What does the search for extraterrestrial Intelligence actually look for

You must understand atoms to be able to comprehend the universe. This includes the forces that hold them together, the contours and dimensions of space and time, as well as the birth and deaths of stars, galaxies in motion, and the secrets of black holes.

This is not sufficient. These ideas can’t explain everything. These ideas can only describe the stars’ light, not the light on Earth. You must understand life and minds to be able to comprehend these lights.

Perhaps intelligent life is watching our lights in the universe and knows what they signify. Or, do our lights wander through a lifeless universe – invisible beacons announcing the existence of the universe on this one rock?

In either case, the question is not bigger. It’s now time to find the answer, to search for other life forms. Breakthrough initiatives make this commitment. We are alive. We are alive. We are intelligent.

The logic of life

Take a close look at Hawking’s logic. He said, “We believe life on Earth arose spontaneously.” In an infinite universe, there must be more life.

There are good reasons for believing that life on Earth arose by chance. However, there are a number of things that “arose randomly on Earth” and have almost certainly never happened anywhere else. Stephen Hawking is among them. The English language is one of them.

What if Hawking spoke English in London with an American accent while Milner spoke English with a Russian one? How many Londons can there be in an infinite universe? How many Londons are there with Stephen and Yuri with their English accents?

Things get more bizarre if we add a few details. Stephen might have eaten wheat, orange juice, and milk. Yuri had coffee, a banana, and a banana. The whole bizarre assemblage “arose on Earth spontaneously.” This does not necessarily mean that it will occur again in the future.

The mission of Enterprise was to “boldly go where nobody has gone before.” Kirk and Spock wouldn’t have been able to return if the task was to visit other planets and find a 51-year-old Russian named Yuri Borisovich Milner, who had a banana and coffee in his stomach, and a brilliant Englishman called Stephen Hawking, who had wheat, milk, and orange juice.

It does not matter if the thing in question arose on Earth spontaneously. It all depends on the generic Nature of that thing.

Does life appear as a wet planet’s surface? Or is it as bizarre as bananas and coffee? We don’t. Hawking doesn’t know, either.

Life’s quirks

It isn’t easy to measure the quirkiness. It is not uncommon to find species with heads. Heads are so common in our relatives that it is easy to think that they are standard.

If we look back at about 600 million years, there was only one proto-head species on Earth. This species was the common ancestral species of all living species today with heads.

Heads are Monophyletic. This means they have evolved only once. They are as unique as a single species. They are just as odd as a naked rat or a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo. Couldn’t life be equally quirky?

Hawking said that in order to understand Earth’s lights, one must also know about the mind and life. What do these lights from the planet Earth mean? These lights are probably the result of someone leaving the lights on.

Someone left the lights on. The Earth is illuminated at night by our inefficient energy use. Their planets would not be able to shine if natural aliens were less wasteful. Marc Imhoff, NASA GSFC, and Christopher Elvidge, NOAA NGDC. Image by NASA GSFC, Craig Mayhew & Robert Simmon.

All those lights are waste. The Earth has wasted radio and television signals for the last 100 years, not because it wanted to broadcast I Love Lucy, but because of our primitive broadcasting strategies.

Stephen’s “shining Earth” is not necessarily a sign of the universe becoming aware. It could be interpreted more accurately as a sign something has been done on Earth that is wasteful.

Signals that used to be broadcast into space are now squeezed into fibers as we gain more knowledge and efficiency. Earth will soon cease promoting millions of mobile phone calls. Cell towers and routers will be incorporated into the wallpaper of every home. The Earth’s light will cease to shine.

It will be the end of wasteful consumption and inadvertently beaming info-waste to space.

Magic of Life

The modified version by Karl Schroeder may be more relevant to SETI searches than Arthur C Clarke’s original.

If a technology is sufficiently advanced, it can be indistinguishable by Nature […]. Either advanced alien civilizations do not exist, or they cannot be seen because their systems are indistinguishable from natural methods.

It’s an interesting idea to be “indistinguishable” from Nature. I wonder if “we are indistinguishable” from Nature. Perhaps the universe is filled with invisible “natural” aliens who live sustainably on their planets and don’t pollute the universe with info-waste.

If Schroeder is right and these indistinguishable-from-nature aliens are the only kind that survive the tests of time, then to find them, SETI searches will need more than Yuri Milner’s 100 million dollars. They deserve all the luck they can get. When we use new instruments to scan the sky, we often discover new things about the universe.

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