The Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project is an initiative that began in the 1970s with funding from NASA. It has evolved towards the collaboration of millions of Internet users for the processing of data from the Arecibo Observatory (Puerto Rico), where space tracking is carried out. Recently members of this project have been trying to go further and not only search for extraterrestrial signs, but also actively send messages from Earth to detect possible extraterrestrial civilizations. This is known as active SETI). Astrophysicists, such as Stephen Hawking, have already warned of the risk that this implies for humanity, since it could favor the arrival of beings with more advanced technology and dubious intentions. The ethical and sociological implications of this proposal have now been analyzed by the neuro-psychologist Gabriel G. de la Torre, professor at the University of Cádiz. He wonders:
Can such a decision be taken on behalf of the whole planet? What would happen if it was successful and ‘someone’ received our signal? Are we prepared for this type of contact?
To answer these questions, the professor sent a questionnaire to 116 American, Italian and Spanish university students. The survey assessed their knowledge of astronomy, their level of perception of the physical environment, their opinion on the place that things occupy in the cosmos, as well as religious questions — for example, “do you believe that God created the universe?” — or on the likelihood of contact with extraterrestrials.
The results, published in the journal Acta Astronautica, indicate that, as a species, humanity is still not ready for trying to actively contact a supposed extraterrestrial civilization. The reason, according to Professor de la Torre, is that “people lack knowledge and preparation.” He wrote:
This pilot study demonstrates that the knowledge of the general public of a certain education level about the cosmos and our place within it is still poor. Therefore, a cosmic awareness must be further promoted — where our mind is increasingly conscious of the global reality that surrounds us — using the best tool available to us: education. In this respect, we need a new Galileo to lead this journey.
Bottom line: Do we need a greater or different kind of awareness of the cosmos in order to receive contact from extraterrestrial civilizations? Neuro-psychologist Gabriel G. de la Torre, professor at the University of Cádiz, says he believes we do.