Sunday, July 11, 2010

Don't you try to SETI me up

Apologies for the unavoidable gap in posting.  I went to visit my brother and his family before they move out of state.  It was a successful venture on many levels.  I helped my nephew build a prefab shelter for cats (via the wonders of imagination), stayed meat-free for a second day in a row by opting for vegetarian lo mein at dinner and a tuna sandwich with barbecue chips at lunch (ok, the fish part is pushing it, I know), and managed to finally locate a latte at the train station this morning (harder than you'd think on a Sunday.)   UFO news has been rather quiet as of late, so as I rode the Metra train and listened to the clickety-clack interspersed with terse conductor directives, I mentally sifted and sorted for a post topic.
I decided upon SETI.  The acronym stands for Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence in case you didn't know.  This is an organization of astronomers who listen via radio telescope for a sign, any kind of sign, of an alien civilization. It was at one point federally funded, but is now run by private donations for the most part.
Now you would think that this would be something I'd be all about supporting.  Well, I was...for a while.  Over time, I have developed a distaste for the organization.  Why, you may ask?  Hold on, gentle reader.  I shall expound.

First off, they have an extraordinarily narrow view of what might or might not be possible when talking about an alien civilization.  Everything is built on assumptions derived from human history.  Yes, I know there isn't much else to go on, but that, in my opinion, is a horribly limited perspective.  As stated earlier, SETI is listening for radio transmissions.  Seems to me and many others that an advanced civilization would likely not be using radio waves.  SETI proponents argue that it takes very little energy to generate radio transmissions, so that must be the most efficient way to communicate.  I'm certain that someone must have thought along a similar vein when telegraphs and telephones were "cutting edge."  "Why would someone go through all the trouble to string up those wires, maintain those machines, when they could just write a letter?  It requires less energy."  Aliens likely harness incredible energies and with near zero loss.  They might even get all of their power from their own home star via a microweave Dyson sphere of sorts.  This would afford them a far greater range of capabilities.  So...come on!  Radio waves?? 

That brings me to my next point.  If we did receive a transmission, would we even know it?  Would we be able to tell the difference from background noise if we're looking for radio transmissions only?  Decoding a complex message would seem a problem.

All right, let's say for the sake of argument that we do receive and understand a signal of one sort or another.  SETI protocols state that once the message is confirmed, it is then turned over to the President of the United States, whereupon the Commander in Chief and folks like the NSA and the Secretary of Defense will decide whether or not to announce it to the world.  
Do you really think that they would?  I doubt it.  Why?  Well, a number of reasons.  Imagine this scenario: an incredibly benevolent race sends a transmission.  Coded within it are the plans for a completely new system of clean, zero-loss energy generators (I know this is probably most naive and optimistic of me, but I'm trying to be positive.)  You think Big Oil would ever let that get out?  More likely, the military would begin to determine what sort of weapon could be cobbled from it.  Therefore, there's no way an announcement would be made of this technology, lest Iran or North Korea get their hands on it.  For all we know, the signal could have already arrived and the lid was slapped down tight on it.

Finally, I find the hubris and condescending nature of the SETI club members quite irritating.  A recent edition of Larry King Live was dedicated to UFOs.  Among the guests were author David Brin, actor Dan Akroyd (yeah, howaboutit?) and a SETI clubhouse regular.  The SETI rep smugly asked Akroyd "why don't we hear airports announcing UFO delays?"
That comment is so ridiculous that I hate to even respond to it, but here goes: 
1)  You really think they'd flippin' tell us?  Cause panic among air travelers already on edge in the post-9/11 world? 
2) This question is like asking "if there really are top secret military aircraft, why hasn't one buzzed my house?"
3) There are numerous reports from airline pilots dealing with UFOs, a few of them involving near-collisions.  As for appearing at airports, there was such a sighting at Chicago's O'Hare.
4) Again, you really think they'd flippin' tell us?
This kind of attitude could be my biggest problem with SETI.  You don't believe the extraterrestrial hypothesis for UFOs?  Fine.  It's not like you'd be the first.  But there's no need to get on a high horse about it.
That may actually be indicative of a larger problem within SETI and perhaps the scientific community at-large.  There is an esoteric myopia afoot, a school of thought that says "yep, we've pretty much got it all figured out."  We use fossil fuel and chemicals for propulsion, they must too.  Therefore, given the extreme distances between stars, nobody would ever attempt to traverse the expanse.  Therefore, they would send signals rather than engage in spaceflight.  And we use radio communication, therefore they must too.  Plus, even if they could make the trip, wouldn't they try signaling first?

To paraphrase Stanton Friedman, "did the Vikings send out smoke signals to the New World before heading out?"
What the frak do we know?

UPDATE: Guess SETI truly does not know everything after all.  This news story describes how a UFO in China really did cause flight delays at an airport.

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1 comment:

  1. Oh, that's great stuff. Makes me think about alternative methods of alien-human communications. Or a short story in which select members of society were contacted with instructions for ultra-cool space stuff...