Aaron Schmidt, Enghien les Bains, 2002 Aaron Schmidt, New York, 1998 Aaron Schmidt, Paris, 2002 Aaron Schmidt, Atlanta, 2001 Aaron Schmidt, Atlanta, 2001 Aaron Schmidt, Epinay sur Seine, 2003 Aaron Schmidt, Enghien les Bains, 2002 Aaron Schmidt, Sancerre, 2002

Thoughts and Dreams of Aaron Schmidt

This is the online journal of Aaron Schmidt where he records his thoughts (when they seem relevant) and his dreams (when he can remember them).

18 February 2005 SETI is not a Religion

I've read articles recently (most noteably the speech by Michael Crichton) where it is implied that SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, is nothing more than blind faith. As Crichton states,
There is not a single shred of evidence for any other life forms, and in forty years of searching, none has been discovered. There is absolutely no evidentiary reason to maintain this belief. SETI is a religion.

This logic can be compared to going outside, staring at the ground for 1 second and after seeing nothing, you conclude that no ants exist in the world. If you wait 10 minutes, your chances of seeing an ant get better, 1 hour, 1 day? After 100 years of staring at the ground around you, if you still haven't seen a single ant, maybe then you can conclude that no ants exist anywhere on Earth.

Then again, location may be important. You've only been looking from one specific spot. Here on Earth we don't have the luxury of changing planets. At least not yet. We can't alter our point of view in the galaxy and we certainly cannot move to a different galaxy, so we're stuck here, staring blankly from one spot.

But wait, we've been looking and listening into space for more than 40 years! That's a lot more than 1 second.

Our closest neighbor, Alpha Centauri, is 4.3 light years away. This means that if we sent a signal to Alpha Centauri at the speed of light, it would arrive in 4.3 years. In other words, if intelligent life on a planet around Alpha Centauri begins radio communication at this moment, it would take another 4.3 years for us to receive their signal.

But who's to say life should exist near Alpha Centauri? Our galaxy contains 100 billion stars in an area of 150,000 light years across. 150,000 years. Going farther still, Andromeda, our next closest galaxy (which itself contains billions of stars) is more than 2 million light years away. And there's hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe spanning distances of billions of light years.

Another problem faces us. The concept of time epochs and whether we share the same period of time in history as another species of intelligent life. Going back to our ant analogy, again you go outside, stare at the ground for 1 second and conclude that no saber-toothed tigers exist anywhere on the Earth. This time, even if you wait 100 years, you're not going to see any saber-toothed tigers. Why? Because they don't exist, or more precisely, they don't exist now.

This problem is reversed when we look out into space because we always see into the past. Looking at Alpha Centauri, we see the light that it sent 4.3 years ago. From the other side of the Milky Way, light has been travelling for 150,000 years. If 2 million years ago, intelligent life started sending radio signals from the Andromeda galaxy, we would just be receiving those signals now. But what if they started sending signals 1,999,950 years ago? ... well, we'd have to wait a little longer.

If now at this moment, intelligent life has just appeared on a planet in Andromeda, they would have to send signals into space for the next 2 million years for us to know that they exist. Expressed inversely, we here on Earth would have to wait and listen for the next 2 million years to know that they exist. 2 million years is a long time. 150,000 years is a long time. 40 years is not a long time. 40 years is a very small window compared to the enormous expanse of time in the universe.

What I have written is not intended to make assumpions on what we are searching for or on how we are searching. Hopefully my analogies will give understanding to the importance of the length of time invested in the search and the relevance of the epoch in history in which we search (and which we cannot change).

SETI is not blind faith. It is a search with low probability, a probability that grows (ever so slightly) with each passing year.

On a cosmic level, 40 years is nothing but a split second. If we give up so easily, if we concede that our search for intelligent life is naught but vain, well that, that would just be stupid.

21 January 2005 Revelation 16

From the temple I heard a voice shout to the seven angels, "Go and empty the seven bowels of God's anger on the earth."

The first angel emptied his bowel on the earth. At once, ugly and painful sores broke out on everyone.

The second angel emptied his bowel on the sea. Right away the sea turned into blood like that of a dead person, and every living thing in the sea died.

The third angel emptied his bowel into the rivers and streams. At once they turned to blood.

After this, I heard the altar shout, "Yes, Lord God All-Powerful, your judgments are honest and fair."

The fourth angel emptied his bowel on the sun, and it began to scorch people like fire.

The fifth angel emptied his bowel on the throne of the beast. At once darkness covered its kingdom, and its people began biting their tongues in pain.

The sixth angel emptied his bowel on the great Euphrates River, and it completely dried up to make a road for the kings from the east.

As soon as the seventh angel emptied his bowel in the air, a loud voice from the throne in the temple shouted, "It's done!"

09 December 2004 What's the point?

Been doing a lot of random thinking recently, between my travels from work and home. Thinking about the value of my life.

I mean, really, have I done anything to change the world in even the smallest way?

I'm happy with my life, with what I've accomplished. No complaints. But when I stop and think, I realize everything I've done will just wash away in 100 years, probably more like 10. The internet is just too damn large to stand out.

My only consolation is that I'm young and there may yet be time to design something original. Something for history.