A brief added SETI thought or two

Following up on my earlier posting that contained updates on SETI…

I like and respect the Neil de Grasse Tyson. His new COSMOS is a delightful rallying call for the Enlightenment against encroaching darkness. Still… sometimes I think he is quite happy to be the only smart guy in the room. And that leads to mental laziness. Like this claptrap piece of “logic:”


“There’s a worm in the street, you walk by it. Does the worm know that you think you’re smart? The worm has no concept of your smarts. Because you’re that much smarter than the worm. So the worm has no idea that something smart is walking by it. Which makes me wonder whether we have any concept — if a super species walked by us. Maybe they’re uninterested in us because we’re too stupid for them to even imagine having a conversation. You don’t walk by worms and go “Gee, I wonder what the worm is thinking.” This is just not a thought that you have! So one of the best pieces of evidence for why we haven’t been visited by aliens is that they have actually observed us, and concluded there is no intelligent sign of life on earth.”

Neil’s generally a very smart and wiseguy, but his reasoning here is just lazy and specious. No… it is hogwash.

51Jvq5Ml2mLThink about it. We do have experts who are very curious about the brain activity of worms! I could introduce you to some.

True, your average worm won’t meet such specialists! But that proves nothing because the scaling is not the same. There are millions of worms per person on Earth. But the maximum possible or conceivable rate of appearance of a new technological/sapient species in our galaxy is perhaps once per year. In other words, each arrival of intelligent life in the Milky Way is an “event” – noteworthy and meriting effort to study — even if we are far lower than the godlike elite.

this elite won’t have to deign to stoop to our level. They will be able to deputize sub-intelligences, commanding them to be interested and study new sapient races. Indeed, it could be dangerous for them not to create such deputies, designed to be just a bit smarter than us, to study us and other “worms” at our level. And sure, that may be happening! Read some of my novels

childhoods-end…or Childhood’s End — where Arthur C. Clarke provides a chilling glance of a universe in which humans are at the bottom of an intellectual food chain. Yet they do not ignore us; in fact they take great interest in our species.

What it comes down to is that the “we’re like worms” explanation for lack of contact is worth discussing! But it is not an “of course” that can blithely dismiss the Fermi Paradox. It is one hypothesis – and not one of the top ones – among a hundred or so that range from barely-possible, to somewhat plausible, all the way to “kind-of likely.”

The crux of this? That even brilliant guys can be lazy. Duh? I have that on good authority, from a friend of mine who does not always drink beer. But when he does….

Oh! Here’s a far more cogent summary (from xkcd) of the reason why we shouldn’t make much noise in the cosmos… at least until we know a little more.

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Filed under science fiction, SETI

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