DAVID BRIN's world of ideas

Quotations to Consider in the Debate About Active SETI

...Or How SETI has Taken a Worrisome Turn Into Dangerous Territory

Collected by Michael Michaud


[image from LizaPhoenix.com]

Project Cyclops Report, 1972:

Before we make such a response or decide to radiate a long-range beacon, we feel the question of the potential risks should be debated and resolved at a national or international level.

SETI 2020 Report, 2002:

Transmission is a diplomatic act, an activity that should be undertaken on behalf of all humans.

Carl Sagan and William Newman, 1981:

The radar and television announcement of an emerging technological society on Earth may induce a rapid response by nearby civilizations, newly motivated to reach our system directly.

Astronomer Seth Shostak, 1998:

Any aliens who take the trouble to either signal their presence or transport themselves beyond the bounds of their own solar system will be, by definition, aggressive.

Astronomer Robert Rood, 1981:

The civilization that blurts out its existence on interstellar beacons at first opportunity might be like some early hominid descending from the trees and calling "Here, kitty" to a sabre-toothed tiger.

Astronomer Zdenek Kopal, 1972:

Should we ever hear the space-phone ringing, for God's sake let us not answer, but rather make ourselves as inconspicuous as possible to avoid attracting attention!

Pulitzer Prize-winner Jared Diamond, 1992:

If there really are any radio civilizations within listening distance of us, then for heaven's sake, let's turn off our transmitters and try to escape detection, or we're doomed.

Jared Diamond, 1999:

Those astronomers now preparing again to beam radio signals out to hoped-for extraterrestrials are naive, even dangerous.

Project Cyclops, 1972:

There is no limit to the kinds of threats one can imagine given treachery on their part and gullibility on ours. Appropriate security measures and a healthy degree of suspicion are the only weapons.

Project Cyclops, 1972:

By revealing our existence, we advertise Earth as a habitable planet.

Physicist Freeman Dyson, 1964:

Our business as scientists is to search the universe and find out what is there. What is there may conform to our moral sense or it may not....It is just as unscientific to impute to remote intelligences wisdom and serenity as it is to impute to them irrational and murderous impulses. We must be prepared for either possibility and conduct our searches accordingly.

Freeman Dyson, 1972:

We are more likely to discover first the species in which technology has got out of control, a technological cancer spreading through the galaxy. We should be suitably alarmed if we discover it and take our precautions.

Carl Sagan, 1980:

There is almost no chance that two galactic civilizations will interact at the same level. In any confrontation, one will always utterly dominate the other.

Psychologist Albert Harrison and historian Steven Dick, 2000:

Dominance may be a natural, indeed inevitable, stance of any advanced life form.

Astronomer Eric Chaisson, 2000:

Advanced life, anywhere in the cosmos, will tend to control other life.

U.S. Congressional Research Service, 1977:

Previous experience with warlike peoples might have convinced them to arrive at a new planet well armed and ready for combat.

Astronomer Ronald Bracewell, 1983:

I don't believe that we would find any space ship that had taken the trouble to come all this way and was not armed.

Astronomer Sebastian von Hoerner, 1971:

If we come into contact with some superior civilization, this would mean the end of our civilization.

Astronomer Robert Jastrow, 1997:

Will we survive the encounter? I see no gorounds for optimism.

Computer expert Roger MacGowan and space expert Frederick Ordway, 1966:

An advanced extrasolar society would recognize from our manner of signaling that we have only recently emerged, scientifically speaking. If it were malevolent, such a revelation on our part might spell doom for terrestrial civilization.

Astronomer Frank Drake, 1978:

Space provides us with...an endless supply of new places to explore, new things we have never seen before, new sources of joy, perhaps even new sources of fear.