The WETI Manifesto

  1. WETI is short for Wait for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. It is a project complementary to SETI, just with a W instead of an S. Instead of Searching for aliens, we propose to Wait for them to find us. That’s why we founded the virtual WETI institute.
  2. The WETI institute has a website. It has a Twitter account and a Facebook page. It has a particularly attractive logo. It also has a list of highly qualified staff members, although most of them are slightly imaginary. We stole their illustrious names from spam emails. We also have an online shop that sells mugs and tshirts.
  3. The mission of the WETI institute is to get in contact with extraterrestrial intelligent life in the Universe. There are two options to achieve this goal. We can either actively search for them, or they can conduct a search and find us. It’s the difference between discovering or being discovered. The second, passive approach has never been attempted in a rigorously controlled scientific setup. Our mission is a unique problem in the history of science, because it is possible to address it by simply letting time pass by, without doing anything.

4. Is WETI a joke? Of course it is. And hopefully a pretty good one. WETI is to SETI as Douglas Adams is to Olaf Stapledon. So, please feel free to laugh. But it is a double-edged sword. WETI also raises a very relevant point. To quote Chris Lintott: “WETI is both brilliant and completely mad.” This is important to understand.

5. If we are humble about our technological capabilities, we have to accept the very real possibility that they find us before we find them. It has only been about a century since humanity has acquired the capability to communicate with the rest of the Universe. This is very short compared to the age of the Universe. Other civilisations may be in a different league, technologically, scientifically, and philosophically.

6. It is presumptuous to assume that we will have control over the first contact with alien intelligence. ETI might colonize us, they might domesticate us, they might put us in zoos or they might kill us. Maybe the first contact will be an awkward accident that wipes out humanity. We might not be in control. They might not be in control either.

7. Searching or waiting for ETI is an interdisciplinary endeavour, with contributions from science, humanities, and arts. It is also incredibly complex. We don’t know anything. We cannot conduct experiments, because our subject has free will and the ability to interfere with our setup and to overwrite our assumptions. Our research may tell us more about us than about our subject. SETI and WETI are at the fringe of science, but in the middle of society. Embrace the fringe.

8. WETI is connected to a real global cultural phenomenon. The majority of the world population believes that extraterrestrials exist and want to know about them. About a fifth of all men and women on all continents actually believe that aliens have visited the Earth. These people are not stupid. They are not crazy either, maybe misguided, but not crazy. Belief in extraterrestrial intelligence is about to become more widespread than belief in immaterial gods. That curiosity about ETI is meaningful.

9. WETI has been very successful to engage the public. We have hundreds of followers on Twitter, hundreds of likes on Facebook, and by now more than thousand people have downloaded a signed certificate confirming their membership in what we call the Effortless Action Committee. This doesn’t come with membership fees or duties or regular spam email and is in this sense much more pleasant than other committees. The WETI army is growing every day.

10. Serious research is hard work and hard work is in conflict with the rather laid-back nature of waiting. Because our employees are truly committed to the passive exploration of the Universe, it is somewhat doubtful that the WETI institute will ever be an active research hub. Perhaps the message of WETI is rather that learning something about the Universe does not require a university degree or a well-funded research team. Every hour that is spent in lazy contemplation adds a bit of information to the exploration of alien lifeforms. In that sense, WETI becomes more a way of life than a science project.