“Some where beyond space and time In wetter water slimier slime
There they trust there swimmeth one Who swam ere rivers were begun Immense of fishy form and mind Squamous, omnipotent and kind.”
So wrote Rupert Brooke in one remarkable burst of poetic eloquence while describing a fish’s conception of God. Scientists in their search for life in other planets as well as science fiction writers have also come out with similar conceptions regarding the “Supreme Being” as well as very advanced civilisations. Let us, therefore, examine the ideas of some researchers involved in SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence).
Since it first made its appearance in a laboratory about three decades ago the Laser—acronym, for “light amplification for stimulated emission of radiation”—has already proved to be one of the man’s most fantastic and versatile inventions. Lasers are now in use in some form or other particularly in the surgeon’s operating room and in transfer of data between orbiting satellites. In most countries, lasers have even invaded the supermarket where they are used to electronically read the coded patterns printed on packages as they come out in the checkout line.
In the movie Goldfinger, one of the most famous scenes in any of the Bond films, Sean Connery as James Bond is captured and strapped to a table, with his legs forming a “V” shape. The idea is to make the overhead industrial laser beam slice through the surface of the table toward him.
As the laser beam advances Sean Connery as James Bond utters the famous line of “Do you expect me to talk? Goldfinger replies “; no Mr. Bond I expect you to die.”
As Goldfinger is leaving the room, Bond makes Goldfinger nervous by bluffing him that MI6 knows about Operation Grand Slam. Goldfinger spares Bond’s life.
Now in the United States, one physicist is proposing what may perhaps be the most far reaching important laser application of all: as an important tool for communication with intelligent life on other planets in the cosmos. According to this physicist, it is not inconceivable that advanced aliens in other galactic systems might use the laser to beam electronic or even biological clones of their unimaginably advanced selves across space to help uplift the backward likes of us earthlings.
It would seem that our few earthly efforts at interstellar communication have till now been conducted on the wrong wavelength. From the very beginning scientists who are involved in SETI (search for extra terrestrial intelligence) have been listening as well as talking only in microwaves, because theoretically microwaves stand out most clearly against sathe background of stellar and interstellar noise. But a powerful laser which has a narrow enough beam would make such signal-to noise problems disappear.
With such an advanced system, lasers are bound to have a number of advantages over microwavesq. Lasers emit narrow beams and so they can be focused tightly and aimed out over very large distances at a very large number of precise targets – with practically no transmission loss. Secondly because they combine high frequencies with the largest possible band widths, they would be able to transmit vast amounts of information.
The question arises as to what might that band of light have to convey. The initial transmission could be something as elementary as an alert signal, a suggestion to stay tuned for the message that follows, just as a local television or radio broadcast or even a signal from a wide network sent by advanced civilisation. Because of the great band width available with laser communication, we could build more sophisticated telescopes and detection devices to capture the vast amount of information contained in the side bands of the signal.
Or the band of light may represent the efforts of an advanced civilisation to establish that most intimate of all Extra Terrestrial contacts: a meeting of cultures. Or perhaps advanced aliens may in their evolution have given up biology in favour of electronics, becoming one gigantic collective intelligence with an immense computer as its only body. Freed from the physical restraints that limit individual brain power, this gigantic megalithic machine could then use lasers to transmit instructions for its own replication on Earth seducing Earthlings as it were, into creating a sort of electronic “clone” of itself.
But then there is also the possibility that this Extra Terrestrial civilisation would have retained a romantic fondness for its original organic form. If so, such a culture could even laser- transmit “biological clones” of its members. Let us, for the sake of argument, assume that you could characterise and describe one ideal individual in such a species – everything from its genetic code to the activity of every critical memory – storage element in its brain-in about 10 raised to the power of 17 bits information. Even we Earthlings have now assembled computers capable of storing 10 raised to the power of 14 bits. So it should not be difficult to imagine an extremely advanced society that could do thousand times better. And a laser with a broad enough band width, the kind of huge laser transmitter we have mentioned earlier, could send 10 raised to the power of 17 bits in less than a year. In other words, a sufficiently advanced civilisation could via laser send us what information we needed to biosynthesise a “flesh – and -whatever” alien clone here on Earth. Such a possibility raises a fascinating question. Instead of taking place in the future couldn’t this laser cloning have also taken place already in the past. It seems likely that it could in actual fact have. An advanced intelligence could have sent out probes to millions of planets. At least a few of these might have called back stating that they have stumbled upon a promising environment with a set of molecules behaving in such and such favourable manner. Then, the advanced intelligence would have transmitted information – genetic codes, for example, or “starter chemicals” – that would catalyse these molecules into what we know as “organic life.” All this boils down to either a megalithic machine or a biological system having obtained a favourable signal from a probe it had sent out, and having wired back instructions to organise the evolution of organic life from the first stages.
Some of these ideas have already found support among leading physicists, like Freeman Dyson of the Institute of Advanced Study Science in Princeton, United States, one of the founders of Quantum Electrodynamics and an ardent SETI watcher, to whom the idea of tuning our receiving stations or telescopes to laser emissions makes sense. According to Dyson, it is definitely another probe channel we should be looking at in our search for Extra Terrestrial life. He finds the beaming of clones across space an interesting possibility, one that has been around science fiction for a long time. He feels we would have to keep an open mind without preconceptions about what an Extra Terrestrial intelligence might be up to, in trying to establish contact with other civilisations in other planets in distant galaxies.
It is not widely known that the first person who advocated the use of Lasers in search of SETI was Townes, the inventor of the Laser, who was also perhaps the only engineer to win a Nobel Prize
Some of the ideas might seem speculative and even bizarre at this stage but the very fact that scientists of the caliber of Dyson are favourably inclined towards such viewpoints should make other Researchers working on SETI think seriously about the use of Lasers in their search life on other planets.
In the meantime, a modest beginning has already been made in this field. NASA scientists succeeded in launching laser beams at a reflector the size of a paperback novel about 240,000 miles away from Earth quite a few times, during the last decade. On August 10, 2020 the scientists, in collaboration with their French colleagues announced, that they received signal back for the first time, an encouraging result that could enhance laser experiments used to study the physics of the Universe. This would incidentally collect intelligence of alien life forms.