By Tim Binnall
A provocative paper from a scientist at NASA suggests that the search of extraterrestrial intelligence has been hampered by preconceived ideas which may have led to humans missing out on the chance to spot ETs. Silvano P. Colombano of the space agency's Ames Research Center put forward this argument in a report titled 'New Assumptions to Guide SETI Research.' The thought-provoking piece notes that the Kepler telescope has discovered exoplanets which are millions of years older than Earth and, as such, these findings should serve to upend previous "cherished assumptions" when it comes to the possibility for life out in the universe.
Specifically, Colombano points to four proverbial 'blind spots' which he believes have inadvertently thwarted our quest to locate intelligent aliens. First, he proposes revisiting the idea that "interstellar travel is impossible or highly unlikely," since it is based on our current understanding of technology rather than what an advanced civilization that is thousands of years old may be able to achieve. Additionally, Colombano theorizes that the predominant form of communication that scientists suspect aliens could be using to communicate, radio waves, might very well be obsolete to them.
Perhaps the most tantalizing point made in the paper concerns the idea that ETs would be carbon-based. On the contrary, Colombano muses, humanity's "computer evolution" of the last 50 years opens the door for speculation that an alien may be composed of something else entirely and even developed in a manner which makes for ideal space travel over thousands of years. He explained that "the size of the 'explorer' might be that of an extremely tiny super-intelligent entity." And, to that end, he hinted that just such an intelligent visitor might have been completely missed by scientists looking for an alien which fit their narrow viewpoint of what an ET would look like.
Finally, Colombano called for SETI scientists to stop ignoring the UFO phenomenon and, instead, examine the data for cases which would have previously been dismissed because they conflicted with these preconceived ideas about extraterrestrials and space travel. "If we adopt a new set of assumptions about what forms of higher intelligence and technology we might find," he wrote, "some of those phenomena might fit specific hypotheses, and we could start some serious enquiry."
Colombano's remarkable paper ultimately concludes with a set of recommendations surrounding what he calls a new and "aggressive" approach to searching for ETs. Among these are developing "speculative physics" to challenge our ideas about the possibilities of space-time, enlisting technologists and sociologists to explore how advanced civilizations may have developed differently from humans, and studying the UFO phenomenon for potentially fruitful cases.
While UFO enthusiasts and ET seekers will likely largely agree with Colombano's assessment of the situation, one can't help but be a bit cynical about the chances that mainstream science will pull off these fantastic pivots as such a scenario seems less likely to happen than a flying saucer landing on the White House lawn.