The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (“SETI”) is based on a noble concept with sound premises and the late Carl Sagan championed its cause quite effectively. I see SETI’s fundamental outlook as something like this: “With all that space out there, there must be others capable of at least broadcasting in frequencies we can detect.”
Imaginations can run wild with that assertion alone, and giddy anticipation of true communication quickly follows (at least for all us nerds that grew up in the shadow of The Day the Earth Stood Still and other timeless SF classics). But the more likely benefit of searching is a little more practical: We might learn something of value.
But how likely is that?
We haven’t a clue. It depends entirely on what we don’t know. Are we nearing a peak? Have we finally found most of the categories and principles that generally apply to the universe? Or are we just a step or two out of the stone age completely blind to the simplest of fundamental truths?
Generally, even the humblest among us think we know, in this age of science and its advances, at least a lot (if not an awful lot). And as to the stuff we don’t know, we’ve got a good idea already of what that might be, too. That tends to evoke a pie-chart view something like this:
But upon even the slightest reflection, haven’t we felt that way during every step of our completely-misguided infancy? While we don’t know what we don’t know, it seems far more likely that the real pie chart is something more akin to:
That’s not so bad. In fact, it’s downright envigorating to imagine the reach and breadth of what we might still learn, and it strongly suggests that we should be listening, through programs like SETI, with all our hearts. If humanity is still in its technological infancy, the probability is high that anything we detect will originate from something more advanced. It might be hard to recognize. It could be tough to understand. But there’s gold in them hills and the sky is not the limit.
So we listen.
For more information about SETI, visit the SETI Institute. Or view either or both of the following videos, the first being Part 5 of Carl Sagan’s Series, and the second being a 45-minute program about SETI.