Drake's article appeared in a 1976 issue of Technology Review celebrating Philip Morrison's sixtieth birthday. He cryptically entitled it "On Hands and Knees in Search of Elysium." Drake conceded that radio telescope searches had yielded no results so far, but he thought this was not extraordinary. Humans must expect to work for the priceless knowledge possessed by their intellectual superiors.
At this point, Drake flatly asserted that any extraterrestrial intelligences we contact are likely to be immortal. Immortals are not rare, Drake declared. They may even be very common in the universe.
Drake's idea of immortality was more material than spiritual. He envisioned the elimination of the aging process and the transfer of memory from older to younger brains or to the brains of clones. Drake imagined that aliens lived in a medical utopia, a society forever free of disease.
Drake believed that in the future humans will acquire physical immortality. Just as nuclear energy and radio telescopes are inevitable in the development of technological civilization, so is immortality inevitable in the biological realm. Contemporary medical researchers, who cured polio and other malignant diseases, were equipped to put humanity on the road to immortality.
Modern medical researchers discredit Drake's utopian idea of a disease-free world. They argue that there are not a fixed number of diseases that can be eliminated one by one over time. Disease is part of the same evolutionary process that produced the human race. We evolved together and continue to do so. Medical researchers might wipe out some diseases, but others soon rise to replace them. A generation that has experienced the worldwide spread of AIDS, the ravages ofthe Ebola virus, the threat ofthe human form ofMad Cow Disease (Creutzfeld-Jakob variant), the appearance of SARS, and the possibility of an influenza epidemic appreciates how improbable it is to imagine immortality of the kind proposed by Drake.
To return to Drake's scenario. Immortal aliens have conquered disease, but they are vulnerable to fatal injuries. For that reason, personal safety is of great concern to immortals. They avoid travel on crash-prone aircraft and vigorously oppose wars. Immortals reduce the possibility of war by freely distributing the secret of longevity to creatures living at lower stages of technological development. The need of immortals to send this message results in the transmission of a large number of radio signals.
Immortal beings are obviously not in a hurry. Hence, they develop techniques of signaling that reach all regions of the Galaxy using low power and a very limited frequency band. In the past, terrestrial radio telescope operators searched broader bandwidths and missed messages sent on narrower bands. According to Drake, this is a serious mistake. Immortal civilizations are in the majority, and they send messages frequently. SETI researchers must listen for narrow-band signals transmitted through interstellar space.
Drake closed his essay by imagining an event twenty years in the future. The time is 1996. The place is a listening post in the Mojave Desert filled with rows of antennae scanning the heavens. After a decade of search, a message finally arrives. The message, in binary code, continues for a year before scientists decipher it.
The messengers are immortals who have been alive for a billion years. They are now ready to share their formula for immortality with their technological inferiors on Earth. Should humans accept the formula or reject it? Drake leaves the question unanswered.
When Frank Drake proposed the immortality of extraterrestrials, he was Director of the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center and a chaired professor of astronomy at Cornell University. His essay appeared in a journal published by the Massachusetts Institute ofTechnology honoring one ofits well-known faculty members. Consequently, it carried considerable scientific weight.
Fifteen years after Drake first insisted that aliens were immortal, he repeated his claim in a book on the scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Drake's ideas on the subject changed little over the intervening years except that he now hypothesized that in order to prevent deadly accidents, vehicles carrying the immortals moved very slowly. The vehicular speed limit was slightly above zero. Drake's second major discussion of immortals ended with him staring at the night skies wondering about the interstellar messages streaming to Earth. The most common one, he decided, was a book-length message instructing humans how to live forever.
Tipler called attention to SETI scientists who were anxious to save humanity through the miraculous intervention of extraterrestrials. Drake's writings confirm Tipler's claim and call attention to the long religious tradition that preceded and nurtured the scientific pursuit of imaginary beings. They also recall Drake's remarks about the importance of religious fundamentalism, at an early age, as the initial motivation for himself and other SETI researchers.
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