are inundated with all season long.

NS June 7, 2013 at 4:07

Thanks for the links, Dmitri. Just started watching “Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel”. I’m putting off “Stalker” since I already read “Roadside Picnic”.

Not sure what you mean by “pro smoking”, although in Woody Allen’s “Sleeper” everyone in the future is drinking and smoking because they’ve found out that everything we think is bad is actually good for you.

ljk June 7, 2013 at 9:27

NS said on June 7, 2013 at 4:07:

“Not sure what you mean by “pro smoking”, although in Woody Allen’s “Sleeper” everyone in the future is drinking and smoking because they’ve found out that everything we think is bad is actually good for you.”

And that film is forty years old this year, oy!

“Has he asked for anything special?”

“Yes, this morning for breakfast. He requested something called wheat germ, organic honey, and tiger’s milk.”

“Oh, yes. Those were the charmed substances that some years ago were felt to contain life-preserving properties.”

“You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies? Or hot fudge?”

“Those were thought to be unhealthy, precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.”


“It’s tobacco! It’s one of the healthiest things for your body!”

And my political philosophy was summed up in this one line:

“In six months we’ll be stealing Erno’s nose!”

Full dialogue script of Sleeper here, but I highly recommend seeing the film itself:

I wonder how many from today’s generation will get the Howard Cosell joke? Or the Richard Nixon one for that matter? Even I had to look up the line about a guy named Albert Shanker.

ljk June 7, 2013 at 10:06

Just to throw in a science fiction film that did deal with aliens and smoking for the sake of this thread and blog, I present the 1953 version of The War of the Worlds by the late great George Pal.

Before the Martian invasion fleet landed on Earth and started wreaking havoc with their oh-so-cool looking manta ray body and attached cobra head disintergrator beam weapon shaped attack vessels, the human characters constantly and casually either lit up or were asking each other if they had any cigarettes they could borrow indefinitely.

My teenage sons noticed this the first time we all watched WOTW together and I had to tell them how this was pretty standard social behavior for that era. It would be another decade before the health hazards were emphasized and warning labels started appearing on the cigarette packages.

The film did show one plus to an alien invasion: The amount of smoking by the human populace dropped considerably during the interplanetary war, thus reducing that public health hazard.

Speaking of WOTW: I am still waiting for someone to make a film version that takes place where H. G. Wells had it in his novel, namely Victorian England in the late 1890s.

Dmitri June 7, 2013 at 11:38

“Not sure what you mean by “pro smoking”, although in Woody Allen’s “Sleeper” everyone in the future is drinking and smoking because they’ve found out that everything we think is bad is actually good for you.”

Two random soviet citizens ending up in a planet Pluke in the Kin-dza-dza constellation by pushing on a button on a device. The planet Pluke is an arid, desert planet with virtually no water. In a Solar system where there are no trees wood is more than weigh in gold – you can rule planets. One of the interstellar travelers is a chain-smoker. This is a blessing (matches) and curse (to smoke, lit the match). Hardcore smokers can use it as an excuse – you never know on which side of the Universe smoking will save your life.

“I’m putting off “Stalker” since I already read “Roadside Picnic”.”
Reading the book I had to check why Tarkovsky made the movie as it is. It turns out Strugatsky brothers and Tarkovsky made close co-operation to make the movie happen. Although Tarkovsky is not credit lot of people say he was the 3rd script writer. I must have been censorship. There is no other explanation as the book depicting positively the Western society and life. There are no fat, rotten, morally skewed capitalists. The movie itself didn’t come easy – instead of a year it took 3 and had to shoot 3 times over. There was a point where all wanted to let it go and get rid of it.

Must admit that I’m starting to feel again how actually soviet censorship prevented good things to make it. The novel itself wasn’t published like that. The inital script was rejected on last moment by the paper it should have been. Turns out Estonian news paper in Russian Youth of Estonia published it by excerpts over 10 months. And this is not a simple feat – you could end in serious troubles. Strugatsky brother had to make over 900 changes to be allowed as book for wider public. Later, in 1984, it was published uncredited with “One Billion Years Before the End of the World”, which was translated into Estonian in 1987. Also all the scenes in the movie were shot 30 West from Tallinn in Keila military territory. Well, don’t know all the facts, but a lot of Estonian defiance has probably played a role to make the book and the movie happen. It turns out the inital version of the novel which was translated into English was actually the very first version (not censored one). One of the Strugatsky’s made a mistake and handed over the inital copy. It was unintended.

Knowing this I actually have come to peace and treating the movie and the book as adaptation to reality bearing same meaning what different medias allow.

ljk June 7, 2013 at 11:51

Neanderthal bone contains oldest-known human tumor

A fibrous dysplasia tumor was discovered in the rib bone of a Neanderthal that was excavated more than a century ago in Croatia. The benign tumor is more than 100,000 years older than any other tumor found in humans.

“The size of this [tumor], and the bulging of it, probably caused the individual pain,” said University of Kansas anthropologist David Frayer. (6/5/2013)

C June 7, 2013 at 14:01

Great post! I wonder how many Americans would agree to each pay $5 of taxes a year to large space telescopes to observe atmospheres on exoplanets, looking for ETI with several different methods & tools and other astrobiology activities with whole purpose to answer the question if we are alone or not and to find other earths/habitable planets. Congress sucks. I would pay a couple hundred dollars a year of taxes to the most important endeavor of our existence.

New movies on Space Colonization. Oblivion, Europa Report, Elysium, and Gravity. The After Earth movie looks lousy. I was shocked when I first heard of these movies all coming out in the same year. It must have something to do with the exoplanet discoveries. They realized the public is interested.

Alex Tolley June 7, 2013 at 15:45
A. A. Jackson June 7, 2013 at 20:02


“Speaking of WOTW: I am still waiting for someone to make a film version that takes place where H. G. Wells had it in his novel, namely Victorian England in the late 1890s.”

There is one!
H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds
made by Timothy Hines 2005.
Don’t go looking for it, it is god awful.
Hines tried to ‘crowd source’ but never got the money he needed… not any actors worth beans.
2005 was a weird year of WOTW, there was another more expensive film by the same title , but it’s not period.
On top of that nobody remembers those films because Steven Spielberg made that weird lackluster film called War of the Worlds. It almost seemed Spielberg made that film on his lunch breaks while work with writers of the screenplay for his next film Munich , a much better film.

Anyway the 1953 WOTW is a gem, Directed by Byron Haskin Produced by George Pal, Screenplay by Barré Lyndon. It is fine ‘alternate universe’ version of the Wells novel. Very taught , runs only 85 min.
It’s amazing for non CGI FX work and just blazes along.

There was a later TV show based on the Pal film being a real incident in our past (I don’t remember the invasion! and I was 12 at the time).
Screwball show, H.G. Wells name does not even appear in the credits for the show!

Dmitri June 8, 2013 at 11:10

“@David Sugar:
I have often had these same thoughts about the dolphins here on Earth and our failures (mostly) to establish more than a superficial communication with them. On the other hand, perhaps an alien mind, adept at technology, would be easier to communicate with in some ways. E.g. the frame of reference in this communication mode would start with essential scientific facts as a baseline understanding (prime numbers, mathematics, celestial mechanics, symbolics, logic,..). The dolphin has very little in common with our minds in these areas since they have no technology. I view dolphins as an very advanced animal mind, but one that may be very limited in ability to deal with highly abstract knowledge. For example, if we learned the dolphin’s “language” sufficiently, we might very well be able to communicate about interesting things that live in the ocean to each other, but utterly fail when we attempt to explain a concept such as negative numbers. Perhaps dolphins even lack the plasticity of the mind to formulate such concepts and invent new sequences of sounds (“words”, if there is such an analogous thing for them) and add to their “language” new things that represent the crazy stuff the human is attempting to teach them.”

There is a working theory that dolphins are natural in nonlinear mathematics. That is the explanation what we can come up as it’s puzzling why dolphins don’t loose sight of fish when they trap them in swarms by releasing air bubbles around them. If this holds true then their ability in remarkable in many ways. Our most modern sonars won’t match with their capability. Bear in mind the modern society which is based on automation, flight control, stabilized complex systems (i.e. planes in air, managing turbulences on constructions) are based on complex numbers. Not a single fully automated modern system could function if there hasn’t been around Paul Dirac. Fourier function, Laplace transformation and the most important – Dirac Delta function – are the three pillars of modern electronics and automatics.

And yet dolphins beat this approximation and human linareisation naturally without the great humans minds, Nobelers or mathematic abstraction. And this is not a simple feat at all!

Do dolphins benefit from nonlinear mathematics when processing their sonar returns?

Dolphins have been observed to blow bubble nets when hunting prey. Such bubble nets would confound the best man-made sonar because the strong scattering by the bubbles generates ‘clutter’ in the sonar image, which cannot be distinguished from the true target. The engineering specification of dolphin sonar is not superior to the best man-made sonar. A logical deduction from this is that, in blowing bubble nets, either dolphins are ‘blinding’ their echolocation sense when hunting or they have a facility absent in man-made sonar. Here we use nonlinear mathematical functions to process the echoes of dolphin-like pulses from targets immersed in bubble clouds. Dolphins emit sequences of clicks, and, within such a sequence, the amplitude of the clicks varies. Here such variation in amplitude between clicks is exploited to enhance sonar performance. While standard sonar processing is not able to distinguish the targets from the bubble clutter, this nonlinear processing can. Although this does not conclusively prove that dolphins do use such nonlinear processing, it demonstrates that humans can detect and classify targets in bubbly water using dolphin-like sonar pulses, raising intriguing possibilities for dolphin sonar when they make bubble nets.

Dmitri June 8, 2013 at 11:10
Dmitri June 8, 2013 at 11:42

There is also a recent discovery which should prove of the great divergence of higher intelligence. Dolphins can carry along 15 days w/o signs of fatigue. They have developed condition where they switch off half a brain for sleep and still remain fully active. That means two different mammals have successfully conquered two different environments on the same planet. It also shows how the evolution have adapted to the so different environments. On water you can’t hide from predator by climbing a tree of being on other side of the cliff / river bank. In aquatic world you will survive when you have good stamina and speed. Speed in this context is more complex than we imagine – fishes are good to spurt for short distances and getting away from predators. Dolphins won’t mind to swim along with a high speed yacht or boat.

Clearly having human or any other land mammalian circadian cycle will end up in quick demise of that species. In other hand this raises a question – do aquatic mammal have mental diseases? How about alzheimer, compulsive behavior, clinical depression, schizophrenia? I can’t recall I’ve encountered a dolphin who thinks it’s a butterfly or chicken. Yet in drama classes you are asked to play a tree in fire, rooster in hen or rabbit in sauna. Some have that trait naturally, some develop later in life unwillingly. “Dolphins can remain alert for up to 15 days at a time with no sign of fatigue”

NS June 8, 2013 at 16:09

Something that bothers me about estimates of cetacean intelligence: is there (say) any evidence of an intelligent response by whales to whaling? If whales were able to recognize the danger posed by a whaling ship, swim away and communicate its position to each other, wouldn’t they have been much harder to catch? This seems like a basic test of intelligence but is there any sign that it happened?

ljk June 8, 2013 at 23:24

NS said on June 8, 2013 at 16:09:

“Something that bothers me about estimates of cetacean intelligence: is there (say) any evidence of an intelligent response by whales to whaling? If whales were able to recognize the danger posed by a whaling ship, swim away and communicate its position to each other, wouldn’t they have been much harder to catch? This seems like a basic test of intelligence but is there any sign that it happened?”

I recall a National Geographic program from about 25 years ago that mentioned how when a whaling crew harpooned one whale, its mate mad a rush for the whaling vessel, presumably to destroy it. A Greenpeace boat was nearby where its crew witnessed this event. One man recalled how the rushing whale sped past the Greenpeace boat and looked right at them before moving on, so it was not wildly attacking whatever was in its way, the whale knew who it was going after.

Of course there is the famous novel Moby Dick, which was based on a story of real attacks by a white whale in the early 1800s.

ljk June 8, 2013 at 23:28

A great many minds thinking alike will be the new norm

June 7, 2013

Citizen science refers to networked research projects that are conducted by the public at large. These projects are relatively new and have benefitted greatly by the scale and scope of the Internet. By bringing large groups of amateur researchers together, professional research agendas can be accelerated at a fraction of the cost. Think of it as crowdsourcing for research.

One of the earliest adopters of citizen science was SETI@home ( and its most recent incarnation SETILive ( A “larger than life” research question has always been the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. But how does anyone go about finding radio signals in space? It’s a massive undertaking. To solve the enormity of this dilemma, a project was started by Jill Tarter, a PhD astronomer from the University of California at Berkeley. After 35 years of seeking life on other planets, she tapped into the power of citizen science by borrowing your computer’s processing power and by borrowing your brain.

Essentially, SETILive uses data provided by the Allen Telescope Array, which is located northeast of San Francisco. By combining 42 radio antennas together, researchers can monitor any signals that may emanate from distant stars. The array of antennas is combined in a special way to create an image. Scientists have created algorithms that analyze these images every 90 seconds.

However, algorithms can often be misguided by satellites, radio or mobile phone interference. This is where amateur Joe Astronomer comes into play. Any citizen can login to the website and examine the images as well. If an image seems suspicious, a user can mark it for further investigation. This way, SETI scientists can go over the same area and take a second look.

Another prominent citizen science initiative is the Whale Song Project ( Marine biologists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland have joined forces to better understand how whales communicate with each other. Scientists have recorded the calls of killer and pilot whales but need assistance in categorizing them.

Whales have sophisticated hearing ability and can produce complex sounds. Scientists postulate that by categorizing these sounds, we can learn to better understand what they are saying to each other. Citizens can login to the website and select audio clips that sound alike. These clips are recorded using sensitive underwater microphones. Users are presented with one long whale call, with its source position on a Google map, and 36 shorter possible matches. The user is then asked to pick the one that matches. Pretty soon, one starts to easily recognize the nuances of whale calls.

As you can see, when it comes to solving some of the most interesting and complicated research questions we have, scale matters. The more human brainpower we can harness while using state of the art crowdsourcing tools, the faster we can get to answering some of the world’s most compelling questions.

I believe that this type of collaborative research partnership between professionals and amateurs will become the new norm. I also believe that citizen science is a useful perspective to solve some of our pressing government issues too.

For example, Metrolinx, the government of Ontario, and the City of Hamilton would benefit greatly if they opened up the debate surrounding the Big Move using citizen science. Trying to figure out a balance between our transportation needs for the future and how we plan on paying for it is no small task. But I bet there are some really cool ideas out there that the experts may have not heard of yet.

Dr. Nick Bontis (, @NickBontis) is a professional speaker, management consultant, business adviser, award-winning professor at McMaster University, and author of the book Information Bombardment: Rising above the digital onslaught.

Dmitri June 9, 2013 at 4:15

NS, a valid argument. This raises questions why beaching happens. Why such brain capacity allows mass suicide. Those ship collisions make wonder do they happen always (unintelligence) or just a random accident (pedestrian in heavy rain and hindered auditory stimulus couldn’t see (no headlights) or hear the coming car).

Pen & Teller have done a good show on people who think dolphins as intelligent as human –

This does not counter argument the discussion here but acknowledges the exceptional difficult for people who want to understand when on the other end there are “specialists” who charge $2ooo.

Alex Tolley June 9, 2013 at 12:50

@NS – so arguably those smart whales are also harder to count, making them look endangered, when they are not? OTOH, if humans are so smart, how come so many get killed through avoidable situations?

Rob Henry June 9, 2013 at 18:27

Obviously whales thrash around when caught, and thus sometimes damage a whaling vessels, but all attacks on whaling vessels that were not the product of their prey are from one species: sperm whales. Yet sperm whales are not otherwise known for their aggression,

Sorry, I have become a little obsessed by this one species recently, but until further research is done on them, I will continue to have a nagging doubt that we can provide confidence to our belief in being the only sentient species on Earth.

ljk June 10, 2013 at 9:12

Alex Tolley said on June 9, 2013 at 12:50:

“@NS – so arguably those smart whales are also harder to count, making them look endangered, when they are not? OTOH, if humans are so smart, how come so many get killed through avoidable situations?”

Although humans are somewhat arguably the smartest creatures on Earth at present and certainly like to think they are the focal point of the Universe even with ETI that might be superior to them in every way, in many ways we are still instinct-driven animals.

Look at what is supported the most financially and by the bodily and mental presence of our species and you will see the top members of that list all involve base needs such as mating and fighting. We have covered up these activities in the trappings of civilization – tribal warfare is now professional sports with padded uniforms, leather balls, and obscene amounts of money – but strip all this away and we are no better behavior-wise than most of our fellow primates such as the chimpanzees.

This could be yet another reason SETI has not worked so far: We are not sophisticated enough to deal with or draw the attention of the truly intelligent and civilized minds in this Universe. They see us for what we are, clever mammals with a few extra fancy tools but the focus on our baser needs and desires, which include a fear of the unknown and reacting to strangers with hostility, make us undesirable creatures to contact on a serious level. Thus we may indeed be under surveillance as they wait to see if we or our mechanical descendants are worthy of contact at some point in the future.

Many more animals than we used to think use tools for various tasks. Even if they are no more than crude sticks or leaves, they are still tools purposely used for a specific task. Ants and termites build huge, elaborate colonies, raise their young, grow gardens, have a caste system of workers, soldiers, etc., and fight wars for territory, food, and defense. Yet no professional scientist I have ever read seriously thinks these insects are truly smart and aware and able to communicate with us or vice versa.

Perhaps if we finally admit that we are not that different from the rest of the organisms on Earth we can start to make a real change for the better and develop our more intellectual and peaceful sides. Since I do not realistically see all seven billion plus humans changing overnight, hopefully this will only require just enough people to make a difference to uplift us.

Alex Tolley June 10, 2013 at 10:23

@ljk – obviously we cannot shrug off our evolutionary history. However, at least a small minority of the planetary population has transcended those instincts, at least on occasion, and as a result we already have a decent legacy in our works. Now whether that is worth the attention of an ETI, is another matter. An equivalent ETI legacy would certainly be worth the attention of future star faring humans/machines.

JoeP June 10, 2013 at 12:58

One thing in response to Dmitri’s comments about dolphin math abilities:

Yes, your examples are an impressive case of dolphins performing very complex and dynamic things. However, I am sure that all of this is done in a completely intuitive way. The formulas are approximated in the biology of the Dolphin’s mind, body, and senses. I am pretty sure the dolphin does not understand this abstractly.

Lets take a simpler example: a human child learning to walk on two legs. The kid’s brain has to deal with all kinds of sensory input (from the feet, from the ears sending balance and orientation info, visual data from the eyes) and coordinate all that with micro-motor impulses to various muscle groups to maintain balance and even walk along on two legs without falling down.

Think of all the math and algorithms that could be used to describe the above. Engineers have tried to replicate this, of course, with robots such as Asimo. And the capabilities of Asimo walking and running are still behind that of an eight year old child.

Is the walking kid a math genius? No, the kid has some of this hardwired and the tuning of it comes via training the “neural nets” (yes I am simplifying) in the brain to properly coordinate everything with eventual expertise.

I bet most of the dolphin behavior described is much the same process.

Humans have the ability to abstractly represent such things using a deeply nuanced language and via mathematics. I fail to see that dolphins (or chimps, or bats, etc) have anywhere near the same capabilities, which are needed to develop in a technical civilization.

ljk June 11, 2013 at 9:34

Once on the PBS television series Scientific American they had a segment where a dolphin was taught to express counting abilities. A female trainer had a group of humans stand in the pool with the dolphin and one by one they would get out of the water, then the dolphin would tell the trainer how many humans were left in the pool.

Finally just the female trainer was left in the pool with the dolphin. However, the cetacean kept insisting there were two people in the water with him, no matter how many times the trainer tried to correct the aquatic mammal. Turned out the trainer later discovered that she was pregnant!

Do not tell me that at least on that day in that pool one particular dolphin was doing the equivalent of shaking his head at the clueless humans. :^)

ljk June 11, 2013 at 9:40

In regards to counting, many primitive cultures were found to have difficulty expressing numbers beyond just the first few. One tribe in particular had a word for numbers beyond three that translated as “too many.”

So we may have some math geniuses now, but it probably took civilization to bring out such abilities in us. We still need calculating machines to do all the heavy work.

ljk June 11, 2013 at 23:21

New Project Will Send Your Messages to Aliens in Deep Space

by Miriam Kramer, Staff Writer

Date: 11 June 2013 Time: 06:13 PM ET

NEW YORK — A group of scientists, businessmen and entrepreneursare tired of waiting around for E.T. to get in touch.

Instead of passively listening for signs of intelligent life in the universe, the Lone Signal project is asking everyone with an Internet connection to help beam messages into outer space in an attempt to make our presence in the universe known.

When Lone Signal goes live late in the day on June 17, it will mark humanity’s first-ever attempt to send continuous messaging to extraterrestrial intelligence, officials said.

“As soon as I can remember, I looked up at the stars and I thought, ‘Is there anybody looking back at me?’ I think there’s just an inherent curiosity we all have,” Lone Signal chief marketing officer Ernesto Qualizza said here today (June 11) during a press event announcing the project’s intentions. “We all want to see what’s on the other side of the next hill, and this is an extension of that curiosity.”

A focused approach

Scientists working with Lone Signal have picked out a particular spot in space. All messages sent through the company’s network will be transmitted to a star system called Gliese 526, which is located about 17.6 light-years from Earth.

Researchers haven’t found any planets orbiting the red dwarf star yet. But Gliese 526 is a good candidate for harboring life, having been identified in the Catalog of Nearby Habitable Systems, said Lone Signal chief science officer Jacob Haqq-Misra.

Haqq-Misra and his team might decide to move the signal to a different star system in the future.

“We want it to be fun, but we’re also looking at long-term strategy,” Lone Signal co-founder Pierre Fabre said. “We’re targeting the most logical, nearest stars now.”

Upon its launch, Lone Signal operators will start sending messages to Gliese 526 using the Jamesburg Earth Station, a central California radio dish built in 1968. Lone Signal has a 30-year lease with the antenna, but company officials hope the project could be extended and expanded in the future.

Our place in the universe

Anyone looking at Earth’s corner of the universe would probably already know that we exist, Haqq-Misra said.

Television waves, radio waves and other electromagnetic beams are constantly being emitted by devices across the globe. These signals, however, are much weaker and less distinct than the ones that Lone Signal will send out, officials said.

The Jamesburg Earth Station will emit multiple beams aimed at Gliese 526. One beam carries a repeating “hailing message” developed by astronomer Michael Busch, which explains Earth’s position in the universe, outlines the elements of the periodic table and gives a definition of the hydrogen atom in binary code. Ideally, that channel will direct the observer to the adjacent spectrum where the crowd-sourced messages will be carried. [The Nearest Stars to Earth (Infographic)]

If a group of aliens on a planet orbiting Gliese 526 had an instrument equivalent to California’s Allen Telescope Array, which is used by the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute here on Earth, they would be able to detect, record and possibly decode the message, officials said.

“It’s important that it is feasible for anyone to take part in this experiment because it is so unique,” Qualizza said. “It’s never been that case that anyone on the face of the Earth can commune with the cosmos, and we are opening up that portal to the masses.”

You can participate in the project in a variety of ways, according to Lone Signal officials:

Share Beams/Track Beams: Once signed in, users can see how far their beam has traveled from Earth as well as share this information with others.
Dedicate Beams: Friends and family can dedicate a beam to loved ones
Explore: The Explore section gives beamers current data on the Lone Signal beam, who is sending messages, from where on Earth and other information.

Blog/Twitter – The Lone Signal science team and other contributors will post opinion articles and share science news and updates via social media.

The initial text-only message is free, but you can buy an unlimited number of text and photo messages that will be queued up and sent into space, officials said. After the first free communication, a text message costs one credit and a photo message costs three. Four credits can be purchased for $0.99.

“We are absolutely part of the private sector in terms of space and what’s happening in space, and we are the kind of teenager alongside SpaceX and Virgin Galactic,” Lone Signal CEO Jamie King said. “We want to be part of the wider conversation and exploration into space. We do need to make a profit in order to sustain the operating costs in order to keep doing it.”

The project isn’t just about creating a rapport with possible alien life-forms on exoplanets circling distant stars; it could also be a way to preserve human culture into the future, Lone Signal officials said.

“There really is a time capsule argument,” Haqq-Misra said. “Even if you’re not communicating with a ‘watcher’ now, you’re putting this time capsule out into space for all of time.”

You can learn more about this initiative on the Lone Signal website.

ljk June 12, 2013 at 9:18

Lone Signal: First Continous Message Beacon to Find and Say Hello to an Extraterrestrial Civilization

by Nancy Atkinson on June 12, 2013

Although scientists have been listening for years to search for indications of other sentient life in the Universe, just a few efforts have been made by humans to purposefully send out messages to the cosmos. Called METI (Messaging to Extraterrestrial Intelligence) or Active SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), these messages have so far been just one-time bursts of info – or “pulses in time” said Dr. Jacob Haqq-Misra.

Haqq-Misra is leading a team of scientists and entrepreneurs who are launching a new initiative called “Lone Signal” which will send the first continuous mass “hailing messages” out into space, starting later this month. They’ll be specifically targeting one star system, Gliese 526, which has been identified as a potentially habitable solar system.

And yes, the general public can participate.

“From the start we wanted to be an experiment where anyone on Earth could participate,” said Haqq-Misra during a press event on June 11, 2013, announcing the project.

“Our scientific goals are to discover sentient beings outside of our solar system,” said Lone Star co-founder Pierre Fabre, also speaking at the event. “But an important part of this project is to get people to look beyond themselves and their differences by thinking about what they would say to a different civilization. Lone Signal will allow people to do that.”

Lone Signal will be using the recommissioned radio dish at the Jamesburg Earth Station in Carmel, California, one of the dishes used to carry the Apollo Moon landings live to the world.

Full article here:

To quote:

While some scientists have indicated that sending messages out into space might pose a hazard by attracting unwanted attention from potentially aggressive extraterrestrial civilizations, Haqq-Misra thinks the benefits outweigh the potential hazards. In fact, he and his team have written a paper about the concept:

“We want to inspire passion for the space sciences in people young and old, encourage citizens of Earth to think about their role in the Universe, and inspire the next generation of scientists and astronauts,” said Lone Signal chief marketing officer Ernesto Qualizza. “We’re really excited to find out what people will want to say, and the science of METI allows people to do this – to think about more than their own backyard.”

Dmitri June 13, 2013 at 9:19

Kathryn Denning interview shows the breadth SETI is taking in order to succeed. Even if it’s a recent change and old players tend to dismiss all the new dimensions it’s better late than never. Can’t blame them when looking how SETI came to be and survived all the years. These die hard stubborn traits have not vanished and all new must earn the place under that sun.

Same goes for search of defunct or extinct ETs. The core establishment of the organisation is used to deal with Nature and Nature is alive, growing and challenging. Getting excited about a fossilized galactic poo or a fragment of imaginary celestial jaw bone is not in their vocabulary.

The strides in technology allows them to catch-up and improve their methods but actually need is for turning from the catch-up player to leaders in the technological advances. This is question of priorities and finances. Yes, radio astronomers can’t have feelings towards a demised civilizations as they don’t emit what SETI radio astronomers can detect. Nascent of optical SETI is a step into another realm of detectability. Still is optical – and all the future coming technological tools – an acceptance to financial constrains or breaking the envelop of technological possibilities? SETI have always being the catch-up guy. When funds are decided the people in power comprehend the need to study the Universe as fundamental science. The Univers is part of Nature. We are part of Nature and thus are THEY. It’s fundamental to understand Nature to comprehend where are THEY. That is a fundamental change is perception. SETI is as sexy as scientific astronomy but the change in attitude must come from within SETI. To change something within you need in allies. That would mean to group internally or find the ones outside the organisation, outside the usually involved countries. That would expand the international foothold and in favorable developments would lead to natural international collaboration. When people collaborate ease of inflowing funding improves. The more options for funding, including the governmental ones, the options of possibilities expand.

The detection of them is as fundamental as understanding every other inexplicable fundamental discrepancy. There can be only ONE positive SETI detection, everything beyond that is routine. Not detecting them must raise the same urge and need for fundings and disposal of the latest technological possibilities as the find for Higgs-boson or dark matter / energy.

Colossus is a good example of moving towards this but is it a sign of change of the stance or just the good old catch-up game?

Before the movie there was just Seth Shostak. After the movie there still was Seth Shostak. Jill Tarter came to wider audience, or for the audience outside USA, later. Much, much later. There are still not well known SETI thinkers outside USA. The way how Japanese, Chinese, Indian et al. SETI proponent think contributes into SETI advance as a critical thinking plus the opportunities the foreigners can provide.

Japanese Hayabusa sample return mission – at least a decade before other contemplated such idea. Russian robotic sky observing telescope network MASTER – first two color full sky observing robotic network of 6 station – $1mln apiece, ~$8mln total. Chinese latest start of 3 female taikonauts / full female crew, which is not achieved by Russians nor Americans. I skip the Indian part but they definitely have contributed its part. These small examples show what a collaboration of resourceful thinking could bring with limited expenses.

Astronomers are discovering more and more complex organic molecules in dust clouds. Also the heavier elements turn out to be more widespread. We expect THEM to be sending something Morse Code like messages or be on cellular state. What about the intermediate states? Better to evolved beyond just accepting complex organic molecules in star dust or stating is or isn’t a planet in HZ. These seems so bivalent options and SETI suits as an organisation taking in charge over such simplistic interpretation. Otherwise we will be in a state where everyone who has some sense can say anything about ET and SETI.

This talk about contacting or searching them via radio transmission seems so 19th century if you compare it to advances in quantum entagelment and the wildest deeps these practical discoveries could lead you.

1) Qbits of noninteracting environments can be in past-future entanglement –

2) Some entagelment states are quantum inseparable despite the distance –

3) It’s possible to entangle never coexisted photons –

4) Can’t find reference but I’ve recently read about entangled photons (?) where one of photons were already dead by the time.

5) Flat lens of metamaterial makes from UV light a 3D images floating in space –

This is the grade of researches needed to do for SETI which is comparable to the first heavy-water neutrino detector in 1960s counting ALL the neutrinos or Alan Turing 1952 morphogenesis paper, where he first time described mathematical biology, was experimentally proved only 54 later – 2006.

If they are advanced, then advanced tools will establish the contact.
If they are absent or further than we imagine then our strive for them have advanced us a step further. And the way entanglement works communication over that feels logical and reasonable.

METI is a poor man’s interstellar travel. With METI the poor man wants to make the contact. If the poor man is ready to make it he/she acknowledges they are (somewhere) there. But if the poor man has made all the lengths to make the conscious contact with THEM then the poor man must also be quite wise. And the wise man knows that first encounter with unknown have consequences for both parties. And to control the consequences you must acknowledge why you are reaching out our welcome hand. What you want to communicate? What’s the message? What if we are the super civilization? And this leads to the same need to collaborate and acknowledge how we, the wise man, do it to not accidentally destroy (basis of) the civilizations.

I liked a lot the analogy Kathryn Denning and this article makes of about the contacts and the Jesuit missions. North-America becoming from a continent to two countries must be quickest social-political transformation in human history. In the Amazon there are quite a number of pristine tribes living in stone age. SETI anthropologist should have look there:
1) why we don’t contact them?
2) why they don’t contact us?
3) what are the fears of both sides?
4) how they and we perceive each other?
5) how they think and do they knew about us?
6) do we have something to talk about?

ljk June 13, 2013 at 9:37

Carl Sagan on Science and Spirituality

by Maria Popova

“The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.”

The friction between science and religion stretches from Galileo’s famous letter to today’s leading thinkers. And yet we’re seeing that, for all its capacity for ignorance, religion might have some valuable lessons for secular thought and the two need not be regarded as opposites.

In 1996, mere months before his death, the great Carl Sagan — cosmic sage, voracious reader, hopeless romantic — explored the relationship between the scientific and the spiritual in The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (public library). He writes:

Plainly there is no way back. Like it or not, we are stuck with science. We had better make the best of it. When we finally come to terms with it and fully recognize its beauty and its power, we will find, in spiritual as well as in practical matters, that we have made a bargain strongly in our favor.

But superstition and pseudoscience keep getting in the way, distracting us, providing easy answers, dodging skeptical scrutiny, casually pressing our awe buttons and cheapening the experience, making us routine and comfortable practitioners as well as victims of credulity.

And yet science, Sagan argues, isn’t diametrically opposed to spirituality. He echoes Ptolemy’s timeless awe at the cosmos and reflects on what Richard Dawkins has called the magic of reality, noting the intense spiritual elevation that science is capable of producing….

Full article here:

Dmitri June 13, 2013 at 9:44

JoeP, I agree with your point. People have these abilities as well – scoring incredible goals, sinking basketballs over a half a court, making miracle millimeter overtakings in motorsports. There is just one thing – these are the athletes who we admire. Not all of us are capable of this but we can appreciate their talent.

For dolphins distracting visibility between them and the food is evolutionary costly if they would miss some time due to that. I have not heard of a hungry dolphin or dolphin died in malnutrition, except if there is no food at all. This is the specific adaptability dolphins need to survive in the environment and as they tend to be the apex species in the environment they have developed advanced skill to become one. The question is how they do that. If this is nonlinear math then it’s remarkable.

Humans are very exceptional species. We have adopted a lot of things to our pleasure not being the most graceful species of them all. But if we dismiss dolphins us being superior then we would miss the opportunity understand how intelligence evolves and does it always leads to the technological capability.

Anyway look at my previous posts here –

Dmitri June 15, 2013 at 11:37

Mentioning Gravity, the movies prior and the pits and pieces floating around just collapsing into a relevant body of knowledge which has no meaning outside the specific context. I’m always fascinated when such things happen yet this shows how information merges into a relevant one on the right moment.

Gravity trailer uses Arvo Pärt Spiegel Im Spiegel. Pärt wrote the piece 1978. In November 1978 he called Sven Grünberg to help him on electronic music part for Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel. Quite at the same time Pärt received an accept from KGB officially emigrate to Austria. This is a chance in a lifetime, you don’t think twice or start to reasoning – seize the moment. At that time leaving the USSR for a western country was equivalent of treason. It’s also *very* exceptional KGB allowing someone officially emigrate. Young Grünberg was left alone with the score and there was no time. So he wrote basics of the score on the train to Moscow and recorded it on Synthi 100 which minute cost at the time half the monthly salary. His session was before the noon and Eduard Artemjev’s was right after him. Artemjev was Tarkovski’s personal composer and he had to record score for Stalker. Artemjev was always agitated seeing young Grünberg in the studio, quite often kicked him out when the time was up. They both had time pressure and both had to finish the scores before the movies premiered. Stalker and Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel premiered two weeks apart. Grünberg later recalled they had afterparty in Strugatski’s Moscow apartment when one of the brothers was exceptionally pleased how Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel turned out yet despised Stalker. Grünberg didn’t share the view as Stalker already was classic by the time still Strugatski didn’t change his. This shows how worlds apart people of arts and science are.

The rule at the time was a song per movie was a must. Being officially commissioned for showing in theaters around the USSR it had to be in Russian. If needed it was translated. Grünberg made a brilliant move and wrote the song Ball in made up language so it could not be translated. It worked. It worked such a charm with the progressive and chic interior of the set and the actor who played Alef was also a traiend dancer so he made up the choreography –

Eduard Artemjev is pioneer of Soviet electronic music. His most famous piece is Siberiada theme. Siberiada is a feature film about people in far Siberia pumping oil. If you have ever heard PPK Reload (ППК – Перезагрузка) disco song or enjoyed it in the bars then you have been part of Artemjev and the Siberiada theme. They took the whole theme and rearranged to disco beat plus dubbed over funky sounding Russian technical speak.

When listen to Stalker or Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel soundtracks you can’t tell they have been made in consecutive studio sessions – they are from different dimensions. Synthi 100 is still hell of a class analog synthesizer.

2009 Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel was fully digitally remastered, Grünberg made some minor changes into the music. He also had the original MIDIs.

If you have a descent HIFI or you know someone who has high-end setup take a moment and listen to Arvo Pärt Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten. Six minutes like you never felt it and the piece will carry you away.

Dmitri June 15, 2013 at 11:50

Ah yeah – one crucial detail.

Mosfilm in 1987 released Isaac Asimov 1955 The End of Eternity (Конец Вечности). For some reasons it’s not available on their official YT channel. When I saw it I was deeply moved but the subject was a bit heavy at the time. This was the first time I learned the word annihilator. the only visual clue remembered was impressive and dark and dry movie set devoid of emotions. Just recently got hold of the book w/o prior knowing anything about it. Just half the way of the first page recalled everything – the movie, the strives to recall the movie name and everything else. Must say reading it I just love it. The whole concept and how the story is build.

Nowadays in the era of streaming on-demand and old content being available like never before if in such services like Hulu, Netflix or anywhere you’ll notice it with subs, take a look at it. It’s 139 minutes long.

ljk June 17, 2013 at 9:37

Are we cosmically insignificant?

John Danaher

Ethical Technology

Posted: June 15, 2013

Many people are concerned about our size and status in the universe. The universe is mind-bogglingly big, old, empty, and largely inhospitable to life; we are small, short-lived and confined to a remote and humdrum corner of it.

This difference in scale is often thought to have some philosophical implications. In particular, it is thought to rob us of significance, meaning and value. But is this right?

Full article here:

ljk June 19, 2013 at 16:03

June 19, 2013

“Cosmic Evolution Tends to Extinguish Species that Advertise Themselves” — The Dangers of Messaging ET

“Evolutionary selection, acting on a cosmic scale, tends to extinguish species which conspicuously advertise themselves and their habitats,” according to Adrian Kent, Centre for Quantum Computation, University of Cambridge.

Science fiction writer and astrophysicist Dr. David Brin echoed Kent’s thesis with his reponse to the recent Lone Signal announcement of METI (Messaging to Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) “beams” to the Gliese 526 solar system.

In his Brinstorming Science 2.0 blog, Brin updated his 2006 article on METI (aka active SETI), writing: “Recently, several groups, ranging from radio astronomers in Argentina and Russia all the way to the web advertising site Craigslist, have declared that they intend to commence broadcasting high-intensity Messages to ETI… or METI… an endeavor also known at “Active Seti.

“Their intention is to change the observable brightness of Earth civilization by many orders of magnitude, in order to attract attention to our planet from anyone who might be out there.”

Specifically, Brin is responding to the “Lone Signal” project that believes that crowd sourcing messaging to intelligent life (METI) is the ideal approach to establishing a stable, cohesive, and well-resourced interstellar beacon on Earth. Anyone with Internet access to compose and transmit messages to strategically targeted stellar systems.

Launching June 18, 2013, Lone Signal’s unfettered access to the broadcasting capacity of Jamesburg Earth Station in Carmel, CA allows them to target the closest known stars suspected to harbor potentially habitable planets orbiting in their circumstellar habitable zones — otherwise referred to as “Goldilocks zones.”

Full article here:

To quote:

Let there be no mistake, Brin says, “METI is a very different thing than passively sifting for signals from the outer space. Carl Sagan, one of the greatest SETI supporters and a deep believer in the notion of altruistic alien civilizations, called such a move deeply unwise and immature. (Even Frank Drake, who famously sent the “Arecibo Message” toward the Andromeda Galaxy in 1974, considered “Active SETI to be, at best, a stunt and generally a waste of time.)

Sagan — along with early SETI pioneer Philip Morrison — recommended that the newest children in a strange and uncertain cosmos should listen quietly for a long time, patiently learning about the universe and comparing notes, before shouting into an unknown jungle that we do not understand.

ljk July 4, 2013 at 0:00

Alien ‘Star Engine’ Detectable in Exoplanet Data?

JUNE 25, 2013 12:52 PM ET // BY RAY VILLARD

In 1948, astronomer Fred Zwicky, the esteemed co-discoverer of dark matter, speculated that “fusion jets” could be used by a future civilization to navigate our sun and solar system planets through the galaxy. He suggested that pellets of fuel could be fired into the sun to produce explosions that would push the sun along like firecrackers exploding in a tin can. But where to go?

Zwicky thought that the entire solar system could reach Alpha Centauri in a few thousand years.

Forty years later, physicist Leonid Shkadov proposed that far advanced extraterrestrial civilizations might harness the energy output of their sun for interstellar migration. They would use a “stellar engine” — no need for fusion motors here. Simply construct an immense spherical mirror that reflects some of the star’s radiation back onto its surface.

Full article here:

To quote:

After much speculation Forgan cautiously estimates a lower limit of one star in one million stars having such a detectable megastructure. This would put the nearest such star thruster 1,000 light-years away at best.

The Kepler database is several orders of magnitude smaller in surveyed stars. With such low chances of success it would be hard to convince anyone to fund a space observatory to go looking for alien engineering. So it will all be left as a serendipitous SETT (Search for Extraterrestrial Technology) opportunity as exoplanet surveys continue.


Why would a far advanced civilization go to the budget-busting expense of doing a megastructure project to steer its star around? It’s estimated that the sun has passed through 10 cold molecular hydrogen clouds laced with dust, along its galactic orbit. The consequences are that this would dim a star, and that it turn could cause some serious climate change on a planet. Long-lived aliens may want to steer around these galactic potholes.

Or the extraterrestrials might want to avoid a predicted close passage to a nearby star that might destabilize a comet cloud believe to surround planetary systems. (The approaching comet ISON is believed to be a distant visitor from this hypothesized Oort cloud around our solar system.)

There is an extraordinarily small but finite chance that evidence for such mega-engineering is buried in archival astronomy data. What’s more, the absence of such evidence might suggest there is an upper limit to how far a technological civilization can progress. Or, more sobering, it means there are narrow limits on the longevity of a technological society.

ljk July 8, 2013 at 0:52

5 July 2013 Last updated at 12:01 ET

Article written by Jonathan Amos

Science correspondent

UK astronomers to co-ordinate their search for alien signals

The scientists believe it is time UK effort was properly co-ordinated

British scientists are to make a concerted effort to look for alien life among the stars.

Academics from 11 institutions have set up a network to co-ordinate their Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (Seti).

The English Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees, will act as patron.

The group is asking funding agencies for a small – about £1m a year – sum of money to support listening time on radio telescopes and for data analysis.

It would also help pay for research that considered new ways to try to find aliens.

Currently, most Seti work is done in the US and is funded largely through private donation.

UK Seti Research Network (UKSRN) co-ordinator Alan Penny said there was important expertise in Britain keen to play its part.

“If we had one part in 200 – half a percent of the money that goes into astronomy at the moment – we could make an amazing difference. We would become comparable with the American effort,” the University of St Andrews researcher told BBC News.

“I don’t know whether [aliens] are out there, but I’m desperate to find out. It’s quite possible that we’re alone in the Universe. And think about the implications of that: if we’re alone in the Universe then the whole purpose in the Universe is in us. If we’re not alone, that’s interesting in a very different way.”

Full article here:

“The human race wants to explore, wants to find things out, and if we stop trying we’re on the road to decay,” he said.

ljk July 8, 2013 at 1:32

SETI Evolution: Searching for Aliens Using Whale Songs and Radios (Op-Ed)

Laurance Doyle, SETI Institute

Date: 02 July 2013 Time: 07:17 PM ET

Laurance Doyle is principal investigator for the Center for the Study of Life in the Universe at the SETI Institute, where he has been since 1987, and is a member of the NASA Kepler Mission Science Team. He contributed this article to’s Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) can be said to have begun in 1896 with the suggestion by Nikola Tesla (the designer of our modern, alternating current electrical system) that radio transmissions could be used to contact an extraterrestrial intelligent being. In 1899, Tesla actually did detect signals incompatible with, for example, terrestrial electric storms — but some have suggested, after looking at Tesla’s data, that he might have been picking up “storms” on Jupiter (the Jovian plasma torus emits strong radio flux, making Jupiter a kind of miniature pulsar).

Later, in August 1924, when Mars was in inferior conjunction (closer to Earth than it had been in over a century), the U.S. Naval Observatory imposed radio quiet for five minutes out of every hour at so that a dirigible equipped with a radio receiver could listen for any Martian signals.

Full article here:

ljk July 26, 2013 at 17:40

ET Calls, Then What?

by Dr Morris Jones for SpaceDaily

Sydney, Australia (SPX) Jul 22, 2013

The discovery of a real transmission would probably provide no immediate answers to one of the most frequently asked questions about SETI: What do the aliens look like?

The SETI community is usually reluctant to speculate on this issue, but this won’t stop the public from using their own imagination.

It will be one of the greatest moments in science, and also one of the greatest moments in history. After decades of searching, a signal from extraterrestrials is received by a radio telescope on Earth. SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) analysts quickly check the transmission using other instruments, and prepare to announce the great discovery. The media descends on the story and soon millions of people around the world are reading the news. Then what?

Exactly how the world would react to the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence has been the subject of much speculation. There could be a mixture of excitement, fascination, fear, confusion, disbelief, indifference and panic. Like emergency planners preparing for a catastrophe, scientists regularly assemble to consider ways that world at large would respond to such an event, and how to plan for the day when a discovery comes.

Psychologist and SETI scholar Doug Vakoch has been exploring this question for years, and recently gathered an eclectic team to explore the issue. The result is a large and detailed book, “Astrobiology, History and Society”, which was recently released by the academic publisher Springer. A free preview of the book has been released online here.

Scientists and journalists have struggled with this problem for a long time.

“One of the best ways to prepare for the discovery of life beyond Earth is to understand how we’ve dealt with false alarms in the past,” explains Vakoch.

“History is rich with incidents when life beyond Earth was reported and widely believed. In the early nineteenth century, the astronomer John Herschel reportedly discovered intelligent “bat-men” on the Moon. The news spread widely, and the public was energized. There’s only one problem: it was a hoax!”

“As we move from science fiction to science fact, we learn the same lesson: be cautious! When astronomers first discovered pulsars–super-dense stars that emit regular pulses as they spin rapidly–these scientists wondered whether they may have finally detected signals from extraterrestrials. After all, the signals they detected looked unlike anything they’d ever seen nature make before.”

It is not entirely clear when the next big alert will come, but Vakoch hopes that we will be a little wiser than before.

“If we do detect a signal from extraterrestrial intelligence, we should expect some ambiguity. It probably won’t be clear overnight whether or not this really is a signal from an advanced civilization. So our best preparation for the actual discovery of extraterrestrial life–whether intelligent or microbial–is to be patient, as scientists sift through the data to see whether it really points to the existence of life beyond Earth.”

The discovery of a real transmission would probably provide no immediate answers to one of the most frequently asked questions about SETI: What do the aliens look like? The SETI community is usually reluctant to speculate on this issue, but this won’t stop the public from using their own imagination.

Public perceptions of extraterrestrials are influenced by a variety of educational and cultural factors. It’s fair to say that many people have their preconceptions of aliens shaped by Hollywood movies, which generally present them as hostile or dangerous. Traditional legends of monsters, humanoids and supernatural creatures stalking the Earth could also influence the way some people and cultures would react to a discovery.

The rise of online and social media is creating new dilemmas for the SETI community. Online channels will help to quickly circulate news of a SETI discovery, but they could also distort or corrupt the message.

Online hoaxes have already plagued the SETI community, and some have even fooled the mainstream media. Some analysts fear that pranksters could cause panic by suggesting that the extraterrestrials are planning or even carrying out hostile activities. False stories could go “viral” very quickly as people panic. The rise of cyber-attacks around the world has also raised fears of potential attacks on SETI computers and online accounts.

Issues such as cultural traditions and religion will also affect the way a discovery is perceived by different people.

One of the most controversial questions that will be raised after a discovery is the issue of sending a reply. This remains hotly contested amongst scientists and SETI researchers.

SETI is becoming more important today as scientists discover hundreds of “exoplanets” orbiting other stars. This suggests that solar systems that could support life could be more common than some scientists previously suspected.

While we wait for a signal, the SETI community will sharpen their theories in preparation for the big event.

Dr Morris Jones is an Australian space analyst who has written for since 1999. Email Replace NOSPAM with @ to send email.

ljk July 26, 2013 at 23:27

Hunt for alien spacecraft begins, as planet-spotting scientist Geoff Marcy gets funding

July 24, 2013

Peter Brannen

In the field of planet hunting, Geoff Marcy is a star. After all, the astronomer at the University of California at Berkeley found nearly three-quarters of the first 100 planets discovered outside our solar system. But with the hobbled planet-hunting Kepler telescope having just about reached the end of its useful life and reams of data from the mission still left uninvestigated, Marcy began looking in June for more than just new planets. He’s sifting through the data to find alien spacecraft passing in front of distant stars.

He’s not kidding – and now he has the funding to do it.

Last fall, the Templeton Foundation, a philanthropic organisation dedicated to investigating what it calls the “big questions” – which, unsurprisingly, include “Are we alone?” – awarded Marcy $US200,000 to pursue his search for alien civilisations.

What astronomer Geoff Marcy doesn’t hope to find: A Death Star Photo: Wookieepedia

As far as Marcy, an official NASA researcher for the Kepler mission, is concerned, that question has a clear answer: “The universe is simply too large for there not to be another intelligent civilisation out there. Really, the proper question is: ‘How far away is our nearest intelligent neighbour?’ They could be 10 light-years, 100 light-years, a million light-years or more. We have no idea.”

To answer that question Marcy has begun to sift through the Kepler data and to search the heavens for a galactic laser Internet that might be in use somewhere out there. (More on that in a bit.)

Full article here:

ljk August 3, 2013 at 21:26

Are We Alone In The Universe?


“We should search because it tells us how to collaborate our place in the cosmos.” — Jill Tarter

About Jill Tarter’s TED Talk

The SETI Institute’s Jill Tarter wants to accelerate our search for cosmic company. Using a growing array of radio telescopes, she and her team listen for patterns that may be a sign of intelligence elsewhere in the universe.

About Jill Tarter

SETI’s Jill Tarter has devoted her career to hunting for signs of sentient beings elsewhere, and almost all aspects of this field have been affected by her work. Astronomer Jill Tarter was the long-time director of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute’s Center for SETI Research, and also holder of the Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI.

She led Project Phoenix, a decade-long SETI scrutiny of about 750 nearby star systems, using telescopes in Australia, West Virginia and Puerto Rico. While no clearly extraterrestrial signal was found, this project was the most comprehensive targeted search for artificially generated cosmic signals ever undertaken.

Tarter serves on the management board for the Allen Telescope Array, a massive new instrument that will eventually include 350 antennas, each 6 meters in diameter. This telescope will increase the speed and the spectral range of the hunt for signals from other distant technologies by orders of magnitude.

In 2009, Tarter won the TED Prize, a $100,000 reward. The funds went towards her project SETILive which Tarter says will hopefully “empower Earthlings everywhere to become active participants in the ultimate search for cosmic company.”

Full article here:

ljk September 5, 2013 at 15:29


3/20/13 10:01 am

11 of the Weirdest Solutions to the Fermi Paradox

Most people take it for granted that we have yet to make contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. Trouble is, the numbers don’t add up. Our Galaxy is so old that every corner of it should have been visited many, many times over by now. No theory to date has satisfactorily explained away this Great Silence, so it’s time to think outside the box. Here are eleven of the weirdest solutions to the Fermi Paradox.

The Great Filter theory suggests humans have already conquered the threat of extinction

It’s difficult to not be pessimistic when considering humanity’s future prospects. Many people would agree that it’s more likely than… Read…

There’s no shortage of solutions to the Fermi Paradox. The standard ones are fairly well known, and we’re not going to examine them here, but they include the Rare Earth Hypothesis (the suggestion that life is exceptionally rare), the notion that space travel is too difficult, or the distances too vast, the Great Filter Hypothesis (the idea that all sufficiently advanced civilizations destroy themselves before going intergalactic), or that we’re simply not interesting enough.

But for the purposes of this discussion, we’re going to look at some of the more bizarre and arcane solutions to the Fermi Paradox. Because sometimes it takes a weird explanation to answer a weird question. So, as Enrico Fermi famously asked, “Where is everybody?”

Full article here:

ljk September 6, 2013 at 2:11
ljk September 23, 2013 at 20:12

Should We Talk Back to E.T.?

by Dr. Morris Jones for

Sydney, Australia (SPX) Sep 19, 2013

Messages have been beamed out to space in the past. There’s a famous digital pictogram sent out from the huge Arecibo radio telescope in 1974, which was aimed at the M13 globular star cluster. It will reach its target in around 25,000 years.
Right now, radio telescopes are scanning the galaxy for a transmission from extraterrestrials. The SETI Institute and other organizations around the world have been listening for roughly half a century. The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has become more important with the discovery of hundreds of new planets around distant stars. Somewhere out there, there could be another civilization.

The whole concept of SETI relies on the idea that extraterrestrials are transmitting signals into the universe. Mostly, it’s assumed that these signals are deliberate attempts to communicate with other worlds. ET wants to talk to us. Or so we think. As with so many issues in SETI, there are plenty of questions and not enough answers.

We don’t know if extraterrestrials are willing or able to talk to us. But we’re even less sure about whether or not we should be talking to them. SETI has no problem with listening in to the universe, and even potentially eavesdropping on transmissions that were never meant to reach us. However, the SETI community is more divided on whether we should send our own messages, before or after we are contacted by extraterrestrials.

Messages have been beamed out to space in the past. There’s a famous digital pictogram sent out from the huge Arecibo radio telescope in 1974, which was aimed at the M13 globular star cluster. It will reach its target in around 25,000 years.

In recent times, someone has deliberately sent a message out into space roughly every two years. Some of these have been scientific outreach programs for young people. The most entertaining example came in 2008, when NASA transmitted the Beatles song “Across the Universe” into space using the huge dishes of its Deep Space Network!

Moving much slower than the speed of light, we have messages on spacecraft heading into interstellar space. Pioneers 10 and 11 carry stylised images of humans, a DNA helix and information on our solar system. Voyagers 1 and 2 carry gold records with sounds and images of Earth. There’s a faint chance that at some point in the future, someone will find them.

It seems natural to assume that if we want to hear from extraterrestrials, we should be trying to talk to them ourselves. It hardly seems fair to expect them to do all the work. And if nobody talks, then how can anyone expect to hear from anyone else?

Nevertheless, sending messages into space is controversial. How do we decide what to say? And who should make the decision? So far, there has been no national or global coordination of these transmissions. Rules and codes of conduct have been drawn, and while they have been adopted by some major SETI groups, they have no legal force.

Despite the lack of solid rules, a certain level of caution has still been practiced. All message projects have tried to avoid controversial subjects, focusing mainly on sending greetings, messages of goodwill and scientific data. Issues such as war and other negative subjects are avoided. Censorship is a controversial and contested subject when humans communicate amongst themselves.

How can we decide what should and should not be said to the rest of the universe? Organisations such as the SETI Institute study the issue of how to communicate with extraterrestrials very carefully. The issues of how and what to say are regularly examined in books, journals and conferences on SETI. They may think wildly at times, but most SETI scientists aren’t so trigger-happy with their transmitters.

Some of the reluctance to transmit is strategic. In this school of thought, the Earth remains hidden and safe as long as we stay silent. To announce our existence to the galaxy is to invite an attack by hostile aliens. This theory is losing its appeal as we consider the amazing discoveries that have been made of planets in other star systems.

“We haven’t been searching for long, and we already know of hundreds of distant worlds. When our technology improves, we will be able to see them in more detail, and examine them for evidence of life. Advanced alien societies will probably be able to do the same. It seems increasingly difficult to hide the Earth. Let’s not forget that even if we don’t send any special transmissions to ET, we are still pumping out radio signals from our own telecommunications.

Right now, the general perspective amongst those who listen for ET is not to talk. This partially seems to be motivated by a desire to avoid controversy. Simply listening for aliens is controversial enough in some circles. The US government axed funding for NASA’s own survey. Trying to talk back would generate more questions from more people than are currently debating our search strategy.

Working out what to say is somewhat moot if we do not know how to encode a message. This is one reason why some messages are so simple in their structure. Apart from language differences, there are cultural and cognitive issues that could divide us. Some scientists fear that any extraterrestrial civilization we discover could be dead by the time we receive their message.

It could take centuries or even longer for messages to cross interstellar space. In the meantime, a civilization could destroy itself through war, disease, anarchy or any of the other apocalyptic scenarios we can imagine. Space itself poses all sorts of risks from killer asteroids to gamma ray bursts. Simply staying alive in a hostile universe could be an achievement in itself. If this is so, a series of transmissions to the galaxy could be a long-lasting legacy for the human race.

Should we transmit now, before we hear from anyone else? Should we remain silent even if we receive a signal? What should we say? What shouldn’t we say? Who should control the transmissions? These questions won’t be resolved to absolute satisfaction in the future. They will continue to remain controversial as long as our interest in the universe continues.

Dr Morris Jones is an Australian space analyst writing for since 1999. He is a contributor to the new SETI book “Astrobiology, History and Society” from Springer.

Read a free preview here.

ljk September 27, 2013 at 14:14

In Search of Planetary Intelligence

We don’t have it on Earth. But maybe it’s somewhere out there.

By David H. Grinspoon

It is said that Mahatma Gandhi, when asked about Western civilization, remarked, “I think it would be a good idea.” That’s how I feel about intelligent life on Earth, especially when I think about the question of what truly intelligent life might look like elsewhere in the universe.

What do we mean by intelligence? Like life, it’s hard to define, but we need to if we want to search for it. Among the radio astronomers of SETI—the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence—it’s only sort-of a joke that the true hallmark of intelligent life is the creation of radio astronomy.

Modern SETI was born as the Cold War simmered. In late 1959 Giuseppe Cocconi and Philip Morrison published, in Nature, calculations showing that radio telescopes could transmit signals across interstellar distances. In 1960 Frank Drake decided to search, using the Green Bank Radio Observatory in West Virginia.

He also led a workshop there, which produced the famous “Drake equation” for determining the number of broadcasting civilizations by taking into account the number of stars, the number of stars likely to have planets, etc. It was never meant to calculate a specific answer so much as to frame the discussion about how development of planets, life, and civilizations could affect the likelihood of finding anyone out there to talk to.

When you do the math, the answer depends most crucially on the factor Drake called L—the average longevity of a civilization. If L is small—say, less than 1,000 years—then the distance between civilizations is vast, and the chances of SETI succeeding are nil. But if L is large—say, millions of years—then the galaxy should be full of chattering sentience, some quite near.

Full article here:

ljk October 1, 2013 at 12:28

Extra-Terrestrial Life: Good or Bad News?

September 26, 2013

Is there life beyond Earth? And how will the human race — specifically our media — react if there is? Civilizations Beyond Earth: Extraterrestrial Life and Society, which will be released as a paperback this month, is a collection of essays that address the (plausible) possibility that we are not alone in the universe. If that is true, and if we do one day make contact — wonders contributor Morris Jones — how will news outlets portray such an event? And will that lead to worldwide awe or global panic?

See more at:

Full article here:

ljk October 1, 2013 at 12:43

The Alien-Life Summit

The 1961 conference where brilliant scientists came together to discuss the search for ETs.

By Lee Billings

This piece is adapted from Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars by Lee Billings.

Recent headlines about alien life in our planet’s atmosphere have been shot down to earth. But scientists are still looking for messages from and signs of other civilizations among faraway stars—carrying on the tradition that started more than 50 years ago, when some of the era’s most brilliant scientific minds got together to discuss the astronomical possibilities.

In 1961, J.P.T. Pearman of the National Academy of Sciences approached astronomer Frank Drake to help convene a small, informal SETI conference at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Green Bank observatory. The core purpose of the meeting, Pearman explained, was to quantify whether SETI had any reasonable chance of successfully detecting civilizations around other stars.

Besides Drake and Pearman, three Nobel laureates attended. The other attendees were only slightly less celebrated. They included physicist Philip Morrison, who had co-authored a 1959 paper advocating a SETI program just like the one Drake undertook in 1960. A dark-haired and brilliant 27-year-old astronomy postdoc named Carl Sagan was, at the time, the youngest and arguably least distinguished name on the guest list.

Full article here:

ljk November 1, 2013 at 10:08

What Ender’s Game Gets Right About Communicating With Aliens

BY ADAM MANN 11.01.136:30 AM

Ender’s Game is about a misunderstanding.

I know, I know. The story is about a terrible war and child soldiers and morality and all that. But at the core of the movie, which opens this weekend, and the book it’s based on is the failure to understand an alien species. Not to be too spoilery, but it is this basic confusion that fuels the conflict between humans and the alien civilization known as the Formics. And this inability to comprehend another intelligent species might be closer to the truth than is generally thought.

In most popular works of science fiction, communicating with extraterrestrials is one of the easiest things ever. There is some perfect translator technology, an excellent grasp of alien languages, or some hilarious coincidence that allows humans to talk to other intelligent species in the universe. This makes sense. It would be a pretty boring plot line if aliens came down to Earth, went “Blorg krazap” and then we spent 500 years trying to decipher that.

But a lot of the earliest scientific thinking on communicating with aliens, much of it from researchers working with the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), has also thought it would be relatively trivial. They beam us some prime numbers, we respond, and bam, you’ve got a direct link.

“For a long time in the SETI community, there was an assumption that science and math are naturally universal and we’d use them as some sort of cosmic Rosetta Stone,” said psychologist Douglas Vakoch, who works on interstellar message composition at SETI. “But over the last 10 or 15 years, there’s been an increasing awareness of how challenging it will be to communicate.”

It’s typically been folks in the hard sciences – physicists, mathematicians, and chemists – who think that we would use something like basic math as the decryption key for an alien language. But over the decades other researchers, particularly anthropologists, linguists, and cognitive scientists, have weighed in, pointing out the ways that communication with minds unlike our own would actually be very difficult if not completely impossible.

After all, we’re talking about alien intelligence here. Think about how complicated our brains are. Figuring out how the mind of another species works is probably going to present problems on par with many other things we barely understand: dark matter, the origin of life, or why the stock market behaves the way it does.

Full article here:

Senua December 1, 2013 at 10:12

Considering that radio and tv signals have been beaming out from Earth for some time now and have gone way passed the nearest stars, a message sent intentionaly isn’t going to make any difference. If there are nearby civilisations with the technology to recieve radio waves, they will already know about us. Pity most of out tv shows are rubbish. Maybe thats why they don’t want to get in touch.

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 3 trackbacks }