27 Apr

Jill Tarter’s call to join the SETI search

There was a viral going around this week which inspired today’s blog.  It was a clip from a new daytime talk show by Anderson Cooper (more popularly known from Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN). 

It was about aliens.  I admit, I only watched the clips and did not see the original programming, however from what I saw it looked like a relatively balanced discussion between skeptics and believers. 

Is there a TED talk on this topic?  After all, if TED is about spreading ideas, this certainly expands greater than technological breakthroughs or philosophical discoveries, it is a very big and popular question.  Are we truly alone?

And with some luck, there is a TED talk that covers it.  The search link is here:

Quick aside: Freeman Dyson also provides a Ted Talk (much earlier, in 2003) regarding alien life as well.  It’s amazing that this talk was held over nine years ago.  Despite the fact the name is ‘let’s look for life in the outer solar system’, it starts off with a great tangent about biotechnology.  I’d continue, however each TED talk deserves its own entire blog entry so I might return to that TED talk another day.

Length: 21 minutes, 18 seconds

Jill Tarter begins the talk with a very well measured and paced introduction.  It’s understandable.  Had she begun her talk with the phrase, “We are NOT alone!” or “The X Files are real!” or “Look at dem dar stars y’all, I bet dare’s a farmyard o space critters that taste like chicken” and the collective room of eyeballs rolling back would be measurable on a microphone. 

People, like to be skeptics.  And even the idea of just believing there are aliens (something that as far as I am aware, has never been officially documented or announced) is a questionable practice. 

So she begins with what is real.  Humanity’s accomplishments, are quite real, and they were all located on a very small planet in a very big universe.  She progresses on this point and shows how truly small our piece of ‘home’ is. 

I didn’t really find the introduction to be particularly mesmerizing on its metrics alone, I wanted her to jump into the good stuff.  The real ‘greasy and volatile’ language of why we should expend resources to look for something that we have never seen before.  (Now let me reiterate that Jill Tarter does an incredible job at keeping the talk real.  She openly declares that Seti does not presume that extraterrestrial life doesn’t exist, rather that the possibility is there.)  So I felt like I was anticipating something big to happen, like she’d announce a fact that would blow my mind out of orbit.

And about seven minutes in, she sort of did.

I’ve never heard of extremophiles before, but I like the idea around it all.  I was already aware of life forms capable of living in harsh conditions (not sure if this was before or after the discovery of arsenic bacteria) but didn’t realize they had a name.  I think some people I know could be considered extremophiles based upon the fastfood they live off of.  I’ll have to remember to tell them about their new classification.

There are some interesting aspects about this talk, as she describes that humanity is still a creature in its ascent, that we’re not the end result.  This certainly makes sense, if our brains adapt to new knowledge, that we develop neuro pathways specific to that knowledge then certainly our own daily evolution is being molded with each minor technological invention that goes mainstream. 

Caveman brain = before 733t speak ? 


There is a brief historical outlook on Seti, from its renaissance beginnings with Copernicus, to its first official documentation in 1959, and in 1960 it performed it’s first observation of a celestial body.

More about Copernicus can be found here:

It’s interesting that we learn the measurements of space exploration.  Earth is 1 AU away from the sun, Voyager (in 2009) is 106 AU away from Earth, and I’d imagine our dreams of youth can be found about 1500 AU away. 

Jill Tarter expresses great thanks to the Seti supporters and mentions many names and significant events, one of which is that (in 2009) it was TED’s 25th anniversary. 

25!  I didn’t even realize TED was old enough to drink.

One Sentence Summary

(This is always an interesting exercise to me.  Trying to recapture the subject of the Ted Talk, despite the fact the ‘title’ of the Ted talk is an easy answer.  This one sentence summary is simply my interpretation.)

“In order for SETI, and the search for extraterrestrial life to continue, it needs the support of the terrestrial life.”

What caught me off guard

This TED talk starts with a little pop up at the beginning that hasn’t happened before.  It shows the words ‘TED Prize’.  This surprised me, was this talk a winner of the annual TED Prize? 

The Talk answers it for me, as Jill goes into exact details of what her wish was that led her to become a TED Prize Winner.  I’ll type it out here so you don’t need to reference it.

“I wish that you would empower Earthlings everywhere to become active participants in the ultimate search for cosmic company.”

Tarter goes into what this could be during the final few minutes of the Talk.  It’s very high level, but its (obviously) about creating an easy means for people to become involved.


Questions about aliens?  Why I don’t have any questions at all!

Questions about SETI, well that might be something altogether different.  How does one ‘help SETI’?  Would I need to have a degree?  Would I need the recommendations of peers and professors in order to be taken seriously?  Do all they want is money? 

Well, for one, at the end of the talk the phrase “To help with this wish visit

And that’s easy enough, so let’s go check it out.

The website is as I would have expected, about TED Prize winners.  Looking into 2009, we find it quickly at:

The answers to many of my questions are right here.  Yes, they’re ideally looking for engineers and experts that aren’t the ‘average’ person.  However some of the options to assist are a bit broad spectrum so if one was insistent there probably could be something one could do.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they had ‘social media directors’ who simply post Seti news.

There is a button to ‘Offer Help’ and this brings up the TED Prize Wish support form.  These appear to have a similar ‘level of request’ but its obviously generic enough to be applied to any TED Prize Wish.

The SETI website can be found here:

There’s a great deal of information here, but to summarize it has news, a who’s who and contact links for both Scientists and Educators.  In order for an organization to survive it does need to be self perpetuating, so education is important.

So now that its been discussed, what can we do?

In Talk like this, it has an expressed desire.  Jill Tarter delivers the message of ‘will you join in and help SETI?’, so that’s a decision that’s up to the individual.  If you’re someone who is not at all related to the field, and no desire to actually volunteer time or resources, I’d recommend at least knowing about it and mentioning the name if the subject matter ever arises.  The act of simply letting other people become aware of such an organization would be supporting it too (although significantly smaller scale).

Unfortunately for me, I don’t believe I’ll find a TED talk as ‘borderline different’ as the Anderson Cooper alien abduction / missing time clips. 

I don’t mind, my mind is in the clouds so often that I’m barely able to keep my feet on Earth.

– Updated every Thursday

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Posted by on April 27, 2012 in Uncategorized


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