Presentation on theme: "Our assumptions about life and ET: particularly about intelligence, civilizations becoming technologically communicative, and lifespans of civilizations,"— Presentation transcript:
Our assumptions about life and ET: particularly about intelligence, civilizations becoming technologically communicative, and lifespans of civilizations, i.e. f i f c L Kathryn Denning, Assoc. Professor, Dept of Anthropology and Program in Science & Technology Studies, York University, Canada
Intelligence: -we’re anthropocentric, of course -and have tended to be ‘top-down’ in thinking about alien intelligence (i.e., theoretically reckoning backwards from the necessary transmission technology), rather than using the full breadth of Earth’s intelligent life forms as a basis for considering possibilities -- but should do both! -if you’re interested in brainstorming about the evolution of intelligence in the universe, do let me know at -- Lori Marino and I are starting a series of NAI workshops on this, in conjunction with an online resource centre at the SETI Institute, and with ASU.
What are common areas of conjecture about ETI /alien civilization? Trick question. It’s all conjecture. Therefore, the form / habits of these conjectures matter. We have hidden assumptions not just about ETI, but also about the best way of thinking about ETI.
“The psychology of transcending here and now” - 1 People start from the 'here and now', and they use the same mental machinery to think about things distant from themselves in space, in time, social organization, or hypotheticality. Might explain why speculations about ‘long long ago’ are a lot like speculations about ‘far far away’.
“The psychology of transcending here and now” - 2 The further away something is from people (doesn't matter whether the dimension is space, time, social organization or hypotheticality), the more abstract their thinking gets. Might explain why it takes all kinds of cognitive strategies and training to be more specific about distant things.
There are patterns to the way we think about hypothetical, distant Others. And it’s very easy to get attached to abstract favourite theories about ETI, even when the available Earth data don’t necessarily support them. So back to that question... What are common areas of conjecture about ETI / alien civilizations?
What would they want to do with us, anyway? Just say ‘hi’? Have dinner? Help us save the Earth? Read us their poetry? Blast the Earth out of the way? Take over?
Common areas of conjecture about extraterrestrial civilizations… Probability of their existence Their motivations Their possible characteristics The material or energy traces they might leave, which we could detect The likely form/content of a signal The wisdom of seeking contact
as a source of values (e.g. lifespans) to be used in predictive models to qualitatively project our own future to illustrate potential outcomes of contact to characterize the general evolution of ET civilizations to consider potential patterns of ET colonization Information about human civilizations has been used in SETI theorizing: Projecting Earth characters onto other worlds?
Disciplinary differences in emphasis when considering Earth data: Contingency vs. inevitability Earth civs as multiple examples or one example Qualitative vs. quantitative Cross-cultural comparisons vs. isolated analogies Random archaeologist Random fifth-grader’s image of astronomer
One Approach to Finding L 1) Calculate the lifespans of the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, China, Africa, India, Japan, Central and South America, and several modern states. 2) Average them. In this case, L = years (Somewhere, Douglas Adams is smiling.) (Shermer, “Why E.T. Hasn’t Called”, Scientific American 2002)
So what are the problems? 1) Too many unquestioned assumptions about how civilizations work and about how technology evolves… on Earth! + 2) Too much extrapolation of those assumptions to the extraterrestrial case.
Basic options for thinking about extraterrestrial life, intelligence, civilizations, and technology: ) Extrapolate from theories, e.g. the fundamentals of physics and machines, using mathematical thinking and simulations.. 2) Work from available data, i.e. examples of terrestrial life, intelligence, civilizations, and technology.
Above: Astrobiology studies Earth ecosystems as analogs for Mars … to generate hypotheses that can be tested on the Martian surface. Below: how can we best study Earth’s intelligent, civilized, technological life forms to generate ideas about ETI… ideas that can’t be tested yet, but maybe someday will be? ?
Civilizations / Cultural Evolution: Strategies for Future Work in thinking about ETI? Create trans-disciplinary theory … combine general/particular, quantitative/qualitative Identify assumptions embedded in current theories (e.g. unilinealism) Consider Earth data about civilizations as multiple sets, not a single set – use its breadth Use Earth data to test assumptions/claims about cultural evolution, not just as a source of illustrative examples Emphasize range of possibilities Go back to the anthropological, historical, and archaeological data to explore relevant areas