July 21, 2010 | David F. Coppedge

Second-Guessing Aliens

If we haven’t yet communicated with aliens, can we know anything about their character?  Astrophysicist Gregory Benford of UC Irvine thinks we can surmise one thing: they are frugal.  Why?  “Whatever the life form, evolution selects for economy of resources,” he said.  Broadcasting is expensive, and transmitting signals across light-years would require considerable resources.”
    For this reason, Benford and his twin brother James envision the aliens avoiding broadcasts continuously blasted in all directions.  Frugal aliens will use short, targeted blips known as “Benford beacons.”  He calls searching for such signals a “common-sense” approach.     Charles Q. Choi on Space.com also quoted Benford’s line, “This approach is more like Twitter and less like ’War and Peace’.”  They don’t send e-books; they send tweets.  As support for his speculations about alien frugal twittering, he compared it to the cost of METI – Messages to Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.  To send twitters to aliens would cost a billionaire a lot of money: $1.3 billion for the installation and $200 million a year in operating costs.
    At New Scientist Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute downplayed the risks of METI.  It’s too late to worry about it, he said, despite the concerns of Stephen Hawking (04/26/2010).
    Hazel Muir in another article on New Scientist got in on the mudslinging at aliens, saying, “Stingy aliens may call us on cheap rates only.”  With fewer signals available to find, it may take the luck of the Irish to find the thrifty Space Scots.

“Evolution selects for economy of resources.”  That’s why it created supersaurus, microbes, ants, kudzu, and humans at hot dog eating contests.  When the Benfords can correctly second-guess Darwin’s menagerie (12/19/2007), maybe they will then be prepared to start second-guessing creatures that may not exist.  Without data, aliens belong in the class of gnomes, leprechauns, unicorns and other fantasies borne out of human imagination.  Benford recalled his grandfather saying, “Talk is cheap, but whiskey costs money.”  Darwhiskey is a cheap liquor that lubricates the imagination and sets the tongue a-flapping.

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Categories: SETI

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