Should we be looking for intentional EM signals?
The SETI program represents an unquenchable desire we humans have in learning more about who we are within the grand scheme of things. However, the fundamental arguments supporting the search for stray signals as an indicator of cosmic life are counterintuitive. To go one step further and redefine this need as a search for intentional EM signals is a galactic blunder.
To be clear, the search for life in the universe is not just a noble cause, but a must for a species of sociality. Our inherent tendency to expand our potential is part of our model of survival known as entropic adaptation.
That said, the proposed methods used by SETI are scientifically barred from attaining the intended goals.
Some perspective: Our planet represents a combination of characteristics that supports the type of life we know and (partially) understand. We have a general idea when certain kinds of life lived and died on Earth over millions of years — simply dig up the evidence. Thus the period in which modern humans came on the scene is a very recent development. We represent an incredibly small slice of time in the context of our planet, much less the universe.
With the ratio of life on Earth to modern humans heavily stacked against us, we are but a flavour of the day in the history of life on Earth. To look at our incredibly small slice of time on this planet, we find that humans took a very long time to develop social intelligence that gave rise to complex tools — aiding growth of our social complexity in what defines our habitation on Earth. As a result, the industrial revolution saw unprecedented changes to human habitation and our understanding of how the universe works. Still, the boom of radio communications was but discovered only a few generations ago. The name Tesla — still fresh in our minds.
With this clear understanding that our species has discovered EM signals only “a moment ago” begs the question: Just how many other species in the universe are intentionally using a technology fundamentally barred from cosmic use? To answer this question, we need only consider timing. How much advancement has humans gained with EM signals? Clearly, the growth of our development in this area is proportional to our entropic style of adaptation: exponential.
With such a spike in advancement from a species who’s only just discovered this technology, and who’s only just discovered planets and stars, and who’s only just arrived in the last minute of Earth’s calendar… just where is the evidence that all other possible life in the universe arrived at the very same time as we — or developed technologically at the very same rate and time?
The mathematical probability of our civilization finding life in the universe through EM signals is proportional to finding a specific grain of sand on a beach at a specific location and time. While this author has presented this argument before, it should be underlined that locating a species in the vastness of the universe is but a three dimensional puzzle (difficult still). Add to this not just the fourth dimension of time, but the universal component of entropic adaptation for any species of sociality: Just who would still be using EM signals given the explosive nature of our discovery coupled with its fundamental limit as a means to communicate through the cosmos?
Given the age of the universe, the probability of any other species existing millions of years ahead of our development is magnitudes higher than finding a species hundreds of thousands of years ahead of us. Again, the larger the exponential ratio is the closer in time we compare with our stage of development. To that, how long might it have taken such civilizations to abandon EM signals given how fast we’ve developed in the time since Tesla? Just what are our expectations in this context? Clearly, the use of EM signals from the perspective of a species who’s just discovered it a ‘moment ago’ is clearly limited on a galactic scale.
Lastly, to humour those with a fixation in lottery numbers: if we did find a signal (as it would be clearly intentional), would we truly want to communicate, much less declare our presence to said civilization — given what we know of ourselves in this current time of volatile discovery? Just who would we be inviting home?
It’s likely to be a more prudent and feasible use of our time searching for life through methods not fundamentally barred from galactic use. For in doing so, we might actually find what we’re looking for. Anything else might be an insult to those we might actually want to communicate with.