The validity of any test proposing to identify the action of an unknown intelligence is explicitly tied to the methodology being used to conduct the test. The only methodology currently accepted by the wider scientific community regarding an unknown intelligence is the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI) which was initiated in the early 1960s. Regardless of any questions one might have about the ultimate goal of the SETI project, the simple fact remains that the science itself is empirically sound. It is made valid by their treatment of the concept of “intelligence”.
Intelligence is a difficult concept to define because of its many variable aspects. When science is challenged by ambiguous concepts (such as intelligence), researchers will often develop an operational definition of the concept in order produce valid results. Creating an operational definition allows researchers to isolate and measure a specific aspect of a phenomenon which is uniquely associated with that phenomenon. Lori Marino PhD (SETI/NASA Virtual Resource Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry into Intelligent Life) explains SETI’s approach to the concept of intelligence:
There is no consensus on a strict definition of intelligence, and there likely never will be because intelligence is what is known as a fuzzy concept; it lacks well-defined boundaries and contains multiple components. However, the study of intelligence lies firmly in the domain of empirical science because its features can be operationally defined and its correlates can be quantified and measured.
In the SETI project, intelligence is operationally defined by a specific physical capacity. That physical capacity is “the capacity to transmit a narrow-band radio signal detectable from earth”. This operational definition is derived from our universal experience as scientific observers. It is our universal experience that narrow-band radio signals are not produced by natural causes, but are the unambiguous product of intelligence. A clear distinction is therefore made between those things that can be explained by natural unguided causes and those things that are a measurable consequence of intelligent action. SETI explains:
Narrow-band signals – perhaps only a few Hertz wide or less – are the mark of a purposely built transmitter. Natural cosmic noisemakers, such as pulsars, quasars, and the turbulent, thin interstellar gas of our own Milky Way, do not make radio signals that are this narrow.
Upon receiving a narrow-band signal, SETI will initiate a procedure to establish that the signal is not mistakenly of terrestrial origin. After verifying that the signal is indeed extra-terrestrial, the SETI Institute will rightly consider the reception of this signal as authentic evidence of an intelligent source in the cosmos, and “the discovery will be announced as quickly and as widely as possible”. The conclusions of the scientists at SETI will be made solely on the basis of their operational definition (without any additional knowledge of the source of the intelligence) and will be subject to falsification only if an unguided natural (non-intelligent) source is shown to be capable of producing the type of signal in question.
Employing the same methodology used by SETI, a test of intelligent action can be proposed regarding the origin of life as well. Like the SETI project, the methodology would rest upon an operational definition of intelligence. Like SETI, it would use a physical artifact of intelligent action as an indicator of its presence, and would do so without regard to the source of the intelligence. And also like SETI, the operational definition would be derived from our universal experience as scientific observers. The study of semiosis provides such an operational definition, which is suitable for carrying out such a test.
Whereas the operational definition for identifying intelligent action from an extra-terrestrial source is "the capacity to send a narrow-band radio signal detectable from earth", the operational definition for identifying intelligent action at the origin of life is "the capacity to encode memory using dimensional representations".
Like a narrow-band radio signal, dimensional semiotic memory is a measurable correlate of intelligence, found nowhere in the natural world except in the recording of language and mathematics. Frankly, it would be difficult to imagine a more exclusive and appropriate marker of intelligence. And like SETI’s narrow-band radio signals, it offers an entirely unambiguous physical signature to indicate its presence.
The observations required to return a positive test result:
1) A semiotic system using physical representations and protocols to translate memory into functional effects. The observable aspects of this system are characterized in the information tetrahedron model of translation.
2) The use of dimensional representations to encode information into memory; where the individual arrangements in the medium are recognized in their system by their spatial orientations, which are independent of the minimum total potential energy state of the medium.
3) In addition to translation protocols, the operation of the system will also require systematic protocols to establish the dimensional operation of the system itself.
The primary distinction between identifying the mark of intelligence in an extra-terrestrial radio signal and finding it in the dimensional representations of the genome is that the dimensional semiosis in the genome has already been identified.
In 1953 Watson and Crick elucidated the information carrying capacity of DNA and concluded that it contained a code. In 1958 Mahlon Hoagland and Paul Zamecnik isolated the “adapter” molecules that Crick had theorized three years earlier. They also found the complex proteins that establish the genetic code while preserving the necessary discontinuity between the input and output of the system. Then in 1961, Crick et al. established empirically that the genetic code was indeed a "reading frame" code with a dimensional orientation. In that same year, Marshall Nirenberg and Heinrich Matthaei began the actual process of breaking the genetic code. Their methodology was to demonstrate the relationships between the input and output of translation, and what they demonstrated at the output could never be derived from the input – even in principle.
Since those days of initial discovery, science has added to our knowledge each of the additional systematic protocols required by a dimensional semiotic system. Research has deepened our understanding of the semiotic nature of genetic translation, and it has become widely recognized that the spatial orientation of nucleotides within codons are indeed independent of the minimum total potential energy state of the nucleic medium.
All of the unique physical conditions of dimensional semiosis have already been observed and documented in the scientific literature. It is an intractable fact that a dimensional semiotic system is used to encode organic polymers inside the cell. The conclusion of intelligent action is therefore fully supported by the physical evidence, and is subject to falsification only by showing an unguided source capable of creating such a system.
The methodology used to detect an act of unknown intelligence in the cosmos is used to detect an act of unknown intelligence at the origin of life. In both of these cases the issue of authenticity (i.e. the reliability of the result) will come into play – and as it turns out, there is a meaningful correlation between the two cases.
If it came to pass that a narrow-band radio signal was received from across the vastness of space, the SETI institute would (enthusiastically) conclude that it had confirmed the presence of an unknown intelligence. If such a signal was received, there would be two things that could be objectively detected. First, there is the narrow-band “carrier” wave, and then there is the actual message encoded within that carrier wave. While it is possible that a strong carrier wave could be detected from deep space, the actual message (information) encoded within that signal would likely be either degraded or lost entirely over such an immense distance. SETI scientists understand this issue and have specifically set up their research to detect the narrow-band carrier wave because narrow-band waves are only known to be produced by artificial means. There is simply no rational conceptualization whereby inanimate forces come together to create narrow-band radio waves. They are, in fact, a distinct and reliable artifact of design.
Even so, there would likely be skeptics who would question the conclusions of the SETI scientists, given the simple fact that there is no way to actually test whether or not some unknown combination of natural forces could have created the narrow-band signal (if one was received). But those dissenting voices would surely have to concede to our universal experience – narrow-band radio signals simply do not occur in nature without intelligence. In the end, there would be little empirical basis to support their objection.
However, there is one result that SETI scientists could produce that would immediately end all objections. This would be the case if SETI not only received a narrow-band carrier signal, but was also able to retrieve and translate the encoded message within that signal. In order to accomplish this, the researchers would have to isolate the representations within the signal medium and they would have to decipher the protocols that translate those representations into meaning. SETI researchers have already anticipated this exact opportunity; suggesting that even if the message was not decipherable, they would analyze it by other methodologies, perhaps (for instance) to determine how much information the message contained.
As a matter of brute fact, it would be the discovery of this semiotic content within the signal that would immediately end all questions as to its intelligent origin. Its authenticity would become unquestionable based squarely upon the presence of that semiotic content. It simply cannot go unnoticed that the very observation that would make the SETI results unquestionable is the very observation already made within the genome of every living thing on earth. And just as it is in the case of narrow-band radio signals, there is simply no rational conceptualization whereby inanimate forces come together to create a system of spatially-oriented representations, as well as the rules to translate those representations into meaningful effects. Such things are, in fact, a distinct and reliable artifact of design.
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