Dr. Charles F. Urbanowicz / Professor of Anthropology
Department of Anthropology
California State University, Chico
Chico, California 95929-0400
530-898-6220 [Office]; 530-898-6192 [Dept.] FAX: 530-898-6824
e-mail: curbanowicz@csuchico.edu / home page: http://www.csuchico.edu/~curban

24 February 1977 [1]

[This page printed from http://www.csuchico.edu/~curban/Unpub_Papers/1977SETIPaper.html]

© [All Rights Reserved.] This paper was originally presented on February 24, 1977 at the Symposium entitled "The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) at the National Aeronautics & Space Administration/Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California. This paper was placed on the World Wide Web on August 16, 1999 and the only modifications that have been made were cosmetic changes necessary to place this on the WWW (and the addition of some WWW sites which were not, obviously available, in 1977!).

Over the days of February 24 and 25, 1977, other presentations at the NASA/Ames Symposium were made by Dr. Hans Mark (Director, Ames Research Center), Dr. Richard Berendzend (Provost, American University, Washington, D.C.), Dr. David Black (Astrophysicist, NASA/Ames SETI Project), Dr. Stanley Miller (Chemist, University of California, La Jolla), Dr. Bernard Oliver (Vice President of Research and Development, Hewlett-Packard Company), Dr. John Billingham (Chief, Program Office for SETI NASA/Ames Research Center), Dr. John Platt (Social Scientist, University of Michigan), Dr. Ronald Bracewell (Lewis M. Terman Professor and Fellow, Department of Electrical Engineering, Stanford University), Dr. Robert Hamerton-Kelly (Chaplain, Memorial Church, Stanford University), Dr. Mark Jurgensmeyer (Institute of Ethics and Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley), and, finally, Dr. James Christian (Philosopher, Santa Ana College).

Some specific words appeared in the brochure for the conference and they have stayed with me ever since 1977; made by Dr. Lee DuBridge, President of CalTech, the provocative words were: "Either mankind is alone in the galaxy-or he is not; either alternative is mind-boggling."



In preparation for this paper I read quite a bit of background information which I felt was relevant for the topic, including such volumes as Shklovsky and Sagan's Intelligent Life In The Universe (1966), Sagan's edited volume entitled Communication With Extraterrestrial Intelligence (CETI) (1973), Sagan's The Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective (1973), Stonely and Lawton's CETI* Communication With Extraterrestrial Intelligence (1976), and Christian's edited volume entitled Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence: The First Encounter (1976). I was seeking information, or perhaps an answer, to what I thought was a rather large assumption in entitling this Symposium "The Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI)." I was curious as to whether or not a particular assumption had ever been addressed in print before by scientists interested in Extra-Terrestrial intelligence (ETI); perhaps it has been, perhaps not, but I did not find my particular answer/assumption.

The closest that I came to a partial answer, at least in my own mind, was in the Shklovsky and Sagan volume wherein a particular discussion centered around the chapter entitled "Is there life on Earth?" (pages 246-257). The authors raised the question "How easy would it be to detect, from a remote observation platform, living organisms on the Earth?" Rather than paraphrasing their discussion I shall move into my own assumption (which was still not answered in their chapter): namely, the assumption that there is such a thing as "Terrestrial Intelligence" on this planet!

This, you might argue, is not even a valid assumption to be making since our presence here "obviously" indicates intelligence, with our organized and coordinated activity centering around SETI; but "what if" some... "out there" does not assume that we do, in fact/theory, possess "intelligence" - then what? What if our vaulted "intelligence" as such is not regarded as intelligence on some other scale? What if...? Assumptions, namely the act of taking something for granted or assuming something, are basic to our way of life--are basic to the self-named species known as Homo sapiens--but what if those assumptions do not hold true for off-world life forms? What then?

I shall discuss further assumptions below, but right now I shall 'assume" that there is such a concept as "Terrestrial Intelligence" (TI), with known and recognizable referent forms--but I reserve the right to question and raise this assumption below! Incidentally, while some authors in the volumes cited did deal with the concept of assumptions, perhaps the most noted was Peter Angeles ("ETIs and the Problem of Intelligence") in Christian's Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence: The First Encounter (1976, pages 160-175), where seven basic assumptions were raised. I believe, however, that it has only been the gifted science fiction author who has dealt with my stated assumption: namely that we assume TI, but what if that assumption is not valid on a large scale? Consider, for example, Stephen Goldin writing in his 1973 volume entitled The Alien Condition:

"Intelligence (or so we flatter ourselves) is the chief characteristic that sets Man apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. Other animals can run faster, see farther and hear sharper. We think better. And with out thoughts we have changed the face of the world. But intelligence is a relative quality." (Stephen Goldin, 1973, page 79)

I shall have recourse to bring additional science "fiction" statements into this paper.



Trained as an anthropologist, with fieldwork experience in the Pacific and an interest in the history of the development of the discipline, I subscribe to the assumption that "evolution" (meaning in its broadest sense simply "change") is the foundation theory of modern anthropological thought (not to mention biology, geology, cosmology, and....). "Change" is definitely the name of the game when it comes to living, and we have "organic change" (which deals with groups of organisms and is a neutral term as far as the biological sciences are concerned) and "social or cultural change" (which, unfortunately, can be an extremely "loaded" and value-laden term, depending on the cultural perspective of the evaluator).

R.B. Lee and K. Flannery, two extremely well-known anthropologists, have discussed the issue of "The evolution of technical civilizations" in a chapter of that title in Sagan's 1973 volume entitled Communication With Extraterrestrial Intelligence, and they developed three "tools" which "offer a basis for using our experience to shed light on intelligence as a general process (1976, page 86). Their three tools (evolutionism, historical materialism, and uniformitarianism), when combined, give us the following:

"First, every life form is adaptive and its adaptation is a product of its response to changes in the environment over time. Second, every life form has a history of gradual change and divergence from an ancestral form. Every form, no matter how complex today, evolved from a simpler form. Third, a life form may exist for a very long period of time. And fourth, evolution given long time periods, is a means for generating highly improbable results." (R.B. Lee and K. Flannery, 1973, The evolution of technical civilizations. In C. Sagan, 1973, Communication With Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Page 86)

There are two points which are implicit in the above statement and I believe that they should be singled out; and since they have been stated so eloquently by others, I shall simply quote them:

"The unit of survival [or adaptation] is organism plus environment. We are learning by bitter experience that the organism which destroys its environment destroys itself." (Gregory Bateson, 1972, Steps To An Ecology of Mind, page 483)

From the distinguished author/compiler of the volume known as The Ascent of Man, the late Jacob Bronowski, we get the model of "stratified stability," namely:

"It is evident that we cannot discuss the variability of organisms and species without also examining their stability....The concept of stratified stability." (J. Bronowski, 1973, New concepts in the evolution of complexity. American Scholar, Vol. 42, No. 1, pages 110-122, page 116)

Evolution then is adaptation within an environment: stable, adaptive, and integrative changes within an environment over time. Man, Homo sapiens, has evolved over time. As the distinguished George Gaylord Simpson has pointed out:

"Evolution is clearly going on around us today. There is no obvious reason for its not continuing for many millions of years to come, as regards both man and the rest of the organic realm." (G.G. Simpson, 1967, The Meaning of Evolution: A Study of the History of Life And Its Significance For Man, page 297)

We know, without much doubt, that the ancestral "home" of "Man" was on the continent known as Africa; and as Lee has already pointed out: "Hominid remains without stone tools have been found at the Omo beds in Ethiopia and dated at 3.75 x 106 years ago" (R.B. Lee and K. Flannery, 1973, The evolution of technical civilizations. In C. Sagan, 1973, Communication With Extraterrestrial Intelligence, page 80). If anything, additional research will probably push this date "further back" in time; and what of the future? As Simpson has pointed out, "It would be futile, in the present state of knowledge, to try to predict just what this future evolution would produce" (G.G. Simpson, 1967, The Meaning of Evolution: A Study of the History of Life And Its Significance For Man, page 297), but we can certainly speculate!



Individuals, unfortunately, have often come to equate the term "technology" solely with the simplistic idea of the "hardware" of human beings, namely the material or tangible "things" which we see about us. This is unfortunate, for individuals fail to remember that the term itself derives from the Greek, namely meaning "systematic treatment" (from techno, meaning "art" or "skill"), and all individuals practice some form of technology! Even J. Elull, in his 1954 volume (translated in 1964 as The Technological Society) tried to point out that:

"Whenever we see the word technology or technique, we automatically think of machines. Indeed, we commonly think of our world as a world of machines. This notion...is in fact an error...." (J. Elull, 1964, The Technological Society, page 3)

Technology is not to be found solely as a material product, or solely as a tangible representation of the creative process, but technology is to be found in the "combination" of the process with the ultimate end product. The process of technology (the "art" or "skill") is as equally important, or perhaps even more important, than the simple end product itself. As Jerome Bruner has pointed out (following the anthropologist Weston La Barre's 1954 publication, The Human Animal), technology is something which exists within the mind; Bruner calls his perspective "evolutionary instrumentalism" and he writes:

"Man's use of mind is dependent upon his ability to develop and use 'tools' or 'instruments' or 'technologies' that make it possible for him to express and amplify his powers." (J. Bruner, 1966, Toward A Theory of Instruction, page 24)

You will note that Lee and Flannery wrote of "tools" such as "evolutionism, historical materialism, and uniformitarianism." Clearly not hardware but ideas! There has been, and there is, systematic feedback between the process of technology and the end-product of technology itself, and the unit of survival or development is the organism plus the environment within which that organism operates, and hence "the unit of evolutionary survival [or development] turns out to be identical with the unit of mind" (Gregory Bateson, 1972, Steps To An Ecology of Mind, page 483).

Perhaps the most important "technological" aspect of Homo sapiens, keeping in mind technology not as "hardware" but technology as "art or skill," has been the technology of communication: without the ability to communicate, to share ideas and information and assumptions, Homo sapiens would never have gotten established on this planet! Communication implies or assumes "cooperation," for communication is essentially a social affair....[and] communication renders true social life practicable, for communication means organization' (Colin Cherry, 1957, On Human Communication: A Review, A Survey, And A Criticism, pages 3-4).

It is this ability to communicate, to transcend time and space by means of symbolic displacement, that has allowed us to become what we are today and where we are going in the future. But, who is to say that our forms of "communication" are the same as "communication" out there, or ETI communication? This is precisely the point that J. Royce pointed out in his chapter entitled "Consciousness and the Cosmos" in Christian's Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence: The First Encounter. What would happen if our greatest technological achievements, our vaulted ability to communicate, was merely an example of TI (Terrestrial Intelligence) and not CI (Cosmic Intelligence)? What if we were not understood? Royce states:

"However, if communication between man and a superior cosmic culture turned out to be impossible, man's problem would probably look more like that of some near-extinct species of animal, because the cosmic superbeings could decide, in a manner paralleling man's behavior on earth, to preserve a small population of Homo sapiens [?] on an earthly game reservation." (J. Royce, 1976, Consciousness and the cosmos. In Christian's Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence: The First Encounter, page 194).

So, perhaps the "assumption" stated at the beginning of this short paper is not out of place: who says there is such a thing as TI? The TIs themselves obviously say so . . . but what if no one else thinks so? A similar point has been raised by the indefatigable Isaac Asimov in his short story entitled "Not Final!" in a volume edited by D. Knight (First Contact, 1971). After much difficulty, "communication" has been established with inhabitants of Jupiter and from there perspective we are but "vermin." Makes one think, does it not?



Asimov also points out in another volume that "The word 'civilization' is derived from the Latin word 'civis' meaning 'citizen'; that is, 'city-dweller." He goes on to add that "indeed, if we are told that a group of people have built a city we can assume they are civilized" (Introduction: The Puzzle of Man. In Lost Cities and Forgotten Tribes, edited by R.F. Dempelwolff, 1974, page 7.) Indeed, the same perspective can be seen in Kenneth Clark's volume entitled Civilisation: A Personal View , 1969). Unfortunately, it is because of this association with the material representations of "technology" that anthropologists prefer to use the term "culture" when discussing inhabitants of this planet. Not all people with 'culture" have built cities, yet they have relatively advanced and complicated societies; and some could argue that not all inhabitants of cities are very civilized!

Culture, that key abstraction of the anthropologist, is perhaps as difficult to define as it is important! The aspiring anthropological student can perhaps find as many definitions of the term as their are anthropologists, yet we all seem to have a "rough assumption" of what it is that constitutes "culture." For the range of variation of the concept, one need only consult a classic 1952 compendium by two leading anthropologists, A.L. Kroeber and C. Kluckhohn, to see what has been meant by the term culture (Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions).

The interpretive concept of culture is perhaps the most important concept in the repertoire of the anthropologist. I have stated this before, but it is worth repeating:

"Perhaps the most important contribution of 20th Century Anthropology has been the detailed and documented account of the tremendous 'range of variation' in cultures of this planet. This has been a distinct move away from various 19th Century monolithic interpretation of "CULTURE" against which all other "cultures" were appropriately, or more inappropriately, "ranked." (C.F. Urbanowicz, 1976, Cultures: Fact or Fiction? Anthro-Tech: A Journal of Speculative Anthropology, Vol. 1, No. 1, pages 6-9, page 6.)

This concept of culture is the anthropological analog of the mathematician's concept of infinity: although no one has ever seen infinity, it is a useful tool for communicating a vast number of mathematical ideas. No one has ever seen a culture in its totality, yet one can speak about meaningful and integrated patterns of culture which mean something for and to the utilizers and interpreters of that culture.

Just as the mathematician can multiply infinity by infinity and still have infinity, so can the anthropologist discuss culture contact and the interaction between cultures. Just as the mathematician can subtract one unit from infinity and still have infinity, so can the anthropologist discuss the concept of culture when some elements are removed from the repertoire. There is no such thing as "half-an-infinity" just as there is absolutely no such thing as "half-a-culture."

What then is culture? And how does the "evolution of technological civilizations," now read/interpreted as the "changing mental adaptations of culture and the ability to communicate" have to do with SETI? Briefly, the key component in the concept of culture, or perhaps the concept of culture itself, is that idea of "communication." Indeed, this is not a new and novel idea. As E.T. Hall, an author on many aspects of culture, has phrased it:

"The concepts developed here did not originate with me. Over fifty-three years ago, Franz Boas [1858-1942] laid the foundation of the view which I hold that communication constitutes the core of culture and indeed of life itself." (E.T. Hall, 1969, The Hidden Dimension, page 1.)

Not all anthropologists would follow this view and in the same volume Hall perhaps takes some researchers to task when he asks the question: "...how long can man afford to consciously ignore his own dimension?" (The Hidden Dimension, 1969, page 189), implying that anthropologists have not sufficiently discussed/interpreted culture in terms of communication.

Looking at culture as communication, there are some basic aspects of communication and it may be stated thusly: an idea is not the word is not the thing is not the behavior! We communicate on several levels at once, as Hall has pointed out in his variety of volumes (such as The Silent Language, 1959; The Hidden Dimension, 1969; and Beyond Culture, 1977), and in the transition/translation between the "idea" and the "word" used to express that idea and the "thing" which might be created to express that idea and the ultimate "behavior" as a result of that idea, various aspects can be "lost in translation" as we move through the various modes of communication.

When we fail to realize that there is "something lost in translation," and when we think we are saying A' and we think that the audience is interpreting it as A' (but they are really interpreting it at A''), when we make the assumption that what we are saying is really understood--when in fact it is not understood exactly as we mentally envision it--then there are problems! When we make assumptions about the communication experience, and these assumptions are not in fact warranted, then we have problems' and the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence might be indicative of one of the largest assumptions that mankind is making (but the only assumption which is logically possible at this time), namely the assumption that there is such a thing as terrestrial intelligence when viewed on a different scale of analysis!

Themes pertaining to our potential lack of TI might not be readily available in scholarly tomes which deal with the potential interface/articulation between "us" and "them," but these themes of our potential ignorance on a cosmic scale are certainly prevalent in some of the works of certain science "fiction" authors! Take, for example, the 1942 story of R. Heinlein entitled "Goldfish Bowl," wherein the intriguing statement is presented that "Creation took eight days!" and the protagonists in the story attempt to point out that human beings "aren't the latest nor the highest stage in evolution" (in Apeman Spaceman: Anthropological Science Fiction, 1968, pages 90-91).

My argument is simply this: good speculative science fiction authors have done more to foster the idea of SETI than they have been credit for! Good science fiction stories can be a humbling experience, and Homo sapiens needs some humility. Christian's "Appendix: For Further Reflection" (in Extraterrestrial Intelligence: The First Encounter, 1976) is an excellent compendium of thoughts well-worth-thinking-about when it comes to ETIs, but one could perhaps argue that they have been spread in the pulp pages of various science fiction works for the past 100 years. Christian, however, puts them together for us an they are well worth considering.



"No one would have believed in the last century of the nineteenth century [or perhaps even the twentieth century] that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studies, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency man went to and from over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most, terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as our are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early [or perhaps late] in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment."

In brief, we may pride ourselves on TI, but "what if" on some grand cosmic scale, we have in fact no intelligence so to speak of? The lengthy quote from H.G. Wells' (1866-1946) classic The War of the Worlds (1898) is indicative of the prose and interest of speculative authors, and also (perhaps), indicative of things to come?

Christian's volume has an introductory statement that follows Asimov:

"If we ever establish contact with extra-terrestrial life, it will reveal to us our true place in the universe, and with that comes the beginning of wisdom."

But what price wisdom? Which, incidentally, I am all for. Another distinguished speculative author has written:

"This proof, which is now only a matter of time, that this young species of ours is low in the scale of cosmic intelligence will be a shattering blow to our pride. Few of our current religions can be expected to survive it, contrary to the optimistic forecasts from certain quarters. The assertion that 'God created man in his own image,' is ticking like a time bomb in the foundations of Christianity. As the hierarchy of the universe is slowly disclosed to us, we will have to face this chilling fact: If there are any gods whose chief concern is man, they cannot be very important gods." (Arthur C. Clarke, 1973, Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible, revised edition, page 94)

This possibly overly-pessimistic perspective from Clarke is well-worth considering: what is it that makes us human? Good science fiction has often raised that question and good science fiction has prepared us for SETI. Good science fiction has gotten us to think about creatures which aren't bipedal, but certainly have their own "culture;" good science fiction has forced us to think about beings that don't appear human, but certainly "act" human enough; and good science fiction has gotten us to think about beings that do not worship any variation of a Judeo-Christian deity, but certainly have "religion."

Anthropology, or at least anthropology as it is being practiced by some of the younger members of the discipline (that is to say, recent advanced-degree-holders in the field), is suffering from a period of ill-feeling and general (or perhaps) specific despondency. As is the case, I believe, with some of the other Behavioral and Social Sciences (and perhaps even for the "hard" sciences), there are simply too many well-qualified young anthropologists around in this day and age!

In the 20th Century era of mass production, advanced degree-holders of anthropology have also been mass-produced! From a time when there were but a total of 24 Ph.D's awarded in anthropology in 1947-1948 (with 22 male and 2 females), we have advanced to the era that for the 1971-1972 accounting period (when I was awarded my own Ph.D.) there were 301 recipients of the Ph.D. (215 men and 86 women), and this figures continues to increase, with 468 individuals being awarded the degree for the 1975-1976 years (295 men and 173 women)!

22 males
2 females
24 Total
40 males
10 females
50 Total
105 males
36 females
141 Total
215 males
86 females
301 Total
215 males
96 females
311 Total
267 males
123 females
390 Total
272 males
141 females
413 Total
295 males
173 females
468 Total
See R. D'Andrade et al., 1975, Academic Opportunity in Anthropology 1974-1900. American Anthropologist, Vol. 77, No. 4., pages 753-773 and the 1976-1977 Guide to Departments of Anthropology.) [1999 Note: Please see below for 1997-1998 Academic Year data.]

A recent summary article (Academic Opportunity in Anthropology 1974-1900) by D'Andrade et al. would be more aptly entitled non-academic opportunities, for they point out:

"Anthropology, which has had a rapid increase in the number of Ph.D.'s awarded yearly, will even by the most optimistic projections be unable to accommodate the large majority of new Ph.D.'s after 1982 in college or university positions." (Roy D'Andrade et al., 1975, Academic Opportunity in Anthropology 1974-1900. American Anthropologist, Vol. 77, No. 4., page 753.)

I present this data to the audience, not to dissuade students from taking Anthropology (I firmly believe that everyone should have some anthropology), but to be honest about career opportunities in colleges and universities. To be ill-advised or unadvised is criminal.

Jobs must be sought outside the traditional academic realm, in business and industry (for example); and "what if" ETIs "really did" exist out there? and what if were were able to enter into meaningful communication with a single ETI or even a variety of ETIs? What then of anthropology and anthropologists?

Sagan, even though trained as an astronomer has written:

"The science that has by far the most to gain from planetary exploration is biology. In a very fundamental sense, biologists have been studying only one form of life on earth. Despite the apparent diversity of terrestrial life forms, they are all identical. (Carl Sagan, 1973, The Cosmic Connection, page 53.)

Perhaps, however, from the anthropological point of view, it would be anthropology that would be most useful for planetary explorations, for in a very broad sense perhaps we can say that all anthropologists have done is to study one culture and its many variations on a theme of adaptation: the human culture! This same point is reiterated by the anthropologist Roger W. Wescott:

"In sum, anthropology, as a young, far-ranging and holistic discipline, is by nature better pre-adapted than most established arts and sciences to a central role in the impending exploration of the extraterrestrial realm...." (R. W. Wescott, 1975, Towards an extraterrestrial anthropology. In Cultures Beyond the Earth, edited by M. Maruyama and A. Harkins, pages 12-26, page 21.)

This idea from the year 1975 of a "space anthropology," perhaps akin to the "researchers in cosmo-ethnology" as depicted by H. Tennessen ("Homo Telluris: The Conscious Cosmic Caddis Fly") in J.L. Christian's Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence: The First Encounter (1976, pages 228-276), has been stated by other anthropologists, such as Paul Fejos in the year 1962:

"There may someday be such a thing as space anthropology. We already know that there is life elsewhere in the universe than on the earth. Someday, it may be the business of anthropologists to study this--especially, perhaps, the business of linguists and ethnographers." (In Alfred Louis Kroeber, 1962, Anthropological Horizons. Current Anthropology, Vol. 3, No. 1, page 92.)

But, to avoid too much provincialism (for the sociologists will surely say that "space is for sociologists" and the psychologists will say that "space is for psychologists" and . . .), let me state that may all disciplines share their expertise when it comes to "space" activities--with, perhaps, a good heavy background in anthropology!

I stress anthropology as a key interpretive discipline, for off-world and on-world activities, because of that key concept of "culture" mentioned above. The concept of culture shows that there is no one single sacrosanct privileged frame of reference, no one single "culture" which can serve as a model of analysis of other cultures! There is no single "culture" against which all other cultures can be "rank ordered" and analyzed. This is but the idea of "cultural relativity" which can be practiced to a certain degree by various anthropologists. Perhaps we can cryptically state: cultures are not equal, but all cultures are equally the same!

All cultures on this planet are related, and who amongst us can say that "one is superior to another in . . . ."? A similar point comes across in a 1954 excellent short story by the anthropologist Chad Oliver, which is entitled "Of Course." Briefly, an ETI vessel appears over the United Nations building in New York City and every government on Earth receives an identical message; and:

"The ship wasn't fussy about defining 'government,' either. It contacted every sort of political division. In certain instances where the recipients were illiterate, or nonliterate, the message was delivered vocally. (In Apeman, Spaceman: Anthropological Science Fiction, 1968, page 319, edited by Leon E. Stover and Harry Harrison; "Of Course" also appears in Sociology Through Science Fiction, 1974, edited by J.W. Milstead et al.)

The message, in part, read:

"Please do not be alarmed. We have come in peace on a mission of good will. Our task here is to determine to our satisfaction which one among you has the most advanced culture on your planet."

After three weeks of research, by obviously superior beings and three weeks of "of course, it has to be us...." as stated by the Swiss, the Russians, the Americans, the Masai, the . . . . And then the ETI ship makes the decision:

"We bring you greetings and farewell. Our work among you has now been completed. We have found the most advanced culture among you to be the Central Eskimo of Baffin Island."

Needless to say, consternation abounds! And I shall quote from Chad Oliver himself, who has commented on his own story.

"The President of the United States calls in his Secretary of State, whose name is Henry. They decide that they must consult with a social scientists, distasteful as that might be. They smuggle a sociologist in through the back door of the White House. The sociologist, being an honest man, refers them to an anthropologist. The anthropologist duly arrives, but he turns out to be a physical anthropologist."

"Nevertheless, he does the best he can, pointing out that anthropologists are not totally specialized. His task is to explain why the Eskimos represent the most advanced culture on Earth. This is a fairly formidable assignment, even for an anthropologist. He makes a number of suggestions, but he is an honest man. He confesses that he really doesn't know. He points out that there is only one way to find out: we must study all of the cultures on the planet to discover what is truly unique about the Eskimos. The President realizes that this is going to cost money, and is not pleased."

"The story ends by shifting to the viewpoint of the people on the starship. It develops that they picked the Eskimo more or less at random. 'An awfully nice chap,' one observes, 'but he is a bit on the primitive side.' His companion concludes: 'A slight stimulus never hurt anyone, my friend. By the time they get through worrying about that Eskimo, they ought to have a real science down there.'" (Chad Oliver, 1974, Two Horizons of Man: Parallels And Interconnections Between Anthropology and Science Fiction. Presented 21 November 1974 at the Symposium entitled "Alternative Anthropological Futures: Anthropological Theory and Science Fiction" at the 73rd Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Mexico City, November 19-24.)

Oliver concludes, "This story, of course, reflects the optimism of youth," and with this I concur, yet argue: for it represents the spirit of the open and inquisitive mind!

"Contact" with something "out there" can only do something positive for us; short term results might, however, be negative--extremely negative! One can speculate about the problems associated with the inability to accept a new form of "reality" about one's place in the cosmic scale of things, yet in the long run - which is the only run that counts - we can only profit by SETI and CETI!


# # #


Angeles, Peter, 1976, ETIs and the Problem of Intelligence. In Christian's Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence: The First Encounter, pages 160-175.

Asimov, Isaac, 1971, Not Final. In First Contact (edited by Damon Knight).

Asimov, Isaac, 1974, Introduction: The Puzzle of Man. In Lost Cities and Forgotten Tribes, edited by R.F. Dempelwolff.

Bateson, Gregory, 1972, Steps To An Ecology of Mind.

Bronowski, Jacob, 1973, New Concepts in the evolution of complexity. American Scholar, Vol. 42, No. 1, pages 110-122.

Bruner, Jerome, 1966, Toward A Theory of Instruction.

Cherry, Colin, 1957, On Human Communication: A Review, A Survey, And A Criticism.

Christian, James (editor), 1976, Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence: The First Encounter.

Clark, Kenneth, 1969, Civilisation: A Personal View.

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D'Andrade et al., 1975, Academic Opportunity in Anthropology 1974-1900. American Anthropologist, Vol. 77, No. 4., pages 753-773.

Dempelwolff, R.F. (editor), 1974, Lost Cities and Forgotten Tribes.

Elull, Jacques, 1964, The Technological Society.

Goldin, Stephen, 1973, The Alien Condition.

Hall, Edward T., 1959, The Silent Language.

Hall, Edward T., 1969, The Hidden Dimension.

Hall, Edward T., 1977, Beyond Culture.

Heinlein, Robert, 1942, Goldfish Bowl. In Apeman Spaceman: Anthropological Science Fiction (edited by Leon E. Stover & Harry Harrison).

Kroeber, Alfred Louis, 1962, Anthropological Horizons. Current Anthropology, Vol. 3, No. 1, page 92.

Kroeber, Alfred Louis and Clyde Kluckhohn, 1952, Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts.

La Barre, Weston, 1954, The Human Animal.

Lee, Richard B. and Kent Flannery, 1973, The evolution of technical civilizations. In Carl Sagan (editor), 1973, Communication With Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

Maruyama, M. and A. Harkins, 1975, Cultures Beyond the Earth.

Milstead. John W. et al. (editors), 1974, Sociology Through Science Fiction.

Oliver, Chad, 1954, Of course! In Apeman Spaceman: Anthropological Science Fiction (edited by Leon E. Stover & Harry Harrison).

Oliver, Chad, 1974, Two Horizons of Man: Parallels And Interconnections Between Anthropology and Science Fiction. (Presented 21 November 1974 at the Symposium entitled "Alternative Anthropological Futures: Anthropological Theory and Science Fiction" at the 73rd Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Mexico City, November 19-24.)

Royce, J. 1976, Consciousness and the Cosmos. In James Christian (editor) Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence: The First Encounter, pages 176-195.

Sagan, Carl, 1973a, The Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective.

Sagan, Carl (editor), 1973b, Communication With Extraterrestrial Intelligence (CETI) .

Shklovsky, I.S. and Carl Sagan, 1966, Intelligent Life In The Universe.

Simpson, George Gaylord, 1967, The Meaning of Evolution: A Study of the History of Life And Its Significance For Man.

Stonely, Jack and A.T. Lawton, 1976, CETI* Communication With Extraterrestrial Intelligence .

Stover, Leon E. and Harry Harrison (editors), 1974, Apeman, Spaceman: Anthropological Science Fiction.

Urbanowicz, Charles F., 1976, Cultures: Fact or Fiction? Anthro-Tech: A Journal of Speculative Anthropology, Vol. 1, No. 1, pages 6-9.

Wells, Herbert George, 1898, The War of the Worlds.

Wescott, Roger W., 1975, Towards an extraterrestrial anthropology. In Cultures Beyond the Earth, edited by M. Maruyama and A. Harkins, pages 12-26.

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[1] © [All Rights Reserved.] Originally presented on February 24, 1977 at the Symposium entitled "The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) at the NASA/Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California. This paper was placed on the World Wide Web on August 23, 1999 and the only changes that have been made have been strictly "cosmetic" and those necessary to place this on the WWW (and some WWW sites which were not, obviously available, in 1977!). To return to the beginning of this paper, please click here.

As a slight update, the reader will note that for the 1997-1998 Academic Year, 289 females received the Ph.D. in Anthropology and 217 males received the Ph.D. in Anthropology. (Source: The 1997-98 American Anthropological Association Guide, page 529) To return to the "table data" in the body of the text, please click here.

Also note the following:

"Experts call this new field 'cognitive computing,' a blend of behavioral sciences and computer science. Some Web developers now employ staffs of psychologists, sociologists, and cultural anthropologists, along with the requisite software engineers, to create Web interfaces that are tailor-made for a particular market, or, in some instances, for an individual customer's consciousness. 'You have to be a student of human behavior to be an effective e-commerce developer...you have to tailor content to those differences online [stress added].'" (Gene Koprowski, 1998, The (New) Hidden Persuaders. The Wall Street Journal, December 7, 1998, page R10.)

"Ethnographers learn how people really use technological tools. ... Tony Salvador and John Sherry are 'design ethnographers' from Intel Corp.... Their goal: to learn enough about how people...work and use tools so that they can help Intel design more effective products [stress added]." (The San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle, December 27, 1998, page J2)

Please see The Silicon Valley Cultures Project @ http://www.sjsu.edu/depts/anthropology/svcp/.

Just a "few" selected items of possible interest, obviously not available in 1977:

Jeff Greenwald, 1999, Who's Out There? Discover, April 1999, Vol. 20, No. 4, pages 64-70. (And see http://setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu for software to assist in the SETI analysis.)

http://www.seti.org/drake-eq.html [The Drake Equation]

http://www.seti-inst.edu/ [SETI Institute - Home Page]

http://www.seti.org/welch.html [Jack Welch Home page: Chair of SETI @ UCB]

http://www.seti.org/profiles/jill-t.html [Jill Tarter Home page: holder of the SETI Institute Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI]

http://seti1.setileague.org/homepg.html [The SETI League: Searching For Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence]

http://reston.com/astro/communication.html [The Astrobiology Web®]

http://www.vsc.washington.edu/academic/planetslife/anbibs/seti.html [SETI Bibliography]

http://coseti.org/49thastr.htm [49th International Astronautical Congress, Melbourne, Australia, September 28->October 2, 1998]

http://argyre.colorado.edu/life/ETlife.html [Extraterrestrial Life Class, from the Center for Astrobiology, University of Colorado]

http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/seeker1/cyberanthro/AnthroFuturism.html [AnthroFuturism]

http://www.thewordistruth.org [Joe Firmage]

http://www.jse.com [Journal of Scientific Exploration]

http://www.csuchico.edu/~curban/Forum/March1990.html [1990 C.F. Urbanowicz Paper} Perspectives on Science Fiction and Science Fact. For the CSU, Chico Anthropology Forum, March 8, 1990.)

http://www.csuchico.edu/~curban/Forum/Cultures1976.html [1976 C.F. Urbanowicz Paper} Cultures: Fact or Fiction. For the Anthropology House Forum on November 11, 1976.)

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Copyright © 2001 Charles F. Urbanowicz

16 August 1999 and slight cosmetic changes on 1 August 2001 by CFU