December 03, 2014

Fantasies Of The Ultra-Smart

Kip Thorne is a pretty smart guy.

Until his retirement in 2009 he was Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech). According to Wikipedia he is one of "the world's leading experts on the astrophysical implications of Einstein's general theory of relativity."

I guess that's what people do who can't get a job in social media.

I was reading an article about Thorne recently. He was saying that we should continue the search for signals from extraterrestrial life. He said that if we were to find such a signal it would have a "profound effect on us."

I have heard this same idea expressed dozens of times by other scientists and philosophers. And I have never quite understood what it means.

I wonder what profound changes they think would arise from discovering that there is life thousands of light years from earth?

Would we suddenly stop killing each other? Would the greed and envy and hatred that fills the world suddenly evaporate? Would murderous religious maniacs suddenly stop believing their idiotic fairy tales? Would the opulently rich suddenly start sharing their largesse with the needy? Would criminals and predators abruptly abandon their malevolence and adopt virtue?

Because -- here's the thing -- we don't need little green men to do that. All those options are open to us right now.

I am officially skeptical that discovering signals from space would have anything approaching a "profound" effect on us. It would be worthy of its own logo on CNN for a few days and then we'd all go back to work. Soon it would be written off as a trick by the same morons who think dinosaurs lived 6,000 years ago.

Scanning the skies for signals is a worthwhile endeavor simply because as intelligent beings we should want to know.

But the idea that finding such a signal would save us from ourselves is, I'm afraid, another chapter in our long, sad history of magical thinking.


luisgdelafuente said...

If that discovery is to be made it would mean the Universe is literally 'crowded', because of its huge size. That signal would save many of considering themselves 'the center' or 'the chosen' of anything or anyone. That is, that we are basically by ourselves. I think that could be a good starting point to change some minds...

Tim Parry said...

I have to agree with the AC. Change comes from within. Of all the external forces that begin the process (the real process), that 'small still voice' has a lot more weight than that radio signal.

Mark Pilipczuk said...

Correct. It really is magical thinking from those living in mom's basement, wearing a Star Trek T-shirt. Nothing will change except--just maybe--the little green men might beam over the key to getting people to engage in "conversations" with brands.

Hmm. Maybe instead of greys, the aliens have sent the social media maniacs? Maybe that explains their odd interpretations of actual human buying behavior?

Gaw said...

The discovery of the New World is reckoned to have had a profound effect on the worldview of Europeans.

By undermining sources of traditional authority, such as the Bible, it may have been one of the triggers for the change in thinking that culminated in the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution.

For instance, maps were previously centred on Jerusalem. Afterwards, religion was literally made more marginal.

I can imagine how the discovery of life on other worlds could produce another huge shift in thinking. Sure people will still be bad. But we're talking about an intellectual paradigm shift, not the arrival of the Millennium.

Cecil B. DeMille said...

A child of five would understand this. Someone fetch a child of five.

Eccles9 said...

If that first signal from an alien species was 'you guys look delicious we are on our way to eat you' then it would have the profound effect of changing our worldview of being at the top of the food chain and force us to unite against a common threat...

Change may come from within, but the impetus for change is often external.

George Parker said...

Here in Idaho, we have a "Creationist" museum (obviously) When asked how Noah managed to get all those enormous fucking Dino's on board, they produce an 18 inch long Dino skeleton. Apparently, all the movies have got it wrong. 6000 years ago, everything was midget sized. Time for some potato vodka.
Cheers/George "AdScam" Parker.
Bob... Where's that fucking book?

Matt L said...

I get what you're saying. You're all like:

"Imagine the profound effect and shifting intellectualism that would occur if all the UFO sightings, Area 51 conspiracies and alien anal probes could finally, in varying degrees, be substantiated."

Art Bell would be the new Stephen Hawking and the Coast to Coast AM with George Noory brain trust would replace NASA. Phone home indeed.

Matt L said...

Next thing you'll be complaining about Jonah living in the belly of the whale for three days and nights. Scientifically speaking, there's enough oxygen and seafood in a whale's belly to live on for a few days. You aren't going against the science are you? The science cannot be refuted, only revised ... from time to time ... as new evidence erases and irrevocably alters previously sound scientific theory ... or until newer science revokes that science ...