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Georg von Brzeskiunconfirmed user (Helios Labs)

Published in physic.philica.com

We review the current attempts at interstellar communication, and show that they are woefully inadequate given the problem. A new approach is required.

Article body

We start from the simple observation that space around us is mostly empty.  The emptiness of space is  illustrated in a very suggestive example given by Jastrow and Thompson, in their book on astronomy (Astronomy :Fundamentals and Frontiers, J. Wiley, N.Y. 1972.):

"Let the sun be the size of an orange; on that scale the Earth is a grain of sand at the distance of thirty feet; Jupiter, eleven times larger than the Earth, is a cherry pit revolving at distance 200 feet or one city block from the sun"

It should be noted that on the cosmic scale, the density of matter in the solar system is unusually high compared to the average density of the matter in the universe.  In our own galaxy, in the above scaled analogy, oranges (stars) are separated by an average distances of 1000 miles.  In deep space, beyond our own galaxy, distances are much, much greater, and  the emptiness of space shows itself in its full drama.

On the other hand, the Lobachevsky (hyperbolic, non-compact) universe is eternal and infinite.  However, in terms of an Euclidean geometry model (Poincare ball) the radius of universe is, as we calculated it, between 18 and 20 billion light years.  It would be highly unlikely that from an infinite number of galaxies (and stars) in the universe, only our sun has developed a planetary system capable to support an intelligent life.  No doubt that on other islands of matter in the universe there are fertile grounds on which life and intelligence could evolve.

One has to realize that the volume in Lobachevsky space is an exponential function of a radius, not a power function of a radius as it is in Euclidean space. Hyperbolic space is much, much " roomier" than Euclidean space.  Thus, even in a ball of a finite radius, an estimation of the number of galaxies based on Euclidean geometry  is highly underestimated.

Nevertheless it would be unreasonable to think that with our present approach to deep space communication we can combat these enormous distances which we encounter in the universe.  Our present approach to interstellar communication is based on local mathematics (and local  physics)  which has its roots in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and can't reach conceptually (and technically) any further then we witnessed in the past fifty-sixty  years.

At this point we will give an example of a general significance. Looking at the first steam locomotive of Stevenson and looking at the Apollo rocket which put man on the moon, one might think that we have two entirely different vehicles. At a closer look however, we will find that basically those two are the same machines.  Indeed, the Stevenson vehicle as well as Apollo vehicle work due to the same  principle, i.e. Carnot cycle, discovered by the Frenchman Nicolas L. Carnot (1796-1832). Thus, man was lifted to the moon by a “concept” conceived in the nineteenth century.

Unfortunately, the pool of nineteenth century concepts has already dried out, and the ideas of the great masters of the past are no more help in solving future problems on an entirely different scale. The stagnation of fundamental physics is just a reflection of this situation.

Thus direct attempts to build a working communication system based on our present knowledge, (we call it a crowbar solution), seems not to be feasible. To make it worse, in the crowbar approach scheme,  we need to add the time factor to the  purely engineering technical problems.  A civilization which has sent a message may vanish before an answer will arrive.  The fiasco of the SETI  project is a good illustration of  the non-applicability of the concepts and methods based on the crowbar approach to the problem of interstellar communication.   Communication via EM waves (as it is implemented today)  works perfectly on the Earth scale, it is useful on the solar system scale,  but it is entirely useless  for intelligence exchange on the galactic scales and beyond.

Therefore, it seems pointless  to waste time recording data from our  radio telescopes in search of an intelligent message.  The withdrawal of  funding and the shut down  of activities at the  Arecibo radio telescope is just a clear confirmation of our reasoning

The second observation is that the time scales of entire human history and in particular the epoch of our technological development are just negligible in comparison to the life span of cosmic objects. Let us compare (arbitrarily) a time of one billion years, in which the Earth had an environment capable of supporting intelligent life (e.g. Earth is more than five billion years old)  to the period of one year.  Then,  humans have come to the scene in the  last fifty minutes,  the entire  progress of western civilization took about the last thirty seconds and most of technology as we see it today came in the last ten seconds. This simple analogy shows that despite our achievements in science and technology there is a vast ocean of unknown ahead of us and we have  still much to learn.

We believe we are not alone in the universe. If that assumption is correct then in the universe there are civilizations at various stages of intellectual development and some of them are millions years ahead of us.  Those highly developed  civilizations  are exchanging intelligence between themselves at their technological level far more advanced than anything  we can even imagine now and  in the years to come. It is obvious that  in the same way as  tribal men in the Amazon rain forest  are unaware of a wealth of information carried by electromagnetic waves over their heads , we are unaware of information exchange on the higher technological level  flowing around us.

Thus it is reasonable to pose a question . Can we build at least some kind of receiver to intercept interstellar messages?   Can we find other intelligent creatures in the  universe? Will we be able to communicate with them and to learn ?

In my opinion, there are strong reasons to believe that the construction of such a receiver is possible. The first step in that direction is to break with nineteenth century concepts of locality.  Construction of a non local receiver  is an enormously difficult task but at some point we are in better situation that an Amazon tribal man who would try to build  e.g. RF receiver.

Having listening device and intercepting intelligence from advanced civilizations , we will gain an enormous knowledge . We will make a quantum leap for millions  and millions of years ahead of our present knowledge. This knowledge will enable us (beyond other things) to build the appropriate  transmitter and to enter into an information  exchange over the entire universe. Man will make an unlimited progress in any direction.

This short paper has no references, since with respect to the problem of interstellar communication the past experience based on a crowbar solution is entirely useless. There are no experts on the future. Regrettably,  all experts are only on the past.   

Information about this Article
Peer-review ratings (from 2 reviews, where a score of 100 represents the ‘average’ level):
Originality = 23.98, importance = 30.07, overall quality = 22.29
This Article was published on 21st July, 2007 at 23:40:37 and has been viewed 3819 times.

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1 Peer review [reviewer #7116confirmed user] added 23rd July, 2007 at 21:23:32

It is probably worth noting that the SETI involves not only unknown variables, but a stacking sequence of unknown variables. This point, however, has already been made by Frank Drake, etc. The author’s claim that both steam engines and rocketry are versions of the Carnot cycle seems to confuse theoretical and applied physics. Both fly-fishing and pachinko could be described as applications of Newtonian gravity, but they appear quite different to the observer. Moreover, rocketry has existed, in theory and practice, for more like two thousand years than two hundred years.

The author’s concerns about the locality of knowledge, and thus his rejection of all prior scholarly works as references, is no doubt laudable in prophetic or apocalyptic writing, but it is unclear to this reviewer how the scholarly reader is meant to interpret it. If the author has, boldface, “strong reasons to believe” X, perhaps he could tell us what those reasons are.

Originality: 1, Importance: 1, Overall quality: 2

2 Peer review [reviewer #66096confirmed user] added 26th July, 2007 at 02:40:28

I agree with the author’s general notion that it is possible that there exists some as-yet-undiscovered technology that will allow us to do — well, who knows what? Perhaps communicate faster than light? We have no idea what the future will bring. However, the author states that we must “break with nineteenth century concepts of locality” and construct a “non local receiver.” I presume (although it is not stated) that the author refers to quantum nonlocality. I would like to point out that, to the best of our understanding, quantum nonlocality cannot be exploited to transmit information FTL. See, for example, “Experimental test of the no signaling theorem” (Tiziano De Angelis, Francesco De Martini, Eleonora Nagali, Fabio Sciarrino) archived at http://arxiv.org/abs/0705.1898.

Originality: 2, Importance: 2, Overall quality: 2

3 Author comment added 16th August, 2007 at 04:06:39

Thank you for your comments and for pointing on quantum mechanical (QM) approach to the problem. The possibility for non local information exchange, in the framework of QM, is based on the Bell’s theorem. There are proponents as well as opponents (e.g. indicated by you) of the idea ,and the discussion is going for quite a time. I am aware of Bell’s theorem but I did not mention QM approach in my short paper since my ideas are based neither on quantum mechanics in general nor on the Bell’s theorem in particular.

4 Author comment added 16th August, 2007 at 04:08:12

Thank you for reviewing our short paper. I am glad that review has been done by “scholarly man”, thus my answer, I hope, will defuse his criticism contained in the review.
It is rather obvious that scholarly man looks usually deeper into the nature of things in order to understand their basic nature despite those things and /or phenomena look apparently different.
Thus, for a molecular biologist a cat and a man are basically the same biological machines assembled and functioning accordingly to rules of biochemistry. From the point of view of thermodynamics , a man and a cat both are Carnot machines as the Stevenson steam locomotive and the Apollo rocket buster are. (By the way , brain controlled the human Carnot cycle is the most efficient one in the nature. The main task of computers in modern cars is to optimize engine Carnot cycle in order to make it more efficient i.e. making more miles per gallon.) Thus, difference between laser welded and hydrogen burning flying furnace ( Apollo buster) , and riveted , coal burning rail furnace of Stevenson is only apparent and it should not cause any confusion for a scholarly person.

“Stacking all the unknown variables” is entirely useless procedure as one can see from the following example. Suppose you are going to a trip and you asked your trip advisor to prepare the trip plan for you. After two weeks mail finally arrived , you open the envelope and read: Country of destination - unknown , city of destination- unknown, mean of transportation-unknown, departure time -unknown , arrival time -unknown, hotel- unknown, duration of the trip - unknown. Overall result -unknown to the 7th power . Your credit card has been charged for $499.99 for stacking all unknown variables. We value your business and wish you a wonderful trip.
It seems to me that any directed intellectual activity of a man has to be judged by their results. The results of the Search for Extra Terrestial Intelligence (SETI), due to a crowbar approach implemented by F. Drake, P Morrison and associates ( and not only by them), turned out to be precisely ZERO.
I am in full respect for historical achievements in science and technology. Some marvelous inventions of the past for example 2000 year old Archimedes screw , work beautifully today in a meat grinders , in aircraft and/or submarine propellers and in turbo machinery. But as the aircraft propeller will not take us beyond the Earth atmosphere, and the Carnot rocket buster will not take us beyond the Solar system , the classical theory of fields, i.e. Maxwell electrodynamics and Einstein relativity will not produce a communication device for exchange of information on galactic scales and beyond. Those tools, used by SETI researchers, are not up to the task and there should be no doubt in that regard.

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