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SETI seeks to rebrand its goals, in pursuit of funding from the U.S. Congress


Home From Marina Koren at the Atlantic:

As recently as January of this year, Tarter suggested a rebranding for seti. “Seti is not the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. We can’t define intelligence, and we sure as hell don’t know how to detect it remotely,” she said. Seti “is searching for evidence of someone else’s technology. We use technology as a proxy for intelligence.” Call it sett instead, she said.

NASA does not, we are told, recognize SETI as part of astrobiology. Call that prejudice if you like, or call it an unwillingness to be seen spending tax money on a search for little green men when attested phenomena out there await exploration.

With the House bill on the table, Tarter says she will do what she can, as she has for years, to rally support among the decision-makers, especially the people who hold the purse strings. Seti needs funding from both private and government sources, she says. And, after years of starts and stops, triumphs and disappointments, seti needs consistency.

“Ten million at once for one year won’t do much,” Tarter said. “But $10 million a year, as an ongoing funding stream, could do a great deal. It could allow people to build special-purpose instrumentation, and then use it on the sky for a long time.” More.

At this point, SETI might be on to something. It is now a search, specifically, for intelligent design – evidence of technology that could only arise through the application of intelligence to nature. Unless, of course, one thinks that consciousness is just an illusion anyway.

Question: If consciousness is just an illusion, why couldn’t the products of high-tech form by themselves, Boltzmann brain-style?

See also: Suzan Mazur: NASA, tax dollars, space aliens, and religion… Of course, it’s yet to be determined that most religious people have much invested in the matter one way or the other, relative to their irreligious neighbours.

But surely we can’t conjure an entire advanced civilization?


How do we grapple with the idea that ET might not be out there?

Interesting. There is some merit in recognizing the nuance of distinguishing between technology and intelligence. However, I can't help but wonder if this idea to re-brand is an attempt to avoid the implications of the concept of intelligence, perhaps even to avoid any association with highly controversial and unpalatable ideas like, oh, intelligent design. It is quite clear, however, that the only way SETI will detect technology will be to use a design inference to intelligent activity, so any re-branding is form over substance. At the end of the day, the goal is to determine if there is intelligence out there -- detectable through its creation and use of designed technology -- not just to determine if there is some technology floating around out there -- undesigned, we imagine, by any intelligent being, and arising through . . . what? . . . some kind of natural process? Of course not. The search is still about finding intelligent agents, not technology. Even if the latter is the artifact that belies the former. Sounds like Tarter has gotten hung up on the definition of intelligence at the expense of the underlying substance. Tarter may need to think through the implications a bit more first. Or you could be right . . . maybe this is just a funding re-branding? Eric Anderson
It would seem to me that the FIRST area to be "searched" for alien technology would obviously be UFOs: if they are NOT intelligently controlled vehicles, what ARE they? But I'm pretty sure that the guys making their livings off SETI grants have spent their entire careers trying to DISTANCE themselves from discussions of UFOs. I mean, if UFOs get included, then the SETI guys would have to stop asking for $1 billion USDs over 10 years to DESIGN an experiment that MIGHT support a theory for what "evidence" might look like. Instead, they'd have to go out in jeeps and actually talk with PEOPLE (not other Scientists) about what was actually seen and felt. vmahuna

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