Folie a Plusieurs

By design, both agents were shrouded in darkness. I could see their silhouettes, the army-like crew cut, the wire-rimmed glasses, the more senior agent’s hearing aid. Their hands rested, lifeless and stolid, on the plain wooden conference table that separated us. They were waiting for my response, immobile, patient, pent up aggression in check, heads slightly bowed. The overhead neon lights crackled and fizzled ominously but otherwise the room was soundproof and windowless. I was led there via a bank of elevators and a series of elaborate Escher-like staircases. By now, I was utterly disoriented.

“Shared Psychotic Disorder is not a new diagnosis.” – I explained again – “For a long time it was known as ‘Folie a Deux'”.

The younger agent shifted ever so imperceptibly on his plastic chair but said nothing. His colleague repeated his question, wearily, as though accustomed to interrogating the densest of people:

“But can it affect more than one person?”

“Yes, it can. The literature contains cases of three, four, and more individuals consumed by shared delusional beliefs and even hallucinations.” – I raised my palm, forestalling his next attempt to interject:

“But – and that’s a big but – the people who partake in common psychotic delusions are all intimately involved with each other: they share living quarters, they are members of the same family, or sect, or organization. To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever documented an occurrence of shared psychosis among totally unrelated strangers.”

This caveat evidently got the young agent’s attention. He perked up, straightened his posture, and addressed me for the first time:

“Then what is mass psychosis?”

“A myth,” – I said – “assiduously cultivated by an eyeball-hungry media.”

The senior member of the team chuckled softly:

“C’mon, doctor. Thousands of people claim to see the Virgin Mary or a UFO at the same time – that’s not psychotic?”

“It’s a momentary delusion, alright, but it is far from psychosis.”

“Can you help us tell the difference?” – The young one was evidently losing patience with the whole exercise.

“I would be able to help you better if you were to tell me what this is all about.”

“We can’t.” – snapped the younger, not bothering to hide his exasperation – “Just answer our questions, will you?”

The older of the two laid a calming hand on the forearm of his impetuous partner:

“Doctor,” – his voice was appropriately a resonating baritone – “you have to believe us that it is a matter of utmost importance to our national security. That’s all we are authorized to divulge at this stage of the proceedings.”

I sighed:

“Have it your way, then. A delusional belief is not the same as a momentary hallucination. People who claim to have seen the Virgin Mary or a UFO, have typically reverted to their normal lives afterwards. The incidents left a very small psychological footprint on the witnesses. Not so with a shared psychotic disorder. Those affected structure their entire existence around their inane convictions.”

“Can you give us some examples?”

“Sure I can. There are hundreds if not thousands of cases meticulously documented ever since the 19th century. Some patients became convinced that their homes were being infiltrated by aliens or foreign powers. An unfortunate couple was so afraid of hostile electromagnetic radiation that they converted their apartment into a Faraday Cage: they sealed it hermetically at an enormous expense and took out all the windows and interconnecting doors. They claimed that the radiation was intended to dehydrate them by inducing diarrhea and to starve them through chronic indigestion.”

The young agent whistled and the older one emitted one of his soft laughs.

“In another instance, an entire family took on enormous credits, sold their house, and quit their jobs because they delusionally talked themselves into believing that one of the sons was about to sign a multi-million dollar contract with a Hollywood studio. They even hired engineers and architects to lay out plans for a new mansion, replete with a swimming pool.”

The young one could no longer hide his mirth.

“Of course, there’s the run-of-the mill paranoid, persecutory delusions about how the FBI, or CIA, or NSA, take your pick, are tapping the family phone, or shadowing its members as they go innocently about their business.”

“Why would anyone believe such crap?” – Asked the senior one.

“Because the source of the delusional belief, the person who invents it and then imposes it on others, is perceived to be authoritative and superior in intelligence, or in social standing, or to have access to privileged information.”

They exchanged glances and then:

“So, it’s like a cult? A guru and his followers?”

“Exactly. The primary case – the originally delusional person – does his or her best to keep the others in relative seclusion and social isolation. That way, he monopolizes the flow of information and opinions. He filters all the incoming data and blocks anything which might interfere, upset, or contradict the delusional content. The primary case become sort of a gatekeeper.”

They whispered to each other, nodding and shaking their penumbral heads vigorously, but never gesticulating with their hands. Then, following the briefest of silences, the older agent said:

“What if a delusional belief were shared by all the inhabitants of the planet, by everyone, everywhere, almost without exception?”

“Such a delusional belief would be indistinguishable from reality.” – I answered – “In such a world, who would be able to demonstrate the delusion’s true character and to refute it or replace it by something real and viable? Luckily, it is impossible to engineer such a situation.”

“Why so?”

“To create a long-lasting, all-pervasive, credible, and influential delusional belief on a global scale, one would need to recruit a source of unimpeachable authority and to force all the media in the world to collaborate in disseminating his or her psychotic content across continents and seas. Even in this day and age, such an undertaking would prove to be formidable and, in my opinion, face insurmountable psychological, not to mention logistical, obstacles.”

The younger agent tilted his chair backward on its hind legs:

“So, even if people witness the unfolding of some incredible event on television, attested to by thousands of eyewitnesses and covered by a zillion TV stations, they are still unlikely to believe it? And they are bound to persist in their disbelief when the President of the United States of America addresses the nation to confirm that the event had actually taken place?”

“That’s not the same thing.” – I explained, as patiently as I could. This cryptic and one-sided exchange was beginning to unnerve me – “An event that unfolds in real time on television and is witnessed by thousands of people on the ground is real, it is not a delusion.”

“You are contradicting yourself,” – the senior agent rebuked me gently – “As you have acknowledged earlier, crowds composed of thousands of individuals claimed to have seen UFOs or the Virgin Mary but their testimonies render neither apparition real. This is the mass psychosis that my colleague here had mentioned earlier. You objected to the term, but whatever you want to call it, the phenomenon exists: large groups of people see and hear and smell and touch things that simply aren’t there. It happens all the time.”

“Mass hallucinations do happen.” – I conceded – “But, I have never seen UFOs or the Virgin Mary on television.”

“That’s because you aren’t watching the right channels,” – grinned the younger one – “Television is a medium that is very easy to manipulate: special effects, stunts, old footage, montage, that sort of thing. Haven’t you heard of the urban myth that the whole so-called landing on the moon took place in a television studio out in the desert in Arizona or New-Mexico? It’s easy enough to imagine.”

I shrugged and straightened in my chair:

“OK, you got me there. If someone with enough resources and authority was hell-bent on staging such a lightshow, he or she could get away with it: witnesses are gullible and prone to auto-suggestion and, as you said, television images are easy to doctor, especially in this digital era.”

They remained seated, rigid and staring with hollow, shadowy eyes at me.

I rose from my seat and said:

“Gentlemen, if there is nothing else you need, I should really be on my way. I hope I have been of some …”

“You have an office in New-York?” – The senior member of the team interrupted me.

I faltered:

“Yes … I … That is, my university … I serve as a consultant to the venture capital arm of my alma mater. They let me use a cubicle in the premises of their New-York subsidiary in the Twin Towers. I am actually flying there tomorrow morning. We have an annual meeting of the Board of Trustees every September 11. Why?”

They both ignored my question and kept staring ahead. Finally, the older agent exhaled and I was startled by the realization that he has been holding his breath for so long:

“Thank you for coming, doctor. I am sorry that this meeting could not have been as instructive for you as it has proved to be for us. May I just remind you again that you have signed a non-disclosure agreement with this agency. Our conversation is an official secret and divulging its contents may be construed as treason in a time of war.”

“War? What war?” – I giggled nervously.

They stood up and opened the door for me, remaining in the shaded part of the room:

“Goodbye, doctor, and Godspeed. Have a safe flight tomorrow.”

Sam Vaknin

Back to Table of Contents

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Poetry of Healing and Abuse

Journal of a Narcissist

Malignant Self Love Narcissism Revisited

After the Rain How the West Lost the East

A World in Conflict and Transition

 

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The Merits of Inflation

Introduction

In a series of speeches designed to defend his record, Alan Greenspan, until recently an icon of both the new economy and stock exchange effervescence, reiterated the orthodoxy of central banking everywhere. His job, he repeated disingenuously, was confined to taming prices and ensuring monetary stability. He could not and, indeed, would not second guess the market. He consistently sidestepped the thorny issues of just how destabilizing to the economy the bursting of asset bubbles is and how his policies may have contributed to the froth.

Greenspan and his ilk seem to be fighting yesteryear’s war against a long-slain monster. The obsession with price stability led to policy excesses and disinflation gave way to deflation – arguably an economic ill far more pernicious than inflation. Deflation coupled with negative savings and monstrous debt burdens can lead to prolonged periods of zero or negative growth. Moreover, in the zealous crusade waged globally against fiscal and monetary expansion – the merits and benefits of inflation have often been overlooked.

As economists are wont to point out time and again, inflation is not the inevitable outcome of growth. It merely reflects the output gap between actual and potential GDP. As long as the gap is negative – i.e., whilst the economy is drowning in spare capacity – inflation lies dormant. The gap widens if growth is anemic and below the economy’s potential. Thus, growth can actually be accompanied by deflation.

Indeed, it is arguable whether inflation was subdued – in America as elsewhere – by the farsighted policies of central bankers. A better explanation might be overcapacity – both domestic and global – wrought by decades of inflation which distorted investment decisions. Excess capacity coupled with increasing competition, globalization, privatization, and deregulation – led to ferocious price wars and to consistently declining prices.

Quoted by “The Economist”, Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein noted that America’s industry is already in the throes of deflation. The implicit price deflator of the non-financial business sector has been -0.6 percent in the year to the end of the second quarter of 2002. Germany faces the same predicament. As oil prices surge, their inflationary shock will give way to a deflationary and recessionary aftershock.

Depending on one’s point of view, this is a self-reinforcing virtuous – or vicious cycle. Consumers learn to expect lower prices – i.e., inflationary expectations fall and, with them, inflation itself. The intervention of central banks only hastened the process and now it threatens to render benign structural disinflation – malignantly deflationary.

Should the USA reflate its way out of either an impending double dip recession or deflationary anodyne growth?

It is universally accepted that inflation leads to the misallocation of economic resources by distorting the price signal. Confronted with a general rise in prices, people get confused. They are not sure whether to attribute the surging prices to a real spurt in demand, to speculation, inflation, or what. They often make the wrong decisions.

They postpone investments – or over-invest and embark on preemptive buying sprees. As Erica Groshen and Mark Schweitzer have demonstrated in an NBER working paper titled “Identifying inflation’s grease and sand effects in the labour market”, employers – unable to predict tomorrow’s wages – hire less.

Still, the late preeminent economist James Tobin went as far as calling inflation “the grease on the wheels of the economy”. What rate of inflation is desirable? The answer is: it depends on whom you ask. The European Central Bank maintains an annual target of 2 percent. Other central banks – the Bank of England, for instance – proffer an “inflation band” of between 1.5 and 2.5 percent. The Fed has been known to tolerate inflation rates of 3-4 percent.

These disparities among essentially similar economies reflect pervasive disagreements over what is being quantified by the rate of inflation and when and how it should be managed.

The sin committed by most central banks is their lack of symmetry. They signal visceral aversion to inflation – but ignore the risk of deflation altogether. As inflation subsides, disinflation seamlessly fades into deflation. People – accustomed to the deflationary bias of central banks – expect prices to continue to fall. They defer consumption. This leads to inextricable and all-pervasive recessions.

The Measurement of Inflation

Inflation rates – as measured by price indices – fail to capture important economic realities. As the Boskin commission revealed in 1996, some products are transformed by innovative technology even as their prices decline or remain stable. Such upheavals are not encapsulated by the rigid categories of the questionnaires used by bureaus of statistics the world over to compile price data. Cellular phones, for instance, were not part of the consumption basket underlying the CPI in America as late as 1998. The consumer price index in the USA may be overstated by one percentage point year in and year out, was the startling conclusion in the commission’s report.

Current inflation measures neglect to take into account whole classes of prices – for instance, tradable securities. Wages – the price of labor – are left out. The price of money – interest rates – is excluded. Even if these were to be included, the way inflation is defined and measured today, they would have been grossly misrepresented.

Consider a deflationary environment in which stagnant wages and zero interest rates can still have a – negative or positive – inflationary effect. In real terms, in deflation, both wages and interest rates increase relentlessly even if they stay put. Yet it is hard to incorporate this “downward stickiness” in present-day inflation measures.

The methodology of computing inflation obscures many of the “quantum effects” in the borderline between inflation and deflation. Thus, as pointed out by George Akerloff, William Dickens, and George Perry in “The Macroeconomics of Low Inflation” (Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, 1996), inflation allows employers to cut real wages.

Workers may agree to a 2 percent pay rise in an economy with 3 percent inflation. They are unlikely to accept a pay cut even when inflation is zero or less. This is called the “money illusion”. Admittedly, it is less pronounced when compensation is linked to performance. Thus, according to “The Economist”, Japanese wages – with a backdrop of rampant deflation – shrank 5.6 percent in the year to July as company bonuses were brutally slashed.

Friction Inflation

Economists in a November 2000 conference organized by the ECB argued that a continent-wide inflation rate of 0-2 percent would increase structural unemployment in Europe’s arthritic labour markets by a staggering 2-4 percentage points. Akerloff-Dickens-Perry concurred in the aforementioned paper. At zero inflation, unemployment in America would go up, in the long run, by 2.6 percentage points. This adverse effect can, of course, be offset by productivity gains, as has been the case in the USA throughout the 1990’s.

The new consensus is that the price for a substantial decrease in unemployment need not be a sizable rise in inflation. The level of employment at which inflation does not accelerate – the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment or NAIRU – is susceptible to government policies.

Vanishingly low inflation – bordering on deflation – also results in a “liquidity trap”. The nominal interest rate cannot go below zero. But what matters are real – inflation adjusted – interest rates. If inflation is naught or less – the authorities are unable to stimulate the economy by reducing interest rates below the level of inflation.

This has been the case in Japan in the last few years and is now emerging as a problem in the USA. The Fed – having cut rates 11 times in the past 14 months and unless it is willing to expand the money supply aggressively – may be at the end of its monetary tether. The Bank of Japan has recently resorted to unvarnished and assertive monetary expansion in line with what Paul Krugman calls “credible promise to be irresponsible”.

This may have led to the sharp devaluation of the yen in recent months. Inflation is exported through the domestic currency’s depreciation and the lower prices of export goods and services. Inflation thus indirectly enhances exports and helps close yawning gaps in the current account. The USA with its unsustainable trade deficit and resurgent budget deficit could use some of this medicine.

But the upshots of inflation are fiscal, not merely monetary. In countries devoid of inflation accounting, nominal gains are fully taxed – though they reflect the rise in the general price level rather than any growth in income. Even where inflation accounting is introduced, inflationary profits are taxed.

Thus inflation increases the state’s revenues while eroding the real value of its debts, obligations, and expenditures denominated in local currency. Inflation acts as a tax and is fiscally corrective – but without the recessionary and deflationary effects of a “real” tax.

The outcomes of inflation, ironically, resemble the economic recipe of the “Washington consensus” propagated by the likes of the rabidly anti-inflationary IMF. As a long term policy, inflation is unsustainable and would lead to cataclysmic effects. But, in the short run, as a “shock absorber” and “automatic stabilizer”, low inflation may be a valuable counter-cyclical instrument.

Inflation also improves the lot of corporate – and individual – borrowers by increasing their earnings and marginally eroding the value of their debts (and savings). It constitutes a disincentive to save and an incentive to borrow, to consume, and, alas, to speculate. “The Economist” called it “a splendid way to transfer wealth from savers to borrowers.”

The connection between inflation and asset bubbles is unclear. On the one hand, some of the greatest fizz in history occurred during periods of disinflation. One is reminded of the global boom in technology shares and real estate in the 1990’s. On the other hand, soaring inflation forces people to resort to hedges such as gold and realty, inflating their prices in the process. Inflation – coupled with low or negative interest rates – also tends to exacerbate perilous imbalances by encouraging excess borrowing, for instance.

Still, the absolute level of inflation may be less important than its volatility. Inflation targeting – the latest fad among central bankers – aims to curb inflationary expectations by implementing a consistent and credible anti-inflationary as well as anti-deflationary policy administered by a trusted and impartial institution, the central bank.

Miscalculating Inflation

The most accurate yardstick of inflation is the GDP deflator (which includes the prices of capital goods and export and import prices). Regrettably, it is rarely used or mentioned in public.

The Consumer Price Index is not the same as the Living Expenditures Index.

The Living Expenditures Index measures the changes in the prices of the SAME products in a given period of time.

The Consumer Price Index measures the changes in the prices of products bought during a period of time, even if they are NOT the same products (in other words, even with changed consumption habits).

In other words:

The Consumer Price Index reflects the purchasing habits of the households which participate in the surveys.

This means that the measured level of inflation can be manipulated for political reasons by:

1. Changing the composition of the consumption “basket” (deciding the prices of which products and services will be included and what will be omitted)

2. Altering the weights (weight coefficients) of the various products and services within the consumption basket.

3. There is no agreed methodology on how to properly measure the service component in the economy (including government and public goods, rents, and barter or countertrade transactions). Choosing the “right” methodology can have a negative or positive effect on the level of measured inflation.

4. Including or excluding certain retail and shopping venues (such as e-commerce, catalog sales, open air markets, garage sales, and so on).

5. Constructing a non-representative sample of households for the survey by overemphasizing certain locales (e.g., urban, or West vs. east, North vs. South), certain socio-economic classes (e.g., the middle-class), or certain demographics (e.g., minimizing the roles of seniors and teenagers).

6. Exaggerating or minimizing the role of the informal (grey or black) economy.

SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and the Aliens Conundrum

I. The Six Arguments against SETI

The various projects that comprise the 45-years old Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) raise two important issues:

(1) do Aliens exist and

(2) can we communicate with them.

If they do and we can, how come we never encountered an extraterrestrial, let alone spoken to or corresponded with one?

There are six basic explanations to this apparent conundrum and they are not mutually exclusive:

(1) That Aliens do not exist – click HERE to read the response

(2) That the technology they use is far too advanced to be detected by us and, the flip side of this hypothesis, that the technology we us is insufficiently advanced to be noticed by them – click HERE to read the response

(3) That we are looking for extraterrestrials at the wrong places – click HERE to read the response

(4) That the Aliens are life forms so different to us that we fail to recognize them as sentient beings or to communicate with them – click HERE to read the response

(5) That Aliens are trying to communicate with us but constantly fail due to a variety of hindrances, some structural and some circumstantial – click HERE to read the response

(6) That they are avoiding us because of our misconduct (example: the alleged destruction of the environment) or because of our traits (for instance, our innate belligerence) or because of ethical considerations – click HERE to read the response


Argument Number 1: Aliens do not exist (the Fermi Principle)

The assumption that life has arisen only on Earth is both counterintuitive and unlikely. Rather, it is highly probable that life is an extensive parameter of the Universe. In other words, that it is as pervasive and ubiquitous as are other generative phenomena, such as star formation.

This does not mean that extraterrestrial life and life on Earth are necessarily similar. Environmental determinism and the panspermia hypothesis are far from proven. There is no guarantee that we are not unique, as per the Rare Earth hypothesis. But the likelihood of finding life in one form or another elsewhere and everywhere in the Universe is high.

The widely-accepted mediocrity principle (Earth is a typical planet) and its reification, the controversial Drake (or Sagan) Equation usually predicts the existence of thousands of Alien civilizations – though only a vanishingly small fraction of these are likely to communicate with us.

But, if this is true, to quote Italian-American physicist Enrico Fermi: “where are they?”. Fermi postulated that ubiquitous technologically advanced civilizations should be detectable – yet they are not! (The Fermi Paradox).

This paucity of observational evidence may be owing to the fact that our galaxy is old. In ten billion years of its existence, the majority of Alien races are likely to have simply died out or been extinguished by various cataclysmic events. Or maybe older and presumably wiser races are not as bent as we are on acquiring colonies. Remote exploration may have supplanted material probes and physical visits to wild locales such as Earth.

Aliens exist on our very planet. The minds of newborn babies and of animals are as inaccessible to us as would be the minds of little green men and antenna-wielding adductors. Moreover, as we demonstrated in the previous chapter, even adult human beings from the same cultural background are as aliens to one another. Language is an inadequate and blunt instrument when it comes to communicating our inner worlds.

Argument Number 2: Their technology is too advanced

If Aliens really want to communicate with us, why would they use technologies that are incompatible with our level of technological progress? When we discover primitive tribes in the Amazon, do we communicate with them via e-mail or video conferencing – or do we strive to learn their language and modes of communication and emulate them to the best of our ability?

Of course there is always the possibility that we are as far removed from Alien species as ants are from us. We do not attempt to interface with insects. If the gap between us and Alien races in the galaxy is too wide, they are unlikely to want to communicate with us at all.

Argument Number 3: We are looking in all the wrong places

If life is, indeed, a defining feature (an extensive property) of our Universe, it should be anisotropically, symmetrically, and equally distributed throughout the vast expanse of space. In other words, never mind where we turn our scientific instruments, we should be able to detect life or traces of life.

Still, technological and budgetary constraints have served to dramatically narrow the scope of the search for intelligent transmissions. Vast swathes of the sky have been omitted from the research agenda as have been many spectrum frequencies. SETI scientists assume that Alien species are as concerned with efficiency as we are and, therefore, unlikely to use certain wasteful methods and frequencies to communicate with us. This assumption of interstellar scarcity is, of course, dubious.

Argument Number 4: Aliens are too alien to be recognized

Carbon-based life forms may be an aberration or the rule, no one knows. The diversionist and convergionist schools of evolution are equally speculative as are the basic assumptions of both astrobiology and xenobiology. The rest of the universe may be populated with silicon, or nitrogen-phosphorus based races or with information-waves or contain numerous, non-interacting “shadow biospheres”.

Recent discoveries of extremophile unicellular organisms lend credence to the belief that life can exist almost under any circumstances and in all conditions and that the range of planetary habitability is much larger than thought.

But whatever their chemical composition, most Alien species are likely to be sentient and intelligent. Intelligence is bound to be the great equalizer and the Universal Translator in our Universe. We may fail to recognize certain extragalactic races as life-forms but we are unlikely to mistake their intelligence for a naturally occurring phenomenon. We are equipped to know other sentient intelligent species regardless of how advanced and different they are – and they are equally fitted to acknowledge us as such.

Argument Number 5: We are failing to communicate with Aliens

The hidden assumption underlying CETI/METI (Communication with ETI/Messaging to ETI) is that Aliens, like humans, are inclined to communicate. This may be untrue. The propensity for interpersonal communication (let alone the inter-species variety) may not be universal. Additionally, Aliens may not possess the same sense organs that we do (eyes) and may not be acquainted with our mathematics and geometry. Reality can be successfully described and captured by alternative mathematical systems and geometries.

Additionally, we often confuse complexity or orderliness with artificiality. As the example of quasars teaches us, not all regular or constant or strong or complex signals are artificial. Even the very use of language may be a uniquely human phenomenon – though most xenolinguists contest such exclusivity.

Moreover, as Wittgenstein observed, language is an essentially private affair: if a lion were to suddenly speak, we would not  have understood it. Modern verificationist and referentialist linguistic theories seek to isolate the universals of language, so as to render all languages capable of translation – but they are still a long way off. Clarke’s Third Law says that Alien civilizations well in advance of humanity may be deploying investigative methods and communicating in dialects undetectable even in principle by humans.

Argument Number 6: They are avoiding us

Advanced Alien civilizations may have found ways to circumvent the upper limit of the speed of light (for instance, by using wormholes). If they have and if UFO sightings are mere hoaxes and bunk (as is widely believed by most scientists), then we are back to Fermi’s “where are they”.

One possible answer is they are avoiding us because of our misconduct (example: the alleged destruction of the environment) or because of our traits (for instance, our innate belligerence). Or maybe the Earth is a galactic wildlife reserve or a zoo or a laboratory (the Zoo hypothesis) and the Aliens do not wish to contaminate us or subvert our natural development. This falsely assumes that all Alien civilizations operate in unison and under a single code (the Uniformity of Motive fallacy).

But how would they know to avoid contact with us? How would they know of our misdeeds and bad character?

Our earliest radio signals have traversed no more than 130 light years omnidirectionally. Out television emissions are even closer to home. What other source of information could Aliens have except our own self-incriminating transmissions? None. In other words, it is extremely unlikely that our reputation precedes us. Luckily for us, we are virtual unknowns.

As early as 1960, the implications of an encounter with an ETI were clear:

“Evidences of its existence might also be found in artifacts left on the moon or other planets. The consequences for attitudes and values are unpredictable, but would vary profoundly in different cultures and between groups within complex societies; a crucial factor would be the nature of the communication between us and the other beings. Whether or not earth would be inspired to an all-out space effort by such a discovery is moot: societies sure of their own place in the universe have disintegrated when confronted by a superior society, and others have survived even though changed. Clearly, the better we can come to understand the factors involved in responding to such crises the better prepared we may be.”

(Brookins Institute – Proposed Studies on the Implications of Peaceful Space Activities for Human Affairs, 1960)

Perhaps we should not be looking forward to the First Encounter. It may also be our last.


Also Read:

The Science of Superstitions

Anthropic Agents and the Increase of Entropy (Abstract Only)

The Complexity of Simplicity

And Technical Note about Ambiguity and Vagueness

The Basic Dilemma of the Artist

Turing Machines and Universes

The Fourth Law (of Robotics) – Part I

The Chinese Room Revisited

On Empathy

Born Aliens

The Manifold of Sense

A Classification of Cultures

Surpassing Man – An Epistolary Dialogue

Eugenics and the Future of the Human Species

Bestowed Existence

Being John Malkovich

The Shattered Identity

The Matrix