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The Stupidity Front

By qon in Media
Fri May 10, 2002 at 08:11:25 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

I had a bizarre little idea that I'd like to share... it led me to a highly speculative exploration about something we're doing right now that may dog our distant descendants. It is surely the biggest mark we've made on the cosmos as a species, though few of us even think about it, let alone its consequences.

My question to you is: is the Stupidity Front some kind of sick joke, or does it really exist?

Our civilization produces electromagnetic racket. It is comprised of every intentional broadcast: television, radio, satellite, and so on. There are also unintentional electromagnetic noise sources such as electric motors, power generators, light bulbs, the computer you're using to read this, and so on.

All this electronic racket is racing away from earth at the speed of light, which is how fast electrons move in a vacuum. This process began when humans first began building machines that create electromagnetic fields, back in the mid-to-late 19th century, but it really ramped up after the development of commercial radio broadcasting, which became ubiquitous in the 1920s. Since it is now 2002, the front of this electromagnetic racket can be thought of as a sphere about 80 light-years in radius, with earth as its approximate center. (This naturally discounts solar and galactic motion vectors.)

Every bit of this electromagnetic racket is information that, in principle, can be interpreted by an external party with the appropriate equipment. Decoding our radio and television transmissions should be easy; they were designed to be easy to decode. Encrypted traffic will be a little harder, but possibly quite easy for the external party. From these intentional transmissions, they can learn about Britney Spears, political scandals, diet fads, and infomercials. From the unintentional transmissions (which should be easy to distinguish), they can learn of the state of our technology.

I'd argue that any third party (external of humanity) that is capable of detecting and gaining information from our electromagnetic racket must be much more advanced than humanity is currently. They would need something much better than our radio telescopes. That makes me think that they would see us existing in a earlier developmental phase than they. They could see our weaknesses and our stupidity for what it is: our electronic childhood. This is the stupidity front. Perhaps they will understand it, because they went through a similar phase themselves.

The thing is, intelligent alien life (the 'third party') has been really hard to find. If it's out there, it's probably not close by. It may be thousands of light-years away from earth. That means we will have a long time to advance before the third party will hear our earliest feeble transmissions of Hitler and Stalin, of Vietnam and Auschwitz. If we still exist then, humanity will be beyond these things as far as we are currently beyond the Stone Age. Perhaps our progeny will have met the third party. And then, much to our children's embarrassment... just imagine what happens next:

After being dead for eons, we are vibrantly alive again, in our wretched indignity! And the worst part is, the neighboring third-party gets more and more of this indignity as time goes by. Every Jerry Springer episode. Every WWF match. All of our hardcore porn. Monster truck shows. NPR and PBS, holding the torch of highbrow culture, will represent a tiny fraction of this, as would other things like scientific telemetry. Nonetheless, it would largely be like watching monkeys masturbating in a cage, flinging their own feces at each other.

I'm entertained by this thought. Our lasting mark, our most enduring legacy, dare I say our most profound mark on the cosmos, may be our vast, 160 light-years in diameter, stupidity front. It's our cosmic joke on our distant descendants, who will probably live much better and longer than we do now. Maybe they will make some kind of attempt to jam the transmissions so that no one will know, but I doubt that. I think humanity will be able to laugh at itself by then. Might as well sit back and watch the ancients debase themselves. It will be a good lesson too. We will teach them humility.

And there is consolation for the humanity of the distant future: they probably get to experience the childhood embarrassments of their third-party neighbors too. That should be good for a laugh of its own.


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The Stupidity Front | 173 comments (148 topical, 25 editorial, 0 hidden)
"Intelligent" life (4.40 / 10) (#8)
by gibichung on Thu May 09, 2002 at 02:04:42 PM EST

It may be thousands of light-years away from earth. That means we will have a long time to advance before the third party will hear our earliest feeble transmissions of Hitler and Stalin, of Vietnam and Auschwitz. If we still exist then, humanity will be beyond these things as far as we are currently beyond the Stone Age.
If the aliens are smart enough to decode our radio and television transmissions, they'll be intelligent enough to realize just how far away we are. They'll also be able to understand that time has passed since the signals were sent. From the content of these signals, it'll be easy to realize that our civilization is advancing rapidly. They won't assume that we'll still be the same.

Your thesis is as flawed as the plots of so many bad Star Trek episodes.

"No man is above the law and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man's permission when we require him to obey it." -- Theodore Roosevelt

then again (3.60 / 5) (#10)
by gibichung on Thu May 09, 2002 at 02:08:32 PM EST

I guess my own experience with bad sci-fi plots is showing. I can see that you're just speaking of it in terms of "embarassment," but again, I would hope that anyone who can translate our messages would understand the context.

"No man is above the law and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man's permission when we require him to obey it." -- Theodore Roosevelt
[ Parent ]
Are we? (3.62 / 8) (#17)
by niralth on Thu May 09, 2002 at 03:09:08 PM EST

our civilization is advancing rapidly

Compared to what?  The whales?

[ Parent ]

Compared to (4.00 / 5) (#22)
by aphrael on Thu May 09, 2002 at 03:49:22 PM EST

Compared to the rate of technological, cultural, and agricultural change prior to the industrial revolution, things are changing at *lightspeed*. By any standard derived from human history, 'things are advancing rapidly'.

[ Parent ]
No comparison (4.33 / 6) (#29)
by niralth on Thu May 09, 2002 at 04:50:55 PM EST

My point was that our rate of advancement might have increased recently, but we have absolutely no reason to believe that, on a cosmic scale, compared to other hypothetical intelligent races, we are advancing quickly.

[ Parent ]
Yes (3.44 / 9) (#37)
by jabber on Thu May 09, 2002 at 07:24:45 PM EST

Any truly intelligent species would have kicked MS to the curb a decade ago.. Right after Linus made his first USENET announcement. Linux is the way to The Singularity, Baby!

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"
[ Parent ]

progress isn't linear (4.37 / 8) (#49)
by martingale on Thu May 09, 2002 at 10:28:50 PM EST

From the content of these signals, it'll be easy to realize that our civilization is advancing rapidly. They won't assume that we'll still be the same.
Don't assume that the speed of advancement (what does that mean anyway?) is linear in time. There are strong reasons to believe that it's going to depend much on our environment and the limitations of being Earth bound.

For example, the Polynesian islands give a fascinating case study where societal development is completely dependent on the size and resources of the settled islands. On some of the islands, the societies stayed at the hunter gatherer stage or even reverted to that stage over time, whereas on others, elaborate empire building and aggressive monarchical societies formed. Some islands depended entirely on fishing with no farming, while on others, farming techniques advanced rapidly. All this happened within essentially the same timeframe.

My point is that once we reach a global international society, with global markets and global environmental concerns and global values, we're quite likely to stagnate in that particular stage, as a function of the Earth bound constraints we live under. Just like (in a relative sense) the various Polynesian societies stuck on their islands. Progress would only be possible (and quite fast at that point) if we find a way of expanding into space.

[ Parent ]

that's neat about the polynesians (4.16 / 6) (#58)
by Subtillus on Thu May 09, 2002 at 11:59:13 PM EST

but what about break throughs? Big break throughs... REALLY big break throughs???

something LIKE (stressing the word like) cold fusion or genomic mastery or (insert sci-fi here)and even something like AI???

I can think of a dozen scenarios where any of the above could cause an exponential increase in population size and technological advancement.

think of the experiments we could perform given next to free energy? think of how many people could be fed with a genetic treatment that caused us to, produce a chloroplast analog... think of the research and co-ordination that could be done with an AI or two.

[ Parent ]

breakthroughs (4.20 / 5) (#66)
by martingale on Fri May 10, 2002 at 03:01:18 AM EST

What, you want big breakthroughs? Now you're talking like a venture capitalist... Personally, I'm waiting for the Star Trek teleporter beam, so I never have to sit in heavy traffic again.

BTW, the Polynesian stuff is in a book I'm reading, "Guns Germs and Steel" by Jared Diamond.

[ Parent ]

Transporter beam (4.50 / 2) (#86)
by RebelWithoutAClue on Fri May 10, 2002 at 12:54:13 PM EST

Ever thought of the issues with that ?

You know, like are you still there at the other end, or is it just someone who looks, acts like you, and has your memory ?

The side effects of a Transporter beam, when (if) it exists are unknown.

[ Parent ]

Re: Transporter beam (4.50 / 2) (#103)
by Aphexian on Fri May 10, 2002 at 08:55:09 PM EST

That's a concept - but not well thought out. Instead consider this:

The human mind is mapped - delineated - And you are in a car accident.

Your body is trashed, your mind intact... They take another host body (perhaps a clone. To paraphrase the Matrix "put me back in a powerhouse") You wake up in a new body - looking at yourself... Who pulls the plug? Which is the "real" you?

Ahhhh.. 400 level philosophy class.... Such bullshit, such fun...

[I]f there were NO religions, there would be actual, true peace... Bunny Vomit
[ Parent ]

cloning in movies (3.00 / 1) (#165)
by brainbox on Thu May 16, 2002 at 02:54:44 PM EST

See also the great Arnie film The 6th Day which has this sort of thing in huge amounts, albeit with traditional biologically manufactured clones (right down to the mind recordings) - cloned Arnies and cloned baddies!

[ Parent ]
Transporters and the concept of self (5.00 / 1) (#108)
by MikeD on Fri May 10, 2002 at 10:39:47 PM EST

Stephen Baxter touched upon that idea in Manifold: Space.  In it, there are portals between stars at "high gain points" (the (psuedo-?) physics is beyong Phy for Engs.) that transport the "cargo" between portals via quantum entanglement (and only at light-speed).  The main character occassionaly deals with the question of his existence (and possible death) when he transports.

Anyway, it was a nice hard science sci-fi story...although some plot points seemed out in left field from my pov (but then who knows what will be possible in 60-3000 years)


[ Parent ]

Jared Diamond (5.00 / 1) (#161)
by dasunt on Tue May 14, 2002 at 01:58:57 PM EST

He also wrote The Third Chimpanzee, which, as a book title, should be underlined, but Rusty is a cruel supervillian whose diabolical plan to rule the world hinges on the downfall of grammer.

Anyways, I was going to do a book review on that book for K5 eventually. It does cover the polynesian islands as well, but from another perspective - What will mankind do when resources run out? Amazon also lists Why Is Sex Fun? : The Evolution of Human Sexuality, which I have yet to read.

Anyways, just a ranting and raving post. Bye!

[ Parent ]
well, according to the fermi paradox (4.00 / 4) (#57)
by Subtillus on Thu May 09, 2002 at 11:53:06 PM EST

which goes something like, if tech rises up so fast and intelligent life existed elsewhere, they should have been here by now; the third party would know that we were already dead. they could then learn from us what not to do in order to survive. almost like that seinfeld where george plays it opposites and gets the girl and the job with the yankees.

[ Parent ]
big radio telescope (4.00 / 9) (#9)
by khallow on Thu May 09, 2002 at 02:04:48 PM EST

They would need something much better than our radio telescopes.

it wouldn't need to be better, just a lot bigger. Currently, it would be difficult for our largest radio telescope (Arecibo in San Juan) to detect signals from Earth according to the seti@home FAQ.

Let's say the range of detection (for Earth signals) is 5ly for Acecibo. If we make an equivalent radio telescope a thousand times large (250 miles wide), then we could pick up signals 500ly away (we have 10^6 more surface area, but signal strength is inversely proportional to the cube of the distance). A million times larger (a 250,000 mile wide dish), would pick up signals 50,000 ly away.

Stating the obvious since 1969.

sun drowning out the StuF? (3.75 / 4) (#51)
by martingale on Thu May 09, 2002 at 10:37:31 PM EST

Just a thought, maybe some physicist cares to enlighten me... The sun gives out a lot more photons compared to those we send out through the StuF, so what's the signal to noise ratio going to be, assuming the aliens would immediately recognize the StuF transmissions?

[ Parent ]

some bands are quiet (3.66 / 3) (#60)
by Subtillus on Fri May 10, 2002 at 12:02:59 AM EST

I know that we look at something called the water hole which is a quiet band between 1.4 and 1.68 named because it's the emission of H and Oh or something. also, I think at seti they look for pulse triplets because that's supposed to be a non-random occurence or something.

-the point is there are "things" you can look for and "places" you can look for them.-

[ Parent ]

but do they contain the StuF? (3.66 / 3) (#68)
by martingale on Fri May 10, 2002 at 03:17:08 AM EST

-the point is there are "things" you can look for and "places" you can look for them.-
I guess it's also possible simply to compute the entropy of the emission data relative to the expected distribution for similar stars, which theoretically would tell us if there is something to look for or not, regardless of whether we can recognize it.

But your answer doesn't tell me if the (radio wave) StuF which we've actually sent out is supposed to be visible among the natural stuff that comes out of the sun (or maybe I'm being stupid? If the frequencies overlapped, wouldn't we have a lot of solar interference in our radio signals? If that's minimized on purpose, then I guess aliens will be able to see Ally McBeal after all).

[ Parent ]

Actually Jupiter is louder in radio (5.00 / 1) (#87)
by khallow on Fri May 10, 2002 at 02:03:45 PM EST

At radio requencies, Jupiter is louder than the Sun. The vast portion of the Sun's energy is output at the near visible wavelengths - that's a huge reason why we only see light in the visible light spectrum.

Jupiter emits pretty radio loud noise because of synchotron radiation - elections and ions that emit photons while under the influence of an external magnetic field (in this case Jupiter's strong magnetic field). This sort of radiation drops as the frequency increases (so we don't see the noise Jupiter is putting out). The Solar Wind and the volcanoes of Io (the nearest moon of Jupiter)supply the electrons and ions.

Even with the noise in the Solar System, the broadcasts from Earth are unusual. They are narrow bandwidth and exhibit patterns not found naturalls. With a sensitive enough radio telescope you could distinguish these signals from the rival noise in the system.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

Aliens are not going to be our superiors (4.08 / 12) (#16)
by IHCOYC on Thu May 09, 2002 at 03:07:38 PM EST

I cannot imagine alien intelligence existing without it being a product of the same sort of evolution that made us. This implies that the intelligent aliens got smart because of a need to cope with a hostile environment in which resources needed to survive and reproduce are scarce. Life implies pain and pleasure as the carrot and stick to make us follow its agenda rather than something our mere minds would choose. Pain and pleasure will be part of any conceivable lifeform's biological programming.

It follows, then, that the intelligent aliens are evil in the same ways we are. It follows with only slightly less certainty that they're stupid like us, with various "hormonal" agendas (or whatever they have in place of hormones) and mental blind spots of their own. The shape these things take may be very different, but they'll be there.

Probably one reason why we've never contacted extraterrestrial intelligence is that intelligent life is bound to everywhere and always be a self-limiting phenomenon. The nature of life itself puts every smart life-form at war with its neighbours. Sooner or later they're all going to grasp thermonuclear physics. From then it's just a matter of time.

I wonder, as a matter of practicality, whether Earth's emitted radio noise could be deciphered by an alien culture. It won't be obvious how to decode a TV signal, or even that the signal represents transmitted moving images, without some notion of what the picture is supposed to look like.

Since the HF frequencies that escape the ionosphere are meant for local consumption, an alien observer would in fact receive a jumble of different signals on the same frequency. Earth's rotation would scramble them further. I doubt that they will derive enough data to begin to figure out our many languages, much less construct whole episodes of My Mother the Car anytime soon.

This message has been placed here IN MEMORIAM by the Tijuana Bible Society.

sniffers? (3.66 / 3) (#61)
by Subtillus on Fri May 10, 2002 at 12:07:11 AM EST

assuming they could even function on the same senses we take for granted.

what would red look like to a blind man? how would you explain it to him.

assuming an intelligent race, maybe the best they could say about our transmissions would be "interesting wave properties but utterly useless, launch the spores at it and prepare to colonize"

[ Parent ]

Analog TV signals (4.00 / 1) (#130)
by dachshund on Sat May 11, 2002 at 09:56:34 AM EST

An analog TV signal wouldn't be too difficult for an advanced race to decode, I imagine. Even if they didn't have anything that directly equated to 2D vision, there's still a lot of easily-analyzed information in the signal that could help an alien race decipher it.

For instance, it would only take a relatively small set of examples for another race to realize that the signal consists of a set of patterns, sometimes repeating, sometimes changing slightly. Even lacking a visual cortex, an alien race could still observe various signal characteristics caused by on-camera movement, scene changes, etc. Artificial titles could also be discerned by their sharp angles (if they had a crappy little TV like the one in my kitchen, they'd also be clued in by the load buzzing that overtakes the audio channel whenever brightly colored titles come on the screen :)

It's extraordinarily likely that an alien race would have some way of observing the world around them (sonar, radar, touch, etc.) Given the characteristics of the signal, I doubt it would take too long for them to realize it represented another system for interpreting reality. Presumably they could find some way to represent our signals so that it made sense to them.

[ Parent ]

come on. (5.00 / 2) (#155)
by Shren on Mon May 13, 2002 at 09:16:35 AM EST

The "I can not comprend of X, therefore X does not exist" style of argument went out with Descartes.

[ Parent ]
It doesn't matter. (3.90 / 10) (#19)
by Electric Angst on Thu May 09, 2002 at 03:17:09 PM EST

We'll have nuked ourselves into extenction long before our signals hit anything that can read them...

Oh wait, maybe not. I'm just bored of stupid sci-fi speculation online.

"Hell, at least [Mailbox Pipebombing suspect Lucas Helder's] argument makes sense, which is more than I can say for the vast majority of people." -
That's ok too (5.00 / 5) (#24)
by kuran42 on Thu May 09, 2002 at 04:17:16 PM EST

Because that'll get broadcast as well. It's always good to have closure, we wouldn't want to leave them aliens hanging.

kuran42? genius? Nary a difference betwixt the two. -- Defect
[ Parent ]
Alien means alien (4.00 / 8) (#25)
by Rand Race on Thu May 09, 2002 at 04:19:58 PM EST

You seem to be projecting prejudices you hold, that not even creatures who share the same anatomy and brain chemistry as you neccesarily share, onto an entirely alien psyche. An alien might well think Brittney Spears is the best thing since sliced quegarrs and consider Mozart to be brainless pap. Who's to know?

"Play the final episode of the Earthling show 'Single Female Lawyer' for us... You know, the show about a plucky, Earthling, single, female lawyer struggling to find success in a Earthling male's world?"

"Question with boldness even the existence of God; because if there be one, He must approve the homage of Reason rather than that of blindfolded Fear." - Thomas Jefferson

I knew it! (4.00 / 1) (#170)
by RegularFry on Tue May 28, 2002 at 01:38:58 PM EST

An alien might well think Brittney Spears is the best thing since sliced quegarrs and consider Mozart to be brainless pap. Who's to know?
Aliens have taken over the RIAA!

There may be troubles ahead, But while there's moonlight and music...
[ Parent ]
hardcore p0rn over the airwaves? (3.80 / 10) (#27)
by room101 on Thu May 09, 2002 at 04:31:06 PM EST

All of our hardcore porn.

I don't know of any way in which we broadcast hardcore porn over the airwaves. If so, where can I tune in?

Satellite (3.66 / 3) (#30)
by Happy Monkey on Thu May 09, 2002 at 04:59:24 PM EST

Though most of that is probably directed towards the Earth.
Length 17, Width 3
[ Parent ]
Fox (nt) (3.66 / 3) (#50)
by fluffy grue on Thu May 09, 2002 at 10:32:43 PM EST


[ Parent ]
Fox has hardcore pornography? (3.50 / 4) (#62)
by suick on Fri May 10, 2002 at 12:12:42 AM EST

order in to with the will I around my effort sentences an i of more be fuck annoying.
[ Parent ]
Sure, why not (3.50 / 4) (#63)
by fluffy grue on Fri May 10, 2002 at 12:15:02 AM EST


[ Parent ]
Kanal Kopenhagen? (3.66 / 3) (#71)
by FredBloggs on Fri May 10, 2002 at 05:02:46 AM EST

Or is that cable only?  The core doesnt get much harder...

[ Parent ]
Toroid (4.00 / 10) (#28)
by rusty on Thu May 09, 2002 at 04:39:58 PM EST

Just a thought, but wouldn't our stupidity front be toroidal, due to the earth's orbital motion?

Not the real rusty
Tricky - more of an oblate spheroid... (3.66 / 3) (#35)
by gordonjcp on Thu May 09, 2002 at 07:11:57 PM EST

... I'd say, but I'm not totally sure.

Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he'll bore you rigid with fishing stories for the rest of your life.

[ Parent ]
It's a matter of scale (3.66 / 3) (#36)
by jabber on Thu May 09, 2002 at 07:18:56 PM EST

At 80 light years, it's probably more of an expanding spiral, roughly following the path of the sun through the Galaxy, not unlike the path of a bug, struggling in circles on the surface of a very slowly moving stream, only in 3D.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"
[ Parent ]

yep, and I'd say a sphere (4.28 / 7) (#47)
by martingale on Thu May 09, 2002 at 09:46:20 PM EST

Eighty light years is so big that the rotation of the earth around the sun/galaxy would make no practical difference. Let's see, quick google search reveals the circumference of the Earth's orbit around the sun is about 940 million kilometers, and it takes one year to follow it. Lightspeed is about 300 thousand kilometers per second, so a curved light beam would take less than an hour to do the same (3133 sec). There are 3153600 seconds in a year, so the sun orbit is approximately one thousandth of the size of the radius of the Stupitidy Front in the first year. That means it's a sphere.

Now consider the sun's orbit around the milky way, which takes about 240 million years per turn. The circumference of the sun's orbit is about 53,400 parsecs or 53,400*3.26=174084 light years. In eighty years, the sun will have traveled about 174084*(80/240000000)=0.058028 light years, while the Stupidity Front traveled a distance of 80 light years. So the sun's orbital effect over eighty years is more than a thousand times smaller than the radius of the Stupidity Front. Again, that means it's a sphere for all intents and purposes.

[ Parent ]

Very Complex Front (4.20 / 5) (#110)
by SEWilco on Fri May 10, 2002 at 11:16:23 PM EST

Except for the people who think the Universe rotates around the Earth, it's a bit more complicated than that.

The Earth goes around the Sun. A volume on the other side of the Sun is in a Cone of Silence. The Cone is of course rotating around the neighborhood, in the plane of Earth's orbit. So there's a Spiral of Silence twisting out through one narrow slice of the Front.

  • Worse, the Earth rotates once a day. So a radio station on the Equator is only visible to a star above the Equator for perhaps 12 hours.
  • Even worse, radio broadcasts are sent with antennas which beam horizontally because broadcasters prefer to send the signal horizon-to-horizon to people who reach sponsor's stores more frequently than people who are directly overhead. So each radio station is actually sending out a thin disk which is scanning across stars above the equator twice a day, at the rate of 360 degrees / 24 hours / 60 minutes = 0.25 degrees per minute. Visualize that pattern.
  • If the victim happens to be on Polaris, the beams from all the transmitters are always pointing that way. Well, except they are rotating, which means the polarization is twisting around so they might want to have their antenna-the-size-of-a-planet rotating at the same speed the Earth is.
  • Polaris listeners won't be able to listen to Radio Tazmania, as that's south of the Equator and hidden from Polaris.
Now, visualize the spirals of disc-shaped signals from the individual transmitters. Beams to geosynchronous satellites are no better, as those also are rotating at Earth's speed.

The Interstellar TV Guide is awfully hard to use. You're lucky if you can watch a whole commercial.

[ Parent ]

Think Universally, Act locally (4.30 / 20) (#31)
by jabber on Thu May 09, 2002 at 05:03:11 PM EST

The best way to 'think of the children' of our distant future is to try and contain our own, Personal Stupidity Front today. Act Now!! Time is Short! Spell-check your K5 submissions.. Do not reply to inane flames and trolls, and never, ever quote 500 lines of email just to add a pathetic "Me Too" to the end of it.

Yes.. You TOO can make a difference in how the Citizens of the Universe will view our progeny.. You TOO can save our children from embarrassment before the Galactic Community.. Stop being an Electro-Magnetic Redneck today!!!

Boycott Springer, and anything else that your descendants thousands of years hence may find the equivalent of 'that crazy cousin we don't like to talk about' or 'that alcoholic slut of an aunt' or 'that homosexual-pedophile uncle who joined the Priesthood to avoid temptation'.

Do not force the future generations of Homo Sapiens Transcendus to stand red-faced on the surface of Alpha Centauri Prime as the whole planet erupts in nervous laughter at the final episode of Survivor 28 - Downtown Detroit. Do not cause them to hang their heads in shame as they realize that the Centauri are not laughing with us but AT us..

Think of the Children! Reign in your Personal Stupidity Front today.. Countless future generations will thank you for your absence in the crap-filled EM spectrum of their time.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

You got it (5.00 / 1) (#160)
by qon on Tue May 14, 2002 at 11:18:00 AM EST

Congratulations. I think you're the only one so far who seems to get where I was going with this.


[ Parent ]

Another Futurama parallel (3.90 / 10) (#32)
by Torgos Pizza on Thu May 09, 2002 at 05:15:08 PM EST

You assume that aliens would think that we're stupid. What if they think we're totally brilliant from our television?

Futurama had a few episodes about this. An alien race was hooked on our television shows. When a Ally McBeal-type show (I think) was cancelled or interrupted, the aliens prepared to invade Earth just to find out what happened in the show. Gosh, I need to see that episode again.

Anyway, I'm sure that once we get some other civilization's television signals we'll find out that the universe is pretty much equally stupid.

I intend to live forever, or die trying.

Yes -- what if this is really intelligent? (3.33 / 6) (#34)
by MickLinux on Thu May 09, 2002 at 06:30:49 PM EST

In fact, what if we develop big brains, and a great sense of humor , just like the aliens in the movie

Actually, on the serious side, I don't think adolph hitler is any different than how we behaved in the stone age, nor is it any different than how we will behave 10k years from now.  I rather suspect that any smart society will avoid contact for as long as possible.  

That being said, it is doubtful that other alien societies are much more advanced than ours.  We are pretty much on the leading edge of development within the 2nd batch of stars.  Any life that developed in the first batch of starts will have been (1) Hydrogen-based -- the other elements did not exist in any real quantity (2) destroyed when the first batch of stars all supernovaed.  

Now -- what worries me:  Did anyone see the movie "CONTACT"?  Suppose that the instructions there had actually told how to build a device that would take over the local society and use it to send out more instruction sets (and detect possible recipients)?  Suppose that such a message were really a great interstellar virus? Or suppose that our SETI program attracts alien destruction robots, such as was described in "Thor's Hammer" by Greg Bear?

I make a call to grace, for the alternative is more broken than you can imagine.
[ Parent ]

Greg Bear's take (3.40 / 5) (#48)
by martingale on Thu May 09, 2002 at 10:01:41 PM EST

is very interesting. Basically, the idea is that what happens on the galactic scale mimics nature on the small, say insect scale.

Larvae are vulnerable, and must hide to survive the predators and grow up. By broadcasting our existence through the Stupidity Front (StuF), we're like really noisy larvae, and likely to attract predators. This idea also nicely explains why we haven't yet found evidence of alien intelligences, nor are ever likely to. The smart ones are quiet and hide, while the dumb ones are no longer around.

Where it gets really interesting though is that the StuF already is out there, and we just can't take it back, no matter what we try. Alea Jacta Est so to speak.

[ Parent ]

Heard something similar once.. (3.50 / 6) (#75)
by Jel on Fri May 10, 2002 at 06:54:06 AM EST

...to the scale thing you mention.  As a child, I heard that the distance between planets (or was it stars?) is roughly the same, relatively speaking to the distance between atoms.

I love that kind of grand idea... that we might be just insignificant parasites patting ourselves on the back for building space rockets to get from on an atom to the next in some larger macrocosmic universe where it really makes no difference whatsoever in the grander scheme of things -- except perhaps to provide quantum fluctations or some such thing.

Anyway, like I said... I was young when I heard this theory -- anyone know where it originated?

[ Parent ]

from isaac asimov'Giants'[nt] (5.00 / 1) (#137)
by univgeek on Sat May 11, 2002 at 01:31:12 PM EST

Arguing with an Electrical Engineer is liking wrestling with a pig in mud, after a while you realise the pig is enjoying it!
[ Parent ]
No, but we can stop broadcasting (none / 0) (#128)
by MickLinux on Sat May 11, 2002 at 09:32:47 AM EST

We can't take back what we've put out -- but like a caterpillar that has fallen off a leaf, we can get back onto a trunk in a hurry.  Not all caterpillars that are momentarily exposed die.  Predators themselves have predators to worry about.

I make a call to grace, for the alternative is more broken than you can imagine.
[ Parent ]

The Prime Directive (2.88 / 9) (#33)
by miah on Thu May 09, 2002 at 06:25:50 PM EST

Just for fun lets say that ol Cap'n Kirk and the boys and girls of the Enterprise are out scraping the universe for new forms of life to contact and they come across my favorite inhabitable planet: Earth.

Do they disrupt us in our early stages of development? And are we really in that early of a stage? Perhaps the Vogon's are planning a highway right through our orbital path?

Would a race of super intelligent beings that can travel the stars be malign to us? Even if we are as dumb as we think we are, we might be a science experiment.

But I babble...

Religion is not the opiate of the masses. It is the biker grade crystal meth of the masses.

if they're anything like us... (3.00 / 4) (#53)
by martingale on Thu May 09, 2002 at 11:07:58 PM EST

I don't hold much hope for the prime directive. I'd expect them to be more like conquistadors, mercantilist adventurers etc. It's much simpler, and more profitable to them. Unless we can defend ourselves, in which case we might be taken seriously, provided we can offer something of value.

[ Parent ]

Prime Directive Unlikely (none / 0) (#173)
by holdfast on Fri Jun 14, 2002 at 01:49:41 PM EST

The prime directive was invented to add some interesting plot lines.  If any potential contacts have something that we could describe as ethics (and why should they?) they will be faced with a choice

  1. Help
  2. Don't help
Many of us think that helping the less fortunate and/or developed is a good thing.  Why should it be any different in the case of alien encounter?

"Holy war is an oxymoron."
Lazarus Long
[ Parent ]
interesting (3.88 / 9) (#38)
by ish on Thu May 09, 2002 at 07:32:20 PM EST

I've always been confused why we assume we (as humans) are stupid compared to all these other galatic civilizations? Surely if they exist we, at some point, have recieved or will recieve their hardcore porn, their Jerry Springer, their PBS & NPR . Hopefully they've progressed to such a point (since we always seem to assume theyre going to be more advanced than us) to realize that such trivial things don't actually matter, and judge us (since of course theyll be doing that too) on what does.


Jeez.. hope not ;) (3.66 / 3) (#74)
by Jel on Fri May 10, 2002 at 06:42:28 AM EST

Hopefully they've progressed to such a point (since we always seem to assume theyre going to be more advanced than us) to realize that such trivial things don't actually matter, and judge us (since of course theyll be doing that too) on what does
Like our treatment of other races, or our respect for ideological differences, or our willingness to help other regardless of their physical wealth? Christ, no! Judge us on Jerry Springer, please!! At least we can argue that Jerry's not meant to be taken seriously ;-)

[ Parent ]
The Cult of the Intelligent (4.40 / 22) (#39)
by jabber on Thu May 09, 2002 at 07:52:54 PM EST

The one thing that this and most other discussions of Extra Terrestrials and our effect on them seems to presume, is that they will be intelligent. Not just intelligent enough to decode our signals, but intelligent, period. This may be the great irony of life.. The Universe may indeed be teeming with life, with us being the single most intelligent, by far, species out there.

As Stephen Jay Gould suggests, intelligence may be entirely incidental, or rather, accidental. Life may not necessarily evolve into anything exceeding single-digit IQs, to put it into familiar terms. We just hapenned to get stuck with the right mix of base pairs, and using a stick as a lever made perfect sense.

Look at sharks. They've remained virtually unchanged evolutionarily for several million years. Yes, they've shrunk from the Megalodon to the Carcharodon Carcharias (Great White) since they no longer eat 65 foot long dinosaurs on a daily basis, but other than that, they don't seem to have changed that much in all that time. If they have evolved intellectually, they must have started out dumber than sponges, given the time they've had.

Nor have most animals gotten smarter during their evolution. They've changed form, yes, but intellectually, only the primates seem to stand out, and only WE capitalize on the trait that is intelligence. Other monkeys have most of the same genes as we do, but not all the same genes. They have the thumbs to hold tools, but they have neither the need nor, apparently, the inclination to do so.

Yes, dogs are not as dumb as slugs, and dolphins and octopuses are quite clever with respect to their environmental neghbors, and rats do learn to run through mazes when hungry. But compared to the human intellect, they all are little more competent than bacteria.

The human intellect allows us to modify our environment on a planetary scale. Hell, we're cooking the damned place as I type this. We can even create artificial pockets of favorable environment, and take them to the Moon.. And eventually everywhere.

We are the one and only species out of billions that live and have lived on Earth to evolve intelligence, and to find it 'fittest' to survive. It may be that this uniqueness isn't only planetary, but also Galactic, or even Universal.

In short, we might be talking trash and broadcasting it for all to hear, but there may not be anyone out there capable of not only understanding but also hearing. We might be playing music to house-plants.

For all we know, the Universe is populated with nothing but mushrooms, cabbage and cattle, just waiting to be eaten.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

Intelligent? Who?? (3.91 / 12) (#40)
by Jel on Thu May 09, 2002 at 08:15:23 PM EST

Heh.. I think you're right, that the estimated average level of intelligence might be wrong.  But I think it's the other way around.

There is only one species on this planet which we consider "intelligent life" -- ourselves.  However, we are only slightly above the level of other primates.  Very smart chimps can rival very unintelligent humans.  In fact, young chimps outstrip young humans in terms of intelligence development for a period of time before humans gain the upper hand.

To me, by definition, that puts us right at the bottom of the "intelligent species" list.

Moreover, I think it's pure arrogance to assume that out of all the planets in all the star systems across this vast galaxy, and the incomprehensibly large universe beyond, we could possibly be the smartest, or even one of the smartest.  Or the biggest, or the cutest, or any other -est.

What am I trying to say here?  Simply that humans have a long way to go, a helluva lot to learn, and are long overdue for a good lesson in humility.

[ Parent ]

Nothing deflates the ego... (4.42 / 7) (#42)
by jabber on Thu May 09, 2002 at 08:22:41 PM EST

... like a mile-wide rock from God's back pocket.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"
[ Parent ]

What? (3.85 / 7) (#43)
by qpt on Thu May 09, 2002 at 08:32:23 PM EST

To me, by definition, that puts us right at the bottom of the "intelligent species" list.

You must be kidding. Since young chimps are supposedly more intelligent than young humans, humans are the least intelligent species of all?

Domine Deus, creator coeli et terrae respice humilitatem nostram.
[ Parent ]

Not quite (3.25 / 4) (#72)
by Jel on Fri May 10, 2002 at 06:30:12 AM EST

No, I'm using the term "intelligent species" as it is often used when discussing extra-terrestrial life, etc -- something capable of human levels of thought, technology, progress, etc, or perhaps capable of more than that.  "Sentient life" is another term used for what I'm getting at, if that helps.

[ Parent ]
The first... (4.25 / 8) (#46)
by Bartab on Thu May 09, 2002 at 09:03:21 PM EST

Moreover, I think it's pure arrogance to assume ... we could possibly be the smartest, or even one of the smartest.

True, but we might be the first. Why might we be the first? Because somebody has to be.

It is wrong to judge people on the basis of skin color or gender; therefore affirmative action shall be implemented: universities and employers should give preference to people based on skin color and gender.
[ Parent ]

but where? (4.20 / 5) (#52)
by martingale on Thu May 09, 2002 at 11:00:01 PM EST

We might well be the first in our own, backwater oasis in the middle of the unfashionable spiral arm of the galaxy. Which suits me fine, until we get overrun by hip happening space tourists, that is. Then our economy will go to shit and we'll turn large parts of the solar system into plantations for to pay for our Intergalactic Monetary Fund loans.

[ Parent ]

Thinking too locally (4.00 / 6) (#64)
by John Milton on Fri May 10, 2002 at 01:37:33 AM EST

I've always wondered why people only consider our galaxy when they talk about intelligent life. The number of other galaxies is often tossed out there as an example of how incredibly likely life is out there, but that's it. Perhaps there are only one or two intelligent species per galaxy. That would explain the lack of communication. Sure, an intelligent species would probably colonize their own galaxy, but would a galaxy two million light-years away really be worth it.

It's odd that all sci-fi novels dealing with the far future have galactic empires, but none that I know of has ever had a trans-galactic empire. Even Star-Trek resisted the urge to technobabelize a method of faster than light travel capable of reaching another galaxy. All science fiction writers limit themselves to the Milky Way.

"When we consider that woman are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should Treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." -Elizabeth Cady Stanton

[ Parent ]
never underestimate star trek (4.16 / 6) (#69)
by kataklyst on Fri May 10, 2002 at 03:39:08 AM EST

Even Star-Trek resisted the urge to technobabelize a method of faster than light travel capable of reaching another galaxy.

Actually, Star Trek really is that cheesy.

[ Parent ]

There are exceptions (4.60 / 5) (#82)
by dark on Fri May 10, 2002 at 10:33:22 AM EST

Piers Anthony's Cluster series covers several galaxies. I also have a probably-obscure book called The Last Immortal, by J.O. Jeppson, which takes place on a universal scale.

Obviously, these exceptions are uncommon, but I think there are some good reasons for that:

  • a whole galaxy is plenty of landscape for any plot
  • if one galaxy is not enough, then many writers go for multiple universes instead. I doubt you would accuse Greg Bear's Eon of being too limited in scope, for example.
  • it is hard to imagine a technology that is powerful enough to allow intergalactic civlizations, but still limited enough to allow interesting stories. It is possible, as demonstrated by the examples above, but then it tends to become a story about transgalactic civilizations, and not everyone wants to write those :)

    [ Parent ]
  • Intergalactic Empires (4.66 / 3) (#98)
    by bodrius on Fri May 10, 2002 at 08:21:08 PM EST

    There's a good reason why few authors would dare to tackle with intergalactic empire: geographical orientation.

    Even if the distances dealt with at the galactic level are really not that much easier to grasp than intergalactic distances for most readers (and therefore the authors liberally ignore them), the galaxy provides a map by which they can somehow orient themselves a bit.

    This is probably more important for the author than for the reader; it may be hard to read a story when the reader loses track of "where" a particular scene is happening, and how far it is from another scene, etc (for example, I have found the included map of Middle Earth invaluable every time I read LOTR), but it is certainly much more difficult to write a believable story without an idea of how the different locations relate.

    The local galaxy provides a center, spirals, etc as convenient points of reference. This translates quite comfortably into a mental map, simpler than most towns, cities, etc if properly simplified (2-D). An intergalactic arena would be that much more complicated to handle (2-D doesn't work anymore), usually without providing anything new to the narrative.

    If you're willing to pay the price of disorientation, you might as well get something more useful/hypish/interesting/funky for your narrative. Multiple galaxies are just nor worth the price.
    Freedom is the freedom to say 2+2=4, everything else follows...
    [ Parent ]

    And where is this smarter, bigger, cuter alien? (5.00 / 3) (#92)
    by carbon on Fri May 10, 2002 at 04:42:07 PM EST

    There's no direct evidence that there is extraterrestrial intelligent life anyways, let alone how intelligent or hairy or good at Quake they might be. We have only two things to base all conjecture about extraterrestrial life upon:

    • Self-examination of ourselves as a species. This is scientifically useless, because it's completely subjective, and based on very little evidence, Earth being only one out of billions and trillions of planets out there that could result in intelligent life.
    • Ultra-remote observation of stars, enough to know how many there are, and how many planets there could be. We don't have the technology to even see if a given star has planets or not, let alone know if they're visible. This basically only gives us the ability to make guesses about how many extraterrestrial civilizaitons there might be, not how many there are. So, scientifically, this tells us zip about what an alien species might be like.

    Don't tell me that thinking we're smart is arrogant because we're so very stupid compared to alien species, until you can show me this other species.

    Wasn't Dr. Claus the bad guy on Inspector Gadget? - dirvish
    [ Parent ]
    Well, there are... (none / 0) (#97)
    by Jel on Fri May 10, 2002 at 08:00:33 PM EST

    ... the laws of physics, statistics, observation of many forms of life on this planet under a variety of geographical factors, environmental factors and time periods, and a whole host of other things.

    In short, I'll grant you that evidence is limited, and you point out exactly the evidence which is most important.  I think it's a reach to say that aliens would be like us or something.  On the other hand, I think there's enough knowledge around to figure out some basic probabilities, and so I think it's a much bigger reach to say that they don't exist, or that their range of intelligence wouldn't follow commonly observed statistics, for example.

    [ Parent ]

    What evidence we have is still insufficient (none / 0) (#102)
    by carbon on Fri May 10, 2002 at 08:54:24 PM EST

    The argument about 'commonly observed statistics' follows exactly the problem I talked about : it uses only statistics from one planet, the planet which happens to be the exact planet that isn't related to the theoretical ones that we're worried about : the ones with extraterrestrial life.

    Even the statistics related to merely existence take only the planets in our solar system into account : we have no way of knowing directly, for example, how many out of a given number of stars even has planets, or if it does, how many it is likely to have. We can guess, and the guesses may very well be correct, but you cannot scientifically defend any theory without demonstrated evidence.

    Wasn't Dr. Claus the bad guy on Inspector Gadget? - dirvish
    [ Parent ]
    Or, (4.00 / 7) (#65)
    by Kasreyn on Fri May 10, 2002 at 02:01:15 AM EST

    We could have a scenario like in "Ender's Game", where a race of aliens is sufficiently different from us that we're totally incapable of communicating with each other or perceiving each other as friends. Instant interstellar war.

    It's much more likely that there's no one listening within the range of our weak transmitters, but I suppose it's possible.

    The late Carl Sagan's novel "Contact", btw, had a very amusing and thought-provoking take on how alines might react to an early TV broadcast of Hitler...


    "Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
    We never asked to be born in the first place."

    R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
    [ Parent ]
    cabbage and cattle --> results of human breedin (3.33 / 3) (#80)
    by turmeric on Fri May 10, 2002 at 09:28:12 AM EST

    cabbage and cattle did not spring up by themselves, nor did corn, broccoli, etc etc etc. they were created by human breeding programs.

    on the other hand, wow dude, that would be like, freaky... if like, you know, what if we find like a planet that is still in the dinosaur stage of life? or damn, dude, what if its all like fluorescent blue starfish 5 miles across? haha ,, wow.

    [ Parent ]

    objection: relevance (4.50 / 4) (#107)
    by gewis on Fri May 10, 2002 at 10:01:31 PM EST

    This argument has nothing to do with unintelligent extraterrestrials, and so your counterargument saying, "We shouldn't assume that extraterrestrials will be intelligent," is totally without bearing on the issue. IF there are extraterrestrials at all, there is a large likelihood that there are millions of species out there. And if there are extraterrestrials, this argument in this article applies only to those which are intelligent and have radio detection technology and are capable of listening to our signals and consequently the stupidity front. And if your hypothesis is right, oh well. This article explores only the "what if intelligent extraterrestrials detected our transmissions?" The recognition of the possibility of our uniqueness as intelligent beings at all is a given. It need not be stated.
    "There is one thing even more vital to science than intelligent methods; and that is, the sincere desire to find out the truth, whatever it may be." -Charles Sanders Peirce
    [ Parent ]
    We're screwed (4.33 / 27) (#41)
    by John Milton on Thu May 09, 2002 at 08:21:31 PM EST

    If they're watching our hardcore porn, the first attempts at communication might be a little scarier than we previously imagined.

    "When we consider that woman are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should Treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." -Elizabeth Cady Stanton

    Yes, now that you mention it... (4.20 / 5) (#73)
    by Jel on Fri May 10, 2002 at 06:36:54 AM EST

    we're really screwed. I mean, if they try to emulate the bad acting of pornstars, we're not gonna believe a word they say. I'd give it about one day before all-out interplanetary war in that case ;) Admittedly, though, the imagery is hilarious -- naked aliens on the front page of every newspaper, or perhaps the biggest story of all time censored from mainstream news channels ;)

    [ Parent ]
    Wait a second..... (4.00 / 5) (#78)
    by Elkor on Fri May 10, 2002 at 08:36:22 AM EST

    naked aliens on the front page of every newspaper

    Don't most portraits held up to be "true" encounters depict creatures with no clothes on?

    It's too late!


    "I won't tell you how to love God if you don't tell me how to love myself."
    -Margo Eve
    [ Parent ]
    Well, now that you mention it (none / 0) (#114)
    by jabber on Sat May 11, 2002 at 01:42:46 AM EST

    The plaque we sent out with the Voyager probes had the naked silhouettes of a male and female human.. So not only are we sending them pr0n signals, we're sending them a stylized, abstracted Playboy as well.

    With our luck, the male of the species holding up his right hand in a human gesture of greeting, in their culture probably means "Let's get jiggy wit it!".

    [TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"
    [ Parent ]

    Hah! (4.50 / 4) (#84)
    by John Milton on Fri May 10, 2002 at 11:18:21 AM EST

    I could see the headlines. Aliens Rape President! War Imminent! This would explain why they've been anally probing us for all those years. Of course, they could be watching springer. We'll know if they attack us with chairs.

    "When we consider that woman are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should Treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." -Elizabeth Cady Stanton

    [ Parent ]
    You think that's scary?.. (3.50 / 6) (#76)
    by Alias on Fri May 10, 2002 at 07:28:14 AM EST

    If memory serves me, the first public television broadcast was in 1936. Hitler's opening speech at the Berlin Olympics.

    Now imagine aliens picking that up.

    Excuse me while I go and dig a deeper nuclear shelter...

    (I even seem to recall there was a movie based on that idea, but there, I may be seriously wrong...)

    Stéphane "Alias" Gallay -- Damn! My .sig is too lon
    [ Parent ]

    Got yer movie right here (5.00 / 2) (#81)
    by FoxFireX on Fri May 10, 2002 at 10:14:07 AM EST

    Contact. Just got a TiVo last weekend, and it thought I might like the movie, so it recorded it for me. I watched just a bit of it while it was being recorded, and picked up that an unknown life form was rebroadcasting the Hitler Olympic speech back to Earth as a "Hello, world!"

    [ Parent ]
    Read... (none / 0) (#96)
    by Humuhumunukunukuapuaa on Fri May 10, 2002 at 07:25:20 PM EST

    ...Player of Games by Iain M Banks.  As the protagonist approaches the alien planet they decrypt more and more data traversing it.  The higher the level of encryption the harder core porn it is.  This is probably like how the Earth would look to a visitor - except humans don't even bother to encrypt their porn.
    [ Parent ]
    "porn" (none / 0) (#172)
    by quadong on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 04:29:11 PM EST

    One would hope that any civilization that is advanced enough to detect our transmissions is also mature enough not to be ashamed of their method of reproduction.  As such, they would probably simply not understand our porn or why it seems so set apart from everything else.  (Assuming, of course, that they even recognized human sex as a reproductive act.)

    [ Parent ]
    Attenuation (3.16 / 12) (#54)
    by delmoi on Thu May 09, 2002 at 11:27:21 PM EST

    Intencity goes down by the cube of the distance. I doubt anyone very far a way will ever hear our shit.
    "'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
    Inverse square (3.87 / 8) (#67)
    by ggeens on Fri May 10, 2002 at 03:04:36 AM EST

    Intensity goes down by the square of the distance, not the cube.

    Imagine a signal being sent from Earth. At each moment, the EM radiation sent at a given moment is in a (hollow) spherical region from the sender. The energy of the signal is distributed over the surface of this sphere (PI * distance2).

    But still, the signal gets pretty weak after a while.

    L'enfer, c'est les huîtres.

    [ Parent ]
    It's inverse cube... (5.00 / 1) (#95)
    by Humuhumunukunukuapuaa on Fri May 10, 2002 at 07:22:39 PM EST

    ...from a dipole antenna.
    [ Parent ]
    Only if.. (none / 0) (#142)
    by awgsilyari on Sat May 11, 2002 at 07:06:23 PM EST

    That's exact only if the dipole is infinitely small.

    Please direct SPAM to john@neuralnw.com
    [ Parent ]
    You forgot to add... (5.00 / 1) (#158)
    by Humuhumunukunukuapuaa on Mon May 13, 2002 at 12:26:23 PM EST

    That's exact only if the dipole is infinitely small.

    Which it effectively is if you're listening from another star system!
    [ Parent ]
    Not as noisy as you think.... (4.00 / 9) (#79)
    by Elkor on Fri May 10, 2002 at 08:43:14 AM EST

    The electromagnetic noise you are talking about would first have to escape the Earth's atmosphere. IANAP, but I doubt that every electromagnetic wave can easily pass through the atmosphere. Otherwise bouncing a signal off a satelite would be a piece of cake, radio signals would be crystal clear, and my cordless phone would work up to several miles away.

    The signifigance of Hitler's Olympics broadcast was that it was the first one powerful enough to penetrate the atmosphere into outer space. It wasn't the first broadcast ever.

    Lastly, should aliens receive our broadcasts and decide to come for a visit, they would subsequently receive all our other broadcasts as they got closer. These would then show the further evolution of our societies, bringing them "up to speed" on who we were by the time they reached our planet.


    "I won't tell you how to love God if you don't tell me how to love myself."
    -Margo Eve
    and vice versa (5.00 / 1) (#85)
    by SocratesGhost on Fri May 10, 2002 at 12:42:01 PM EST

    we should expect this same effect if we become space travellers and come closer to alien planets.

    I drank what?

    [ Parent ]
    Radio frequencies and the atmosphere (5.00 / 1) (#89)
    by IHCOYC on Fri May 10, 2002 at 03:22:09 PM EST

    The electromagnetic noise you are talking about would first have to escape the Earth's atmosphere. IANAP, but I doubt that every electromagnetic wave can easily pass through the atmosphere.
    My understanding is that the radio spectrum is affected in different ways by the atmosphere depending on its frequency.

    Low frequencies are at least partially contained by several ionised layers in the ionosphere. This is where your AM and most of your shortwave radio is, some "longwave" frequencies that are used for broadcasting in Europe and elsewhere, and all the way down to direct current. These waves are partially contained by the ionosphere. Bouncing between earth and sky, they can carry great distances. This is why you can get Duluth and New Orleans on your AM radio after dark. (Or used to. Current AM receivers are seldom sensitive or selective enough to hone in on distant signals amid the increasingly cluttered spectrum.)

    The top of the shortwave bands --- it's where CB radio sits in the USA --- represents about the highest frequencies regularly subject to this skip factor. Of course, not all the transmissions below this level are regularly caught by the ionosphere, so it's impossible to say none of that has escaped.

    Above this level you get mostly FM signals, intended for local broadcast use. These go from some public utility frequencies in the lower bands all the way up to the frequencies used for radar. These signals are the ones that would reliably escape the atmosphere. But, being used mostly locally, these signals are seldom as strong as the powerful clear-channel AM and shortwave stations.

    Otherwise bouncing a signal off a satelite would be a piece of cake, radio signals would be crystal clear, and my cordless phone would work up to several miles away.
    I suspect these degradations have more to do with the inverse square law (reception of radiated energy decreases by the reciprocal of the distance to the source, squared), competing signals, and electronic background noise rather than the effects of the atmosphere.

    This message has been placed here IN MEMORIAM by the Tijuana Bible Society.
    [ Parent ]
    Skip (none / 0) (#90)
    by epepke on Fri May 10, 2002 at 03:53:15 PM EST

    Skip, lovely skip! Some days I was even able to pick up WOR in New York from Florida so I could listen to the Jean Shepherd show.

    Anyway, the majority of the mechanism of skip involves the signal bouncing off the top and the bottom of the ionosphere, with the ionosphere acting as a (sort of) waveguide. Of course, some leaks out, which is why you can pick it up.

    Practically, though, just about every frequency will make it out of the atmosphere in quantities large enough to pick up.

    The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett

    [ Parent ]
    They'll think we're quaint (4.66 / 9) (#88)
    by epepke on Fri May 10, 2002 at 02:16:00 PM EST

    Look at what every culture on the planet exports to every other culture, what makes up the bulk of all tourist traps: junk. This is partly because people keep the good stuff for themselves, but mostly because junk is what works across cultures. The "high" forms of culture are almost by definition those forms that few can appreciate.

    They're more likely to think of us as stupid because of articles like this. Why do you mention hard-core porn? Aliens will probably think they're watching The Discovery Channel. On the other hand, people's beliefs that photographic representations of sex are icky and stupid, while photographic representations of people eating food are OK, seem highly unlikely to be shared by all galactic cultures.

    The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett

    You've been watching too much Enterprise. (3.00 / 2) (#91)
    by SnowBlind on Fri May 10, 2002 at 04:40:39 PM EST

    Take a week off.

    There is but One Kernel, and root is His Prophet.
    [ Parent ]
    Never seen the show, actually (3.66 / 3) (#93)
    by epepke on Fri May 10, 2002 at 05:00:51 PM EST

    So there.

    The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett

    [ Parent ]
    Really? (none / 0) (#164)
    by NDPTAL85 on Thu May 16, 2002 at 01:50:25 PM EST

    There was one episode where Capt. Archer's crew meets an alien race who considers eating in public or in groups to be as offensive as having sex in public or in groups.

    [ Parent ]
    Embarrasment can't happen (3.00 / 3) (#94)
    by Shimmer on Fri May 10, 2002 at 06:12:46 PM EST

    Perhaps our progeny will have met the third party. And then, much to our children's embarrassment... just imagine what happens next

    Don't worry, this can't happen.  The laws of physics (as we currently understand them) ensure that no human being can ever cross the stupidity front (because it would require faster-than-light travel).  Thus, it will not be possible for our progeny to meet this "third party" before the third party encounters the stupidity front.

    Worst case: Third party detects stupidity front and travels toward Earth.  As they travel, they encounter increasing sophistication in our emissions.  When they finally meet humans, they will have "caught up" to the latest broadcasts.

    -- Brian

    Wizard needs food badly.

    Extrapolation (none / 0) (#100)
    by deefer on Fri May 10, 2002 at 08:31:53 PM EST

    They'll see the current superpower dictating domestic and international policy, and not for the benefit of everyone, unless you're WASP or equivalent. "Myopic" has been redefined of late...

    Kill the baddies.
    Get the girl.
    And save the entire planet.

    [ Parent ]

    Don't be silly (2.25 / 4) (#111)
    by Lord Snott on Fri May 10, 2002 at 11:47:37 PM EST

    How closed minded can you get? We'll "never cross the stupidity front"?

    "Of course, the history of science is full of logically valid bad predictions. In 1893, the Royal Academy of Science were convinced by Sir Robert Ball that communication with the planet Mars was a physical impossibility, because it would require a flag as large as Ireland, which it would be impossible to wave."
    [ Fortean Times Number 82.]
    This sig in violation of U.S. trademark
    registration number 2,347,676.
    Bummer :-(

    [ Parent ]

    Reread the article (none / 0) (#119)
    by vectro on Sat May 11, 2002 at 04:31:59 AM EST

    and then you'll see why, in order to pass the "stupidity front", you'd need to travel faster than light.

    “The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
    [ Parent ]
    Warp drive (none / 0) (#132)
    by p3d0 on Sat May 11, 2002 at 10:16:51 AM EST

    The article has nothing to do with it. The point is that to predict we will never travel faster than light is to stretch the predictive power of physics past its breaking point.

    There are already proposals (by Alcubierre and others) for warp drives which work in theory, and don't break Relativity. With a few dozen orders of magnitude decrease in energy requirements, some of these might be realistic. :-)
    Patrick Doyle
    My comments do not reflect the opinions of my employer.
    [ Parent ]

    Who's close-minded? (none / 0) (#135)
    by Shimmer on Sat May 11, 2002 at 12:21:32 PM EST

    I explicitly said "the laws of physics (as we currently understand them)".

    -- Brian

    Wizard needs food badly.
    [ Parent ]

    Faster than light ... (none / 0) (#123)
    by RebelWithoutAClue on Sat May 11, 2002 at 05:30:13 AM EST

    ... may not be impossible. Infact nothing in relativity says that it is. Anyway, physicists theorize certain particles(tachyons) which may travel ftl(faster than light). Also certain effects may actually occur instantly without propagation(using quantum entanglement). There have even been some ways theorized to travel ftl using exotic matter. So, it cant be said that ftl will never be possible.

    [ Parent ]
    entanglement (none / 0) (#127)
    by martingale on Sat May 11, 2002 at 09:23:37 AM EST

    My understanding is that if you want to take advantage of entanglement, you'll still have to transport the systems originally, which happens below c. Once you've placed them where you want them, sure you can use entangled states.

    Tachyons are fun. If I remember correctly (it's been a long time) they can't slow below the speed of light though. Special Relativity prohibits a continuous passage from below the speed of light to above the speed of light.

    [ Parent ]

    Embarassment just happened (none / 0) (#149)
    by erp6502 on Sun May 12, 2002 at 06:00:25 PM EST

    Don't worry, this can't happen. The laws of physics (as we currently understand them) ensure that no human being can ever cross the stupidity front (because it would require faster-than-light travel).

    Ever hear of scattering? Multipath? RADAR?

    Just like a blundering beast, the "stupidity front" is spatially convolved with everything in its path, which includes, well, everything.

    [ Parent ]

    What are you talking about? (none / 0) (#152)
    by Shimmer on Sun May 12, 2002 at 09:24:25 PM EST

    Radar, etc. have nothing to do with the basic fact that you'd have to travel faster than the speed of light to get beyond the stupidity front.

    The stupidity front is approximately 75 light years from Earth as I write this.  It is receding from us at the speed of light.  Catch it if you can.

    -- Brian

    Wizard needs food badly.
    [ Parent ]

    Yeah, but... (none / 0) (#169)
    by RegularFry on Tue May 28, 2002 at 01:22:53 PM EST

    A specific part of the stupidity front could pass the same point more than once. If it reflects off something 80 light years away and comes straight back, and I leave here in 79 years and 364 days going in the opposite direction, then I'll be a day and a bit ahead of the reflected stupidity front, give or take galactic rotation. Thus, extreme embarassment can only be avoided by assuming that the signal strength will be so low as to make the Jerry Springer show unwatchable (yay!), and that anyone interested missed it the first time round.

    There may be troubles ahead, But while there's moonlight and music...
    [ Parent ]
    WWF (3.66 / 3) (#99)
    by antizeus on Fri May 10, 2002 at 08:27:16 PM EST

    When I read the intro text I was about 90% certain that you would mention the WWF. Rather than engage in a non-productive discussion in defense of my habit of watching pro wrestling, I'll just point out that they have changed their name to WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment (how lame)) because of a trademark conflict with the World Wildlife Fund, which they were obviously going to lose (no chairshots or figure-four leglocks would help them in that match).
    The Killing Star (4.50 / 2) (#101)
    by Anon 20517 on Fri May 10, 2002 at 08:50:07 PM EST

    This was actually the subject of a book called The Killing Star, by Charles Pellegrino and George Zebrowski.  It has been a while since I read it, but the novel challenges the notion of happy, green, lovable space-aliens.  

    If you look at human history, any time that two different cultures meet, there is usually some kind of a conflict.  Based upon this idea, the authors theorize that intergalactic war would be far more devistating than our current conception of war.  In the book, Earth is destroyed in the first chapter.  Thousands of alien ships simultaneously hit the Earth's surface at nearly the speed of light.  Given a basic knowledge of physics (KE = .5mv^2), you can see that this would unleash an incredible amount of energy.  Everything on the Earth's surface vaporizes in seconds, the first several meters of the ocean boil off instantly.  A few human settlements remain around the universe, providing characters through which the story is told.  One of the grand revealations of the book was that, as soon as the alien race received our radio signals, our fate was sealed.  Since conflict was likely inevitable at some point, the alien race had a practice of simply killing any other form of intelligent life it found.

    It's a very interesting book, I'd recommend it if you have some time to kill.  Unfortunately, I read it so long ago that I can't elaborate too much further.


    why are there no aliens? (3.50 / 2) (#104)
    by techwolf on Fri May 10, 2002 at 09:21:21 PM EST

    Becausewe live on the outer edge of the outer arm on the rim of the galaxy.Aliens would prolly think of this area of space as the "Deep Backwater". closer to the core of the galaxy planets and systems are closer and older, they are the likley ones to have alien races, as they would meet and help (we hope) each other by sharing technology thus getting many races into the era of space travel.

    "The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government." - Thomas Jefferson
    Actually... (4.00 / 1) (#148)
    by joto on Sun May 12, 2002 at 10:14:40 AM EST

    Staying at the center of the galaxy would probably kill you from the X-ray radiation. Also, since there are more stars, planets, asteroids, comets, etc, there, the chances of collisions are much higher. If 90% of all life is destroyed each 1e9 years (as on earth), that might still be good enough for intelligent life to happen, but if it happens every 100 years, it could be a problem.

    [ Parent ]
    e^9 (none / 0) (#157)
    by Ward57 on Mon May 13, 2002 at 10:07:14 AM EST

    No. e^8 years. (ie 100 million

    [ Parent ]
    Digital transmission is white noise (3.50 / 4) (#105)
    by michaelmalak on Fri May 10, 2002 at 09:24:26 PM EST

    Fewer and fewer transmissions are analog, and more and more are digital -- compressed and encrypted, where the compression continually gets better. The better the compression, the closer to white noise the signal appears to be. An alien might be able to decrypt a signal if it knows one is there, but will have a very hard time knowing that one is there. The Jodie Fosters and "Seaman Jonseys" searching for repetitive signals are as realistic as a modern-day Steve Wozniak hand-soldering surface mounts.

    BergamoAcademy.com  Authentic Montessori in Denver
    compressed data does not look like white noise (4.66 / 3) (#115)
    by FlipFlop on Sat May 11, 2002 at 02:15:27 AM EST

    The better the compression, the closer to white noise the signal appears to be. An alien might be able to decrypt a signal if it knows one is there, but will have a very hard time knowing that one is there.

    I'm no radio expert, but a digital broadcast will generate a clear signal completely different from white noise. There should be no question that someone is broadcasting ones and zeros.

    Just because those ones and zeros look random, does not make them look like white noise. With white noise, you would not see any ones or zeros to start with. The real challenge is determining what those ones and zeros mean.

    AdTI - The think tank that didn't
    [ Parent ]

    nien (2.33 / 3) (#118)
    by kuran42 on Sat May 11, 2002 at 03:29:07 AM EST

    He's right. Good compression and good encryption look like white noise. If it didn't, you'd have a hint as to how to decrypt it, or a possible way to compress it further.

    kuran42? genius? Nary a difference betwixt the two. -- Defect
    [ Parent ]
    kein wieder (4.66 / 3) (#120)
    by vectro on Sat May 11, 2002 at 04:35:24 AM EST

    A digital transmission looks like a digital transmission. You might not be able to decode the content of the signal, but it's perfectly possible to see that there is a signal there.

    If you have an oscilloscope, this is not hard to tell. Hold your probe in the air (or a noise generator, if you have one). You'll see analog noise. Then put your probe on a compressed digital signal. You'll see a digital signal.

    Perhaps you meant to say that good compression and good encryption look like a randomly-generated data stream; that much is correct.

    “The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
    [ Parent ]

    Digital Transmissions (5.00 / 1) (#122)
    by cje on Sat May 11, 2002 at 05:28:21 AM EST

    My understanding is that you are incorrect on the point of digital transmission.

    Firstly, the way I read your post, I understand you to mean that if we transmit a digital signal, we see square pulses, as opposed to an analog signal. While this is typically (mostly) true of an observation made in a digital logic circuit, it is far from the reality of transmission.


    Consider the bandwidth such a signal would occupy; a well known identity will give you the expansion of a square wave in terms of a sum of sines; what's interesting is that the amplitude does not diminish very quickly at all.

    In terms of frequency this means that things are 'spread out'. Bandwidth is far too scarce a resource to waste in this way. Instead, we use other methods: such as Vestigial Sideband Modulation, Quadrate Amplitude Modulation, (or other schemes entirely-- I'm just trying to provide a couple of links fairly quickly, I'm on my way somewhere, very sorry).

    The second point is trying to correctly detect the signal. Okay, the point I think the previous poster is making is this; as EM signals propagate, their magnitude falls of as the square. This is important, because at large distances, the 'noise floor' which we might regard as a measure with respect to the signal we're interested in, starts to bother us quite rapidly.

    In essence, I think what he's saying is that if ET is listening, he'll have to first discern that he is in fact observing a transmission, and additionally, separate it from other noise. (Non trivial, particularly if you don't know the nature of the signal.) AM/FM is nicer, since you (broadly, for narrowband FM, sorry to the mod{ul,er}ation/ nazis) have a carrier, etc. But it ain't always so.

    (Please reply, don't moderate)


    [ Parent ]

    Power and methods... (3.00 / 1) (#126)
    by Sawzall on Sat May 11, 2002 at 08:56:40 AM EST

    I would, possibly incorrectly, assume that the "Other World" would find the strongest signal first. It would likely be the "strobing" of a satellite uplink since those are the signals that we point upward. Lets look at those types: SCPC (Single Channel Per Carrier) would likely look like noise since this method spreads the total energy across the bandwidth more. Multiple Channel Per Carrier would likely have several carriers in a band, but at higher individual strengths. Then the two big ones - old fashioned analog TV uplinks and saturated DVB. Both of those are typically 40dB higher than say SCPC. If you detected either of those, it would be hard to confuse them with noise - especially the Analog TV. That modulated carrier would stand out as "man made".

    I suspect that this would be the most likely signal to be picked up off Earth - they were the first high power signals that we intentionally sent directly off into space. The arguement against this is that even with beam spread, they are pretty directional, so the Green Men would have to be in the right place. The good news is that we uplink from all different angles since we do it from all over the Earth, but pointing at the geo-sync arc. So there are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of little "flashlights" blinking into the sky right now.

    [ Parent ]

    Only when its one bit per symbol (4.00 / 1) (#125)
    by Alan Crowe on Sat May 11, 2002 at 07:15:11 AM EST

    When you do serious compression, like getting 56 kilo bits per second down a 3kHz bandwidth telephone you try to get several bits per symbol. 64-QAM tries to stuff 6 bits into each symbol, by using 8 different levels, in each of the inphase and quadrature channels. If you lose clock synchronisation, you'll have a terrible struggle to distinguish it from noise

    [ Parent ]
    Deutsch (none / 0) (#144)
    by martingale on Sat May 11, 2002 at 11:48:08 PM EST

    kuran42: nein. Typo.

    vectro: kein wider. The word wieder means again, the word wider means against.

    Sorry, I had a bad grammatical childhood :-)

    [ Parent ]

    white noise 101 (5.00 / 6) (#138)
    by spamanj on Sat May 11, 2002 at 03:30:22 PM EST

    Y'all are so wrong I don't even know where to start. Don't take it personal, I'm trying to learn ya', not insult ya'.

    A digital signal does not look like "white noise", NO SIGNAL looks like white noise. White noise is what you get when you only listen to the background radiation of the universe. There are lots of kinds of noise, and a digital signal will look like some kind of noise if you don't know how to interpret it, but it will never look like "white noise".

    To explain: Every modulation scheme involves putting energy out in a certain frequency band. For example, regular AM transmissions (analog OR digital) create 3 seperate frequency bands: the carrier signal, and 2 sideband signals. You can suppress the carrier, and one of the sidebands to get single sideband AM modulation, BUT you still have a sideband which fits within a specific frequency band, and that band will have more energy than the white noise background radiation that surrounds it in frequency space. So if you look at the signals comming into your antenna as level vs frequency you can clearly see that there is white noise everywhere, except near the AM transmitter's frequency, where the power level jumps up out of the noise, REGARDLESS of the content of the signal. Similar stuff applies to any other modulation technique.

    For the record, the definition of pure white noise is when the power level in any frequency band is simply proportional to the width of the frequency band (or the REAL 'bandwidth'). Any signal that puts more energy into a specific frequency band is not white noise.

    On top of that, any digital signal will have strong harmonics of the bitrate present, regardless of the modulation scheme, because it is a repetitive waveform. Even if the bits are random they still have repeated transitions at specific intervals.

    Furthermore, the (btw incorrect) statement made by cje below that says that an unmodulated digital signal would need infinite bandwidth which is impossible, proves that any modulated digital signal cannot be white noise because white noise DOES have infinite bandwidth. The statement is incorrect because no wire on the planet has infinite bandwidth, and no noise. Every digital signal is imperfect in the sense that there are no perfect square waves with infinite numbers of odd harmonics present.

    BTW any modulation scheme must be able to reproduce the analog input signal, so if digital signals need infinite bandwidth, the modulated signal needs infinite bandwidth too, otherwise you would have analog data compression. not personal, just mis-educational

    [ Parent ]

    Thanks for the info (3.00 / 3) (#139)
    by kuran42 on Sat May 11, 2002 at 03:34:31 PM EST

    I wasn't actually talking about digital signals, though. Just the effects of compression and encryption. I guess I should have made that more explicit, as everyone seems to have assumed I meant digital signals..

    kuran42? genius? Nary a difference betwixt the two. -- Defect
    [ Parent ]
    There is no spoon. (5.00 / 1) (#143)
    by cje on Sat May 11, 2002 at 11:29:34 PM EST

    Thanks for your comments re personal/confrontational; I was tempted to preface my last post with something like that. It sucks when people start getting uppity about "I'm right," etc and stop seeing the point. I'm sure I've done something like that below-- please reply and tell me I'm a dickhead and why ;)

    First, I'd hasten to clarify my earlier statement; I wasn't clear enough that I was referring to the real world there at all on reread. Yes, I realise that I left it a little unclear about square waves [not] occupying infinite bandwidth, but could you really call that a statement? Really, I was just looking for a quick way to avoid the word 'Fourier'. =) Thanks though, the correction is very fair. Sorry.

    Regarding your comment on white noise, I think you're exercising a little bit of a double standard. If I understand you, you didn't like my expansion of a square wave commment because you wish us to only discuss realizable systems. With this assumption, your whitenoise would be narrowband since inevitably we'd need predetection filters of some description. This doesn't look a whole lot different from a signal modulated using PN in baseband either. (Flat spectrum, over some specified bandwidth). This is not to take anything away from your point that there would certainly be a signal; there would. Essentially my contention is that you would still have trouble distinguishing it from backgound noise (On reread I saw posts at the top of the page that made this point much more eloquently than my post). Essentially it's a noise floor issue.

    And, if you must be pedantic about defining noise , then your post is miseducational.

    Your description neglects the statistical properties which are required for a real analysis. Yes, a flat frequency spectrum defines white noise, but my problem is essentially that this can apply to any of a class of functions which have impulsive autocorrelations. You'd best point out that usually, when we talk about noise we assume something of its statistical properties, for example Gaussian White noise .

    So yeah. It may be *very* difficult to separate a signal from noise. Consider the distance; would you really see clear symbols? I don't think so. Would you really know a signal is even there? Well, I suppose it depends on your discrimination abilities. I don't know what ET is using, but I'm fairly sure i'd have trouble at 80 light years!

    Again, thanks for the correction; I'm really just writing to correct and defend what I understand as your assertion of mis-education on my part. What appeared in my head was images of posters from another site which tend to give information they don't necessarily have (I'm a recent refugee). Sorry if I seem a bit overdefensive, I hope as you have, this goes some way to explain! =)

    [ Parent ]

    correction: your missive is white noise (none / 0) (#150)
    by erp6502 on Sun May 12, 2002 at 06:31:59 PM EST

    "There are so many things wrong with that sentence, I don't know where to begin correcting them." -- Apu

    Yes, CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) convolves the original signal with a code to spread it over a wide band and lower the spectral power density, and yes, those codes are often spectrally flat pseudorandom sequences generated by LFSRs (Linear Feedback Shift Registers) with taps chosen to match the characteristic polynomial of some Galois field GF(n), where n is the number of bits in the register and 2n-1 is the length of the maximal sequence generated by the LFSR.

    This form of channel sharing works great in theory, but with such a huge space to search before a receiver can lock on to the code and deconvolve the message, these systems in practice use either a secondary synchronization channel or a restricted, orthogonal set of spreading codes.

    So an advanced civilization knows just what to look for -- spreading codes and pseudorandom sequences convolved with some well-characterized message. If they're a few generations ahead of us, they will probably have cracked the problem of synchronizing to these codes and distinguishing them from the background.

    As for that lame parting shot: most people who bother to prototype hardware these days already know how to design their own boards, fabricate them cheaply, and solder on surface mount parts, all with stuff you find at Radio Shack.

    [ Parent ]

    Anthopologists of the Future (4.00 / 1) (#106)
    by pbryan on Fri May 10, 2002 at 09:47:53 PM EST

    If we grow out of our present destructive phase (presumably indemic to all cultures in the universe that reach a technological level of sophistication without the necessary maturity to safely wield it), I can imagine that one day anthropologists, bored of digging through massive decomposed landfills, will take to the stars.

    They will travel through space at faster than light (FTL) rates, recording (in reverse) the history of mankind, as depicted through its broadcast media. They play it forward and watch the devolution of culture, as only television networks' ever-increasing willingness to get ratings plays out.

    Humans of the future will be able to watch their predecessors, wondering how did we did it? How did we keep from destroying ourselves, what with television programming such as Temptation Island, the O.J. Simpson trial, and Geraldo Riveria coverage of any news topic?

    Just for future reference..... (none / 0) (#163)
    by NDPTAL85 on Thu May 16, 2002 at 01:42:12 PM EST

    .....what exactly was human kind doing before the invention of television, broadcast radio and cable that was so cultured compared to what we do today?

    [ Parent ]
    Decoding != understanding (3.50 / 2) (#109)
    by mph sd on Fri May 10, 2002 at 11:09:20 PM EST

    Assuming that an alien culture can decode our transmissions doesn't mean they will have the cultural context necessary to interpret them. Integrating into another culture on Earth is hard enough, and that's still within our own species!

    Why the aliens haven't visited (2.00 / 1) (#112)
    by Cro Magnon on Fri May 10, 2002 at 11:56:55 PM EST

    Why should they? At our current stage of development, they wouldn't be interested in us, except maybe for scientific curiousity. They might be so far beyond us that they're not even sure we're intellegent (sometimes I have doubts).
    Information wants to be beer.
    well obviously (2.40 / 5) (#113)
    by alprazolam on Sat May 11, 2002 at 12:27:54 AM EST

    you can't expect aliens to exist in the same three dimensions we exist in. naturally, to them time would not exist as it does to us.

    Ok, lay off the bong (4.00 / 1) (#124)
    by Rhinobird on Sat May 11, 2002 at 05:31:54 AM EST

    Yes we CAN expect the aliens to exist in the same 3 dimensions we exist in. Why? Because in this universe everybody has to follow the laws of physics. However, your second point is almost valid.

    They might not EXPERIENCE time the same way we do. What I mean by that is that they don't care about what time it is, ever. Think about what it would be like to experience time as merely 'day' and 'night', no hours, no minutes, no weeks, no months, no years. Time would exist for them, but their perception of it would be different from how we precieve it. This might lead to rather simple technology (or to some simply fantastic technology).

    We, on the other hand are absolutely obsessed with clocks. There's an atom clock in every GPS sattelite. Just about everyone has worn a timepiece at some point or another. A home computer currently requires something like 5 to 7 different timing signals just to function.

    I think a more valid argument might be that we can't expect the aliens to even have technology. How smart are dolphins? And can they light a fire? Hold a stick? No. I think that might be the ultimate cosmic joke...sentient life is everwhere, but we're the only ones able to use tools.
    "If Mr. Edison had thought more about what he was doing, he wouldn't sweat as much." --Nikola Tesla
    [ Parent ]

    assorted thoughts (4.00 / 1) (#129)
    by martingale on Sat May 11, 2002 at 09:38:09 AM EST

    The laws of physics actually imply more. Since relativistic speeds directly affect time measurements, any aliens sufficiently advanced to have experienced relativistic phenoma (this includes star travel I suppose) would have come across a concept they could map onto our continuous concept of time. It falls out of the mathematics, even if they call it by any other name...

    Your second point about technology made me think about us modern, western, computer using folk. None of us would survive alone in a desert or a rainforest (even with a manual I expect), but the "primitive" tribes in Papua-New Guinea or the Amazon rainforest can. So who's the smart one there?

    [ Parent ]

    The laws of physics (none / 0) (#153)
    by SporranBoy on Sun May 12, 2002 at 11:51:49 PM EST

    Aren't of our scientific laws just our rather feeble efforts to impose some system of predicability on the Universe?

    Obviously, the scientists of today are convinced that they have improved our "Laws of Physics" such that they are "correct" and I suppose that within the limits of our observations, the Universe appears to "obey" these laws ( I can just picture a Physics Cop pulling the Universe over for breaching one of our laws - "Did you realize you were bending a time-space continuum?").

    However, in a 100 years time, people might get a good laugh out of a Steven Hawking book, or just pity us for our misguided ignorance.

    In short, I personally wouldn't get cocky about our laws of physics. They are just our latest method of muddling along.

    [ Parent ]

    Pass me the bong! (none / 0) (#154)
    by SporranBoy on Sun May 12, 2002 at 11:59:55 PM EST

    We are humans so I guess it is beyond us to really discuss a completely alternative take on experience of the Universe.

    I guess we fundamentally believe that the Universe consists of patterns of electromagnetic energy ( physicists note - I am not a physicist ), and therefore that any other form of intelligence would at the most basic level, consist of highly non-random electromagnetic patterns.

    For me, any speculation beyond that is in danger of descending into short-sighted, self obsessed arrogance. We're good at that!

    [ Parent ]

    Electrons? (4.75 / 4) (#116)
    by mindstrm on Sat May 11, 2002 at 02:16:28 AM EST

    Nit-picking.. but..

    Electrons do not travel at the speed of light in a vacuum.
    In fact, I don't think electrons ever travel at the speed of light.

    Radio transmission is not made up of electrons.

    EM radiation if you like, photos if you feel like it, but certainly not electrons.

    Anything with Mass (5.00 / 1) (#166)
    by jobeus on Fri May 24, 2002 at 05:13:10 PM EST

    Yep, you're right. Anything with Mass (ie. an Electron) can not possibly travel at the speed of light, vacuum or not.

    [ Parent ]
    On aliens visiting. (3.00 / 1) (#117)
    by mindstrm on Sat May 11, 2002 at 02:27:01 AM EST

    THe thing I dont'get.

    Okay, supposing there is some alien race out there that managed to advance enough to travel around and visit things.

    How arrogant are we to assume we are interesting enough to warrant a visit? There are probably much, much more interesting civilizations out there to visit.

    I am convinced given the size of the universe that there are countless civilizations out there.
    I am also convinced that given the size of hte universe, we will never meet any of them.

    How do you know it's not interesting (none / 0) (#136)
    by marimba on Sat May 11, 2002 at 12:28:37 PM EST

    if you never go there? At this point in time, the existence of life anywhere else in the universe is intrinsically "interesting" if one's species some element of curiosity. Ours does. Others may not. As for never meeting them, you are free to believe whatever you wish. Personally, I can't make a statement one way or the other, given the absolute void of any kind of evidence upon which to base a decision. When we have reached the limits of physics upon which to base the design of communications and travel devices, and when we have reached the limits of engineering to build those devices, then, perhaps I could be pressed to venture a guess. But I don't see those limits anywhere in sight.

    [ Parent ]
    Same reason we visit and rape low-tech cultures. (4.00 / 1) (#146)
    by Wulfius on Sun May 12, 2002 at 05:53:13 AM EST

    One just has to look at our 'superior' wester culture.

    We visit, subvert and invade 'inferior' civilisations because;

    1) Cheap labour
    2) Free mineral resources
    3) Funky local cultural trinkets
    4) Tourism
    5) Slaves

    "We must believe in free will, we have no choice."
    http://wulfspawprints.blogspot.com/ - Not a journal dammit!
    [ Parent ]

    You forgot (5.00 / 1) (#151)
    by SporranBoy on Sun May 12, 2002 at 09:06:21 PM EST

    the latest shameless practice of the Pharmceutical industry of doling out pocket knives and flashlights to the shamans of primitive peoples who are willing to divulge their knowledge of the curative properties of local plants.

    They then patent those which they deem to be worthwhile, and ,hey presto, the global intellectual property rights are theirs.

    [ Parent ]

    The point is moot. (4.70 / 10) (#121)
    by gromm on Sat May 11, 2002 at 04:45:20 AM EST

    The sort of signals that we've been sending into space fall into two categories: the ones that are strong enough to escape our own atmosphere, and the ones that aren't. The vast majority over the past 100 years fall into the latter category. The ones that fall into the former can be further subdivided. Those that are encrypted or "scrambled" like pretty much all satellite TV signals for the past 20 years and the ones that aren't. To those without a proper decryption unit, (whose  methods are quite proprietary) these signals look pretty close to unusually strong static. Jerry Springer therefore looks pretty close to static, right along with our military signals.

    Now, if you take a look at the actual signal strength and realize that radio waves - like ripples in water that are caused by a stone falling in - quickly become very faint as distance becomes greater. Therefore, our everyday satellite signals become fuzzier and fuzzier the further out you go. We'd be lucky if these signals leave our solar system in any recognizable form. In order for us to communicate with a probe that's near Pluto, we have to slow down the pulses that it sends and make them bigger to the point that it's only communicating at about 700 baud. Even unencrypted, clear TV signals that leave our atmosphere become nearly undecipherable fuzz around Jupiter. This is even making the assumption that both ends are using unidirectional dish antennae that are both pointed directly at each other the whole time, rather than the reality that satellite TV signals and omnidirectional antennae are blasted out into space  on a rotational period of 24 hours. These signals look more like lighthouse beacons than TV programs.

    If we wanted to broadcast something into space that some other alien civilization would be able to see, we would actually have to make a real attempt, rather than the accidental stuff we'd probably really rather they didn't see. Probably our best bet would be sending out a nuclear reactor with a big-ass omnidirectional broadcast beacon attached to it into a deep space orbit or into an escape path from the sun. This radio transmitter would also have to be sending extremely simple pulses into space in order to be recognizable at all when it reaches other stars. I'd also have to admit that the amount of power that would be needed for something like this could easily melt an antenna. :)
    Deus ex frigerifero

    You're mean. (none / 0) (#133)
    by anno1602 on Sat May 11, 2002 at 11:28:54 AM EST

    I had such a good time laughing at our descendants. And now you spoil it. :-) You're right, of course.
    "Where you stand on an issue depends on where you sit." - Murphy
    [ Parent ]
    So you're saying... (none / 0) (#168)
    by jobeus on Fri May 24, 2002 at 05:17:25 PM EST

    That there's no possibility Aliens would have technology to deal with such interference, and likely they cannot recieve said signal any better than NASA technology can?

    [ Parent ]
    Canada will put an end to the Stupidity Front (1.00 / 1) (#131)
    by Dave21212 on Sat May 11, 2002 at 09:58:36 AM EST

    Once Canada passes the new laws regarding those DirectTv decoders, it will be impossible to listen to the signals without buying a subscription. DirectTv will likely be out of business in 1,000 years - hence the aliens will never be able to view the Jerry Springer re-runs (Unfortunately, they will never get to see the Simpsons either!)

    Aliens (none / 0) (#167)
    by jobeus on Fri May 24, 2002 at 05:15:07 PM EST

    I don't think Aliens will care about the laws of Canada, and will henceforth decode any and all DirecTV signals they get. Perhaps with ease.

    [ Parent ]
    Extrapolating from current trends (4.00 / 1) (#134)
    by pexatus on Sat May 11, 2002 at 11:47:57 AM EST

    I would conclude that the human race will likely never ditch its seamy underbelly.  Perhaps the humans of the future will be embarrassed by such hallmarks of American culture as WWF wrestling and monster truck shows, but it will only be because they've replaced it with something that will also be looked down upon by the cultural elite.

    Offhand, I'd probably conclude that the bottom-of-the-barrel output of Western culture is become more like monkeys flinging their own feces at one another.

    Why must we always assume.. (3.00 / 3) (#140)
    by GfxFreak on Sat May 11, 2002 at 04:56:00 PM EST

    ..that the aliens are superior to us in technology/knowledge/etc? Humans always take an inferior standpoint and visualize aliens as travelling space at light speed... maybe they've never even been off their planets? If they exist.. but that's a different story :-)

    That's because ... (5.00 / 1) (#141)
    by avani on Sat May 11, 2002 at 05:35:02 PM EST

    No one at this point has any realistic aspirations to fly to a planet out of our own solar system, partly due to the level of current technology.

    Thus, the only way we would end up meeting another sentient race ( assuming no sentient comet-riding bacteria *grin* ) would be if they came to us, implying at least some superior technologies to what we currently have.

    [ Parent ]
    No i mean (5.00 / 1) (#145)
    by GfxFreak on Sun May 12, 2002 at 12:14:52 AM EST

    that what if WE get to them first? What if they're centuries behind us technologically..

    Also, why do they always have to be green creatures with big oval heads :-/

    [ Parent ]
    What if they're centuries behind us technologicall (5.00 / 1) (#147)
    by joto on Sun May 12, 2002 at 09:50:24 AM EST

    That would be highly unlikely. The most likely scenario is that they are bacteria, or something equally intelligent, but we wouldn't find them with radio-telescopy, nor would they come to use.

    They could also be a culturally and technologically advanced race (like we like to think we are). But consider the age of the earth (ca. 4.55e9 years). Now consider the age of mankind (ca 50000) . Now, consider the age of large-scale civilization (ca 5-10000). Now consider the age of a modern scientific understanding of nature (Newton would only be 360 years old today).

    The age of radio, etc, is a little bit shorter, but really, what we are looking at is a 360 year timespan for someone on an equal footing to us, for a planet being 4.55e9 years old. So, if they are technologically advanced (i.e. post-Newton), chances are they have been that at least a few 1e9 years, and it would most likely be impossible for us to either understand them or communicate with them.

    You don't need to be very science-fiction-absorbed to see that. Even today, we have gene-technology, and are able to (or soon will be) to modify our own bodies to become smarter, stronger, living forever, or whatever you need. We also have technology such as computers ad robotics, and a future promise of nanotechnology, that might make us able to replace our bodies with thinking machines completely.

    It would be enough to try to imagine humanity in say 1000 years, if we assume no wars or ecological catastrophe sets us back a few thousand years in between. Our lives will most likely be very different (as our lives are already quite different from just a few hundred years ago). But with not just thousands of years, but millions and billions of years for exponential technological advancement, it is likely that we would have as much in common to them, as earth-worms has to us (or more likely, even less).

    [ Parent ]

    I don't get it. (4.50 / 2) (#156)
    by Shren on Mon May 13, 2002 at 09:20:45 AM EST

    It seems like most, if not all, technological development paths that lead to aliens being able to hear our transmissions mean that they can also send the same transmissions. Wouldn't they be likely to have the exact same kind of stupidity front? Furthermore, wouldn't we see theirs before they see ours? If the alien TV ever shows up at our doorstep, then we can worry about what they think of our TV ... after laughing at them over the ansible.

    Critique... (3.00 / 1) (#159)
    by xee on Mon May 13, 2002 at 11:28:57 PM EST

    If you were to look at the sphere of this "intentional" electromagnetic radiation, it would look like we were making a 3-D wake in space, similar to the wake a boat leaves behind it in the water.  That is to assume, of course, that this RF is distinguishable from "unintentional" RF.  The big problem with your theory is the common fallacy of "humans are different from nature".  The big problem that folks like SETI are trying to overcome is to find the meaningful signals in the background noise of the galaxy and ultimately, the universe.  It's not a big quiet zone out there.  Secondly, or perhaps furthermore, is the fact that as the signals race away from earth they dissipate and lose their strength.  After several light years of travel, they would be so diffuse and scattered that they would no longer look like an "intentional" signal -- they'd look more like background noise.

    My second point is that you should read Contact, by Carl Sagan.  Or maybe you did and didn't think that anyone else had.  Who'se to say...

    Proud to be a member.

    Exo-biology media studies majors? (3.00 / 2) (#162)
    by goaptran on Tue May 14, 2002 at 02:20:15 PM EST

    If these hypothetical aliens are intelligent enough to be able to:

    a. sort out the innumerable bits of electromagnetic junk that we send out from the rest of the noise that other intelligent life is sending out in other parts of the universe


    b. make sense of this data from our point of view (i.e. figure out the difference between "reality television" and a "drama")

    then it should be wise enough / intelligent enough that we can all laugh (or whatever noise they make to demonstrate appreciation of humor)about how childish our ancestors were.

    But isn't it vanity to assume that any extra-terrestrial being would want to waste it's lifetime trying to puzzle out the meaning of "Friends"? I mean... sometimes I wonder why I bother...

    The Stupidity Front (4.00 / 2) (#171)
    by msafrin on Wed May 29, 2002 at 12:02:22 PM EST

    I can't say I have the slightest idea of how alien civilizations or our very own descendants will react to or judge us for the electromagnetic raw sewage we're venting out into the cosmos. I do know that there are people who think this is really high-brow stuff. I mean, do you know how cable TV's TVLand channel refers to itself in its very own unique,pompous self- congratulatory way?Get This! "Preserving Our TV Heritage". Enough said.

    The Stupidity Front | 173 comments (148 topical, 25 editorial, 0 hidden)
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