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 3: Philosophy

How Can You Possibly Know?

Dear Dr. SETI:
I am curious about the motto on The SETI League website, and in your email signature line: "We know We're Not Alone!". Is this the official motto of the the SETI league? I am a big SETI fan, but curious as to how you "know"?

Even the Drake equation essentially represents a mathematical probability at its heart, based upon the latest scientific observations and assessments from models. But it does not constitute a proof (knowing) in terms of scientific objectivity.

Seems a strong statement!

Kelvin (UK)

The Doctor Responds:
Yes, it's a strong statement, and I've had a lot of fun with its ambiguity, over the past 17 years. When I crafted this catch phrase, I deliberately avoided mentioning which "we" it refers to, and the exact meaning of "alone." Of course, most people assume "we" means humans, and "alone" refers to other life in the Universe. But I never exactly said that, did I?

A defensible alternative interpretation is that we (1500 members of The SETI League) know (because of all those other members) we're not alone (in our interest in searching for extraterrestrial intelligence).

So, consider this motto a bit of an inside joke. The UFO believers nod their heads knowingly, and wink. The UFO disbelievers shake their heads knowingly, and frown. All the while, we just sit back and smile.

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