NOT using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in San Jose, CA in August 2018 (to which I be unable to go (until I retire from education)), I would jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. But not today. This explanation is reserved for when I dash “off topic”, sometimes reviewing movies, sometimes reviewing books, and other times taking up the spirit of a blog an old friend of mine used to keep called THE RANTING ROOM…
I know I’m a few years behind, but I just checked out a copy of LONELY PLANETS: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life (2003) by David Grinspoon. He does, of course, have a “doctor” in front of his name, but it appears that he doesn’t use it very often. He also has the endorsement of Neil deGrasse Tyson – the quintessential new face of astronomy and the immediate successor to Carl Sagan.
Tyson said of Grinspoon’s book “…brings together what has never before been synthesized…he is a planetary scientist as well as dreamer, born of the space age.”
As is apparent to anyone who reads my blog, I LOVE aliens! I write about aliens! I do (guardedly) believe that there is intelligent life “out there, somewhere” – HOWEVER, I don’t believe that we have any real proof yet and that it is, at this point, an intellectual and philosophical exercise.
Be that as it may, I’m approaching the end of Grinspoon’s book and have skimmed his website (http://funkyscience.net/) several times. While it’s been “frozen” on his newest Pluto/Horizon book, I find myself looking forward to following this guy for some time to come!
I’m well into the book now (page 229) and I got my own copy on Wednesday through a Half-Price Books near me. After (*gasp*) dog-earing my Library copy, I transferred the noted pages to my own book.
So now I’m at the end…Dr. Grinspoon has titled this part of the book simply, “Belief” and he patiently teases apart the rationale of the SETI. However, outside of Grinspoon’s 2003 book, we have this: https://www.space.com/39474-search-for-extraterrestrial-intelligence-needs-new-name.html
Fifteen years past the book’s publication date, and even so a year old, Dr. Jill Tartar, the current “name” in the Human search for life beyond Earth, believes we need to leave behind the acronym to indicate the real search that is currently underway – the search for technological signatures that would be evidence of life off of Earth, a rebranding of SETI into something like the Search for Extraterrestrial Technology Signatures – SETS so to speak.
Dr. Tartar explained that the phrase “‘…search for extraterrestrial intelligence’ generates an incorrect perception of what scientists in this field are actually doing. A more appropriate title for the field, she said, would be ‘the search for technosignatures,’ or signs of technology created by intelligent alien civilizations.”
Grinspoon tentatively poses a sort of caveat to this idea in this part of LONELY PLANET: “The problem of survival is not fundamentally technological. It is spiritual and moral. It is evolutionary. Technical solutions may provide temporary Band-Aids, but they do not save us from our nature. If we want to be one of the survivors, we must create a global society where curiosity is tightly bonded to compassion, and where (this is hardest to picture) not a lot of people want to do violence to others. You’re probably not going to like this next though, but one solution would be to just surrender to the machines.”
Another thing that has happened in the fifteen years since the publication of the book is the call by scientists to throw out the Drake Equation as well as its successor in 2013, the Seager Equation (Sara Seager, MIT), which looks for BIOLOGICAL traces of life in the atmosphere of planets. At the time of her adaptation of the Drake, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite was in the works. TESS launched this year (April 18, 2018), but as I write this, there have been no real releases of data except for a scan of Southern skies and images of comet C/2018 N1 snapped by the craft (https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/13030). There are plans for future conferences however: (https://tess.mit.edu/news/tess-science-conference/conferences/)!
So we’ll be seeing more data regarding the SETS or, alternately, the Search for Extraterrestrial Biological Signs – or SEBS.
Looking for technosigns based on the philosophy of Dr. Tatar; looking for signs of atmospheric modification via biology based on the philosophy of Dr. Seager; or looking for something else…
In a recent article, “Alien Hunters, Stop Using the Drake Equation” by Paul Sutter (Astrophysicist, Ohio State University; Chief Scientist at COSI Science Center. PhD in Physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Paris Institute of Astrophysics, research fellowship in Trieste, Italy.) (https://www.space.com/42739-stop-using-the-drake-equation.html). He points out that “…the Drake equation's power is more as a philosophical treatment, to help guide our thinking and help us navigate the murky waters of a deep and fundamental existential question…huge uncertainties in the parameters, the unknown ways those uncertainties mix, and the absolute lack of any guidance in even choosing those parameters robs it of any predictive power. Prediction is at the heart of science. Prediction is what makes an idea useful. And if an idea isn’t useful, why keep it around?”
Grinspoon has an article of faith that more or less incorporates all three of the views above: “We calculate and speculate about finding others that are slightly spiffed up versions of ourselves and take it as an article of faith that such a stage will arise soon after the one that we are in now...it takes more than technology to be a broadcasting society. It requires that you survive with high technology for many thousands of years…they ‘must’ have solved many of the great social, political, and spiritual problems we now face.” (p393)
I’m not confident that ETs have “solved…the great…problems we now face.” That seems to ME to be in the province of spiritual changes that (at least as it appears to me) God in man in the form of Jesus Christ can cause (lectures about the Crusades, the Reformation, the Inquisition, and Manifest Destiny are not appreciated unless they acknowledge the POLITICAL aspect of all of the above, which, as politics always does, coopts whatever belief system is useful to create places for the majority of politicians to gain as much money, power, and influence. Call me whacko if you’d like. That’s where I stand. Grinspoon points out, “We blame spreading irrationality on scientific illiteracy. Yet, in my opinion, it is alienation from science, not science illiteracy that is the root problem…if we want the world to see us as wizards, not muggles, then we can’t sell our services to the highest bidder, and we need to spread the magical (and spiritually evocative) story of Cosmic Evolution…Technical advancement without spiritual progress creates a dangerous and unstable condition that will be selected against.” (pp411-412).
“So say we all,” (Battlestar GALACTICA) or in Earth English, “Amen”.
Part I: http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2018/11/possibly-irritating-essays-philosophy.html, http://www.openexoplanetcatalogue.com/
Part II: http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2018/11/possibly-irritating-essays-part-2-state.html
Part III: https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2018/11/possibly-irritating-essays-part-three.html
Part IV: https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2018/12/possibly-irritating-essays-part-iv.html
Image: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-HvBJ-0Cc1G4/UuMOA98-RJI/AAAAAAAAAwQ/r5JUlNiN2Tw/s1600/Unknown-4.jpeg, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amen)