More on the Search for Intelligent Life

6a00d83453bcda69e201b8d28bfc40970c-500wiJustin E. H. Smith at berfrois:

It is hard to read about SETI and more recent related projects looking for intelligent life in the stars without discerning in them certain silent presuppositions about what counts or should count as intelligent life on earth. In particular, the search for intelligent extraterrestrial life is almost always taken to be the same thing as the search for technologically advanced extraterrestrial life. The search for other life that is intelligent in this respect is, in turn, almost always conceived as a search for any other intelligent life whatever, since it takes for granted that the search on earth has been exhaustive, and it has turned up no other species that are intelligent in any truly noteworthy way. The best candidates for intelligence among terrestrial species are taken to be the ones that have mastered some sort of modest technology: chimpanzees putting sticks down ant holes for example. On this scale, all other terrestrial species are bound to come in a distant second to homo sapiens. They use sticks, we use iPhones, etc., and thus no real comparison is possible.

Two considerations however compel us to question this approach to establishing a hierarchy.

First, it is not at all clear that tool-use, or a fortiori complex-tool-use, pertains to my own species essence in a significantly different way than it pertains to a chimpanzee’s species essence. If a chimpanzee and I were stranded on a desert island with only our wits to help us survive, I would not myself be able to build any tools, from available raw materials, that would be significantly more sophisticated than what the chimpanzee would come up with.

more here.