Humans have a natural tendency to communicate. This is not limited to seeking new challenges, new frontiers, and new ways of interacting with the environment. For 80 years, the SETI program has been engaged in an active search for intelligent life. So far, this search has not yielded any results. Is there a sense in pursuing this search?
In this post, we collect the opinion of Dr. Jason T. Wright. He made a series of recommendations and statements in this regard.
First of all, it should be borne in mind that this search and the possible subsequent contact (should it be effective) are not risk-free.
We could attract the attention of potential attackers to whom, until now, we would have gone unnoticed. But at the same time, contact between such distant civilizations could also be enriching.
Based on Dr. Wright’s first recommendation in 2001 is to “stay close to the data.” According to this author, it is easy to make hypotheses about the possible behavior of extraterrestrials and generate working strategies, models for their detection, etc.
Thus, little by little, is it possible to build castles of concepts that will give null results? It’s possible to make a theoretical development with the end to prove to be false.
Therefore, any proposed theory should be based on the results of previous observations.
However, it’s said that elaborate analyses have nothing, which is an elaborate meta-analyses on nothing. However, staying close to the data, and deviating from the objective is avoided.
Let’s look at an example. Sometimes, “the extraterrestrials know of our existence, but for some reason, they have decided not to contact us.” In these statements, the millions of individuals that make up a civilization could be out there. It is difficult to imagine a “universal behavior.”
Possibly, among several of them, it is complicated for humans to share common opinion on issues that may be banal.
Why is it interesting to keep looking for intelligent life?
Despite the difficulties and limitations that it entails, this search remains necessary. Even if intelligent life is still not found, it is possible to establish synergies with other researchers. For instance, researchers will know the limits of our civilization, technological development, and communication.
The skills developed in this field can be transferred to astrophysics, other sciences, and society.
Any project to search for intelligent life generates knowledge that enriches other disciplines. It allows debate with skeptical researchers and grows the field more vigorously.
Moreover, as this is a complex subject, interdisciplinary collaboration is necessary.
For example, astrophysicists should also be trained and reflect on specific issues. For instance, the nature of intelligence, the mathematics of expanding systems, the difficulties of interspecies communication, communication ethics, or the effects that one of these contacts could have on the human species.
This same process of reflection can occur in other scientists, such as biologists, psychologists, or anthropologists, which will result in the growth of new fields of knowledge.
Plans for success and plans for null results in the search of intelligent life
For Wright, it is not enough to make a plan to find intelligent life. We must also plan what will happen if this plan is successful. For example, if we discover this type of life.
Another thought is what will happen if we find nothing (he avoids using the word failure because the fact of not finding anything is in itself a fact that can guide us in subsequent actions).
Before starting the search, it should be obvious what should be done. Will it be a surprising, interesting, intriguing, confusing, or simply curious signal that appears until contact with an intelligent civilization is finally established?
It is possible that the first significant signal detected will not make us exclaim “Wow!” but “Huh?”. At first, it may be something difficult to understand. We may need years or decades until the result can be made public. Firstly the development of a consensus among the different specialists that it is a sign of intelligent life.
Specialists must be prepared to rely on the help and advice of experts in risk communication, sociology, anthropology, psychology, etc., to provide information accurately and correctly.
However, it should be evident to plan what to do if null results are obtained. This information should be recorded in some way to allow later analysis and to guide future research.
Specialists must be prepared to rely on the help and advice of experts who provide precise information on risk communication, sociology, anthropology, psychology, etc.
Wright, J. (2021). Strategies and advice for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Acta Astronautica, 188, 203-214.