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April 7, 2022 75 mins

Daniel and Jorge talk about whether attempts to communicate with extra terrestrial civilizations are worth the risk.

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Speaker 1 (00:09):
Or Hey, how do you feel when you get an
unexpected piece of mail, like a letter to my house?
It's usually either good news or bad news exactly, But
do you get a feeling about it before you open it,
about whether it's good or bad? Sure, Like, if it
looks like a check, it's probably good news. If it
comes from the I R S, probably not good news. Yeah,

(00:32):
and anything handwritten is probably also not bad news. What
if the I r S says your handwritten note, that's
probably extra bad news. Actually, well, it could be a
fan from the I R S. You could have a
fan letter, unless it's cut off from little pieces of
magazine fonts. I don't want anybody the I r S

(00:52):
to be impressed by the creativity of my tax return.
I am more handmay cartoonists and the creator of PhD comics.

(01:14):
I'm Daniel. I'm a particle physicist and a professor at
u C Irvine, where my mailbox is usually filled with
people sending me their theories of the universe and letters
from prisoners. Is that true you get letters from prison
like physical letters, I do. I get handwritten letters from
prison from folks who have found our book in their
prison library. Wow. That's pretty interesting. That's pretty cool. Yeah,

(01:36):
a little window out into the universe. I thought you
were going to say they're from your friends in prison,
although I guess now you have friends in prison. There
are my friends now. I actually used to teach in
prison when I was at Berkeley. I used to go
up and be a t a at San Quentin. They
had a class there in mathematics for prisoners. So go
and help teach arithmetic to prisoners. Oh, that's pretty cool,

(01:58):
until the day I discovered that one of the prisoners
there used to be a grad student working for my advisor,
also at Berkeley. No way, so you were, you thought,
because they do more than you, or it sort of
scared you about your potential future. I thought, Wow, there
are more career paths from grad school than I realized,
creative ones at that But welcome to our podcast Daniel

(02:20):
and Jorge Explain the Universe, a production of I Heart
Radio in which we try to unlock your mind and
release you from the prison of our human ignorance. We
want to set everybody's brains free, and we want to
understand everything that's out there in the universe from the
true nature of the fundamental elements of the universe, our
space and time fundamental, or do they emerge from some

(02:41):
crazy frothing quantum reality all the way up to the largest,
most dramatic structures in the universe, to the very edges
of the known universe and beyond. We aim to explain
all of it to you. Yeah, because it is a
pretty amazing universe. It's vast and full of interesting and
crazy mysteries. But we seem to be sort of maybe
stuck and maybe sort of also prisoners in one little

(03:02):
tiny corner of it, sort of blocked off by the
huge walls of space around us that make it really
hard for us to go visit other places. It does
sort of seem like we are in solitary confinement, and
we don't know if there are other intelligent beings out
there in the galaxy also wondering about the same questions
that we are proving the nature of matter, and wondering

(03:23):
if they are also alone. Yeah, we're like in a
cosmological time out. Maybe we misbehave We've definitely been misbehaving,
But I don't know if we deserve to be in
isolation for thousands and thousands of years. It seems a
bit extreme. We can't play with the breast of the
kids kids species in the universe. Maybe we're just waiting
for the day we get let out into the yard

(03:43):
and we get to meet all the other prisoners. Although
it's not a bad prison metaphorically speaking. I mean, the
Earth is pretty comfortable. It's like home confinement. That's right.
I got no complaints. I love the Earth, And we
got a pretty good view out of our window. We
can see really far into the universe, across billions and
billions of light years and are witnessing cataclysmic cosmic events

(04:06):
that give us clues into the nature of reality. One
thing we haven't seen yet, however, is evidence that there's
somebody else out there. Yeah, it kind of makes you
wonder if there are other alien species sort of looking
at the universe like we are, and maybe looking at
the same events at the same time as we are,
and asking the same questions we're asking about the universe.
I think it's even more interesting if there are alien

(04:27):
astronomers looking at the same events but before we are,
Like some photons that have taken five hundred million years
to get to Earth, aliens might have seen photons from
that same event. A hundred million years ago, they might
have been like working on this and writing papers and
scooped us by a hundred million years. Are you saying
the science we have right now is old news like

(04:49):
it's it's it's based on stale data. That's right. It's
time to go out there and get some fresh results.
But depending on where you are in the universe, you
may see something a lot sooner then somebody else. So
it could be that there's something amazing that happened in
the universe and the light from it is still getting here,
but it's already hit alien astronomers and they have received

(05:09):
this incredible insight from this one of a kind cosmic event. Right,
But I guess in a relative universe there's such a
thing as sort of instantaneity, right, Like, maybe they saw
it before we did, But by the time they tell
us they saw it, we have already seen this discovery.
That's true. Photons from the event will arrive here before
their paper on it arrives here, so we'll have a

(05:30):
narrow window to claim that we came up with the
ideas ourselves, unless their paper is about wormholes and somehow
they get it to us before we see the light,
in which case it's like maybe getting a preview or something.
Maybe or maybe the first interstellar war will be started
by physicists arguing about who came up with an idea first. Yeah,
it'll be fought on the wormhole Internet probably, or maybe

(05:54):
their first paper will be like, hey, Earth, watch out,
there's a giant gamma raypers coming your way that will
kill you. Would be very kind to them. I hope
that aliens are out there and looking out for us,
But it is a pretty big question of whether or
not we are alone in the universe. That you know,
it's a vast universe and we are able to sit
of sea and look out there, and we're also able
to send messages. But it's a little bit of a

(06:14):
debate about whether we should be sending out messages or not.
That's right. Some folks are desperately curious to contact aliens
or even just to know about their existence, and other
folks are wondering, is it a good idea for aliens
to know that we are here? Yeah, because you might
be a learning dangerous aliens to our presence. Right, you
might be telling them, Hey, there's a whole bunch of

(06:36):
delicious looking meat running around here in this blue planet
where you can also get a nice drink of water,
come get it, that's right, Or you might accidentally say
something offensive to spark an interstellar war. Sometimes just staying
quiet is the best approach. You're saying, the aliens could
have thin skin. Maybe they don't even have skin, you know,
maybe they just take offense to everything instantly, that's right.

(06:59):
Who knows they're aliens? Right, it could just be like
a cloud of group or something. But I guess it's
sort of the idea that maybe our quest to be
like reach out and contact other civilizations maybe naive, right,
because it could be leading us into a potentially dangerous
situation exactly. And it's a question we often are confronted
by in physics, not just whether we can, but whether

(07:20):
we should. So today on the podcast, we'll be tackling
the question is it dangerous to try to communicate with aliens?
That question sounds dangerous. I mean, anytime you say sort
of aliens, you gotta you gotta step back for a second.
You and I often joke about this on the podcast.
I'm looking forward to the day the aliens arrived because

(07:42):
I hope I can ask them physics questions about like
what is the true nature of reality and quantum gravity
and how did the universe begin? Etcetera. But sometimes you
get the impression that you're a little bit more concerned
about whether or not the aliens will just fry us
from orbit. Yeah, well, you know, you look at it
from all sides, I guess. But um, you know, first

(08:02):
of all, I guess you're assuming that the aliens know
the answer to these questions. Maybe they're just as clues
as as we are and hungry. That's a great point.
It depends a lot on how we actually get in
touch with these aliens. If aliens come to Earth, and
it's likely that they have traveled through space in a
way that we haven't been able to, so it's very
likely they're more advanced than we are, and so probably
they have some answers or at least different perspectives on

(08:25):
these questions. But if we just get a message from them,
then there's no guarantee that they have developed anything that
we haven't developed. And if they all they do is
here our message, they might not have very sophisticated technology
at all. I think it's just kind of dangerous to
have those expectations. You know, like, what if you hail
the aliens they come all the way here, and then
you ask them like, hey, what are the secrets to

(08:45):
the universe? And they're like, we don't know. What are
you gonna do? It's gonna be really awkward to I'm
gonna be like, I made all this guacamole just just
for have this party with you to celebrate this, you know,
solutions to the universe, and now it's just gonna go bad. Uh,
And then what are you gonna do? Or you can
disinvite them? What are you going to talk about for
the next you know, billion years with them in your house.

(09:06):
I'm definitely not great at keeping conversation going, especially with strangers,
so it would be a tricky situation. But I think
it's worth the risk because they could have incredible answers,
or at least, you know, maybe they even just ask
different questions, questions we haven't thought to ask. I think,
joking aside, the greatest thing we would learn from communicating
intellectually with another species is just learning from all the

(09:29):
differences in our approaches, not even necessarily the answers interesting.
Yet it wouldn't it be easier just to try a
different approach ourselves. Yeah, sit down, brainstorm, other ways we
could think about things. What do you need to outsource?
Sometimes I think the human thought is sort of trapped
in a rut and we don't even realize all the
time the decisions we've made in the arbitrary choices that

(09:52):
have influenced us. And just like the path of human thought,
you know who thought of what when and who had
time to go into science and influence the direction and
of human science. So I think if you ran the
Earth is an experiment a thousand times, you would probably
get lots of different ideas about science. But we only
have this one experiment. So it's a little frustrating, all right. Well,
as usually, we were wondering how people thought about this

(10:15):
idea of contacting aliens or looking for aliens, or whether
they thought it was a good idea or risky one.
So Daniel went out there, this time in person, out
into the campus of you see Irvine, to ask people
this question. That's right, you see, I opened up again
after the pandemic, and so I was able to walk
around campus and make people feel weird by asking them

(10:36):
about aliens. To thank you to all the u c
I students, who answered this question. Wow, was it extra
weird being back and asking questions of strangers? Like I
imagine it was weird before to have this, you know,
scurfy looking physicist approach you and ask you questions about
the universe. But now you're doing it with a mask
and there's a pandemic going on. How was that weird? Well,

(10:56):
I think I'm a little less scruffy because of the mask.
It hides some of the rough so maybe it makes
me look a little more professional. But it was nice.
It's good to be out there again. It's good to
see people. It's good to have the campus be alive.
So I think people are a little hungry for some interaction.
I was surprised everybody was very receptive. All right, Well,
think about it for a second. If someone asked you
whether it's a good idea to look for aliens or

(11:18):
is it risky? What would you answer. Here's what people
had to say. I don't really know. I mean, I
think it's pretty cool. I guess I think it's more
interesting rather than like dangerous if you were to try
to communicate. So, yeah, there is always a risk, but uh,
there's also an opportunity. So I feel yeah, I feel

(11:39):
it's actually not necessarily It's hard for me to say
it's cool or bad, but it's also hard for me
to say it's necessarily bad. I think it's incredibly risky.
I think that the prospect of an extra strestrial civilization
showing up on Earth is very scary. You don't know
what they what their intentions might be, and I think

(12:00):
history kind of shows us that when people who are
outsiders show up in a place where you know they
don't really think of the other inhabitants, is so much
like then, or you know, the equivalent of them, then
these are usually turn out so well, really, because we
could advance our knowledge about how life is form and

(12:22):
how it functions and ways we cannot even begin to
comprehend right now. And what about the risks worth it?
Every new idea brings risks, and everything we do depends
on on who we are and how we go about it.
So based on that, we could never do anything if

(12:46):
we don't trust the people that doesn't, they could bring
us diseases that we couldn't fight. Well. I think it's
a good idea for a multitude of reasons. I think,
first and foremost, it's just informative to know whether or
not where alone or not? And then that just opens
up a whole new lineup questioning, which is, you know,
how do they develop differently from us? Where did we diverge?

(13:08):
Do we look at the universe in the same way?
You know? I think in much the same way that
it's informative to get other cultures experiences on certain things.
It can be interesting to get an entirely different species
perspective on something. What about the risks? There are risks,
but there are risks inherent in anything, right, Um, the
Manhattan rodinking built a new you know, the risk was,

(13:31):
are we going to ignite the atmosphere? We're just gonna
wipe out the human race right now? Probably not if
the risk is there, right, And if we go out
into space looking for extra terrescials, the same risk is
inherentble But I think the benefits out where the risks.
But then if it's pot wiping out the human race, well,
some might argue that there is a benefit to wiping
out the human race. I wouldn't go that far, but

(13:51):
but some people would make that argument. But that is
actually a benefit. I definitely think it's a good idea
of course we should. I guess it doesn't have to
be balanced with other needs for resources. So, for example, um,
should we educate our children or do biomedical research versus
for all our resources into the hope of maybe finding
alien life. I guess I'd still vote for like, keeping

(14:14):
our planet working right here at home, I think would
be a good idea. I could see how it would
be dangerous if but I would choose to believe that
they would be just as curious as we are and
not aggressive or hostile in anyway, and then it would
be a mutual communication between both of us. All Right.
We have a pretty wide range of opinions here from people.

(14:37):
Some people think it's super risky, some people think it's
super cool, yeah, And some people think it's risky but
worth the risk. I guess I wonder if they're thinking
about the full range of risk potential here. You know,
there was somebody who argued that the human race itself
getting wiped out might be a benefit, not necessarily a risk.
Oh my goodness. There was some pretty dark thoughts going on. Yeah,

(14:59):
pretty uh dark people who go to uc I apparently.
But it's an interesting question whether it's worth the risk, right,
because the risk could be a pretty bad You could
wipe out the whole maybe human race potentially. Yeah, we're
talking about alien technology with unknown capabilities. So definitely, like
sterilizing the entire planet is in the realm of possibility,

(15:19):
And so it seems like a weird balance to strike
the right, Like, on the one hand, we could be
destroyed and wipe out our species. On the other hand,
we might satisfy Daniel Whiteson's curiosity. I don't know, man,
that's a tough call. That is a tough It's a
tough call for the rest of us to be audest well.
I promised to share some of the insights if they
do come. How about that balance a little bit? Of

(15:41):
course you're going to share that, Daniel. I mean you
were you thinking that you're going to keep it to yourself.
I might. I might just build a prison of solitude
and sit there knowing all these answers on my own.
I see, you're gonna put the entire human race and
risk and then keep all of the reward to yourself.
I'll just dribble out of paper every ten years or so,
blowing everything out of the water. From the alien prison.

(16:04):
You'll be writing us and then the rest of us
will get it through the prison newsletter? Is that the
said the idea, and then we're gonna think, oh wow,
that was totally worth it. Yeah, well, jokes aside, there
are some really interesting questions there about how to communicate
with aliens if they do come, or if they do
send us a message, how to speak for Earth, you know,
like who gets to speak for Earth? It's a difficult question.

(16:26):
We actually talked to Jill Tartar, head of CETI about that,
about how they get a community together, a multicultural, multi
perspective community to think about how to respond potentially to
an alien message. It's a hard question. Interesting all right,
But before I guess we get into those details, let's
maybe take a step back here and think about this
larger question of are we alone? What have we learned

(16:46):
about that question? What have we done to answer that question? Daniel?
It's a really interesting question, and obviously we all want
to know the answer are we alone? But it's sort
of puzzling that we don't know the answer already. It's
famously said by for me that was wondering, like where
is everybody? Because the galaxy is pretty big? I mean,
stars are far away, but it's also really really old

(17:08):
and then filled with planets, And so if you think
that life is not like totally unlikely, not like one
in a trillion, then the number of planets means there
should be a lot of life out there, which is
a lot of opportunity for intelligent aliens. And because the
galaxy is really old compared to how big it is,
it's totally possible for an intelligence civilization to have sent

(17:31):
us messages or to have explored the universe. So it's
sort of puzzling, like why we haven't been contacted yet?
Why aliens haven't found us or sent us messages yet? Right?
That's the famous form me paradox, right, Like we look around,
there's so many stars, so many potential habitable planets. There
must be other we can't be like the only ones.
That would be sort of a crazy coincidence, And so

(17:53):
you've got to wonder where why haven't we made contact?
Though you sort of also think that, you know, being
an old universe, it also makes it harder to contact
people if it's an old universe, right, because maybe there
was an alien species nearby, but they lived billions of
years ago, and so maybe they did some messages, but
we weren't around or listening to to hear them. Yeah,
there's lots of potential solutions to this paradox. And that's

(18:15):
why I love about the paradox. It's not really like
a contradiction necessarily makes you question your assumptions and you say,
if all these things I think are true, then we
should have been contacted. So let's go back and examine
those assumptions. And one of the important ones is that
when you just mentioned which has to do with how
long civilizations survive, like if intelligence civilizations only last for
a few thousand years before they blow themselves up or

(18:36):
you know, ruin their environments or something, then to be
very difficult to have them line up in time so
that they could discover each other and maybe even communicate
with each other. This is sometimes called the great filter,
that maybe most civilizations are extinguished before they can become
long lasting civilizations. Yeah, like it's inevitable sort of yeah.
And then the question is like, well, did we already

(18:58):
survive the Great filter? Are we through it or is
it ahead of us? You know, are we about to
extinguish ourselves? All signs point to yes. It depends on
whether those planets have a Daniel Whites and who's crazy
curiosity leads them down the wrong path. I see, So
you're the filter. Is that what you're saying, the thing
that filters us from a longevity. All I'm saying is

(19:19):
that we have one of me and we've survived so far.
You know, that's what the data says. Years Daniel, you're
barely getting started. Look, I have destroyed the Earth and
extinguished humanity exactly zero times in my life. So that's
all I can say. In fact, the trend is going
the wrong way, Like recently you've got a microphone and

(19:39):
reaching more people, and so the filter is she's getting
more clogged up. I think that's true. But there's lots
of ways to attack this problem. You know. One is
to say, well, maybe life just is much more rare
than we ever imagine. Maybe we really are alone out
there in the universe, and that's certainly possible. You know,
we don't know how many times life started. We've only

(20:00):
ever seen this one example though. If you look at
the history of life on Earth, we see that it
started pretty quickly after the conditions were favorable, and we
think those conditions are not that rare. So it'd be
pretty strange if life itself at least you know, heiny
microbial life started somewhere else. What do you mean it
started early, like as soon as the Earth form we

(20:22):
had sort of self assembling molecules in our primorial soup.
After we had reasonable conditions and liquid water. It only
took a few hundred million years at most before we
had very simple forms of life. You know, on the
time scale of the Earth billions of years, that's not
that long. And it might have started sooner. That's just
like the oldest evidence that we have for life. It's

(20:43):
very difficult to find very very ancient signs of life
in old rocks, so it could have started even sooner. Wow.
So I guess the fact that we got it early
means it must have been easy, right, I guess is
that the reasoning, like, oh, we got it pretty quick,
it must not be that hard, that's the reasoning. Although
we only have one example, it could be that we
got super duper crazy lucky, right, We just don't know.

(21:04):
We need to find life somewhere else to get a
clear view of that situation. But you know, intelligence arrived
fairly late on Earth, and so that makes the opposite suggestion.
Maybe life is fairly common in the universe, but mostly
it's not very smart and intelligence is very rare, or
maybe the Earth is unusual. Right. We just can't draw
a lot of conclusions from one example, right, Right, That's

(21:25):
why I'm always late making things and turning things in,
because if you do it too early, people are going
to think it's too easy. Right, Jo must be really
intelligent because he's always very late. That's exactly exactly, yes, yes,
Or what he's doing must be really hard it's taking
in so long, another argument for procrastination. And there are also,
of course questions about the nature of intelligence. You know,

(21:48):
would we even recognize intelligent life if it sent us
a message or if it flew by? Are we trapped
into a box of thinking about intelligent life as sort
of variations on the human experience and the human an example,
unable to even imagine the crazy forms that life or
intelligence might take out there in the universe. Yeah, you mean,
like they could have been sending us message all this time.

(22:09):
There could be messages from aliens washing over us right now,
but maybe in a totally different way than what we
were expecting. Right, Like, we're listening the way we send signals,
but maybe they're sending sending signals in a totally different
way exactly, And we're sending signals in ways that seem
obvious to us, and like anybody would do it this way, right,
But that's exactly what we want to learn when we

(22:30):
talk to aliens. We want to learn how they might
think differently. So when we start by assuming that they're
doing things the same way, we trap ourselves and only
being able to find aliens that are basically like us,
you know, with maybe wrinkly foreheads or pointy ears, right,
But to be honest, that seems like a very human
thing to do, like, let's only talk to people who

(22:51):
are exactly like us. I try to only talk to
physicists except twice a week. When I talk to you, good,
I'm your alien. He's taking a risk here, a big
risk that I might destroy you, but you get so
much out of our conversations exactly, it's worth the risk
because I always say that's right. Yeah, Well, thank you, Daniel,
I appreciate that. Thank you for not frying me with

(23:13):
your death ray so far. Yet, well, there are other possibilities,
and it also raises a question, why should we be
looking for aliens out there. So these are interesting and
big questions that we are going to talk about. But first,
let's take a quick break. All right. We're talking about

(23:42):
whether it's a good idea or a bad idea to
look for aliens out there in the universe, and it's
a tricky balance, Daniel, I guess maybe what are some
of the arguments for looking for aliens? The arguments for
are easy to make. I mean, we just want to know.
It's one of the deepest questions in modern science. Are
we alone in the universe? It tells us so much

(24:02):
about the nature of our existence. You know, I'm always
saying that the reason we do science is not just
to have spinoffs and technology and faster phones, but to
understand the very context of our lives. What is this
universe we're living in? How did it come to be?
Because it changes how we live our lives. And knowing
that we are alone in the universe or knowing that

(24:22):
we are not, both of those totally change the context
of our lives. And so I think it's just one
of the deepest questions and we're desperate to know. Yeah,
I totally agree, although I also have to kind of
say that we sort of have that answer in a way, right, Like,
at this point, we know so much about the universe
that we think that the answer is probably right, like
probably there's life out there or most likely there's life

(24:44):
out there. Isn't that sort of good enough? Yeah, I'd
say the answer is plus or minus. You know, but
we we basically don't know anything. You know, we have
this one example. We can make estimates, but until you know,
you don't really know anything. That's why we do experiment, right.
We think we figured out how this works, and we
go out there, and then the universe surprises us. Every

(25:05):
time we open up new eyeballs or new ears into
the universe, we learned something surprising and shocking that changes
the very way we think about the universe. So it's
definitely worth looking because I bet the answer is pretty
different from what we expect. Well, I guess, you know,
we expect it to be yes. So you're saying maybe
the answers no, The answers very so much depends on

(25:26):
who you ask. Like, personally, I think it's very likely
that there's life all over the universe in lots of
ways we can't even imagine, and that intelligence takes such
a varied forms that would be very difficult for us
to recognize it, not to mention, communicate with it, or
understand a message. I think aliens are probably more alien
than we can even imagine interesting, and so you just

(25:47):
want to kind of find them and to just to
see how weird they can be. Yeah, absolutely, the same
reason I like to go traveling, Like, Wow, look what
people put on their French fries in this country. I
never even thought of that. Oh my gosh. It just
you know, expands ther insense of your brain. It makes
you think in Newton different ways, right, But would you
still eat it? Though? Do you always try them? I

(26:07):
try every condiment once I see you just want to
sample the aliens. He's not take a picture of him.
Maybe these aliens are delicious also, you never know. Oh jeez, well,
I guess. Um. Now the question is how are we
looking for these aliens? Are we actively listening? I know

(26:27):
there's a SETI program out there, Um what else is
out there? And setting means search for an extraterrestrial intelligence.
They're the biggest deal out there in terms of trying
to identify messages from space, and so this is very
different from like questions about whether alien craft are in
the skies and these alien UFO videos said, He's like,
let's just listen for messages from across the universe, trying

(26:50):
to see if somebody out there is similar enough to
us in intelligence and technology that they're sending us messages.
At least we should be listening. They got about a
hundred million bucks from a centric billionaires about five years ago,
and they've been using it to buy telescope time like
the Green Bank Observatory and the Park Observatory to try
to listen for these messages. But I guess they're listening

(27:11):
in the electromagnetic spectrum, right, like looking for radio signals,
just like we use radio signals. And so that's assuming
the aliens use radio signals and within a certain frequency
range they are doing that. They also have some visible
light observations and they also look for this weird stuff.
Jill Tarter was on the podcast a few weeks ago,
and she was telling us about how they're trying to

(27:33):
imagine other ways aliens might communicate, like what if they're
changing the frequency of pulsars through some crazy engineering project,
and so not just like listening for messages in the
way that we might format them. They're out there trying
to think about other ways aliens might be affecting the
cosmos that we could discover, right. We we talked once
on the podcast about like our aliens building a giant

(27:55):
Dicen sphere, or are they you know, moving galaxies around
or something. And so they're being actually very thoughtful about
this and involving philosophers and cultural historians and trying to
think really carefully about the assumptions they are making when
they're searching for these signals. But in the end, it's
limited to our imagination. Right It's possible that there are
signals already out there in our data that we just

(28:15):
haven't interpreted in the right way. Interesting, So listen to
that episode if you have a chance. But there are
other things we're doing, not just listening for messages or
strange things in the universe. We're also sending stuff out there,
that's right. There's another program called METTI m e t I,
which is messaging extraterrestrial intelligence, And this is a community
people who think that we should not just be listening

(28:37):
for these messages, we should be broadcasting our location into
space and letting other civilizations know that we are here
interesting like a group of people who think we should
be more proactive about content ing aliens. Yeah. Absolutely, And
this has actually a long history. It's not just a
recent effort. There's some really fun stories. There's an Austrian
astronomer who wanted to dig massive trenches in the Sahara desert,

(29:00):
fill them with water, top them with kerosene, and then
set them on fire to communicate with people who might
be living on Mars. What this was recent or a
long time ago? This is a long time ago. This
is like more than a hundred years ago, back when
we didn't know are their civilizations on Mars, and people thought, well,
here's the way we could send a message because we
saw what looked like canals on Mars, and so for

(29:22):
a while people thought maybe there was a civilization on Mars.
So it's like writing help in the sand on your
desert island, you know. Yeah, it seems a live with
desperate if you ask me, think you might as well
stand outside their driveway holding a boom box or something.
And there was a French guy who asked for money
from the French government because he wanted to build a
giant mirror which would focus sunlight and write messages onto

(29:45):
the surface of Mars, Like wouldn't that piss people might
send them message? Don't you think so? Sorry about frying
your elementary school filled with alien children. We just really
wanted to get in touch. Boy. Well, it also doesn't
see make a lot of sense because if there were

(30:05):
Mars Martians looking at us, they would already see us, right,
they would look at our you know lights at night
and stuff, right, because you can see those from space. Yeah,
you could. But this is a long time ago, before
I think the Earth was as electrified, some people were
thinking about this kind of stuff. But more recently, you know,
people like Carl Sagan have thought about how somebody might
respond to seeing one of our space probes, until like

(30:26):
on the Voyager, we sent this golden record that has
transmissions from Earth, you know, whale songs and people singing,
and this information on there about like how to find
the planet, done in a way that's supposed to be
sort of self explanatory that anybody with a mathematical and
astronomical understanding might be able to decode, right, yeah, and
you can you can find images of the plaque online, right, Yeah,

(30:48):
that's right, and more aggressively. We actually sent a dedicated
message to space from the air Receiva Observatory, this huge
radio dish that used to be operating in Puerto Rico.
We sent a message out in to space specifically for
aliens in designing a way we thought maybe they would
be able to decode. It's sort of a pictogram. Interesting. Now,
is this group of people METI. Is this like an

(31:10):
actual institution or is it just sort of like what
you call people who want to send messages out. It's
an actual institution. There's a longer history here of this
sort of movement of people sending messages out. But there
is a group actually, it's based in San Francisco called MEDI,
and they are sending messages. Like in two thousand and seventeen,
they sent a message consisting of a scientific and mathematical

(31:31):
tutorial to one particular star that's located twelve light years
from Earth, you know, hoping that the aliens would get
it then learn about our math and science. Is there
a shorter version of this group called the eye MEDI
instant messaging extra terrestrial intelligence somebody wants to text to
other planets. Yeah, it seems like it might be a

(31:51):
little more efficient and you know, casual cash. Maybe that's
the problem. You know, their inboxes are so overflowing with
interstellar spam that they're not reading our That's right, we're
in their spam folder. Yeah, that's the nightmare, isn't it
the nightmare? Like, hey, we're here, we're desperate to connect
with other people. Spam delete exactly. They get so many offers.

(32:13):
That's the great filter that I think. Really it's the
great spam filter of the Google of the universe. You see,
spam really does have costs. Well. Despite this idea of
sending messages to aliens, some people think it's a bad
idea and something that maybe the reason it's a bad

(32:34):
idea could be maybe an explanation for why we haven't
contacted other aliens, Like maybe it's a bad idea. That's
why nobody else in the universe is sending signals out. Yeah,
that's right. Such famous physicists as Michio Kaku said, trying
to contact aliens is quote the biggest mistake in human history.
So there are definitely some people who think this is
not a good plan. Yeah. I think the pictures they're

(32:56):
trying to pain is like maybe the universe is kind
of like a dark force, and they're be predators out there,
and so we're sort of like a vulnerable species. We
maybe don't want to advertise our presence exactly in the
same way that if you're in a horror movie and
you're walking through dark woods, you don't start singing a
loud song, right. You tiptoe very carefully because you don't

(33:16):
want to announce your presence, and that's why everybody else
is being quiet. So the lesson is like, if the
universe seems quiet, maybe there's a reason that's right. And
if you're a cheerleader or a football player, you're probably
toasted exactly. And we are alone, right, we have separated.
We decided to go out into this forest by ourselves,

(33:37):
and so maybe we should think twice before announcing our location.
So it's it's sort of an interesting scenario and a
potentially dangerous idea to contact other aliens. And so to
get more perspective, Daniel went out there to interview an
expert on this topic. That's right. I found a really
interesting paper from Dr Kareem Jabari, a professor of philosophy,
who are the paper about the dangers of communicating with

(33:58):
aliens I reached out to him and he was kind
enough to spend a few minutes explaining the ideas to me.
So here is Daniel's interview with Dr Kareem Jabari on
whether it's a good idea or a bad idea to
contact aliens? All right, So then it's by great pleasure
to introduce to the program Dr Kareem Jabari, who has

(34:21):
a PhD in philosophy and as a researcher at the
Institute for Future Studies. Kareem, thank you very much for
joining us today. Thanks for the invitation. So you wrote
this fascinating paper about the dangers of communicating with extraterrestrials.
Tell me a little bit how you got interested in
this topic. Is this something people discuss a lot at
the Institute for Future Studies And not at all. Actually,

(34:43):
it's more focused around the future of child poverty and
those kind of more Monday issues. But I've always been
a huge fan of science fiction, and I made a
stab at trying to write a short science fiction story.
It turned out to be much more difficult than I
anticipate paid it. But I did a lot of research
for that story, and that research led me to this idea.

(35:05):
And so how was it received by your colleagues. Do
they see this as like, Wow, what a fascinating discussion
of this important topic, or do they think of you
as like, oh my gosh, it's kareem In contacted by aliens. No, no,
I think my colleagues really appreciate it. Although there a
lot of the ideas that I presented this paper are
not especially novel for other philosophers, so when I talk

(35:30):
to them, they go like, yeah, this is interesting, but yeah,
we know this already. But I thought that the added
value was trying to reach out then and try to
share these ideas with the non philosopherical community right well.
As a non philosopher or an amateur philosopher science, I
found it very interesting. So I want to begin by
speculating with you about what level of technology or civilization

(35:55):
we might be able to guess that extraterrestrial intelligences have.
I mean, if they arrive on Earth, obviously they have
some technology that we don't have. But in the case
that we're communicating with distant civilizations around other stars, do
we know anything or can we guess anything about what
level of technology or civilization they might have. Sure, if

(36:15):
if we got a signal from them, for example, by
radio waves, we could infer that they have some machine,
some apparatus to produce that signal, because I think that
most people in the field assume that biological systems could
not produce a signal that is strong enough and an
accurate enough to to convey through many light years. So

(36:39):
so I think we could we could conclude that, and
if the signal allows us to know where the planet is,
we can pain point it. Then we could direct our
telescopes there and and maybe that would help us to
find out other things about about these creatures. Maybe if
if their star is a yellow star like ours, then
that may is it more likely, for example, that they

(37:02):
would have a visual system that is similar to ours,
because eyes are really good to have, and we see
that a lot of different animals on Earth have developed
ice independently of each other. So if they have a
sound like star, then the adds are pretty good that
they would have eyes. Other than that is kind of difficult.
Can we get anything based on the fact that many

(37:24):
stars out there are older than our son, So it
might be that other civilizations have had, you know, a
billion year head start in terms of evolution, and developing technology. Yes, well,
I mean, it's certainly possible that they could be really advanced. Um.
On the other hand, if they're so advanced, how calm
they have not changed more stuff. So one of the

(37:47):
ideas out there is that if on a civilization is
very advanced, they will have a great energy needs. And
if fat civilization has all this need for energy, they
would cons shuck, dison, swarm, or they would cover their
sun or their starring in solar sales or something like that,
and that would be visible for us because we would

(38:09):
see stars disappearing. That suggests that if we don't see it,
then we can assume that there may be not that advanced.
But of course it's also possible that they are very
advantage just don't care about don't care about energy, or
they get their engine in some other way. Well, I
think the prospect of receiving a message from an alien

(38:30):
civilization and then trying to figure out what they're like
and what that message means, and what they're trying to
communicate to us and how we might communicate with them
is certainly a very fascinating one. In your paper, you
make the argument that this problem might be harder than
people anticipate. In fact, you write in the paper, no
entity can translate any message that humans could send with

(38:51):
nothing but electromagnetic transmission. Essentially, you're saying that it's impossible
for us to send something which could be decoded by aliens,
which I guess means in converse, that there's no way
we could understand any message aliens and with just electromagnetic transmissions.
He sketch out that argument for us. Why do you
believe that it's impossible for us to understand the alien message?

(39:12):
I can also add that this would be true even
if the aliens were very similar to us. So, just
as a thought experiment imagined that the aliens are actually
biologically identical to us, they just look like humans. According
to this argument, it would be impossible for us to
translate that message. But of course they it's very unlikely

(39:34):
that they would be identical to us, so that would
make it even more difficult. So the argument basically goes
a theory that is fairly prominent in the philosophy of
language that was articulated by William van orman Quin. But
and that builds on some very interesting insights that were
formulated by the philosopher a little big Wittgenstein, and the

(39:56):
idea is that utterances in a language do not contain
the meaning that they are trying to convey. Rather, meaning
is something that that exists entirely in our heads and
that we derive from observing the behaviors of other people.
And to illustrate this, Equin has this for experiment where

(40:20):
he imagines a person going into a jungle and this
person is a linguist, so he tries to communicate with
the people who are living in the jungle. They don't
know his language and he doesn't know their language. And
the way you start to communicate or start to learn
another people's language is by observing their behavior in their environment,

(40:44):
and with the help of different hypothesis of how these
people work and what they do, you can slowly but
surely construct a translation. Manue. So let's say that that
you have this person in the jungle and he points
at a rabbit and he says, gabba guy. And then
you make a hypothesis here that gaba guy can mean rabbit,

(41:04):
but gaba guy could also mean food, and or maybe
gave a guy could be I mean rabbitness or being
very fast. Because this rabbit happened to be very fast,
and all these hypothesis are consistent with your observation. So
what you need to do is to make more observations.
For example, if the people that you're trying to talk

(41:27):
to they point at a potato and they say, have
a guy, then we can start discarding some of the
hypothesis because the potato is not fast, right, but the
potato is food or so you assume. So then you
say that, yeah, it's more likely that you have a
guy means food, because that's what is common with these
two things. But this is just a tentative hypothesis, right,

(41:50):
But at some point, after a long period of interaction,
you will be good enough in understanding them that you
will be able to ask them. So you you will
be able to ask them by rabbit, do you mean
this or that? But this is not something you can
do initially. Initially, the only thing you can do is
to observe behavior and from your understanding about how humans work.

(42:12):
For example, you you know that humans eat rabbits sometimes
and they also eat potatoes, and that's why you can
kind of make this hypothesis. But with the help of
this knowledge, this background knowledge about how humans work, you
can start producing these hypothesis. The problem is that when
when we're dealing with a string of digits that an
extraterrestrial might send to us, then we have, first of all,

(42:33):
we don't have any information or very little information about
you know, if they like potatoes or not, or if
they call them French fries or if they call them
something else, or if potatoes are like some ritual object
in their everyday lives, or maybe potatoes do move fast
on their planet. But let me back you up and
ask you a question, just to make sure I understand
the point you're making. You're saying that even just pointing

(42:55):
to things and saying the words requires some sort of
common context. Have to have some common experience, some common cultures,
some common inherent understanding to make those connections. That you
can't truly translate an alien language because you don't have
the context to understand that that the framework to fit
those things into. So what Chrime actually says is that

(43:16):
you can never truly translate anything. So think about it.
We learn language by observing human behavior and inferring an
observing utterances and inferring what those utterances can mean by
then observing their behavior. For example, if you say, pass
me the salt, and then I give you the salt.

(43:37):
Then you seem satisfied with that. Then I infer that
you know I was in the ballpark of what you meant.
But we can never have a complete total understanding of
what you meant by the different utterances that you make,
all right, but sometimes we can accomplish what we need
to write. I don't really know if you have like
a deep, you know, philosophical understanding of salt, but I

(43:58):
know that you passed me the salt, just like you know.
We are speaking English, which is not a perfect language
to convey all of our ideas as well. In that sense,
you know, you could say no language is perfect, but
that's not the sense that we're grasping for, right, We're
trying to develop some basic understandings. So it was this
argument saying, you can never have a perfect translation of
an alien language, or you can never have any translation.

(44:19):
So Twiet theory would allow for a good enough translation
of an alien language if we had those two preconditions,
if you had the interaction, and if that interaction was
in a in a context where we can observe the behavior.
So imagine you get these people coming here from proximal

(44:42):
Centauri with their embassy, their alien embassy, and then we
can look at their behavior and then we can see like, oh,
they eat, they seem to be absorbing substances from that orrifice.
Let us postulate that they're eating now, and they seemed
to be eating this kind of I don't know, it
looks like porridge, and then we can do a chemical

(45:03):
analysis of that and realize that, yeah, it's pretty similar
to porridge. And then that would allow us to slowly
but surely construct a translation manual over many interactions. But
when we just get the string, uh, we we we
can't make much of it. I see. So if we
could spend some time with the aliens and develop some
common context, then we could have the framework for developing

(45:27):
some sort of effective but imperfect translation. But you're saying,
if all we get other messages, even if they're actually
biologically humans and think the same way we do, it
would be impossible for us to translate because we don't
have a context or what their lives are like and
what they might mean exactly. That's really interesting, And you
make this comment in your paper about Chomsky's analysis of

(45:47):
language is universal grammar. This claim that all human languages
are based on the same sort of mathematical structure. And
you're write in the paper that Chomsky never claimed that
universal grammar was universal in the sense that it would
be shared across all possible species able to use language.
That is, you know, is universal grammar universal in the
sense that it might also apply to structures of alien languages,

(46:11):
which is a really cool concept. And Chomsky was here
on our podcast a couple of weeks ago. I actually
asked him about this whether he thought that it was
possible that alien languages might be constructed in the same
way as human languages, and he made some argument that
the development of language and symbolic thought might be due
to evolutionary pressure, and so it might be some sort

(46:31):
of like optimum solution to this problem, and therefore it
might be or it could be likely, or you could
argue at least that alien languages might have a similar
structure if that were true, are you saying that that
still doesn't help us, Like even if we have human
biological aliens with minds similar to ours that have a
universal grammar, in that case, we still couldn't develop enough

(46:54):
common understanding just by sending signals to effectively communicate. I'm
not exactly sure what chance the means by that, but
it's only true that we can see convergent evolution across
many traits, right. But for example, the wings of baths
are similar to the wings of birds, but they're not identical. Right,

(47:15):
So they're similar in some respects and different in other respects.
And I think that a language that emerges some say
proximus century, it's probably going to emerge under you know,
some evolutionary pressure. And I think it's sensible to assume
that it would be similar in some respects to human languages,

(47:35):
and and and different in other respects. The crucial point
here is that would it be similar in the sense
that would allow this innate language sense or innate language
grammar to allow us to pick out the right translation
from a whole range of potential translations. And I think that,

(47:58):
you know, it might be possible, But I think then
you would be committed to some fairly controversial views in
the philosophy of language. And I think that, I mean,
I have the utmost respect for Chomsky and his work,
but I think that his view of universal grammar remains
quite controversial to this name. Yeah, I agree I think

(48:18):
it's interesting also to wonder why we haven't been able
to cross the species barrier. I mean, if we're going
to solve the puzzle speaking with another intelligent species from
another planet, we might first want to tackle the question
of like speaking to dolphins or two other intelligent mammals.
Do you have thoughts about why we have not yet
been able to crack the dolphin language. Well, it's controversial

(48:40):
as to whether the dolphins have a language. I mean,
we know that they communicate, and I think this is
what Chomsky says too, that that dolphins and other clever mammals,
they they have advanced communication, but they don't have this
ability to generate an infinite amount of center from a

(49:00):
finite set of words. So so they don't have grammar basically,
and that makes their communication fundamentally different from what we
call language. But if we think about the bracket that
sort of speak, we think that we are actually pretty
good at communicating with some animals, especially animals we have

(49:21):
bread to be attentive to our utterances, for example, dogs.
I don't have a dog myself, but I find it
amazing the things that people can do when they train
their dogs. And I think it shows a very high
level of communication, of ability to communicate. I mean, you
can't use understand the language of dogs because they don't
have a language. On on that kind of more precise

(49:44):
notion of what languages. I understand that you also have
a pet, one that you've named after Chomsky. Yeah. Yeah,
she's a rabbit. Her name is Chomska, and she's not
as eloquent as as Chomsky, but she's very charismatic. I
hope that you have a shared emotional context with your
Chomska at least so a lot of people speculate that

(50:06):
it might be impossible to have a common cultural context
with aliens, and therefore these questions of language are always
going to be impossible. But many folks argue that mathematics
and physics and the sort of physical rules about the
universe might be that context that we might be able
to communicate with aliens by first starting with simple mathematics
and building up from there. You make a reference in

(50:29):
your paper to Frudenthal's self explaining message in his language,
the lingual Cosmico, which is built up from these mathematical primitives.
Do you think it's not possible to start from just
mathematics and develop some way to discuss with each other,
some way to communicate and transfer information. I think that
would run into similar problems. So, first of all, if

(50:50):
we just talk about science and this is this goes
also back to a theory articulated by Quine and others
in that philosophical movement. But what clients is that science
is underdetermined by observation. So imagine that you have a
theory and you make an observation that seems inconsistent with
that theory. That means that, as a good scientist, we

(51:13):
need to revise something right, But the observation doesn't tell
you what to revise. So, for example, um, the according
to Nitsonian mechanics, um, the behavior of the planet Mercury
was rather odd. But one of the suggested solutions to
this problem was to postulate that there was a planet
there that we couldn't see that they named volcan, which

(51:36):
I think is a pretty awesome name for a planet.
It's a very logical choice. Yes, but but yeah, and
I don't think it was a bad hypothesis. But it
just shows you that making the observation that Mercury behaves
in an other way doesn't tell you what is the truth.

(51:57):
It just tells you that something needs revising. So the
idea that Quin has is that you could imagine two
distinct scientific um worlds or or scientific systems, with coherent
theories about everything about you know, evolution and physics and chemistry,

(52:19):
and that you can do the same things with these theories,
but that that these theories imply very different views about
the world. And in the paper, I have an example, uh,
And I don't think it's mine. Actually it's it's also
from Quin, where you can imagine a civilization, perhaps in
an Alpha centauri, that that developed general relativity and special

(52:43):
relativity without first having developed Newtonian mechanics. Might be unlikely,
but it's certainly possible. Uh. And that means that if
they had this, then they could make the same predictions,
and you know, they could be as a as a
Newtonian civilization like we could in the nineteenth century, but
they would have very different views about the world, because

(53:05):
Newtonian physics implies one set of beliefs about the worlds
about the universe, and general and special relativisty implies a
very different set of beliefs. So you're saying that even
though we exist in the same physical universe and observe
the same things about the universe, we might come to
different internal mental explanations of that universe, two different theories

(53:26):
of science that both work, and therefore just being in
the same physical universe doesn't give us enough of a
shared mental context to develop communication. Is that the argument
I would like to say that this is different from
because sometimes this view is conflated with relativism, for example
Koon's view about you know, scientific revolutions and so on.

(53:47):
But this is different. This is not relativism because here
we would say that both scientific theories or scientific systems
are true in the relevant sets. So let's say that
you have a scientific system that can make correct predictions
about the universe and about physical systems and so on,
and it also gives an adequate explanation of how things work.

(54:09):
I think in many respects we would say that that
is sufficient for us to say that this is true.
The fact that there are other descriptions of the universe
and other ways of making the same predictions that is
also true but different, does not make our of you
less true, right. I think that that would blow the
minds of most practicing scientists, especially particle physicists to imagine

(54:33):
that the description we're building of the universe, you know,
whether it be tiny strings or bouncing particles or wiggling fields,
that these are not necessarily unique. That even if it's
true and it works perfectly, it might just reflect mathematical
models in our minds rather than the actual structure of
the universe in any sort of objective way. That's the argument,

(54:55):
isn't it. Yeah, well almost, because I would say that
what makes a very true if our ability to understand
and manipulate the world around us. So if if a
theory is good at that, then it's true in the
relevant sense. I see. So you're saying my theory could
be true and your theory could be true, and they

(55:16):
could have basically nothing in common other than that they
both work. Yes, But it's also true that that a
theory could be better than the other even though both
are true. So, for example, we would say that special
and general relativity as a theory is better than Newtonian mechanics,
but Newtonian mechanics is true for predicting the behavior of

(55:40):
small objects moving at non relativistic speeds. All right, well,
this is really fascinating. Dive into how to communicate with aliens?
Are a lot more questions for you, but first we
have to take a short break. All right, we're back

(56:04):
and we're talking with Dr Kareem Jabari about how to
communicate with aliens and especially how to stave off interstellar war.
So the reason that we're talking about how to communicate
with aliens is that we're wondering about the question of
how to get along with aliens or why aliens haven't
contacted us, and the hypothesis that the universe out there

(56:24):
is like a dark forest where everybody is being quiet
to avoid being wiped out by some sort of predator race.
So in your paper, you build on this argument that
we can't understand aliens to suggest that we might essentially
stumble our way into an interstellar war because we have
no good way to communicate with them. So walk me

(56:45):
through the argument there. You use some game theory to
suggest that will end up in a situation where it
seems logical to us to essentially first strike against these aliens.
How do we get there from we got a message
and we don't understand it too. Now we're sending a
nuke to Alpha Centauri. Yeah, that would really suck. Yeah.
So the idea comes from a game game theories called

(57:08):
Thomas Shelling that in turn got the idea from Thomas Hobbes.
And the idea is that we can think about our
interactions with this extraterrestrial as a coordination game and in
a coordination and that there are many classical coordination games.
But basically in a coordination game, you you you have

(57:28):
two alternatives. One is to cooperate and the other is
to play it safe and don't cooperate. And the idea
is that when you cooperate, then you take a small
risk or you take a risk. But if I also cooperate,
then there will be a great advantage for both of us.
But if you played safe and don't cooperate, then you're

(57:48):
not taking as much risk. On the other hand, you're
not getting a chance to get a big payoff. And
a classical example to illustrate this is to imagine two
people walking in the forest and decide as to whether
or not to chase a stag or to chase a rabbit.
And to chase a stag, we need to cooperate. So
if we both choose to chase a stag, then we'll

(58:11):
get the stag and we'll get a lot of food
and we'll be very happy. But if you choose to
chase the stag and I go for the rabbit, then
you won't get get the stag and you'll be very hungry.
Whereas to get the rabbit, you don't. You can do
it by yourself. So I'll get the rabbit. I'll get

(58:31):
one one piece of food, not as much as the stag,
but I would get enough. You know, I have to say,
you talk a lot about eating rabbits for somebody who
has a pet rabbit, you know, in there's a little
bit of a mental tension there for you. Well, yes, sometimes,
but it's just because they appear so much in the
philosophical literature. Well, I hope you cover her ears when

(58:51):
you talk about this in front of her, all right,
saying you're explaining why you need to communicate in order
to cooperate and take risks together. So if we trust
each other, then of course we'll corporate, right because I
know that you're a good guy that corporates with people.
And then we'll go and we'll get a stag and
will be very happy. But if I am suspicious about you,

(59:12):
then I will try to go for the rabbit, So
you would say that the rabbit is a risk dominant equilibrium,
whereas this stag is a payoff dominant equilibrium. And both
of these strategies are rational, or none of these strategies
is more rational than the other if we don't know anything.
But the problem here is that if we can't communicate,

(59:34):
then there will be and we we also have this
opportunity to defect, to not be cooperative. Then Hobbes and
Shelling and others argue that the option to defect or
to be non cooperative becomes the focal point. So we
get both attracted to that option because I start thinking that,

(59:58):
oh my god, he's the going to go for the rabbit.
And he also probably thinks that I think that he's
going to go for the rabbit. But that means that
he's more inclined to go for the rammit himself, and
he knows that I know that he knows that I
think this way, so that means that he will be
even more inclined to go off to the rabbit, which

(01:00:19):
makes me more inclined to go off to the rabbit,
and so on. And in the context of interstellar war,
going for the rabbit or or being non cooperative could
imply a first strike. Right, So if our options instead
of hunting for a stag or hunting for a rabbit,
if our choices are a share all of our theories
of physics and all of our knowledge and the beauty

(01:00:39):
that we develop this humanity and be send a nuclear
weapon to avoid being wiped out by their nuclear weapon,
then you're saying that a rational choice would be to
fire first to avoid being wiped out by their new
rather than just like dumping the Encyclopedia Britannica into a
message and sending it to Alpha Centauri. Yeah, that's are

(01:00:59):
going to ocean in this paper. But I was always
very dissatisfied with this conclusion, so I wrote another paper
where I argue that that we are wrong. But that's
another kind of discussion. But but yeah, basically, if we
assume that there's only one other player there, then the
rational strategy should be to attack first. I think this

(01:01:19):
game theory approach is really fascinating because you're thinking carefully
about the risks you want to take, and obviously we
have a lot at stake here. We're just on one planet,
and it goes to the heart of understanding what the
other player might do, you know, the choices that the
other player might make, and the risks we are taking.
And I think, you know, we see that of course
a lot on Earth and game theory developed in the
context of you know, human warfare and the prisoner's dilemma

(01:01:43):
and all this kind of stuff. But isn't that also
a case of projection? I mean, aren't we assuming in
that case that the aliens would be thinking in a
game theoretical way, that they would be rational in a
way according to our definition of rationality. You know, if
we don't understand these aliens and we can't communicate with them,
should we just assume we may never even understand their motives,

(01:02:03):
that they might operate essentially randomly. Yes, No, that's certainly true.
So it's a it's a pretty big assumption that we're
making here that that game theory is a plausible tool
to understand or predict alien behavior. I can add that
game theory has, with some success, actually been used in
many non human contexts. So we've used to game theory

(01:02:27):
to understand how pathogens emerge and behave and evolve, but
also how animal populations interact with each other in complex
ecological systems. So there seems to be some fundamental aspect
of game theory that allows us to predict these systems

(01:02:48):
where where we're dealing with utterly alien life forms. So
that is one reason to believe that that perhaps this
this tool can be used in this context. But yeah,
it's certainly an assumption that needs to be made, will
be fascinating problem to have. I think that a more
likely scenario if we do meet aliens or get messages
from aliens, is that we sort of hilariously misunderstand them,

(01:03:10):
or that we send them a message of friendship which
is interpreted to be offensive in their context. You know,
we send them a picture of our rabbit and then
you know, to them, rabbits are terrifying or yeah. Yeah.
The paper that I wrote was in the context of
this idea that some astronomers have that we should send

(01:03:30):
out signals to nearby solar systems um, even though we
don't know if somebody is there, just just to see
what happens. And we argue that this could be very
dangerous if because it were would alert the aliens of
our presence. Perhaps, I mean, it's it's not certain that
they know where we are, But if we do this,

(01:03:51):
then that chance increases. If they contact us first, that
means that we are not certain that they know where
we are. Maybe they have these kind of equivalent of
the seat set people who won't just want to send
out some random signals. So answering could also be very
dangerous because it could reveal our location. But as a

(01:04:12):
philosopher of science and somebody who's desperately curious about the world,
if we get a message from a distant star and
it clearly has information in it, we spend time decoding it.
Are you saying that we shouldn't respond, for example, that
we should stay silent, that we should ignore a message
from an alien world. I don't think we should ignore it,
but I don't think we should respond, and we should

(01:04:33):
instead invest every effort that we can spare to gather
more information about about them. So that would be my
first option. But of course, if I am correct in
the article that I'm writing at the moment, then then
it would be fine to to answer them. But I

(01:04:53):
think that, yeah, I think we we would rather want
to collect as much information as possible before or we
do it. In any case, I mean, if if it's
going to go, if a message is going to travel
for fifty or sixty years, it wouldn't hurt to, you know,
take five years, build some cool space based telescopes and
try to gather as much information about that's the planetary

(01:05:16):
system before. And then we discovered that they all look
like rabbits, and then we think, oh, how could they
possibly be dangerous? So one last question is you suggested
that you're writing an article currently which disagrees with the
previous article and suggest it might be fine to talk
the aliens. What's the essential argument there were evolved in
your thinking to make you think it might be fine
to talk to the aliens. So let's assume that we

(01:05:41):
stumble upon some aliens in a nearby planetary system, let's
say Intel or Trappists. So that means that either alias
extraterrestrial intelligence are extremely common. That's one possibility that would
explain why we find aliens so close, or it would

(01:06:02):
be a fantastic coincidence that too intelligent beings involved independently
of each other in in in in such proximity. And
the second alternative is of course not very plausible. So
so the the idea is that upon finding one alien
species on say Tau City, then that would mean that
we may should make a basion update on our subjective

(01:06:25):
probability on the average density of extraterrestrial intelligences in the galaxy.
And at the moment we don't know. We don't have
any information about that, so we have a uniform prior
we you know, the closest we might be alone in
the galaxy, or there might be aliens in almost every
solar system. We don't know. But if we will find

(01:06:46):
some aliens at Tau City that's about twelve life years
from here, then we should expect that there to be
lots of them and and lots of them nearby. The
next step is that in that case, we should ask ourselves, like,
how come we're still here? You know, if there's so
many aliens out there and it's it's very unlikely that

(01:07:07):
nobody is aggressive, you get a conundrum like how come
we're still here? And the only way to explain that
would be to postulate that there must be some reason
for why aliens don't attack each other, and that could
be many different reasons, but there must be some reason
for why that explains our existence. So it's sort of

(01:07:30):
like an inverse firm me paradox for me, a paradox
saying why is nobody out there? The answer is maybe
there's somebody out there squashing anybody who raises their head.
But you're saying, if we go out there and find
that actually the galaxy is filled with aliens, and that
suggests that there isn't anybody out there hunting species that
speak up and make themselves known exactly, because otherwise we

(01:07:51):
would be dead, or we would have an evational already
on our way or something like. So for some reason,
aliens seeing peaceful in in or an observation of that
kind would suggest that aliens are peaceful, and that means
that if the cloud setiens see us, then they would
think the same thing. If we both have this assumption,

(01:08:14):
then we can move ourselves in the coordination game to
the other equilibrium, to the payoff dominant equilibrium, because we
are not concerned about them attacking, because we assume that
it's uncommon for aliens to attack each other, and that
makes us more confident that they think that we are
not going to attack them, and that makes us even

(01:08:35):
more confident that we shouldn't attack them, which makes us
even more confident that they shouldn't attack us, all right,
So I guess the message is if we discover aliens,
we hope that they are nearby, because I suggests that
there's lots more aliens out there and maybe they're all peaceful. Yeah.
Or another possibility, of course, would be that imagine that
we would find an alien civilizations but they were not

(01:08:59):
very advanced, say that there in the Bronze Age or
the Iron Age. Then that would not rule out the
possibility that aliens in general are aggressive, because if if
we would find that primitive civilization, that would rather suggest
that we just happened to be lucky to be first
in our neighborhood or very early. So if we would

(01:09:20):
find a civilization like that, then we couldn't draw the
same influence. On the other hand, a Bronze Age civilization
is not gonna be a threat to us, um, not
for some time, so yeah, that's also a consideration. All right,
Thank you very much for coming on the podcast and
talking about these amazing and super fun and mind bending
ideas with us. Very grateful for your time and your energy,

(01:09:41):
and give our regards to your rabbit. I will thank
you all right. Pretty interesting interview and I'm sort of
getting the general message of these things. It's a bad
idea because of the potential for miscommunication or misunderstandings, yeah,
or just lack of ability to communicate at all. And
so if they misinterpret our message and they don't know

(01:10:01):
what we mean, they might be worried about our intentions.
And then who knows what they would do if they're
you know, run by some generals that are have their
fingers on the button. They might get nervous and launch
a first strike when they get our message. You mean,
like they're going to get a message and they're gonna
interpret the message as like a first strike or something

(01:10:21):
like who gets a message that you can't understand then
and then assumes that they're trying to they're insulting you. Well,
you don't know, like the Daniel on that planet is
probably like, yeah, we heard from aliens, let's send them
all of our physics textbooks, you know, But everybody else
in that planet is like, hold on a second, do
we really want to let those folks know we're here?
Maybe it's a trap, and the risks, as you say,

(01:10:42):
are large, And so if you put yourself in the
minds of those aliens, they might have the same worries,
and so they might be aggressive in response. I see.
But then he said sort of said that, you know,
if there are a lot of aliens out there, the
fact that nobody has attacked us maybe means that maybe
that's not a realistic scenario. Perhaps there aren't a lot
of trigger happy aliens out there. Yeah. I like that

(01:11:03):
he ended on a hopeful note there. If there are
a lot of civilizations out there, they've somehow learned to
live together, and that gives us hope that we can
join that community. I guess either way, you're sort of
projecting our own human bias onto these scenarios, right, Like,
maybe we would react a certain way, but that doesn't
mean other aliens would react the same way exactly. And
I put that same question to him, and maybe you

(01:11:25):
heard his answer. He thinks that this game theory analysis
might be universal, that it goes just beyond humans, that
it's useful in understanding like even microbes and all sorts
of systems. And so there's some arguments made there that
it might be universal. But in the end, you're right,
we don't know what motivates an alien, so we definitely
don't have a basis for speculating about their choices, right,
And then I know you've brought something up before, which

(01:11:47):
is like, it doesn't make a lot of sense for
aliens to come here for our resources or to eat us, right,
Like that's what the alien movies and TV shows always show.
But I'm always like you, I think thinking in the
back of my head, like why would you come all
this way just for like a little bit of water
or just to eat like you know, a few billion humans,
Like it's like trying across the country to eat a hamburger.

(01:12:08):
You know, I know you want some water. Neptune is
basically all water. Help yourself, right, You want platinum? We
got asteroids filled with platinum. We don't even know how
to get to take some. Please, nobody would come here
just for those resources. Or you like meat. Hey, we
have this great animal thing called the impossible burger. That's
just as good. I'm sure with your advanced illuciation you

(01:12:30):
can figure it out too exactly. And so I agree
with you that it's unlikely to have interstellar war for
resources because they seem essentially infinite. But this is another angle.
You know, we might have an interstellar war due to
a misunderstanding if those aliens are worried that we're aggressive,
they might be aggressive in response, even if it doesn't
make any sense for anybody to be aggressive. And so
there is the potential there for misunderstanding, like maybe the

(01:12:52):
aliens are just doing it for support, you mean, like
they just maybe like going to war. Maybe they're just
not as curious about the universe. They don't really care
about everything. We figured out we need to Daniel dim Daniel.
We need to like implanted Daniel in there amongst their ranks. Now,
you got it. We need to spread Daniel across the universe.

(01:13:13):
And that's what this podcast is all about. So maybe
if they hear this podcast, they'll realize, hey, we're just
kind of goofy and curious. We pose no harm. That
would be hilarious. They like in a thousand years alien
come and they say, hey, we're going to wipe you out.
But then we picked up this podcast that you're transmitting,
and this famous profit that Daniel, Why the Lights and

(01:13:34):
the Chosen One illuminated us into what it means to
be curious about the universe. We were slightly offended Jorge's jokes,
but we decided that's right. All the Banana Joeys were terrible.
We wish or would just go away. Bring on this
other guest, Hose, and they were much more interesting. Anyways,
Can we be a guest on your show? Yeah, exactly, Aliens,

(01:13:54):
you are welcome to come and be a guest in
the show. Please do come and tell us all about
the secrets of the universe. That is my scientific fantasy.
That's right. Just don't eat horrete or anybody. You don't
eat anybody. Have some impossible burghers, have some impossible humans.
All right, Well, I guess it's something to think about,
you know, whether or not we want to contact ailings
out there, whether it would be worth the risk. You know,

(01:14:16):
how would our lives change? And we newly precise answer
to that question. Yeah, it is an important question, and
it's a question that no individual person can or should
make on behalf of humanity. That's what scares me a
little bit about this rogue group that's just sending messages
out there. You know, they're making decisions for the entire
human race, and it's not a small decision to make. Right. Well,

(01:14:37):
I have bad news for you, Daniel. The fate of
human kind is already in the hands of like four people.
That's true, So it sounds like you have a little
deeper problem with the way humans organize themselves. That's true,
but out of scope I think for today's podcast. Let's
try stay tuned for our next episode. Daniel and jorgey
overthrow the global elite. That's right, yes, don't wipe obile

(01:15:00):
politics and other political leadings. All right, Well, we hope
you enjoyed that. Thanks for joining us, see you next time.
Thanks for listening, and remember that Daniel and Jorge Explain
the Universe is a production of I Heart Radio. For
more podcast For my heart Radio, visit the I heart

(01:15:23):
Radio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to your
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