SETI bioastro: Re: Proof that gamma-ray bursts are spaceship exhaust?

From: Larry Klaes (
Date: Thu Apr 27 2000 - 12:16:51 PDT

Date: Thu, 27 Apr 2000 08:12:57 -0500 (CDT)
From: Calvin Johnson <>
Subject: Re: Proof that gamma-ray bursts are spaceship exhaust?

> Is the idea that GRBs are technological artifacts of some sort considered
> a sign of psychoceramics, even as pure speculation? It's an idea I've seen
> considered (pro and con) in publications I thought were respectable sources
> for that sort of speculation, particularly in a recentish issue of _Analog_.

It's a great science fiction idea, one I've even toyed with (although I
never put a pencil to paper). But howevermuch I enjoy Analog, it's not what
I would call hard-nosed speculation. I guess it depends on what you mean
by "respectable." Analog's science columnists--and I know one of them,
Prof John Cramer, very well--are very good and usually highly trained
scientists, so they aren't just making up gobbledy-gook. But I still
see Analog as first and formost as entertainment. There is educational
value to John's columns and to others, because they often illustrate
important points about how, say, relativity or quantum mechanics works.

I don't think that discussing in entertainment forums the remote possibility
of GRBs are technological artifacts means one is a candidate for the funny
farm. But I would resist calling it a serious speculation, because it
plays unfair. It's unfair because first (a) it makes a speculation about
at least two things which we know nothing about: the existence of other
intelligence life, and the practicality of interstellar travel. We have zero
evidence regarding either one. Then it (b) makes unconstrained guesses
about the details of travel.

A "serious" attempt to explain gamma-ray bursts invoke something about which
we think we know at least a tiny bit, such as neutron stars or black holes.
We don't know much about them directly, but we do have well-developed
theories and we have observations of objects that are consistent with those
theories. By extending these theories to GRBs we have the advantage of
being constrained by attempting to be consistent. That's how science is
REALLY played: you straightjacket yourself to be as constrained as possible
by what we already know.

That's another reason why the paper in question is a crackpot. It
breaks consistency with the Special Theory of Relativity. It is possible
that Relativity indeed is distance-dependent; after all, almost anything
is "possible." However, the vast majority of our observations and
are all consistent with Relativity being distance-independent, and
experience teaches us that, until you find empirical evidence that cannot
be explained, you are better off being consistent with a well-established and
well-tested theory.

My own version of this theory, which amuses me highly, is that there are
ships traveling at very close to the speed of light plying the starways.
Occasionally they run into a very tiny chunk of matter, maybe the size of a
pebble. Because of the enormous kinetic energy, the ship disintegrates like a
bomb, giving off a burst of gamma rays. Of course I don't really believe
but I like it. :)

> PS - what is ""? My original note was posted to another
> mailing list.

Things apparently get passed around the internet like crazy. META is another
email discussion group, devoted to issues surrounding science.
By the way, I'm cc'ing this message to META (hi folks) because they might
enjoy my discussion.

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