The SETI League, Inc., a membership-supported, non-profit {501(c)(3)}, educational and scientific organization Searching for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence

Ask Dr. SETI ®

Chapter 5: Sociology

Will We Still Exist as a Society?

Dear Dr. SETI:
Even if there are highly advanced civilizations out there (and I believe there are), isn`t it unlikely that we will ever find them because of the vastness of our universe? If we as a society ever make contact with an alien civilization, wouldn`t you think that it will most likely be hundreds if not thousands of years from now (and that's if we even still exist as a society then)?

John and Sheila, via email

The Doctor Responds:
Yes, the likelyhood of contact is small. If we do not search, it is even smaller. The universe is indeed vast, so there is much to learn from the search, even if we never achieve contact.

The Search may well take generations, so the sooner we start, the better. SETI is not the kind of enterprise which offers much to he or she who demands instant gratification. As for whether or not we will still exist as a society, I'm a physical scientist, not a sociologist, therefore not qualified to judge. But it seems to me that to abandon the search on such grounds as these would be to express a level of pessimism that I am unwilling to embrace.

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