Saturday, December 01, 2007
Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit
Good day, and welcome to December, eh. So how are ya? Come on in, take off your shoes, and have a cup of cocoa with Uncle Marius. One of my most prominent ex-girlfriends had a superstition that on the first day of a new month, before speaking anything else you should say 'rabbit, rabbit, rabbit'. I don't know why, but it is a good excuse to put up a pic of a trio of cute bunnies to go with your coffee. And now, on to the stuff.
Since the late 60's-early 70's the SETI(Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) project has been scanning the night sky for any indication of intelligent life. The project developers, Carl Sagan among them, reasoned that the first signs of an alien civilization would consist of radio signals. He would later flesh out this concept to a grand conclusion in the excellent book Contact, which was made into an ok movie with Jodi Foster, that predicted a peaceful and mutually beneficial meeting between an alien species and ourselves. I've known about SETI for years, and always assumed it to be a passive ear to the cosmic wall, but I just read an article that has me in a bit of an ethical pickle. There are groups that have been advocating what they call 'Active SETI'. The basic premise is that we choose specific stars that seem likely to have life nearby, and beam high powered radio signals directly at them. The concept is sound enough, but there are numerous devils in the details. What should the signals contain? Who makes that decision? And perhaps most importantly does anyone have the right to speak for the entire planet? I say this is a dilemma for yours truly because three such signals have been sent since 1999 that have contained data about our location, biology, and languages. While the peace-loving optimist in me thinks this is a great idea, and that holding out the cosmic olive branch can only end well, there is also the cautious pessimist lurking in the shadows saying 'ok, we've just told any potentially hostile space-faring races out there that there is a habitable, resource filled world here on the galaxy's edge.' So, do we continue to announce our presence, or do we hide our candle under a bushel. No matter the outcome none of us will be alive to see it, since it will take centuries for any signal to reach these stars, and even longer for any spacecraft to get here, but do we have a duty to our descendants to protect them from possible dangers from beyond, or to allow them to be the hosts for our party invitation. I guess it all depends on whether the guests of honor look like this:
Have a glorious day.