METI International—which stands for Messaging to ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence—is a new initiative founded by SETI researcher Douglas Vakoch to address how we could successfully communicate with intelligent aliens. The group held its first workshop last month in Puerto Rico, with the theme “The Intelligence of SETI: Cognition and Communication in Extraterrestrial Intelligence,” and quite a few interesting and controversial ideas were proposed.
The workshop featured nine speakers with various backgrounds, all of whom considered the question of how human-level intelligence might evolve on other planets, and what kind of sensory and cognitive systems extraterrestrials might exhibit.
Anna Dornhaus, a biologist and expert on social insects at the University of Arizona, and Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychologist from the University of New Mexico, suggested that natural selection is not sufficient to explain the evolution of intelligence, but that sexual selection is the deciding factor. That sounds odd, because in the female-choice system that characterizes most human societies, sexual attraction seems to be based more on the male’s strength and resources than on intelligence. This idea is nicely parodied in the future-based comedy Idiocracy.
Sheri Wells-Jensen, a linguist at Bowling Green State University who also happens to be blind, put forward the idea that we overemphasize vision, and that other modes of perception may be much more useful on other planets. In that case, intelligent extraterrestrials might not perceive our optical or even radio signals. Personally, I don’t find this convincing, because nearly every lifeform on the surface of Earth, where the more complex and intelligent organisms live, has vision. And by far most of the biomass is dependent on electromagnetic light waves, which are used for photosynthesis.To read more, click here.