We are alone in the vast universe

I was watching reruns of a “Cosmos” marathon. These were made by Karl Sagan around thirty years ago and described science of the time for the layman. They are a little dated today (even hard science changes) but that is not what I found remarkable. The remarkable thing is the implicit belief that there exists intelligent life elsewhere in the universe and that at some point we will be in contact with them. I used to believe that too, but it is not science. It is as much a assertion of religious belief as we find in any of the holy books. It is completely w/o scientific foundation.

It is like the idea in time travel. Time travel is not possible because if it were we would know already. If some future civilization had perfected the capacity, their present would also be our present, i.e. our distant descendants would be hanging around our time like Chinese tourists.

How is this like space travel? The universe is very old. Scientists estimate its age at almost 14 billion years. Not all parts became in theory "life friendly" at the same time. Intelligent life need not have developed at our pace. Other civilizations could be thousands, millions or maybe billions of years ahead of us. That is the common idea of science fiction. But think about it. If such life was developed, and it was like us in its desire to explore, these guys would have been around here already and if they were actually intelligent they would not be wasting their time kidnapping and probing people in rural Alabama or making primitive representations of jungle animals on mountains in South America.

In other words, if aliens were going to visit us, they would have done it already and stronger evidence than Inca mythology.

Of course, there are other possibilities. It could be that other civilizations have grown, flowered and gone extinct w/o every leaving their home planet. This may indeed be our fate. The nearest solar system to ours is at least nine light years away. We will never get there. Even in the unlikely case that we discovered a way to travel at nearly the speed of light, why would anybody take off on a round trip of nearly twenty years? There is nothing there anyway. Our radio signals have reached there nearly a century ago. We find nothing coming back. We know for sure that at very best the civilization there is more primitive than ours, since they have no telecommunications. Actually, we have no reason to believe there is anything there at all.

I enjoy the old Star Treks and science fiction in general. These are the heroic myths of our day. But it ain't never going to happen. Our species will live and die on this small planet. We will never leave this solar system and nobody is ever going to come to visit us. Sad. I know.

Whether we are alone in the universe in the absolute sense or not doesn't really matter. We are alone as a practical matter. Distances are too great. Time is too long.

This is probably a good thing. Any civilization that can get to us will be more advanced than we are. They are unlikely to be nice and kind like ET or wise and welcoming like the Vulcans. Our history shows that when more advanced societies meet less advanced ones, the less advanced is soon subjected and usually mostly exterminated. This is not only Western civilization that does this, BTW. It is not even only humans. It is in the nature of life for the better adapted to dominate and replace the less well adapted.

In other words, if aliens showed up on earth, sooner or later (probably sooner) they would kick our asses and break our stuff and we would do the same to them if the tables were turned. So we might be better off shutting down all those SETI computers. We would not want to attract unwanted attention.

Posted by Christine & John at January 21, 2012 5:22 PM
Comments
Comment #334882
I was watching reruns of a “Cosmos” marathon. These were made by Karl Sagan around thirty years ago and described science of the time for the layman. They are a little dated today (even hard science changes) but that is not what I found remarkable.
Too be perfectly honest, I’ve never particularly enjoyed Carl Sagan. He died when I was in kindergarten, and I’ve always viewed his stuff as out of date. The biggest discovery that Sagan missed was the 1998 discovery that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. Even as a little kid, I remember watching reruns of Sagan and couldn’t help myself, but to point out the errors. Also, I’ve always found that Sagan focuses too much on poetry and not enough on the science. Nevertheless, Sagan did not prevent me from dreaming about becoming an astrophysicist. I spent two years of college studying astrophysics; I was doing OK until I took an upper-level course in cosmology.

Boy, that was a tough class. I could handle Quantum Mechanics because even though it didn’t make any sense qualitatively, the math still worked out. In cosmology, the math doesn’t make any sense (at least that’s how I sawt). Two things that bothered me the most: One was that at very extreme distances, the entire concept of “distance” breaks down. “distance” compared to what? Compared to the speed of light? Compared to the expansion of the universe?

As for intelligent life beyond Earth:

We would not want to attract unwanted attention.

Too late for that. Nearly a century’s worth of radio broadcasts are already out there.

We know for sure that at very best the civilization there is more primitive than ours, since they have no telecommunications. Actually, we have no reason to believe there is anything there at all.

Actually, you underestimate the size of the universe quite a bit. The vast majority of stars out there are at distances >100 light years, which means they have not yet received our earliest radio broadcasts. We’ve only been listening for a few decades and we still cannot monitor every patch of sky. Let’s say an alien civilization is located 500 light years away and they invented radio telecommunications 200 years ago (100 years before us). We still would not receive any signal from them for another 300 years.

Also, we are probably too anthropocentric to assume that alien life would invent radio-telecommunications as we have done. Maybe conditions of another planet make another method of communicating even better, or maybe the alien civilization is not a social being like we are and has no need for that sort of communication.

Posted by: Warped Reality at January 21, 2012 6:58 PM
Comment #334883

Warped

What got me thinking about the life in the universe thing was Sagan’s pseudo-science use of probabilities to show that there were lots of possibilities.

I am taking the practical approach. I know that we have not been in contact with aliens up to now (I know that there are lots of “ancient aliens” shows on TV. but those are for pinheads and children.)

I think your time frames are too small. What are the chances that IF there were these billions of civilizations that they would be within even thousands of years of our development. There should be more advanced civilizations. But we find none.

So, we can say that we don’t know if there are other civilizations. We have no evidence of it. Lack of evidence doesn’t prove the case, but continued lack of “contact” lowers probability.

But I think it doesn’t matter. Even if the universe is full of life, we cannot contact them. As a practical proposition, we remain alone and always will.

The Captain Kirks of the future will never be having all the intergalactic sex with girls that come in different colors but have their parts in the right places.

Posted by: C&J at January 21, 2012 7:17 PM
Comment #334884

Re math

I think math is the great barrier. It is what often means the difference between success and failure. Of course, math in hard sciences can be very hard, but it works in most things.

I bet that if you looked at median wages (you would have to use medians in order to not have the distribution skewed by innumerate very rich athletes and some sorts of lawyers) I bet that success tracks with math achievement. Majors that don’t require calculus are paid less, for the most part, than those that do. I think that much of the gender differences in salaries can be accounted for by this. Have you ever seen any actual stats?

Posted by: C&J at January 21, 2012 7:24 PM
Comment #334887


I am upset that I didn’t know that they were having Cosmos reruns.

“It is completely w/o scientific foundation.”

Nonsense, that sounds like a religious rather than a scientific argument.

What is true is that there is no scientific evidence to prove the existence of life on other planets, but the sheer size of the universe, the number of stars and planets, makes it not only possible, but probable that life exists elsewhere.

In case you haven’t seen the latest theory, the mounting body of evidence has suggested to some astronomers that plants are quite abundant throughout the galaxy and that nearly every star as some.

There is no evidence that faster than light travel is possible and most of science believes it is theoretically impossible, but science hasn’t given up on the possibility, and, it wouldn’t be the first time that science has been wrong about the theoretically possible. Besides, humans are not dependent on having the means to do so in order to colonize other solar systems.

The same is true with time travel, but if it were true that in the future we figure it out, why would you assume they would want us to know by hanging around like Chinese tourists or announce their presence to us? I would think the opposite would be true and that they would take measures to avoid detection and especially interference.

I doubt you have read enough science fiction to fully grasp the expanse of the genre. Example, from a science fiction perspective, a trip to the Centauarian solar system can be accomplished in an instant, a few minutes, weeks, months, years or a hundred years depending on the vehicle of choice for transportation and the propulsion system, from a space suit with a match box sized transportation device on the belt to a massive asteroid, hollowed out and turned into a self sufficient space ship.

The Centaurian system is nine light years round trip and yes, we will get there if we survive long enough. At 1/10 the speed of light, 90+ years round trip.

You launch a ship on a hundred year trip to another star. Twenty years later, with new technology, you send another ship that is twice as fast. It will get there thirty years before the first ship.

I have little doubt that if humans survive, they will launch probes and eventually manned missions to other solar systems.

As you mentioned, survival is a key factor, there is a possibility that any number of so called intelligent beings, such as ourselves, either destroy themselves or are destroyed by natural disaster before they secure their survival by getting off their planet of origin. It won’t be easy for humans to colonize the Moon, Mars, or another solar system in a self sufficient way, but it is possible, even probable through the use of technology.

The closer you get to the source material, Sumerian tablets, Indian sanskrit, the more believable the possibility of alien visitation becomes.

Rather than thinking alien visitation as something like V, or Independence Day, think in terms more like an expedition by humans to mars even though the distances are far greater.

The History Channel has done a great disservice by putting on ever greater exaggerations of the possibility. They have gone from all myths stemming from a single origin, to every myth having it’s own set of aliens who did all sorts of things.

Alien abductions? I don’t believe it, but then again, if you wanted to study and understand the human genome, what would be an appropriate sized sample and if you are a thousand years more advanced, why couldn’t you do it relatively unbeknownst to us.

If you want to hide from aliens, you don’t do by shutting down the early warning system, SETI. You do it by shutting down all radio and TV transmissions. I Love Lucy is pushing 60 light years out. The 1936 Olympics are being broadcast to planets more than 75 light years from earth as I type.

Posted by: jlw at January 21, 2012 8:18 PM
Comment #334889

Job 38:1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said,
Job 38:2 Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?
Job 38:3 Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.
Job 38:4 Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.
Job 38:5 Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?
Job 38:6 Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;

Psa 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.
Psa 19:2 Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.
Psa 19:3 There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.
Psa 19:4 Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun,

Psa 139:13 For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb.
Psa 139:14 I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.
Psa 139:15 My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.

We are not alone in the Universe; we have a Creator who is glorified by His creation.

Posted by: Preacher at January 21, 2012 8:32 PM
Comment #334890


Recent theory or speculation: radio signals from earth get distorted, diffused, broken up and can not travel great distances like say 50 or 100 light years. But, if we detected one or two words from a 1000 word alien broadcast, one picture frame from an alien movie, every radio telescope and antenna on or near earth would pointed in that direction.

Posted by: jlw at January 21, 2012 8:38 PM
Comment #334893

jlw

Why do the aliens always abduct people who live in trailer parks and who don’t have most of their teeth? And having taken them, why give them back?

I suppose it is the same reason why tornadoes seem to be attracted to trailer parks.

I have not read enough scifi, I suppose. I did enjoy it. But I think there is an excellent chance that no earth person will ever meet an alien and that we will never leave our solar system. Science fiction and fantasy are variations of the same genre, but traveling faster than light is just a fantasy.

Re Aliens watching our TV shows - at least if they judge us by our “I Love Lucy reruns.” they will underestimate our ability to resist.

Re History Channel - all those - History, Discovery, TLC - have really moved lowbrow. Even the legitimate history documentaries tend to emphasize the low probability events that are more interesting but less likely to be true.

Re Cosmos on TV - my version is dubbed into Portuguese. Carl Sagan doesn’t sound the same when he says billions and billions.

Preacher

I won’t dispute what you say, but that is also a matter of faith.

Posted by: C&J at January 21, 2012 9:07 PM
Comment #334896
I think your time frames are too small. What are the chances that IF there were these billions of civilizations that they would be within even thousands of years of our development. There should be more advanced civilizations. But we find none.

Maybe so. But I think your time frames are too large. The universe is a dangerous place, maybe civilizations tend to come to an end after a while. Alternatively, advanced civilizations may develop unimagined technologies that make radio broadcasts obsolete. IMO, the only civilization we have a chance of contacting are those who are roughly as developed as we are. Also, remember that your argument works the other way around; other intelligent life could be thousands (or millions) of years behind us.

But I think it doesn’t matter. Even if the universe is full of life, we cannot contact them. As a practical proposition, we remain alone and always will.

The Captain Kirks of the future will never be having all the intergalactic sex with girls that come in different colors but have their parts in the right places.

It’s probably true that we will never make physical contact with another species, but I still think it’s quite realistic for us to establish a long-term radio communication contact as our search scours more and more faraway solar systems. We could learn a lot even if the other civilization is behind us technologically.

Maybe Captain Kirk will be satisfied with a little phone sex (although a mulch-decadal wait between communications might be a hamper.)

I think math is the great barrier. It is what often means the difference between success and failure. Of course, math in hard sciences can be very hard, but it works in most things.

Math’s reputation as a barrier is overrated in my opinion. I enjoy tutoring a great deal of my peers in my free time (it’s a good way to meet girls). Many of the people I help out think that a lack of understanding of math is what is preventing them from doing well in a class; more often I find the problem is usually an inability to fully visualize what’s going on. Math is not a strange “other”; it is a language that describes our world. Failure to recognize this hinders one’s ability to understand a great deal of our universe. A lot of people attempt to segregate math from the “real world”, which is a serious mistake.

Regarding the gender gap: I don’t have any statistics at hand regarding that. I believe the wage is observed within jobs doing the same sort of work (AKA both the men and women in those studies either use calculus or they don’t). So, I don’t think mathematical knowledge explains much of the gender pay gap.

PS I found some stats that might interest you. Undoubtedly, mathematical knowledge plays a big role in the differences in pay between industries, but there are limits to this. I don’t think learning mathematics higher than Differential Equations matters that much. University mathematics professors might make a few hundred thousand dollars in annual salary if they are exceptionally good, which pales in comparison to the multimillion dollar salaries garnered in the private world. In the private sector, knowledge of differential equations is a must for people at the top, but higher math isn’t very useful. Nevertheless, I don’t think gender plays much of a role here.

Preacher,
I don’t think our Creator is bound by the confines of our universe, but rather exists beyond it.

Posted by: Warped Reality at January 21, 2012 9:59 PM
Comment #334897
Re History Channel - all those - History, Discovery, TLC - have really moved lowbrow. Even the legitimate history documentaries tend to emphasize the low probability events that are more interesting but less likely to be true.

Neither I nor my parents have every subscribed to cable or another pay TV service. Instead, I’ve watched a lot of programs produced by WGBH for PBS; especially NOVA, American Experience and Frontline.

Posted by: Warped Reality at January 21, 2012 10:17 PM
Comment #334901

C&J,

“The remarkable thing is the implicit belief that there exists intelligent life elsewhere in the universe…”

I surely hope so because there does’t seem to be much of here on earth.

Rocky

Posted by: Rocky Marks at January 21, 2012 10:41 PM
Comment #334904

I don’t understand the whole argument that we’ve never seen aliens, never will, and they probably don’t exist anyway. Hubble isn’t even 22 years old yet. We’ve added more knowledge of far away planetary systems to our collective intelligence in the last few years than probably all of human history up to now. We’re only at the very edge of what we’ll see in space. We’ll see further, we’ll know more, and we’ll do it in our lifetime. Unless of course we raise a generation of folks like C&J. It’s a very sad indeed.

Posted by: Adam Ducker at January 21, 2012 10:55 PM
Comment #334906

Adam

I support the expansion of knowledge. I just don’t figure we should do it in hopes of meeting aliens.

Posted by: C&J at January 21, 2012 11:13 PM
Comment #334912

Why is this post even here?

Posted by: Michael at January 22, 2012 1:44 AM
Comment #334917


C&J, maybe trailer park people are the only ones who have nothing to lose, just reporting seeing a UFO, makes you a candidate for commitment to the loony bin. Good thing a lot of them don’t vote or perhaps Kucinich would be president. Think about that. Half the country believes in aliens.

Even the search for aliens is a search for knowledge and it doesn’t hurt to have that early warning system. That is how we learned the aliens were sending us the knowledge to build a device to cross the universe and back in Sagan’s book CONTACT.

Imagine a high tech civilization that has been trapped in it’s own solar system for more than 100,000 years. Unable to develop the technology to get them out of the Mote because their civilization collapses every few thousand years. Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle have in their books THE MOTE IN GODS EYE and THE GRIPPING HAND.

Once, when I was around 13, I mentioned, to an aunt, that the stars were suns like our own. She said, “Why your full of sxxt.” “Their shiny lights in the sky.”

“Looking at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots representing towns and villages on the map. Why, I ask myself, shouldn’t the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France.”—Vincent Van Gogh.

Posted by: jlw at January 22, 2012 3:16 AM
Comment #334919

Micheal

The post is here because I have nothing much to do so I was watching the Cosmos reruns.

jwl

Maybe Kucinich IS an alien. Look at him.

Be careful with that Vincent Van Gogh stuff. It didn’t turn out very well for him.

Speaking of starry nights, however, they are disappearing because all of the city lights. I don’t think I have seen the Milky Way for a couple of years.

Posted by: C&J at January 22, 2012 7:14 AM
Comment #334929

“Preacher,

I don’t think our Creator is bound by the confines of our universe, but rather exists beyond it.”

Posted by: Warped Reality at January 21, 2012 9:59 PM

Warped Reality, very observant of you; since God creatd the universe, I would doubt He is confined by it.

The point is, the Heavens (Universe) declares the Glory of God. Psm 19:1. I read once that man can make an artificial flower that looks just like the flowers that God has created. But when God’s flowers are viewed under a microscope, they are even more beautiful and wonderfully made. If man does not praise God for his glory, the rocks and mountains would cry out.

Posted by: Preacher at January 22, 2012 1:16 PM
Comment #334930

So wise are you about that limits of what’s possible!

When I was born, there was serious doubt that extrasolar planets existed. Now we’ve seen evidence of hundreds, thousands possibly detected. We know they are there. If we had simply taken the critic’s word for it, we would have never found them. We’ve even detected other objects circling the sun at greater distances, like Sedna and Quaoar out in the Kuiper belt, which itself was only discovered in 1992.

As for life? Murphy’s law applies in science. Anything that can happen, will happen, given enough time. It’s an open question as to whether there’s life or intelligent life anywhere near our world, but the simple fact that we have billions of years of time, hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy, with each star having one planet on average, and least some of all those in the right place for water to be liquid, and well, playing the odds against life happening again somewhere becomes a more foolhardy wager. It’s beyond the scope of science at this point to say for sure that life, especially intelligent life, exists elsewhere in the universe, but it’s not beyond the scope of science to say that the odds are increasingly good that life exists somewhere, even intelligent life.

As for what might happen if we encounter such life? Well it may not all be fun and games, but I think if you really look at evolution with a critical eye, you’ll see that at some point, people and life forms find ways to survive.

All in all, I find it a little sad to think about things in that way. Sure the world’s rough, unfair. Sure we may not run into Spielbergian aliens who come in peace. But life for humanity has never been easy or free of problems, and we haven’t progressed to where we are now by being unadventurous.

We’ve already lost too much in this country, I think, by reacting to the advancement of science and technology by shrinking away from understanding our world, or relegating learning about it to the nerds who don’t have the social skills to just live complacently with what we already got. America doesn’t need to rest on its laurels. And hell, if we can be the first country to find confirmed evidence of intelligence life out there, that’s not going to be an inconsequential thing to our nation or this world’s history.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at January 22, 2012 1:22 PM
Comment #334937

“As for life? Murphy’s law applies in science. Anything that can happen, will happen, given enough time”

I don’t know about the can have life question. I am speaking mostly of the can contact us question.

Some things will turn out to be true. The speed of light is a significant limit to our, or anybody else’s ability to travel to other systems.

You may believe in the fact that contact will be made. This is very similar to a faith in particular deities. It is a matter of faith and not science.

Some things never happen, BTW.

Posted by: C&J at January 22, 2012 2:31 PM
Comment #334945


C&J, maybe so, but Vince has his place in history.

The Milky Way? In the center there is clutter and crowding. Out here it isn’t nearly as crowded and chaotic. We may have to wait for a survey team. Perhaps the team has already been by to survey our little piece of real estate.

A survey team that comes down from the sky to the earth would make quite an impression on humans. Pre written language humans would pass the knowledge of the event down to the generations. In each generation, the story would become more distorted, Sky Lords would eventually be elevated to Gods and given credit for doing many things, in some cases, they or one of them would be given credit for everything. Or, maybe it was just a comet, a volcano, a column of fire. If they come by now, CNN will be broadcasting live.

The law of nature is to exploit the environ. According to Star Trek, what would be the law in this regard? Of course, there will always be illegal loggers, you can find them on other planets in the Science Fiction universe. Perhaps aliens that can travel the starways may have evolved a little further than we have.

Preacher, If we continue on the path we are on, some day the only life forms created by God that survive on this planet may be the ones we have a use for, like cows, chickens and the little flowers on tomato plants.

I think it would be foolish to believe that in all of Gods creation there is but one planet that harbors life and one being with a second class intellect. Seems like an awful waste of resources when one star with one planet, perhaps even less, was all that was needed. It seems rather cruel to create a vast universe devoid of life except for the earth, deny us access to it, and deny us the possibility of finding friends out there. Mysterious ways?

Not only are we finding planets around other stars, our technology has recently improved to the point that we can detect smaller rocky planets, more earth like planets rather than just massive gas giants.

Nibiru or planet X is supposedly an object out beyond the Kuiper belt that is in an elliptical orbit that takes 3600 years to go around the sun. At it’s closest approach to the inner solar system, it supposedly disrupts objects in the Kuiper belt or the asteroid belt, sending them hurling in towards the sun and increasing the risk of collisions with the planets.

Our early ancestors weren’t slouches when it comes to astronomy. They tracked the objects they saw and they told us, warned us, to look for signs in the sky. They told us stories about their attempts to reach the sky, Babel, Jacob’s ladder, and other stairways to heaven. Some say those old stories are just Science Fiction.


Posted by: jlw at January 22, 2012 4:43 PM
Comment #334948

jlw

In Star Trek they have the prime directive … which Kirk and Picard figure out creative ways to violate in almost every episode.

Posted by: C&J at January 22, 2012 5:29 PM
Comment #334952


C&J, you are right about that. My opinion of the original series was it was basically a western with a little soap opera thrown in and The Next Generation was basically a soap opera with a little western thrown in.

I like my fiction to be as realistic as possible and the Hollywood notion of having the nearly the entire main officers staff of a star ship transport down to the surface of a planet, right in the middle of danger was ridiculous. That is what you are supposed to have marines for. the 60’s anti war sentiment I guess. Bad to have marines or storm troopers on board back then.

A few of the Star Trek movies were better than the TV shows.

Star Wars big space battle scenes were great Hollywood excitement, but absolutely no association with what a real space battle would be. Sound effects in space? Space ships that can turn on a dime?

One of the worse butcheries of a novel ever put to film was Kevin Costner’s version of The Postman by David Brin.

Arthur Clarke’s 2001 A Space Odyssey was my favorite S.F. Movie of the times because while not totally realistic, it was rather close.

Posted by: jlw at January 22, 2012 7:38 PM
Comment #334963

C&J,

The remarkable thing is the implicit belief that there exists intelligent life elsewhere in the universe and that at some point we will be in contact with them. I used to believe that too, but it is not science. It is as much a assertion of religious belief as we find in any of the holy books. It is completely w/o scientific foundation.

The BELIEF isn’t scientific, but the IDEA that life most likely exists on other planets is, given what we know about the universe.
Maybe most planets are in contact with each other and we just happen to be in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy and they just haven’t got to us yet.

It is like the idea in time travel. Time travel is not possible because if it were we would know already. If some future civilization had perfected the capacity, their present would also be our present, i.e. our distant descendants would be hanging around our time like Chinese tourists.

Not necessarily. Maybe it’s a very technical process only done by a few scientific types even in the far future. The real problem with time travel is that, although you don’t notice it, everything is moving very fast. If I try to travel in time without taking this into account, I may end up in space. I think H. G. Wells had the best idea. Instead of moving between points in time like most sci-fi depicts now, his machine was more of a fast forward/rewind button.

The speed of light is a significant limit to our, or anybody else’s ability to travel to other systems.

They used to say similar things about the speed of sound.
BTW, there may be other ways to get around space (or communicate with other parts of space) besides flying really fast. Quantum physics may have much to offer us in this area.

Posted by: ROseSTem at January 23, 2012 8:45 AM
Comment #334980

C&J,

I recently came across another solution to the Fermi paradox. Once again, I think your line of thinking regarding alien life is too anthropocentric:

The question remains as to how often, after life evolves, you’ll have intelligent life capable of making technology. What people haven’t seemed to notice is that on earth, of all the billions of species that have evolved, only one has developed intelligence to the level of producing technology. Which means that kind of intelligence is really not very useful. It’s not actually, in the general case, of much evolutionary value. We tend to think, because we love to think of ourselves, human beings, as the top of the evolutionary ladder, that the intelligence we have, that makes us human beings, is the thing that all of evolution is striving toward. But what we know is that that’s not true. Obviously it doesn’t matter that much if you’re a beetle, that you be really smart. If it were, evolution would have produced much more intelligent beetles. We have no empirical data to suggest that there’s a high probability that evolution on another planet would lead to technological intelligence. There is just too much we don’t know.
My source is an interview withProfessor Maudin of the NYU philosophy department.

Posted by: Warped Reality at January 23, 2012 1:01 PM
Comment #334998

ROseSTem

Maybe we will be able to go faster than the speed of light, but that certainly doesn’t seem possible. Even if we were able to do that, however, we still would be taking tens, hundreds or thousands of years to get to various destinations. So we also need to believe that human lifespans will increase to thousands of years and that we will be willing to spend those lifetimes in interstellar travel.

We can dream more than we can achieve.

Re time travel - the same sort of logic of very large numbers that tells you that life exists in the universe should tell you that time travel is not possible. Given enough time, one or more of the travelers would either mess up or maliciously interfere in earlier times.

But both time travel and space travel are subject to the practical test. Even if it is possible the probability that it will be done is vanishingly small.

Warped

I can accept that life exists elsewhere as a proposition. I am saying only that nobody has ever seen any proof and therefore the belief in it - because it must be true - is a type of religion.

But as a practical matter, it doesn’t matter. If there is a planet of the beetles on the other side of the galaxy, we will never see them and they will never see us. That means that for practical purposes they don’t exist.

Posted by: C&J at January 23, 2012 5:35 PM
Comment #335002
I can accept that life exists elsewhere as a proposition. I am saying only that nobody has ever seen any proof and therefore the belief in it - because it must be true - is a type of religion.

But as a practical matter, it doesn’t matter. If there is a planet of the beetles on the other side of the galaxy, we will never see them and they will never see us. That means that for practical purposes they don’t exist.

You are correct to point out that anyone a firm belief that extraterrestrial life exists is nothing more than dogma. However, I still wouldn’t rule all the possibilities out entirely. Also, I tend to be an optimist with these sorts of things.

Posted by: Warped Reality at January 23, 2012 7:13 PM
Comment #335034

Jack,

“If there is a planet of the beetles on the other side of the galaxy, we will never see them and they will never see us. That means that for practical purposes they don’t exist.”

If a tree falls in your forest and you are not there to see it fall, does it make a sound?

IMHO, it’s a bit arrogant to believe that we humans are the only relevant species in the universe.

If estimates are true, we’re not even the oldest species on a planet that is merely a third as old as the rest of the universe.
Hell, on a universal time scale we discovered fire a mere few hours ago.

“I am saying only that nobody has ever seen any proof and therefore the belief in it - because it must be true - is a type of religion.

Is the search for knowledge a type of religion?

It has been estimated that our galaxy alone contains between 200 to 400 billion stars. The laws of probability would dictate that, to paraphrase Carl Sagan, there could be billions and billions of civilizations, just in our galactic neighborhood alone.

Just how technologically advanced is our civilization if we are still burning fossil fuel, if we cannot guarantee that a rocket will even make it off the launch pad, if we are disposing of our nuclear waste by putting into cans and burying it?

As far as religion goes, there are those among us that believe the search for truth ends at the Bible.

How screwed up is that?

Perhaps we may never travel to Alpha Centauri, or even meet “someone” from there.

It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t continue the attempt to expand our knowledge of the universe around us.

Rocky

Posted by: Rocky Marks at January 24, 2012 12:42 PM
Comment #335045

C&J,
We can dream more than we can achieve.

Ah, pre-defeatism… One of the prerequisites for conservative thought. Since this is a political sight, I’ll add that it’s also one of the many reasons why conservatism is not practical as a governing technique. The Corruption of Power principle tends to turn the conservative “we shouldn’t try because I say we can’t” into the authoritarian “you can’t do because I say you won’t.”
Of course, Liberalism has the opposite problem, turning “we should try” into “you must do.” But that’s the lesser of two evils in my opinion. Most of the time, being forced to do something has less impact on how you live your life than being told not to do something. That’s why, for example, most Americans are fine with having to pay for health care, but don’t like being told who they can and can’t marry.
Sorry to get off topic. Guess I’m in a ranting mood…


Re time travel - the same sort of logic of very large numbers that tells you that life exists in the universe should tell you that time travel is not possible. Given enough time, one or more of the travelers would either mess up or maliciously interfere in earlier times.

And now you’ve combined pre-defeatism with another conservative prerequisite: lack of imagination. Just how do you know this hasn’t happened? Surly you’re open to the possibility (unlikely as it is) that some major figures in history could be time-travelers who managed to keep their mouths shut about it? Maybe some people just went back to live in the past. Any changes they made would not be observable by us. Even if they claimed to be time travelers, most people would dismiss it out of hand. Yes, this is VERY unlikely. But very unlikely does not equal “not possible.”
And by the way, if TT was invented, who do you think would have control of it? Again, it’s unlikely that TT would ever be in wide-scale use in any way.

Posted by: ROseSTem at January 24, 2012 3:25 PM
Comment #335055

Rocky

“If a tree falls in your forest and you are not there to see it fall, does it make a sound?” No— it does not. The falling tree will create vibrations that will only be interpreted as sound if they encounter ears or devices that can interpret them.

Re expanding knowledge - we should be that. Just don’t expect to find anybody else.

Remember the lines from TS Eliot - “We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.”

ROseSTem

We need to recognize both opportunities and limitations.

You are saying that your specific result will be achieved, i.e. we will encounter intelligent life. I am just telling you that is a matter of faith, not science, and that it may not be true, probably not.

I have always dreamed that I could fly, like Superman w/o the aid of any device. Do you believe that will become possible for me someday? If your answer is no, do you lack imagination?

Posted by: C&J at January 24, 2012 4:54 PM
Comment #335063

Jack,

“No— it does not. The falling tree will create vibrations that will only be interpreted as sound if they encounter ears or devices that can interpret them.”

Do you assume that your little forest critters have no ears?

Rocky

Posted by: Rocky Marks at January 24, 2012 6:07 PM
Comment #335066

Rocky

It is the interpretation that counts. That is done in the brain of the human or the little creatures. I don’t know how the particular creatures brains interpret the vibrations.

To me this philosophical conundrum is easily resolved in that practical sense. If you mean by “sound” the vibration it makes in the air, it certainly does make one. But if you take it to mean the more practical sense of being interpreted by a sentient being, it does not.

We are surrounded by sounds and sights we cannot see or hear. There are sounds that young people can hear that us older people cannot. And we all have various disabilities when it comes to colors and other perceptions. Our environments are full of signals, but they are meaningless until interpreted. To a blind person, light might just be heat, or it might be nothing at all. There are some blind people whose eyes work, but they don’t transmit the data to the brain. They are still blind.

We talk about having a human centric approach. We can have no other. Attempts to put ourselves in the other category are still humans doing that. I have no way of knowing how the beetles on beetleworld would perceive what I think of as sound and light.

Posted by: C&J at January 24, 2012 7:39 PM
Comment #335079


A firm belief in extraterrestrial intelligence is a dogma.

According to the Bible, there are three types of intelligent life, Man, a host of Angels, and God. According to the Bible, some of the Angels revolted and were determined to rule over Man and turn Man against God. According to the Bible, these two groups waged war on eachother.

A competing theory is that the God of the Bible and his host of angels were/are actually extraterrestrials and that these extraterrestrials became divided into two competing groups. The leader of the extraterrestrials decreed that they would leave the earth and leave Man to his own devices, The other group wished to remain on the earth and rule over Man and his planet. These two groups waged war on eachother.

Which theory is most logical?

Which theory is the simpler explanation?

“When you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is better.”

The God’s are myths created by humans as an explanation for how and why.

Posted by: jlw at January 25, 2012 1:45 PM
Comment #335108

jlw

Both are matters of faith, not science. Logic plays no particular role here, since there is an absence of information on which to base a logical conclusion.

As a matter of faith in religion, however, you do not require actual evidence. The ancient alien theory, however, does.

In the Bible, the battle among the angels was not carried out on earth.

Posted by: C&J at January 25, 2012 8:33 PM
Comment #335116


C&J, as a scientific theory, ancient alien visitation requires evidence. To many of the true believers, there is more than enough evidence.

What about the Joseph Campbell the gods were our invention theory. Is the evidence conclusive enough for acceptance by the scientific community? According to Campbell, the fact that many of the myths are so similar between many cultures, even those that were widely separated, is proof that we invented the gods because of a similar need for them in all cultures.

Take the similarity between the Annunaki of the Sumers, the Olympians and Titans of the Greeks, and God and the angels of the Bible. Azazel/Lucifer/Satan was, in many respects, a rebellious son of God. In fact, the Bible refers to the rebellious Angels as Sons of God.

In all three, the children of the Gods rebelled. The Sons of God and the Sons of the Annunaki failed and were cast down, confined on this primative planet, trapped in a gravity well/firey pit, awaiting the time when the Gods would return and reek vengence on them and their human followers. The Olypians were successful in overthrowing their parents and enjoyed much of what the earth had to offer, including using humans for play things.

Marduk/Horus, Zeus, and Lucifer are very similar charcters.

Well, I guess that does it, I’ll have to vote for Newt now unless Obama announces an American Moon colony. Talk about pandering. Who’s going to finance it, the private sector?

Posted by: jlw at January 26, 2012 12:06 AM
Comment #335118

CJ,
This post and your insistence that scientific odds somehow equate to religion are fascinating and sad.

Youtube the Hubble Deep Space Field in 3D

Prepare to be humbled.

I also find it laughable that existing to you is a matter of you being able to see something and also be seen by it?

Do you then disbelieve in Love? Or atoms? Or Tachyons? Or quarks? Does your “box” have walls so thick that you can’t give credence to the mere odds alone?

If (and Science has already proven this not to be true) Earth is the only planet in the ENTIRE Milky way with intelligent life, that would be a mere 1 out of 100 BILLION stars, then you realize that by the odds alone, there are BILLIONS of planets capable of supporting life like ours out there - nevermind other kinds that fall outside the range of our orbital warmth.

It seems that you suffer from a different strain of the same affliction that a lot of people do… if your own personal style of ‘reasoning’ suggests that something may not be true, you think it fact, and suggest anyone with a different idea is engaging in religious-like faith-fantasy.

What a sad proposition, my heart goes out to you.

Fortunately, society and all our luxury and innovation was pioneered by people who see possibility as limitless, and ‘boxes’ like the one you have so concretely explained living in, are considered the antithesis to progress.

God bless the people who are willing to ‘risk’ the personal capital to dream bigger than nay-sayers and keep going back to the drawing board until they can manifest what their hearts tell them is true into the world, and box, of people who labeled their ideas as folly.

Its so funny that you have the gall to assert what is possible based on anecdotal evidence, and don’t even realize the inherent flaw in that method of reasoning.

ROFL, truly.

Posted by: Yukon Jake at January 26, 2012 2:46 AM
Comment #335119

Correction: I meant to say that science has proven there are more planets in our galaxy capable of supporting life in temperatures and gravities similar to our own. Science has not proven the existence of intelligent life elsewhere - to my knowledge.

I wrote a whole paragraph and as I edited that slipped through between sentence deletions. My apologies.

Posted by: Yukon Jake at January 26, 2012 2:49 AM
Comment #335130

Jack,

“To me this philosophical conundrum is easily resolved in that practical sense. If you mean by “sound” the vibration it makes in the air, it certainly does make one. But if you take it to mean the more practical sense of being interpreted by a sentient being, it does not.”

So… What you’re saying is that…

Really Jack, all seriousness aside, I think you’ve been in Washington far too long, and I have to say, all of those dancing lessons have finally paid off.
I mean really, I ask a rhetorical question, and you dodge it by going all scientific on me with a “philosophical conundrum” about how a deer or a squirrel might “interpret” the vibrations of a tree falling in the woods?

I look around this once noble site and see responses from some people who’s grasp on reality seems somewhat tenuous. I realize that we need words to communicate, but if we cannot agree on their meaning there is no actual communication.
My point is that if we look at some of our fellow humans, shouldn’t we wonder if even the meaning of the word “sentient” is up for grabs?

Back to the subject of your post;

“The remarkable thing is the implicit belief that there exists intelligent life elsewhere in the universe and that at some point we will be in contact with them. I used to believe that too, but it is not science. It is as much a assertion of religious belief as we find in any of the holy books. It is completely w/o scientific foundation.”

IMHO, the arrogance of the thought that we are the only “sentient” beings in the universe is based on those “holy books” you speak of.
The fact that our planet is approximately 10 billion years younger than the “universe”, and the possibility that “modern humans” have only been around for the last 200,000 years, the laws of physics and probability being what they are, leaves plenty of time for intelligent life to develop elsewhere.


“It is like the idea in time travel. Time travel is not possible because if it were we would know already. If some future civilization had perfected the capacity, their present would also be our present, i.e. our distant descendants would be hanging around our time like Chinese tourists.”

Lets assume for a minute that time travel will be available sometime in the future.

Why would any intelligent being want to hang around in our time?

Rocky

Posted by: Rocky Marks at January 26, 2012 12:27 PM
Comment #337797

Dont be afraid.We have to be of a more understanding nature. Look at everything around us.It is in everything are children see and are growing up with.It will be second nature for them to understand,as for Carl Sagan he accomlished his goal,thats why we are having this conversation. Theres no harm in thinking in tthe extreme


alien

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