SETI: A project of fools or charlatans?

Discussion in 'Astronomy, Exobiology, & Cosmology' started by Dinosaur, May 29, 2012.

  1. Dinosaur Rational Skeptic Valued Senior Member

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    Even when it was first started circa 50-60 years ago, it should have been obvious that there was very close to a zero probability that it would detect & recognize signals from some technological ET culture.

    I wonder if the organizers were sociologist or psychologist types with little knowledge of hard science & technology.

    To me, the other alternative is that they figured running such a project would allow them access to higher salaries & perks than teaching or doing potentially useful research. When they started SETI, I do not think they had any competitive groups, while various more plausible research projects had many groups/individuals vying for funding.

    I find it hard to believe that a knowledgeable physicist would expect the SETI project to be successful.
     
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  3. Neverfly Banned Banned

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    It's not always a matter of expectations. They most likely did expect it would not be successful- But still worth the chance.

    Frankly, I agree.
     
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  5. NMSquirrel OCD ADHD THC IMO UR12 Valued Senior Member

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    if Seti were born in this day and age do you think it would have gotten off the ground?

    I would think if it did it would have a better chance..(keep in mind they would not have the lack of data from the seti project as an argument against it)
    since they are finding more and more planets in other galaxies the argument would be more valid today than it was 50-60 years ago..

    plug the numbers into the drake equation from then and from now..
     
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  7. OnlyMe Valued Senior Member

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    What killed Seti was the transition to digital media. Something that was not even dreamed of when the project was first begun. As we moved to a digital signal, it was realized that all advanced civilizations, would likely have done the same. Trying to dig out a digital signal is like trying to decode the static. And after all that an analog technology has less than a 100 year widow, before it begins to move to digital.

    There could actually be a signal from an advanced civilization in the old data, but we have a hard time decoding our own signals. There really is little hope we would recognize much less decode an completely alien signal.
     
  8. prometheus viva voce! Registered Senior Member

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    In order for SETI to succeed it doesn't have to decode a signal, it just has to find and recognises a signal that is not just random noise, and we understand random noise to be able to tell pretty well when something is not that.
     
  9. AlexG Like nailing Jello to a tree Valued Senior Member

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    But if we don't decode the signal, how do we build the wormhole transporter?

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  10. Epictetus here & now Registered Senior Member

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    I think SETI should continue regardless of the cost. What could be more fascinating than discovering and possibly communicating with extraterrestrial intelligent life? I can imagine the dangers of calling out a far more advanced civilization, and I can't imagine the wonders they might introduce to us if they were friendly. Perhaps they are about as advanced as us but are (again) unimaginably different.

    What if they are not there at all, or so remote in time and space there is no chance of encountering then?

    All I can say is I would rather be of a race that is at least searching for -listening for- signs of extraterrestrial intelligent life than one that is not. That would be provincialism on a universal scale!
     
  11. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

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    Why should that have been obvious? For that matter, why is it obvious today?

    SETI has always been run on a shoestring budget. There are no big bucks in SETI now, and there never have been.

    Why?
     
  12. prometheus viva voce! Registered Senior Member

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    I should also have said that it has to find a non random signal and be able to show it doesn't come from a (known) natural source. The LGM pulsar discoveries are the classic example of a non random signal being nothing to do with little green men.
     
  13. Rav Valued Senior Member

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    We'll just have to hope that some obscenely rich and talented engineer turned entrepreneur decides to help out.

    Either that or we could just turn it into a puzzle and embed it in a video game.
     
  14. Pete It's not rocket surgery Registered Senior Member

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    Hey Dinosaur, did you ever ask a beautiful girl out on a date?
    Would you rather try and get rejected, or die wondering if she might have said yes?

    I think that's why people do SETI... because the potential payoff is so awesome, that the odds aren't a major factor.
     
    Last edited: May 29, 2012
  15. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Actually the odds are a major factor, but only one of three major factors. In any contingency analysis (actuarial analysis, risk analysis, etc.) there are always (at least) three variables that must be taken into account:
    • Probability
    • Benefit (or damage) if the contingency is realized.
    • Cost of pursuing the particular strategy (changing the probability, changing the benefit or damage, transferring the risk to an insurance company, etc.)
    As has already been noted on this thread:
    • The cost of SETI is ridiculously low in comparison to other publicly funded projects.
    • The potential benefit of realization of the contingency (discovering another post-industrial civilization) is incalculable. The mere knowledge of its existence would bring about a healthy change in human culture: taking the chip off of our shoulder, doing away with the anthropocentric model of the universe, normalizing our religions, etc. The possibility of actually communicating with these "people" would drive a whole new explosion of science and engineering, even though the time lag would be decades at a minimum, and more probably centuries.
    • Therefore an accurate calculation of the probability is not important. It is clearly not zero, and with such an enormous cost-benefit ratio, that's all that matters.
     
  16. Yazata Valued Senior Member

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    Dinosaur --

    Why do you believe that there's "very close to a zero probability" that humans can "detect and recognize" electromagnetic emissions from extra-terrestrials?

    What "knowledge of hard science & technology" do you possess that you believe justifies your "very close to zero probability" conclusion?

    In order to make your views persuasive, you'll need to actually explain what your argument is, not just assume that somehow it's obvious.
     
    Last edited: May 29, 2012
  17. Boris2 Valued Senior Member

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  18. Repo Man Valued Senior Member

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    The tag line is a false dichotomy.
     
  19. markl323 Registered Senior Member

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    the same philosophy can be said about lottery winning. if the chance of you dying in car accident is much greater than the chance of winning a lottery, why should you buy?

    nothing ventured nothing gained. this is one of those things where, IF it ever pays out, it does ASTRONOMICALLY well.
     
  20. Dinosaur Rational Skeptic Valued Senior Member

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    Some remarks from other posters.
    Hey Dinosaur, did you ever ask a beautiful girl out on a date? Would you rather try and get rejected, or die wondering if she might have said yes?

    Yes I often asked popular & beautiful girls for a date, figuring it was not a great loss if I got turned down. It only cost a few minutes to make a phone call or talk to a girl at a piano bar or a party. However, I never traveled to Hollywood (from the East Coast) or waited at a Broadway stage door to try for a date with Marilyn Monroe or Katherine Hepburn. While being rejected by one of them would not hurt, the probability of success seemed too near zero to make it worth the time/effort required.

    if Seti were born in this day and age do you think it would have gotten off the ground?

    I would think if it did it would have a better chance..(keep in mind they would not have the lack of data from the seti project as an argument against it)

    since they are finding more and more planets in other galaxies the argument would be more valid today than it was 50-60 years ago..

    plug the numbers into the drake equation from then and from now.


    50-60 years ago most who thought about the subject expected there to be many planets in the universe. Our recent observations of some of them did not change such expectations. This remark is not pertinent to the issue.

    The Drake equation was a joke when it was first conceived. It was merely organized wild guessing at the numbers to be plugged in. I suppose that today our guesses might be better, but it is still not a good method for estimating the number of technological cultures in the universe.​
    The following deserves some cogent agruments.
    Why do you believe that there's "very close to a zero probability" that humans can "detect and recognize" electromagnetic emissions from extra-terrestrials?

    What "knowledge of hard science & technology" do you possess that you believe justifies your "very close to zero probability" conclusion?

    In order to make your views persuasive, you'll need to actually explain what your argument is, not just assume that somehow it's obvious.​
    The most obvious reason why the probability is close to zero is the inverse square law. Actually, close to zero is optimistic: 10[sup]-10[/sup] might be a more realistic estimate. Consider radio & TV signals from Earth: How strong are they at Alpha Centauri (4 light years away) or Bernard’s Star (6 light years); How strong from stars 50-100 light years or more from Earth? Could we detect our transmissions as strong as ours coming from one of those stars? I say no way, although I am not certain about distances like 4-10 light years. Of course, consider the probability of ET being closer than 10-20 light years.

    Consider the history of the Earth. It is circa 4.6 billions years old. Ignoring the inverse square law problem, imagine that distant ET Cultures are able to detect signals from us. As of now, they could receive signals for circa 100 years out of 4.6 billion years. Even with 100/4.6 billion for probability, they would not detect any signals if they did not point their antenna in exactly the correct direction. From say 1000 light years, their antenna would miss us if the direction was off by a damn small angle.

    Unless ET is transmitting incredibly strong signals directly toward Earth, we have a zilch chance of detecting their signals. Why would ET be directing signals orders of magnitude stronger than our Radio/TV signals toward us?

    I consider the above arguments to be fairly obvious & did not expect posters here to require much explanation. Those arguments do not require knowledge of cosmology or advanced physics. They should be obvious to a teenager who paid attention in a high school science course.

    BTW: There are some threads which analyzed the possible number of technological cultures in the universe. While there is much disagreement on this issue, a critical analysis strongly supports the notion of some life elsewhere, but strongly indicates that most people way overestimate the number of technological cultures.
     
  21. Epictetus here & now Registered Senior Member

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    Right you are Markl323. Let's not be like the ostrich.

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  22. Pete It's not rocket surgery Registered Senior Member

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    Hi Dinosaur,
    I think we agree it's a judgment call of potential payoff vs cost.

    So how much invetment in SETI do you judge to be worthwhile?
    If someone else judges differently and chooses to invest their resources, is that a problem?
    How much time and money is actually invested in SETI anyway?

    Regarding chances of success, I seem to recall that in the seti&home FAQ (can't access it now), they did not expect to be able to detect anything except a deliberate signal.

    An unanswerable question (unless we take the improbable assumption that alien motivations are similar to human motivations), which means that we really can't make any estimate of the odds of such a signal being sent. The only way to find out if such a signal exists is to look and see.

    Which means we're back to the judgment call of how much of our resources are worth investing. I think the general consensus is that it's not worth investing much, but it is worth investing some.
     
    Last edited: May 31, 2012
  23. Dinosaur Rational Skeptic Valued Senior Member

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    Pete: My original question related to the brain power and/or the motivation of those who run SETI. Note title of the Thread: Fools or charlatans?

    Following from your recent post.
    I think we agree it's a judgment call of potential payoff vs cost.

    So how much invetment in SETI do you judge to be worthwhile?
    If someone else judges differently and chooses to invest their resources, is that a problem?​
    I do not think SETI is worth investing 50 dollars. I think the probability of success is no more than 10[sup]-10[/sup]. Even if we detected a signal, I do not see any payback other than being able to say: "Gee whiz! There is a technological culture out there." Could we hope to decode meaningful information from an ET signal? Could we engage in a conversation with ET?

    If a person wants to invest in foolish projects, it is his/her problem not mine. However, I do not think that individuals are financing SETI.

    I think their funds come from the government (my tax dollars) or from universities which could more profitably fund other projects or scholarships.

    My personal opinion is that those who run SETI never expected it to be successful. I think they are motivated by a desire to receive salaries be allowed to play with the toys required. It could also be a publish or perish motivation which occurs in the academic community.

    BTW: SETI is not the first SciFi-like nonsense.

    NASA once sent a probe intended to go beyond our solar system. It included some recorded message like "Greetings: We are from SOL's 3rd Rock." The message was repeated in (I think) 50+ languages, making it absolutely unintelligible to an ET who managed to play the recording.

    It would make more sense to pick one language & record a long message describing some of the of the items included with the probe. I think there were some anatomical diagrams included. ET might have a chance of decoding such a single language message.
     

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