The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) looks for possible electromagnetic (radio/light) “signals” in the microwave range (and some in the visible range), that could come from a wide range of locations in our galaxy. It talks a blue (or maybe UV) streak about how scientific it is, and of course, it does use very advanced radio and optical receivers. But I fail to see any science in its underlying thesis. While having an elaborate protocol for announcing successful receipt of an “intelligent” signal, I find nothing to indicate how SETI could justify any distinction by it between “intelligence” and non-intelligence, or “life” and non-life or whatever, in any data received, such that its devotees could have any confidence in whatever description of the sender of such signal they should foist upon government officials or the public.
Some critics have simply claimed there can be no ETIs out there or that their signals could not reach Earth. I do not argue on either of those points, feeling I have nothing on which to justify such objections. I do, instead, claim that the SETI people have produced nothing in the way of theory and standards that should make anyone believe they have any informational rationale for what they claim to be doing. See my Web page on this subject.
Astronomers and astrophycists/cosmologists are convincing, with their spectral data indicate that matter/energy at an atomic level “out there” is about the same as that in the solar system. However, although the peculiarities the periodic table might indicate some similarity in the more complex chemistry that might occur elsewhere in the galaxy, nothing really establishes that anything at that level or above would likely be anything like what occurs on earth, which has resulted eventually in complex signals, correlating to the environment on Earth, 's emanating from this planet. One might speculate all of many other kinds of ways matter/energy could form so as to be able to produce such complex signals that correlate to some environment out there which need not simulate ours above the atomic level. And certainly today, the lines we technically draw between life and non-life and intelligence and non-intelligence appear very nebulous.
Besides research using only professional staff, e.g. those associated with the Seti Institute, there are also over 600,000 volunteer computer users around the world now crunching data for SETI@home from tapes of microwave-energy samples received by the Arecibo, PR radio-telescope. These soldiers seem to have no idea, really, of what they’re doing; they just see themselves as part of some expected glory.
I have talked to most of the people in charge of such goings on in Northern California, including Dr. Frank Drake, who devised the so-called Drake Equation, a long product of essentially unknown factors used to estimate the number of “communicating civilizations” in our galaxy, but which seems to me to merely demonstrate that one knows even less after multiplying so many unknowns together. When you ask the SETI leaders what exact characteristics of a signal make it appear to them to be artificial, i.e., from an “intelligence”, they hem and haw and start saying, well the target signal will at least show that it comes from something “living”, or even is only from something “interesting”. Well, mathematics doesn’t distinguish, of course, a “natural” squiggle from an “artificial” one, and such distinction is a human subjective one much beyond natural science, making SETI’s quest a philosophical quagmire.
But SETI’s claim is that it will announce receipt of a signal from xxx. And to the government and the public that is taken to mean there is an xxx out there: Like if an xxx suddently landed here and now in front of you, you could describe it. But it isn’t here/now; it’s very there/then, and there’s an extremely narrow communication channel traversing the separation. Informationally speaking, you have near zilch; it’s absolutely nothing like looking through a telescope even and seeing two eyes looking back at you – or even two antennae.