"Hubble Ultra Deep Field" by NASA and the European Space Agency / Public Domain

To find intelligent alien life, humans may need to start thinking like an extraterrestrial

Jan 22, 2020

By Adam Mann

Our hunt for aliens has a potentially fatal flaw — we’re the ones searching for them.

That’s a problem because we’re a unique species, and alien-seeking scientists are an even stranger and more specialized bunch. As a result, their all-too human assumptions may get in the way of their alien-listening endeavors. To get around this, the Breakthrough Listen project, a $100-million initiative scouring the cosmos for signals of otherworldly beings as part of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), is asking anthropologists to help unmask some of these biases.

“It’s kind of a joke at Breakthrough Listen,” Claire Webb, an anthropology and history of science student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said here on Jan. 8 at the 235th meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Honolulu. “They tell me: ‘We’re studying aliens, and you’re studying us.'”

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One comment on “To find intelligent alien life, humans may need to start thinking like an extraterrestrial”

  • –great piece!

    “It’s the idea that, as your technology develops, so does your sense of ethics and morality,” she said. “And I think that’s something that can be contested.”

    The US Space Force comes to mind.


    I wonder what answer they have satisfied themselves with regarding the problem of why aliens aren’t all around us?  What part of that problem don’t they find convincing?  At least some of the counters would appear worse for the search than the problem itself e.g. a multitude of developmental paths, none of which lead to intelligence like ours.

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