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Does civilization equal destruction?

December 09, 2007|By ROBERT GARY

A teacher of 7 year olds in Sudan let her class name a teddy bear Muhammad. She was briefly sent to prison. Hard-line Muslim clerics from mosques in Sudan called for her execution by firing squad. Thousands of weapon-bearing Muslims have gathered outside the presidential residence in Khartoum. The teacher's picture was burned in the streets.

In 1998, when Nawaz Sharif was in charge in Pakistan, the government conducted a nuclear test. Nawaz Sharif, in the past, has been associated with strong anti-American sentiment in Pakistan, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and Afghanistan's repressive Taliban regime.

In 2004, A.Q. Khan, a nuclear scientist in Pakistan, was identified as the chief architect of Pakistan's nuclear bomb. This individual has never been jailed and has provided nuclear weapons information to Libya, Iran, and North Korea. The full extent of A.Q. Khan's proliferation of nuclear technology may never be known.

On July 13, 1897, Guglielmo Marconi filed a patent (586,193) for radio transmission of Hertzian waves. On Sept. 2, 1897 Nikola Tesla filed a patent (645,576) for a System of Transmission of Electrical Energy, and on Feb. 19, 1900 another patent (649,621) for an Apparatus for Transmission of Electrical Energy. Let's just say radio was invented somewhere between 1897 and 1900.

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On July 16, 1945, Robert J. Oppenheimer and his team exploded the first atom bomb at Trinity Site, which is now on the White Sands Missile Range.

On Nov. 1, 1952, the Teller-Ulam side-by-side configuration was able to deliver a 10.4 megaton blast at Bikini atoll, thus providing the U.S. with a hydrogen bomb.

We are talking about a species here that has a 1 percent DNA difference from chimpanzees. Homo sapiens have been around for about 100,000 years. In the last 0.1 percent of that time, it became radio-capable. Within a half century, it became atom bomb capable. Seven years later, it was hydrogen bomb capable.

We need to ask a few little questions here. Are all rational species subject to the experience of revealed religion? Does revealed religion always wind up fratricidal? Do all radio-capable species shortly thereafter become hydrogen bomb capable?

Where shall we look to find the answers? How about this planet? The Pharisees were confronted with one man who did not share their idea of how Mosaic Law should be interpreted - what did they do?

Queen Mary of England (1516-1558) saw people in her realm who did not experience and express the same truth of revealed religion that she did - what did she do?

The clerics in the mosques in Sudan saw a schoolteacher who let her 7-year-old students call a teddy bear Muhammad - what did they do? They called for her death by firing squad. If the Pharisees, or Bloody Mary, or the Sudan clerics had to face vast numbers of people whose beliefs were not similar to their own, and if they had hydrogen bombs, how would they have responded?

The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Project has been going on for 50 years, with no luck. One would expect that something would have been found by now if this galaxy were teeming with radio-capable intelligent civilizations in busy conversation with each other - or even in earnest attempts to reach each other. It could be that the signals are not in the radio portion of the spectrum, not a matter of frequency or amplitude. They might be in the form of neutrinos, quarks, mesons, gravitons, or synchrotron radiation and very much a matter of charm, spin topness or bottomness.

The encoding might be on variables we can't read fast enough to make decoding possible. To observe a quantum event is to change the event, so how does detection and assessment, with current equipment, affect the spin of a lepton? We might not be smart enough to listen in just yet.

Thus we may earnestly hope that the apparent failure of SETI does not portend that all the radio-capable civilizations snuff themselves out pretty darned quick because of systematic difficulties that rational beings universally run into as a matter of course - like teddy bear problems.

Robert Gary is a Hagerstown resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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