Classical SETI 1. Fundamental Assumptions Concerning the Universe and Life In It

The assumptions underlying a paradigm are not always spelled out in the literature, or even consciously held. In the case of the SETI paradigm, the following appears in a report on a NASA workshop on the cultural aspects of SETI, and seems to fairly represent the point of view held by the "SETI community":
"The search for extraterrestrial intelligence is based upon several assumptions. One is fundamental to all astronomy; that the same physical processes observable on Earth operate elsewhere in the universe in the same ways that we see here. Others are applicable to the extraterrestrial civilizations that we seek to detect. These are:
  1. There is a reasonable likelihood that such civilizations exist.
  2. Any such civilization detected by us is likely to be more technologically advanced than our own." (Klein, 1994)
But other assumptions underlie the author's stated ones. These should be made clear because they are in fact questionable. They include:
  1. There are many places in the universe habitable for life as we understand it, but these are so sparsely distributed that travel between them is virtually impossible for beings operating within the bounds of nonrelativistic travel-as all life must.

  2. Let's examine this statement in more detail.

    The habitable places are considered to be planets orbiting stars roughly like our sun (say, types F, G, or K2 ) or even any stars at all. In any case, stars are usually separated from their nearest neighbors by at least several light years.

    Travel (by those who wish to engage in it) is by point-to-point transit through conventional, linear and continuous, space. Wormholes, black holes, folds, higher dimensionality, nonlocal connectedness and other exotic geometrical situations as well as artificial distortions and direct gravitational and/or space-time manipulations are poorly understood. SETI scientists feel they are acting conservatively by not granting any of these advantages to hypothetical voyagers - even those who have had virtually unlimited time for their own scientific development.

    Translocations via "shamanic," out-of-body (or "dream body" or "subtle body") states, while widely reported within both traditional and modern societies, are never considered among the fundamental assumptions that make up the world view we are examining here.

    Thus limited, would-be travelers must contemplate the distances which separate them even from their nearest stars, which would take years for a light beam to traverse, and vastly longer for anything more substantial, such as themselves and their ships.

    Space ships will never approach the speed of light, say SETI advocates, because the amount of energy required to accelerate just one of them to near-light speed and decelerate it again would exceed the total production of the United States for many centuries. (Hoerner, 1962; Purcell, 1963)3

    Given the long time thus required for space journeys, societies will be discouraged from travel. Why? Because they would wish to complete their trips within a lifetime, or at least within several generations of on-board voyagers. And how long might a lifetime be? This question is rarely asked. Our own common lifespan is usually assumed to be representative of that which prevails throughout the universe.10

    It has also been argued that no space travel takes place because if it did, the universe would likely be totally overrun with travelers by now, and we would be seeing evidence of some of them here. (Brin, 1982; Zuckerman and Hart, 1995) But actual reports of an ETI presence here are discounted a priori because travel to our planet or solar system is considered so unlikely that evidence of it is expected to be false in some way. (The circularity of this logic may be glaring, but it is never explicitly acknowledged.)

  3. If travel around the universe is not possible, then life and societies must develop in isolation.29

  5. Societies developing in their isolation come to understand the universe in much the same way we do - at least until they surpass us.
  6. Stepping outside the SETI assumptions for a moment, we note that when societies surpass us, they may acquire forms of knowledge and kinds of technologies that we cannot anticipate. Therefore any or all of these societies may move into areas beyond our understanding, to the extent of appearing to manipulate the very foundations of reality as defined by late 20th-century science. SETI, while asserting that "candidate" civilizations will be at least somewhat in advance of ours, omits these considerations because they have such unpredictable effects. This constitutes a major failing of the SETI paradigm.

    Another major unspoken assumption is that technological societies all follow the same developmental track and encounter the same milestones that our own has done. Therefore it is held that societies at our own stage of development will discover the electromagnetic spectrum and realize that it is their best bet for contacting possible other civilizations. Hence, societies wishing to contact other societies will develop powerful electromagnetic beacons that can reach out across the vastness of space at the highest possible speed — the speed of light.

These assumptions are embodied in The Drake Equation.

Open SETI Ways of Knowing What Is The Drake Equation