The scientific search for extra-terrestrial civilization is currently centred around the belief that we may be able to pick up radio emissions, coming from distant planets of a similar technological level to our own (at the time their transmissions were emitted into space). While there is growing talk of expanding the protocol to include a search for extraterrestrial artefacts or ‘technosignatures’ this is yet to become standard practice for SETI scientists (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence).
Suffice to say that I believe there is an urgent need to move beyond the reliance upon a small team at SETI and with the narrow focus upon radio waves, fortunately there are also some heavy weight scientists vocally arguing for this type of adaptation.
“I think we need to get away from the idea of leaving this [search for advanced ET civilizations] to a small and heroic band of radio astronomers and try and spread the burden across the entire scientific community. I think all the sciences can contribute, and I’ll give you some examples.” – Professor Paul Davies, Australian Centre for Astrobiology at Macquarie University
The Blind Man’s Search for ET
Before going further with any discussion of the possible alternatives to the current SETI program, let me just delve a little into why a radio wave focussed search is so unlikely to bring us evidence of advanced beings out there in space.
The first consideration is that radio waves emitted from a planet would have a limited duration before attenuation and dispersion makes them incredibly difficult to detect. Secondly there is a need for any signal to be heading in our direction, and we must assume even if a civilization happens to use radio waves it is likely it is only for a century or two before they upgrade. These factors make the odds of winning the lottery highly enviable in comparison to such a detection event.
Further to the technical issues with SETI, a paper published in the journal Acta Astronautica by the neuro-psychologists, Gabriel de la Torre and Manuel García, from the University of Cádiz, argues that the preoccupation with extraterrestrial radio signals might be a complete distraction from the more likely phenomena associated with advanced alien life. It is their opinion that rather than radio signals, alien intelligence may be manifesting themselves in dimensions that typically escape our perception, perhaps through quantum phenomena, higher dimensional physics or even dark energy.
The psychologists from the University of Cádiz ran a series of experiments to better understand the way in which perception is limited by personal cognition and expectations. The finding of the trials produced a startling result, not only were half of the 137 participants unable to notice an erroneous inclusion in an image of a barren planetary landscape, but it was those with the logical thinking common to academics who fared the worst.
“In addition, our surprise was greater, since before doing the test to see the inattentional blindness, we assessed the participants with a series of questions to determine their cognitive style—whether they were more intuitive or rational—and it turned out that the intuitive individuals identified the gorilla in our photo more often than those more rational and methodical subjects,” explained De la Torre.
In short summary, a team of right brained scientists squarely focussed on the detection of artificial radio signals may be the LEAST LIKELY avenue through which humanity will detect alien civilizations. Let’s now hear again from Prof Paul Davies on some of the possible alternatives to radio waves he would like to see considered, including potential traces of visitors to our solar system.
Seeking ET closer to home
“What would last a hundred million years? Not much, but there are some things, like nuclear waste. Or any sort of biotechnology that has knock-on effects: If you tinkered with genomes a hundred million years ago, the traces of that would still be with us today. Or any large-scale quarrying: If you chopped up an asteroid in a very distinctive way, that’d still be orbiting.”
While it is fair to say ‘techno-signatures’ such as traces of mining and nuclear waste deserve more than a mere footnote here, it is the suggestion that aliens may have tinkered with the genomes of organisms on Earth that we will explore here. Prof Davies has himself stated many times in various publications that he has an attraction to the idea extraterrestrials may have left us a type of ‘message in a bottle’ through encoding a ‘we were here’ type signature in our DNA. Where I differ from the good professor is that he simply considers this a remote possibility, though well worth exploring, while I consider it to be a fact and demonstrable by existing evidence.
OK so right about now you will might be slowly sliding the cursor towards the exit button in fear of an inane woo-filled rant. Surely, if the leading lights in astrophysics, astrobiology and astronomy have not found an extraterrestrial genetic signature then an information technology professional with no lab and zero funding would have no chance!
The important differences between the relevant academics and myself are threefold. Firstly, I am highly intuitive (remember that University of Cádiz study), secondly, I am actively looking at the genetic data for anomalies, and finally, I have had some external assistance from parties with insider
Fingerprints of the gods
The signature for genetic engineering of our hominin ancestors is a complex subject, this is because there is not one single change that was carried out but quite a considerable number of modifications to different parts of the genome. This article is intended to highlight some of the strongest evidence of this alien ingression, it is not the right place to discuss the full list of alterations. Let us then highlight the most important modification of them all, and no it is not the fusion of chromosome-2 (which is indeed part of this story). We absolutely need to talk about ‘Human Accelerated Regions’ (HARs).
If an advanced alien race visited Earth in remote prehistory and decided to modify an organism, lets specifically suggest a hominin ancestor of ours, it might be hard for us to ever detect this occurrence. The reason for the difficulty is that DNA undergoes changes, mutations, some random others through several feedback loops such as epigenetic influences. After even one million years the traces of the genetic engineering might be extremely hard to identify.
However, if the aliens wanted to leave traces of their handiwork, a calling card of sorts, they certainly could do this, but it has some specific requirements. In the event that you want a signature to remain in DNA, or a fully-fledged message, it needs to be encoded in regions of the genome that are extremely stable. The code which changes the least is generally the most important for normal functions of an organism, scientists refer to these areas as highly conserved (even ultraconserved) elements of code. It is possible for some strips of DNA letters to remain the same over millions of years.
Samuel Arbesman, PhD in computational biology, discussed the subject of potential hidden messages in our genome in an article he published back in 2015. He points out that to be relatively certain a message would be passed down to a time when life reached sufficiently high complexity that any message could be read, the modified area must be both highly conserved and essential to survival. DNA changes wipe away anything that is not useful to the organism.
The Chicken and the Chimp
What do chickens and chimpanzees have in common? To look at them, not much. Beyond the superficial
It might be easy for the reader to see all of this and miss the
“The fact that HAR1 was essentially frozen in time through hundreds of millions of years indicates that it does something very important; that it then underwent abrupt revision in humans suggests that this function was significantly modified in our lineage.” – Katherine Pollard, PhD bio-statistician at the Gladstone Institute What then could possibly bring about 18 successful modifications to such a stable region of code, in
just 6,000,000 years?
For anyone wondering what the academic view is on how known evolutionary mechanisms could bring such a radical change into being let’s refer to the discoverer who I have already quoted above,
Katherine Pollard of the Gladstone Institute.
“Statistically speaking, the probability that a highly conserved DNA sequence will change multiple times over 6 million years of evolution is close to zero…”
Close to zero
There is yet no known evolutionary mechanism or environmental forces that would bring about such changes – as we have discussed the stability of these areas is essential to a healthy organism. Even with this glaring anomaly we might be tempted to put it all down to just a strange freak event, until we learn that there are now several hundred human specific accelerated regions of DNA code identified by scientists. While the vast majority of HARs remain mysterious in function, it is understood that they tend to modify the development of the foetus and that most are not inside genes but rather the switches which control gene expression (modifying the degree of function or turning genes on and off).
The researchers involved in the study of HARs suspect that it is these anomalous variations in highly conserved regions of code which brought about the most profound differences between humans and their closest primate relatives. Astonishingly, and beyond any reasonable coincidence, more than half of the genes located near HARs are involved in brain development and function. This does not look like a random scattering of sporadic mutations, not at all. We also find evidence in the fossil record marking a sudden acceleration in the human brain size and structure at two specific points, one around 1,800,000 years ago, and a second close to 800,000 years ago.
“The way to evolve a human from a chimp-human ancestor is not to speed the ticking of the molecular clock as a whole. Rather the secret is to have rapid change occur in sites where those changes make an important difference in an organism’s functioning.” – Katherine Pollard
The study of HARs is still in its relatively early stages and there will be many more revelations to come, but one thing that seems unlikely to change is the astonishing nature of these alterations and the type of language academics are forced to use in discussing them. As our own science of genetic engineering moves forwards, we are starting to understand that it is not all about hybridization and gene splicing but inevitably about directing the expression of genes. Once we can map out and understand the DNA code which acts as the switches for genetic expression, we will be able to absolutely shape the human organism – though no doubt through inevitable terrible mistakes and horrific failings. There is no single gene for the magnificent thing which is our brain, rather there are many genes with roles to play, and to make a beneficial change of significant magnitude requires tinkering with the degree to which these genes express in our biological make-up.
With the above understanding we can look at the hundreds of anomalous