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Revision as of 20:17, 27 December 2007

Sun over Earth

Does Active SETI Put Earth in Danger?

Hugh Pickens writes

"There is an interesting story in Seed Magazine on active SETI — sending out signals to try to contact other civilizations in nearby star systems.[1] Alexander Zaitsev, Chief Scientist at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Radio Engineering and Electronics, has access to one of the most powerful radio transmitters on Earth and has already sent several messages to nearby, sun-like stars. But some scientists think that Zaitsev is not only acting out of turn by independently speaking for everyone on the entire planet but believe there are possible dangers we may unleash by announcing ourselves to the unknown darkness. This ground has been explored before in countless works of science fiction most notably "The Killing Star," a 1995 novel[2] that "paints a frightening picture of interstellar civilizations exterminating their neighbors"[3] with relativistic bombardments, "not from malice, but simply because it is the most logical action."[3]



There were over 600 comments posted on this topic[1] on Slashdot.

Recommended Reading

Seti League. "Making a Case for METI" by Dr. Alexander Zaitsev, Charles M. Chafer, and Richard Braastad. Page last updated March 5, 2005.

"The tendency to focus on the dangers of exploration is nothing new in human history. Centuries ago, everyone knew that mariners who sailed too far over the oceans would fall off the edge of the Earth, or be eaten by sea monsters. Yet humans dared to explore. They took the risk of encountering the presumed sea monsters - their own version of Darth Vader - and discovered a new world inhabited by an alien civilization with alien crops and resources. ...In conclusion, 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."[2]

Excerpts from The Killing Star (1995) by Charles Pellegrino and George Zebrowski

"Imagine yourself taking a stroll through Manhattan, somewhere north of 68th street, deep inside Central Park, late at night. It would be nice to meet someone friendly, but you know that the park is dangerous at night. That's when the monsters come out. There's always a strong undercurrent of drug dealings, muggings, and occasional homicides. It is not easy to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys. They dress alike, and the weapons are concealed. The only difference is intent, and you can't read minds. Stay in the dark long enough and you may hear an occasional distance shriek or blunder across a body. How do you survive the night? The last thing you want to do is shout, "I'm here!" The next to last thing you want to do is reply to someone who shouts, "I'm a friend!" What you would like to do is find a policeman, or get out of the park. But you don't want to make noise or move towards a light where you might be spotted, and it is difficult to find either a policeman or your way out without making yourself known. Your safest option is to hunker down and wait for daylight, then safely walk out. There are, of course, a few obvious differences between Central Park and the universe. There is no policeman. There is no way out. And the night never ends."[3]

Space.com "Aliens Apart" by Seth Shostak. December 6, 2007

"While the cosmos could easily be rife with intelligent life – the architecture of the universe, and not some Starfleet Prime Directive, has ensured precious little interference of one culture with another."[4]

The Independent. "Meet the neighbours: Is the search for aliens such a good idea?" by Tim Walker. June 25, 2007.

"The Nobel Prize-winning American biologist George Wald takes the same view: he could think of no nightmare so terrifying as establishing communication with a superior technology in outer space. The late Carl Sagan, the American astronomer who died a decade ago, also worried about so-called "First Contact". He recommended that we, the newest children in a strange and uncertain cosmos, should listen quietly for a long time, patiently learning about the universe and comparing notes. He said there is no chance that two galactic civilisations will interact at the same level. In any confrontation, one will always dominate the other."[5]

DavidBrin.com "The Great Silence" by David Brin. 1983

"A particularly paranoid advanced species might not want any potential competition to rise up elsewhere. Self replicating autonomous probes might be sent out to reproduce and fill the galaxy. Whenever new radio traffic indicates that new sentients are loose, these preprogrammed probes would home in on the signals with powerful bombs and stop the infection before it spreads."[6]

SETI League. "Active SETI Is Not Scientific Research" by by Michael Michaud. February 5, 2005

"Astronomer Robert Jastrow, addressing the consequences of possible future contact with an alien civilization, wrote that he saw no reason for optimism. Astronomer Ronald Bracewell warned that other species too would place a premium on cunning and weaponry; an alien ship headed our way is likely to be armed. Astronomer Eric Chaisson thought that physical contact could lead to a neo-Darwinian subjugation of our culture by theirs. Astronomer Zdenek Kopal was more specific: should we ever hear the space-phone ringing, for God’s sake let us not answer, but rather make ourselves as inconspicuous as possible to avoid attracting attention! Other scientists who are less widely known have warned of potential dangers. Biologist Michael Archer said that any creature we contact will also have had to claw its way up the evolutionary ladder and will be every bit as nasty as we are. It will likely be an extremely adaptable, extremely aggressive super-predator. Physicist George Baldwin predicted that any effort to communicate with extraterrestrials is fraught with grave danger, as they will show innate contempt for human beings. Robert Rood warned that the civilization that blurts out its existence on interstellar beacons at the first opportunity might be like some early hominid descending from the trees and calling "here kitty" to a saber-toothed tiger."[7]

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