SETI: Is it not obvious that we’re the only technologically advanced civilization in the Milky Way?


BO: What do you make of SETI researchers who apparently see nothing wrong with searching for extraterrestrial life within our galaxy?

FH: I don’t know how to explain it. Everyone from celebrities like Carl Sagan and Steven Hawking to lesser known researchers seem to talk as if it were a reasonable possibility. Clearly, they have heard the argument against it (I’ve actually read an argument somewhere that’s pretty close to this): the diameter of the Milky way is only around 100,000 light years. The universe itself is over 13 billion years old. How long after the invention of large sailing ships did it take us to explore the farthest reaches of earth? Less than 500 years.  How long before we spread to the rest of the Milky Way? A few million years, assuming no major technological breakthroughs that would allow us to travel faster through space than scientists now think is possible. So if you’re looking for other intelligent life in the Milky Way, you’re actually gambling that by some incredible fluke, after billions and billions of years, our species just happened to emerge at exactly the same time (plus or minus 500,000 years) as some other species.

BO: Isn’t the counterargument that maybe they don’t have the same adventurous exploratory spirit that we do?

FH: Everybody in science talks about evolutionary theory. They study in mind-numbing detail how exactly life has been evolving. They can’t possibly think that a species will voluntarily confine itself to one particular region when it has the opportunity to spread. Especially when they have zero faith in our own species to render free-market economies obsolete.

BO: But you gotta admit there are too many possibilities to consider in order for you to draw such a sweeping conclusion that we’re the only intelligence in the Milky Way. For example, it could be that advanced beings migrate into some form of subspace or alternate universe rather than colonize the visible universe.

FH: Come on. Why not do both? Maybe their resources are too scarce to do both? In that case, they’d flood the galaxy claiming every last resource they can find. We’d have been wiped out millions or billions of years ago.

BO: Maybe we’ve been seeded by aliens.

FH: Get real. That would be like us trying to build skyscrapers without the use of cranes.

BO: How so?

FH: Evolution by natural selection is painstakingly slow. You can explore a lot more a lot faster by engineering it yourself.

BO: But maybe there is a reason you and I haven’t thought of, yet.

FH: I think the real issue here is that somehow people aren’t able to strategic step. I’m not even doubting the goal itself. Obviously, as the author of the The Search for Terrestrial Intelligence, I think it makes no sense to look for outside intelligence. But I’m saying, that even if I agreed with SETI, there seems to be a mind-boggling contrast between the technical ability and high level decision-making. It’s almost like there’s a law where the higher-level the decisions that need to be made, the dumber people become.

BO: Is it not a social limitation in that they’re aware of all the arguments, it’s just that they sort of democratize the higher-level thinking. I believe in Jesus. You don’t. But we have this implicit agreement that we’ll tolerate each other’s opinions as equally valid.

FH: That’s probably the right way to think about it. In essence, people will agree anything, as long as the majority opinion pressures them to do so. So, for example, if Hitler had won WWII, we’d now be sitting here shaking our heads at the atrocious short-sightedness of humanistic thinkers. “How could people believe such nonsense as equality?” everyone would be saying.

BO: But it’d still be pure conformity?

FH: That’s exactly what I think. The logical correctness doesn’t matter. Without realizing it, people are hopeless conformists.

BO: So in other words, the only way forward is an insistence on correct reasoning. Trying to get people to fight for your cause or converting people over to your ideology is a waste of time?

FH: It’s a total waste of time in that you’re not doing a fucking thing to change people. If tomorrow, Hitler is in charge, everyone will be saying that they were anti-Semites all along, that they believed that all along.

BO: But will they really believe Jews are evil?

FH: If everyone around them believes it, it will feel just as correct as freedom and democracy does to them today.

BO: Isn’t it kind of amazing that such an obvious idea wouldn’t bother anyone else?

FH: I don’t know what to make of it, really. They’re too dumb to comprehend.

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