Should we contact extraterrestrial civilizations?
The question is the source of much debate, however the topics of debate might seem miscued. The fundamental answer to the question is yes, however the time and method is really where the debate should focus.
As an evolving species, our natural curiosity will ultimately answer with a unanimous yes for contact. This natural drive to explore is a function of our entropic style of sociality — the built-in function of complex organisms: expanding all possible vectors to continue ones existence. To ask if we should or not is not debatable. Our segmented cultures simply cannot prevent the inevitable action of every human. Someone somewhere will make the attempt, if not already.
The SETI program that searches for possible signals coming from intelligent life is fundamentally misguided. There are several reasons why it’s unlikely a civilization from a distant star system would transmit a signal for others to read. Aside from the mechanics of producing a signal of sufficient power to reach us, we must look to ourselves as an example in how a species of technical growth would communicate. From the time the first radio signal was invented to the complex digital multiplex radio systems used today, our progression in understanding electromagnetic signals has increased exponentially. The timeline for this to happen is a mere blink-of-an-eye in the timeframe of written communications as humans. A mere pop of static in the human timeline, and a microscopic crack in the timeline of the cosmos. If there are thousands of extraterrestrial species in our galaxy alone, the chances just one of them is at our technological stage would be minuscule.
The idea of searching for EM patterns in the cosmos is a contradiction in itself. How much effort is needed to capture the signal from one of our own probes at the edge of our solar system? Given the power needed to reach another star, we would have to wait generations for a possible reply. In that time, our exponential growth in the understanding of EM signals will have changed completely — and for the very same reason our technological understanding will untimely surpass the need for interstellar probes. The Voyageur spacecraft may never reach a distant civilization to deliver the message carved into its golden record. The exponential curve of our advancement will have us flying past it long before it reaches one quarter the distance to the nearest star.
To transmit a massive EM signal into space would be a beacon, self proclaiming our naive and stone-age status to the cosmos. The transmission power would have to be so great, it would be quickly understood as intentional, not expecting a response for hundreds of years. At that point, it’s more likely we would’ve abandoned EM signals all together — replaced by something far faster, efficient, and less harmful. The transmission would also suggest we as a species cannot anticipate our own change, that we’d be technologically frozen in time, waiting for a reply using the same method. If we reached a civilization that could read and decode the message, what are the chances they might realize a reply would be just as foolish as our call? Would they build a transmitter knowing it would take hundreds of years to reach us? Would they conclude that by the time they received the signal, we would have evolved beyond that method already — even more by the time their reply would reach us? Logically, our method of signal is the only message they need to read. Whatever’s contained in the signal would be a certification of our blunder. There’s also the chance our signal could insult the intended recipient — on the basis of expecting them to be equally naive — daring them to reply as though it were a galactic joke.
If we are to earn enough respect from possible advanced civilizations — warranting a reply, we mustn’t contradict ourselves in suggesting we have the ability to anticipate our own evolution. So how then are we to communicate with life in the cosmos if smoke-signals are passé? Research in quantum mechanics is a great direction to explore. Quantum entanglement can be used as a method for instant transmission of information. Further research may find entanglement properties that allow the encoding of messages. Perhaps the broadcast of galactic messages are already in use from entangled particles of light arriving from the stars of the night sky, or perhaps not. In either case, searching for signals in a medium fundamentally barred from galactic use is the same as building a mega-watt stereo speaker to transmit an audio message to someone miles away. Would you expect a reply in the same medium? Perhaps the clear reply will arrive in the form of police knocking at your door — a galactic response I think we’d like to avoid.