Dead Air from Space

Right now at this very moment someone somewhere on our planet is listening for radio waves from space.  Space Radios!  Sounds cool.  Let us all send these people some money and search for space radio waves.  (This is me being sarcastic.)

This has been going on in one form or another pretty much since the birth of radio - trying to pick up radio waves from space, that is, not me being sarcastic.  That has only been going on since the 1970s.  This failed radio wave detection attempt has picked up steam in the past decade, or so, due to advancements in technology combined with boredom and lack of imagination by some of the uber-wealthy.  

Seth Shostak
Mmm... radio waves from space, nom nom nom

Paul Allen was one of the founders of Microsoft.  After accumulating more money than God, Allen retired.  Prior to his death in 2018, he did some good things for humanity through the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, like his former business partner Bill Gates has been doing through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  This guy had some bucks, not Bill-Gates-Bucks but... well, kind of Bill-Gates-Bucks.  Paul-Allen-Bucks.  He was one of the Top 50 Rich Guys.

What would you do with billions of dollars if you already owned your favorite NFL team and NBA team and a SuperYacht and you knew you would never be able to spend all your money before you died?  How about search for aliens?  That is what I would do.  That is what Paul Allen did.  

Paul Allen's SuperYacht

Allen poured millions into projects at the SETI Institute, searching for alien radio waves.  The idea behind this is, humans broadcast AM/FM radio stations, TV channels, cell phone and other communication signals, etc., out into space at the speed of light, 24/7.  

If there are other intelligent civilizations out there, surely they must be doing this too!  Right?

I don't know about that

My dog is somewhat intelligent but she still eats cat turds.  It is not reasonable to project that just because humans think something is a good idea, space-faring aliens (who are much smarter than we are) would concur.  

Our galaxy is a scary place.  We have no idea what is out there.  As a corollary, say you took a stroll through southern Africa, out in lion country.  You shout, "Hey lions!  Here I am!  Come and eat me!"  What would be the likely outcome?  I am thinking you would be eaten by a lion.  Why, then, would any advanced civilization continuously shoot radio waves out of their planet, in every direction, broadcasting their location to potential predators?  We are doing it, so naturally aliens must be doing it too.  (That is more sarcasm.)

What could be gained from broadcasting our location to anyone who is listening?  Some would say that at the very least it would give us the knowledge that we are not alone in the Universe.  OK, that and a leftover chicken leg will help me fall asleep at night.  Is that all?

Our hope is that contact with a more advanced civilization would yield great advancements in our own technology.  Would it?  What if, instead of connecting with a more advanced civilization we connected with a planet inhabited by a dim-witted species?  They may be eager to do our bidding in exchange for sharing our technology with them.  We would quickly take over the place.

Picture a planet full of dogs.  These dogs can speak but in all other ways they are like dogs.  We would give them a test to see how easy it would be to conquer them.  It would consist of choosing one of two options.  

  • Option A, you can have the latest generation iPhone, free, with no service contract - sorry, it is with Cricket Wireless, not Verizon, but hey, free iPhone.  
  • Option B is a moist cat turd.  

We would rule the dog planet very quickly.

More advanced aliens would do this to us too - in this scenario, we are the dogs.  We would quickly become their servants in exchange for trivial rewards - gadgets and trinkets - just like the way the Europeans bought Manhattan and then either exiled the Native Americans or absorbed them into their cultures.  

Exploiting Indians

Likewise, aliens would not want to be conquered by civilizations more advanced than themselves.  So they would not be dumb enough to broadcast their location to everyone in our galactic jungle.  This is the most likely reason why, despite every effort, they pick up nothing at the SETI Institute but dead air.  

Do Humans have Senses that Aliens do Not?

Suppose people on some planet, somewhere out there, were so advanced, they had the most sophisticated weaponry in the galaxy and were afraid of no one - kind of like me when my wife hears a noise at 2:00 am and I charge off into the darkness to look for bad guys.  Although, really, this is just a good excuse for me to grab a cold chicken leg and a piece of cake out of the fridge.  "Um, yeah honey, [munch munch], I heard something too.  I got it!  Go back to sleep.  [nom nom]  Don't come down!"

These fearless aliens could travel the galactic jungle from the safety of their space rovers, carrying the futuristic equivalent of an elephant gun, totally immune to the demands of all other creatures.  Would they then boldly broadcast radio waves out in every direction, hoping we would find them?

I do not see the benefit of this, but suppose there was some benefit.  Why should we presume anyone would do this?   What if the most intelligent and technologically advanced species in the galaxy had no ears?  They cannot process sound waves.  Would they still broadcast radio waves?

Using radio waves for communication make sense to humans.  Its first use was to communicate with ships, similar to the way we would use a telephone except more like, "Hey everybody, if you're the ship I'm looking for, hit me back!"  If humans had no ears we would not have needed the telephone.  The telegraph would have been more practical.  Perhaps instead of creating the telephone, deaf inventors in the nineteenth century would have focused on creating a more sophisticated telegraph.

Radio's first commercial use was to play music and local advertisements, one hundred years ago.  Not much has changed since then.  Would this medium have taken off if we could not hear?  Would we even have music?

What if all humans were born without the sense of hearing?  I pondered this, laying in bed, picking chicken out of my teeth late one night, while the rest of the family slept peacefully.  I stared at the ceiling and wondered how to explain sound to deaf people.  I thought this would be a fair comparison.  

Do humans have senses aliens do not?

There is some decent information about this on Reddit and Quora.  Most respondents posted that deaf people can understand sound because they can feel the vibrations, like when a big truck rumbles by.  I think a better comparison would be when a Honda Civic that is 25% engine, 25% spoiler, and 50% speakers, rolls by.

This does not explain how deaf people can appreciate music.  To that end, people like to say that deaf people can enjoy music by feeling the rhythm and the bass.  Tell that to violinist Itzhak Perlman.  The violin plays at too high a pitch for the Deaf to feel its sweet melodies.

Itzhak Perlman
Itzhak Perlman, killing it

Others say the Deaf can enjoy music through expressive interpretation.  Watch a minute of the sign language interpreter in the video below.

The interpreter in the video, Amber Galloway Gallego, is great.  She is a huge asset to the Deaf Community, helping to bring popular entertainment to them.  But now, watch the same video again with the sound completely muted.

Maybe if one could feel the bass, Gallego's gyrations might help a deaf person to understand what beat-boxing is all about.  To me, with the sound muted, it just looks like someone having a conniption.  Quora contributor Angela Shull says that she and her other hearing-impaired friends, "get annoyed when people try to 'interpret' a song."  I could see that.

A Typical Conniption Fit

Being deaf does not always mean hearing nothing at all.  Many deaf people hear something, they just have difficulty making sense of what one sound is from another.  If you cannot distinguish between the words I am saying versus the barking of a dog or the ticking of a clock, hearing is not a tremendous asset.  

Would radio have become a medium if everyone heard things that way?  Would radio have developed as a medium if all humans were born "stone deaf"?  It seems silly to even ask the question - it is rhetorical, of course.  A species without the ability to hear at all would never have created a radio broadcast industry and therefore would never have begun sending radio waves out into space, like we humans do.

But wait, you say!  What about television?  Surely, at some point, aliens would have discovered moving pictures.  OK, let us roll with that. 

How do you detect aliens?

The first movies were on film and were projected onto a big screen, just like at today's movie theaters.  There was no TV.  You had to go to the theater, back in 1905.  You sat on a wooden bench and the piano player smelled like his horse but hey, it was five cents!  Anyway, the motion picture industry had no need for radio waves at the time.

Fast-forward two decades and someone figured out how to send movies over the air waves.  The year was 1927.  Prior to that, like 84 years prior to that, someone had invented the "Electric Printing Telegraph" better known today as the Fax Machine.  For real!  

If we had not already had a broadcast radio industry to spur the development of TV broadcasting, maybe the motion picture industry would have still given birth to TV.  But instead of picking up TV signals with "rabbit ear" antennas, faxing would have developed sooner and the cable industry would have developed instead of broadcasting.  All TV shows would be delivered via wires, like they are in most of the US today.

I am not saying this is definitely what happened on some other planet.  Who knows?  But if a planet existed where no one could hear, perhaps they would never have begun broadcasting radio waves for entertainment purposes and therefore would also not have begun broadcasting TV over the airwaves, either.  

It has been proposed that aliens may have one or more senses that humans do not.  Some people believe aliens can speak and hear telepathically, for example.  It is not unreasonable, then, to suggest that humans may have a sense that a species on another planet does not have, like hearing with our ears, for example.  Ever seen an alien depicted with ears?

Alien without Ears
Look Ma, no ears!

Eventually, anyone who can get from there to here (wherever that is) would surely discover radio waves and figure out how to exploit them.  But without a need to broadcast entertainment, radio waves might be used solely for point-to-point information transference.  This would be hard for us to detect.  Shull (from Quora) says sign language is, "1000% visual. You can't talk to a Deaf person if they don't look at you."  

Perhaps on a totally deaf world, this is how all communication takes place.  We would never be able to eavesdrop on these conversations because they are not meant for mass consumption.

How do you Detect Aliens?

What would I do differently?  If, after 100 years of broadcasting and receiving radio waves, we still have not found alien radio waves, I would stop this nonsense.  The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.

Anyone who can get from there to here is smart enough to not be broadcasting their presence.  Their spaceships are silent.  I know that because the one I saw was within 100 yards from me and was completely silent.  We will not detect them by listening for them, whether that is with our ears or with radio receivers.  

But we can see them.

There are thousands and thousands of eye-witness accounts of UFO sightings.  We even have some UFOs on video now - these videos are confirmed by the US Navy as authentic.  This is the direction I would go.

I have written before that the ISS should have cameras all over the outside of it, pointed in every direction.  Recently, a member of a Facebook group I belong to which discusses UFO sightings, suggested that all commercial airliners should have outward-facing cameras.  This was in response to a credible and verified UFO sighting by two Mexican pilots.  I agree with this.

The city of London has so many cameras on its streets, the police can spy on their citizens virtually anywhere in the city.  As an American who values privacy I am not keen on this Big Brother approach to policing.  But my point is to illustrate that if London can do that, any first-world municipality on the planet can put up cameras to capture UFOs.  Why are we not doing that?

That is what I propose we do.  Forget about the failed attempts of the twentieth century to detect technology of the nineteenth century.  We need to look forward and do more of what works.  Cameras work.  They should be pointed towards the center of the galaxy from every city, every aircraft, and every satellite.

We should do this now.

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If you have seen an alien spaceship or any type of unidentified flying object (UFO) contact me using the Contact form on this page.  You may remain anonymous if you want.  I will not ridicule you or try to tell you why you are wrong.  I get it, I saw one too.

Thank you for reading and keep an eye on the sky.