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Ep. 154: Dragon*Con Live with Seth Shostak

Seth Shostak. Image credit: SETI.org

Seth Shostak. Image credit: SETI.org

This week we step away from our regular programming to bring you a live show from Dragon*Con in Atlanta. Pamela shares the stage with SETI researcher Seth Shostak. Together they discuss the technology and science of searching for intelligence, And answer questions from the audience.

Ep. 154: Dragon*Con Live with Seth Shostak

Pamela Gay and Seth Shostak at Dragon*Con. Photo courtesy Chuck Tomasi

Pamela Gay and Seth Shostak at Dragon*Con. Photo courtesy Chuck Tomasi

  1. SETI Institute
  2. Harvard
  3. UC Berkeley
  4. SETI in Italy

More pictures from Dragon*Con

Seth Shostak at Dragon*Con. Photo courtesy Chuck Tomasi

Seth Shostak at Dragon*Con. Photo courtesy Chuck Tomasi

Pamela facepalm. Photo courtesy Chuck Tomasi

Pamela facepalm. Photo courtesy Chuck Tomasi

Pamela and Chuck Tomasi.  Photo couresty Chuck Tomasi

Pamela and Chuck Tomasi. Photo couresty Chuck Tomasi

7 Responses to “Ep. 154: Dragon*Con Live with Seth Shostak”

  1. Yiannis, Athens, Greece says:

    One of your best episodes, in my opinion. I am sure we all agree that Mrs Pamela Gay was so good as a host here, as for Mr Seth Shostak, he gave all the answers I wanted to know about this subject since very long time. Congratulations and a big “Thank You” for offering your time to prepare this excellent show.

  2. Isn’t it amazing what turn of events can take place? Appreciate you letting your readers know about this.

  3. christian_s says:

    Excellent episode! Thanks again for doing this great podcast.
    Good sound quality too. (Teach your friends over at SGU a thing or two on that subject)

  4. Sayed Naveed says:

    Funny of that ceiling tile to drop serendipitously! I guess something IS terribly wrong with the way SETI’s doing it all. Thanks a megawatt! Great episode. Nice to hear everyone chuckle and giggle and whisper in the background!

  5. Steven Athearn says:

    There’s obviously no hard data on which to base our estimates of the probability of success of SETI programs, but I’d like to note some perhaps realistic considerations that seem to be completely ignored in these discussions.

    Let’s suppose the solar system is on the order of 4.5 billion years old. The oil and gas resources on which modern civilization (and modern science) are utterly dependent, were formed, on the standard account, during epochs of extreme global warming (with their accompanying algal blooms and die-offs) around 90 and 150 million years ago. Those resources will be extensively utilized only during a 150 or 200 year window, with something like 3/4 of that total occurring within a window of only 60 or 70 years. This may well be the approximate lifetime of an advanced industrial civilization, one with the capacity to produce powerful radar signals of the kind which radio astronomers on other worlds might perchance pick up during the lifetime – no more than an astronomical instant – of their own advanced civilization.

    Here I will merely state that I think the above scenario is not unrealistic – arguably, no combination of “alternatives” to fossil fuels (which are themselves generally highly fossil fuel dependent), is likely to provide useful energy on the same _scale_. Note also that the number of BTUs contained in principle in some yet-to-be-used-up energy resource – whether this be the quantity of sunlight hitting the earth, or of uranium in seawater, or of oil-in-place underground – is _never_ the relevant number. What is relevant is the _rates_ they can be extracted or produced, utilizing available technology and resources, _at an energy profit_.

    So in thinking about the probabilities of relatively long-lived industrial civilizations on other worlds, we might consider our own potential to have taken a different path. Say one that voluntarily self-imposed a global plateau of fossil fuel use in 1905, say, or even 1945. Doing so would have greatly extended the length of the fossil fuel window. Industrialization would have already reached the point that had begun (among other things) to provide the infrastructure for advanced experimental research. Perhaps society might have wisely concluded that it was not a good idea to become dependent on exhaustible resources, particularly for food production and distribution, and so explicitly adopted a list of legitimate uses of the resource (e.g. longer range storage and transportation of food for localized famine alleviation, not for customary use). This would have entailed, among other things, giving up fractional reserve banking and any other economic system requiring continued growth to avoid collapse (also measures to stop population growth). Perhaps the society could have chosen to support scientific research – with a practical view toward ultimately replacing fossil fuels at levels of use always below life-and-death dependence – or even in recognition of the value of scientific culture itself – including the fact that a cultural products (including scientific knowledge) can be much more widely distributed at a much lower cost in terms of sustainability than can the material products of our present civilization.

    How likely is such an outcome? Whether they are one-in-a hundred or one-in-a-million, I don’t know. But those interested in SETI need to be thinking not only about the length of time it takes an advanced civilization to evolve, but also the likelihood that such such civilizations are very short-lived.

  6. Torbjörn Larsson, OM says:

    “no combination of “alternatives” to fossil fuels (which are themselves generally highly fossil fuel dependent), is likely to provide useful energy on the same _scale_”

    That remains to be proven. AFAIU ilooks like they can, but at a higher cost.

    Other points not touched on in the analysis are the population size (which, in our case, is likely to start decreasing soon) and continuing efficiency improvements inherent in developing economies.

  7. Curtis says:

    I was sitting next to the guy that the ceiling tile landed on. It hit his right shoulder; I was to the left. It just about startled me out of my skin. I’m glad the “H— S—!” I exclaimed didn’t make it into the episode’s audio! :D

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