Mutual detectability: a targeted SETI strategy that avoids the SETI Paradox

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As our ability to undertake more powerful Searches for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) grows, so does interest in the more controversial endeavour of Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI). METI proponents point to the SETI Paradox - if all civilisations refrain from METI then SETI is futile. I introduce Mutual Detectability as a game-theoretic strategy aimed at increasing the success potential of targeted SETI. Mutual detectability is embodied by four laws: mutuality, symmetry, opportunity and superiority. These laws establish how SETI participants can engage each other using game theory principles applied to mutual evidence of mutual existence. The law of superiority establishes an "onus to transmit" on the party whom both SETI participants can judge to have better quality evidence, or common denominator information (CDI), thus avoiding the SETI Paradox. I argue that transiting exoplanets within the Earth Transit Zone form a target subset that satisfies mutual detectability requirements. I identify the intrinsic time-integrated transit signal strength as suitable CDI. Civilisations on habitable-zone planets of radius Rp/R⊕≲(L∗/L⊙)−1/7 have superior CDI on us, so have game-theory incentive (onus) to transmit. Whilst this implies that the onus to transmit falls on us for habitable planets around L∗>L⊙ stars, considerations of relative stellar frequency, main-sequence lifetime and planet occurrence mean such systems are likely a small minority. Surveys of the Earth Transit Zone for Earth-analogue transits around sub-solar luminosity hosts, followed up by targeted SETI monitoring of them, represent an efficient strategy compliant with mutual detectability. A choice to remain silent, by not engaging in METI towards such systems, does not in this case fuel concerns of a SETI Paradox.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Astronomical Journal
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 9 Nov 2020