Photographic Honesty

Category:Wikipedia requested photographs of ph...
Category:Wikipedia requested photographs of photography (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m going to do something that I’ve never done before, something a little risky. I’m going to write a piece about an article on someone else’s website, a piece which resonated with me. Of course, I may have totally missed the point of the other person’s article. I hope not, and I can only apologise in advance for any misconceptions that I have about the article.

Please note that the pictures in this article are mere decorations and do not and not intended to relate to Tony Bridge and his art. Think of them as free association based on the words that I type.

English: Photography forbidden. A nightmare......
English: Photography forbidden. A nightmare… Français : Un cauchemar… Deutsch: Fotografieren verboten. Ein Albtraum… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The writer of the piece is Tony Bridge ( and the piece is entitled “On honesty in photography“.

Firstly I urge you to visit Tony Bridge’s site and view the many amazing and attention grabbing photographs that Tony has assembled on his site. I am in awe of his skill, his technique, and particularly of his professional photographer’s eye. (Please remember that none of these images are his. I would not presume…)

English: A photographer between waves and mussels
English: A photographer between waves and mussels (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m no photographer. I take photographs, I try to ensure that the photographs are interesting, I try to “compose” them a little, I try to pay attention to the lighting of the subject versus the background and things like that, but these days I rarely stray from the automatic settings on my camera, which is a cheap FujiFilm one.

As for post-production, the removal of perceived mistakes in composition and specks of dust, changing hues and saturation and so on, well, I rarely do more than remove red-eye and shift the contrast. Tony’s article talks about a possible perceived over emphasis on the post-production of some modern photography. It is the main topic of Tony’s article.

Photoshop-work (Photo credit: Kjell Eson)

With tools like Photoshop anything in or about a picture can be manipulated, from simple removal of flaws to major changes to the image. Indeed there are numerous  photo manipulation “fails” to be found on the Internet, ranging from failed enhancements of “beauty” shots, to badly photoshopped propaganda photographs from the likes of North Korea.

Follow Me, Ladies
Follow Me, Ladies (Photo credit: Dοn)

Is this new? I think not. Apparently Henry VIII of England was deceived by a painted likeness of Anne of Cleves, complaining that “She is nothing so fair as she hath been reported.” To be sure this is not post production alteration of the image, but it is similar in kind. Henry could, probably justifiably, have called for more honesty in image production.

Painting of Anne of Cleves, fourth wife of the...
Painting of Anne of Cleves, fourth wife of the English King Henry VIII, by Hans Holbein the Younger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course there were movements in portraiture and other painting for more honesty in portrayal. Oliver Cromwell, is alleged to have required that his portrait be painted “warts and all”. However most painting tended to emphasise some aspects of the subject over others, the epitome being the painting of “The Monarch of the Glen” by Landseer, an over idealised painting of a stag. Nevertheless, a great painting.

sir Edwin Landseer, The Monarch of the Glen (1...
sir Edwin Landseer, The Monarch of the Glen (1851) in the Museum of Scotland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some painters realised the way that images were being enhanced and moved in another direction away from realism, leading to such schools of painting as impressionism, cubism, surrealism,  pop art, to name only a few. Again the paintings were, are amazing. I draw a parallel between non-realistic art with highly post-processed photography.

Photography, springing up in the early 20th century in the shadow of painting, at first had few tools to do other than report what the lens had seen. Photographers were still learning about the new medium, but soon techniques started to arise, such as vignetting (softening the corners of an image) to alter the image.

Untitled (Photo credit: Smithsonian Institution)

But the tools soon arrived. The standard model of camera has the image plane perpendicular to the lens axis with the lens axis at or near to the centre of the image plane. Later cameras allowed the lens to be shifted and twisted to allow various effects, such as better images of tall buildings and so on. No doubt the photographers of the time might argue for a more honest approach, though I’m pushing the analogy to breaking point.

In the darkroom similar effects could be performed by manipulating the chemical baths and the enlarger used for the printing process. Many of the image manipulation processes are over 100 years old according to Wikipedia. It was probably the advert of colour films and processing that severely reduced the amateur use of darkroom processes in photography, because of the extra complexity of processes. That’s a pity, as nothing beats the feeling you get when an image appears from nothing on a white piece of paper.

Student developing a map image. Photograph tak...
Student developing a map image. Photograph taken during the making of a BBC documentary. IMAGELIBRARY/166 Persistent URL:… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The digital revolution has put the power back in the hands of the amateur again. Anyone with a phone can take a photograph, process it through Instagram and the result has been …. a cascade of rubbish!

Against this unprecedented tide of rubbish, real photographers, amateur and professional struggle to promote their art. So is real photography the poorly lit, over exposed, blurry, shaky, hand-held phone stuff, or the highly processed, sharp as a tack, rigidly tripod mounted, Canon/Nikon/Hasselblad shot stuff, or the story board, lightly processed, possibly hand held stuff?

English: Hasselblad 503 CW with Zeiss F-Distag...
English: Hasselblad 503 CW with Zeiss F-Distagon 3,5/30 and digital back Ixpress V96C (16 megapixel sensor). Français : Appareil moyen format Hasselblad 503 CW avec optique Zeiss Distagon 3,5/30 et dos numérique Ixpress V96C (Résolution 16 MP). Nederlands: Middenformaatcamera Hasselblad 503 CW met Zeiss F-Distagon 3,5/30 en digitale achterwand Ixpress V96C (16 megapixel). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my opinion, it is an invalid question. Consider the famous “Monsoon Girl” photograph by Brian Brake. This is an awesome photograph and I don’t see why it should denigrated because it was a set up. Is it honest? It is honest to the story it told. It expresses perfectly the promise that the monsoon brings of growing things and plenty in the future. However it wasn’t a real photograph of a real girl in real monsoon rain.

Monsoon Girl
Monsoon Girl (Photo credit: colonos)

Similarly with the awesome images that can be created by Photoshop and other tools. One of my favourite site for images is the NASA site. Wonderful images! However many of them are “false colour” images, of the sun and other objects. It’s not Photoshop, (so far as I know) but it is highly manipulated images. Are they “honest”? In one sense they are in another they are not. Are they amazing photographs? Yes, of course.

English: Landsat 7 false colour image of the N...
English: Landsat 7 false colour image of the Nile Delta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If I had a photo good enough to be used in a magazine or book or whatever, would I do whatever I could to make it as defect free as possible? Yes, I would and I would not consider that dishonest.

Tony Bridge questions whether or not we need the latest cameras, a longer lens, the next highest resolution or the next update of photo manipulation software. Of course we don’t. But if they help us get our message across, then they are useful. They are pretty nice toys, too! A long lens is great. An extremely long lens may enable things to be photographed that can’t otherwise be photographed, but only the photographer’s eye can make the picture shine.

Schematic of a catadioptric (mirror-lens) tele...
Schematic of a catadioptric (mirror-lens) telephoto camera lens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recall that I posted an image on Facebook of a stick insect shedding its skin. This event occurred practically right in front of my nose, just outside my front door. I really couldn’t have missed it. Brian Harmer, a photographer and blogger friend of mine congratulated me on my photo, and when I said that I couldn’t have missed it, he wisely said “Most of the genius in any image is what you point it at when you shoot. Your eye saw the image. the (camera) merely recorded it”.

Stick insect shedding skin
Stick insect shedding skin


My picture was no work of art, but I take his point. What makes a good photo or photo essay is the photographer’s eye and the photographer’s heart, and I believe that is something like what Tony Bridge means by “honesty”. Technique and tools can aid the photographer but they can’t make a mediocre picture into a great one. 

One last comment. Does the use of less post-processing in digital photography. and a reliance on more honest photography mean that digital photography is maturing? Again, I will sit on the fence. Yes, it shows maturity if it erases the distinction between prior photography (analog photography?) and digital photography. When a photograph is just a photograph, and digital or analog post processing is not relevant, then digital photography has matured.

A 1.5 bit Multiplying Digital to Analog Converter
A 1.5 bit Multiplying Digital to Analog Converter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But I hope that is not totally true, as with maturity comes the danger of stagnation. I don’t believe that as technical a pastime or profession as photography can ever mature in that sense, fortunately. The technology will keep changing, opening new avenues for photographers, both amateur and professional, as its sisterly arts of painting and sculpture demonstrate.

Employees of Southern Bell & Telegraph Company...
Employees of Southern Bell & Telegraph Company at work: Miami, Florida (Photo credit: State Library and Archives of Florida)

Thank you Tony Bridge for providing your thought provoking article, which has been the inspiration of this post.

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Lane #2 Swimming
Lane #2 Swimming (Photo credit: clappstar)

Last week’s post was going to be about the number two, but I got diverted into talking about existence/non-existence instead. Existence/non-existence is only one of the many attributes that comes in only two possible varieties or types. Up and down, left and right, in and out, positive and negative.

These attributes might be associated with another attribute representing a magnitude, such as distance, weight or other attribute. So we may say 20 metres to the left, thus locating the object or event in relation to the datum or origin. Both attributes are required in such circumstances, since the directional attribute (left/right) does not completely locate whatever it is, event or object. Neither does distance, by itself, locate the event or object.

Directions (Photo credit: Gerry Dincher)

Relative to datum, in a three dimensional world, any three axes define direction and the datum itself divides the direction into two opposite parts. If you include the fourth dimension of time, the datum, now, still divides the direction into two parts, before and after. This of course can be extended to as many dimensions as you may choose to conjecture.

English: A compact convex set has finite perim...
English: A compact convex set has finite perimeter in dimension 2 Français : Figure illustrative du fait qu’un compact convex est de périmètre fini en dimension 2. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One interesting two-ism is the two-ism of a mirror. When you look in the mirror you see an image of yourself. When you move your left hand, the image appears to move its right hand, and the image’s hair parting appears to be on the opposite side to yours. This is a mind trick, since if you see a person raise the hand on their right as you look at them, your mind says that it is their left hand that has been raised. If they have a parting on the left as you look at them, your mind tells you that their parting is on their right.

English: : A mirror, reflecting a vase. Españo...
English: : A mirror, reflecting a vase. Español: : Un espejo, reflejando un vasija. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This illusion is so strong that people misunderstand the reason why words appear reversed in the mirror, and why it is hard to trim your moustache, or pluck hairs in the mirror.

Many people are puzzled because a mirror appears to reverse things left-to-right but not up-to-down. It doesn’t – your left hand is still on the left, and your right hand is still on the right, your head is still at the top and your feet are at the bottom.

Flowers in Mirror Image
Flowers in Mirror Image (Photo credit: ClaraDon)

The trick is that your nose is closer to the mirror than the back of your head and the same is true of the image. The image’s nose is closer to the mirror than the back of the image’s head. If you draw a map of yourself, the mirror and the image, you will see that the mirror reverses the axis between the original and the image. The front/back axis. Once you see that, it is obvious, and it is hard to see how you could have thought otherwise. It doesn’t help your coordination when you part your hair though!

"The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. H...
“The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (Photo credit: Profound Whatever)

When we consider the number two, it is an interesting integer, the second of the natural numbers. Interestingly we use the second ordinal number to describe the second natural number, and we use the second ordinal number in that definition too. I’m sure that the circular nature of this description is apparent.

English: Odd numbers : Even numbers Sedgefield...
English: Odd numbers : Even numbers Sedgefield Close of course. Somehow at the time this sign just seemed odd. Even now it still does. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m a fan of the axiomatic approach to number theory. An axiomatic system consists of a set of axioms that are used as the basis of reasoning. A theorem in such a system is a set of steps leading from a premise to a conclusion. A premise should be the conclusion of a previous theorem.

Skipping a lot of details, one axiomatic approach is to define a function S, the successor function. S(x) then refers to the successor of x, where x is a natural number. So S(7) is 8, S(1,000,000) is 1,000,001. S(1) is 2, and we have a non-circular definition of the number 2. Erm, almost. The number and its successor form a pair and a pair has how many members? Two. There’s still a whiff of circularity there, to my mind.

Two of Arts - 2000 Visual Mashups
Two of Arts – 2000 Visual Mashups (Photo credit: qthomasbower)

Two is an even number and the first of them. An even number is a number which can be split into two in such a way that the two parts are the same number. To put it another way, if you take an even number of stones and put them alternately into two piles, you will be left with two piles each with the same number of stones. If you take an odd number of stones, and perform this test, you will find that the two piles have a different number of stones.

Stone Texture
Stone Texture (Photo credit: Poe Tatum)

If you consider the set of even number and the set of all natural numbers you might conclude that there will be less even numbers than natural numbers. Paradoxically, there are as many even numbers as there are natural numbers.

It is possible to demonstrate this by a process of mapping the even numbers to the natural numbers. 1 then maps to 2, 2 maps to 4, 3 maps to 6 and so on. This mapping process is also called ‘counting’. For each and every natural number there is a corresponding even number and for each and every even number there is a natural number. The two sets of numbers map one to one. If two sets map one to one, it is said that their cardinality is the same, or in common language, they are the same size.

Pack of playing cards.
Pack of playing cards. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We are more used to finite sets of things (like the set consisting of a pack of cards) than infinite sets of things (like the set of even numbers or the set of natural numbers). If you take half the members of a finite set away, you have a smaller set of things. For example if you take all the black cards out of a set consisting of a pack of cards, the resulting set is smaller, but for infinite sets of things like the natural numbers this is just not true. If you take the odd numbers from the set of natural numbers, the resulting set of even numbers is the same size as the original set, not smaller.

English: Combe Martin, The "Pack 'o Cards...
English: Combe Martin, The “Pack ‘o Cards” Inn. Built to relate to a pack of cards, i.e. 4 floors to represent suits in a pack and 13 fireplaces to correspond to the number of cards in a suit and reputedly 52 windows as per the number of cards in a pack. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Much of the above is far from rigorous, and I’m aware of that. However, the main thrust of the arguments is still, I believe, valid. Numbers are fascinating things, with each one having unique properties, and a whole lifetime could be spent considering just one number.

English: Unusual chimney These brick chimneypo...
English: Unusual chimney These brick chimneypots can be seen on the original school building, dated 1857, which lies behind its successor, see 438699. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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Existence of things – Ontological questions

unfolding (Photo credit: ecstaticist)

“Just the two of us”. This song by Bill_Withers encapsulates the idea of a pair of people (male and female from the context) and the separation of the pair from everyone around them. The lyrics assert that “we can make it if we try”, although what “it” refers to is not made apparent. It’s a pleasant, smooth song and serves well enough to introduce my post for this week. I like it.

Eggistentialism 1.5 or Three of a Perfect Pair
Eggistentialism 1.5 or Three of a Perfect Pair (Photo credit: bitzcelt)

The idea of a couple or pair is a concept that acts to separate or compartmentalise one object and another related object from all possible instances of the class of object. Eleven and twelve. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. POTUS and FLOTUS. Mercury and Venus.

It can also relate members of one class of object with another class of object. Seven and fourteen (the seventh natural number and the seventh even natural number).  28th and January. “x” and “y”.

Complete coloring sample of Clebsch Graph with...
Complete coloring sample of Clebsch Graph with 8 colors (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It can also be a generator of other objects. The number one and the operation of addition leads to two, three, four and so on for ever. (OK, I missed a huge chunk of detail there and it is nowhere near as simple as that).

Another twoism is the concept of opposites. Black and white, top and bottom, man and woman. OK, that last concept is a bit blurry these days, but everyone (with the exception of a few genetically different individuals) is genetically male or female. XY or XX.

DNA, human male chromosomes
DNA, human male chromosomes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The big twoism is the concept of existence/non-existence. Is there a river of lava flowing through my garden? No, there isn’t. Such a river does not exist. But if I lived in Iceland or in Hawaii, or in another location near a volcano, such a river might exist. My cat Madonna doesn’t exist, but my dog Ben does.

This seems such a definite concept, but looked at a bit closer, and it begins to get fuzzy. There is in fact a river of lava flowing through my garden! Eh? Well let me start up Minecraft and the world where I’ve been building a garden, with a lava river flowing through it.

Minecraft/DwarfFortress Entrance with Lava Trap
Minecraft/DwarfFortress Entrance with Lava Trap (Photo credit: colmmcsky)

Of course you might argue that the Minecraft world doesn’t really exist. But it does! It exists in Minecraft, and Minecraft exists in this world, so the Minecraft lava river exists in this world. If A exists in B, and B exists in C then A exists in C.

Actually the Minecraft world only exists in my thoughts. I haven’t built a garden in Minecraft and I haven’t got a river of lava flowing through it, but by the logic above, the river of lava exists in my mind in a Minecraft world, my mind exists in the real world, so the river of lava exists. If A exists in B, and B exists in C then A exists in C.

English: illustration for the transitive relat...
English: illustration for the transitive relation Magyar: illusztráció a tranzitivitáshoz (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, some people might have issues with that logic. Does the lava river really exist? Well, I maintain that it does, but it is necessary to specify that it exists in my mind. Anything that I can think of exists in my mind and since my mind is part of the real world, “anything that I can think of” exists in the real world.

There is a difficulty here. Consider the sentence “The present King of France is bald“.  The issue is whether or not this sentence is true. It would appear not, since there is no present King of France, but the negation “It is not true that the present King of France is bald” is also (apparently) not true. The difficulty is that there is no present King of France, since France is a republic.

Portrait of Louis XIV
Portrait of Louis XIV (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However “the present King of France” exists in my mind, and the mind of anyone who reads the sentence. The King of France in my mind may be bald or he may not, so the sentence may be true or false, and the difficulty does not arise. Provided we consider the sentence as applying to a mental image of the King of France.

The King of France, bald-headed or not, exists in my mind if I consider him, and my mind exists in the real world so in that sense he exists. What though, of the existence of things that exist in the real world, but differently in one’s mind?

Paradoxes, I
Paradoxes, I (Photo credit: Newtown grafitti)

The British TV Series “Call the Midwife” is set in the 1950s. It is obviously not the 50s. At the time Queen Elizabeth was about to ascend the throne, or had already done so. Does Jenny Lee live at Nonnatus House? Since neither exist in the real world, my argument above applies. However,  consider the question “Has Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne yet?” We have no difficulty in ascertaining that the question is most likely about a fictitious or historical event, since it is well known that she has been Queen for a long time.

Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II X
Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II X (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I suggest that the same is true of the bald/not bald King of France. We know that there is no present King of France so can conclude that the King of France in question must be a historical or fictional figure. If I have no preconceptions about the fictitious King of France, I might envisage him in ‘period’ costume with a huge powdered wig (is that in period? I’m not sure), so I would probably guess that he was shaven-headed if not bald. But you might disagree. Your “present King of France” could sport a full head of hair.

One Young Man in a Powdered Wig
One Young Man in a Powdered Wig (Photo credit: Emily Barney)

But what of things that don’t exist in the (loosely speaking) real world, and no one has ever thought about? Do they exist in any sense? I believe that the Universe is deterministic, so any future event or thing, is implied by the current state of the Universe, so if anyone will think of something, or if some event happens in the future, then it exists in the present, and not even simply as a potential. If the Universe is deterministic, it must happen.

I was going to talk about Schrödinger’s cat in the context of existence but he was squeezed out by the present King of France. Maybe I’ll get to the cat in another post.

English: Diagram of Schrodinger's cat theory. ...
English: Diagram of Schrodinger’s cat theory. Roughly based on Image:Schroedingerscat3.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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Little Green Men revisited.

Offset Gregorian antenna used in the Allen Tel...
Offset Gregorian antenna used in the Allen Telescope Array, a radio telescope at the University of California at Berkeley, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m going to continue the LGM theme. I don’t plan on doing multiple posts on a single subject very often, but there were some things that I want to add to my previous post.

It seems to me that the difficulties of point to point interstellar communication are such that it makes it unlikely that we will be able to find LGM by searching for intentional broadcasting or unicasting of signals, for the reasons that I raised in the previous post. There are other reasons that I haven’t touched too.


Radio Transmission Towers Atop Mt. Wilson
Radio Transmission Towers Atop Mt. Wilson (Photo credit: FastLizard4)

One big question is one that occurs to me, probably because I am a computer professional. Why would a civilisation want to be found? If you broadcast something on the Internet, you attract all sorts of undesirables trying to access your systems, your data, your private stuff.


US Mail
US Mail


Some of the undesirables might be governments of course, depending on your point of view and political affiliations. On a more personal level, people have told friends on social networking sites of a private party and hundreds of people have read this and gatecrashed. As a consequence the party gets overrun and the house gets trashed, the police get called.


A party at Colorado State University -- yeah, ...
A party at Colorado State University — yeah, that’s a riot. (11pm on April 27) …item 2.. a combination of Woodstock, ‘Animal House’ and Girls Gone Wild. (08/30/2011) … (Photo credit: marsmet553)

If you broadcast to the Universe the same sort of thing might happen. The LGM might not be friendly and with benign intent. Why would you risk attracting undesirables? Of course, the civilisation sending the signals may not be benign. Such a signal could be a honeypot, designed to attract unwary civilisations.


Lavender Attracting Bees
Lavender Attracting Bees (Photo credit: rutthenut)

So, it seems that it might be unwise to respond to alien signals. Murray Leinster’s novelette “First Contact” explores the issues, albeit in a first contact away from the origins of the contactees.


Two technologically equal species are making first contact in deep space. Both desire the technology and trade the other can provide, but neither can risk the fate of the home planet based on unfounded trust.

Another danger would be encountering a more advanced civilisations. In all cases where this has happened on earth, this has always resulted in disaster and absorption of the less advanced civilisation. This usually starts with disease, both sexual and non-sexual, which may be common in the more advanced civilisation but which the less advanced civilisation has no defence against. However, ultimately it is foreign ideas that cause the destruction of the less advanced civilisation and there’s no vaccine against that.


With masks over their faces, members of the Am...
With masks over their faces, members of the American Red Cross remove a victim of the Spanish Flu from a house at Etzel and Page Avenues, St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, maybe we should avoid alien civilisations, at least until we can be sure that contact will not harm us. But how will we know that they are there, so that we can avoid them? Can we detect them before we blunder into something we can’t handle?


One possible way would be to observe the rate of emission of radio waves from a stellar system. If the electromagnetic spectrum emission in the wavelengths that are used for TV and radio is unusually high, it may indicate that a civilisation exists in the stellar system.


United States radio spectrum frequency allocat...
United States radio spectrum frequency allocations chart as of 2003 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So if an otherwise unremarkable star should suddenly (in astronomical terms) start emit radio waves it might indicate that an advanced civilisation might have discovered radio on a planet orbiting the star. Or, rather, that it did discover it, a long time ago. If we did discover such a star (and I’ve no idea if it is remotely possible to detect such an anomalous production of radio waves), it may be thousands of light years away, which means that the waves have been on their way for thousands of years.


A supernova remnant about 20,000 light years f...
A supernova remnant about 20,000 light years from Earth (Photo credit: Smithsonian Institution)

If we then send an expedition to a star at, say 20,000 light years, it would take us 20,000 years at least to get there, and probably many, many more. That 40,000 years that would have passed since the wave were generated and no civilisation that we know off has lasted for more than a few hundred. They might have all died out or reverted to savagery or evolved into something that we can’t understand. We might have done similar in the 20,000 years that it would take to get there.


Cycle of paintings History of civilisation in ...
Cycle of paintings History of civilisation in Poland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s unclear why we would want to contact them anyway. A conversation that takes millennia would be a strange one. About all we could say would be “Hi from Earth. Here are some snaps from our family album”. Of course, when we decode their signals, as XKCD notes, we would most likely find that they are unintentionally broadcasting the alien equivalent of cheesy TV shows like “I Love Lucy” or contrived  “reality” shows. After all, that’s what we have been broadcasting.


Fox Reality Channel
Fox Reality Channel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All of the above is moot as is my previous post if the LGM do not exist. The most famous attempt to estimate the likelihood of there being other civilisations other than ours out there is the Drake Equation. As I mentioned in my previous post, this equation irritates real mathematicians, since it is not derived from anything, but is merely a string of terms strung together to look like an equation. Plausible values for the components of the equation can give answers ranging from almost zero (there are no other civilisations other than ours in our galaxy) to 38 million or more.


"Where is Everybody?", or "Why ...
“Where is Everybody?”, or “Why am I so Lonely?”: Fermi’s Paradox / the Drake Equation, Logocentrism and Gabriel Garcial Marquez (Photo credit: timtak)

The SETI Institute concludes that “The importance of the Drake Equation is not in the solving, but rather in the contemplation”. Certainly the values of most of the terms of the equation are not really known, though estimates can be made. Investigation of one term may throw up information which throws some light on the other terms.


Drake Equation
Drake Equation (Photo credit: Merritt Boyd)

The crucial term is, I feel, “L”, the length of time that a civilisation will be able to and desire to make radio signals. Looking at how we have used radio waves, there seems to be a trend from the low end to the high and very high end of the broadcast spectrum. Early experiments and usage was in the VLF (very low frequency) band, but the frequencies used for most radio broadcasting moved to medium frequencies. TC, both digital and analog use VHF (Very High Frequencies) and UHF (Ultra High Frequencies). Satellite broadcasts use even shorter wavelengths (higher frequencies). So our radio usage has changed over the 100 years or so that we have had radio receivers and transmitters.


Aerials (Photo credit: ettlz)

All in all I think that it is unlikely that we will contact LGM. We may stumble over some, if we ever manage to go Interstellar, and it may be that some as yet unknown technology might enable us to easily spot advanced civilisations from a distance, so that we can signal or visit, but although I applaude the SETI effort I don’t think that the search will be fruitful.


SETI@home logo
SETI@home logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It may be that we can never visit other stars because no way exists for us to do so. In a story that I once read, but can no longer remember the name of, one character referred to star systems as “God’s test tubes”. I recall that at the end of the story the human race had just found a way to escape its “test tube”.


A,B,C - test tubes
A,B,C – test tubes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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