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First Contact
March 7, 2010 4:47 AM   Subscribe

"If we are ever contacted by aliens, the man I'm having lunch with will be one of the first humans to know." Jon Ronson meets Paul Davies, the Chair of the Seti (Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Post-Detection Task Group.
posted by fearfulsymmetry (87 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
The man who'll welcome aliens

No. No. The hot chick does the welcoming. Every two bit restaurant knows that.

Is that why the aliens don't come here anymore?
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:55 AM on March 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Here's what Paul Davies has to say about previous attempts to contact aliens:
This is why, Paul says, he very much hopes that our opening communication with the aliens will be drafted by him."All the attempts to send messages up so far have been very crass," he says. "If you're going to leave it up to the mob to decide what's important, it'll be this really cool video game. Or some sporting event. Or some rock group."
Three paragraphs into the article and I'm already offended. We're going to let this guy communicate with a hyper-advanced, space-faring alien culture? We're toast.
posted by Dr Dracator at 5:14 AM on March 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Hey, humanity! Welcome to the cosmos! We'd like to share our best rock and roll, sports, and video games with you guys, and now we can... What's this? Is this low-level scientific data that hasn't been relevant to us for millions of years? Uh... yeah, you know what, come back after you guys hit puberty."
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:49 AM on March 7, 2010 [9 favorites]


"I mean the phonograph disc that went off on Voyager had speeches by Kurt Waldheim and Jimmy Carter. That's a world away from what we should be doing."

Hard to argue with that, really. He wants physics/astronomy/SCIENCE to be our first message. I think the Guardian reporter treats him really unkindly. Maybe he is an arrogant prick, or maybe he's a cool scientist being presented as an arrogant prick. The tone of the article doesn't give me any confidence in the interviewer, that's for sure:

A telephone near us keeps letting off a loud and unexpected ring, and whenever it does, Paul looks extremely cross and says, "This is terribly annoying." I can't help thinking that if the aliens do make contact, his automatic response will be to screw up his face in irritation and yell: "WHAT?"

How nice. What audience does the writer think he's playing to there?
posted by mediareport at 5:51 AM on March 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


"Imagine a civilisation that's way in advance of us wants to communicate with us, and assist us in our development,"

Yes. Because if our own history has taught us anything, it's that advanced civilizations are always interested in assisting others and not, say, strip mining the earth for feldspar and packing the human race off to toil as slaves in the Probe Galaxy.
posted by total warfare frown at 5:55 AM on March 7, 2010 [7 favorites]


Let's hope Jon Ronson isn't the first journalist they meet.

Such a wasted opportunity and utterly frustrating article.
posted by Usher at 6:24 AM on March 7, 2010


All of these stories are quaint in light of the visualization recently FPPed that showed the size of our sphere of influence around the planet. It includes every physical and radio emission we've ever sent into space both unintentionally and intentionally.

Our planet will be dead and extinguished long before our signals even begin to reach areas of the galaxy even somewhat likely to contain plants remotely capable of supporting life.
posted by odinsdream at 6:31 AM on March 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm confused. Is Paul Davies an idiot? Because he sounds like an idiot. Do they let idiots chair task groups at SETI? He's concerned about what people will send in response to a hypothetical detected alien civilization? What? Is he under the impression that we're going to discover said alien civilization living on Mars or something? Even if we ever do detect signals from an alien civilization, it's almost certainly going to be hundreds if not thousands of light-years distant. Maybe tens of thousands. He's really that concerned about the possibility of some guy successfully sending a warez copy of a Grateful Dead bootleg out into the ether which may or may not be received by some alien civilization thousands of years from now?

I think he needs to re-evaluate his life.
posted by Justinian at 6:33 AM on March 7, 2010


Heh, I 'm surprised by some of the comments so far -- I thought it was a very enjoyable article. The very idea that 6 billion or more people would have to try and decide how to represent their entire species and who would do that in case of 'first contact' as fascinating... I mean, look at how quickly people lose their shit about (in the grand scheme of homo sapiens sapiens) relatively minor differences in economic theory or religious traditions, and now try and imagine them coming together to draft a statement about what it means to be 'human'.
posted by modernnomad at 6:53 AM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


(is fascinating)
posted by modernnomad at 6:53 AM on March 7, 2010


May I suggest that everyone take a break to read His Master's Voice, by Stanislaw Lem?
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 7:12 AM on March 7, 2010


total warfare frown: Yes. Because if our own history has taught us anything, it's that advanced civilizations are always interested in assisting others and not, say, strip mining the earth for feldspar and packing the human race off to toil as slaves in the Probe Galaxy.

You joke, but there is a small faction within SETI that wants to announce our presence with signals millions of times stronger than what we currently leak with terrestrial broadcasts. They want to bring attention to Earth, and they are holding SETI's credibility hostage to keep a seat at their table.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 7:12 AM on March 7, 2010


I think he needs to re-evaluate his life.

And so people validate the very condescension this hack journalist portrayed.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 7:17 AM on March 7, 2010


Also, I forgot: obT-Bone Burnett.
posted by Dr Dracator at 7:27 AM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


He's really that concerned about the possibility of some guy successfully sending a warez copy of a Grateful Dead bootleg out into the ether which may or may not be received by some alien civilization thousands of years from now?

Is it really that weird of a concern? Think of all the science fiction plots which center around some alien race receiving random transmissions from Earth 1,000 years later. Do those EVER end well?
posted by DecemberBoy at 7:52 AM on March 7, 2010


He's really that concerned about the possibility of some guy successfully sending a warez copy of a Grateful Dead bootleg out into the ether which may or may not be received by some alien civilization thousands of years from now?

Perhaps not the best example to offer, given that tapers have always enjoyed non-commercial, home-use rights to their own recordings ( and the associated copyrights ), and that the Live Music Archive is fairly comprehensive. There isn't really any ethical or legal reason not to send a good tape.

This is a good one, I think.
posted by mikelieman at 7:55 AM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


A couple of people here have mentioned this already, but why is Davies so concerned about the "first message" the aliens would receive, when we've been "leaking" signals for years? Wouldn't they have been watching Lucy, Ralph Kramden and George Costanza for years before they hear about our "finest achievements and...deepest beliefs and attitudes?"

Me? I'm expecting the arrival of a space armada at any moment to help free Larry and Curly from Moe's violent tyranny.
posted by PlusDistance at 8:07 AM on March 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Our planet will be dead and extinguished long before our signals even begin to reach areas of the galaxy even somewhat likely to contain plants remotely capable of supporting life.

Er? Our signals will reach every point in the galaxy within about 100,000 years.

There might not be any humans around, but barring truly celestial-scale weirdness, Earth will be plugging along just fine.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:09 AM on March 7, 2010


He's really that concerned about the possibility of some guy successfully sending a warez copy of a Grateful Dead bootleg out into the ether which may or may not be received by some alien civilization thousands of years from now?

Yeah, we could be invaded by coke-addled spacemen driving trains and trying to steal our faces.
posted by jonmc at 8:12 AM on March 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


The bigger problem - for me - is that he believes in God.
posted by A189Nut at 9:02 AM on March 7, 2010



Me? I'm expecting the arrival of a space armada at any moment to help free Larry and Curly from Moe's violent tyranny.


Or demanding the final episode of Single Female Lawyer.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:11 AM on March 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


Me? I'm expecting the arrival of a space armada at any moment to help free Larry and Curly from Moe's violent tyranny.

Mankind's epitaph: I'm a victim of soicumstance!
posted by gimonca at 9:19 AM on March 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


He's really that concerned about the possibility of some guy successfully sending a warez copy of a Grateful Dead bootleg out into the ether which may or may not be received by some alien civilization thousands of years from now?

Do not let any aliens answering this siren's song use your shower or they'll never leave, man. Trust me on this one.

Also, I think it's been generally agreed within the Deadhead community that this 1972 Oregon show was actually performed for aliens, or for what were perceived to be aliens at the time.
posted by mosk at 9:41 AM on March 7, 2010


I used to be a bit of a fan of Jon Ronson - his books are all excellent - but I've come to find his interview style rather formulaic. And regrettably this formula also includes him being a bit of a prick. His articles would be better entitled, "This Week, I'm Going To Be A Bit Of A Prick With...". And when the interviewee turns out to also be a bit of a prick, it doesn't make for particularly enlightened reading....
posted by forallmankind at 9:53 AM on March 7, 2010


Paul Davies? Swoon!

He's to cosmology what Richard Dawkins is to evolutionary biology. He's written lots of excellent and accessible books.
posted by furtive at 10:25 AM on March 7, 2010


Also, I think it's been generally agreed within the Deadhead community that this 1972 Oregon show was actually performed for aliens,

Well, it ends with a 32 minute version of Dark Star, so I buy it.

But as for actual contact/communication, is there anyone out there who seriously believes this kind of stuff hasn't been going on for millennia via some nth dimensional organic telepathy. Why just the other day while worrying about Obama's health care woes, a sunflower smiled at me and urged me to relax.
posted by philip-random at 10:41 AM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Think of all the science fiction plots which center around some alien race receiving random transmissions from Earth 1,000 years later. Do those EVER end well?

Well, they didn't give us the secret of immortality, but they didn't destroy us either.
posted by SPrintF at 11:16 AM on March 7, 2010


Our planet will be dead and extinguished long before our signals even begin to reach areas of the galaxy even somewhat likely to contain plants [sic] remotely capable of supporting life.
posted by odinsdream at 6:31 AM on March 7


The Milky Way is only 100,000 ly in diameter. We might not be around in 100,000 years, but the planet will be, and it's pretty goddamn unlikely that Earth will be sterile then. Also, if you look at the ever-growing list of extrasolar planets, it's even less likely that the only ones capable of supporting life will be farther than 50,000 or even 1000 ly away. Shit, even within 100 ly there are roughly 15,000 stars.

How are you drawing your conclusions? Goddamn, talk about a case of "not even wrong."
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:38 AM on March 7, 2010


Shit, even within 100 ly there are roughly 15,000 stars.

No wonder I was feeling so damned crowded.
posted by philip-random at 12:04 PM on March 7, 2010


Minor hijack:

I'm a writer. This is an article about something I'm very interested in. But I didn't like it too much, because there was too much "I" in it. What is the guy who is going to get the call when we detect an alien signal like? What does he think about his job, about aliens, about humans? That's good stuff. Ronson? I don't really give a damn about him.

However, in the last year and half, I have gone from primarily magazine writing to online stuff. In the kind of writing I was doing, there is no "I". It's all about the subject. And that feels like good writing to me. However, I have noticed that my blog posts that get the most attention and praise are the ones where I inject myself into the subject. It feels like bad (or at least lazy) writing to me, but people seem to like it. So am I just off-base and old-fashioned or what?
posted by vibrotronica at 1:10 PM on March 7, 2010


So am I just off-base and old-fashioned or what?

Organize your wording a little differently (ie: make sure you're steering clear of open chattiness) and this reads like an intriguing AskMe, which I'm sure would inspire much interesting response.
posted by philip-random at 1:59 PM on March 7, 2010


This is a and an interesting jumping off point to help me in about around the dealing with what which I've been tasked with for to.
posted by Elmore at 3:01 PM on March 7, 2010


I say we instead send out advertisements about stuff on our planet we'd like to sell for minerals. John Q. Alien might not be interested in chilling with the nerds sending out the Fibonacci Sequence, but if he wants some saltwater or space to dump some of his garbage (which would be on the moon if it's boring, or on Earth if it's cool), he's going to land on the planet offering it. And we'll get some hafnium or uranium out of the deal. We shouldn't offer this stuff for free, because the aliens will be wary that this is a scam, and we don't want to just give junk away. They might expect it from us, screwing up future trade.

And yes, I know the Adblock thread is down the hall.
posted by mccarty.tim at 3:55 PM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


The thing is the radio signals that get sent out are really, really faint once they get any sort of distance away from us. When I looked into it, it seemed like if no civilization was sending signals intended to be received by another solar system, then there could be intelligent and technological life in every system in the galaxy and we wouldn't notice a thing.
posted by Zalzidrax at 4:14 PM on March 7, 2010


Has anyone tried beaming lasers at all the nearby stars? Might as well send something simple, like, "Hey, we're Earth. I bet you can't wait to hold our unconscious women!"
posted by mccarty.tim at 4:17 PM on March 7, 2010


The thing is the radio signals that get sent out are really, really faint once they get any sort of distance away from us

Reminds me of Robert Anton Wilson's critique of Carl Sagan. There's a HUGE assumption here that another intelligent, "civilized" species would even have developed means of electromagnetic transmission and reception. Electromagnetic chauvinism I think he called it.
posted by philip-random at 4:36 PM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe the aliens can tell us what taters are... Does anyone have Paul Davies's email address?
posted by Simon Barclay at 4:49 PM on March 7, 2010


He lives his life at an incredibly high level of amazingness.
posted by andromache at 5:43 PM on March 7, 2010


Does anybody still believe SETI is anything but a huge waste of cash?
posted by Sukiari at 6:07 PM on March 7, 2010


Reminds me of Robert Anton Wilson's critique of Carl Sagan. There's a HUGE assumption here that another intelligent, "civilized" species would even have developed means of electromagnetic transmission and reception. Electromagnetic chauvinism I think he called it.

Yeah, but Wilson seemed to be of the belief that the reasonable alternative form of communication was some sort of telepathy.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:30 PM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wilson went to his grave believing that we should never believe in anything except perhaps the virtues inherent in healthy skepticism. One of my favorite lines of his remains, "Convictions create convicts."

That said, he was also a big "believer" in working both sides of our brain with more or less equal vigor (the rational-analytical and abstract-creative). In this light, he stumbled upon the bizarre findings of one L. George Lawrence and wrote about them in COSMIC TRIGGER - THE FINAL SECRET OF THE ILLUMINATI.

Using special equipment he'd designed himself, Lawrence, an electronics engineer, was investigating the "Backster Effect" (telepathy in plants) for possible application to jam-proof missile components. Problem was, he kept getting interference from what appeared to be outer space (that general direction anyway). Quoting Wilson now:

In April 1972, the experiment was repeated in the Mojave Desert. The same results were obtained. Lawrence's report to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington says: "An apparent train of interstellar communication signals of unknown origin and destination has been observed. Since interception was made by BIOLOGICAL sensors, a biological-type signal transmission must be assumed."

Cue the weird music.

More on L. George Lawrence's plant research can be found here: Detecting Biodynamic Signals, I

... including this nugget:

On the day of these experiments, Lawrence and his assistant decided to take a late afternoon break. The biosensing instrument had been left on and was pointing in a random direction at the sky. As they began to eat their lunch, the steady sounds from the equipment abruptly changed to the familiar series of pulsations instantly signaling that it was picking up some sort of disturbance. After checking the apparatus and finding no malfunctions, Lawrence determined that the signals had to be coming from outer space! These seemingly intelligent gestures from an advanced civilisation would most probably be transmissions of a biological nature, and not from the electromagnetic spectrum which had so consumed the academicians of previous SETI projects. This discovery would remain the primary focus of all of Lawrence’s later experiments with biosensing instruments.
posted by philip-random at 7:19 PM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


So yeah.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:34 PM on March 7, 2010



Does anybody still believe SETI is anything but a huge waste of cash?

From here : http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/seti-the-hunt-for-et-1793984.html

"The privately funded Seti Institute in California has an annual budget of $7m. It employs 130 staff and was founded 25 years ago in November."

So, no.
posted by AD_ at 8:05 PM on March 7, 2010


What audience does the writer think he's playing to there?

The same audience who enjoyed The Men Who Stare at Goats and consider Davies and the rest of the SETI project to be delusional on roughly the same scale.

Me, for instance. Big ups, Jon.
posted by flabdablet at 1:31 AM on March 8, 2010


Looking for aliens "out there" in space is probably the wrong way to do it. Seems more likely that whatever other intelligences are interacting with ours are transdimensional or something else that's more hidden in plain site. There's plenty of weird unexplainable shit going on here on Earth which we haven't even begun to investigate.
posted by Liquidwolf at 8:50 AM on March 8, 2010


Seems more likely that whatever other intelligences are interacting with ours are transdimensional or something else that's more hidden in plain site.

Would you be so kind as to expand on this?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:35 AM on March 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


> Seems more likely that whatever other intelligences are interacting with ours are transdimensional or something else that's more hidden in plain site.

Would you be so kind as to expand on this?


If I may....

I think that what Liquidwolf is getting at is: how do we know that other life forms out there would be recognizeable to us as life forms? We are only used to knowing how to locate, identify, and acknowledge carbon-based forms. It is only within the past couple years that we've started finding out that there are silicon-based life forms.

In other words, I think the point is that if we are only just now taking baby steps into even just IDENTIFYING these other non-carbon-based life forms, how can we be sure we are capable of recognizing how these other life forms COMMUNICATE? We only use a couple of different means to search for "signs of life;" how do we know they're not using some other means that we don't know about yet?

Mind you, I'm not as certain of the "transdimensional" aspect of what Liquidwolf was saying, but I do know that we may not even know enough about what to look FOR and HOW to look as we may think.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:14 AM on March 8, 2010


It is only within the past couple years that we've started finding out that there are silicon-based life forms.

First of all, this is simply not the case. There is no evidence whatsoever that silicon-based life exists anywhere.

Second, I have a pretty solid background for a layman in this field, and Liquidwolf's claims don't hold water. There is no evidence that a) other intelligences are interacting with us or b) if there were, that they would more likely be "transdimensional." "Transdimensional" is an undefined, meaningless term in this discussion.

In other words, I think the point is that if we are only just now taking baby steps into even just IDENTIFYING these other non-carbon-based life forms

Again, not even the case. I'm all for discussion of hypotheticals, but there's a lot of plain old b.s. in this thread.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:31 AM on March 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


The reason I brought up L. George Lawrence above was because his "Backster Effect" investigations are the only instance that I'm aware of that point to some kind of "scientific" evidence of telepathy actually being "for real".

Please note, I put "scientific" in quotes; I'm well aware that Lawrence's findings have not been fully examined and/or reviewed. Nevertheless, I am very intrigued, mainly because he achieved them using gear that was developed specifically to detect "transmissions of a biological nature". This is specifically the kind of weird I can relate to. That is, it supports various admittedly subjective insights I've had while in the psychedelic realm; specifically, a recurring sense (sometimes vividly visual) that our consciousnesses is not limited by the confines of our skull but rather reaches out well beyond that, much like the roots of a plant may contain significantly more mass than the visible (above ground) part of the plant.

Again, I'm not arguing this as a scientific truth; just throwing it into the ring as an intriguing possibility that one would hope might just inspire some genuine research.
posted by philip-random at 11:47 AM on March 8, 2010


Second, I have a pretty solid background for a layman in this field, and Liquidwolf's claims don't hold water. There is no evidence that a) other intelligences are interacting with us or b) if there were, that they would more likely be "transdimensional." "Transdimensional" is an undefined, meaningless term in this discussion.

Ok, don't get upset , I'm not going to try to convince anyone that we're being contacted , and I know "transdimensional " is a vague term. My point is basically what EmpressCallipygos said. We don't have a grasp on the origins of consciousness or what constitutes life in the all the universe ( despite all the scientific reductionism etc, we do not- it's a fact. ). I think exploring the human mind and consciousness more closely is a better way to learn about the universe.
posted by Liquidwolf at 11:51 AM on March 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


By the way, I like SETI -I'm not saying that shouldn't keep going also.
posted by Liquidwolf at 12:01 PM on March 8, 2010


Then don't say it's more likely that "whatever other intelligences are interacting with ours are transdimensional or something else that's more hidden in plain site." You're playing make-believe.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:01 PM on March 8, 2010


Oh my god, I'm going to have a stroke if I don't excuse myself. I apologize for getting grumpy.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:02 PM on March 8, 2010


1. don't have a stroke; it's just the incalculable mystery of consciousness (and perhaps life itself) we're discussing here.

2. How about something along the lines of: "If I were a betting man, I'd put my money on whatever other intelligences may be OUT THERE interacting with us via some strange sub-quantal nth-dimensional telepathy. I mean, radio transmissions are just so 20th century."
posted by philip-random at 12:11 PM on March 8, 2010


There is no evidence whatsoever that silicon-based life exists anywhere.

(after a couple seconds on Google) I stand corrected. I misremembered a theoretical discussion as fact.

Liquidwolf's claims don't hold water. There is no evidence that a) other intelligences are interacting with us or b) if there were, that they would more likely be "transdimensional." "Transdimensional" is an undefined, meaningless term in this discussion.

You'll note that I didn't agree with the "transdimensional" part. But I was commenting more on the thrust of the argument than the specifics anyway.

To wit:

There is no evidence that a) other intelligences are interacting with us

You mean, there is no evidence according to the means we have been using to conduct our searches. Not that there is anything we can do about this, of course. But -- it's an awfully big universe, and we are an awfully tiny part of it, and we have an awfully tiny idea of how the WHOLE of the universe works. It is not outside the realm of possibility that the reason we haven't found anything yet is because we're using the wrong tools to search with -- because there could be something out there so truly "alien" to us that we simpy have no conception of how to even RECOGNIZE it.

Of course there's no way to prove this -- until someone invents a way to measure some random kind of wave pattern we hadn't been able to measure before and suddenly, hey presto, we're picking up strong signals from Alpha Centuri that we hadn't been able to before. It is of course also equally likely that we're not picking up anything yet because there ain't nothing to pick up yet.

All I took Liquidwolf to mean was that "it's a big universe and we only know about a tiny fraction of it and we're only just beginning to learn about it, so who the hell knows".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:50 PM on March 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


All I took Liquidwolf to mean was that "it's a big universe and we only know about a tiny fraction of it and we're only just beginning to learn about it, so who the hell knows".

why are you so vigorously defending a comment that you just admitted boils down to "I DONT KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THE FACTS SURROUNDING THIS DISCUSSION"
posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:08 PM on March 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


why are you so vigorously defending a comment that you just admitted boils down to "I DONT KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THE FACTS SURROUNDING THIS DISCUSSION"

....Because I got what he was trying to say, and I agree with the thrust of it?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:13 PM on March 8, 2010


apparently
posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:22 PM on March 8, 2010


....Okay then. (wonders what that was all about, shrugs and goes off to watch The Elegant Universe again)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:25 PM on March 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure what he said makes sense to be quite honest.

Looking for aliens "out there" in space is probably the wrong way to do it. Seems more likely that whatever other intelligences are interacting with ours are transdimensional or something else that's more hidden in plain site. There's plenty of weird unexplainable shit going on here on Earth which we haven't even begun to investigate.

You may read that and get, "we can't tell if we're able to reach an intelligence or not," but LQ seems to be hinting that there are tons of bizarre things that nobody has begun to investigate, because somehow we aren't using the right methods of communication.

Unless he's explicitly referring to the possibility of a sentient species dwelling deep beneath the surface of the ocean under high pressure with an anaerobic respiration system that literally prevents it from coming to us and us from coming to it, I'm not sure what he could be saying. What is this weird unexplainable shit that we haven't begun to study? I'm pretty sure that whenever something weird and unexplainable happens, somebody tries to figure it out. And the solution is usually quite trivial.

If his argument is that there are - for lack of a better word - angels, or some other ethereal beings that are intelligent that we just can't communicate with, well, I suppose that's fine and I've really got nothing to say for or against it as I've seen no evidence either way. But I can guarantee that we would be far more likely to find and communicate with a potential sentient race that uses things like radio waves and speech than we are to somehow figure out a way to perceive unknown dimensions that are currently undetectable to modern instruments. Don't get me wrong, there may be some ethereal beings out there, or there may not be. But the thing is, there is no evidence to suggest that they are there at all so why use up time and money chasing them when we've got perfectly logical reasons to expect to find sentient life elsewhere?

You don't advance knowledge by jumping to a random point that's completely unrelated to everything that you've known before. You build on what you know to figure out the best way to find the answer that you want. That's SETI.
posted by scrutiny at 1:32 PM on March 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


LQ seems to be hinting that there are tons of bizarre things that nobody has begun to investigate, because somehow we aren't using the right methods of communication.

....Well....yeah.

If his argument is that there are - for lack of a better word - angels, or some other ethereal beings that are intelligent that we just can't communicate with, well, I suppose that's fine and I've really got nothing to say for or against it as I've seen no evidence either way. But I can guarantee that we would be far more likely to find and communicate with a potential sentient race that uses things like radio waves and speech than we are to somehow figure out a way to perceive unknown dimensions that are currently undetectable to modern instruments. Don't get me wrong, there may be some ethereal beings out there, or there may not be. But the thing is, there is no evidence to suggest that they are there at all so why use up time and money chasing them when we've got perfectly logical reasons to expect to find sentient life elsewhere?

I think I may have figured out where the disconnect is here - I took LQ's comment as "FOR ALL WE KNOW RIGHT NOW, one day we'll find out that that they've been trying to get our attention all along, only they've been using some other form of communication we didn't know about yet." And I agree that, because of how comparatively little we know, that could indeed be a possibility. Not a PROBABILITY -- a POSSIBILITY.

You're absolutely right that until we have any reason to suspect these other means EXIST, it doesn't make sense to develop them. However, I saw it as more of a comment on how comparatively little we know about what we're doing RIGHT NOW and a speculative "wouldn't it be funny if?...." comment, rather than any kind of advocacy that "therefore we should develop the means of resonating crystal energy to communicate with the Flexors of Prion-B" or anything like that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:38 PM on March 8, 2010


Actually, this reminds me of the latter part of the Orson Scott Card Ender books. Where they're trying to figure out what to do with various alien species and such. There seemed to be a race that communicated by combing molecules and sending the code. It was thought that the molecule was then created on each end and the message was somehow embedded in it, though that was only supposition. The protagonists couldn't effectively communicate with them.
posted by scrutiny at 2:00 PM on March 8, 2010


Damn, people are touchy. I'm not saying there are any angels from Lemuria trying to contact us. Put your atheistic torches and pitchforks down. I'm not your enemy.
Upon further thought .... forget my original post. I won't bother elaborating. It's not apt for this thread. This thread is about looking for life in the cosmos via SETI, which I support.
posted by Liquidwolf at 2:01 PM on March 8, 2010


Piggybacking on scrutiny -- as originally written, despite what the movies emphasized, Solaris was actually a comment about how remote were the odds for communication between human and non-human, or terrestrial and non-terrestrial, species -- because what's out there may be so weird we just won't know what to do.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:12 PM on March 8, 2010


I'm really not trying to be torchy, but you did say there were weird unexplained things and I sort of want to know what they were.

I mean, look, if you think there are sentient things (other than us) that are the causes of weird unexplained shit, I think that fits in the thread pretty well. But you have to give some examples of said shit or else people aren't going to listen to you.

I mean, yeah, weird shit does happen all the time but it's kind of cool that the weird shit is predicted by current physical theories. I'm asking for examples where that isn't the case.

No witch hunt, I promise. That's one of the things that really bothers me when I see it here.
posted by scrutiny at 2:17 PM on March 8, 2010


Damn, people are touchy. I'm not saying there are any angels from Lemuria trying to contact us. Put your atheistic torches and pitchforks down. I'm not your enemy.
Upon further thought .... forget my original post. I won't bother elaborating.


Too late, I fear. You have already called THEM forth; THOSE who DO know; THOSE who will stop at nothing to keep the rest of us in ignorance ...

No witch hunt, I promise.

On preview. Never mind.
posted by philip-random at 2:44 PM on March 8, 2010


I mean, yeah, weird shit does happen all the time but it's kind of cool that the weird shit is predicted by current physical theories. I'm asking for examples where that isn't the case.

The weird stuff I"m referring to are the discoveries about life that seem to contradict what we thought was possible, like the crabs who live next to volcanic thermal vents in extreme temps at extreme pressure for example, and other forms that live by chemosythesis. Previously unknown and unpredicted finds. I honestly don't think we've cataloged all the biology on this planet. There are still surprises here on Earth.
Other "weird shit" includes phenomenon that can't proven and measured scientifically but are frequent enough to consider a real phenomenon. Yes I'm talking extrasensory perception for example, but like I said there's no way yet to prove it so it remains fringe ( possibly due to our limits on measurement ). I don't think any of this is supernatural, it just shows some gaps in our current understanding of physics really.
posted by Liquidwolf at 3:11 PM on March 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Cool well I'm glad that a thread about SETI is now about transdimensional entities with ESP who contact us and wouldn't it be funny if they were silicon-based UFO aura LaRouche literally god of the gaps men in black extremophiles somehow proving science wrong crush my head with the jaws of life barack did wtc
posted by Optimus Chyme at 3:48 PM on March 8, 2010 [1 favorite]




Cool well I'm glad that a thread about SETI is now about transdimensional entities with ESP who contact us and wouldn't it be funny if they were silicon-based UFO aura LaRouche literally god of the gaps men in black extremophiles somehow proving science wrong crush my head with the jaws of life barack did wtc



Whoa. Sounds like someone needs a nap, or a cold shower.
posted by Liquidwolf at 4:06 PM on March 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd certainly rather that the thread stayed on topic, and stuck to the issue of whether or not to take seriously the prospect of attempting a meaningful exchange of cultural knowledge via a conversation whose round trip time is overwhelmingly likely to exceed the time between Ancient Greece and now.

SETI is balls.
posted by flabdablet at 6:05 PM on March 8, 2010


Why would the round trip take a long time? Presumably if other species are advanced enough to care, and let's say, advanced enough to engage in interstellar travel, it's unlikely they would be sitting at home waiting for messages from space.

They would probably be using quantum entanglement and automated probes, or something along those lines. Assuming that there would be a several millennia back and forth is assuming that they are at our tech level. If they are, it is unlikely that they have anything more serious than Seti set up, which is the planetary equivalent of me getting on my Spaceman Spiff helmet and sitting in a refrigerator box.

We've been beaconing for at least 120 years now. That's long enough for somebody who cares, and has the technology to do something about it, to hear us.
posted by Sukiari at 6:47 PM on March 8, 2010


I mean, look, if you think there are sentient things (other than us) that are the causes of weird unexplained shit, I think that fits in the thread pretty well. But you have to give some examples of said shit or else people aren't going to listen to you.

*blink* Did LQ say there WERE such beings? I thought that it was a "maybe this is the case, there might be for all we know" rather than a "there definitely are."

Personally, I'm an agnostic in this fight.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:57 PM on March 8, 2010


Assuming that there would be a several millennia back and forth is assuming that they are at our tech level.

No, it's assuming that the predictions that General Relativity makes about transmitting signals from point A to point B are pretty much correct.

Technology is a means of exploiting physical principles, not ignoring them.
posted by flabdablet at 8:26 PM on March 8, 2010


Technology is a means of exploiting physical principles, not ignoring them.

It used to be a physical principle that the sun revolved around the earth. Good thing we moved beyond that.
posted by philip-random at 12:42 AM on March 9, 2010


The physical principle that the Sun revolves around the Earth never stood up to anything like the degree of well-organized scrutiny that GR has.

My money's on Einstein, not Davies.
posted by flabdablet at 1:12 AM on March 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Did LQ say there WERE such beings? I thought that it was a "maybe this is the case, there might be for all we know" rather than a "there definitely are."

Do you think that an uneducated "who knows?" is really contributing to the quality of the discussion? I'm not trying to be a jerk here, but honestly, when someone makes as a pillar of their argument the fact that a few years back we apparently discovered silicon-based life - a discovery incidentally that would have changed everything, irrevocably, forever - it's really difficult to care about other similarly unsound, unsourced arguments that are made.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:07 AM on March 9, 2010 [1 favorite]



I'm not trying to be a jerk here, but honestly, when someone makes as a pillar of their argument the fact that a few years back we apparently discovered silicon-based life - a discovery incidentally that would have changed everything, irrevocably, forever - it's really difficult to care about other similarly unsound, unsourced arguments that are made.

Apparently in your "efforts" to try not to be a jerk, you overlooked the part where I admitted I was wrong about silicon life.

Do you think that an uneducated "who knows?" is really contributing to the quality of the discussion?

....Until and unless we are debating for a scientific panel, I'm not sure it makes much sense to wring any hands about the "quality of the discussion."

It's the Internet, OC. This conversation will not bring about the Ultimate Heat Death of the Universe if we get something wrong.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:05 AM on March 9, 2010


I'm not sure it makes much sense to wring any hands about the "quality of the discussion."

If that is actually the standard that you hold yourself to - that making up facts is fine if it suits you - then there's no other way to look at it: you're just posting comments for the sake of posting comments, signifying nothing.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:47 AM on March 9, 2010


....Alright then.

I think I'll go talk to people who are in a better mood.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:51 AM on March 9, 2010


I'm not sure it makes much sense to wring any hands about the "quality of the discussion."

Ummm... this is MetaFilter we're talking about here. This is pretty much where the good discussions are supposed to happen.

I honestly don't think we've cataloged all the biology on this planet. There are still surprises here on Earth.

I totally agree with this 100%. There are no doubt things that will have yet to discover that will surprise us and it is definitely worth it to go out and search for new organisms that live in totally novel and unexpected ways.

The thing about physics advancing and all that, is that new theories pretty much always reduce to the old theories under certain circumstances. For example, in the absence of large masses, general relativity reduces to classical mechanics. Likewise, at low speeds special relativity also reduces to classical mechanics. Only in extreme cases (very small, very fast, very massive) have we been able to tease at the underlying physical laws as they apply to matter, and literally everything reduces back to what we knew already about the physics of objects of normal mass hanging moving around at low speeds (you know, less than half the speed of light).

Concerning ESP and other things, no one has successfully proven it but it is literally impossible in science to prove that something doesn't exist. You just can't do it. You can say you didn't find an effect, or that you "failed to reject the null hypothesis," but you can't ever disprove something. Of all the tests or paranormal stuff that have been conducted, all of them have shown negative results or been exposed as having deep experimental design flaws. Despite this, none of them can be pointed to as an example of "See, this experiment proved that this doesn't work, ever." This makes it very hard to eliminate theories as possibilities, despite how unlikely they may seem. Because of this, scientists tend to focus on causality and actively search for a positive effect - where one thing predicts another - rather than running through a potentially infinite list of negative effects - where one thing has nothing to do with the other - trying to rule things out. For that reason, until something happens that literally cannot be explained by current theories most scientists will not treat such hypotheses as likely or worth testing.

Again, this is not to say that there aren't things out there beyond our ken, but only that until we observe effects that cannot be explained by more normal means most scientists will not pursue those theories. Even if there was a fifth physical force (beyond strong nuclear, weak nuclear, electromagnetic, and gravity) that has to do with the effects of sentience on matter or some such thin, the problem is that the effects of such a force must be so small as to remain completely undetectable in the presence of the other forces. Because of this, as things stand right now it's not really worth it to pursue studies in this area.
posted by scrutiny at 8:29 AM on March 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


*blink* Did LQ say there WERE such beings? I thought that it was a "maybe this is the case, there might be for all we know" rather than a "there definitely are."

I was associating the topic of the comment as having meaning pertaining to the whole, as opposed to be an isolated entity. Obviously he didn't say, "there are these things for certain," and I didn't say he did either. I simply didn't feel that I had to stress that we were talking about hypotheticals. I thought that was obvious given the character of the comments thus far.
posted by scrutiny at 8:44 AM on March 9, 2010


Ummm... this is MetaFilter we're talking about here. This is pretty much where the good discussions are supposed to happen.

Yeah, but there's a difference between "a good discussion" and "a discussion which should be conducted as if it would hold up under strictest scientific scrutiny." That's all I was getting at.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:13 PM on March 10, 2010


I was associating the topic of the comment as having meaning pertaining to the whole, as opposed to be an isolated entity. Obviously he didn't say, "there are these things for certain," and I didn't say he did either. I simply didn't feel that I had to stress that we were talking about hypotheticals. I thought that was obvious given the character of the comments thus far.

Well, I thought it was a given LQ was talking about hypotheticals as well, as a tangent, but for some reason the very fact it was a hypothetical caused a shitstorm. the only thing I've been trying to say all along is "I don't see the problem with a clearly hypothetical tangent being introduced into a layman's conversation, because it is clearly hypothetica, and is also clearly a tangent."

So I have no idea why that got everyone so angry, but that's all I was trying to say. Hypothetical tangents can also be part of layman's scientific discussions, no?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:17 PM on March 10, 2010


So I have no idea why that got everyone so angry, but that's all I was trying to say.

Well, seeing as my Robert Anton Wilson related reference seemed to help get things rolling, it's perhaps a good time to reference THE NEW INQUISITION.

[... the] Scientific Method (SM) [is] the alleged source of the certitude of those I call the New Idolators. SM is a mixture of SD (sense data: usually aided by instruments to refine the senses) with the old Greek PR [pure reason]. Unfortunately, while SM is powerfully effective, and seems to most of us the best method yet devised by mankind, it is made up of two elements which we have already seen are fallible. [...] Again, two fallibilities do not add up to one infallibility. Scientific generalizations which have lasted a long time have high probability, perhaps the highest probability of any generalizations, but it is only Idolatry which claims none of them will ever again have to be revised or rejected. Too many have been revised or rejected in this century [the 20th] alone.
posted by philip-random at 7:36 PM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


And as has been explained over and over and over here, and everywhere where RAW's line of inanity has been propounded by woo-peddlers, that is a distortion of the reality of the practice and use of science. TNI is the same silly rant against empiricism and the scientific method that that advocates of paranormal belief push all over the net and the public fora, only this time it's backed up with research- shoddy research, as demonstrated by the critical links provided in the Wikipedia page you linked to, one of which is from Kristin Buxton, one of online Discordianism's big names back in the day. If anyone could be counted on to give a glowing review to RAW's work, kbuxton should be it- that she (along with Lippard) trashes Wilson for making shit up should be a sign of how bad it is.

I used to love RAW when I was about 17. It seems a shame that the older I get, and the more critically I look at his work, the less I find to respect or praise about it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:08 PM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Scientific generalizations which have lasted a long time have high probability, perhaps the highest probability of any generalizations, but it is only Idolatry which claims none of them will ever again have to be revised or rejected.

No one is saying this. What we are saying is that when you say something crazy about transdimensional entities being "more likely," you have to back it up with data.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:10 PM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


What we are saying is that when you say something crazy about transdimensional entities being "more likely," you have to back it up with data.

* scrolls back through thread because she was convinced that LQ did NOT say that it was "more likely" *

* Sees that, to her surprise, that's exactly what he did say *

* toddles off to prepare to eat some crow with a side of humble pie *
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:06 AM on March 11, 2010


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