Quest for Intelligent Life on Earth — from a Future Perspective

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 16 Jan 2023

Self-reflexive redirection of the SETI initiative from its extraterrestrial focus?

Introduction

16 Jan 2023 – Justification for the major investments in exploration of space beyond the solar system is now frequently presented and promoted in terms of the quest for “sentient life” or for “extraterrestrial intelligence”. There is however confusion regarding the manner of the engagement with any such encounter, its outcomes, and the skills appropriate to the unforeseeable dynamics of such an encounter (Designing a Team for Alien Encounter, 2000).

By contrast, science fiction has tended to focus on the role of the military — given the default preference for framing any such elusive challenge as a threat. Academia has speculated enthusiastically on the challenges of communication, and despairingly on the seeming lack of such contacts (framed in terms of the Fermi paradox).

Other perspectives are of course possible. One widely cultivated speculation is that such contact has been a feature of the distant past. Another is that proof of such contact is evident in the incidence of UFO reports, and official cover-ups in that regard. It is even possible to speculate on the extent to which “extraterrestrials” have long been embedded in human society in some manner (Sensing Epiterrestrial Intelligence (SETI): embedding of “extraterrestrials” in episystemic dynamics? 2013). Whether “extra-terrestrial” or “epi-terrestrial”, there is of course the possibility that humans would be unable to recognize such lifeforms, given the camouflage they might adopt from a human perspective — deliberately or inadvertently.

Given the pattern of current crises of global civilization, another possibility merits exploration. From a future perspective, especially from a far distant future, it might indeed be provocatively asked whether “sentient life” or “intelligence” is detectable on Earth at this time. Such an exploration could only be meaningful through consideration of what “sentient life” or “intelligence” might be understood to signify in that distant era. Ironically the temporal separation from Earth of such a perspective could be compared to that of the celestial bodies millions of light years away — from which signs of intelligence are now sought in human terms.

Humans naturally assert vigorously the degree to which they themselves are characterized by intelligence and self-consciousness, however the degrees of intelligence of others are distinguished or deprecated. Humans are especially diffident in according intelligence to non-human life, irrespective of recognition of sentience. The unquestionable arrogance of such distinctions, as potentially perceived by the future, suggests the possibility that the future may frame “sentience” and “intelligence” quite otherwise. The issue is already evident to a degree with regard to artificial intelligence. It is evident otherwise through the exceptional attribution of personhood to corporations, to mountains, and to animals — and instances of the failure to accord it to “women” and “sub-humans”, potentially inviting the term “terrestrial extras” in the human drama.

Given the crises of the times however, and the manner in which it is sought to resolve them, will the future infer a tragic absence of intelligence in the current human population — especially of collective intelligence? In contrast to humanity’s widely acclaimed self-perception as consciously intelligent — even held to be unique in that respect — will the future deem the catastrophic dynamics of human society to exemplify a form of proto-intelligence? The possibility has been recognized as one explanation for the lack of contact by extraterrestrials for whom humans may simply be “boring”. Just as humans have been attentive to distinguishing “non-human” sentience (irrespective of the controversial “sub-human” distinction), has the nature of current human intelligence effectively positioned humanity as incapable of communication according to minimal universal criteria?

The questions posed by the quest for distant life and sentience are ironically pertinent in the light of the recently acknowledged extent to which humanity has been a primary factor in ensuring the progressive extinction of life on Earth — whether human life or that of other species (Species Extinction, Science Direct; IUCN Red List of extinct species). This could be understood by the extent to which many segments of the population are perceived to be “alien” by others — if not “subhuman” to the point of meriting eradication. This is exemplified by their categorisation by a recent candidate for the US Presidency as a “basket of deplorables” or by another as living in “shithole countries“. Such views by world leadership have been separately explored as a mean of understanding why there are no extraterrestrial visitors (Earth as a Shithole Planet — from a Universal Perspective? 2018).

As an indication of lack of intelligence, the degree to which humankind invests in the destruction of life of any form — even to the point of destroying ecosystems on which it is dependent — renders relevant the recognition of the insanity of humanity from various perspectives (Marcelo Gleiser, The Madness Of Humanity, NPR, 13 July 2016; Donald C. Mikulecky and James A. Coffman, Global Insanity: how homo sapiens lost touch with reality while transforming the world, Cosmos and History: the Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, 11, 2015, 1).

Lack of intelligence may well be framed in terms of irrationality (Ratelia Syahla Yudawisastra, Global Irrationality in Global Security, 2013; Danny Schechter, Economic Irrationality and Systems Collapse: when the irrational is considered rational, Global Research, 11 August 2011; Dmitry Yevstafiev, Challenges for Eurasia:the irrationality of global politics or the “New Rationality”? South Front, 12 July 2017; David Berreby, Human Irrationality is a Fact, not a Fad, Big Think, 15 June 2012).

Irrespective of any recognition of the “global insanity” of a population of 8 billion, the World Health Organization reports that nearly 1 billion individuals – including 14% of the world’s adolescents – were living with a mental disorder in 2019 (WHO highlights urgent need to transform mental health and mental health care, 17 June 2022). The future, as with extraterrestrials, might well employ other criteria extending that determination.

Whether such insanity can be intelligently transcended is another matter (Steve Taylor, Transcending Human Madness, Green Spirit, Winter 2007; Geoff Haselhurst, The Insanity of Humanity and the Collapse of Human Civilization, Truth and Reality). How does any sense of “intelligence failure” relate to the question of Rodrigue Tremblay (Why Does Humanity Still Tolerate the Tragedy of Wars in the 21st Century? Global Research, 12 January 2023)

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