Evolution of Technological Civilizations: What is Evolution, Technology, and Civilization, the article looks at our conceptions of terrestrial intelligence, culture and communication to help us predict what ETIs themselves might be like and whether or not we are even capable of comprehending what they might be like. When it comes to culture and communication, argues Urbanowicz, we might not even be on the same playing field relative to advanced ETIs.
A key part of Urbanowicz's thesis is that, in a concept borrowed from Franz Boas, it is communication itself that constitutes the core of culture and indeed of life itself. Consequently, as we learn more about communication technologies, and as we ourselves progress through different communication paradigms, we learn more about ETI culture. This is a rather remarkable idea when you pause to think about it. Culture as communication. There's something about that statement that I find very compelling.
Urbanowicz was also big on science fiction and the important role it has played in giving us a sense of perspective and humility. "[G]ood speculative science fiction authors have done more to foster the idea of SETI than they have been credit for! Good science fiction stories can be a humbling experience, and Homo sapiens needs some humility," writes Urbanowicz.
And as for the Big Idea in his article, Urbanowicz was pushing for an extraterrestrial anthropology -- kind of what astrobiology is to biology. This is something that I've personally been thinking about quite a lot lately, and I've used the term astrosociobiolgy to describe this proto-science. I hope more people get onboard and start to put some really solid work into speculations of what ETIs might be like. Ultimately, any answer about ETIs is an answer about ourselves and our own destiny, which IMO makes it one of the most important disciplines we could ever embark upon.
Even though the article is from 1977, it is chalk-full of excellent references, quotes, and ideas for further research and reading. One quote I particularly liked was from James Christian: "If we ever establish contact with extra-terrestrial life, it will reveal to us our true place in the universe, and with that comes the beginning of wisdom."