Robin Hanson, economist and author of Overcoming Bias, recently appeared in USA Today talking about SETI. He appears as a counterpoint to Seth Shostak, a guy who I believe is totally out of it. Here’s the relevant section:
But researchers such as Robin Hanson of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., wonder whether the big picture really looks so promising when it comes to advanced life. Hanson supports SETI but finds it telling that humans havenâ€™t come across anything yet. â€œIt has been remarkable and somewhat discouraging,â€ Hanson says, â€œthat the universe is so damn big and so damn dead.â€
Great quote, love it. To quote Marshall T. Savage, author of that superlative masterpiece, The Millennial Project:
There is a program to actively search for signals from other civilizations in the galaxy: SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). This is a noble cause, but it seems slightly absurd. Scientists huddle around radio telescopes listening intently to one star at a time for the sound of dripping water, when what they are seeking would sound like Niagara Falls. The most cursory radio snapshot of the sky should reveal K2 civilizations as clearly as the lights of great cities seen from orbit at night. That we don’t see any such radio beacons in the skies probably means there are no Kardasahev Level Two civilizations in this galaxy.
Perhaps advanced civilizations don’t use radio, or radar, or microwaves. Advanced technology can be invoked as an explanation for the absence of extra terrestrial radio signals. But it seems unlikely that their technology would leave no imprint anywhere in the electromagnetic spectrum. We have been compared to the aborigine who remains blissfully unaware of the storm of radio and TV saturating the airwaves around him. Presumably, the aliens use advanced means of communications which we cannot detect. What these means might be is, by definition, unknown, but they must be extremely exotic. We don’t detect K2 signals in the form of laser pulses, gamma rays, cosmic rays, or even neutrinos. Therefore, the aliens must use system that we haven’t even imagined.
The argument, appealing thought it is, cannot survive contact with Occam’s razor — in this case Occam’s machete. The evidence in hand is simply nothing — no signals. To explain the absence of signals in the presence of aliens, demands recourse to what is essentially magic. Unfortunately, the iron laws of logic demand that we reject such wishful thinking in favor of the simplest explanation which fits the data: No signals, no aliens.
The skies are thunderous in their silence; the Moon eloquent in its blankness; the aliens are conclusive by their absence. The extraterrestrials aren’t here. They’ve never been here. They’re never coming here. They aren’t coming because they don’t exist. We are alone.
If Dr. Shostak wants to find some aliens, perhaps he should try ingesting some powerful hallucinogens. Then he will be able to see all the aliens he wants.