Ask Dr. SETI ®
by Alexander L. Zaitsev
Institute of Radio Engineering, Russian Academy of Science
More than 40 years ago, Nicholay Kardashev expressed the profound idea that the transmission of information into the Cosmos, addressed to supposed "brothers on reason," is a vital and a natural need of highly developed civilizations. He wrote: "There are reasons to believe that transmission of information is one of the basic conditions of existence for super-civilizations". It is clear that Messaging to Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI) is treated not as "bait" to attract other civilizations and to ensure the success of terrestrial searching, but as something immeasurably greater: namely, as one of the fundamental requirements of an advanced civilization.
Extremely interesting is the historical aspect of the problem. We give only two examples among many. In the early years of the 19th century, Carl Gauss was thinking about how to tell aliens of the existence of intelligent beings on Earth. In 1896 Konstantin Tsiolkovsky published in the weekly Kaluga Herald an article on the same topic. The main question related to these and many similar projects is how to understand the interest of the outstanding scientists of the past to this problem. The issue is not as simple as it seems at first glance. It cannot be attributed merely to possible eccentricities of those noted scientists.
METI and the Great Silence
In 1999, after the development and transmission by us from Evpatoria of the first multi-page interstellar radio messages Cosmic Call, the late Steven Ostro, the American authority in the field of radar studies of asteroids and comets, sent us his unpublished work: Project Moonbeam: An Omnidirectional Radio Beacon for the Lunar Farside. In this JPL paper, he proposed to create a powerful beacon for regular interstellar broadcasts. Particularly memorable is a phrase that deserves to be a maxim: "We might conclude that it is better to give than to receive, and that the war on Great Silence must begin at home". The sooner that terrestrial planetary consciousness begins to understand and accept this idea, the better!
The various SETI programs have spent hundreds of times longer in searching than all METI programs have spent transmitting. This paradoxical disparity of effort, a passionate desire to receive and no corresponding attempt to give, I have subsequently called The SETI Paradox. A trivial consequence of this paradox is an explanation of the Silence of the Universe: "If not only earthly but also other planetary consciousness are so inclined that they prefer to receive rather than give, the search does not make sense, because the Universe is silent".
Another conceivable reason for Silence is intimidation of our society, by scientists and science-fiction writers who seriously consider the threat of alien invasion. In a previous article, we said about this, "we subscribe to one possible solution to the Fermi Paradox: Suppose each extraterrestrial civilization in the Milky Way has been frightened by its own SETI leaders into believing that sending messages to other stars is just too risky. Then it is possible we live in a galaxy where everyone is listening and no one is speaking. In order to learn of each others' existence - and science - someone has to make the first move."
It is necessary to understand and remember that the transmission of interstellar radio messages from the Earth is as meaningful as is our own search for radio messages from other civilizations. If because of hysteria over possible alien invasion we would ban those who engage in METI, calling their actions irresponsible and reckless to the point of idiocy, then the question arises - just whose messages are the various SETI groups seeking? Does the acronym "SETI" imply the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Idiots?
Isolationism as a possible cause of extinction of civilizations
Sebastian von Hoerner in the 1960s indicated that "apathy" or "Loss of Interest" could lead to the extinction of advanced civilizations. The Russian language has a colloquial phrase that translates to "one-man island." I cannot speak for all, but I do not want to live in a cocoon, in a "one-man island," without the option of sending a messages outside. Such a life is not particularly interesting!
Any prohibition of message transmission converts the Earth into a "one-civilization island." I think that it is not interesting for inhabitants to live in such enforced self-isolation, in such a lurker-like status. Any civilization which is forced to hide and tremble because of farfetched fears, is doomed to extinction.
We conclude that the struggle against one mythical ET-threat by means of prohibition of any Radar Astronomy transmission, and any sending of messages to ETIs, creates two very real problems: defenselessness in the face of asteroid hazards, and the threat of extinction due to the self-isolated civilization's own apathy.
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this page last updated 4 June 2011
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