SETI and the missing flying saucers:
We have been looking for clues that people have noticed this monster that destroys fertility in large populations and have been looking at some very subtle hints.  The effect is not subtle, nor is it in doubt.  It is the perception of it that is hard to nail down.  We will now go from very weak evidence to no evidence at all.  Don’t worry; there is evidence that is worse than no evidence, and some day soon we must go there.  

It is possible to have a number of personal computers connected to the internet to behave like a single giant computer.  One demonstration of this was a code cracking problem.  The deal was that they encoded a sentence and let a network crack it.  They used a sentence that had supposedly been written by a computer several years before.  The random sentence the computer created was, “The magic words are squeamish ossifrage.”   An ossifrage is a vulture that lives on high peaks in Europe, Asia and Africa and gets it name from dropping bones from a great height to crack them and get at the marrow.  If the sentence was indeed random, it is quite a coincidence, since it sounds like the answer to a puzzle.

A far bigger project has been the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence or SETI.  For a long time the project would gather signals from giant radio-telescopes such as the one at Arecibo in Puerto Rico and then distribute bits of signal to a large group of enthusiasts (3 million, I think) who would donate the down time of their own personals computers to sift through the noise looking for signals.  I understand they are now building their own radio-telescope array for the purpose. 

The theory is this.  There are many stars.  We know that.  There are many planets out there.  This has been suspected at least as far back as the “Hermetic” occult tradition of Europe.  It has recently been proven.  Hundred of planets have been found beyond the solar system orbiting stars that are not our sun.  Since our planet has intelligent life, it would seem logical that other planets do.  No other planet harbors advanced life in this solar system.  That may be because the Earth is really the only suitable one.  But given the vast number of stars there should be others.  So in theory it is worth looking for radio signals from them.

So far they have found nothing at all.  As more and more extra-solar planets pile up, the paradox only gets worse.  Hosts of presumably suitable planets.  (I don’t think they have actually found one that looks like we could move there yet, but I am not impatient.)  No radio signals. 

For many years a reasonable suspicion seemed to be that societies regularly blow themselves up with nuclear devices.  I doubt it.  I mean we might have blown ourselves up during the time of the Soviet Union, but I think the whole thing was made to seem far more dangerous than it really was.  We might do it yet, but the real moment of danger was when we decided to set one of those things off as a test.  You don’t know what a nuclear bomb is going to do until you try it out.  That is why there was such a fuss over testing for so many years.  Well if you need to test it, then it is too dangerous to test.  Maybe that sound’s strange, but given all those stars, it seems likely that somebody else out there would have the same attitude. 

But there is no radio signal, just an eerie silence broken by the hiss of static, the crackle of a new natural cosmic sources and the twitter of our own signals.  Nuclear war really won’t explain it.  Lack of suitable planets won’t explain it.  Perhaps intelligent life or even life itself happens only when an exceedingly unlikely set of rare circumstances comes together.  But we have life in steaming jungles, lichens on rocks exposed to arctic blasts, bacteria living under conditions of high radiation, in geothermally heated pools, in hydrothermal vents in the ocean floor and far beneath the earth.  Life does not seem reluctant to get on with it here.  It does seem strange that life should be different elsewhere.

People are so convinced that intelligent life is out there that we even get reports from plausible witnesses that they have seen evidence, flying saucers or even the aliens themselves.  That gets less plausible now that so many cell phones have camera capability without a corresponding rise in the number of pictures of such things.  But it is hard to fault their faith. 

Consider a few things.  We have been optimized to do what we do best, which is to think, socialize, contrive, craft, create and so forth.  We are near the maximum genetic complexity we can sustain.  Certainly there have been bigger brains, Neanderthals for instance, but we are really pretty good.  Yet one person cannot simply develop an entire civilization complete with technology, art, architecture and so forth.  Not even a Neanderthal could do that, with far greater strength and more brain.  At least they didn’t, so one would guess they couldn’t.

So to build a technological society capable of sending a radio signal, it takes a team.  You have to have a city.  You have to have free communication among a large number of people.

And that, of course, unless somebody is smart enough to see the danger, leads to a huge gene pool and leads to infertility and population collapse.  It is happening here.  It has probably happened everywhere else. 

The bad news is that our situation is very dangerous.  The good news is that at least in theory it can be fixed.  If we care enough to do so (and if there is still enough time) then the stars are ours.  We can go out and save other species caught the way we have always been in a brutal spiral of unstable rise in gene pool size followed by unstable fertility collapse.  Whether we ought to is a different question.

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