Since the first SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) observations in the 1960s, there have been scientists studying the possibility of life beyond Earth who have little or no formal training in astronomy, physics, or engineering. These are social scientists, with backgrounds in fields such as anthropology, political science, and psychology.
Archeologists may draw on the insights they have gained about extinct human civilizations that now exist only in the writings and artifacts they have left behind. They know that it can be hard to decode languages from these past civilizations, as evidenced by the decades-long process of deciphering ancient Maya hieroglyphs, so we should expect it to be hard to decode messages from extraterrestrials.
Psychologists and sociologists sometimes use surveys in their work with SETI, to help them understand people?s attitudes about life beyond Earth. In the process, these scientists gain clues about how people might react if some day we actually discover extraterrestrial intelligence.
They recently posted an internet survey about human attitudes toward extraterrestrial life. Many of the people who answered the test questions (listed below) were puzzled by the fact that most of them had nothing to do with extraterrestrials, such as, ?A square has five sides (agree or disagree).?
Also, when looking at questions like ?Two plus two equals four (agree or disagree),? the correct answers seem obvious. These questions were deliberately included to identify the people who paid attention to the survey, and didn?t just answer randomly or attempt to sabotage the survey by providing nonsense responses.
SETI received responses from over 3,000 people during the first day and a half that the survey was posted on www.space.com. Many people who filled out the survey commented that some of the items that seemed strange. But even the questions that seemed obvious to some people were given the wrong answers by others.
Each question was followed by 6 boxes to check, ranging from ?completely agree? to ?completely disagree.? How would you have answered?
1. Sometimes I really enjoy a good cup of coffee.2. I feel all alone these days.3. A square has five sides.4. If some day we receive a message from extraterrestrials, the message would probably help us solve some of our economic problems. 5. I often feel discriminated against.6. My whole world feels like it?s falling apart.7. I wish I were somebody important.8. It?s hard for me to tell just what is right and wrong these days.9. The person completing this survey is female.10. I don't like to live by society?s rules. 11. I?ll never find the right person to care enough about me.
?For the remaining statements, imagine that we have received a radio signal with a message from intelligent life in outer space. For each of the following statements, assume that a message from extraterrestrials (ETs) has already been received.?
12. ETs are probably looking for planets they can take over for themselves.13. We should not reply to the message from ETs because they might be hostile.14. ETs would probably look at humans like we are nothing more than animals that belong in their zoos.15. Humans would probably not be able to understand the message from ETs because humans and ETs are just too different.16. If we reply to the message from ETs, they might come to Earth and take over our world.17. Two plus two equals four.18. We should not believe what the message says, because the ETs may be lying.19. ETs would probably want to make humans their slaves.20. The message from ETs may contain a hidden message that could be harmful to humans.
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