SETI enthusiasts will be familiar with Fermi's Paradox, i.e., "where are they?". Tipler and others have rather obvious answers to this rhetorical question, but I reject any notion that we are alone. I wish to describe what could best be called "Kingsley's Paradox" (the plural form would be more precise). When I gave my talk to the SETI Institute in April, during a one-on-one discussion with Dr. Kent Cullers, he questioned me about some of my beliefs, and noted an apparent paradox. Let me now explain this paradox.
As you know, my bone of contention vis-a-v the SETI community, is that "no sensible ETIs would be caught dead signalling across interstellar distances in the microwave regime" (actually hard to do when you are dead). I have accused the community of lacking "imagination", or more diplomatically, of being too "conservative" in its approach. Basically, I hold that ETI technology will be so superior to our own, that what for us would be tremendous feats of engineering would be "no sweat" to them. What I have tried to do is to de-mystify SETI and treat the subject as just another communications problem, albeit with the major difficulty that we don't know the direction of the transmitter, when it is operating in our direction, the transmission frequency, the bandwidth and the modulation format. This is a lot of unknowns for which to be groping in the cosmic haystack.
Now as you are aware, one important way that the idea of electromagnetic SETI is "sold" to the population, is that interstellar travel over vast regions of our galaxy will "never" be practical at anything close to (or above) relativistic velocities. Basically, the problem is put in terms of the energy requirements to travel at or near light speed, i.e., the E = mc2 effect. Anyway, from our present understanding of relativity and time- dilation, even if such velocities do one day become obtainable, it still presents major problems for the sending or exploring civilization, though time seems to pass quite slowly for the explorer (the universe appears to shrink to the explorer). The time that the sending civilization has to wait before it acquires data about the results of any near light speed mission to distant stars is very long. Clearly, in terms of energy requirements, electro-magnetic waves are the cheapest way to travel even if the time factors are essentially no different (for rest-frame observers)! This approach puts a cap on our imagination by suggesting that if intelligences are scattered throughout the galaxy, they will be forever island intelligences, never able to make physical contact with each other.
I myself have never believed this for philosophical reasons, for if I had, I could hardly be a Trekki - thus one paradox. Stuart Kingsley believes that in time, through means that we can't even contemplate today, mankind will be traversing the distances between the stars with about as much effort and time that it takes to travel around the world today. If I believe this, why should I have such strong feelings for electromagnetic SETI? Isn't it incompatible to be simultaneously suggesting electromagnetic SETI, and a galaxy teaming with technical civilizations that can ply the interstellar voids with great ease?
Let me go back to the beginning as far as to how my interests in astronomy, space travel and extraterrestrials arose. This will shed some light as to how I can live with these seemingly diametrically opposed ideas. Since approximately the dawn of the space age in October 1957, when I was nine year old, I have believed in what is now called the Cosmic Zoo theory, though I did not give this rationale a name. Added to this theory was the idea that we have indeed been visited before, and some "interference" has occurred in the development of life on this planet - that the development of life and civilization on this planet may have been atypical. Only recently, have scientists been able to accept the catastrophe idea, one which was at the very core of Immanuel Velikovsky's theories; that evolution on this planet may have been drastically affected by meteoritic bombardment or bombardment by comets, though he placed such interactions in more modern times. See this month's Astronomy magazine for an article on just how fragile could be our existence.
I believe that for various reasons, e.g., the "non-interference directive" so favored by Star Trek fans, ETIs have placed our solar system off-limits. I had these thoughts long before people like the Eric Von Danikens of this world made cosmic interference ideas fashionable. Being Jewish and very familiar with the Old Testament, I had my religious feelings weakened by my own ideas that some of the biblical descriptions could be interpreted as visitations from other (extra-solar) planets - pretty heavy stuff for a kid!
Indeed, my uncertainty about electromagnetic ETI signals is not dominated by the question as to what wavelength regime would be the best for such signals, but whether such signals are present at all. Not because ETIs are very rare, but because if they can travel across space there is little reason to use electromagnetic signals to contact emerging technical civilizations. Under this scenario, a Physical First Contact would be much more probable than an Electromagnetic First Contact, though as I have indicated elsewhere, the latter could be termed a "kinder, gentler" form of contact; less likely to produce cultural shock.
As far as "UFOs" are concerned, a word that seems to conjure up terror in the SETI community, along with crop-circles and the like, I believe that some UFO sightings do relate to real UFOs, while the majority are spurious. In other words, if planet Earth is presently officially off-limits, we are still being visited in a surreptitious manner. There is always the problem of whether there is one central governing "Federation" that oversees this, or whether such interactions are random and uncoordinated, and produced by independent actions of many different extraterrestrial civilizations. If I had to guess, I would have to come down on the side of a controlled, incredibly well-policed galaxy.
So, as far as Kingsley's Paradox is concerned, I make an electromagnetic SETI argument based on logic and a more limited imagination. In my more extended imagination, I believe that warp-drive technology so favored by generations of science fiction writers will eventually come to pass, and/or we will find short cuts across the universe. Obviously, I have no scientific evidence to sustain the later belief, only the anthropocentric view (and hope) that if there is a supreme being, that the vastness of the universe would not conspire to prevent God's intelligent creations from eventually coming into physical contact. I would like to believe, and this is clearly wishful thinking on my part, that in time, the "universe" (nay, not just the Milky Way Galaxy) can become a "Global Universe", i.e., rather like the Global Village that is rapidly overtaking our hitherto fragmented planet.
So on the one hand I will argue passionately for the optical approach to SETI, and on the other hand I would argue and hope that interstellar (even intergalactic) space travel is common place in the universe. By implication, I have suggested that optical communications is a very mature technology amongst developed civilizations, and that so-called "sub-space" techniques have not been devised. If, as with space travel itself, it is indeed one day found possible to signal across the universe faster than the speed of light, it will make optical interstellar communications problematic. On the other hand (I've now run out of hands - oh to be an ET with more than one pair), at least as far as contacting emerging technical civilizations, electromagnetic techniques are the most logical means. If there is not a "Galactic Federation" overseeing the orderly conduct of the Galaxy but a sufficient number of independent extraterrestrial civilizations, it is quite possible that several of the discussed scenarios will exist simultaneously. I will just have to live with my torment! I would like to believe that the Universe is teaming with life, so that it can be appreciated by a huge number of intelligent species. Of course, the far simpler explanation would be to go along with Tipler and consider ourselves to be the crowning glory of the Universe, or at least of our Galaxy. What an inefficient process to have 400 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy and have only us to comprehend its majesty. If this depressing scenario be the case, will the last one to leave the Radio Observatory and the SETI Institute please turn off the lights!
Post Script Readers will have noticed a slight change to my sign-off notice at the foot of the document. This now acknowledges my connection with Dr. Robert Dixon's Radio Observatory group, though this involvement has yet to include locating old computers/disk-drives, and refurbishing them! As they say, "I do my own thing".
August 9, 1991 RADOBS.45 BBOARD No. 648
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