Frank Drake on the Voyager Record’s Ambiguity

Speaking of annoying pedantry, don’t get me started on the Drake Equation. But I do recommend reading this smallish interview from Forbes with SETI maven Frank Drake: Frank Drake On ambiguity.

I especially liked this part:

There’s another picture on the Voyager record, which in retrospect was a big mistake. It shows a woman in the grocery store buying groceries, and she’s eating some grapes. That picture was there to show where we get food and how we eat. But what we didn’t even notice was that in that same picture, on an upper shelf, there are some toy trucks. They look just like real, full-size trucks that appear in some of the other pictures. It can give the false impression that you buy baby trucks in the grocery store, and you feed them, and they grow into big trucks. That doesn’t make sense at all to us, but it could totally confuse the extraterrestrials.

Which prompted the following observation by me in Ishar:

You say, “yeah. ET’s gonna be _pissed_ when he arrives in his invasion fleet, ready to establish overlordship, and he gets on all communications frequencies, and the first thing out of his mouth is, “ATTENTION ALL TRUCKS OF PLANET EARTH! THE LIFE YOU HAVE KNOWN IS ENDED! THE NEW ORDER HAS BEGUN!”, and all the humans will be, like, snickering and shit.”


This is, after all, the thing that always cracks me up about SETI, and the Drake equation, and suchlike speculation: It always ends up being more about the limits of our own imagination than about what’s actually out there (or not).

There are indeed many more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. Even when we do our best to fill in the empty spaces, we end up being more quaint than insightful, at least with the benefit of hindsight.

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