The loneliness of the SETI researcher

If you’ve read Carl Sagan’s novel Contact or seen the semi-lame movie of the same name, you’re already familiar with SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) research. You know that scientists have, for decades, been sending assorted complicated scientific information, mostly mathematical formulas, into space via powerful radio transmitters and monitoring for replies by powerful radio telescopes.

This approach makes sense based on what we know today. One of the few things that appears to be solid in our knowledge of the universe is its reliance of mathematics for its underpinnings. I suppose transmitting complicated mathematics into space is one way of alerting ETs that we are advanced enough to understand these principles.

Of course there was also Close Encounters of the Third Kind, with its outstanding performance by Richard Dreyfuss. The information broadcast into the skies in Spielberg’s classic was a set of musical tones. But these were, in fact (if my memory serves me), merely a representation of a mathematical relationship.

But go back to Contact. Imagine the loneliness of the SETI researcher, sitting in a remote lab, monitoring all of the noise that comes in from the universe (and there is MUCH–the “silence of the spheres” is a misconception).

Blogging strikes me a little like that.

I sit here in my remote location throwing out words and ideas into what I’m assuming must be an intelligent universe. I’m looking for something in return. Oh, I get blog stats, but they seem a little lame (based on the number of folks who say “Oh, yes, I’ve been reading your blog for months” in other forms of communication.

I’m looking for the sort of feedback that says, “Hey, I got your message and I [like it] [hate it] [violently disagree].” (Insert one). It’s very hard to have any sort of meaningful discussion when the listener is mute. . .;^}

Now it occurs to me that many of my friends don’t blog themselves and may have no clue how to insert a comment. When you pop open the blog, you’ll typically see everything I’ve written for the current month divided into sections by the post “titles.” At this point you can either click on the title or click on the “Comments”Β (or “No Comments”) link at the bottom. Either one will open the specific post and place a little form at the bottom that allows you to post a comment. Be sure you hit “Submit comment” when you’re done.

If there is intelligent life out there (and I’m very sure there is), please talk to me. I appreciate those of you who have. Now where are the rest of you, you “lurkers”?

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12 Responses to “The loneliness of the SETI researcher”

  1. Jeff Moriarty Says:

    I’m not sure if I represent “intelligent life”, but I am out here reading and listening. I love your posts about your life in the wild, free and unfettered by cubicle walls. I would like to hear more about your writing, though. Does life as Grizzly Adams make it easier to write? Harder? No impact?

    So carry on! At least one BEM is listening!

  2. Brent Says:

    I love reading both your blog (and Jeff’s at work – Be careful Jeff, the Circuit folks and PSO are “well aware of you”) πŸ™‚

    Anyway, I did not get the link, but since you brought up space: I heard a story on the radio about a European scientist that determined the reason why we (on earth) have not been contacted by ET’s is that even at ~65M mph, it would take millions of years to get here… so, by my calculations, you should have readers any day now…

    Brent

  3. mklekacz Says:

    Oh, dear, what is a BEM? I hate being ignorant of TLAs after so many years of living with them.

    Thanks for responding, guys. I hope I didn’t sound whiny. I’m not feeling whiny about it. It’s just that I’ve discovered that blogging has that quality of the prophet crying in the wilderness. And I very much prefer conversations to monologues. . .

    Jeff: I don’t know yet what impact living out here has on writing. On the one hand there’s lots of stimulus. I’ve seen two giant great blue herons and a bald eagle in the last two days. The frogs are croaking (a sure sign that spring is truly on the way). And I’m currently writing a brush-cutter’s chant along the lines of the great slave or seaman chanties that have been passed down, the result of spending the last two days whipping Phil’s beloved blackberries into shape.

    But there’s also so much to be done. I went for several months after grad school without any desire to write anything. I baked bread, swept the floor, and experimented with funny recipes, feeling like a slug all the time for having spent so much time learning to write poetry and then not writing any. I felt better after hearing Oregon’s poet laureate say that he couldn’t write a word for his first year after grad school. But now the thoughts and poems are coming. In a sense, this blog has been a bridge to keep me writing when I didn’t really feel like writing. I’ll try to update this a little later when I have a better feel for what the impact really is.

    Brent: I have two great loves at the moment, astronomy and geology. I think it is because they both deal in quantities of time and distance that are so far from the scope of day-to-day life as to be surrealistic. I’m not sure I can wait millions of years for a response. I’ll have to figure out some sort of permanent forwarding system to my descendants. . .Sounds like the plot of a fairly decent science fiction novel, actually. I’ll have to think on that one some more.

  4. Phil Ferris Says:

    I have thought for a long time that any race able to travel vast distances would behave like anthropologists. Just as we try to study groups of people living in the name manner as our ancestors while minimising impact on their lifestyle, so would alien visitors.

    I have been through a similar stage to you Marianne. I am a fountain pen collector and user, I write letters but only get emailn or phine calls in reply, but at least I get a response. With my blog people speak get but hardly anyore interacts, Sometimes it feels like I’m just shimming stones.

    http://lowjib7.blogspot.com

    Cheers

    Phil
    .

  5. mklekacz Says:

    I’ve talked (or rather discussed by mail) this very topic with a remote cousin by marriage. So much of our cultural heritage is traceable in the letters people left behind. But hardly anyone writes them any more. And somehow I don’t have much faith in the staying power of our digital media over the long term.

  6. Nathan Zeldes Says:

    β€œHey, I got your message and I [like it] [hate it] [violently disagree].”

    That done, I fully sympathize, Marianne. It’s even worse with my non-blog personal web site, where response rate is even lower. Even our IT@Intel blog has a very low ratio of commenters-to-lurkers, and that’s apparently quite normal. Trying to get people in the workplace to interact in online forums inside the firewall has given me the same problem. Most people are shy or lazy or both… bless them all.

    At least you’re getting some responses. I always felt sorry for the real SETI researchers, like Sagan, who died with his passion unconfirmed…

  7. mklekacz Says:

    Nathan, I adored Carl Sagan. He could be schmaltzy, no doubt, but he spoke with passion about his loves. But the truest evidence of his quality (IMNHO) is his last wife, his widow. What a fine woman Anne is, and how lucky he was to have her to articulate his passions after his death.

    I’m not surprised that people are reluctant to put themselves out there. I used to get the occasional e-mail related to my work blog that said something like, “I love your blog, but I don’t really want anyone to know I’m reading it.” Made me feel like I was writing worthwhile, slightly subversive stuff.

  8. Jeff Moriarty Says:

    It’s not an Intel TLA, but it should be…

    BEM = Bug Eyed Monster

    Nanoo nanoo!

  9. mklekacz Says:

    I confess that was my guess, but I decided it was just too silly. . .Thanks, compadre.

  10. Josh Bancroft Says:

    We’re out here, listening. Some of us have our little electronic minions (feed readers) trolling the ether endlessly, looking for news and updates. Sort of like the ever-vigilant SETI observers. So when you say something, know that I, at least, hear it, even if I’m lousy at responding. πŸ˜‰

    Keep up the great posts!

  11. mklekacz Says:

    Josh, somehow I lost the link to your unboxing site. I actually have something to post for contrast.

  12. Suzyjo Says:

    Does anyone have any information on Dark Energy that permeates the universe and if it does affect the minds of humans?

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