Hello, universe. Is anyone there?

In the past year, mankind has been dealing with some thorny issues: global epidemics, economic chaos, climate change, and increased geopolitical tensions in Ukraine and Taiwan, etc. But in the future, we may look back at our time and ask a more important question: Is contact with aliens really a good idea?

The famous theoretical physicist and writer Kaku Michio is not alone. He believes that any successful attempt to remind any extraterrestrial intelligence of our existence may be a disastrous bad idea. “I think this will be the biggest mistake in human history,” He told New York Times last year. Kaku imagined a technologically superior interstellar image conqueror The Aztecs who dealt with Montezuma in the 16th century treated humans cruelly like Hernan Cortes. “If aliens come, it won’t be a beautiful sight,” he said. “Some people will worship them as gods. Others will think they are demons. Others will want to reach an agreement.”

However, there are many astronomers who are excited about the idea of ​​connecting with any extraterrestrial intelligence and are stepping up their efforts. One of the $10 billion goal James Webb Space TelescopeIt was just launched to find habitable exoplanets (planets orbiting stars outside the solar system), where other life forms may be found.

However, there is a significant difference between the relatively uncontroversial passive search for extraterrestrial civilizations (called SETI) among astronomers and the active sending of information to extraterrestrial civilizations (ie METI), and the latter has aroused more opposition.

First attempt to say hello to the rest of the universe in 1974 When a group of astronomers broadcast one information The radio telescope from the Arecibo Observatory aimed at the star cluster M13, some 25,000 Light years away.Thousands of years later, we can expect any kind of reply-unless you are too gullible and believe in the two crop circles found in the English fields of Hampshire in 2001, containing a human face and an adapted version of the original information. “Arecibo Answer”.

Since then, several probes have left our solar system with one-way tickets to promote the existence of humans. NASA, and other space agencies, Sponsoring research in the field of astrobiology, which is dedicated to the investigation of the “origin of life and life beyond the earth”.

In 2015, a non-profit research and education institution, Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry International was founded in San Francisco with the goal of sending information to alien civilizations. Two years later, It delivered a message, Including Jean-Michel Jarre’s mathematical formulas and music, and the red dwarf star Rutten 12 light-years away.

Douglas Vakoch, president and founder of METI International, believes that if aliens are advanced enough to travel long distances to reach Earth, they are unlikely to need anything we provide. So we should not be afraid to start a cosmic dialogue. “Fear cannot protect us, it only limits us,” He said.

Jeff Hawkins came up with an interesting idea in his book Brain of a Thousand People, It is we can launch some huge orbital sunshades to show our existence on the earth. These obstructions will orbit the sun for millions of years, producing a slight, unnatural, detectable reduction in starlight, similar to sending a message in a bottle to the rest of the galaxy.

but All attempts to contact aliens raise profound questions. Who has the right to speak for our planet? What information should we send? As Kathryn Denning, an anthropologist at York University in Toronto, puts it: Why do scientific experts unilaterally determine the Earth’s risk tolerance, instead of a 6-year-old girl in Namibia, who will live longer? And the risk is greater?

These are good questions, and they highlight that the METI debate revolves more around humans than aliens. This controversy can also be counted as a rare scientific debate, because neither party can come up with evidence to support their arguments. The discussion is entirely speculative, shaped by alarmist science fiction narratives, rough beliefs about the universality of human impulses, and (possibly wrong) assumptions about the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence.

Therefore, the question ultimately boils down to: Is the collective desire for discovery greater than the fear of the unknown? I think that many centuries of human history have given a clear answer: yes.

john.thornhill@ft.com

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