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How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

Posted September 09, 2011 7:48 AM

The Kepler space telescope has discovered 1100 candidate extra-solar planets, 54 of which are orbiting in a zone where they would potentially have liquid water. It seems inevitable that sooner or later, we'll detect a planet with the building blocks of life. When we do that, what should our next step be? Should we send a probe to study it? Should we attempt to communicate? If so, what should we say?

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#1

Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/09/2011 8:02 AM

The problem with modern computer games, and the individuals that have grown-up familiar with them, is that their answer could be "zap the ba$Ā£@rds", which is not at all the right thing to do.

Perhaps ringing Bruce Willis might be a long shot too...

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#2

Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/09/2011 8:47 AM

If there is other life out there, and assuming they're beyond our own development, they could already be aware of us. We've sent a lot of information into space.

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#13
In reply to #2

Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/10/2011 11:34 AM

We should leave them well alone, we have destroyed enough life on this planet, so we shouldn't try destroying life an another planet, anyway, if they are more advanced than us then they probably are trying to keep us away from them!

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#3

Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/09/2011 9:07 AM

Send them a box set of The Honeymooners and The Three Stooges. Pretty much sums it up.

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#19
In reply to #3

Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/12/2011 12:31 PM

Yes. But you might also need to send George Carlin's "All My Stuff," too, to help explain the first two.

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#4

Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/09/2011 9:15 AM

Things that we are seeing are 10s to 100s of light years away. That means the information we see and detect today started 10s to 100s of years ago from those sources. That is how long it takes light to travel in space.

We have had RF communications for about 100 years. That means we have an RF bubble of about 100 light years in radius.

Sending a probe would take thousands of years to reach even the nearest systems that might contain life, so RF communication is the only practical means we have at this point.

Any advanced civilization like ours will most likely have an RF footprint we could detect, but the same rule of the speed of light applies. The distances between objets in space are huge and any hope of a two-way communication is not even likely.

Imagine a civilization 1,000 light years (LY) away. That would be close because our galaxy is about 100,000 LY in diameter. The universe is probably about 41 billion LY in diameter.

Communicating 1,000 LY away is impractical. Imagine calling your family and having to wait 1,000 years for the message to be delivered (sounds like the Post Office sometimes). Then waiting another 1,000 years for the reply. Two thousand years later captin Franks receives the answer to the message they sent and Franks scratches his head, "Er, what was the original question again?"

The best we can hope for is confirmation that we are not alone. Most likely that will come from some RF message that we intercept like the alien version of I Love Lucy.

Just considering all the RF trash that we pump out it may be that any civilization would interpret that as a warning to stay away less they contract what we have.

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#5

Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/09/2011 9:31 AM

1) Find and join GR4. (Galactic Room 4)

2) Don't let spammers know - They will trash our communication channels for thousands of years.

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#6

Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/09/2011 11:16 AM
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#7

Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/09/2011 11:33 PM

There was a paper published some time ago about the likely range our planets man made RF actually travels in space and surprisingly it doesn't make it all that far. I think it was something like a 10 - 15 light year bubble that we produce. After that its absorbed and drowned out by the all the galactic background energy to the point that its indistinguishable from all the natural noises.

Unfortunately space is not a gigantic open emptiness at RF frequency's rather its like having our headphones turned up on a busy city street. Unless you are the one standing right next to us in galactic terms you would never here a sound out of us.

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#8

Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/10/2011 12:00 AM

We are curious monkeys. We will explore sooner or later. Carefully.

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#9

Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/10/2011 12:58 AM

It depends on if they have oil or other natural resources we want. Chances are the we will then invade and exploit them while indiscriminately killing as many as possible of the evil doers, unless they kill us first.

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#10

Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/10/2011 2:01 AM

Start building our defences!

Mars I mean Planet X.... Attacks!

Or The Aliens will send us a lawyer and sue us for ignoring the interstellar law Bef682787637 , No Planet peeping without written approval.

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#11

Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/10/2011 9:32 AM

It would take thousands of years for one of our space probes to reach the nearest star. Funding would probably run out before then. Even communication at the speed of light would be prohibitively slow.

If they have the technology to come here, I would suggest staying on their good side. Anything we have to trade, other than raw materials, would be just trinkets to them. I would expect their only interest might be in studying us.

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#12
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Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/10/2011 10:32 AM

I doubt we would be worth the travel even for raw materials. When you have the capacity to travel between distant stars you also have access to all the natural resources of yours or anyone else's solar systems just floating around out there for you to collect for free.

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#14

Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/10/2011 1:26 PM

Report it to your supervisor first thing.

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#15

Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/10/2011 6:15 PM

With our luck, our first contact with life off of this planet will be from a Vogon construction craft telling us that an intergalactic bypass is needed and our planet is scheduled for demolition.

Just remember to bring your towel.

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#16
In reply to #15

Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/10/2011 11:12 PM

I was going to say: "Sorry for the inconvenience".

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#17

Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/12/2011 9:46 AM

Don't mind a bit, sticking my chin out for this.... Being one of enormous/profound faith, I personally agree with the approach suggested by:

Stephen Jay Gould , as referenced in the interview HERE (hit "Ctrl+F" for "Find" and type-in "Gould" to find the paragraph, not quite 1/2 way down the page).

and,

for those who don't know, and wonder, at he end of the paragraph, what the latin phrase means, find it here.

There are optimists ("We WILL, eventually, find life elsewhere"), and there are optimists ("It matters not, whether we DO, or do NOT find life elsewhere...!") "Cheers!"

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#18

Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/12/2011 12:29 PM

The question asked raises the next question...

Even if it happens in our lifetime, will anyone remember or think to come back to this thread for advice? It makes for good "water-cooler" discussion, though, I suppose.

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#20

Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/12/2011 12:38 PM

As has been already pointed out, travel there is beyond our technology, communication round trip time is beyond our attention span. So what should we do?

Watch and study. Turn every available piece of remote information gathering equipment in that direction and watch. That is all we can do at this time. I suppose we could send a directed beam radio message but that would be just for kicks.

(On the other hand I'm sure Nike and other multi-nationals will have sweat shops up and running in a matter of weeks if the labour cost is low enough.)

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#21

Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/12/2011 1:03 PM

What is the likelihood that we are at all organically compatible?

Any living organisms we bring there could be catastrophic for them, and likewise what we bring back could be catastrophic for us.

Totally separate evolution may bring us micro-organisms that we may have no way to adapt to.

(.. now I feel itchy...)

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#23
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Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/12/2011 6:48 PM

My guess is that any technology that can cross the great gulfs of space and time will easily be able to handle biological cross-contamination. Not a likely issue or even a scenario.

As someone else pointed out, the culture shock would be far worse for us.

You can use Drake's equation and come up with the probability of life in the universe (assuming you can settle on the values of some of its constants), but the likelihood that those civilizations being close enough to us to make that journey is probably very close to zero.

Unless there is some yet to be discovered magic way to traverse the universe we are not likely to see face-to-face contact at all. Yes, secretly I hope I am wrong.

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#22

Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/12/2011 6:15 PM

Can't resist one more post.

As Vince said to Shel in the original "Inlaws, just after landing on the South American landing strip and getting shot at, " "Serpentine, Shel... serpentine!"

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#24

Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/15/2011 5:44 AM

THERE CAN BE THREE POSSIBLE SPECIES:-

1 MORE INTELEGENT AND ADVANCED THAN US :- SEND RF SIGNAL ON OUR EXISTING KNOWLEDGE (ABOUT MATTER).

2 INTELEGENT AND ADVANCE LIKE US :-SEND RF SIGNAL ON OUR EXISTING KNOWLEDGE (ABOUT MATTER).

3 IN LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT STAGE:- SEND RF SIGNAL ON OUR EXISTING KNOWLEDGE (ABOUT MATTER) ALONG WITH SIMPLE CODED MESAGE.

AS WE KNOW THE TRANSFER OF MESSAGE MAY TAKE FEW LIGHT YEARS HENCE IT IS THE ONLY WAY TO CONTACT AND UPDATE WITH TERESTRIAL CIVILISATION.

WE MUST KEEP IN MIND THE RULES OF NATURE MAY BE REVERSE THERE , HENCE WE SHALL BE READY TO FACE THE REVERSE SIDE OF WHAT WE EXPECT ALSO.

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#25

Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/16/2011 11:29 AM

Leave well enough alone: This is science fiction. It makes a lot more sense to concentrate on communicating with and caring for the life forms on our own planet. If we're intelligent enough to create highway overpasses, skyscrapers, the internet, and jet travel, as well as perform medical miracles like heart and lung transplants, then we're intelligent enough to explore and comprehend our own psyches so we may live in peace and harmony within ourselves and with other human beings and living things. Peace and freedom are what the human spirit yearns for when it doesn't have them. Now we have them, we must learn to nurture and treasure them.

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#26
In reply to #25

Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/16/2011 1:56 PM

Well, I think that is a bit myopic.

While the chances appear very small that we will contact other civilizations, to close your mind to the question and refuse to look for the answer is just wrong.

If you make the case you have stated you can just as easily make the same case for exploring any other spot on our planet or our minds.

Where would we be as a species if we stopped asking questions and stopped searching for those answers?

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#27
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Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/16/2011 4:27 PM

With the human species track record of:

EXPLOITATION

versus

PEACEFUL COEXISTENCE

would another civilization appreciate being contacted?

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#29
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Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/16/2011 7:08 PM

Your argument is really unfounded.

First, it is very unlikely that we will contact anyone else, except by radio and it will be accidental. We simply do not have the means to go to the Moon, let alone the closest star, so all we have is radio frequency.

We are so far technologically from leaving the solar system that your question just doesn't make sense.

Any contact will require years for light to propagate between us and whoever we contact. I would guess the minimum contact distance to be in the 10s of years and more likely in the 100s of years.

We have been pumping RF for about 100 years, but only about half that time with any real RF power. That means our current RF bubble is probably less than 100 light years in diameter, which doesn't involve much space and the probity of a life bearing planet is about zero within that distance.

Given the distance and time I can't imagine creating an extraterrestrial fiasco my means of a microphone or even FaceTime.

More importantly, searching for extraterrestrial life answers a very fundamental and profound question for humanity; are we alone? If we discover we are not, the implications will be important in so many ways that I just can't fit them all here.

The most likely scenario for us will be intercepting an extraterrestrial broadcast of some sort. Most likely it will be a communication that isn't intended for the purpose of making contact, but we would receive some signal or strong evidence that another intelligence is among the stars via the SETI program.

This is a very cheap program. SETI's annual budget is about $600,000 per year and almost all of it is private donations anyway.

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#30
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Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/17/2011 12:17 PM

Maybe I've mixed up my messages.

I am all for looking for signs of life and think SETI is important enough to keep funded.

But I was posting about "What should we do if we find it." Should we reach out? and how.

My guess is: The intelligent life forms out there have already detected us, and have already answered that question for themselves.

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#31
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Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/17/2011 2:40 PM

You wrote, "What should we do if we find it." Should we reach out? and how."

I think the answer is obvious. Send a message back. As I said, the vast distances of space will make real-time communication impossible. It is virtually impossible to screw up another technologically advanced civilization by sending them a well crafted message.

You wrote, "My guess is: The intelligent life forms out there have already detected us, and have already answered that question for themselves."

No way to know that, but it would seem unlikely that is the case due to the statistics of the possible life elsewhere. The universe is simply too big to use RF transmissions as a mechanism to communicate.

As I stated before, our RF bubble is only about 50 to 100 lightyears in radius. The probability that there is life, let alone intelligent technological life is almost nil.

If there were, we would have likely detected their signature first.

There are 33 stars within 12.5 lightyears of us. There are about 100 stars within 20 light years of us. One such star Gliese 581 is about 20 lightyears away. One of its planets is the closest to Earth we have detected so far.

The mass of the planet is 5 times Earth, so that is a lot of gravity to work with and unlikely to support intelligent life, but it does seem to be in the Goldilocks Zone, from its sun (liquid water can exist).

Space is big and it is statistically unlikely to have a neighboring civilization close enough for us to be detected, let alone visit.

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#32
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Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/17/2011 3:27 PM

You just don't seem to understand the idea of a given premise for a debate. Claiming that the statistics of detecting extraterrestrial life is almost nil show that you do not understand the premise at all. The probability of detecting life on another planet is 100%. This is the given premise. If you refuse to discuss this possibility, fine. Then don't discuss it.

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#33
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Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/17/2011 4:45 PM

You claim the probability is 100%. Prove that claim.

I don't think you can. Therefore, the original poster's claim that sooner or later we will make contact is a false premise.

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#34
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Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/17/2011 6:12 PM

You just don't understand the idea of a given condition, do you.

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#35
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Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/17/2011 10:30 PM

Hmm, should we be consulting the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as you eluded to earlier? ;-)

My twisted humor aside, I would like to get serious again. The original post stated, "It seems inevitable that sooner or later, we'll detect a planet with the building blocks of life."

I take the word "seems" as meaning apparently possible or probable, but not definite. From that I posited that the actual probability is extremely low that we would have to address your point, which was that we might contaminate an extraterrestrial culture.

Additionally, a planet with the building blocks for life does not mean that intelligent life is a 100% sure thing. Again, this represents only the possibility and not a given condition, as you say.

Since it was your argument, let me ask you a serious question. How do you suppose we would get to this alleged extraterrestrial planet to contaminate them?

Remember that the nearest star is over 4 light years away, just how do you see us even getting there? Bear in mind that at this point getting to Mars is barely possible at this time.

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#36
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Re:

09/17/2011 11:03 PM

Read the title of this post, again and carefully.

How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

Regardless of the actual probabilities to detect life on another planet (your argument), the question asks what we should do after life has been detected. Your argument has no bearing on the given conditions of the question. You are debating a completely different question. You are evading the question. You are OFF TOPIC.

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#37
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Re:

09/18/2011 8:18 AM

1. I wasn't responding to the title, but the substance of the post.

2. Why are you taking on the role of Forum Cop and deciding who and what people should have the liberties to say?

3. My response is perfectly acceptable. However, let me put it in simple terms you can understand:

Child asks mother while they are traveling, "Mom, what will we do if we get a flat tire?"

Son, do not worry. We are on a boat."

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#38
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Re:

09/18/2011 9:34 AM

That's it. You are becoming Jude Law's character in Contagion. Good Bye

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#39
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Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/18/2011 11:25 PM

You misread me. It is a question of the use of one's time and energy--of focus. While I find it of some interest to speculate on the question, I recognize it is speculation only. Our biological selves are not suited to weightlessness. The longer we are weightless, the more bone mass we lose, for example. Nor do we have any comprehension of what would happen to the molecules of our bodies or of inorganic materials that would go to create vehicles that would travel at the speed of light. So for all practical purposes, we are rooted to this planet. It is a matter of discovery and wonder how perfectly we have evolved in adaptation to this planet. Far from being closed to the matter of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, I do think about it. Doing so gives me perspective on the evolution of life on this planet, and of human civilization, as I can never hope to visit any other planet except for the one on which I am spending my life. It is a question of accepting the realities of my finite life and, I suspect, human life for thousands of years to come, at the very least, should of course the planet remain habitable for human life for eons. I therefore think that to direct one's attention to matters that will truly affect our continued peaceful evolution is of far greater importance to spend one's time and energy thinking about than how one would behave in the presence of life from another planet. More to the point, I think, is how one behaves in the presence of life on this planet.

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#41
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Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/19/2011 6:32 AM

You wrote, "You misread me. It is a question of the use of one's time and energy--of focus."

I think I understand that.

I just took it as if you want to ignore what is beyond the bonds of our planet. We still need to look out to see inward and know ourselves better.

We spend far more time, effort, and money on Earth than we do exploring the universe, so it has not become disproportionate.

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#43
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Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/19/2011 4:20 PM

"We spend far more time, effort, and money on Earth" -- to what end? In truly nurturing Earth, our relation to it, our relation to each other and other species, and the development of our own character and intellect? The more we inculcate our world culture with such focus, the closer we may come, paradoxically, to being able to focus our minds on the enormous problems associated with even very local space travel.

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#44
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Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/19/2011 4:24 PM

Our purpose is not to nurture Earth.

If you want to get down to it, we are here to experience joy.

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#45
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Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/20/2011 3:18 PM

And how can you experience joy living amidst raw sewage, without heat in winter, adequate clothing, nutritious food, and potable water? Personally, I'd have a difficult time. As we nurture Earth, so it nourishes us.

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#46
In reply to #45

Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/20/2011 3:51 PM

My statement does not say you should not take care of your "home".

However, I do not live to clean and maintain my house. I am not a servant to my house.

There is a stark difference.

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#47
In reply to #46

Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/21/2011 2:21 AM

Those who nurture are not servants. There is a lot of joy to be found while working, nurturing each other and our Earth and enjoying others' work to help secure our own peace and comfort. "Caring for our home" is what we do: We all live to maintain our home. We spend our working lives securing, transporting, and refining oil and gas; mining raw materials; providing electricity; providing computer server operations, the internet, and phone communications; manufacturing all manner of goods from big-ticket items to clothing and toys; constructing roads, bridges, buildings, and plants; processing garbage, sewage, and drinking water; transporting goods and people via rail, air, water, and road; administering justice, teaching, healing, writing, farming, entertaining, parenting, researching, mapping, feeding, governing, protecting, cleaning. This is a big part of living. It is a big part of what we do for each other here throughout this planet 24 hours a day every day--working and enjoying the fruits of others' labor. Without effort and engagement, leisure brings no satisfaction; without joy and love, work brings no satisfaction.

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#48
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Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/29/2011 1:49 PM

Only one solution to the problem the way you are looking at it - -

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#52
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Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/29/2011 3:33 PM

Not really. As your subsequent entries indicate, speculating on the answer to the topic is in the realm of science fiction. And you can approach it seriously or frivolously. It can be a fun and engaging exercise. However, when one gets down to the realities that face us in our lives right now, such speculation, while it says a lot about our outlook, intelligence, and basic humanity, really has no bearing on the issues that face us in our generation and in generations likely well into the future. "One solution to the problem" doesn't make sense: There is no problem as the question's hypothetical and a serious answer would also be hypothetical and theoretical. And what I'm talking about is not a "solution," it's directing one's focus away from the realm of science fiction and back to the perhaps boring and mundane issues facing us here and now--which are in the realm of science fact.

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#53
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Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/30/2011 12:03 AM

I believe you are confusing things - what I meant was that you seem to say there is no hope - if that is one's outlook why prolong it all then?

The rest of us will struggle along as man always has.

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#28

Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/16/2011 6:17 PM

~

Ask the Anunnaki how to proceed the next time they drop into the Solar System.

~

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#40

Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/19/2011 12:48 AM

At the risk of sounding pessimistic, perhaps we should concern ourselves with wondering what we should do when Alien life detects US. Our track record of dealing with cultures differing from us, i.e. American and Australian Aboriginals, Asian Indian, Polynesian islanders, etc. do not speak well for the human race in general. And there would be differences that we can not imagine, let alone prepare for.

Secondly, at this point in our technological and sociological advancement, we hardly rate as a civilized species. Technological: we are still using fossil fuels. To other races that have harnessed the energy of even such a small step as fusion, we are barely out of the stone age.

Sociologically, we are still killing each other over an antiquated idea that we can OWN this world or a part of it, such as some of it's resources, i.e. oil, coal, land, etc, The Science Fiction writer, Robert A. Heinlein said it well, "You don't own anything you cant' carry in both arms at a dead run."

We as a species, not some Agency, or some Government, need to evolve, at least Sociologically, enough to make US worthy of meeting a species that has survived it's infancy. (On that scale, we haven't even gotten out of diapers.) A civilization that is capable of interstellar communication, let alone interstellar travel.

As of yet, we, as a species, are not yet ready. There are some individuals that might be ready.

I know I am not, I have too many nightmares about what could go wrong.

Just my opinion, Dragon.

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#42
In reply to #40

Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/19/2011 1:32 PM

Ignorance in and of itself is no great state to be in. Admitting when one is truly ignorant -- having some grasp of the extent to which one does not know -- is perhaps a better place for true knowledge to begin.

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#49

Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/29/2011 1:54 PM

Long back I saw a scifi movie where aliens visited earth and did everything they could using their advanced technology to solve all the problems of mankind.

They gave the humans a book to explain the aliens culture - only the title was translated - How To Serve Man -

They arranged for continuous tours to the alien planet for earthlings - it was a long trip as I remember - many years. The ships kept departing earth with the tourists off to visit this new planet.

When the book was finally translated How To Serve Man turned out to be a cookbook.

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#50
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Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/29/2011 2:00 PM

One of the "Twilight Zone" classics.

But I believe it was simply "To Serve Man"...

Yes, here's the Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_Serve_Man_(The_Twilight_Zone)

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#51
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Re: How Should We Proceed When We Detect Life on Another Planet?

09/29/2011 2:03 PM

Think you are right - only 50 plus years back

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