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Seth Shostak: Confessions of an Alien Hunter

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galaxygirl5066 Avatar
Posted: 03.27.11, 09:34 PM
Phlipper: We all agree that “out there” is very big and very far, which explains why Shostak and his colleagues go through such pains to find efficient forms of communication, no need to reiterate it. While it’s true that such transmitters are ideal for sending and receiving signals from ETs, these machines have yet to be built. Shostak points out that since the first experiment in 1960, progress in SETI positively correlates with advancements in technology. The Allen Telescope Array is proof of this and allows scientists to probe signals much faster than they could before. However, the SETI program is limited in its resources, which accounts for lacking in major results. Shostak reminds us that the program is not directly funded and its astrophysicists are indirectly funded through NASA. On being asked whether the Obama administration has been helpful, Shostak cleverly quipped, “I don’t think we’re even on their radar… but I do think [funding] should be reconsidered.” Adding to, concluding the failure of SETI is premature, seeing as "We have carefully examined only 0.0000005 percent of a single galaxy." (More proof that “out there” is very big.”) It appears to be a waste of time now, but because we have not probed the entire galaxy, the window of opportunity still exists and the process will be gradual and therefore, has ample chance to prove itself fruitful. Clearly, you are an uninformed, disengaged mere spectator on the topic, and we are all already, over you. Peirergia: Shostak appears “prejudiced” merely because he presents a refreshing optimistic view on the topic. Denouncing SETI as a bad science because it “keeps looking… for an application” is contradictory to what science truly is, which is the practice of continuously experimenting and observing until laws of nature can be found and proved. Disputes about SETI’s importance and validation erupt from impatience since the science is still developing and has yet to prove itself. Shostak writes about the impact of the world if ETs were discovered, and you can’t help but admire him for the passion and effort he puts toward his work. Moreover, for religious reasons or scientific restraints, this is the sort of topic on which, naysayers will remain unconvinced until proof (by their standards) is obtained. Don’t forget the point of the writing. Regardless of personal opinion, I think the book was intended to expand our view of humanity and reinvigorate the importance of openness to learning, a trait that dissipates as we get older and grow cynical. captainwow: I think you may be confusing things, I think Shostak means that we only have our technology at our disposal (which we do), and betterment f our technology will bear more effective results receiving and transmitting signals from them (ETs) , based on the premise that their technology is levels more advanced than ours. Also, an SETI scientist with a geocentric view would be the worst kind of for this field, seeing as how their work demands both determination and imagination, the latter, making the true value of the search difficult to understand.
atlantiscats Avatar
Posted: 01.13.11, 11:48 AM
Seth isn't even looking the right way to begin with (radio waves?)! As to aliens coming here, I saw them and it was downtown Miami, Florida in the middle of the afternoon. Don't care what you think or say, that is the fact. Just because HE didn't see something doesn't mean it isn't.
InfinitOne Avatar
Posted: 09.26.10, 07:21 PM
Imagine that ETs are orbiting right now our solar system . . . They must have great technology to be able to read and understand this "discussion". Then, their logical reaction would be to unplug their translator, flag ppl on earth as being immature for another 10k years and move on to another system.
captainwow Avatar
Posted: 09.21.10, 06:39 PM
We are human! The most intelligent beings in the let's go watch the jersey shore. WHY do people have such a geocentric view of intelligence? It's as if everyone assumes that if there is an intelligent civilization somewhere, they are following our same rules and only have our current technology at their disposal. I think that any advanced civilization might be well beyond the ipad by now, and they certainly won't be listening for radio signals. Any intelligent life that has the ability to travel a few quadrillion miles through space is going to have technology of the shock and awe know, sort of like television in 1939. But why haven't we seen them? There is that whole "distance" problem. If we look at a galaxy 25 million light years away, what do we see? We see that galaxy as it was 25 million years ago, not as it is "now". Just think of what Earth was like 25 million years ago, it would be of little consequence to an intelligent society unless they had the means of actually getting there. Even if someone sent a message from some distant galaxy, by the time we intercept that message, that entire civilization could be dust. Are we really such a scientifically advanced society? "In our endeavor to understand reality we are somewhat like a man trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. He sees the face and the moving hands, even hears its ticking, but he has no way of opening the case." - Einstein "“Our imagination is stretched to the utmost, not, as in fiction, to imagine things which are not really there, but just to comprehend those things which 'are' there.” - Richard Feynman "Very likely, we are still confused beginners with the very wrong mental pictures, and the ultimate reality remains far beyond our grasp. The old cartographer's term terra incognita comes to mind. The more we discover, the less we seem to know. That's physics in a nutshell." - Leonard Susskind The universe is so absurdly and infinitely enormous. It's impossible to say whether life exists or not. The probability however? Based on just the size of the Universe as we observe it is pretty staggering. If there is an alien civilization, i think it's safe to assume that they - are nothing like us, have technology beyond anything we have ever imagined, and will view us as we view a baby, kind of cute until it starts screaming and throwing up all over itself.
Mark Sullivan Avatar
Mark Sullivan
Posted: 08.27.10, 10:27 PM
There is no evidence of intelligent life, as we understand it, existing anywhere but earth. There is no evidence of space ships from other living beings. That's the end of the discussion for me. Theories or assumed probabilities or computer models are not scientific proof. When I see scientific proof, I'll believe it, otherwise it's just an exciting story of make believe and "what if."
Periergeia Avatar
Posted: 06.19.10, 11:45 PM
"He's in charge of SETI, so I have to believe he knows something about astronomy and the cosmos." Neither of this makes him a good astronomer, it does make him highly prejudiced towards his own approach to the problem, though. SETI is not good science because it keeps looking desperately for an application for a certain, very limited, and most likely, in this context, utterly useless technology. You can make a very, very solid argument based on textbook theory (astronomy and communications), why SETI would never find a shred of a signal, even in a cosmos that was flowing over with intelligent life that keeps exchanging a complete Googleplex of information every femtosecond. "The outrageously large size of the universe makes it very very very very unlikely that any extraterrestrial civilization would ever know that human civilization exists..." Except, of course, that knowledge about us is not limited by the size of the universe but merely by its optical transparency, which, as far as we can tell, is near perfect over the distance of even ten billion light years. The only other, and more severe limit, is the length of observation. Based on current understanding of the limits of optical astronomy and based on the assumptions that life is rather ubiquitous and not a rare event (let's through that anthropocentric thought out the window for starters), any civilization that can afford to observe for millions of years, is almost certain to detect and to communicate another intelligence out there. Same for travel... it's slow, but slow is really in the eye of the beholder. If the universe has given us one gift of major importance, plenty of time would be it. Travel, in a relativistic universe, by the way, would probably not be done in form of any material implementation of a space ship, anyway. The easiest, safest and most comfortable form of travel is by lightwave... which sync's any two civilizations willing do do so with a curve of minimal length. The only reason why we have such a favor for baryonic matter is because we are based on it, which is really just a matter of local evolution, not a hard physical law of the universe. Our form of "incorporation", however, might change in the future and possibly will have to, if we want to join the club of galactic civilizations. As they say, nothing comes for free... and if you want to grow up, you have to give up being a baby. "Like in most debates, the burden of proof falls onto the side of those posing a theory and not the skeptic." There is not even a "theory" here. There are only fairly useless hypothesis, for which absolutely no data exists, either way. In the absence of any kind of empirical data, science conventionally rejects these kinds of hypothesis using Occam's razor. What's interesting, though, is that the debate never seems to get off the ground of the scientifically naive, not even when people with serious science backgrounds are involved in it. Either, they haven't thought it through, because it does not interest them, or, there is just too much a psychological barrier to admit that we are only made for life on a small planet and not amidst the stars...
Skeptic_Philosophy Avatar
Posted: 06.18.10, 01:10 PM
I think you might be selling Seth short... he said himself said, "It isn't impossible that aliens are visited earth." He then goes on to explain in very simple terms his reasons for doubting their presence. Although these explanations seem to be dismissive, they are actually based in strong science (He's in charge of SETI, so I have to believe he knows something about astronomy and the cosmos) Kanajlo hit the nail on the head with the above comment. The outrageously large size of the universe makes it very very very very unlikely that any extraterrestrial civilization would ever know that human civilization exists, and that distance also makes it very very very very unlikely (if not impossible) that they could get here anyway (based upon what we know of the laws of the universe). Like in most debates, the burden of proof falls onto the side of those posing a theory and not the skeptic. We just don't 'buy it.' If you're going to wholeheartedly pose alien visitation as an explanation for such phenomenon, then being able to present something other than speculation, grainy internet videos or unsubstantiated third-person reports is a necessary requirement to convince individuals who hold themselves to empirical methodologies. Now I know that just because no human has ever found a unicorn, that it is not entirely impossible that they exist... but no amount of internet videos or passionate conspiracy / pseudo-newage science is going to make them any more likely.
Periergeia Avatar
Posted: 06.15.10, 06:30 PM
"Communication would be too slow." Only measured by human time scales. If you allow for evolution into a space enabled species, the argument goes out the window. It merely means that cosmic time scales are not particularly favorable to us... it doesn't mean they aren't favorable to something we might become. Do I need to give an example? Gladly. Humans can't dive to 500-1000m (1500-3000feet). Sperm whales can... "Transmitters would have to be unbelievably powerful and aimed directly at us." Not really... one simply has to apply the conventional theory found in any textbook on communication systems. Why wouldn't they aim their transmitter at us? After all, they would have seen us (literally) way before they would attempt to communicate. The "aiming" technology is exactly the same for communication as it is for high resolution imaging across the galaxy. We are simply talking about large interferometric space based optical telescopes here. And the total transmitter power required is probably in the kW to low MW range if done right... Which, by the way, also means that the signal is aimed at a rather small region in space... and it requires a similar technology for detection that was used to send it... located in the right region in space... for sure not on Earth. Why would one aim a perfectly focused wavefront at a planet with a crappy atmosphere that will scramble it beyond reconstruction? One wouldn't. "They" wouldn't, either. SETI, of course, is looking in the wrong place and at the wrong frequency. No civilization in their right mind will communicate in the RF or microwave range. They will use an optical signal.
phlipper Avatar
Posted: 02.16.10, 10:06 AM
There are no doubt billions of civilizations "out there". "Out there" is too big and too far. Communication would be too slow. Transmitters would have to be unbelievably powerful and aimed directly at us. We will never hear from them; they will never hear from us --ever. SETI is a waste of time and money. Wrap your head around that and get over it.
Humanbabysteps Avatar
Posted: 02.15.10, 05:51 AM
Prove its untrue.
And as you know little to nothing on these subjects the possibility that aliens could come to visit us is a simple question to answer, not by argument nor by demonstration nor using your reason: you answer this question with the only thing you have which is, I admit, a lot of imagination.![/QUOTE] "The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination." -Albert Einstein