Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Anthropology of Aliens

Anthropologist Kathryn Denning of York University Toronto was interviewed by Wired magazine on the anthropology of searching for aliens. 

Earlier on TED I watched an interesting talk by Tali Sharot titled ”optimism bias”. This was timely as it made me understand Denning’s points better. 

According to Denning we seem to be over optimistic about our expectations from space travel.

It may be tempting to mark Denning's arguments as being too pessimistic whereas they merely reflect unbiased facts about our fallacies and associated risks.

Here are some quotes from the interview that I find insightful:

If people are drawing generalizations about civilizations elsewhere in the universe that don’t even hold here on Earth, then maybe we should throw them out.
When Columbus showed up in the Americas, well, that didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans. And therefore we should similarly be worried about trying to attract the attention of an alien civilization.
NASA renamed the Mars Pathfinder lander the “Carl Sagan Memorial Station.” Any archeologist or anthropologist will tell you that one of the most effective ways of colonizing territory, at least ideologically, is through your dead.
The idea is that longevity – immortality, in fact — the future and our destiny are all up there (Space). And there’s simply no logical reason that should be the case. We have no evidence suggesting we can live anywhere for long periods of time other than on this planet. In fact, the evidence is steadily accumulating that’s it’s going to be really hard to do anything else (refers to blindness and bone loss in prolonged space trips).
Our 20th century western culture includes Christianity and beings populating the Heavens. But anthropologically speaking, SETI also could be seen as being a reaction to the collapse of traditional religion.
Full interview:

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