SETI is the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, a somewhat spectacular endeavor if I must say so. It presumes a number of things not necessarily accurate for instance. First I would think it presumes we have the ability to define life. I am not certain we do. Sure we can look around at the walking, talking, bags of meat and water and assume them to be the definition of life, but in reality they are, at best, a definition of life. Life itself may have much broader characteristics than we give it credit for. Any casual observation of an episode of Star Trek can start you on that philosophical journey. So rather than get all tied up in what is life let us merely adjust the parameters of our search so it is not all life but merely life we can understand that we search for.
The next obstacle in our journey might be, what is intelligence. After all, like with life, we deem ourselves the very definition of this title intelligent. We deem ourselves intelligent while looking upon nearly everyone we know as less than, I might add. That aside though. What is intelligence? Is a bee intelligent or acting solely on a very basic instinctual need to protect and provide for the hive? Is intelligence defined as an ability to survive or an ability for abstract thought? We commonly think of Einstein as intelligent yet as a youth he struggled with the very metrics we use to gauge this in ourselves, like math. Do we have the right to judge what is and what is not intelligent at all if one of our geniuses, a man that pondered the very fabric of time and space, was thought less than?
If we somehow stumble upon this life, any life, in a form recognizable to us how will we determine if it is intelligent when I cannot discern if my neighbor is? What metrics shall we use? If this life can do the basics of reading and writing and arithmetic, will this be sufficient? Is a fish nonathletic because it cannot climb a tree? Is a tree less than athletic because it cannot swim? At what point do we throw up our hands and say, maybe we don’t really know much of anything? Is not knowing enough to judge reality, and life, and intelligence, a reason not to try? I would say no but there are reasons to question why we should try.
We often fail to get along with those on our borders. Honestly we often fail to get along with those neighboring our home. Bob is mowing to far onto my property, and Danny thinks he can run that weed wacker at any hour of the day he deems acceptable. We now have a strong desire in this nation to wall off our southern border as we cannot agree with Mexico on certain issues. We are in a few armed conflicts globally. Why then is it a good idea to seek out alien life on other planets? What assurance should we expect that they are indeed benevolent?