Speaker for the Dead


by Brian Koberlein | 18 April 2018 | Thought

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://blog.briankoberlein.com/speaker-for-the-dead/


Good question. I tried answering that a few months ago [disclosure: gratuitous link to own site]. Digest:

  1. We’re spending too much effort in self-interest, which is working against our chances of surviving;
  2. Regardless, we should make plans to colonise away from Earth. It’s our highest priority as a species. All our eggs are in one very fragile basket;
  3. If our species does die on Earth, our legacy will be tiny, will not last long on the scale eons, and will not extend far into space.


A consideration I have is this: (and all is hypothetical of course, thought experiments . . .) Imagine a planet with life at the level of earth 100,000 years ago, crawling with life forms, a rich biohistory, the intimation that in 100,000 years a technological civilization would arise . . . would that be enough, thoubgh we would never know it? We seem to be wanting to look in some sort of mirror and see our specific, proud accomplishments. We say we are open to “other lifeforms” than those carbon based . . . silicon maybe?
But imagine a planet so shrouded in clouds/vapors that no concept of a “universe” existed. If they had a moon(s) they would not know it, potentially, though their “scientists/priests” might wonder about the pull on tides and posit something to explain this. Potentially some physical property of their atmosphere might prevent radio waves from escaping into space. Continually reflected back to the surface such that electromagnetic communication could exist for them but not escape to us.
More imaginatively, one could imagine a very intellectual/intelligent, aesthetic, complex and profound race of beings modeled on what little we know of octopi. Confined (for a while?) in water and thus precluding electricity? We grow in our understanding of cephalopod complexity and completely “other” intelligence. But if “aliens” were to exist and reap not nor sow as do we, build not bombs or degenerative/self-destructive/self-poisoning cultures such as we have, plugged in and pulsing with electrical gadgets, then we will not find them, know them and will, therefore imagine that because we see no one the mirror that looks like us, that we are therefore alone in the room. The whole premise we use might be called . . . self centered, anthropomorphic in the extreme (however we pose and posit otherwise), and therefore ultimately narrow in the scope of the search we imagine we are making so . . . openly. Clearly this concerns our search for “intelligent” life, not microbes on Mars.

Recently, of course, these limitations have been addressed with spectroscopic searches for gas signatures, mega-structures and even the suggestion that interstellar communication might be more common, for highly advanced civilizations, via neutrinos or other exotic particles. Most recently the FRBs are causing a frisson.

My hope, and it is only that, is that before I die (and it will need to be soon) this question will be resolved in the positive. I am certain they are there. Why? . . . . . . . .