SETI – Your Opinion Doesn’t Matter: part 3

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This is part 3 and final installment in the Your Opinion Doesn’t Matter blog. Please read parts 1 and 2 for context.

In part 2 I divided spurious opinions regarding topics in SETI into 3 categories: science-free, anti-scientific, and convicted statements of the “self evident.” Here we exemplify the last category.

Convicted Opinions that are not so Self-Evident

Steven Hawking is the epitome of scientific hero. He overcame dramatic life challenges to become a peerless leader in the progress of general relativity theory of gravity and quantum mechanics. When it comes to theoretical gravitation, I’m not fit to tie his bootlaces. But he isn’t God. (I hear the jingling of sharpened spoons outside my window.) As far as I know! Speaking of intelligent life elsewhere, he said[4], “To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational.” This quote appears only because it supports my own point of view, ha ha! I’m about to say that Hawking isn’t the best source for information about ET.

Unlike many people, Hawking has an imagination: “I imagine they [aliens] might exist in massive ships, … become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach.” Whoa! Where did that come from? Possibly… from a science fiction movie?  Proof that Steven Hawking is really a college undergraduate at heart.  (jingle…) Ahem, that was just my little joke, Mr. Dr. Professor Hawking. Sir.

It is plausible that Hawking’s comment inspired this excellent book[5], penned by scientists** who really are expert*** in SETI issues. For the greater part, experts suggest that aliens are more likely to be altruistic — willing to help us out with no expectation of immediate reward — than predatory. For example, members of a predatory species that have conquered their planet will have only each other to prey upon. This is a state of unstable equilibrium. So they had better lose their predatory instincts fast, or annihilation is inevitable in the long run. Hence, the aliens are not likely to be purely predatory.

**By sheer coincidence, this book is edited by none other than Doug Vakoch, the Director for Interstellar Message Construction at the SETI Institute, with an office a few doors down from mine.

*** At least, as expert as anyone could be.

So, what do you think? It doesn’t matter! “Do aliens exist?” is a question that will someday be answered by science. Provided we don’t give up on the search for them.

[4] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/space/7631252/Stephen-Hawking-alien-life-is-out-there-scientist-warns.html

[5] http://www.amazon.com/Extraterrestrial-Altruism-Evolution-Frontiers-Collection/dp/3642377491

About gharp

Trained in condensed matter physics at U.W.-Milwaukee; was once Assoc. Prof. of Physics at Ohio University, Athens, OH. Switched to Astrophysics in 2000 and joined SETI Institute in Mountain View, CA . Presently Harp is the director for SETI research and works with the radio telescope. Allen Telescope Array (ATA), to perform SETI and astrophysics observations.

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