What they look for
Almost every kind of body in the universe transmits energy (except black holes, which absorb energy and refuse to allow it out again. But more on that later in this book). The energy is transmitted in waves and the wavelength determines how people on earth “see” the energy and what name they give it. The light waves picked up by optical telescopes and the light waves picked up by radio telescopes are on the same spectrum but at different places – it is the length of the wave that determines where the source sits on the spectrum.
A possible confusion that should have been removed by that last paragraph is between light and sound. The waves picked up by a radio telescope are not – despite the word “radio” in radio telescope – the same as sound. Radio telescopes receive a form of light wave, and not sound waves. Light can travel through a vacuum, and sound cannot (which is why, when you scream in space, no one hears). There are also differences in the shape of the wave; light waves are transverse and sound waves are longitudinal.
The fact that everything is transmitting energy, and transmitting it in every possible direction, means that the universe is a very noisy place and it is very difficult to pick out the specific kind of signal that SETI is looking for, which is signals that raise at least the possibility that they were generated by intelligence. The radio frequencies used on earth lie between 20 kHz and 300 GHz, but the whole radio spectrum is a lot bigger than that – it runs from 3 Hz at one end of the scale to 3 THz (3000 GHz) at the other. Signals being generated by heavenly bodies simply because they are heavenly bodies take up the whole of that radio spectrum. SETI’s scientists think it is extremely unlikely that any intelligent being would attempt to signal over such a wide range, and what they are looking for is primarily narrow-band signals (signals covering only a small part of the radio spectrum).
They also look for brief flashes of light – and by brief they mean flashes that last nanoseconds.
Signals meeting both of these criteria – narrow-band radio spectrum signals and flashes of light lasting nanoseconds – have been discovered. What happens then is that they are considered possible candidates for intelligent signals and examined in greater depth.
Scientists are also aware that picking up a radio signal would not necessarily indicate that it had been intended for us. Some signals, if strong enough, may simply have left the planet’s atmosphere and reached us although no intention existed that that should happen. The same thing may be true in reverse; somewhere out there in space may be a civilisation that is trying to extract intelligent messages from chat shows and reality TV originating on earth.
And that raises one of the problems with the SETI Project: if they succeed in identifying a signal as definitely originating from an intelligent life form, how likely is it that they will be able to decode the message? As well as looking for communications or signals beamed into space, and those seemingly intended for Earth, SETI also looks at signals passing between two worlds where the line of sight extends to this planet. Such signals may be messages between a planet and another planet or a satellite, and may continue past the intended receiver and eventually reach here. It’s possible to reason that an intelligent life form capable of sending signals into space is also capable of reducing them to the barest minimum in order to make them comprehensible to a different civilisation. That won’t be the case if the signal represents a message between two places sharing a common language.
What stage has SETI reached?
Here are some interesting points from current and recent searches.
FRB121102 is, as the letters FRB in its name indicates, a fast radio burst. FRBs last for perhaps a millisecond, but the energy emitted in that millisecond can be as much as the sun has given out since the first wheat and barley were cultivated some 10,000 years ago in what was then Mesopotamia and is now Iraq. Scientists argue furiously over what causes an FRB and the fact is that no-one knows. Probably, they have a variety of causes. Possibly, one of those causes is the desire of an intelligent life form to transmit a signal.
A number of FRB’s have been found; 121102 was first seen in 2012 at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. It was seen to recur a number of times, and a team at Cornell University led by Dr Shami Chatterjee made arrangements to watch in case it returned. That’s one of the risks in this kind of work, because it might have been a century before 121102 came back to life; in fact, however, there were nine flashes in six months (and there may have been more, because only 83 hours were devoted to observing the location of the pulses during those six months). Doctor Chatterjee was previously a Janskey Fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for astrophysics and it was at the extremely powerful Carl G Janskey radio telescope array that the pulses were observed. Doctor Chatterjee’s team was able to locate 121102 in a dwarf galaxy more than three billion light years distant from Earth.
Does this mean that the dwarf galaxy is home to intelligent life? It does not mean that at all (and nor does it mean the opposite, which would be that there is no intelligent life in that galaxy, or that these flashes were not sent by intelligent life. There is simply not enough information to say one way or the other). It is, though, helpful in ruling out some of the other possibilities that have been considered.
One widely held view of FRBs was that they were formed as a result of some cataclysmic event – the collapse of a neutron star into a black hole, for example, or perhaps a star exploding into a supernova. And it is possible that either of those events could produce the kind of burst seen from 121102 – but they could not do it repetitively.
It was also considered that FRBs were likely to be coming from within our own galaxy or, if not within, then very close by. And that may still be the case – for other FRBs – but at a distance of more than 3 billion light years from Earth, it is clearly not the case here. (Our galaxy, which is known as the Milky Way Galaxy, has a diameter of between 100,000 and 180,000 light years).
It is possible that 121102 is a magnetar, a kind of neutron star that has a very powerful magnetic field. Neutron stars are small, very dense, and created by the collapse of a star with insufficient mass to produce a black hole.
But, when all of those caveats have been stated, it is also possible that some form of intelligence there is attempting to send a signal to intelligence elsewhere.
*Excerpt from 'Where are They?' available here on Amazon
Excerpt from Chapter 3.
The Kardashev Scale
Chapter 2 had some things to say about “civilisations” and “advanced civilisations”. But what are those things? What do we mean by “an advanced civilisation”? The Kardashev Scale is there to answer that question.
Nikolai Kardashev is a Russian astrophysicist (he is still alive in 2017 at the age of 85). Born in Moscow in 1932, he graduated from Moscow State University at the age of twenty-two and began postgraduate studies in the University’s Sternberg Astronomical Institute, completing his PhD in Physical and Mathematical Sciences in 1962.
In 1963, Kardashev took part in the first Russian search for extraterrestrial intelligence. While examining quasar CTA-102, he developed his ideas about what form extraterrestrial civilisations might take. They could, he realised, be ahead of anything on Earth by millions, and perhaps billions, of years. He developed the Kardashev Scale to define levels of possible civilisation. The original Kardashev scale had three levels (later researchers have added more).
The most important thing to understand about the Kardashev Scale is that it is based on energy. As Kardashev sees it, the level a civilisation has reached can be measured by the amount of energy it consumes.
In addition to energy, Kardashev focused on communications technology. (Those later researchers have also included other factors). In his paper, Transmission of Information by Extraterrestrial Civilisation, Kardashev said that an advanced civilisation would be able to transmit radio signals over great distances in space. The levels of civilisation he defined were:
How far are we earthlings from being able to become a Type 2 civilisation, capable of building a Dyson Sphere? Not, as these things go, very far at all; estimates are that we may be able to construct such a thing, and thereby make use of all the energy the Sun produces, between 1,000 and 2,000 years from now. 1,000 years ago, the Chinese were the first to use gunpowder in battle (and they had flamethrowers!). King Canute married his cousin Emma of Normandy, laying the seeds for the invasion of England by the Normans in 1066. Emperor Hadrian set up the first postal system and built a wall between England and Scotland. A thousand years isn’t very long at all. You won’t be here to see it, but it’s still very imaginable. It’s in the progression to a Type 3 civilisation that the number of years involved becomes monstrous.
By the time our earthly civilisation gets around to becoming Type 3, it’s likely that it won’t be a human civilisation at all. Humans will have disappeared, replaced by some kind of mechanised being. There will be more to say about that before this chapter ends, but before we go there, let’s take a look at what other theorists have suggested might be added to the Kardashev Scale.
Kardashev listed only the three types of civilisation described above. Others have proposed more.
As it happens, some scientists have decided to add a Type 7 civilisation to the Kardashev Scale. What capabilities would a Type 7 civilisation have? There’s no point in even thinking about it.
Step back to that Type 3 civilisation, and these words:
By the time our earthly civilisation gets around to becoming Type 3, it’s likely that it won’t be a human civilisation at all.
What can that possibly mean? We’ll be looking at this again in Chapter 9, but here are some of the ideas that are floating around.
Read more about The Kardashev Scale here.
So, I've been working on a manuscript for almost two years now.
I don't wish to give away too much on the plot. Suffice to say it's a story of a man thrust at the dusk of the French Bourbon regime, about 15 years before the start of the French Revolution. His account of survival explores how a modern man can pick himself up with only the clothes on his back and survive in an era where life was brutally harsh , and the existence of social safety nets was non-existent.
I have always been a fan of L. Sprague de Camp's story 'Lest Darkness Fall' - A story of a relatively modern man, from 1938, who inexplicably finds himself transported back in time to 535 AD (or for those of you who prefer CE) in the Eastern Roman Empire. Many stories have sprung from De Camp's initial foray into this form of alternative history writing. Notable writers who were influenced include Harry Turtledove, who writes many offshoots of alternative history. Examples include ideas such as the Byzantine Empire survives the Fall of Rome or how, in the middle of World War Two, the earth is invaded by a hostile alien species.
Other writers influenced by De Camp include Frederik Pohl who wrote "The Deadly Mission of Phineas Snodgrass", a thought-provoking story of a man that travels back to 1 BC and teaches modern medicine, causing a population explosion. It ends with the fantastically overpopulated alternate timeline sending someone back to assassinate the title character, allowing darkness to fall for thankful billions.
A similar story style to De Camp is "Outlander" written by Diana Gabaldon and now adapted for television by Ronald D. Moore. A story of Claire Randall, a married World War II nurse who, in 1945, finds herself transported back to 1743 Scotland, where she encounters the dashing Highland warrior Jamie Fraser and becomes embroiled in the Jacobite risings of Scotland.
It was this most recent story that convinced me that a similar tale could be told with a focus on the 'Ancien Regime' era of France.
I spent about 6 months researching the era of 1775 France, gathered up all my research notes and put together a story arc. Excited, I began banging away and put together a rough draft in the span of a couple of weeks. The story arc and the research helped give birth to the characters and the plot early on. Always a stickler for accuracy, I realised in the first rereading that I had missed some key dates in my storyline and certain characters were not historically accurately portrayed. There were glaring holes that I plugged, and there were events in the background of the story that were misplaced historically. Once they were analysed correctly, and following more historical research, I decided to change the starting date of the story to the 11th of May, 1774, the first day of the reign of Louis XVI, the last Absolute monarch of France. This date fused well with the other events, and characters I wished to introduce to the plot and subplot, so I had to go back and rewrite all the changes to take this new date into consideration. All in all a rather monumental task. No one ever said that writing was easy.
A map of Paris 1775
Rereading the manuscript and getting feedback from those in my immediate circle who I trust, I quickly realised that the story could be improved by the introduction of a character in the 'modern era' tasked with determining the cause of the disappearance of the protagonist. Naturally, as the main character introduced changes to the timeline of the 18th century, the character tasked with the hunt for the truth finds himself in an ever-evolving world that reflects amplification of the changes wrought in the 18th Century.
Another Beta reader (Thanks Nicky!) reminded me that my main character wasn't a monk, and needed a love interest. So a love interest was introduced. I had to research how a man 'courted' a bourgeoisie woman in this era, because naturally, how we do it in the modern world is entirely different.
It's been quite a ride over these past two years. I'm almost ready to release it. If you want to learn a little something about France under the 'Ancien Regime' Id like to think you might pick up some historical knowledge while at the same time be entertained. Stay tuned for release dates.
- Steven Lazaroff
Map of France 1769-1789
Hello Everyone! We are pleased to announce that Johnathan is out with his latest book, 'History's Greatest Warriors' - See below for an excerpt of the book.
For many of us, the mere mention of the word ‘gladiator’ is synonymous with the mental image of actor and movie star Russell Crowe flailing around an arena, fighting for his life in the movie “Gladiator”. When compared to his historical counterparts, there’s actually very little resemblance to reality. Although many gladiators were slaves, some actually entered the arena of professional combat as volunteers, and none of them bore much resemblance to the Hollywood versions of the blood-thirsty fighters that have populated the silver screen over the years.
History and popular culture have made the name of Spartacus notorious as a romantic rebel ex-gladiator, but a truer champion of the gladiatorial Amphitheatre was Flamma.
Professional gladiators were highly specialized and wore armour and weapons that demonstrated what specific style that they would fight in. Flamma was known as a secutor, specifically trained and equipped to fight a retiarius. The fights between these two types of reoccurring gladiators were based on the concept of a fisherman (the retiarius) fighting to catch the fish (secutor). As a result, the secutor’s armour would be designed to represent a fish’s scales and flowing contours, while the retiarius fought with a net and a trident but very little else. The light (or no) armour of the retiarius gave him scant protection but afforded him the advantage of having less weight to heave around the arena, providing a higher degree of mobility. In contrast, the secutor was heavily encumbered by armour, slower but better protected. In a match between these two common opponents, the slower, heavy fighter would have to try for an early victory before he collapsed of exhaustion. It was in this regard that Flamma proved himself a champion over and over again.
In addition to the secutor versus the retiarius, other gladiatorial contests were fought between murmmillo and hoplomachus; the double-handed swordsman, dimachaerus, pitted against the heavily armoured Oplomachus and scantily clad Bestiarius was an animal specialist that battled almost exclusively against exotic animals in a “man versus beast” special event combat. None of the authentic ancient gladiator types wore any kind of chest armour as is so often depicted in the movies.
While he didn’t achieve the same notoriety of the Thracian gladiator Spartacus (his equipment would have included a thrax, or curved sword as well as a feathered helmet), Flamma was an imposing figure in the arena and fought valiantly over a 13-year period, repeatedly refusing to be granted freedom from gladiatorial life when offered the honor of the rudis – a wooden sword that was given as a high honor to the most successful and honored fighters. Although Spartacus may be the most famous gladiator people tend to know, Flamma demonstrated his fighting abilities in no less than 34 battles and new evidence is revealing more about him and his fellow professional combatants.
Contrary to the depictions of gladiatorial life that Hollywood has manufactured, professional gladiators were well trained and well looked after, representing a considerable investment by their owners (in the case of slaves) or managers. In today’s terms, they would be the equivalent of the most celebrated and successful professional sports stars. Gladiators were fed some of the best food available, and benefited from the best and latest medical treatments provided by leading physicians and healers. Unlike the ridiculous odds movie gladiators are seen to face in the arena, the real fighters like Flamma were carefully assessed and matched up with comparable fighters so that the combats were fair and balanced. Similarly, gladiators were not forced to fight over and over again and Flamma fought just 34 battles during his 13 years in the arena, averaging two to three clashes per year. These were shows – sports entertainment at the highest level, not slaughters.
Recent findings by paleo-pathologist, Dr. Karl Grossschmidt indicate that the gladiators were kept in good health with a vegetarian diet that was heavy in carbohydrates. Unlike the chiselled, over-muscled bodies of today’s body-builders, Grossschmidt claims gladiators would have been carrying a bit of extra weight, partially as a form of protection and also because it made them look physically more impressive and intimidating. According to Grossschmidt, “Surface wounds “look more spectacular. If I get wounded but just in the fatty layer, I can fight on. It doesn’t hurt much, and it looks great for the spectators.” While an intriguing theory, other scholars speculate that just like today’s professional fighters most would likely have tried to stay as slim as possible, avoiding extra fat that would just slow them down and impend performance.
The specifics of the “gladiator diet” have always been a subject of debate. The grain barley has enjoyed a special focus, as it is believed that it assisted with building muscle, but there is conflicting documentation that suggests the leading physician of the time named Galen had certain reservations about it, fearing it was responsible for making the flesh soft”. Similarly, artwork dating back to the gladiator era shows sinewy fighters with little evidence of the extra fat Grossschmidt believes was a hallmark of the profession. Writer David Black Mastro argues that the vegetarian diet the gladiators were fed reflects how unimportant they were. He claims that the lack of meat in their diets - even meat that was regularly consumed by others, indicates that they were given a poor diet to reflect their lowly status as slaves.
This is quite contrary to other opinions which indicate the gladiators enjoyed a celebrity status which is why some were volunteers, rather than slaves. The elite fighters who enjoyed popular support and frequent victories like Flamma, so enjoyed the fame and celebrity status that it became a difficult profession to leave. This seems to be the case with Flamma, as he was offered freedom four times and refused it so that he could stay in the public eye and keep fighting as a gladiator.
While it’s true that as gladiators, these professional fighters were effectively confined and were not allowed to leave the gladiator camp of their own accord, it wasn’t all bad. Gladiators were permitted to receive visitors and - not unlike today’s sports superstars, there were groups of giggling girls all too eager to pay them a visit. These women were usually from highly respected families but would sneak into the camps to bestow their favours on the champions of the arena. Gladiators had groupies.
While Grossschmidt compares the gladiatorial bouts to modern-day boxing, it enjoyed a rather different position in terms of how it was perceived as a pastime. We certainly don’t consider today’s boxing fans to be highly intellectual, but attending gladiatorial battles at the time was regarded as more sophisticated and respectable than another social activity - going to the theatre. The fights were seen as a celebration of important principles such as bravery and honour, while in comparison plays were “idle” entertainment. From this ancient Roman perspective, it is understandable how gladiators could be envied and idolized.
Perhaps enjoying celebrity status was why Flamma repeatedly refused his freedom. Certainly, the vast majority of the gladiators were slaves and even those who had volunteered to fight could be bought and sold, as commodities. To most, having your freedom restored was considered an ultimate reward. This was symbolized by the rudis, a ceremonial token wooden sword that was presented to victorious gladiators who earned their freedom. The criteria for receiving this prize was highly subjective and was often granted at the whim of Emperors and other great and powerful men. Once a rudis was awarded, the gladiator was then allowed to walk through the “the gate of life” which meant he could leave the arena as a free man with no further obligation to fight. While most gladiators would win the rudis only once in their lives, Flamma was offered it four times and each time refused, returning to fight another day to the wild acclaim of adoring crowds.
Flamma’s gladiatorial record is one of the longest and most distinguished we know about from the Roman records, spanning most of his adult lifetime. He made his professional gladiatorial debut at the age of 17 and went on to secure 21 victories in his 34 bouts. His fights ended in a tie only nine times, and after 13 years in the arena, he lost just four contests. The record of his success can be seen inscribed on his gravestone in Sicily where he is buried under the name, “Flamma of Syria”. Although the cause of death was not reported, one can only assume he died fighting.
We know about his record exclusively from his grave marker. Today, headstones are generally arranged by family, but for the professional gladiator markers created to commemorate their remains were commonly prepared by the deceased’s colleagues and friends, as Flamma’s gravestone indicates. Inscribed with the epitaph “ Flamma, secutor, lived 30 years, fought 34 times, won 21 times, fought to a draw 9 times, defeated 4 times a Syrian by nationality” the stone bears an additional engraving which reads, “Delicatus made this for his deserving comrade in arms”.
There is no record of a gladiator by the name of Delicatus, and the word’s only association with the Romans appears to refer to homosexual practices. A puer delicatus was a young male slave who was chosen by his master according to this looks and his potential as a sexual partner. The relationship between master and puer delicatus was very different from the consensual relationship of the Greek paiderasteia. A puer delicatus was subordinate to his master in every way and essentially a sex slave. In some instances, the master was so enamoured with his puer delicatus that he would have him castrated and potentially, even marry him. The notorious Roman Emperor Nero married a young man named Sporus, his puer delicatus, in one of his several same-sex marriages.
It’s hard to be certain, but given this reference, it is possible that Flamma had a young boy of his own who worshipped him and subsequently requested the honour of creating the gravestone.
A gladiator’s marker could be a testament to his life or an accusation after death, as it appears to be in the case of another gladiator that may have been a contemporary of Flamma. The grave of a fighter named Diodorus was discovered some 100 years ago in Turkey and is now on display at the Musee du Cinquanternaire in Brussels, Belgium. Born in Turkey, Diodorus fought there until his death but his headstone makes no reference to how many battles he won or lost. Instead, it reads: “After breaking my opponent Demetrius I did not kill him immediately. Fate and the cunning treachery of the summa rudis killed me.”
Gravestones have revealed much about Flamma and his contemporaries, but the remains buried beneath them have told us much more. Researchers Grossschmidt and Dr. Fabian Kanz conducted a study of 67 skeletons discovered at Ephesus in Turkey. While learning much about these fighters’ diets, a variety of discoveries were made around the injuries that gladiators may have sustained, resulting in the conclusion that the combats they fought in may not have been quite as bloody and gory as was previously assumed. According to the pathologists, the lack of multiple injuries suggests that rather than engaging in a bloody free for all, the combatants fought under careful rules with referees ensuring the conflicts didn’t get out of control. It makes sense that in his 13-year career, Flamma would have sustained an injury or two and, without medical attention or the intervention of a match official probably would not have survived in the arena for so long.
In keeping with the concept that the battles between retiarius and secutor reenacted the battle between Neptune, the god of water, and Vulcan, the god of fire, several of the skeletons uncovered in Ephesus show clear signs of having been stabbed with a three-thronged weapon, similar to Neptune’s famous trident. According to Grossschmidt, "The bone injuries - those on the skulls for example - are not everyday ones; they are very, very unusual and particularly the injuries inflicted by a trident, are a particular indication that a typical gladiator's weapon was used.”
Additional evidence suggests that each bout was a one-on-one affair, with two gladiators facing each other with just one weapon each. It appears gladiators fought fairly and squarely for their triumphs and in the uncommon matches that were actually “to the death” - when they were literally fighting for their lives, they would be put out of their misery with a quick blow to the back of the head, delivered by an executioner who was hanging around in the wings for that very purpose. It was rare that one gladiator actually executed another.
Other insights into gladiators and how they fought and died can be gleaned from ancient graffiti found among the ruins of the ancient city of Aphrodisias, situated near the modern-day village of Geyre in Turkey. Looking at these scribbled images of gladiators in battle, the most striking thing is how many appear to depict a secatuer in combat with a retiarius. The three-pronged Trident is a recurring image through the drawings, indicating this particular type of gladiatorial battle was among the most popular.
According to Professor Angelos Chaniotis from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, “Graffiti are the products of instantaneous situations, often creatures of the night, scratched by people amused, excited, agitated, perhaps drunk. This is why they are so hard to interpret," he said. "But this is why they are so valuable. They are records of voices and feelings on stone." In addition to insights into the arena and its contestants, the graffiti also show scenes of day-to-day life, including chariot racing and of course, sex.
As historians and researchers piece together these fragile fragments of an ancient civilization, they begin to reveal increasingly precise information about who the gladiators really were and what their lives were like both inside and outside the arena. One thing that is certain, is that these ancient warriors were very different than how they have been portrayed by the T.V. and film industry.
Gladiators heroes like Flamma were courageous, violent men who were dedicated to their training and spent their short lives perfecting their techniques for the gratification of the audience, and for furthering fame and fortune. Their survival was perfecting their fighting prowess, and Flamma would have been as careful about his diet and lifestyle as any of today’s top athletes and soldiers. Risking probable injury, disfigurement, and death repeatedly and by his own choice, Flamma was the real gladiator, a warrior for the ages.
Where Are They? And why haven’t we found them yet? by Steven Lazaroff and Mark Rodger
This could be the best non-fiction book I’ve ever read.I bought this book because I had previously bought and enjoyed History’s Greatest Deceptions and Confidence Scams. That book wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough that I wanted to see what they’d written next. And I am so glad I did. Where Are They? shows what happens when writers gain confidence in what they are doing. This book soars to the heights – both in its subject matter and literally, as a masterpiece in conveying information.
The title comes from physicist Enrico Fermi who said, about theories that Earth should already have received extraterrestrial visitors and yet no convincing evidence of a visit existed, “Where is everybody?” The universe should be teeming with civilisations at one level of development or another – so where are they?
The book examines all the current theories that have been developed to answer this question. It takes no sides. It simply sets out the present state of knowledge. But it does so in the most brilliant, beautiful prose. So brilliant that I would recommend this book even to readers with no interest in the search for alien intelligence, simply because they will enjoy the limpid prose and the humour with which the arguments are presented.
Here is an example:
‘Imagine that you are in the same position as one of those alien astronauts being tapped up for a journey to Earth from the galaxy MACS0647-JD. It’s 13.3 billion light years away, so – if your civilisation has developed a form of transportation that will travel at the speed of light – the time spent on the journey is unimaginable. Would you want to do it? Leave the kids, your husband and your book club knowing that at the end of your journey you would encounter a civilisation a few hundred millennia less developed than yours? And that you couldn’t get home for nearly 27 billion years at the earliest, by which time your planet would in all possibility have come to the end of its life? And that, when you arrived on Earth, your body would have been renewed some eighty times, so you wouldn’t really still be you at all?’
Not a single prominent theory about the evolution of life forms has been left out. It’s also clear that the authors take a dim (they would probably say “realistic”) view of humanity’s fitness to receive visitors from another civilisation.
I’ll say it again: this could be the best non-fiction book I’ve ever read. Do yourself the most amazing favour and READ IT.
Return to Reviews of Other People’s Books
Review by David Ben Efraim of Quick Review Books
Steven Lazaroff and Mark Rodger take the Logical Route
Our society has most recently developed its tremendous fascination with outer space, largely due to the fact our observational and communicative technologies have advanced by nigh-incalculable leaps in the past decades. However, the allure of the stars always captured the imagination of our ancestors, even as primitive as cavemen if we are to judge by the paintings they left behind. We have been striving for countless years to gain a few more grains of knowledge on what lies beyond our Earthly realms, and if we take a look at the progress we have made in its totality, we would find it is both extremely significant and insignificant at the same time. We might know a lot more than we once did, but it still remains virtually nothing in the grand scheme of things. Nevertheless, Steven Lazaroff and Mark Rodger have decided to compress this sum of human knowledge into a book titled Where Are They?.
The first thing I should mention, this is a non-fiction book and its aim is to explore as profoundly as possible both sides of the argument debating on the existence of aliens and our likelihood of ever meeting them. In order to do so, it begins with hypothetical explorations of the many different scenarios which might result from us encountering aliens in the future. Following that, they take a more grounded approach as they examine the various efforts we've made in an attempt to find alien life forms as well as the theories we have developed over time. The book then expands into evolutionary theories which might account for both the existence or inexistence of aliens. For the final stretch, the authors focus on where they believe the road ahead might lead us and what we ought to expect based on what we have witnessed on Earth.
A Light Read on a Heavy Topic
It should go without saying the science of space exploration is extremely complicated, involving various fields such as cosmology, physics, biology, and probably many more with names I could never hope to remember. Somehow, the authors have managed to do away with the overwhelming majority of complicated stuff and have laid things out in layman's terms. Even the more complex theories, calculations and philosophies are explained in a very simple and intuitive manner, and I believe this is one of the main reasons I enjoyed this book so much. As much as I would love to know all the intricacies behind the calculations at the SETI Project or the profound implications of isolationism, I accept they are more than a tad beyond me, unless of course I have countless hours to dedicate to their study... which I don't.
In my previous non-fictional readings on the subject of aliens, I often found the authors either kept things far too simple and surface-level, or they dove so deeply into the technical details they were never seen again. This book feels like it strikes the perfect middle ground between the two, as I never had any problems progressing or felt the need to re-read what I just went through for comprehension purposes. I always had a good understanding of what the authors were trying to depict, and what's more, I really felt like I was learning from one page to the next. Perhaps it has to do with the authors' slightly humorous and easy-going style, but the information never had any problems sticking in my mind.
The Unbiased Perspective
Authors who write on the subject of aliens generally have their minds set on a certain theory or scenario they believe to be the likeliest... and are thus biased in their dissection of the subject. While I wouldn't say the authors here have achieved complete and utter neutrality (their passion for the possibility of alien life existing briefly manifests itself from time to time), they have come closer than most. I never got the sense they were trying to push something down my throat or guide me along a specific path to shape my beliefs. They do a fantastic job of setting their own notions aside for the most part, simply delivering the cold, hard facts and renowned published theories.
I felt this even held true for the more philosophical parts of the book where the authors explore the various possible implications of first contact, technology exchange, or us being alone in the universe, just to name a few. Would the elite seek to hoard knowledge and technology from the aliens? Developmentally-speaking, are we prepared for the moral responsibilities of incredible advancements? They raise some very interesting points which I found pushed me to do further research, rather than jump to any conclusions. Ultimately, I feel the authors truly want to educate their readers, providing them with the resources and curiosity necessary to delve deeper into the subject and perhaps even develop their own theories on the matter. After all, while we might know more than we once did, we still know virtually nothing in the grand scheme of things... a thing Lazaroff and Rodger always keep in mind.
The Final Verdict
All in all, Where Are They? by Steven Lazaroff and Mark Rodger is probably the most engaging and reader-friendly nonfiction book on aliens I have had the pleasure of reviewing, at least in recent memory. It's written in a slightly humours and easy style and covers all the bases of our search for alien life without going in too deep but still providing a big enough wealth of information. If you are even remotely interested in aliens what humanity has accomplished in its search for them, then I strongly recommend you give this book a shot.
The term “scam” is really a new word in the English lexicon and has come to supersede its older and more distinguished original cousin, “the confidence game” or “con game”, as it became popularly known at the time. One constant in human history is the tendency to want to shorten and simplify some of the most descriptive concepts we have, to anything that can be mumbled as a single syllable mouthful.
Throughout history, there have always been fraudsters and tricksters ready and willing to part people from their money with smooth talking and tall tales, but the first formally recorded “confidence trick” was uniquely American in its origins and set the bar for both simplicity and sheer guts, both hallmarks of the most successful frauds ever perpetrated.
In the late 1840’s the east coast of the United States was awash with the nouveau riche, and men wearing top hats to look important. Good manners and polite society were everything unless you were a slave in which case the top hat was entirely optional. It was the age of Jane Austen, white gloves, carriages and over-the-top manners. It was also the time of pocket watches, dangling from gold chains. Victorian sensibilities dictated that the bigger and shinier the watch, the bigger and shinier the man.
Enter one William Thompson, arguably the originator of the term “confidence man”, a genius operator and a personal hero to the career grifter. Little is known about where he came from, but what is certain is that he had his finger on the pulse of well-heeled suckers strolling the walkways and avenues of Manhattan in the mid-nineteenth century.
Meeting someone was a rigid, formal affair with protocol and procedures; the handshake, tip of the hat and bow were rigidly choreographed. Failure to introduce oneself properly or be introduced according to accepted custom was seen as an embarrassment to both parties – and embarrassment was worse than a bleeding head wound, to be avoided at all costs. Operating in New York in the 1840s, William was a keen observer of human behaviour. He realized that, with such pomp and ceremony surrounding every introduction, it was considered the ultimate in bad manners not to remember people that one might have been acquainted with – he calculated that when confronted with a stranger that said he was a friend, most men would likely act as though they remembered a meeting that had never happened.
William thought he might be able to leverage this, and so would often stroll along the city streets, until he spotted an upper-class sucker, at which time he would approach and pretend to know them and be a past acquaintance, someone that they had met before. Rather than be embarrassed, the mark would usually smile, nod and pretend that he knew who William was – better that than risk dishonour, or a pistol duel – which was how some matters of honour were settled at the time.
After some friendly chatting, and a little trust-gaining, Thompson would throw out his hook, asking “Have you confidence in me to trust me with your watch until tomorrow?” He wasn’t all about watches – sometimes he would ask for money. It’s good to diversify. More often than not, the mark would part with the watch or the money (or sometimes both) and William would depart, promising to meet the next day to return the property. Naturally, he didn’t keep the next day’s appointment and would often stroll away, laughing to himself.
He repeated this game dozens of times until he had the bad luck to happen across a former victim, who promptly summoned a roving policeman who gave chase. After a frantic foot pursuit through Manhattan and a dramatic struggle, William was bodily subdued and arrested. Perhaps he was slowed down by the weight of all those pocket watches; it was reported that he had several on him at the time he was caught.
His arrest and the subsequent article in the New York Herald called “Arrest of the Confidence Man” made headlines across the country; he was headed to trial in 1849. The press noted his specific appeals to victims’ “confidence” and thereafter he was known in the press as “The Confidence Man”. And so the term was born, and “confidence game” or “con” became part of our vocabulary, and spawned an endless series of quick-buck fraudster copycats that said, “me too”!
This is the story of some of the greatest.
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Some discussions in some facebook groups that I belong to have centered on the subject
of religion, so I thought I'd include an excerpt from our book that discussed the religious angle.
And those trade arrangements of the past were very one-sided. If our experience
with extra-terrestrials mirrors that of peoples colonised by Europeans, “trade” will not
be something conducted by equals – Earth will have resources that the aliens need
and what they will offer in return will amount to the equivalent of glass beads. But
then, it’s as well to remember that the kind of civilisation imagined here is likely to
regard an iPhone X as the equivalent of glass beads.
A close look at European colonial history suggests other possibilities, too. Earth
may be invaded to spread religion, as many countries on this planet were invaded to
force people to adopt Christianity. Or Islam. Or Communism. And that brings us back
to the question of how people will respond. This will be dealt with in more detail later
in this book, but it is often suggested that one of the big losers on Earth in the event
of discovery of an extra-terrestrial civilisation would be religion. And that is not, in
fact, necessarily so. A cartoon doing the Facebook rounds recently showed some
aliens on another planet talking to visitors from Earth. ‘Jesus?’ says one of the
aliens. ‘We know him well. He drops in about once a month. We give him coffee and
cakes. How did you treat him?’
Suppose the invaders brought with them a holy book that told roughly the
same story as the Bible. Or the Quran. Or some other religious
text already known here. Is it possible to imagine anything that could better reinforce
an existing religious message?
Then again, there’s the possibility that the extra-terrestrials’ values are so far from
those of humans that it is impossible for humans to understand them. Earth provides
a fairly benign environment for the human race to grow up in. When humans have
been able to desist from killing each other, in the cause of religion or trade or simply
because humans are tribal and don’t really like people from other tribes, the world
has mostly been kind to them. Imagine a different planet – the one from which the
inter-stellar visitors are coming – in which every day is a struggle for survival. These
aliens did not emerge unscathed from their own planet’s evolution. They survived
because they became better at killing other species than other species became at
killing them. What mindset – what value system – are such people likely to have
It’s extremely likely to be the idea that the universe is predicated on the survival of
the fittest. They believe that, if humans are unable to resist them effectively, humans
are not fit for survival. They would be justified in killing us, just because they could.
Justified not, perhaps, by our standards and values, but certainly by theirs – and it
would be their standards and values that counted, because “might is right.”
'Where are They?' is available for Pre Order now on Kindle. Release date is on Sept 18th.
Paperback will be available on Sept 18th, Sign up to our newsletter for a reminder if you
want the physical copy.
Get your pre order here.
I'm a pretty competitive guy. I like to rank, measure, tweak and push the envelope in everything I do.
Imagine my pleasant surprise to find out that Amazon has ranked our upcoming release
<Where Are they> in their number one spot for upcoming releases in Cosmology,
beating out Stephen Hawking!
To our readers, followers, friends and family that helped with the pre-orders; you have our gratitude. We hope to maintain the position between now and launch date on the 18th of September.
Je suis un individu assez compétitif. J'aime classer, mesurer, ajuster et pousser l'enveloppe dans tout ce que je fais.
Imaginez ma bonne surprise de découvrir que Amazon a classé notre prochaine version
<Où sont-ils> dans la première place pour les versions à venir en cosmologie,
Ont bat meme Stephen Hawking!
À nos lecteurs, amis et famille qui ont aidé avec les précommandes; vous avez notre gratitude. Nous espérons maintenir la position entre maintenant et la date de lancement le 18 septembre.
The Launch of our next book 'Where are They?' is coming on September 18th.
Amazon's algorithm helps a book along by providing free exposure and ranking when a book in pre-release has a good volume of pre-orders. So naturally, we need to encourage the pre-orders.
For a very limited time, our launch price will be at 0.99c. This price won't be available for long, so if you are curious about our book or just want to send a helping hand along to our project, here's how to help.
As a Bonus, we are offering a free copy of our first book 'History's Greatest Deceptions and Confidence Scams' if you purchase a pre-order of our pre-release of 'Where are They?'
If you don't own a Kindle, you can easily download a Kindle application for your smartphone or tablet. You can find one free for Android here or for apple IOs here.
After registering your profile with the Kindle app, find the book by searching for either my name or Mark's name in the search field.
Click on the Pre-order link. You will not be charged at this time. You will be charged on Sept 18th, the date of our launch.
Once Sept 18th comes along, the book will be automatically entered in your Kindle app.
Oh and please don't forget to review our book after you've bought it.
Mark and I thank you for your help.
Le lancement de notre prochain livre "Où sont-ils?" arrive à grand pas, le 18 septembre.
L'algorithme d'Amazon aide un auteur en fournissant une visibilité gratuite et un classement important lorsqu'un livre en pré-lancement a un bon volume de pré-commandes. Donc, naturellement, nous devons encourager les pré-commandes.
Pour un temps très limité, notre prix de lancement sera à 0.99c. Ce prix ne sera pas disponible pour longtemps, donc si vous êtes curieux de connaître notre livre ou si vous voulez simplement nous envoyer un coup de main à notre projet, voici comment vous pouvez aider.
En prime, nous offrons une copie gratuite de notre premier livre «History's Greatest Deceptions and Confidence Scams» (Disponible pour l'instant seulement en anglais) si vous achetez une pré-commande de notre pré-lancement de «Où sont-ils? » -
Si vous ne possédez pas de Kindle, vous pouvez facilement télécharger une application Kindle pour votre smartphone ou votre tablette. Vous pouvez en trouver un gratuitement pour Android ici ou pour Apple IOs ici.
Après avoir enregistré votre profil avec l'application Kindle, recherchez le livre en recherchant mon nom ou celui de Mark dans le champ de recherche.
Cliquez sur le lien Précommande. Vous ne serez pas facturé pour le moment. Vous serez facturé le 18 septembre, date de notre lancement.
Une fois arrivé le 18 septembre, le livre sera automatiquement entré dans votre application Kindle.
Oh et s'il vous plaît n'oubliez pas de revoir notre livre après l'avoir acheté!
Au nom de Mark et moi, nous vous remercions.