Hawking says: hush!

In a recent interview about his TV Show, Dr. Stephen Hawking questioned the wisdom of trying to make contact with alien civilizations. When one of the few bona-fide geniuses of our time weighs in an any debate, it is significant. And I think the debate over whether to send signals into space or just to listen for them – active SETI vs. passive SETI – is a pretty interesting one.

I don’t think anyone with an inkling of the enormity of our galaxy and the probability of intelligent life out there can help be immensely curious about aliens. But any creatures technically advanced enough to reach us would likely view us the way most European explorers viewed the indigenous peoples of America or Africa: as “primitive” creatures sitting on land they want. So unless the earth is really completely useless to these creatures, if some advanced aliens in fact found us, we’d probably face colonization.

So I’m with the genius on this one – let’s cut out the powerful radio signals into space, let’s minimize any signal leakage into space, let’s go into stealth mode. I say we focus on evolving our own species another couple millennia on Earth and learn more about our planet and how to be decent stewards of our home. With our silly little rockets we’re not going to get far anyway. But we can certainly explore our solar system with remote probes. And we can watch, listen and learn about the universe until we’re really ready to face E.T.

Of course, no one can say with certainty what would happen if a life formĀ  from another corner of the universe found our planet. But there is just no way of knowing until it’s too late. For all we know, a perfectly peaceful, well-meaning species might enter orbit of the earth and look down and say: “Pretty planet – shame it’s infected with this terrible disease!” and then proceed to cure Planet Earth of the disease that calls itself humanity.

2 Responses to “Hawking says: hush!”

  1. John Says:

    Well any “advanced” civilization is going to find us SETI signals or not, whether or not we want them to, if looking for the likes of us is something they want to do so the argument is pretty moot I think. Assuming that any actions we take will some how affect the chance of them finding us is just typical human arrogance. Bottom line is there is no need to go stealth mode because it makes absolutely no difference what we do. It is probably better to redirect the SETI money towards something useful like finding near earth objects on a collision course with earth soon enough to do something about it.

    By the way, what do you expect to come out of evolving the species a few millennium – have we really gotten any better over the last few millennium – I mean consider the invention of nuclear weapons, all we’ve done is develop the technology to wipe us out, then actually build the weapons and then threaten to use them …

  2. yovo Says:

    John – The idea that in order to find us, ET has to be “advanced,” or a “civilization,” is also pretty human-centric. Just because we have a hard time surviving in space does not mean other critters do. I think it’s more likely that earth will be colonized by space-bacteria that extract every last drop of ethanol from our environment (ruining our beer, wine and liquor supplies) is quite more likely than a cylon attack.

    Yet, you’re probably right about the signals making very little difference – but we simply cannot know. I vote for taking down the signs that say “welcome E.T. – primitive, carbon-based, ethanol-consuming lifeforms at next exit!”

    How far has humanity come in a millennium? I think we’ve become more self-aware, more dangerous and more interesting. I think we’re getting closer to the point where we’ll learn weather our greed and stupidity outstrip our ability to cooperate with each other and sustain the lifeforces of this planet. But I do NOT think that we’re anywhere near the point where our ability to combine water, yeast, hops and malt into a flavorful beverages outstrips our ability to consume these beverages. So there is hope.