Scientific Debate (Alien Edition)

THIS MONTH’S
SCIENTIFIC DEBATE

THIS HOUSE BELIEVES THAT THE ‘SETI’ PROGRAM SHOULD BE CONTINUED

By Akshat Bansal and Aanchal Mahajan

FEBRUARY 2017

FOR THE MOTION – AKSHAT

Time and again, science and research have proven to be the building blocks of modernization and have acted as an anchor for advancement of the human race. To formulate cures of widespread epidemics to explaining the very existence of everything, science has always had the answer. However, for over a century a question has baffled even the most renowned researchers, “Are we alone” in the spectacular, expansive and indefinite nirvana we call space. However a program launched by the US government, which was termed controversial by many, gave hope of finally coming up with a solution of this age old problem. As side proposition I strongly support the SETI program.

The SETI or Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence was started by NASA as a program to only detect incoming signals from interstellar space and if possible to interpret the signals. After a lot of backlash from the public SETI was eventually shut down, however was soon reconstructed through private funding. After a decade it was decided to follow up on this search more rigorously and instead of only interpreting signals from interstellar space, signals from earth in form of radio waves would be sent to outer space for extraterrestrials to interpret.

It is quintessential to realize the importance of SETI. We need to understand that human technology is limited, and we are at that stage where the astronomical growth of technology will decelerate. The discovery of the Trappist 1 system housing three earth like planets, an exciting prospect, but the fact that it is 40 light years away and with our current technology would take us 700,000 years, only further emphasizes on our need for advanced technology. Contact with extraterrestrials if of incomparable importance as they could provide us with technology which we might not discover in many years to come.

More importantly our Earth has been ravaged by climatic changes, global warming etc. and many scientists predict that we won’t see the 25th century. Also it is predicted that Earth would undergo cosmic events, such as asteroid collisions that would completely wipe out all living beings on Earth, and I strongly feel that extraterrestrials could only be our way out.

Side opposition needs to understand that yes this whole situation is extremely unpredictable and maybe SETI may lead to our own demise, but in the coming centuries, we would face challenges that we may never be able to rise above. Calling for help might just be our last hope, as desperate times do call for desperate measures.

A radio receiver dish at the SETI institute

AGAINST THE MOTION – AANCHAL

Before I begin my debate, I have to admit that side proposition must get an award for idealistic and unrealistic thinking. After all, they have happily made SETI seem like the only option mankind has for its survival for the next million years.  Honestly, the probability of us dying due to global warming is higher than that. And SETI can in no way help us. Ask why? Well, for an analogy, each and every young child has been taught to stay away from strangers as it is not safe.

This is proof enough to say that we can’t trust people from our own species, leave alone extraterrestrial ones. And here we are, talking about searching for “deliberate signals from technologically advanced civilizations” which are actually strangers for us. Who knows, we might actually be giving out our location to a ruthless and more advanced species than us, which is desperate to, and easily can, take over the planet from us. It is actually like the prey holding up a big sign “Hey! I am here” for the predator. If the species in question actually has the potential to invade us, we might just be putting ourselves in grave danger.

Searching for planets that can support life is a welcome thing, but we must understand that SETI is also about establishing contact with extraterrestrial species. And I fail to see how that can help. Side Proposition seems to have happily ignored the fact that while problems like poverty, hunger, and diseases have truly been plaguing humanity, we have also been working towards the solutions as well. And even if progress is indeed slow, the eradication of smallpox is an indicator of success.

Only a people at the ground level can tackle a problem, and similarly, it is only humans who can tackle the problems faced by humanity. Asking for help from unknown outsiders will not yield any results simply because they won’t be familiar with the problems faced by us.

Talking about the “oblivion” falling upon us, I fail to see how SETI can help us avoid it. Unless and until the extra-terrestrials actually decide to give us their technology. But for that, they need to be an extremely friendly race who just love to help people out. Even if we manage to engage in a diplomatic dialogue with them instead of breaking out into a war, the key of diplomacy is holding your cards close to your chests and not letting the other side take advantage of your weakness. There is absolutely no way that the extraterrestrials will be willing to extend their hand to us if they know that they are in a position of power, which is only possible when we ask them for help. And if we don’t ask them for help, how will they know that we need their help?

Quick and effective solutions are not so common in diplomatic dialogues. There is even a possibility that the race we manage to come in contact with is in no position to help us and instead, actually requires our help, defeating the main purpose of us contacting them in the first place. Thus, the possibility of us receiving help from extraterrestrials is remote, and the proposition is in no place to justify SETI because of this.

SETI might be run by private individuals, but the money spent is better utilised in researching ways to mitigate human suffering and to find solutions to the more pressing issue of global warming. And as for the cosmic events, they are not happening for the next millennia at least, plenty of time to figure out a way to travel in space.

Over all, the research done by SETI does not have any practical basis and is only for the sake of a childish fantasy.