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Doing the Experiment

Consequently, it seems reasonable and proper to adopt the “nuts and bolts” approach to SETI: let’s do the experiment. We should do this with no illusions. SETI is not falsifiable - a negative result does not disprove the premise of cosmic companionship, and consequently such searches are obviously more exploration than experimentation. That means that a failure to find the aliens will not settle this debate. Indeed, the only way the argument over intelligence can be settled is if we do find something. In other words, this debate is asymmetric: my position alone can be proven right. I may not win, but it’s certain my opponent cannot win.

I will end by guessing (and it is only a guess) that a positive SETI detection may be no more than a decade or two away. The motivation for this suggestion (other than self-serving optimism) lies in the rapid improvement in SETI search power made possible by improved microelectronics. Every decade, these experiments become faster by a factor of a hundred. So there is at least some reason to expect that success might come soon. If so, we will get a signal, and we will know that intelligence is not restricted to Earth. But what we will not know - at least not at first, and maybe never - is who or what is running the transmitter. Personally, I do not think they will be squishy.

Contributed by: Dr. Seth Shostak

Cosmic Questions

Are We Alone? Topic Index
The Outlook for Cosmic Company

Doing the Experiment

A Rare Intelligence?
The Possibilities of a Signal
The Drake Equation
Human Dispersion
Living Machines
The Fermi Paradox


Seth Shostak

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Was the Universe Designed?
Are We Alone?
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