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Re: SETI public: Why is ET silent?



Albert, you suggested a few reasons for ETI's silence: if they are that 
superior, contact with us may be irrelevant to them; or they might be 
able to gather all their information without detection by ourselves; we 
may be so ordinary we're not worth the trouble; they may be operating a 
kind of 'prime directive' because we are unique. Lastly you suggest that 
ETI may be silent because ETI simply isn't there. All these areall  
possible, of course. Personally, however, I favour a multiple approach. 
If ETI exists, then it seems pretty likely that there is more than one: 
to have precisely two anomalous planets in a galaxy (i.e., two which 
harbour intelligence) seems unlikely - either just one, or several tens, 
would seem more plausible, otherwise we'd be looking at the most 
extraordinary cosmic coincidence. So I suggest that the best answer to 
the issue of ETI's silence might be 'all of the above' - with the 
exception of the 'ETI isn't there' idea, which has to stand alone for 
obvious reasons.

There could be as many reasons for silence as there are species of ETI. 
Some may have retreated into internal 'virtual' space. Some may be so 
impossibly far advanced that they would no more seek to talk to us than 
we would to a slime mold. Others may be closer to us in technological 
level, but governed by a prime directive. Others may garner their 
information remotely. Others may be entirely non-technological. Some may 
be unable to bridge the gulf between their mode of communication and 
ours. Some may not believe we are sentient. Some may have 'evolved' into 
machine form and only be interested in other machines. In addition, life 
may be rare. I think seeking to impose one single explanation on all ETI 
is unrealistic (I know this is not what any of us were trying to do, but 
I just think it's worth stating expressly). If humans are not the only 
sentient creatures, then we have to accept that life in the universe will 
exhibit a profound diversity - diversity on an unimaginable scale, in 
fact. Thus the differences between ourselves and ETI are the things most 
likely to account for silence. And by the same token, there will be many 
different *kinds* of differences!

If the silence could be entirely explained by a single factor, it would 
imply the intervention of some overarching principle. This could be built 
into the cosmos - say if there is a quantum paradox inherent in 
consciousness which we have escaped through some strange biological back 
door; or, gamma ray bursts have a hidden periodicity which results in 
eradication of all higher life once every few tens of millions of 
years... It's pretty hard to imagine a cosmic 'rule' which allows humans 
and prevents absolutely all other forms of sentience, but there might be 
one. But there is another sort of overarching principle which could 
operate, one vbased not on physics, but on life...

If the silence is to be explained by a single factor, could that factor 
be created by ETI themselves? Is there perhaps one species which achieved 
sentience and technological supremacy very early in the galaxy's 
evolution, and which has regulated the affairs of all other ETI's ever 
since? The intervention might go entirely unnoticed: a rogue planet 
strays through a solar system and wipes out a species which was 
unacceptably aggressive; radio beams targetted at a star with ETI are 
cancelled out at the reception point; interstellar probes fail and are 
too expensive to recreate; even stock market crashes or personality 
changes in key individuals could be enough to regulate a culture! A 
sufficiently advanced race could create machines stationed around every 
star which did all this for them. They would be entirely capable of 
intervening directly in human affairs or those of another species, with 
zero risk of detection. How much more advanced than us would they have to 
be? It's a guess, but I'd say no more than a few million years - which is 
a trivial amount of time in galactic affairs. So, if one species arrived 
before all others, and had sufficient time to spread their technology 
through the galaxy (let's give them a 50 million year head start to allow 
for that), then they would become regulators of all other ETI, de facto. 
Perhaps they would be responsible for creating and fostering sentience as 
well as controlling it.

Do bacteria in a lab know that they were bred and engineered? Are they 
aware that the reason that they are unable to exchange plasmid rings with 
other strains of bacteria is because the lab machines maintain each 
culture in a sterile environment? The technology that controls them is 
beyond their perceptual capability. Maybe contact will only happen when 
one of the lab technicians decides it would be productive, for their own 
undiscernible ends...

This speculation aside, blanket explanations for ETI's silence can only 
possibly work in the single scenario where we are the only intelligence 
there is - and this will require evidence that our sun is unique in some 
way: at present we do not have the ability to detect suns with similar 
configurations, so we can neither prove nor disprove this conjecture. In 
the meantime, IMHO, the only way to explain ETI's silence without resort 
to some kind of special case, is to assume that (a) life may be quite 
sparse, and (b) there are hundreds of different reasons for ETI to appear 
silent - so we may need there to be hundreds of ETI's before we stand a 
chance.

Richard