August 31, 2011
Open letter to be posted on

David Morrison
SETI Institute
189 Bernardo Ave., Suite 100
Mountain View, CA 94043
Phone 650.961.6633

Dear Dr. Morrison:
I have no dog that is in danger of being put down, so you may postpone this until after 2012.

I was delighted with what you are doing according to the SCIENCE article. (Into the Stretch for Science’s Point Man on Doomsday Richard A. Kerr SCIENCE vol. 333 no. 6045 August 19, 2011 page 928)  I was amused by the Mayan calendar-world end in 2012 idea when I heard of it a few years ago.  I understand that there are some who are actually worried, and I would like to thank you for all the time you are spending reassuring them. As I was looking around for your address I noticed that you are interested in the peril of near Earth objects.  This has been something I have been interested in since long before the Shoemaker-Levi 9 comet broke up and hit Jupiter.  Thanks for your work on that front as well.

My interest in astrobiology (which I call “exobiology” for no particular reason) has stemmed from a biological principle that I realized was as real for any potential extra-terrestrial intelligent life form as it is for us.  It would effectively crush any advanced society long before it could send us a signal, much less get here.  Accordingly I started lecturing to science fiction clubs, which are happy to accept volunteer efforts.  I usually will spend an hour on “mainstream” exobiology and an hour on my particular interest.  If you are interested in videos there is a bit from one of my lectures on YouTube under the name The Dance of the Chromosomes, not to be confused with Dance of the Chromosomes, which is a high school project somebody did.  The video features good looking women playing the part of animals carrying around chromosomes. 

What the video asserts, and what I believe to be inescapable logic, is that because of speciation effects, a large population (say over 1,000 if speciation takes 2,000 generations) is inherently unstable and will decline or collapse. 

Looking at historical, archeological and demographic data is not reassuring.  It is a tangled line of evidence and calculation, but it appears that the end is swift and terrible.  Were I to believe my own numbers, I would say the developed world is far behind the power curve, the developing world is a bit behind the power curve and the poorest and most vulnerable might be salvageable but the efforts of the developed world are fast putting an end to that. 

Ironically the Mayans, who did not survive to see their calendar end, were taken out not by some cosmic event but by the same old demographic garrote that has taken out just about every other civilization. 

I was hoping to find the video you did that was mentioned in the article, but I thrashed around on looking for 7463829 without joy, so if you have had thousands of hits, I can only stand in awe of your viewers. 

I did find a slide show, which had really pretty harp music, but which was otherwise not nearly as easy to follow as a Word file.  My take home from that was that there really was something called an “alignment of the sun at winter solstice with the galactic plane” that occurred in 1998.  (It wasn’t clear to me exactly what that was.)  That is actually kind of intriguing.  It’s probably coincidence, but if they really did think something big was going to happen around this time and their estimate of the year was only off by 14 years so many centuries before the event, that means they had a lot more astronomical skill than I could put together. 

Actually, that’s not so implausible.  Given the civilizations go down the siphon so young (300 years seems to be about the brick wall) people probably really are able to develop a science or technology with great speed.  We went from the lateen sail, first to be able to beat against the wind, to the moon in five centuries.  So I would not undersell them, but before I believe it I would have to see more than a coincidence. 

So when you are through with this calamity, I’m sure mine will be waiting.  Meanwhile, since it does seriously impact any hope of extra-terrestrial advanced culture, if you would like to know more, do let me know.  You can find it on the web site above, but I should be able to save you some time.


M. Linton Herbert

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