Saturday, June 15, 2013

In space, no one cares about your band.

Just pretend to read your paper
and above all, do not engage.
Have you ever thought someone was talking to you on the bus or on the subway and then you realize they're just talking to themselves? You try to spot a cellphone or a bluetooth, but no, it turns out they're just carrying on a conversation with voices only they can hear. Well, that's the human race, or at least it will be starting June 18th when our planet begins babbling into the void in hopes of attracting aliens. Because if there's one thing you want to do with the weirdo on the subway, it's talk to them.

It's called the Lone Signal Project, and like any human endeavor worth doing, it has a trailer. Here, check it out. It consists mostly of lens flare, flickering graphics and a bunch of actors pretending to give a shit about the possibility of life on other worlds. If anything it makes the case that our species is too pretentious to contact alien civilizations.
Attention aliens: Earth is infested with carbon-based hipsters.
Under no circumstances should you attempt to land.
It's sort of an interstellar poetry slam.
And who wouldn't want to travel
17 light years for one of those?
Instead of sitting around listening for alien transmissions, the Lone Signal Project's idea is to beam a message into space. Cool right? Well, sort of. In addition to the old hailing frequency standbys like the prime numbers, welcome to Earth in a hundred languages and directions on how to find our defenseless planet, we'll also be spewing a meaningless stream of consciousness submitted by random people. And we'll be spewing it at Gliese 526 (just a stone's throw from Zarmina Prime!) in the vague hope that someone answers.

This is kind of weird since nobody's actually spotted any planets orbiting Gliese 526, but I suppose that doesn't matter given that this whole thing is doomed to failure. I'm not trying to rain on anyone's crazy space parade here, but the LSP is making some pretty goddamn big assumptions.
Above: The crazy space parade.
Incidentally, scientists have discovered
circumstantial signs of life in Arizona.
Firstly, even if Gliese 526 has planets, it doesn't necessarily follow that they're terrestrial. On the off chance that it does and they are, there's still the distinct possibility that they are lifeless rocky deserts like Arizona. We have, to date, discovered only one life-bearing world and, well, you're soaking in it. But let's say that there is a planet in orbit of Gliese 526 and let's also say that it supports life. Cool. But is it intelligent? We might just be talking to squirrels. Alien squirrels, but still, squirrels. 

"Yeah, I'm from Earth. You've
probably never heard of it." 
But fine, let's assume that there is an inhabitable, Earth-like planet full of intelligent, tool-using humanoids who would like nothing better than to talk to our Hipster Space Ambassadors, who's to say they even have the means to pick up our signal? I mean, maybe they've moved beyond primitive radio to something more advanced like telepathy or Pandora. And even if they have radios, is blathering away at them in English really going to accomplish anything? 

Or for all we know, they could be living in caves or in their version of the Old West. This happened on Star Trek all the time, usually to save on sets by reusing the Paramount backlot, but still the premise is sound. The universe is billions of years old, there's no reason to assume that an alien civilization is anywhere near our level of development.
"Spock, let me get this straight: We've landed on a planet that's exactly like Earth in the 1960's,
so much so that the locals speak a language that sounds precisely like English? That seems...unlikely."

"Yes Captain, I am detecting high levels of bullshit."
"I know you're still there..."
Look, I'm not against the quest for life on other worlds. Really, I'm not. I think sending messages to other planets is a great idea. But could we aim for actual planets? Or better yet, let's invent warp drive and go there ourselves. Sure, you can send a message to Gliese 526, but it's going to take like 18 years to get there and assuming there's anyone listening, another 18 to get a message back. It'll be like one of those text conversations where the other person takes forever to get back to you and I just don't have the patience. 

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