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Ask Dr. SETI ®

Chapter 5: Sociology

No Chance for a Dialog

Dear Dr. SETI:
I read with interest your analysis of a twin Acrecibo communication system. One thing puzzles me. Although the reception of SETI signals would be very interesting, how could any two way communication be of any interest when there is likely to be a human lifetime between question and answer?

Peter, via email

The Doctor Responds:
Yes, Peter, it's true that interstellar propagation can take decades, or centuries. So think of interstellar communications not as a dialog, but rather as a series of successive monologues. Or, perhaps, not as a dialog between individuals, but rather as a dialogue between cultures. One needs to adopt the long view, and approach the enterprise from a societal perspective. The whole SETI effort is rather like the ancient fable of the old man planting a tree, even though he knows he will never sit in its shade.

With that in mind, let's go plant a tree!

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