Freeman Dyson’s First Law of SETI Investigations

It’s come up a few times, so let me state here for the record the origin of Freeman Dyson’s First Law of SETI Investigations:

It’s from an email he sent me. We were discussing a paper of mine in anticipation of an outreach event we were planning:

and he remarked of the Ĝ strategy:

I am happy to see that your plan is consistent with the First Law of SETI investigations: every search for alien civilizations should be planned to give interesting results even when no aliens are discovered.

I asked permission to repeat this, and he agreed. It’s consistent with his general approach about SETI, searching for the physical limits of technology in a way that also generates ancillary science and makes minimal assumptions about agency.

I think Freeman himself means this as a counterpoint to radio or laser SETI, which has the benefit of working against low natural background but this apparent disadvantage that they are unlikely to discover new natural phenomena in the course of their searches. I think this perspective is often overstated—radio SETI is closely aligned with pulsar and FRB astrophysics, and generates great science along the way, and there are natural sources of very brief optical flashes, too.

[Edit: Frank Drake had the same sentiment in his overlooked 1965 paper here (first appearance of the Drake Equation, BTW:):

Our experience with Project Ozma showed that the constant acquisition of nothing but negative results can be discouraging. A scientist must have some flow of positive results, or his interest flags. Thus, any project aimed at the detection of intelligent extraterrestrial life should simultaneously conduct more conventional research. Perhaps time should be divided about equally between conventional research and the intelligent signal search. From our experience, this is the arrangement most likely to produce the quickest success.


1 thought on “Freeman Dyson’s First Law of SETI Investigations

  1. Dwight Huth

    Maybe a Dyson Swarm is orbiting KIC 8462852

    I watched this by video made by Anton Petrov, link at the bottom of the page, who is using Universe Sandbox 2 available on Steam . He uses Mercury as the model that materials are taken from to create 7,000 units that then orbit the Sun harvesting energy that is then transferred using Tesla’s Theory. He states that the dip of the light curve of the sun in the simulation is not effected very much, but the fact is that the light curve is still effected. At the end of the video he causes the sun to super nova that causes the units to expand outwards into the solar system.
    If you watch the video it is very educational to say the least. The end of the video is the most interesting. As his units escape into the solar system grouped together and still keeping their form, the Dyson Swarm would actually create more distance between each unit allowing for more light to escape as well as more harvester units to be added to each ring to once again collect the energy from the sun. As more units are added the interior surface area collecting the light from the sun would increase as the total light escaping would decrease thus creating a noticeable dim in the light curve of KIC 8462852.
    But a conceivable idea would be too take a satellite and build it on an arced truss work frame based on the orbital path the satellite is taking around the Earth. Basically like a trolley car riding a pair of tracks. The tracking could be a few hundred feet to a mile in length. The track itself would be able to be positioned using pulse engines. The satellite could then move the length of the track while the track was kept in an orbit around Earth. This idea is something that one might see in a Dyson Swarm. Not large sections around the sun, but smaller sections on tracking that would allow the energy collection satellite to be positioned along the mile long track for the optimal collection of energy from the sun.So maybe when a star’s light curve is very odd, perhaps it could solar harvester’s riding back and forth on orbital tracks collecting the suns energy.
    Not to mention collecting the atoms from the Sun in special cells lined with an Aerogel like substance. The elements that are collected are then fed into a facility that fuses the atoms together to make iron and nickel pellets that are then sent to a refinery for further refining into ingots that are then used for whatever purpose the civilization needs.
    Along with the other elements that a sun produces, hydrogen, helium, carbon,nitrogen and oxygen a Dyson Swarm civilization would have more than enough resources harvested from their sun to to create bio domed civilizations as well as even possibly terraforming dead planets and moons in its solar system using the resources from the sun that would last billions of years. More than enough time for the Dyson Civilization to have built Leaper Colonies away from their sun as it dies to other suns that are very young to thus continue the process of surviving in the deeps of space.
    Anton would be the best guy to model what is taking place at KIC 8462852. What he might find will be interesting.


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