Intelligent Life, ETIs, Aliens, and UFOs Part 3

About the prospect of intelligent life, ETIs, aliens, and UFOs, history of arguments, possibility of life in this or other solar system, problems and limitations.

Is there intelligent life on other planets?

One problem plaguing the quest for ETI is our inability to estimate the average lifetime of a technological society. The longer such societies exist, the more likely they can be located (if they're using radio devices). Since the only technical society we know anything about is our own, we might gloomily suppose any civilization advanced enough to attract our attention is advanced enough to liquidate itself in a nuclear war. In fact, it may be the war that attracts our attention. If this is the case, our chances of detecting ETI may be moderately good, but the odds for contact are nil. Radio leakage from earth, which began about 1920, is now reaching star systems some 50-odd light-years away. If our nearest intelligent neighbor is no closer than 300 light-years (an entirely reasonable possibility), he's got a long wait before our signals reach him. Assuming he has the political stability to survive that wait, someday we may receive an acknowledgement--if we can last that long. By the same logic, if he started broadcasting 50 years ago, we need to endure another 250 years to hear his signals and 600 more to answer those signals and receive a reply.

Some scientists have argued it may not be in our best interest for ETI to discover the radio and TV signals leaking from earth (although it's too late to prevent it). How many of us, for example, would want ETI to interpret our civilization in terms of the Rolling Stones or "Let's Make a Deal?" More seriously, what do we really know about the psychology of a society that is 100 or 500 times older than we are? Would they be benevolent, hostile, or indifferent toward us? Would they find us amusing or boring? Would it make any difference how they felt, with tens or hundreds of light-years separating our planet from theirs?

Most people assume ETI would regard earth with keen interest and actively seek to contact its inhabitants, either by radio or in person. This, however, may be a chauvinistic view. What, after all, could we offer an advanced society it doesn't already have? As the poet Archibald MacLeish reminds us, we are "a small planet of a minor star off at the edge of an inconsiderable galaxy."

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