I don't see an immediate response, let me comment on that a little.
First, of course, we would learn that there is
someone there, and that's not unimportant to us. I think the importance of our
ideas and our culture is frequently brushed aside. Why do we pay so much money
for music, what good is music doing us? Well, it's a cultural phenomenon, we
enjoy it, we think it's important, and so are ideas. I think you are quite right
that an alien civilization might not even quite have the concept of the electron
the way we do. On the other hand, if we believe that the nature of the universe
is in fact universal, we have really pretty good tests of that, they do
something, and they are going to see a reaction, just as we do the same thing
and see the same reaction. So they may describe electrons in terms of waves,
they might have started out looking at them as waves as we do to. They may have
a different kind of explanation, but the phenomenon they will be describing will
be essentially the same. If they have in fact some new phenomenon, that would be
fantastic, and we'll learn a lot from that. So I think that if in fact we could
find such a civilization and communicate intellectual growth would be
Communications presupposes a lot, because it presupposes that you have at least
the same intellectual concepts. Language in the most general sense. I guess my
point is that we have arrived at the concept of the electron because our history
and our evolution causes us to poke nature in certain ways, and nature then
showed us something which we called an electron. If you have grown up in a
culture where you do not do sorts of poking - I can't describe such culture
because I have grown up in the western culture, so I am based on mathematics,
and physics, etc, etc - it seems to me not inconceivable that another
civilization will not have interrogated nature in the way that we have done. But
they may have interrogated nature in very different ways, and therefore they may
have technological capabilities which we are insensitive to, but also they may
simply not be capable of communicating. I take your points.
Charlie, let me respond a little bit.
These things may give scientists and
philosophers a lot of trouble, they don't give engineers much trouble, and the
reason is that you prove your concept - either the gadget works or it doesn't
work. I would expect that the aliens' power plants wouldn't look very different
from ours, because they have to be based upon principles that we both commonly
understand. So it's that body of knowledge - proof that you get something and it
functions or it doesn't function, that tells you whether you are on the right
track or not.
I guess maybe I am enough of an engineer to agree with you in part, and I would
say OK, so they are not poking something, they are interacting with the world
around them as we are, so they are finding out some things, they are interacting
- otherwise, they can't signal us. They must be interacting with the universe,
and hence they are sampling some of the same things we're sampling, maybe in a
different way. Nevertheless, it will be common knowledge in my view.
Clive Goodall (Floor):
Let me just apologize for asking so many questions from the audience. I never
intended to do that, but there was one thing that was said back here a few
minutes ago - it's something that has always been very much on my mind and I
felt I just had to respond to it, so please bear with me.
This concerned the general justification for
doing SETI. You had said that it's really not much of a cost in real terms, or
relatively speaking. I agree with that, but I think that there is a much more
effective response to the kind of view that was expressed earlier, back here -
the negative views on SETI, just doing SETI per se. It connects with the
question that I thought was a good question for the panel "What do you
think the impact would be of the discovery of the certain existence of
ETI?". I think, contrary to what I heard being expressed from panel
members, that the impact, the discovery of ETI will be very profound indeed
because it will rob certain myths, certain strong anthropocentric myths, and I
am thinking here especially of certain religious myths, of the logical
possibilities that they see themselves as having right now for justifying their
world view. Once we know that ETI is out there then certain kinds of
justifications will no longer be available. There won't be something that you
can put into the public market place and persuade people about.
Consequently, one then can say, well look,
given the damage that a lot of religious outlooks and world views have inflicted
on populations over time, one can go back in history and find reasons for making
good that claim, then I think one can say, look here's a good reason for doing
SETI. Maybe we'll increase, if we discover the existence of ETI, our sense of
vulnerability as a species, make us more cautious about preserving the
environment, makes us more cautious about managing our resources, cautious in
our dealings with each other. So I think that's a fairly forceful response that
can be given to somebody who says "Why should we do SETI, we're spending a
lot of money, and wasting it?". And I'll shut up now.
I'd like to respond to that a little bit if I may. I am a strong believer in
serendipity, and that's why I think the SETI project is an excellent one.
Astronomers until twenty years ago only looked at static signals, that was
photographic plates, now they are looking in the time-domain. I think it's long
overdue - that is a field which should be explored, and I'm willing to put money
on this - they are going to discover something, something in this technique will
make discoveries. I don't know what, but serendipity always worked. You are
looking for the Lock Ness Monster, they never found the monster, but boy did
they make big discoveries - I think they will make discoveries.
What I was saying is negative. It's just that the desire to find intelligence is
honorable and good but there is plenty of intelligence on this planet. It's like
I say to my wife who may be into astrology "Why look for magic that's not
verifiable when there is all this miraculous science that exists on this planet?
Why look for intelligence outside of this planet when there is tremendous
intelligence and many different species of life on this planet that requires
substantial investigation?". I'm not saying we shouldn't do SETI, I'm just
saying that the same desire and heart that goes to SETI ought to also go to
people who you pass on the street who obviously need something as well.
I think most of us would say yes, we should do that, but we should do all of
it. We should do all of it, and it's a kind of a matter of taste and place and
so on as to what individuals happen to be doing. I don't think anybody would
downplay the importance of what you are saying.
Perhaps the whole community is misnamed, there is a division between what the
engineers and the scientists can do and the interpretation of communications and
what it might mean. Perhaps what we really have is a search for extraterrestrial
technology or a search for extraterrestrial engineering. And we can all have fun
and talk about the intelligence behind it and whether we can interpret it or
not, but in fact, with the engineering comment in mind, it's only the
engineering and the technology that we can really search for.
Mike Klein: I
think you've nailed it exactly right, and that's really what's behind
"SETI", someone mentioned it earlier, "SETI" is in my view,
looking for signs of extraterrestrial technology. Now "CETI", (How do
you pronounce it Barney?), CETI with a "c" a cyrillic "c",
then gets into communications and that's when you get all the philosophers and
everybody else involved. Those of us who are engineers and technologists may be
not participating so much, it will be a whole different audience. So I think, in
fact, you put your finger right on it.
I wanted to address just for a minute the idea
that we should be helping our fellow human. I want to say that I have some
expertise in engineering and technology, I know how to take those tools and
apply them to a problem which I think most people in this room think is an
important one. But I am not applying my tools to poor people, because I don't
know how to take radio telescopes or detectors or optical mirrors and help the
poor person in the street. But I do help poor people, because I happen to
contribute a great deal of my money to help support those people - not support
them so much, as I particularly like to give them to groups that offer them ways
out of their morass, rather than just giving them a handout.
So I think we have to do all of these things,
and we do, and we take the tools that we know how to use and put them to the
best use. So you are not going to get a physicist or an astronomer turning his
or her radio telescope or optical telescope to help support somebody who is
starving in the street. That's my answer to that - I am contributing to it, and
I can show you the checks I write!