Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Is There Life in Outer Space? (Part 1)

I've always been intrigued by SETI, which stands for "Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence." According to the SETI Institute website, "The mission of the SETI Institute is to explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe." To that end, they employ over 100 scientists, educators and support staff.

And just how do they go about searching for intelligent life in other parts of the universe? By examining signals received from space. To examine the data, thousands of volunteers run a software program as a screen saver that processes the data as it comes in.

Now, here's my question: How will they know when they find intelligent life?

Any time I meet someone who is running the SETI program, I ask that question. So far, no one has been able to answer. The looks I get tell me they've never even thought about it before.

Here's how the SETI website answers the question: "SETI...seeks evidence of life in the universe by looking for some signature of its technology." Now, what in the world does that mean?!

It sounds to me like they're looking for intelligent design.

15 comments:

  1. Indeed. They could find "life in outer space," and blame the creationists for planting it there.

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  2. How or why would they blame creationists for planting life in outer space?

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  3. It is more likely that they would overlook evidence of intelligence than they would falsely identify something as intelligent that was not. We could detect some radio static from a distant star and not be able to definitively say that it's source is intelligent when in fact it is. Even if we picked up a repeating series of pulses that was "non-random" we couldn't say for sure that it's source was intelligent.

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  4. I believe you are saying that a series of non-random pulses is not necessarily proof of an intelligent source (and I agree with you). However, can you imagine such a series of pulses that would constitute proof of intelligence? If so, what would be the characteristics of such a series?

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  5. Suppose there was a series of electromagnetic pulses which came in groups of 100. Each pulse varies in strength (amplitude variation or some other kind of variation). We translate each pulse into a dot of grey, it's lightness or darkness depending on the strength of each pulse. We arrange these dots in rows of 100 and they form a picture of the extraterrestrial being that sent the signal.

    Now certainly if we received such a signal we would have to say it's source was intelligent.

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  6. Why wouldn't we assume those pulses were just the result of random processes? What is it about them that requires intelligence?

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  7. You certainly think certain some processes are non-random. How do you come to that conclusion?

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  8. My question is not about the existence of non-random proceses (Hopefully, these posts are non-random), but about the connection between certain non-random processes (e.g. your hypothetical electromagnetic pulses) and intelligence. If you were to receive such signals, you would correctly conclude that they were created by an intelligence. But, why? It's not because they're non-random. We agree that non-randomness isn't necessarily evidence for intelligence. So how did you conclude that they had an intelligent cause?

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  9. I was trying to say, with my post, that any evidence Creationists find to support Creation is discredited ex post facto "bad science"

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  10. I really enjoy reading your posts. When are you going to start blogging again?

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  11. We're waiting for Part 2.......

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  12. I don't know what would constitute proof of intelligence? Do you?

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  13. Would the existence of "life in outer space" help or hurt the cause of Creationism?

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  14.     "I don't know what would constitute proof     of intelligence? Do you?"

    Oh, yes you do. You already noted in a previous post that if we received a series of electromagnetic pulses which form a picture, "we would have to say it's source was intelligent."

    There's a reason that upon finding the words, "Steven Loves Priscilla" scrawled in the sand at the beach, you don't scratch your head and wonder if it was brought about by the receding tide. Likewise, one would not wonder if wind and rain created the heads on Mount Rushmore, even if he had never heard of Gutzon Borglum or seen another carver's work.

    What do the letters on the beach, the heads on Mount Rushmore, and your electromagnetic pulses which translate into a picture all have in common? The answer is information.

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