Cosmic Clickbait

Just watched and listened to a whole 2 hours plus interview of Avi Loeb by Michael Schermer, about a book I’ve not read: “Extraterrestrial

As a dialogue it’s not good, particularly in the 20 to 40 minute period, where Loeb is frustrated at Schermer’s line and talks over his new questions. Sabine Hossenfelder drew it to Twitter’s attention. In fact the latter hour is much better dialogue – did you watch the whole Sabine?

I happen to agree with Loeb on the strength of this interview alone, that it does not require extraordinary evidence to demand (funding for) more evidence. Pure hi-res photographic observation, that would provide evidence for any number of phenomena and/or theories, by simply observing interstellar debris passing locally to our solar system.

The problem being discussed (by Schermer) is two-fold:

      • One – the Galilean psychological point that observation fits existing world-views in mind. Absolutely. In fact it is part of Loeb’s position that extra-terrestrial intelligence (ETI) is taboo – ridiculed – as a potential explanation. A prejudice of humans to fit patterns to incomplete evidence – human faces and bodies in fuzzy images, etc. A given by all parties here. Also – anthropic perspectives, another taboo – the Tim Minchin song / the Anthony Hopkins story – on statistical outcomes, survivor prejudice, etc. Schermer is too naïve in citing this stuff as if sophisticated intellects don’t already get this – quite insulting to Loeb (and me).
      • Two – the real problem – the memetics of popular science book and media publishing. The book has a click-bait subtitle suggesting “evidence for” the existence of ETI, and Schermer accuses Loeb of too strongly implying that in the book – cue the media frenzy for or against such possibilities driving book sales. Loeb backs off on this, naturally, sticking to his main claim. That observation is worth funding – especially simple discriminatory hi-res visual observation, built on zero doubtful theory. If we look, we will see what we find. That doesn’t require extraordinary evidence, even if drawing potential conclusions from the eventual imperfect evidence might. The claim is a demand for more evidence.

The real issue with the second bullet is the taboo created by the first bullet that degenerately skews the search for and the interest in new science.

And, lots more whataboutery from Schermer … about convergent evolution and long-run explanations of god-like intelligence and multiverses. Too smug and self-promoting for me. Exactly as with the anthropic / teleological inevitability / pan-psychist taboos. This is my main agenda – science leading itself (and the rest of the science-led world) astray by an orthodox scientism.

I’m with Loeb. I’d fund visual observation illuminated by our solar system on a par with whacky theoretical-based endeavours like dark matter and dark energy searches. The theory of visual observation is pretty sound, without extraordinary evidence. (And I would share Loeb’s impatience with Schermer’s attempt at misdirecting the interview agenda early on.)

Sounds like intelligent readers are on-side. Here is the review from The New Statesman:

“The book is not so much a claim for one object as an argument for a more open-minded approach to science – a combination of humility and wonder”

It’s almost as if Schermer is deliberately interpreting “interstellar visitor” to necessarily be, or be a product of, an extraterrestrial intelligent being. Whereas, Loeb’s point is wouldn’t it be cool if it was, and anyway it would be really easy to observe future “visitors”, so we should. Anyone open-minded would agree.

(Sounds like an interesting autobiographical memoir included in the book, Spinozan theology and more. Might be worth a read for meta-reasons.)


[Post Note: The object Oumuamua is the subject of the original extraterrestrial speculation.]

[And click-bait closer to home:

And from the generally considered slow-news channel Tortoise.]

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