Tropical Saturn.  Image credit:  Columbia University

The Odds of Intelligent Life in the Universe

Article Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
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When it comes to contemplating the state of our universe, the question likely most prevalent on people’s minds is, “Is anyone else like us out there?” The famous Drake Equation, even when worked out with fairly moderate numbers, seemingly suggests the probable amount of intelligent, communicating civilizations could be quite numerous. But a new paper published by a scientist from the University of East Anglia suggests the odds of finding new life on other Earth-like planets are low, given the time it has taken for beings such as humans to evolve combined with the remaining life span of Earth.

Professor Andrew Watson says that structurally complex and intelligent life evolved relatively late on Earth, and in looking at the probability of the difficult and critical evolutionary steps that occurred in relation to the life span of Earth, provides an improved mathematical model for the evolution of intelligent life.

According to Watson, a limit to evolution is the habitability of Earth, and any other Earth-like planets, which will end as the sun brightens. Solar models predict that the brightness of the sun is increasing, while temperature models suggest that because of this the future life span of Earth will be “only” about another billion years, a short time compared to the four billion years since life first appeared on the planet.

“The Earth’s biosphere is now in its old age and this has implications for our understanding of the likelihood of complex life and intelligence arising on any given planet,” said Watson.

Some scientists believe the extreme age of the universe and its vast number of stars suggests that if the Earth is typical, extraterrestrial life should be common. Watson, however, believes the age of the universe is working against the odds.

“At present, Earth is the only example we have of a planet with life,” he said. “If we learned the planet would be habitable for a set period and that we had evolved early in this period, then even with a sample of one, we’d suspect that evolution from simple to complex and intelligent life was quite likely to occur. By contrast, we now believe that we evolved late in the habitable period, and this suggests that our evolution is rather unlikely. In fact, the timing of events is consistent with it being very rare indeed.”

Watson, it seems, takes the Fermi Paradox to heart in his considerations. The Fermi Paradox is the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and the lack of evidence for, or contact with, such civilizations.

Watson suggests the number of evolutionary steps needed to create intelligent life, in the case of humans, is four. These include the emergence of single-celled bacteria, complex cells, specialized cells allowing complex life forms, and intelligent life with an established language.

“Complex life is separated from the simplest life forms by several very unlikely steps and therefore will be much less common. Intelligence is one step further, so it is much less common still,” said Prof Watson.

Watson’s model suggests an upper limit for the probability of each step occurring is 10 per cent or less, so the chances of intelligent life emerging is low — less than 0.01 per cent over four billion years.

Each step is independent of the other and can only take place after the previous steps in the sequence have occurred. They tend to be evenly spaced through Earth’s history and this is consistent with some of the major transitions identified in the evolution of life on Earth.

Here is more about the Drake Equation.

Here is more information about the Fermi Paradox.

Original News Source: University of East Anglia Press Release

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45 Responses

  1. Ethan Siegel says:

    One way I like to look at it is the following:

    It’s a question of how many steps in the creation of humanity were “difficult” to take. Maybe it’s easy to make population I stars like ours. Maybe it’s easy to make them with planets in the habitable zone. Maybe it’s easy to get water on them. But we’re the only inner planet in our solar system with a large moon. Do we need that for life? Do we need an active magnetic field in our core, and is that rare?

    And the biological questions are things we just don’t know — is abiogenesis common or extremely rare? Is the evolution of intelligent tool-using life like us common or rare? If I pick conservative numbers for these, then we should be the only civilization in the history of our galaxy. But are we? I don’t know… but it’s a good question!

    Ethan

  2. DMedici says:

    1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars, double that in planets conservatively. Yeah, I think there’s a good chance there’s life out there. But don’t listen to me – I’m no scientist!

  3. corey says:

    I think that life is a rare thing in the universe, but rare doesnt mean impossible. I think the best evdence we have for life is all of us and if it could happen here it could happen anywere. And with the technology we have now when we search for extra solar planets in the habitable zone were seeing them as they were millions and sometimes billions of years ago so the amount of change that happens to those planets and there solar systems could be dramatic and could lead to evoluion of intelligent life.

  4. ScepticTim says:

    Brandon Carter published a paper “Five or six step scenario for evolution?” (arXiv:0711.1985v1 [astro-ph] 13 Nov 2007) last fall in which he evalluates “… the number of essential steps in our evolution that would have been hard in this sense, and to consider what those hard steps may have been, giving particular attention to the question of whether they could have included biogenisis itself…”

    In that paper he argues “…that we have already used up about five sixths of the originally available time before the aging Sun makes the Earth too hot….” After an elementary statistical analysis of “…the (very small) probability, P say, of ever completing the evolutionary chain – leading in the case of interest to the emergence of intelligent observers at a particular site –…” he suggests that “… by supposing n to be in the range 4 < n < 8 , with the best fit given perhaps by n = 6….” where n is the number of hard steps.

    “Abstract.

    The prediction that (due to the limited amount of hydrogen available as fuel in the Sun) the future duration of our favorable terrestrial environment will be short (compared with the present age of he Earth) has been interpreted as evidence for a hard step scenario. This means that some of the essential steps (such as the development of eukaryotes) in the evolution process leading to the ultimate emergence of intelligent life would have been hard, in the sense of being against the odds in the available time, so that they are unlikely to have been achieved in most of the earth-like planets that may one day be discovered in nearby extra-solar systems. It was originally estimated that only one or two of the essential evolutionary steps had to have been hard in this sense, but it has become apparent that this figure may need upward revision, because recent studies of climatic instability suggest that the possible future duration of our biologically favorable environment may be shorter than had been supposed, only about one Giga year rather than five. On the basis of the statistical requirement of roughly equal spacing between hard steps, it is argued that the best fit with the fossil record is now obtainable by postulating the number of hard steps to be five, if our evolution was exclusively terrestrial, or six if, as now seems very plausible, the first step occurred on Mars.”

    He also considers the possibility of there being only two ‘hard steps’. Contrasting the scenerios he concludes, in part:
    “In the most plausible variant of the two step scenario, the first hard step does not occur until after the installation of photosynthesising bacteria, which would therefore occur commonly at favorable sites in extrasolar planetary systems, where their effects could become observationally detectable. Such a detection might provide a rather decisive falsification of the six step and five step scenarios, but the latter are for the time being what seems to be most likely on the basis of the limited evidence already available.”

    With the anticipated launching of Kepler and the JWST, perhaps we will be able to clearly define at least part of the answer to “Are we alone?” very soon!

  5. Dave says:

    I still like Carl Sagen’s observation he made in one of his Cosmos episodes… “we may be the only intelligent life in the universe…. after all somebody has to be first! I really don’t want to give up the thrill of looking for intelligent life, but as was once asked “If there is… where are they?”

  6. Jorge says:

    I tend to think that all this is way too speculative to be of real value for the moment. We still have a LOT to learn before we can even begin to answer these questions about how many living worlds or intelligent worlds there are in the galaxy. We’re only now starting to answer some of the premilinary questions to that one, such as how common planetary formation really is, we haven’t gone much beyond hypothesis in other such questions, like how common the birth of life as we know it is when conditions are favorable. And we really have no way of knowing anything yet about the eventual emergence of intelligence in other worlds: there’s no statistical value in studying ONE data point, which is what we really have.

    The answer is: investigate, investigate, investigate. Investigate Mars, Europa, Titan, every place in our planetary system where life might have been able to grow roots in, investigate nearby stars in search of planets, and especially planets that might be similar to our own. Investigate how those systems behave dynamically, to better understand how common or uncommon our system really is. Investigate much better the past of life on Earth and how it reacts and reacted to typical events that are likely to happen in other worlds, such as impacts, star energy output irregularities, major geological events, etc. THEN, we might be able to have a solid answer to those questions about extraterrestrial life and intelligence.

    And it’s what we have been doing, really. I, personally, feel the progress as painstakingly slow, but then again I’m not the most patient of men (and I’m not getting any younger). And even I agree that the progress has been vast in the last couple of decades. I’d like a lot more, I’d like to see a proper Europa probe, something being sent to Triton, more Mars rovers, a Titan lander able to move around the place, a Jupiter or Saturn (or even Uranus or Neptune) atmospheric probe, and so on, but I know I can’t complain about what has been done.

    (oh, and that artist should have taken care not to make the background island transparent… 😉 )

  7. zeb says:

    So, 0.01% chance of intelligent life occuring in 4 billion years. But there are at least 200 billion stars in our galaxy alone. If we assume only 1/1000 of those stars has a habitable planet, that would still lead to at least 20,000 intelligent civilizations in our galaxy.

    Even if intelligent life is exceptionally rare, I think the raw numbers invovled almost guarantee some other civilizations exist.

  8. Wheel of Fire says:

    I tend to avoid violent idiots when I spot their location but they haven’t spotted me.

    Assuming that beings who can create spacecraft are smarter than me, they probably mastered that same tendency long ago.

    Earth is in intragalactic podunk. A blue cesspool of ignorance spinning around a loser star on the outer third spiral of a gigantic galaxy.

    We offer the universe Playstation, aerosol cheese and internet pr0n. Why is anybody wondering why no civilization will contact us?

  9. Yael Dragwyla says:

    The idea that we are the *only* intelligent species Earth has ever birthed is an assumption made without either an undisputed, detailed definition of “intelligence,” or any assurance we would recognize other intelligent life-forms *on Earth* when we ran across them, let alone in the universe at large. Our species record of various forms of vicious bigotry toward others even of our own species says that we often have difficulty recognizing intelligence even when it’s literally right next door to us. How can we know whether there haven’t been other forms of Earthly life who were at least as intelligent as we are? Simple: *we can’t.” If there had been, say, an archosaurian civilization of some sort, now tens of millions of years gone, the lack of any remains signifiying that says nothing at all about whether such a civilization existed. Many human cultures that have created and used only tools of bone, stone, and/or wood were as intelligent as our modern ones, but tools of wood, stone, and bone are eventually reduced to bits and pieces that can’t be recognized as tools, and over 65+ million years, any such would by now have become so much dust and ashes, blown away by the winds or incorporated into solid rock. So we can’t say there was never a civilization on Earth long before hominids existed. On other worlds, perhaps the only senses natives of those worlds have include, e.g., the senses of hearing, taste, smell, touch, and one conferred by infrared detectors. If we believe that intelligent beings “must” be sighted and have cultures based on that sense, we’d never recognize a civilization built by such beings — and thus could not recognize their intelligence. If we insist that intelligent beings must all communicate as we do, verbally, why do so many of us ignore the very real intelligence of parrots, cats, ravens, and other animals all of whom have been found to have speech centers of one or another type in their brains, part of their neurology, as our speech centers are of our brains? Maybe all creatures are intelligent, though in different ways, using different sensory organs as their environment dictates, and we only refuse to look at the data that confirms it. These and related questions can be raised about trying to determine whether there is intelligent life in the universe besides ourselves. I think we need to examine our assumptions and modify them to admit of cases that don’t match our prejudices in this regard. James White, an outstanding science fiction writer, brings up just such questions in his Sector General novels — I heartily recommend checking them out on amazon.com.

  10. Cuando la gente contempla el estado de nuestro universo, la pregunta que probablemente se haga más a menudo es: “¿Hay alguien como nosotros en el universo?” La famosa ecuación de Drake, aun cuando se la interpreta con números bastante moderados, sugiere aparentemente que la cantidad probable de civilizaciones inteligentes y que se comunican podría ser muy elevada. Pero […] Fuente: Nancy Atkinson para Universe Today.

  11. RobbiNewman says:

    Given that the entire observable universe is full of organic compounds and that the ‘spirit’ of life is ‘programmed’ to expand itself…I find it a given we are not alone.

    Its a bit like the early exploration of planet earth. Life and civilisations arose all over without the other ‘islands’ knowing anything about the other.

    It was only a matter of time until awareness merged the space between.

    Of course space is an even larger ocean but it also will be crossed and other consciousness discovered.

    As for myself…I can only book a ticket via my children.
    Another clever device that the spirit of life has set itself to handle the issue of time travel

    What happens to my spirit outside this physical universe is a mystery that no one knows….for sure.

  12. astronowanabe says:

    if tides are important for life to form that planet in the picture should have no problem.
    although I would not want to be under that umbrella when the tide came in …

  13. Astrofiend says:

    Wheel of Fire Says:
    April 19th, 2008 at 3:45 pm

    “Earth is in intragalactic podunk. A blue cesspool of ignorance spinning around a loser star on the outer third spiral of a gigantic galaxy.

    We offer the universe Playstation, aerosol cheese and internet pr0n. Why is anybody wondering why no civilization will contact us?”

    Oh, come on – we’re alright.

  14. Michelle says:

    You know, I got a question. Not about the article but about the pictures…

    …With Saturn so close, how bad would the tides be anyway?

  15. William Patrick Haines says:

    The Galaxy is a huge place even if few prercent of stars have Earth like worlds that is still billions of worlds . Most have ages comparable to the sun .
    With the huge distances involved communication is going to very dificult . So if radio is the only means to prove a civilazation than it might exist but you might never be able to locate it . Even comminication were possible and transmision had ceased could you really assume that the civilaztion had ended ?

  16. AJames says:

    Where’s Arthur C. Clarke when you need him?

    This “announcement” follows many scientists who are seeking their opportunity for fame, glory or notoriety. The application of the Fermi Paradox here is as irrelevant as Occam’s Razor / lax parsimoniae – which states that ; “All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best.”)
    Sure it is indeed possible that intelligent life like us is rare or even that we are the only ones in the Universe, but where the actual proof? How do we come up with an experiment that can prove or disprove the theory without relying on methods akin to idle speculation.
    All this shows is that, considering the size and extent of the Universe, it will probably remain a question never to be answered – unless it falls in our laps.

    NOTE: As to the introductory image with Saturn in the foreground, it’s a bit of a cliché isn’t it? I mean, it certainly shows the author owns a Apple Mackintosh computer (a image from the screen saver) and that they have read/seen the Sagan book/ movie “Contact.”

  17. Irwin Weisberg says:

    Don’t you think it would be prudent to find intelligent life on Earth before we go chasing around the galaxy for it?

  18. TV Singh says:

    What amazes me most is not why humans are intelligent but why other species are not ???

    After all a large number of these species have had more time than us on this planet so instead of using that probability theory of ‘no. of suns then onto no. of planets’ we should use that theory on no. of species(also in billions). All the other senses of sight, smell, hearing, touch etc. is prevalent in most species but why not ‘intelligence’. Evolution is based on the Darwinian principle of ‘Survival of the Fittest’ , have the other species not needed to evolve by this principle so why haven’t they evolved to our stage or is it that once we evolved to this intelligent stage we have become an obstacle in their path ???

    Which only means that intelligence will eventually come on any planet that has life, its only a question of time(preferably measured in millions of years).

    One question remains however, once a species becomes ‘intelligent’ what next?? If intelligent life does get a chance to live on for billions of years do they evolve into something we can’t recognize at this stage of our evolution.

    Maybe thats why we can’t see ’em aliens even if they are all around us!!!

  19. DaveM says:

    Intelligence emerges when you have a species with a large developed brain, living on dry land and with a lifespan sufficiently long to use and develop that intellect.

    The difference between evolving say bigger sharper teeth in a carnivore for example, and evolving ever larger brains is that teeth get more effective as they get bigger – but they are still teeth – whereas the brain reaches a certain point in development – and becomes something different. It becomes the means to intelligence and not simply a central nervous system.

    The question is : why did our brains continue evolve to such a point that intelligence such as our own becomes a possibility? Why have a larger brain at all? What is it that sets primates apart from other animals that requires them to have larger brains?

    The answer, I believe, is the need for dexterity. Large portions of our brain are devoted to muscle control. We humans may not be as physically powerfull as some other species – but we have a level of physical control in our limbs (our hands especially) far greater that any other animal. All primates have a large degree of dexterity (as tree dwelling creatures we had to have this). And they all have large developed brains. in this respect humans are ‘Supermonkeys’!

    The need for dexterity drove the development of the brain. Once a ‘tipping point’ is reached – the brain becomes something more… the means to intelligence. We wake up and smell the coffee – we (metaphoricaly) ‘Bite the apple’ and become sentinent.

    Primates simply couldn’t thrive as long as the dinosaurs were in control… but with them out of the way the primates were free to develop and evolve. It could all have happened so much sooner. If the comet which destroyed the dinosaurs had impacted a billion years earlier we might already be inhabiting the worlds of other star systems!

    This is what I think, anyway!

  20. If one accepts the validity of the Law of Accelerating Returns, then once technological civilization develops, the odds of reaching the ultimate heights of technological development within a very short time is highly likely.

    Even if very few technological civilizations develop, they would likely exponentially expand outward from their planet of origin, and populate the galaxy in a relatively short time.

    The fact that it appears not to have happened yet belies that notion…unless we happen to be the first…which seems to be rather long odds itself.

    Conclusion: Who the hell knows?

  21. I don’t think we’ll ever make contact with other intelligent life in the universe. Apart from the ‘hard steps’ and vast distances involved, they would have to evolve to the stage where they are capable of sending a signal across interstellar space synchronous with us being at a stage where we could recieve such a signal. This ‘window’ could well be 100 years or less, given that it’s possible we could lose this ability at any time due to global war, polution or other planetary disaster.
    And how would we recognise intelligence? As has been said above, we only have Human intelligence to go by. what if, (to refer to another Aldiss novel, The Dark Light Years), they looked like rhinos, communicated by farting and whistling, and worshipped their own excrement? Would we recognise them as equal or superior beings, or treat them like animals?

  22. Jim D says:

    For a technological society to evolve, they need a cheap source of energy. We use coal, oil, and natural gas provided by plate tectonics. If it wasn’t for this we would still be using wood and camel dung. We couldn’t evolve much of a technology with that and neither could some other civilization.
    What are the odds.

  23. Polzer says:

    If Earth has taught us anything, it is that life exists everywhere. Its existing in the harshest conditions around the globe. I think that when we do travel to Europa, we will find an ocean full of life, I think as we continue to learn more about comets we will see more of the building blocks, and I think as more research is done we will find other life forms, not based on carbon, but based on other elements. Life based on other elements may not require water, may not require a moderate climate, and may not require a ‘five-step plan’ to become intelligent.

    I really think life will turn up in more places than we think, as what we look for evolves. As the universe goes from order to disorder life becomes inevitable.

    Now having said all that, Intelligent life is just another step in disorder, but it may be a tough one. I hope we are not the only intelligent beings in the universe, but we are not even entirely sure we are the only intelligent beings on Earth yet. Dolphins? “So long and thanks for all the fish!”

    Intelligence is all relative anyway, as talked about in Jay Igmans ‘Theater of the Mind’ he describes the different ‘levels’ of consciousness, and how they are just baby steps from each other. A cat has no idea what a mirror is, a dog will bark at itself, but not really know its itself, a chimpanzee with a red sticker on its head will see its self image and try to wipe the dot off its own head. Humans would make a sarcastic comment and laugh at the sticker on their head.”

    So what am I getting at? with the almost infinite number of stars and variability on each, we are limiting our search for life rather narrowly. Its we find a strange web of life on Europa… everything will change

  24. Nuno says:

    What’s more spooky?
    That we are alone or that we aren’t?

    Nuno

  25. Molecular says:

    I think that the chances for life outside of Earth are greater than we ever expect them to be. The existence of other intelligent life might just be sitting right under our noses, and we just are not recognizing it because we are either not smart enough, or, that we are taking the wrong approaches to discovering it.

    Evolution itself, could just be one sign that intelligent life other than what’s here on this planet, exists. After-all, what it the reason that we as human beings seek to improve on the things which we make with our hands?………So that they will work better for us and be more efficient in doing so. Is this not correct?

    One day, in the not too distant future, we WILL send out probes to a planet or moon that we have some idea about already. This probe will make the rovers on Mars look prehistoric by comparison. The reason being is that these particular probes will be self-sufficient…….and being self-sufficient means that they will need to evolve in order to survive the conditions of their environments. To survive the conditions of their environments ultimately means they will continue to carry out the missions of their programmers.

    Now, does this sound at all familiar, or I am just dreaming this up?

    Some could argue that we’re all here due to random chance, and that this is not a sign of intelligence at work, ok. Think about this, the fact that I am even writing this is based on randomness, none of my words as I have typed this were premeditated, I drew them off the top of my head. To go even further beyond just typing words randomly, what about the artist, the musician, the painter, the sculptor, the architect, etc., who come up up with their own ideas out of nothing. This nothing which evolves over time from within their minds, into works that are appreciated by all who have eyes to see, ears to listen, and hands to touch.

    Earth is just one place that harbors living entities that are the very products of MUCH older, higher intelligent beings which preceded them.

    So, to say that there isn’t much chance that there are other beings outside of this planet is being EXTREMELY naive. 🙂

  26. Dark Gnat says:

    Although out technology has improved, we are no more intelligent then the hunter-gatherers of millenia past. We have been able to record the actions and idea of previous generations, and build upon what others have achieved, yet without a written language, we would have achieved almost nothing.

    No one is born into the world smarter than their ancestors. A child knows only to cry for its mother.
    When we lack the capabilities to communicate effectively, we end up falling into war and and oppression.

    Are we really as intelligent as we think we are?

  27. Alien OverLord says:

    Dark Gnat,

    Your inability to properly select “than” versus “then” in a comment about the communication abilities of the human race is quite hilarious.

    You must be in the worker class of “comedian.”

    I look forward to eating your people when they are ready for harvest.

    Soon to buy you at a supermarket near me,

    Alien OverLord

  28. johnny deuce says:

    I got this forwarded letter from Gribetz McClane, an intelligent extraterrestrial being from a planet located on Orion’s belt, directly above the constellation’s presupposed genitalia:

    “Salutations, Earthlings!

    MY fellow beings have attempted to contact you regarding an important matter concerning intellectual property.
    Your Dasani and Ozarka bottled water companies have continuously taken credit for “inventing” and/or otherwise propogating the concept of bottling and distributing water as unique and “revolutionary”. While this may be the case in your microcosm, our records indicate that this otherwise jaded concept of packaging and marketing essential resources is none other than our own.

    Your planet Earth – known as “spherical water packaging concept #2” on our planet Voltrexdotnet – is merely one of many products offered by our planet to other solar systems in the universe. The problem with our test package was the rampant microbial growth due to less-than-sophisticated manufacturing techniques. In turn, our water packaging concept slowly transformed into something similar to what your fellow creatures would refer to as a “Chia Pet”, more or less.

    To handle this matter appropriately, please cease any further attempts by Dasani, Ozarka, and other related companies to accept or proclaim intellectual credit involving packaged resources, or otherwise risk invasion and/or cattle mutilations.

    Sincerely,

    Gribetz McClane
    Supreme Overlord Power Master and co-founder of Voltrexdotnet Marketing”

    What an asshole!

  29. Tony Trenton says:

    When ever we have been able to see first hand by satellite we have been surprised at the results being beyond our wildest dreams.

    Patience, patience please

  30. Markie Gman says:

    Speculation is nice, but history has proven the curious optimist finds the most wonderful things and most often by accident. The real question is, even if life is very improbable, to the point of making intelligent life nearly impossible, would we still look for it? Yes we would, making the answer to that question more or less moot.

    It’s just too stinking awesome not to look for. Just like “worm holes”, forcefields and perpetual motion machines. It may get to the point that scientifically we’ve decided there’s little to no chance, but lets be honest how many future astronomers wouldn’t entertain the idea of meeting intelligent life? In my opinion that’s all we need to know until we know. Trying to create a mathmatical probability proof is a waste of time when we have more immediate goals in that area that need attention. Lets get good step or two off the planet first I say.

  31. davey says:

    Facinating topic and great website!

    TVSingh and DaveM have encouraged me to consider further the idea of our own planet’s life cycle (or, more importantly, our sun’s life cycle). Why are we so sure that intelligence hasnt evolved previously here, given the amount of time that has elapsed. Also, considering the minute amount of time it took for us super apes to bite in to that apple, it seems (to me) that there might be better odds of the chance of life evolving multiple times here, than out there, where many more other parameters could and would affect the equation.

    If dexterity is the key to larger brains and evolved intelligence, why is that so unique to modern times and primates? In the 130 million years or so of the existance of flowering\fruit bearing plants and trees, why us?

    Just because we havent been able to dig it up doesnt mean that it hasnt happened here before, no? Might be an easier explanation for those mass extinctions as well.

  32. Eric Near Buffalo says:

    Look if we were truly intelligent, we’d find people who could rightfully run the various governments ( :cough: including ours :cough: ) across the globe, we’d have people who could consistently solve the problems we face and we’d have people running corporations who were more in tune with the consumers who are also in some cases their employees or employees of their friends’ corporations.

    Greed is not a good indicator of intelligent life. It’s just ignorance. Our species ignorance is just proof that we’re designed to destroy ourselves. If there was intelligent life outside of the solar system, they probably look at us as the trailer park of the universe; should they notice us at all and would most likely keep looking around until they found truly civilized and intelligent beings.

  33. Vanamonde says:

    Love the picture – great Photoshop skills. Now, wasn’t there an Astronomy Cast where Dr. Gay mentions in just 50 million years, the sun will have brighten enough to boil the oceans. Me, I have always heard that we have about 5 billion years until the sun swelled but I have a sense of trust in Dr. Gay – enough that I was sad for a couple of days after hearing that. But while nothing on the astronomical scale it is an eternity in human evolution, so we should have time to find or built another biosphere somewhere. Or a few thousand or more, who knows.

    As for other civilizations, I have no doubt there are out there. Space is just so big, I cannot expect that we are the only ones. But I hope, as we work on detection that we do not work to exposure ourselves to them for awhile. If they are anything like us and a million years ahead, we will probably be treated that the native Americans by the Europeans. Or worst.

  34. Sieveofintell says:

    It seems that all life as we know it , is competitive and devoring each other .
    So the majority of life based on evolution as we know it is self seeking and aggressive in order to survive , in other words … trailer trash.
    Even the sperm push each other aside to be the winner of the race.
    So there is a necessary 7th STEP in advancing to the kind of intelligence needed for long range survival of the species.
    That STEP is the following scenario event occurring which leads to the intelligent sub class “E” necessary for survival of any planet which can communicate over the light years.
    This abberation class “E” which pass through the filter are the selfless intelligent , knowledge seeking , curious and caring kind who , if powerful enough could insure we don;t become extinct.
    Many scientists are not members of that group like scientists from Nazi Germany in WWII.
    Many scientists are not nice people and are in fact greedy , have big egos and small minded enough to not even share credit with other scientists ( like the woman who did DNA research or the woman who wrote “The Mocking Bird ..” prize winning novel” and who received no credit for assisted Truman Capote in writing “In Cold Blood”)
    The problem is only the most aggessive and ruthless make it to positions of power usually .
    Jimmy Carter , Ghandi and those like him are the rare cases.
    Therefore we have leaders who are so wired up and definitely NOT members of the abberation class “E” and they will take us to the brink of extinction if not all the way.
    Then you throw in the natural extinction events and many civilizations lead to a dead end before they can communicate with each other light years away.
    So any intelligent civilization which passes through the filter leading to class “E” and the 7th STEP may be very rare indeed.

  35. Chuck Lam says:

    Hey everyone! Stop a few moments and look around our planet. How many distinct life forms are there? We all know the estimates vary from a few tens of thousands to millions. It appears life, in any form, hardly needs an excuse too appear literally everywhere on earth. Now turn your attention to the cosmos. I suspect life is as prolific in the universe as here on earth. Anything close to an earth-like habitat will do. This assumes, of course, that life was sparked from the same something common in the universe that got life going on earth. i doubt that we are unique, maybe rare, but not unique. Why no contact one might ask? It’s simple. Modulate electro-magnetic radiation diminishes with distance. There’s nothing left to detect from a billion watt signal after a few light years of travel. What about laser communication might be asked? Attempting to communicate with a modulated laser would be like trying to shoot a fly on Pluto from earth. Are there other ways to communicate on a galactic scale? Maybe . . . maybe not. I have this negative feeling contact will never be made with another communicative intelligence. Way too much distance between us and them.

  36. kongaman says:

    Watson is full of it. A good scientist knows you need more than just one data point to make the kind of conclusions he is making.

    Sounds like he has another agenda, or at the least is from the old school of God made only one planet in the Universe with life, so that the British Empire could conquer it.

    Come join the 21st Century. doc.

  37. Chuck Lam says:

    .To Kongaman, I think you might be right about Watson. His agenda appears to be simply “getting published.”

  38. Lyria says:

    Due to the celestial dynamics involved, and due to the fact that we are looking for something “recognizable”, I think the search for extraterrestrial life is going to be a long hard road.
    If the nearest galaxy that held this life sent us a message today, it would take years, possibly centuries to reach us using conventional technologies. Perhaps in a few hundred years our childrens, children will get their first Hi, how are ya. Given that we have only mastered this ability in the last 50 years, what’s to say evolutionarily, the other planets havent evolved along the same lines. The question to me isn’t whether there is “intelligent life” out there, it’s more of “when” will we find it and will we be considered intelligent when they find us:) To postulate the rarity of a particular event impossible to measure or confirm is like another poster said, in the realm of speculation and should be left to theologians or spiritual gurus.

    Lyria

  39. Eric Near Buffalo says:

    Are scientists only looking for carbon based life when carry out these searches? When they say they detect far away planets with organic compounds, could it be possible that what’s organic here might not neccessarily be organic on planet “Sklarbek”?

    Rather than searching for a beacon from many many light years away, shouldn’t we maybe just stay within a technically reasonable distance? Then again all we really know of is carbon based lifeforms. How could we truly know of non carbon based lifeforms short of hovering above them?

  40. ron stone says:

    The question is always that if there is intelligent life elswhere in the galaxy where are they? Using the “Drake equation” and being very conservative I calculate that there should be some 20 million intelligent “technical” civilisations around in the galaxy at this time. Wow, so where are they? Given the size of our galaxy it means that on average there is one intelligent civilisation every 150 million cubic light years!! Or if we are very lucky there may be one just 531 light years away. Then again they may be twice that distance. Even half that distance means we still have to wait another 200 years befor they pick up our TV programmes. Nuff said?

  41. javier varela says:

    you also ot to think that even though we may one day be able to find a planet with life trillions of light years away or so, they may not evn be there any way, light travels fast, but not fast enough tht we know if there is any civilization out there still, so to another civilization billions, or trillions of light years away, to them also we may still appear to be in the triassic period or so on

  42. poopenhimer says:

    Reading these comments i have a lot to say. First of all even though there are a lot of greedy nasty people in the world, humanity as a whole defies the natural feeling of greed. It is our intelligence that seperates us from all other forms of life on this planet, and it is our intelligence that makes it possible for us to repel selfish thoughts.

    there was a study done on toddlers and chimpanzees that showed the distinct difference between humans and there closest relatives. The first test was done on a group of toddlers where an adult would purposley put him or herself into a situation where they would be in need of help. Every toddler in the room was willing and eager to help its fellow human.

    A similar situation was set up for chimpanzees. They put one chimpanzee in a room where the center was divided by metal bars. Food was placed in the middle of a long board just out of reach of the chimp on the other side. Each end of the board had a string attached to it that traveled through the bars to the side of the room where the chimp was being held. Alone, the strings where to far apart for the chimp to successfully pull the board close enough to him to reach the food. The chimp was then faced with the option to open a door on his side of the room where a fellow chimp was being held. The door was opened and with the help of the second chimp, the original was able to reach the food. But being the dominate chimp, the orignal chimp did not share the bounty with his companion. The test was tried again but this time when the chimp opened the door for help, the second chimp refused to do work with no profit.

    Selfishness is what drives evolution. An organism is wired to do anything to survive. We are the exception. If any other animal was given the technollogy and the means as humans what would you think the world would be like. Now this doesnt mean we can become better as a society and help regrow our environment but thats for another day.

    Secondly if we find other forms of life, the chances of it being carbon based is extremely high. Carbon is the element that most easily bonds with any other element. It is the most efficient means to the biulding blocks of life and this will never change anywhere throughout the whole universe.

    p.s. dolphins arent that smart. Unless they somehow evolve to walk of land, which would probably never ever happen being so well adapted for the water and might have evolved from land into the water, dolphins, even if it wasnt for human intervention, would have never evolved into anything like humans or as succesful. HEED THY WORDS! BEWARE THE FUTURE WHERE ELEPHANTS RULE THE WORLD! THERE TRUNK TRIGGERED GUNS WILL OBLITERATE US ONE DAY!

  43. Dansk1 says:

    Consifering what I have experienced over a period of 80 years, mingling among those homo-sapiens, I earnestly ptay that there is intelligent lifeform out there, because there sure is’nt any here on Earth. My life savings were confiscated by pseudo-Christians at Sun City Hilton Head, back in March 1995.
    Since then, every day on this sphere has (and continues to be) an obvious challenge.
    Forget about overseas Internet crooks, like those in Nigeria, worry about the folks right in your neighborhood, or the Del Web Mafia.

  44. Landon says:

    CANDY BARS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  45. mc says:

    poopenhimer Says:
    Selfishness is what drives evolution. An organism is wired to do anything to survive. We are the exception. If any other animal was given the technollogy and the means as humans what would you think the world would be like. Now this doesnt mean we can become better as a society and help regrow our environment but thats for another day.

    I don’t believe we are an exception. We will do anything to survive. It’s just in this modern age in first world countries, we don’t have an issue of survival. Right now we are more worried about getting fat because we have too much to eat. We are worried about overpopulation because too many of us survive. Once resources start dwindling, do you think we all will just die of starvation without trying to stop it? How many people out there harm other people without an issue of survival? We are just as prone to evolution as any other species, just we are a bit smarter. Also, I would argue the intelligence to some degree. There is such a variation of intelligence from people like einstein to people who can’t wipe their own a” at 30 years old.

    javier varela Says:
    May 20th, 2008 at 3:58 pm
    you also ot to think that even though we may one day be able to find a planet with life trillions of light years away or so, they may not evn be there any way, light travels fast, but not fast enough tht we know if there is any civilization out there still, so to another civilization billions, or trillions of light years away, to them also we may still appear to be in the triassic period or so on

    The definition of a light year is the distance travelled by light in one year. The actual speed of light is approximately 3*10^5 m/s. Consdering that about 14 billion light years is all we can see in any direction of the universe, it would be impossible to see something that is anywhere near a trillion light years away. This is where scientists get the idea that the universe is only 14 billion years old. There are alot of holes in this age. First, you have to assume that space does expand faster than the speed of light. Second, you have to assume there is nothing past that 14 billion light year mark. If the universe is 14 billion years old, then we should theoretically be able to work the the paths of these supergroups of galaxy backward until a point where they were all together, which should add up to 14 billion years if correct.

    As for the odds of intelligent life on other planets, we don’t know enough at all to even make an estimate. One of this guy’s arguments is the complication of evolution. We don’t consider the fact that life could flourish in some conditiones that we haven’t considered. Or even solar systems with gas giants that have many moons and are close enough to the parent star for liquid water. Until we can get samples from at least a small section of the universe, we won’t be able to provide a statistic for how many civilizations that are out there. As far as we know it could be 0 or it could be 10^20000

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