Chapter 14 Red Coast IV
Novel：The Three-Bodyauthor：Cinxin Liu pubdate：2019-02-14 14:50
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Chapter 14 Red Coast IV
"Professor Ye," Wang Miao said, "I have a question. Back then, SETI was marginalized research. Why did the Red Coast Project have such a high security rating?"
"That question was asked during the very first phases of the Red Coast Project, and continued to be asked until the end. But now you should know the answer. We can only be impressed by the foresight of the top decision-maker responsible for the Red Coast Project."
"Yes, he thought far ahead." Wang nodded gravely.
Wang knew that it was only within the last couple of years that serious and systematic consideration had been given to the question of how and to what degree human societies would be influenced by establishing contact with extraterrestrial intelligence, but the research had rapidly gained interest, and the conclusions were shocking.
Naive, idealistic hopes had been shattered. Scholars found that, contrary to the happy wishes of most people, it was not a good idea for the human race as a whole to make contact with extraterrestrials. The impact of such contact on human society would be divisive rather than uniting, and would exacerbate rather than mitigate the conflicts between different cultures. In summary, if contact were to occur, the internal divisions within Earth civilization would be magnified and likely lead to disaster. The most shocking conclusion of all was that the impact would have nothing at all to do with the degree and type of contact (unidirectional or bidirectional), or the form and degree of advancement of the alien civilization.
This was the theory of "contact as symbol" proposed by sociologist Bill Mathers of RAND Corporation in his book, The 100,000-Light-Year Iron Curtain: SETI Sociology. Mathers believed that contact with an alien civilization is only a symbol or a switch. Regardless of the content of the encounter, the results would be the same.
Suppose that the nature of the contact is such that only the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence is confirmed, with no other substantive information—what Mathers called elementary contact. The impact would be magnified by the lens of human mass psychology and culture until it resulted in huge, substantive influences on the progress of civilization. If such contact were monopolized by one country or political force, the significance would be comparable to an overwhelming advantage in economic and military power.
"How did Red Coast end?"
"You can probably guess."
Wang nodded again. Of course he understood that, had Red Coast succeeded, the world today would be very different. To comfort Ye, he said, "It's still too early to tell if it succeeded or not. The radio waves sent out by Red Coast haven't gone very far in the universe yet."
Ye shook her head. "The farther the signals travel, the weaker they become, and the less likely that any extraterrestrial civilization will receive them. Of course, if aliens have already detected the Earth's existence and its oxygen-rich atmosphere and decided to focus powerful equipment specifically at us, the story would be different. But, in general, research shows that in order for extraterrestrials to detect our signals, we must broadcast at a power level equal to the energy output of a midsized star.
"Soviet astrophysicist Nicolai Kardashev once proposed that civilizations can be divided into three types based on the power they can command—for communication purposes, let's say. A Type I civilization can muster an amount of energy equivalent to the total energy output of the Earth. Based on his estimates, the energy output of the Earth is about 1015 to 1016 watts. A Type II civilization can marshal the energy equivalent to the output of a typical star—1026 watts. A Type III civilization's communication energy can reach 1036 watts, approximately equal to the energy output of a galaxy. Civilization on Earth is currently about a Type 0.7, not even a full Type I. And the transmissions from Red Coast used only about one ten-millionth of the amount of power the Earth could muster. Our call was like the buzzing of a mosquito in the sky. No one could hear it."
"But if Kardashev's Type II and Type III civilizations really exist, we should be able to hear them."
"We never heard anything during the twenty years that Red Coast was in operation."
"Indeed, Given Red Coast and SETI, could all our efforts ultimately have proven only one thing: In the entire universe, only the Earth has intelligent life?"
Ye gave a light sigh. "Theoretically, there may never be a definitive answer to that question. But my sense, and the sense of everyone who went through Red Coast, is that that is the case."
"It's too bad that Red Coast was decommissioned. Once it was built, it should have been kept running. It was a truly great enterprise."
"Red Coast's decline was gradual. At the beginning of the eighties, there was a large-scale renovation. Mainly, the transmission and monitoring computer systems were partially upgraded. The transmission system was automated, and the monitoring system incorporated two IBM mini-computers. The data processing capability became far more advanced, and it was able to simultaneously monitor forty thousand channels.
"But later, as people gained perspective, they had a better appreciation of the difficulty of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, and the leadership lost interest in Red Coast. The first change was reducing the base's security rating. The consensus was that the extreme secrecy around Red Coast was unnecessary, and the security detail at the base was reduced from a company to a squad, until eventually only a group of five security guards were left. Also, after that renovation, although Red
Coast remained administratively within the Second Artillery Corps, management of its scientific activities was turned over to the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Astronomy Institute, and it took on some research projects that had nothing to do with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence or the military."
"I believe you achieved most of your scientific accomplishments during that time."
"Initially, Red Coast also took on some radio astronomy projects. At the time, it was the largest radio telescope in the country. Later, as other radio astronomy observatories were built, Red Coast's research turned to the observation and analysis of solar electromagnetic activity. For this, they added a solar telescope. The mathematical model we built for solar electromagnetic activity was at the forefront of the field back then, and had many practical applications. With these later research results, the large amount invested in Red Coast had at least a little return.
"Actually, much of the credit should be given to Commissar Lei. Of course he had his own agenda. He realized that as a political officer in a technical unit, his future wasn't bright. Before joining the army, he had studied astrophysics as well, so he wanted to return to doing science. The research projects that Red Coast took on outside of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence were all due to his efforts."
"I doubt that he could have returned to technical work so easily after spending so much time as a political commissar. Back then, you still hadn't been politically rehabilitated. It looks to me like all he did was to put his name on your research results."
Ye smiled forgivingly. "Without Lei, Red Coast Base would have been finished even earlier. After Red Coast was designated for conversion to civilian use, the military basically abandoned it. Eventually, the Chinese Academy of Sciences couldn't maintain the funds necessary for Red Coast's operation, and it was shut down."
Ye didn't talk much about her daily life at Red Coast Base, and Wang didn't ask. Four years after entering the base, she married Yang Weining. Everything just happened naturally, without any drama. Later, an accident at the base killed both Yang and Lei, and Yang Dong was born after her father's death. The mother and daughter only left Radar Peak in the mid-eighties, when Red Coast Base was finally decommissioned. Ye later returned to Tsinghua, her alma mater, to teach astrophysics until retirement. All this Wang had heard from Sha Ruishan at the Miyun Radio Astronomy Observatory.
"The search for extraterrestrial intelligence is a unique discipline. It has a profound influence on the researcher's perspective on life." Ye spoke in a drawn-out voice, as though telling stories to a child. "In the dead of the night, I could hear in my headphones the lifeless noise of the universe. The noise was faint but constant, more eternal than the stars. Sometimes I thought it sounded like the endless winter winds of the Greater Khingan Mountains. I felt so cold then, and the loneliness was indescribable.
"From time to time, I would gaze up at the stars after a night shift and think that they looked like a glowing desert, and I myself was a poor child abandoned in the desert. ... I thought that life was truly an accident among accidents in the universe. The universe was an empty palace, and humankind the only ant in the entire palace. This kind of thinking infused the second half of my life with a conflicted mentality: Sometimes I thought life was precious, and everything was so important; but other times I thought humans were insignificant, and nothing was worthwhile. Anyway, my life passed day after day accompanied by this strange feeling, and before I knew it, I was old. . . "
Wang wanted to comfort this old woman who had devoted her life to a lonely but great enterprise, but Ye's last speech caused him to sink into the same sorrowful mood. He found that he had nothing to say except, "Professor Ye, someday I'll go with you to visit the ruins of Red Coast Base."
Ye slowly shook her head. "Xiao Wang, I'm not like you. I'm getting on in years, and my health isn't what it used to be. It's hard to predict the future. I live my life day to day."
Looking at the silvery head of hair on Ye Wenjie, Wang knew she was thinking of her daughter again.
Chapter 14 Vocabulary Note
divisive - causing a lot of disagreement between people
exacerbate - to make a bad situation worse;
mitigate - to make a situation less unpleasant or less harmful;
substantive - important or real
command - control
muster - to get enough
marshal - to control
decommission - to stop using something
incorporated - to include something as part of a system
rehabilitated - to make people think that someone is good again after a period when people had a bad opinion of them
alma mater - the school that someone used to go
drawn-out voice - a voice that continues longer than normal
infuse - to fill someone with a particular feeling
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