SETI at Sunset
“Propriety feelings are of course offended when a scientific hypothesis is disproved, but such disproofs are critical to the scientific enterprise.” —Carl Sagan
I strongly suspect that the leadership team at the SETI Institute knows full well that the hypothesis that their alien search is based on has been thoroughly falsified, and that the time is fast approaching when the doors of its Mountain View, California, headquarters will close and the experiment will officially be shut down. The last of SETI’s glory days was decades ago. In 1992, for example, Frank Drake, certain that the search model he invented was on the brink of success, wrote: “This discovery, which I fully expect to witness before the year 2000, will profoundly change the world.”
Much to Frank Drake’s consternation and embarrassment, SETI’s discovery of an alien signal wasn’t as imminent as he thought. Almost 25 years after penning these boastful words, a radio signal still hasn’t been intercepted, and the SETI experiment is widely regarded in the scientific community as a boondoggle. Unfortunately, Frank Drake has been so deeply invested in SETI and radio telescopes over his long career that he knows that, at his age, there is no way out of the corner he has painted himself into. His destiny, his legacy, will forever be attached to radio telescopes, and an alien radio signal that never came.
There is still time, however, to save the legacy of Carl Sagan from the same plight. Drake’s caustic description of Sagan’s Stanford Paper as “bad science” is evidence that he knew about Sagan’s belief in past alien visitations. Now, in his twilight years, it would be magnanimous of Frank Drake if he would come clean and tell the public the truth: that Carl Sagan was a life-long believer in ancient aliens and that he doesn’t deserve to be associated with SETI and radio telescopes in any deep scientific sense.
This, however, is not likely to happen because it appears that Drake may be holding a grudge. He has never apologized for stating that Sagan was doing bad science when he wrote his Stanford Paper, and he evidently continues believes this so strongly that, even in light of the fact that his anti-interstellar spaceflight argument has been negated, he is still not willing to recognize the Sagan Model of ancient alienism as a scientifically legitimate ETI search strategy.
This raises a very uncomfortable question: Has Frank Drake, in his almost-fanatical belief that extraterrestrials will send us electronic signals, abandoned his training as a professional scientist to the point where he cannot find it within himself to even acknowledge the existence of the Sagan Model of ancient alienism, much less allow it the opportunity to compete in an open marketplace of ideas? Is he, in effect, playing God by, a priori, rejecting the Sagan Model without allowing new evidence that supports that model a chance to be tested? Could it be that Drake is still bothered that Sagan, while he was at the 1961 Green Banks Conference, was secretly putting the final touches on his ancient alien theory and that all he needed to make it fit for publication in a scientific journal was the equation that he—Frank Drake—developed?
In the 16th century, another Drake—Sir Francis by name— left the comforts of his native England and sailed around the New World. The name of his flagship was the Revenge. Could it be that Frank Drake is the captain of a ship of a different kind that bears the same appellation? I believe that for the past 50-plus years, Frank Drake has been one of the men most responsible for keeping Sagan’s name and reputation attached to radio telescopes.
In 1992, a cocky Frank Drake had the champagne on ice and the party balloons ready to be released. Throwing scientific caution to the wind, he promised the world that SETI radio telescopes would detect an alien signal by the year 2000. In contrast, in 1995, Carl Sagan, showing extreme caution, wrote the following about the chances of his ancient alien model being proven: “I didn’t imagine that this would be easy or probable, and I certainly did not suggest that, on so important a matter, anything short of iron-clad evidence would be worth considering.”
Now, 20 years later, science writer Lee Billings, after an interview with Drake, wrote: “Drake sighed. ‘These days I think that more-advanced technical civilizations will probably prove more difficult to detect than younger ones,’ he said.”
Today, the Drake Model and the Sagan Model are on opposite sides of the horizon. The Drake Model, with its radio telescopes falling into disrepair, is at its sunset, close to disappearing entirely from the scientific line of sight. In contrast, the Sagan Model is rising, growing brighter with each passing year. There is no better indicator of what is happening than Drake’s current position on interstellar spaceflight, which hasn’t changed since 1960. He told Billings: “Of all the things we might someday do, I don’t think we’ll ever colonize the stars.” “Ever” is a long time, conceivably lasting for millions or even billions of years. Now Frank Drake is likely the only person in the world who still clings to the depressing and outdated notion that interstellar spaceflight is impossible, and that the human dream and aspiration to someday travel to other planets in other solar systems is nothing but an empty fantasy. More than any other single individual, I believe that Frank Drake is the man most responsible from keeping the Sagan Model, which is premised on interstellar spaceflight, from being revisited. Frank Drake has a ball and chain attached to Sagan’s legacy, and he appears in no mood to set him free.
A Tale of Two Models
Frank Drake makes it clear in his writings that the central justification for using radio telescopes to search for an alien signal is because he is cocksure that alien interstellar spaceflight is impossible. Because aliens can’t reach Earth physically, he argues, they have no choice but to communicate over the vast distances of space electronically. But if we accept Fermi’s Paradox, Drake’s rationale for his radio telescope experiment breaks down in the face of simple arithmetic and irrefutable logic.
Add to this the indisputable fact that after more than a half century of using radio telescopes, SETI hasn’t detected anything, which is entirely consistent with Carl Sagan’s argument that, having the choice, an advanced alien civilization would choose interstellar spaceflight over sending radio signals. As Sagan pointed out in his Stanford Paper, a personal visit by advanced aliens to an emergent species would be infinitely superior to transmitting electronic information that would take thousands of years to get to where they wanted it to go, and, even if intercepted, would likely be unintelligible, and, even if decrypted, would require thousands of additional years before the reception of a response.
One has to ask: Why was the scientific establishment so hard on Carl Sagan and so soft on Frank Drake? Why are professional skeptics not attacking the Drake Model when it is stunningly obvious that it has failed? One reason may be that everyone sees Frank Drake as a humble type of guy, whereas Carl Sagan, with his supreme confidence and keen intellect, often came across as arrogant. Even if that were true, which it isn’t, personal likeability or un-likeability should never be factors in determining who wins and who loses in a scientific competition.
Incredibly, professional skeptics and much of the public still act like the radio telescope experiment is adorned in the finest fashions, but the truth is that the king is naked. The continued implementation of the Drake Model is more than an exercise in futility; it’s beginning to bear an uncomfortably close resemblance to pseudoscience. Over its 50-plus years, it has produced no evidence and there is no longer a scientific justification for its existence. Yet it continues.
Fortunately, there is an easy way that Frank Drake can dispel any suspicion that he is preventing the Sagan Model from being revisited out of revenge. All he has to do is to openly admit that Carl Sagan was an ancient alien theorist and acknowledge that the Stanford Paper has scientific validity.
The Drake Model is on life support while the Sagan Model, having been rediscovered, has gotten a new lease on life. Now it’s time to lay both on the table of critical scientific scrutiny and see which fares the best. But for that to happen, Frank Drake needs to sign off on the project, and he gives no indication that he is willing to cooperate. He is still making the excuse that there is no possibility of interstellar spaceflight, even for advanced aliens millions of years more advanced than the human species, so why bother?
I submit that the real reason behind Drake’s reluctance to have his model compete against Sagan’s model in a fair, science-based, side-by-side comparison is because he knows that the Sagan Model would prevail. He is not willing to admit that Sagan was right and that he was wrong.
Yet, competition between hypotheses is fundamental to the scientific process. Carl Sagan required unsentimental appraisal of his hypotheses and those of any other scientist, demanding that all “prove [their] case in the face of determined, expert criticism.”
Frank Drake declares the Sagan Model dead on arrival by personal fiat rather than by open debate and rigorous investigation. He told Lee Billings: “Interstellar travel, on the other hand, I’ve worked on that quite a bit.” Drake uses the pronoun I rather than the collaborative we. He appears to have worked on interstellar spaceflight by himself, as an iconoclast, not as part of a scientific team, and then he declares the results of his research unequivocally true. If Drake is so cocksure that he’s right about advanced aliens not being able to physically visit our planet, then why doesn’t he allow the Sagan Model a chance to compete against his model in a fair and open venue? Why is he so isolated in his opinion? How come there isn’t a bevy of space scientists standing with him, insisting that for all time and eternity there will never be anyone—humans or aliens—engaging in interstellar spaceflight? Where have all of his friends gone?
A Matter of Relevance
Perhaps one reason why thoughtful people have abandoned SETI, other than for its failure to detect a signal, is because the Drake Model, unlike the Sagan Model, is not central to the question of whether or not there is extraterrestrial intelligent life in the Universe. Yes, if SETI had intercepted an alien signal, it would have confirmed that aliens exist, but from SETI’s failure, one cannot conclude that they do not exist. The SETI experiment occupies just a small niche in a broad spectrum of possibilities. As Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, and others have pointed out, there are a number of good reasons why an advanced alien civilization might choose not to transmit radio signals.
In fact, it may not be a good idea for humans to transmit radio signals. That debate is ongoing today concerning a proposed project known as “Active SETI” that, if implemented, would convert SETI’s radio telescopes into transmitters. A number of leading scientists, including Stephen Hawking, are opposed to humans sending messages into space. Even Frank Drake is on record as saying it would be a waste of time. If some of our brightest scientists think it a bad idea for humans to transmit electronic signals into space, why would hyper-intelligent extraterrestrials think otherwise?
The alternative to making remote contact with aliens by radio signals is direct contact by interstellar spaceflight. Carl Sagan knew that if there is extraterrestrial intelligence in our galaxy, then, statistically speaking, there is virtually no chance that they have not been to Earth. This is the crux of the Fermi Paradox and the Sagan Model, and the insight that SETI seems to have finally grasped in its full significance. This is why the Sagan Model deserves to be a core part of the modern equation and why the Drake Model is passé. This is why it is imperative that the Stanford Paper be revisited. From a theoretical perspective, not having it on the table for active consideration calls into question NASA’s credibility as an unbiased scientific institution.
Let me be clear: Sagan’s model doesn’t belong to UFO or ancient astronaut enthusiasts. It belongs to Sagan. For a variety of reasons, the Stanford Paper has been lost and forgotten. Few have known of its existence, and my goal is to change that. In this 20-year anniversary of his death and in the years to follow, my hope is that the Sagan Model will be openly discussed and debated in university classrooms, at scientific conferences, and in peer-reviewed papers all around the world, as people remember Sagan’s extraordinary accomplishments and service to humanity.
NASA’s current search for microbial life on exoplanets is simply another consideration in the equation. If there is simple life elsewhere, then, given the age of the Universe, there must also be intelligent life elsewhere. And if there is intelligent life elsewhere, then Earth should already have been visited. If NASA is successful in finding simple life forms, it will be compelling evidence that the Sagan Model is correct.
Whereas the Sagan Model is a necessary component that can’t be removed without the central equation falling apart, the Drake Model is a peripheral consideration and can be eliminated without affecting the calculus. The NASA search for microbial life and past alien visitations to Earth are inextricably bound together. You can look at it two ways: negatively or positively. Negatively, if there are no aliens, then there is no microbial life, and NASA is wasting time and taxpayer money looking for it. Likewise, if there is no microbial life, then there are no aliens. Either way you look at it, if there are no microbial life and no aliens, we can conclude that we are alone in the Universe. Positively, however, if there are aliens, then there must be microbial life in space, and if there is microbial life in space, there must be aliens. And, if there are alien civilizations, we can conclude that some of them are long lived and have been to Earth. This circular chain of logic runs in both directions and it can’t be broken: A number of these long-lived extraterrestrials may have stayed around for thousands of years, leaving scientifically verifiable evidence of their presence encoded in ancient manuscripts, including, possibly, the Old Testament, one of the books that Sagan specifically identified as perhaps holding the key to a discovery of unimaginable importance.
True friends of Carl Sagan will not allow his memory to fade along with the sinking fortunes of SETI and radio telescopes. He deserves better than that. The world needs to hear the truth that Sagan was a brilliant theoretical scientist who posited that aliens have been to Earth. He was the only scientist in the West who openly endorsed the possibility of ancient alien visitations and the only scientist to build a conceptual framework accompanied by a distinct search strategy. If you are one of Sagan’s millions of admirers, I urge you to join with me lobbying NASA, SETI, and professional skeptics to engage the facts openly and exhaustively and end the cover-up.
In addition, my hope is that serious individuals from all walks of life will have intelligent and rational discussions on the subject of ancient alienism around kitchen tables, in living rooms, at restaurants, and around the water cooler at work. From the credentials of the man who crafted it, to the Drake equation, to Fermi’s Paradox, to the inexplicable rise of Sumerian culture and civilization, and so much more, Sagan’s model of ancient alienism contains all the necessary components and meets all the high standards that science theorists and professional skeptics look for in a serious proposal.
Based solely on scientific merit, the Sagan Model was, and still is, clearly superior to the Drake Model. In a fair and neutral environment, it would have been Sagan’s search strategy that would have been given priority status, with the radio telescope search supported as a secondary experiment. Instead, the Drake Model was selected without critical scrutiny, whereas the Sagan Model was cast aside like so much garbage. This terrible injustice needs to be made right, and the only way for that to happen is for NASA, SETI, and professional skeptics to confess the cover-up and recognize the Sagan Model as scientifically legitimate.
The $100,000,000 Nail
On July 20, 2015, Russian billionaire entrepreneur Yuri Milner issued a formal announcement. Through what he calls Breakthrough Listen, he generously pledged 100 million dollars over 10 years to the SETI Institute to complete its search for conclusive evidence of extraterrestrial existence using state-of-the-art radio telescopes and the latest computer technology. Milner made his YouTube announcement in front of a distinguished panel that included astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, astrophysicist Lord Martin Rees, radio astronomer Frank Drake, Carl Sagan’s third wife, Ann Druyan, and astronomer Geoff Marcy. During the event, the name of Carl Sagan was mentioned several times—but, of course, not a peep about his ancient alien theory.
Personally, I think $100 million is a lot of money to spend for what will be the final nail in the Drake Model coffin. Milner surely knows that Sagan was the son of Russian immigrant parents; that he shared information about extraterrestrial existence with Russian scientists at the height of the Cold War; and that several top Russian scientists, who were as much pioneers in SETI research as Sagan and Drake, were sympathetic, and some even enthusiastic, to the idea of past alien visitations. The Western parochialism that decreed that advanced aliens would be incapable of physically reaching Earth never reared its ugly head in the Soviet Union the way it did in the United States. The Russians knew better.
Putting a significant damper on the announcement of Milner’s generous gift, Martin Rees stated that the odds of a successful intercept were low. Hawking followed that up by saying that a SETI failure would not prove that aliens do not exist. Drake then chimed in by hinting, quite strongly, that $100 million may not be enough money, and a decade may not be enough time, to get the job done. Capping off the negative refrain, Marcy stated that he would be willing to bet, not his house, but Yuri Milner’s house, that the project would be successful. By this time, Mr. Milner had to be thinking to himself, “What in the hell have I gotten myself into?!” But that wasn’t all the bad news. Frank Drake informed the audience that recruiting top talent to SETI is almost impossible because (1) it’s extremely boring work, and (2) it produces no scientific papers. This means that despite Milner’s generous grant, the only way to attract gifted young scientists to the project would be to deflect much or most of the money away from looking for ETI to searching for the electronic signature of as-yet-undiscovered natural phenomena not related to ETI.
Within the space science community, it is now common knowledge that SETI’s moment has come and gone. The experiment is over and it can’t be revived, not even with the injection of a large amount of money. The excitement is currently in searching for signs of microbial life on exoplanets with space-based optical telescopes. Basically, what Milner was being told was that he was pouring his money down a rat hole—but that it would be happily accepted and spent anyway.
At the close of the news conference there was an opportunity for journalists to ask questions. Had I been there, I would have asked why advanced aliens, if they had a burning desire to use radio signals to inform the entire galaxy of their existence, didn’t just flood all 10 billion frequencies of the radio spectrum with such powerful pulses that they would shout out in unison and with unequivocal certainty, “We are here!” If radio signals are their chosen means of communication, why have they made them so hard to detect? Even as he was about to launch Project Ozma on April 8, 1960, Frank Drake later reflected that his assumptions about alien technological development being on par with human development may have been underestimations, and that their systems may have in fact been significantly more powerful and able to project over vast interstellar expanses. He could have, and he should have. It makes absolutely no sense to conduct a major experiment that is based on the flawed assumption that the radio telescope capability of advanced aliens is no better than mid-20th-century human technology.
Carl Sagan’s position was: Why are we humans so naive as to think that we have to do all the heavy lifting? If aliens are transmitting radio signals, we should be able to turn on a monitor attached to a radio telescope and see blips jumping off the chart. Why, like passing kidney stones, have we been straining so hard for so long—with no results? In the complete absence of any alien-generated radio signals, why isn’t the proper assumption to conclude that hyper-advanced aliens don’t communicate with radio signals? When will SETI come to its senses and openly admit that its radio telescope search strategy is a failure and should be abandoned?
The biggest contribution the SETI experiment has made to the advancement of science is that it has served to remind us of the truth of one of a basic dictum: that a single hypothesis is never as good as two or more hypotheses locked in a friendly, high-stakes competition.
At its commencement, the Drake Model was wrapped in all the hype and glitter of a Hollywood grand opening. Until the Apollo 11 moon launch, nothing in the history of science could compare. It was an extravaganza that attracted the attention of the world. Everyone agreed that there was no better way to prove the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence than to listen for their radio signals with one of the marvels of modern science, radio telescopes. By Drake’s own admission, his model put aliens and humanity on roughly the same level, and that made us feel good about ourselves. We were led to believe that aliens, if they exist, were not so far ahead of us technologically that there would be an unbridgeable gap between their species and ours. And, to whatever extent they might be ahead of us, they would build in the necessary accommodations to ensure that an emergent civilization like ours would be able to intercept and decrypt their message. No one except Carl Sagan was thinking about a technological and evolutionary gap so wide that the only way that their species could productively interact with our species would be for them to physically visit our planet and, through patient teaching over hundreds of years, incubate and cultivate the development of human civilization.
Never buying into conventional wisdom, Carl Sagan was sure that extraterrestrials delivered their message to Earth in person and did it in a way that was infinitely better than sending radio signals. If Yuri Milner should find it within himself to agree to fund an exhaustive Earth-based search, SETI’s radio telescope experiment could finally be retired, and he will be credited with making a key contribution to the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence. I have sent him a signed copy of this book along with a personal appeal for his help. Here’s hoping he reads it.
Frank Drake was committed to refuting the possiblity of previous alien intervention and to dissuading us from the other potentiality of that idea: fear of a future violent invasion. What Drake cavalierly dismissed as wrongheaded was a not-so-subtle slam at Carl Sagan’s science-based ancient alien theory. Today, the Sagan Model is hopefully on the verge of being accepted by mainstream science as a legitimate search strategy, and that it will replace an experiment that has ended in failure.
In 1964, at the first international gathering of scientists interested in in extraterrestrial research, held at Byurakan, Armenia, Russian astrophysicist Nikolai Kardashev proposed that there are three different levels of alien civilizations. What quickly became known as the Kardashev scale is almost as popular in ETI research circles as the Drake Equation. Those in Type I could harness the energy of their home planet. Those in Type II could harness the energy of their home star. And those in Type III could harness the combined energy of all the stars in their home galaxy. We have been told over and over that space travel at or near the speed of light would require energy levels too high to make it feasible. We were told that even if that velocity could be reached, slowing the spacecraft down would pose an additional set of insurmountable problems. As recently as in 2014, military specialist George Michael, in his book, Preparing for Contact, states that interstellar spaceflight would be impossible for any civilization on the Kardashev scale less than I; humans are currently classified as 0. Michael suggests that it will be another 10,000 years before humans develop interstellar spaceflight capability.
It was a SETI lie about the impossibility of interstellar spaceflight that destroyed Carl Sagan’s efforts to establish a science-based search for evidence of past alien visitations to Earth. Years later, when the Drake Model was yielding no results, it was another SETI lie that looking for an alien signal from space was like looking for a needle in a haystack that kept the radio telescope search going, when, by all rights, it should have been shut down and abandoned.
First, the anti-interstellar spaceflight lie, SETI lie #1: Interstellar spaceflight, whether for aliens or humans, is impossible. The Sagan Model of ancient alienism rests on one crucial assumption: that long-lived extraterrestrial civilizations would have had both the time and the technology to successfully traverse the vast distances of interstellar space to get from their home planet to ours. Yet, despite such mind-blowing accomplishments, NASA was still insisting that all aliens, even those in the Type III category, would be unable to reach Earth. Go figure.
I believe in 1964, when the Pentagon saw what Sagan was proposing, they conspired with NASA to bury his research. James Webb, the administrator at NASA when Sagan’s paper came out, knew that he had the option of implementing both search strategies simultaneously. I’m convinced that it was an absolute deliberate act on Webb’s part to ignore the superior science of the Sagan Model and select only the search strategy that had military utility.
At the same time, NASA had to be able to justify its decision to reject the Sagan Model by factually demonstrating why it was scientifically bankrupt. The problem was that the Stanford Paper was so extremely well thought out that it had no such glaring weakness—so NASA invented one. I believe that it launched an unofficial campaign that directed all NASA and SETI scientists to insist that interstellar spaceflight was physically impossible. No matter how much older and technologically advanced any alien civilization might be, they would argue that their ability to physically come to Earth was such a preposterous idea that it wasn’t even worth discussing.
And now, the death blow, the coup de grace, is that NASA is busy with plans to build a working starship by the end of this century. Under NASA oversight and with government funding from the Defense Department, two starship-building initiatives, Icarus Interstellar and the 100 Year Starship Project, are currently working on meeting their expressed goal of constructing an operational interstellar spacecraft by the end of this century.
This is either one of the more amazing coincidences in the history of science, or a sure indication of a conspiracy and cover-up. Think of it: While Sagan was alive, talk of interstellar starships, even for advanced aliens, was anathema. Soon after his death, NASA starts building one. So why is NASA now working at building a starship by the end of this century? What in the hell is going on? Have we been lied to? The answer is obvious: yes, we have.
The 100 Year Starship Project makes the Apollo mission look like small potatoes, and yet it is advancing with minimal publicity. The general public has no awareness of what is going on. One reason for this institutional shyness is that it’s clear that NASA wants the world to forget about Carl Sagan. There are still too many of his fans around who, if they knew, might begin asking NASA officials uncomfortable questions, such as why NASA rejected the Stanford Paper, in which Sagan wrote: “Especially allowing for a modicum of scientific and technological progress within the next few centuries, I believe that interstellar spaceflight at relativistic velocities to the farthest reaches of our Galaxy is a feasible objective for humanity.”
These words are prophetic, and under normal circumstances one might assume that NASA would print them on a banner and fly them high on a breeze. But NASA, in this new century and new millennium, would prefer that the name of Carl Sagan, along with Frank Drake, be relegated to the dustbin of history as co-founders of a pathetically unremarkable search program that ended in ignominious failure.
Unless it is trying to keep from drawing attention to its most famous scientist, one has to wonder why NASA doesn’t call its interstellar endeavor the Carl Sagan Starship Project, after the man who pioneered the concept of human interstellar spaceflight. Or how about a Carl Sagan Starship Research Center? And why doesn’t NASA reintroduce the Stanford Paper as proof to the world that Sagan, more than a half century ago, was suggesting that in just a few centuries NASA would be exploring the galaxy? Postmortem, NASA could use Sagan’s writings and his fame to attract support for what will be by far its most ambitious undertaking ever. Only if there is a cover-up going on does it make sense for NASA to keep its starship project quiet and leave Sagan’s name out of the mix.
Paradoxically, at the same time that SETI scientists and professional skeptics were telling us that the problems with interstellar spaceflight were too great to be overcome, even by advanced aliens, those same scientists and skeptics were insisting that advanced aliens, if we were to ever meet them, would possess godlike powers and abilities far beyond our wildest imagination. For some strange reason, no one has ever bothered to collect and compare what the experts were saying about interstellar spaceflight against what they were saying about extraterrestrial genius and technological achievement. It is a study in contradictions.
For example, in the same book where Frank Drake writes that crediting extraterrestrials with scientific knowledge and technology much beyond our own would be “unfounded speculation,” he states that he believes that advanced aliens would likely be immortal. In other words, aliens are smart enough to have figured out the secret of extending life forever—but too dumb to have figured out how to physically reach Earth.
Another contradiction: Italian mathematician and SETI astronomer Claudio Maccone recently estimated that extraterrestrials a mere one million years ahead of humans would be 300 times more technologically advanced than modern humans are to mold spore! Yet, according to NASA, these hyper intelligent and hyper advanced aliens haven’t been able to develop interstellar spaceflight capabilities.
I have to confess: For years I was listening to these contradictory narratives and not paying attention to the little voice in the back of my head that was saying, “This doesn’t add up; it doesn’t make any sense.” I, like many others, was completely buffaloed by NASA scientists that I assumed knew what they were talking about—when they were making polar opposite statements.
Professional skeptics are equally guilty of perpetuating this conundrum. In what Michael Shermer calls his “Last Law,” he compares advanced aliens to God. He writes: “For an ETI who is a million years more advanced than we are, engineering the creation of planets and stars may be entirely possible. And if universes are created out of collapsing black holes—which some cosmologists think is probable— it is not inconceivable that a sufficiently advanced ETI could create a universe by triggering the collapse of a star into a black hole.”
According to Shermer, advanced aliens might be able of creating new universes—but, amazingly, they haven’t been to Earth!
Michael Shermer’s friend and colleague, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, apparently agrees with his Last Law. He expressed the God/alien Equivalency Principle with his typical unrestrained eloquence when he wrote: “Whether we ever get to know them or not, there are very probably alien civilizations that are superhuman, to the point of being god-like in ways that exceed anything a theologian could possibly imagine. Their technical achievements would seem as supernatural to us as ours would seem to a Dark Age peasant transported to the twenty-first century.”
Where did the God/alien Equivalency Principle originate? Shermer and Dawkins may have gotten it from Carl Sagan, who asked if the legends that describe unimaginably powerful, superior alien beings whose technologies would make them seem to the human population like gods.
Incredibly, there are still SETI scientists and professional skeptics who, while extolling the godlike qualities of aliens, insist that there is no way that they could colonize the Galaxy. It’s like two freight trains racing towards one another, full throttle, on the same track: unlimited alien capability on a collision course with an alien inability to reach Earth. The result is what one might expect: an ontological train wreck.
Sagan, in contrast, had absolutely no problem attributing intelligent extraterrestrial civilizations thousands or millions of years older than ours with knowledge and capabilities beyond our comprehension that would make it a near certainty that they have been to Earth. He maintained that if we were to physically meet such beings, they would seem godlike, which is precisely how primitive human civilizations came to describe their non-human visitors not long after their first encounters. The most common way of framing this argument is to ask where human science and technology might be in another hundred years, or another thousand years, or another million years. If we are prepared to credit our own species with a reasonable rate of progress over an extended period of time, how can we withhold it from aliens? Considering the overpowering logic of Fermi’s argument, and the fact that NASA is currently at work building a starship, isn’t it is a far safer assumption to think that advanced aliens have visited Earth than that they haven’t? Isn’t it then also a reasonable assumption to conclude that a search for alien artifacts, including those of a literary nature, would be a more logical search strategy than one based on the faulty argument that space is too vast for aliens to conquer?
Modern scientists tend to get puffed up with pride over what they have achieved, but the reason they get puffed up is because they compare their current scientific accomplishments with where science was a mere 400 years ago. What if, instead, they compared themselves to scientists 400 years in the future? If they did that, I think most of them would admit that they are still in diapers, barely learning to crawl. Now, what if they were to compare themselves to extraterrestrials who were one million years more advanced? If they did that, they might be forced to admit that modern science, as amazing as it is, is little more than a recently fertilized egg.
In his Stanford Paper, Sagan argues very persuasively that to appreciate what extraterrestrials might be capable of, all we have to do is measure where human technology is today compared to where it was a century ago, and how it has progressed from decade to decade. When we do this, we invariably find that technology advances at an exponentially ever faster pace, so that what was accomplished in the final decade of a century may amount to more than what was accomplished in the previous 90 years. This principle, known as Moore’s law, is widely applied to advances in computer intelligence, but it is also persuasive evidence that Sagan was correct in arguing that alien interstellar spaceflight is a near certainty, and that the concept that aliens have visited Earth is scientifically plausible. Sagan wrote: “We desire to compute the number of extant galactic communities which have attained a technical capability substantially in advance of our own. At the present rate of technological progress, we might picture this capability as several hundred years or more beyond our own stage of development.”
When it came down to NASA having to decide how best to go about looking for evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence, the Drake Model or the Sagan Model, Sagan, guided by the established scientific principle of encouraging competition between contending hypotheses, was confident that intelligent and responsible leadership would have no choice but to implement both search strategies. The only way the Sagan Model would not be allowed to compete would be if there were a conspiracy to suppress Sagan work. In the end, as we now know, that is what happened. All the key players at NASA denigrated Sagan’s research by insisting that alien interstellar spaceflight was impossible, leaving the poor bastards no choice but to communicate with us by radio signals. Now that the Pentagon and NASA are engaged in their own starship development, that lie has finally caught up to them.
One of the favorite terms professional skeptics use in describing advocates of pseudoscience is cognitive dissonance, which Michael Shermer defines as “the mental tension experienced when someone holds two conflicting thoughts simultaneously.” That Shermer, Dawkins, and other skeptics can actually believe that godlike aliens might be capable of creating new universes—and yet not have the ability to physically travel to Earth because the distance is too great—has to be the penultimate example of cognitive dissonance. Such an extreme and illogical stance is either the product of a very superficial thinker or the attempt on the part of a very cunning thinker to cover up Carl Sagan’s work on past alien visitations to Earth.
Tracing this ruse back to its origins leads to the doorstep of the Pentagon. Not interested in any search program that lacked the potential for military application, it is obvious that insiders favored a search strategy involving radio telescopes that it knew wasn’t able to compete on a level playing field against the Sagan Model. In 1964, when the Sagan Model was rejected, NASA knew full well that advanced extraterrestrials, if they exist, would not only own the technology to reach Earth, but that there was a high probability that Sagan was right in proposing that they were here.
The Sagan Model needs to be formally recognized and implemented. Now that the Big Lie #1 has been exposed, it’s time for those of us who have been snookered by NASA into thinking that the distances between galactic civilizations is too great for advanced extraterrestrials to overcome, to express our righteous indignation.
SETI lie #2: Searching for an alien signal is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Carl Sagan advanced a two-pronged strategy for finding verifiable evidence of extraterrestrial existence. One was to employ radio telescopes to look out in space for an electromagnetic signal; the other was to look here on Earth in ancient manuscripts for a literary signal. SETI is an acronym that stands for the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence. In principle, it identifies a noble and worthwhile scientific goal without restricting itself to a single search strategy. Unfortunately, NASA chose to disregard this commonsense principle by looking only for a radio signal from space, leaving Sagan’s Earth-based ancient alien strategy ignored and forgotten.
To ensure that there was no blind spot, Sagan endorsed both strategies—one that searched the heavens, and one that searched here on Earth. Though he clearly favored ancient manuscript research over radio telescopes, he thought it simple common sense to keep all options open. Still, Sagan was not shy about pointing out what he saw as many deep and serious flaws with radio wave messaging. His considered opinion was that the Drake Model was so suspect that he was extremely skeptical that trying to intercept an electronic signal would work. In the Stanford Paper, he writes:
The difficulties of electromagnetic communication over such interstellar distances are serious. A simple query and response to the nearest technical civilization requires periods approaching 1000 years. An extended conversation—or direct communication with a particularly interesting community on the other side of the Galaxy—will occupy much greater time intervals, 100,000 to 1,000,000 years.
Electromagnetic communication assumes that the choice of signal frequency will be obvious to all communities. But there has been considerable disagreement about interstellar transmission frequency assignment even on our own planet; among galactic communities, we can expect much more sizable differences of opinion about what is obvious and what is not. No matter how ingenious the method, there are certain limitations on the character of the communication effected with an alien civilization by electromagnetic signaling. With billions of years of independent biological and social evolution, the thought processes and habit patterns of any two communities must differ greatly; electromagnetic communication of programmed learning between two such communities would seem to be a very very difficult undertaking indeed. The learning is vicarious. Finally, electromagnetic communication does not permit two of the most exciting categories of interstellar contact—namely, contact between an advanced civilization and an intelligent but pre-technical society, and the exchange of artifacts and biological specimens among the various communities.
Sagan then adds: “Interstellar space flight sweeps away these difficulties. It reopens the arena of action for civilizations where local exploration has been completed; it provides access beyond the planetary frontiers.”
Sagan’s First and Last Radio Telescope Search
Remarkably, despite his misgivings about radio telescopes, Carl Sagan went on to participate with Frank Drake in the first largescale galactic search for an alien signal. In 1975, “Sagan participated in the only SETI experiment of his career. . . . Sagan and Drake aimed the telescope at a large nearby galaxy. During the first half-hour alone, they scanned ten billion stars.”
But Frank Drake noted Sagan was bored. Why was Sagan bored? It was because he knew then that the radio telescope experiment was a failure. If no signal was detected after scrutinizing hundreds of billions of stars, he was certain that humans would never capture an alien signal with radio telescopes, no matter how long they tried. If it didn’t happen in that first hour, it wouldn’t happen— not in the next 50 years, in the next 100 years, or in the next 1,000 years. Though by that time he was politically savvy enough not to announce his skepticism of the Drake Model publicly, Sagan abandoned radio telescopes as a viable search strategy. He knew in 1975 that they weren’t the way to establish contact, and, as in so many other areas, he has been proven right.
Since that time, radio telescope SETI has continued on, growing ever larger and more costly, with tremendously greater search capacity—and no results. Despite a significant deterioration of influence and credibility, SETI Institute officials like Frank Drake are still reassuring people that electromagnetic contact with aliens is only a matter of time and that with more money and more sophisticated equipment it is sure to eventually succeed. The public has been reminded over and over that the SETI search for an electromagnetic alien signal is like looking for a needle in a haystack. This analogy is not only not true, but is beginning to wear thin among an aging but still adoring public that is desperate to know that aliens exist.
The excuse of proponents of the Drake Model that searching for an alien radio signal is like looking for a needle in a haystack is bogus, and they know it. For years it has been foisted on the public, and the public has bought into it. To the scientifically untrained ear, it sounds so reasonable. It encourages laypeople to think of the immensity of space and imagine SETI scientists courageously trying to intercept some faint, teeny, little radio signal emanating, almost unperceptively, from some distant alien planet. That is pure unadulterated bullshit. The reality is that if there is one alien radio signal in space, there have to be trillions of them. From the second the experiment first started, SETI radio telescopes should have been lighting up with successful intercepts.
SETI supporters who continue to call on the public for patience and financial support on the grounds that searching for an alien signal is like looking for a needle in a haystack, have no answer for critics like futurist Ray Kurzweil, who writes:
The SETI project is sometimes described as trying to find a needle (evidence of a technical civilization) in a haystack (all the natural signals in the universe). But actually, any technically sophisticated civilization would be generating trillions of trillions of needles (noticeably intelligent signals). Even if they switched away from electromagnetic transmissions as a primary form of communication, there would still be vast artifacts of electromagnetic phenomenon generated by all of the many computational and communication processes that such a civilization would need to engage in.
Carl Sagan knew this, which is why he predicted from the beginning that radio telescopes were not the way to prove alien existence. The SETI Institute now hesitatingly acknowledges that Earth, by all rights, should have been visited by extraterrestrials eons ago, and it has all but given up hopes of intercepting an alien signal. The Drake Model is a scientific failure and SETI has become irrelevant. In the interests of scientific integrity, and without presuming that it will be any more successful than the Drake Model, the Sagan Model needs to be activated.