RE: "Web-mediated SETI": Robert Bradbury Replies

Billy Brown (
Wed, 3 Nov 1999 12:58:36 -0600

OK, Robert, let's try this again, from the top.

A project like web-mediated SETI makes sense only if aliens can actually receive the message. In order to receive the message they either need
"magical" powers, or sensors located right here in the solar system. Since
I know you frown on theories that rely on technomagic, I assume you take the latter stance.

Now, we would expect that the odds of another species achieving a high level of technology at the same time we do would be very low. If such a species exists we would expect their technological civilization to be tens or hundreds of millions of years old. That in turn implies that they have been here for quite a long time.

This raises the obvious question of why we are here at all, and failing that why the presence of the aliens is not obvious. You offer two possible explanations: either the aliens follow a very strict non-intervention rule with regard to primitive life, or we are an experiment of some kind. Unfortunately, neither explanation is anywhere near sufficient to support the weight of the assumptions it must bear.

You speculate that a non-intervention rule (or a set of observed behaviors that give the same effect as such a rule) might arise from some kind of universal evolutionary pressure, but give no clue as to where such pressure might come from. I can, however, see a number of factors that would work in the other direction. First there is the obvious fact that expansionist races will spread while non-expansionist races will not, so we would expect the universe to become dominated by expansionist races. Furthermore, a civilization that converts all available matter into useful artifacts gains a strong competitive advantage over one that does not, whether their competition is economic or military or both. Finally, we have never observed anything like the degree of uniformity your hypothesis requires, and we can see that as a general rule increasing technology results in more diversity rather than less. Why, then, should we expect that very advanced technology will cause society to suddenly collapse into a
"one-best-way-to-do-everything" situation?

With regard to the experiment hypothesis, the big problem is that web-mediated SETI makes sense only if we are in some bizarre, custom-tailored sort of experiment where SETI itself is central to the experimenters' purpose. One can construct an infinite number of equally plausible scenarios where the experimenters will never speak to us, or where attempting to speak to them will prompt them to end the experiment, or where any other result that you happen to like will happen. In the end it is no different than speculating that we are all thralls of the Illuminati overlords, or servants of God, or participants in any other internally-consistent fantasy world you care to construct. If you want to move the theory beyond this level you need a clear theory that explains why this particular experiment would actually be the one that is run.

Billy Brown, MCSE+I