Rob Sheldon is our physics color commentator, and he offers some thoughts on the claims made in A SETI hypothesis: We are Them:
a) The paper is a sequel to this one: “The WoW! signal of the terrestrial genetic code”
In that original paper, the same authors argue that the mapping between nucleotides and amino acids shows peculiar arrangements of high Shannon information, and is therefore a sign of extraterrestrial intelligence.
As you might guess, the authors took a lot of flak for saying this. This paper is the response.
b) This paper tries to argue the opposite direction, that if you were a supremely intelligent person designing the mapping from DNA–>amino acids, how would you go about putting information in the mapping? Which is to say, what mappings would you reject as too noisy?
c) This paper tries to defend against all the dismissals the 2013 paper generated. Little text boxes sprinkled through the paper address a particular objection:
Box 1) this isn’t about aliens
Box 2) this isn’t Intelligent Design
Box 3) this isn’t bar-coding or copyrighting
Box 4) this is no more speculative than SETI
Box 5) this does not violate Methodological Naturalism
Box 6) the mapping (64–>23) is too few bits to sustain the hypothesis
Box 7) the mapping is the best place for information
Box 8) all the analysis has been published before
Box 9) information extracted depends on context, and therefore isn’t objective
Box 10) this doesn’t violate the scientific method
Box 11) the uniqueness of the mapping cannot be achieved randomly
Box 12) Intelligent life in the universe is not too rare.
d) Despite all the similarities, it seems clear that they do not want to be associated with us. (I call it the Velikovsky effect.) Here’s the entirety of Box 2.
“According to a common misconception, bioSETI is a form of Intelligent Design (ID) because both look for intelligent signatures in living cells; ID opponents and proponents alike succumb to this confusion. In fact, however, bioSETI is diametrically opposite in its premises – whereas ID ultimately seeks to argue against natural evolution, bioSETI attempts to answer how, given natural evolution, a durable signature might be encoded into evolving cells (correspondingly, methods also differ – similar to traditional SETI, bioSETI employs semiotic approaches, not ID-arguments like irreducible complexity). Hence, a positive result in bioSETI might count as a failure rather than success for ID, as it would imply validity of the premise which ID claims to be false.”
e) I’m no philosopher, but I still feel this is a case of Post hoc ergo propter hoc. The logic for its uniqueness doesn’t really address whether all other arrangements are inferior, especially since one can always find a context that makes this particular example unique. So even examining every other permutation of the mappings, still won’t tell you if a different code is superior in a different context. I really don’t know how to remove that context-bias from the argument, and I’m not sure this paper does either.
[Readers? Does their position make sense?]