Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I was thinking some not-very-kind thoughts about SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, as I approached today's blog post. I mean, imagine looking in vain for other humans on an unknown, unreachable planet when we are surrounded by other societies right here on Earth.

So, I went to the SETI web site to see if my perception was correct. Imagine my surprise when I found that they had a very recent podcast titled "You Animal", that was described with a blurb that said, "Maybe Dr. Doolittle was on to something; animals are smarter than we think."

So I listened. I learned that we are indeed still battling the assumption that all non-human animals are dull-witted creatures and only humans have the ability to think. I learned that scientists still try to explain animals' behavior with the concept of instinct, that they want to explain away such events as whales and dolphins rescuing people as mere instinctive behavior, that they believe that creatures (non-human, of course) can be "pre-programmed" to face all of life's challenges.

The African gray parrot, Alex, described in the March 2008 issue of National Geographic Magazine, made spontaneous, intelligent, and relevant comments on what was going on around him, and yet the scientists are very reluctant to talk about intelligence and not willing to admit self-awareness in the bird.

It was interesting that the National Geographic writer said that her experience with the bird made her think about how little space we allow for other species on our planet and that it would be ethically correct to find ways to share the planet with them--and then the scientist in the conversation totally rejected the idea of such ethics.

I found the whole show very condescending and very mired in the "ladder" model of evolution. I buried my face in my hands in embarrassed despair a couple of times during the show.

And I'm still left wondering what would happen if just a fraction of the time and money that is poured into SETI -- the search for other-worldly humans who just happened to create earthly-human-recognizable signals in the same technology currently used by humans on this planet -- would be put into Tiger Touch, where they claim to not only have discovered other intelligent life, but the means for two-way communications with it.

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