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No. 32: Mar-Apr 1984

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The 'great silence'; or why aren't aliens landing on the white house lawn?

It is anomalous that despite the widespread belief that other civilizations must abound "out there," not one has yet contacted us. G.D. Brin has conducted an analysis of this puzzle and has come to these conclusions:

"The quandry of the Great Silence gives the infant study of xenology its first traumatic struggle, between those who seek optimistic excuses for the apparent absence of sentient neighbors and those who enthusiastically accept the Silence as evidence for humanity's isolation in an open frontier.

"Both approaches suffer greatly from personal bias, and from lack of detailed comparative study. In this article we have attempted to deal with a subject that, for all of its great importance, is almost ghostly in its intangibility. We have broken the subject into its logical elements and attempted a morphological discussion of the possibilities. Table I [not reproduced because of its size] presents an overview of many of the ideas discussed here and their respective effects on the equations....

"Some of the branch lines discussed here serve the optimists, while others seem pessimistic to an unprecedented degree. We have laid out only the outline of a full analysis of the problem. Further work should consider every experimental test that could be applied to this fundamental question of humanity's uniqueness.

"This survey demonstrates that the Universe has many more ways to be nasty than previously discussed. Indeed, the only hypotheses proposed which appear to be wholly consistent with observation and with non-exclusivity -- 'Deadly Probes' and 'Ecological Holocaust' -- are depressing to consider.

"Still, while the author does not accept that elder species will necessarily be wiser than contemporary humanity, such noble races might have appeared. If such a culture lived long, and retained much of its vigor of youth, it might have instilled a tradition of respect for the hidden potential of life in subsequent space-faring species.

"It might turn out that the Great Silence is like that of a child's nursery, wherein adults speak softly, lest they disturb the infant's extravagant and colourful time of dreaming."

(Brin, Glen David; "The 'Great Silence,' The Controversy Concerning Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life," Royal Astronomical Society, Quarterly Journal, 24:283, 1983.)

Comment. It would be unrealistic not to expect an editorial comment after this article, perhaps to the point that any really intelligent entities would consider rocketry and physical space travel as crude and demeaning. Fred Hoyle may have been closer to the mark in seeing in life, its forward development and unplumbed potentials (mental calculation) proof positive of intelligent entities "out there."

From Science Frontiers #32, MAR-APR 1984. 1984-2000 William R. Corliss