Artist concept of an exoplanet. Credit: David A. Hardy.

How Would Humans Respond to First Contact from an Alien World?

Article Updated: 26 Apr , 2016

by

[/caption]

According to Star Trek lore, it is only 51 years until humans encounter their first contact with an alien species. In the movie “Star Trek: First Contact,” on April 5, 2063, Vulcans pay a visit to an Earth recovering from a war-torn period (see the movie clip below.) But will such a planet-wide, history-changing event ever really take place? If you are logical, like Spock and his Vulcan species, science points towards the inevitability of first contact. This is according to journalist Marc Kaufman, who is a science writer for the Washington Post and author of the book “First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for life Beyond Earth.” He writes that from humanity’s point of view, first contact would be a “harbinger of a new frontier in a dramatically changed cosmos.”

What are some of the arguments for and against the likelihood of first contact ever taking place and what would the implications be?

“One argument against first contact is from those who say there is no other life in the Universe,” said Kaufman, speaking to Universe Today via phone, “and with that is the Fermi paradox, which says that if there is so much life out there, why hasn’t it visited us yet? That was first posited back in the 1950’s and with everything we’ve learned since then, it seems rather presumptuous and Earth-centric to say that because no one has come to Earth, there is no life out there.”

Kaufman argues the Universe is so vast, the number of exoplanets is so huge – with the number of exoplanets in habitable zones now gaining in numbers almost daily – and we now understand that all the makings for the building blocks of life are out in space, so it defies logic to argue there is no other life out there.

Another argument against first contact states there might be microbial life elsewhere in the Universe, but it is not intelligent. “This is where the Fermi paradox comes in even more,” Kaufman said. “It certainly is true — as far as we know — that no intelligent life has made contact with Earth. But when you look at the amount of time we’ve been a technologically advanced society, it has only been a few hundred years. In the vastness of time, that is a pitifully small amount of time – truly nothing.”

In the immensity of cosmological time, Kaufman said, it is quite possible that microbial life emerged and evolved a billion years ago on another world and we missed coinciding with it, as civilizations could have come and gone.

“But all the makings are there and unless we want to say that Earth was made through divine creation or only through an unbelievable set of circumstances this is the only place in the Universe where life began, it just seems hugely, hugely implausible,” Kaufman said.

So, Kaufman says, the best, most logical argument is that life exists beyond Earth and in some instances includes what we would consider intelligence.

“If you have microbial life and billions of planets in habitable zones, the logic says that some of them will advance like we did,” Kaufman said. “There’s no reason to say that evolution is exclusive to Earth. It feels very 14th or 15th century-Earth-centric to say that we are the only place where there is intelligent life.”

Our continued scientific understanding, and in particular, the recent ongoing finding of so many exoplanets, has been a real revolution in our understanding of the cosmos, Kaufman said, and it is a huge boost to the logic of finding life elsewhere.

“It was hypothesized for decades, if not centuries that other planets were out there,” he said. “Now that we are finding planets almost every day, from a scientific perspective, it shows us that if the science is pointing in a certain direction, you just need to have the technology and the knowledge catch up to that hypothesis.”

Kaufman says that like the surge in finding exoplanets, astrobiology is likely the next area of science where breakthroughs will happen.

“Scientists almost unanimously believe there is other life out there, but we just don’t have the technology to find it yet,” he said. “Even with the recent potential cuts in NASA’s budget for planetary missions, and even if NASA is not able to send up as many missions, there is a broad movement going on in college campuses and institutes – from working on synthetic life, to studies in cosmology, and astrochemistry — all of those things are moving forward because there is a real sense that something is within reach. This area of science is just going to blossom.”

So if tomorrow (or on April 5, 2063) a spaceship shows up, how would we respond?

“On one level, I’d hope there would be a huge amount of wonder and awe and a recognition of the vastness of the Universe. But I also imagine there would be a lot of defensiveness, as well,” said Kaufman, referring to some, like Stephen Hawking, who say we shouldn’t send messages out into space — because if a more technically advanced civilization comes to Earth, the outcome for the less advanced (us) would likely be bad.

But Kaufman has hope that Earthlings would welcome a visit.

“Look at the continuing fascination of Roswell or UFOs,” he said. “Throughout history, humans have looked to the skies and thought that we’ve experienced something ‘out there’ – be it angels or gods or spaceships. There is, I believe, a deep human craving that we aren’t alone, and that would be a significant part of our response.”

For more information see Kaufman’s book, and website,”Habitable Zones”

, ,



115 Responses

  1. connor walls says:

    Great article. The scientific community would certainly be excited to learn about them, and the Holly Rollers would be excited to force God down their throats.

    • lcrowell says:

      We humans have an ability to project ourselves onto the world or imagined worlds. The ability to pen down a character on a page and for a reader to then imagine that character is an aspect of this sort of projection. God or gods are projections of our selves onto the world. This probably arose from the evolution of language and story telling as a way of communicating information about the local environment. Stories about seasonal changes, the behavior of animals or the cycle of plants, the nature of rivers and so forth permitted such information to be past down generations. These stories anthropomorphize the world into spirits and gods, which in later time became larger gods and then God. This is a central aspect of our mental landscape, and when Einstein imagined himself on a moving frame at the speed of light, and saw problems with this, he was engaging this projective mental ability we have.

      It is then a question of whether other ETIs have this as well. It might be that to some alien intelligent life form, or for that matter dolphins and cetaceans, the idea of a god is almost incomprehensible. Even with extensive explanation on our parts they might find the idea to be utterly bizarre and impossible to understand how such can be believed.

      LC

  2. Dima R says:

    I’d want to hear the aliens’ views on the ‘meaning of life’. Also, I think they shouldn’t come to Earth until humans resolve all the main issues such as poverty, pollution, energy production, etc… I think if humanity would ever get a hold on super advanced tech, it would just annihilate itself, at the present state.

    • Torbjörn Larsson says:

      – “Meaning of life” is individually resolved. So yeah, maybe they can contribute with new perspectives.

      But then again maybe we can’t or won’t adopt them. “Kicking kitteh’s” wouldn’t be my MOL for example. :-/

      We likely have a diverse enough flora of MOL to keep almost everyone happy and busy. (Few suicides because of lack of MOL, say.)

      – I don’t see how Luddites survive, they should take computers as super advanced tech. =D

      You don’t define “resolve”, but I note that the current world according to statistics have rapidly decreasing levels of poverty (defined by economists) and pollution (defined by governments) as well as a rapidly expanding and hence historically cheapened energy production.

      If “resolve” means 0 % p & p and 0 cost energy, no, that is never going to happen. But as far as being a standing problem, it is resolved.

      Even the huge problem of increasing population looks set to resolve itself. Which is good because if it continues the other resolutions will not mean anything.

      • bfmorris says:

        “Meaning of life” is individually resolved”

        It appears that even bacteria actively disagree with this statement. One need look no further than the adaptive divergence in experimental populations of pseudomonas fluorescens to see that this statement is purely a rhetorical regurgitation that looks good, sounds good, but is inaccurate.

    • Thomas Houck says:

      Meaning of life…Man is the Universe’s means of being self-aware. And if that is not it then there is no meaning to life. You just are because you are. Sit back drink a beer and enjoy it.

  3. Randy Pugh says:

    We can barely communicate with other species on our own planet (and struggle with language barriers within our own.) Alien psychology may be so different than our own that they could be sending the universe messages in ways they think is obvious, but we haven’t thought to investigate. Maybe, the desire to communicate with other interstellar species is a rare psychological trait that we possess that others don’t.

    Maybe aliens are passing by Earth right now on their way to vacation on Rigel 7, and don’t think we are worth bothering with.

    • lcrowell says:

      I think it depends upon whether mathematics is universal. If you talk to most mathematicians they will say that mathematics is some sort of universal objective truth. The most universal system of information encryption is the Fischer-Griess group, also known as the monster group. This is a vast algebraic system, but its automorphism group is the Leech lattice or Matheiu group in 24 dimensions. This exists in a Lorentzian structure that acts on the monster group in 26 dimensions, which connects to string theory and so forth. This is a huge information encryption system, which I think is involved with how black holes encrypt quantum information. So if I were sending information into space with the idea of providing its recipient a key I would use the Leech Lattice. If we have computers which could process 10^{53} bits the Monster group would be the ultimate cipher.

      Of course we would not start with this, where a signal with numerical patterns would be sent first, then primes, then … , which might then lead to the Hurwitz quaternions or icosian quaternions in patters of numerical ratios, which then leads to the master code. This information cipher would be used to encrypt other forms of information, such as maybe the spectrum of atoms, the encryption of other mathematics which would give explicit numerical instructions for assigning bit addresses and so forth.

      Of course we have to assume that physics is the same as well, which I think is fairly safe. So ETs around the universe are likely to send and receive electromagnetic waves. Neutrino communications are a distant possibility, but given they interact so weakly it is hard to know how they could really be practically used.

      If the communications are kept largely on the mathematical level the different psychology of some ET relative to us would not be very important. On the other hand it is not likely to result in the sort of diplomatic communications we experience with each other. We will not likely ever have informal conversations with ETs if we ever make contact.

      LC

      • Duncan Ivry says:

        Well, if you talk to “most” mathematicians — which you are not really able to do, aren’t you 😉 — it may very well be the case that they say that mathematics is “some sort of universal objective truth”. But they may very well be wrong, and I, being a mathematician, have reasons to say, that mathematics is (like other sciences) completely made by humans — invented and not discovered. We use those parts which work in reality, and discard other parts that don’t work (well, except if we mathematicians want to have fun, fascination, or whatever; it doesn’t cost much money).

        If someone thinks, that there is indeed a universal objective truth about mathematics, say, “out there” in nature, independent of us human beings, etc., then I would like to recommend the usual scientific way: Show us! By making appropriate experiments etc. I’m sure you, as a scientist, understand.

        As far as the hypothesis, that mathematical truth, or something like that, exists “out there”, is not supported this way, I would recommend to assume that there is no *such* truth “out there” (if someone wants to assume that such a truth exists — I have no problem, by the way).

        Now, another question is, whether and to what amount reality, nature, the universe forces us and any aliens to converge on the same or nearly the same kind of mathematics (or any science). But, as far as I can tell, this question is far from being answered, and I tend to say, that there is not much convergence.

        Then, a problem you mentioned already: diplomatic communication. I would go farther: what native English speakers call (social) conversation, small talk, etc. This will be really difficult, I think (e.g. starting an English statement with the word “please” is like a command and could be considered as being rude; in my own language this is rather polite — and we are no barbarians here ;-).

        I really hope nobody will be angry about me, but — for me — trying to start a conversation between us and aliens by exchanging facts about prime numbers and the like, is naive and will fail. It needs much, much more than this. If we restrain communication with aliens to the mathematical level, nearly everthing important will get lost, or will never get recovered, respectively.

        In the end, I think — and I’m afraid — we will need something which is a neccessary precondition for implementing successful communication here on earth, too: living a live together with the aliens.

      • lcrowell says:

        I know a number of mathematicians, though they are not involved with these foundational issues, such as mathematical logic. Of course by saying this I sort of opened a bit of a Pandora’s box. The nature of mathematical truth is not entirely understood. There are those who favor the idea that mathematics just involves models. Some such as AN Whitehead argued that mathematical truth was at best relative. We also have Godel’s theorem that tells us no mathematical system can enumerate all its Godel numbers or “codes,” and by extension there is no axiomatic definition of mathematical truth. So in modern times there have been ideas such as intuitionism that places mathematics in the mind of the practitioner and constructivism.

        It has been found of late that some animals have a numerical sense. Even some birds, such as parrots and crows, are able to count and even add or subtract. I think this gives at least elementary mathematics some basis beyond just pure mental gymnastics, say along side writing poetry. Of course we can’t approach mathematics in the same way we do physics, for there are no tangible subjects which can be manipulated by means other than thought. Mathematical objects do often refer to physical objects, such as numbers referring to the number of cattle head, or Pythagorean theorem used to make land surveys and architecture.

        How the physical world and mathematical “world” are related is also mysterious. Tagmark has advanced a universal mathematical reality, called the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis (MUH). The MUH proposes a map, or indeed isomorphism, between physical reality and mathematics. I am agnostic on this idea.

        I think though that mathematics would be the best approach to trying to communicate with some ETI. If they are able to fabricate radio receivers it seems plausible they use some form of symbolic system to understand physics that is isomorphic to or related to our mathematics.

        LC

      • Duncan Ivry says:

        An interesting answer, thank you.

        Regarding “no tangible subjects which can be manipulated by means other than thought” in mathematics. This discipline is definitely no sub-branch of psychology, or something similar. And I can show everybody how to construct e.g. numbers. I am able to manipulate them using e.g. pencil and paper mechanically, or a mechanical or electronic computer. Everybody would be able to see it.

        When we observe mathematicians doing their work, when we study mathematical proofs, and when we study biographies of mathematicians, there is not a single piece of evidence, that, what the mathematicians handle — their objects or concepts –, are not down-to-earth physical objects, invented and constructed by themselves.

        You may not be surprised to here, that for me the relation between the physical world and mathematics is not at all mysterious. And I hope it’s not insulting for you, that, for me, the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis is — forgive me — not even false or useless, but simply nonsense, and, regarding this, — again, forgive me — Max Tagmark is a quack.

        Nobody should fall victim to mysteries and unfounded fantasy mathematics. Real, good mathematics, including all the mathematics used in physics, works without these things.

      • lcrowell says:

        It does have to be realized that while one does write symbols on paper or look at numerical output, without the brain processing this these things are pure gibberish. The number 5 for instance engraved on a rock would in the future after humanity becomes extinct mean nothing. Mathematical objects of course have symbol representations, and they can in some cases be manipulated in computers where there is a Shannon-Khinchin information entropy process. However, I would not go so far as to say mathematics involves objects which have the same ontology as a proton or a black hole.

        Max Tegmark does do more down to business physics and cosmology. He is not only known for the MUH. I actually read his paper on this some years ago. I would not go so far as to say the idea is complete nonsense. The whole thing ultimately hangs on a set of postulates which one can take or leave. The biggest problem is that the whole idea is to my mind not testable. There are four levels of the so called multiverse, or what I prefer to think of as a universe with multiple spacetime configurations. The first two are fairly reasonable; the bubble nucleation in inflationary cosmology leading to pocket universes, and the other are Dp-brane processes which generate inflationary physics on a D3-brane. The other two are the many worlds interpretation (MWI) of quantum mechanics, and the MUH. MWI is a quantum interpretation which is physically ineffective. There is no testable method for determining whether quantum physics conforms to MWI. The MUH is far more hopeless. It is beyond my understanding how we could detect the physics of some universe or space which is configured in Plucker coordinates or some other odd configuration we may have not even thought of.

        LC

      • Torbjörn Larsson says:

        MWI is a quantum interpretation which is physically ineffective.

        I used to support MW theory, recently I have stepped back to reconsider. However, I still don’t find it physically ineffective. MWT is realistic and parsimonious, using 1-2 axioms less than other QM theories.

        There is no testable method for determining whether quantum physics conforms to MWI.

        It has survived testing however, as it seems relativistic decoherence is very much part of physics (but I am not sure when I am writing this how clearly it has been tested). Relativistic decoherence would throw out classical “instantaneous collapse” of Copenhagen theory for example, but is the very core of MW theory.

        That it isn’t fully testable shouldn’t be cause for undue concern. None of the various remaining QM theories are as of yet fully testable AFAIK. Unless you mean the minimalist axiomatic one (“instrumentalist” QM), but then you don’t know what the physics nature of wavefunctions et cetera is.

        There is btw, seeing the discussion on the basis of mathematics, a good argument by Deutsch supporting the construction nature of mathematics by MW theory and perhaps other QM theories.

        IIRC it goes like this (it is in his “The Fabric of Reality”):

        The maximal computational resources of physical systems is contained in the observable universe. And it is quantum computational. If you simply encode a proof in the structure it will exhaust its classical decohered bits, yet you rely on more resources as you algorithmically go through the proof steps by way of the quantum bit dynamics. In MW theory this is because you take advantage of nearby not yet decohered universes as you compute.

        In any case, this shows that a proof is decided by physical structure and how you algorithmically construct it, it is not a structure encoded in the description of it or its mathematical objects. The heuristics is larger than the platonic description.

      • lcrowell says:

        The MWI splits off the world into an ensemble of decoherent sets. Quantum physics is actually blind to space and time. It merely has a representation in space and time, where we construct this representation with a Lagrangian over configuration variables. A decoherent process splits the world into an ensemble of Hilbert space descriptions according to inequivalent configurations. The process does not occur according to some propagation of a causal process. The Aspect experiments on the Bell inequality illustrate this point.

        The MWI has not been directly tested, for there is nothing really to test. The closest we have to such a test is that MWI has proven to be a convenient way to work problems of quantum algorithms. This is not an empirical test of MWI, but more a case of its formally utility. I found over 20 years ago the deBroglie-Bohm interpretation of QM is a good way of looking at quantum chaos problems. This is in spite of the fact this approach fails to describe spin statistics and is incapable of working the most elementary relativistic QM problem with interacting electrons and photons. These various interpretations are keyholes of sorts into the nature of quantum physics and our ability to measure it. They are not though “theories” in a proper sense.

        LC

      • Duncan Ivry says:

        “It does have to be realized that while one does write symbols on paper or look at numerical output, without the brain processing this these things are pure gibberish.”

        I’m not quite with you, of course, and I will continue (a) letting computers really *adding* numbers for me, and (b) knowing what it means — contrasted to thinking that I get gibberish as long as I don’t look. This works, because there are — much important — social and cultural processes implementing practices — to which we all agree — with respect to how we handle numbers (among other things). In the tradition of the pragmatists I would say: what it means is in what we do.

        “The number 5 for instance engraved on a rock would in the future after humanity becomes extinct mean nothing.”

        Agreed, because mathematics is produced by humans, and by humans only (putting aliens out of the way for the moment), and because there is nothing else.

        Now, when I scan our comments, I think, for most points we reached the “agreeing to not agree” situation — but, thank you.

      • Torbjörn Larsson says:

        I’m not a mathematician (though I’ve studied some); I’m a physicist. Yet I have concluded exactly the same thing on the construction nature of mathematics or, what Chaitin would call it I believe, its quasi-empirical nature.

        Chaitin is, I think, more concerned with the observable nature of some of its algorithms. But the term can well be extended to cope with the observations you make, on the manipulation of physical objects, the algorithmic nature and error possibilities of proofs, et cetera. Making proofs seems to incorporate to break down the algorithm to a minimum agreeable steps respectively using heuristics for breakdown, manipulation and construction. And Gödel’s theorems concur with that, no axiomatic procedure of mathematics would be self-contained.

        I can see how one can claim on that observable basis that Tegmark’s mathematical universes are as much nonsense as other philosopher’s logical universes. His argument is parsimony mapping physical structure on mathematical, and since physics is testable his MUH is too. This would circumvent the observation that math is constructed.

        However, MUH is rubbish. My own problem with it is that it is incomplete. Reality is built into mechanics at its basic level of observation, where specific actions leads to specific reactions. His “reality” argument neither adds nor detracts. Hence we can throw out math; yes, precisely because it is constructed. Physics reality is something else entirely.

        [I’m sorry if the last part is a bit vague. But MUH _is_ by its nature vague, you can’t really do much with it.]

      • lcrowell says:

        The relationship between Godel’s theorem and physics is a thorny issue. It is not likely that physical systems can have the sort of recursive structure that can diagonalize infinite lists of Turing machine codes or Godel numbers. Things such as energy, entropy, and so forth impose finite limits which prevent this sort of thing. So nature may prevent physical systems that are “nonhalting” or infinitely recursive because such systems “run out of gas,” or in a biological sense are selected out.

        The MUH is an interesting thing to ponder, whether one thinks the idea is realistic or not. In either case we might ponder what physical postulates would make this idea true or false, or maybe better put to determine if it is a credible hypothesis or not. The MUH does probably put cosmology in this broadest of possible perspective within some Godel perspective. Whether the physical aspects of the universe provide the limits and selection process I indicate above is something which might be the proper grist for the mill.

        LC

    • tel00 says:

      I think it’s possible that we are the first, or one of the first to evolve.

      I’m assuming the early universe wouldn’t hold any life sustaining materials (not only water, but also heavier elements). It would take a lot of super nova’s to create the heavier materials and spread them around the universe. Combine that with a fairly low probability that intelligent live can evolve, then it’s possible that there is intelligent life that is only slightly behind us or slightly a head of us on the evolutionary scale.

  4. William Sparrow says:

    I don’t think there’s any question that there is other life in the universe, at the very least microbial life. I would posit we’ll find some sort of life in our Solar System, most likely on Titan, Europa or Enceladus. Coming in contact with other intelligent species is a few hundred if not thousand years in the future given our current technological and economic limitations.

    • Mastercope says:

      All these worlds are yours, except Europa. Attempt no landing there. Use them together. Use them in peace. I think we better stay away from Europa.

    • Mastercope says:

      All these worlds are yours, except Europa. Attempt no landing there. Use them together. Use them in peace. I think we better stay away from Europa.

  5. Zoutsteen from Holland says:

    If aliens come here within 51 years, I doubt they were expecting intelligent life when they left home, assuming they’ll be traveling sub-luminar speeds. Meaning, the original intend would be kolonisation of Earth.

  6. If and when another civilication would visit us it would be so advanced that first of all it would not be a living being but robots of some sort. second we would not have to worry about them hurting us since they would not be allow by their own rules and laws. Were they not peaceful, they would have self destructed long ago from civil war.

    The reason why i dont think we will ever be visited thou, is the fact that the distances just are so great that even with the speed of light, we will not get far within a human lifetime or two. Then we should be so lucky that there were life on one of our closets neighbours like alfa C which i doubt but dont rule out.

    The good news is that with the next generation of telescopes (JWT and EELT) we should be able to point out where there would be a high chance of life and with the third generation of telescopes in 30 years or so (SIIM, OWLT), we should be able to make out if there were to be some kind of life form or atleast oceans and landmasses with vegetation. So I estimate that first signs of life will be discovered within the next 50 years but contact would not happen for at least another 100years and it would properly only be contact between humanoids and alien plants (Not intelligent).

    Of course if it was up to me, we should spend 30 billion USD on building 4 – 100m telescopes which would work together just like the V-VLT and make it possible to discover life within only 15 years! and the best part of it, is that its possible with current technology and founds! 30 billion usd is only around 0,08% of GDP of the European Union (17trill USD), we give much more than that away in foreign aid each year! What would be greater than the discovery of another life form? and for that cost I think its worth it…

    Christian Borregaard
    Denmark

    • Duncan Ivry says:

      There have been many comments here and elsewhere starting with “if they are able to visit us, they would be so advanced that …”, followed by, say, non-conclusive statements. But to your counterargument about the distance I would add the following scenario:

      In order to travel from their distant planet to our planet, the aliens had to exhaust their resources to such a degree, that they are not able to do much when they arrive, but they need our help simply to survive. And, may be, their home planet would look to us like the late Soviet Union: a third world country with rockets.

  7. StockportJambo says:

    People would be happy. Governments and (especially) military wouldn’t. God (or whoever) help us if we do contact life and the US military are still running the show.

    • delphinus100 says:

      Not everyone will be happy (though I don’t buy the conspiracy theory that we’d all freak out, and that society/religion would collapse, either).

      Some will refuse to believe it. (see above)

      But every (I repeat, *every*) government will jockey for some kind of advantage in this scenario.

      Oh, and the ‘US Military’ doesn’t ‘run the show’ anywhere, they answer to a civilian government, and executes its policies, not their own. Not every country can say that…

      • StockportJambo says:

        They might “answer” to a civilian government, but you’re extremely naive if you honestly think that means a damn. A rigged-by-propaganda vote every 4 or 5 years doesn’t really constitute accountability.

        You’re right on the other points though.

  8. Paul Gracey says:

    1. We would only recognise and be recognised by a species similar to us with similar needs, size, lifespan and capabilities. Any large variation in those factors would have us talking past each other, if we could communicate at all. The scale factors could be immense. Hawking is probably right. Look at what our ignorance has done interacting with the other intelligent species on this planet. Nearly wiping some of them out completely.

    And look at how likely it is that we cannot get our act together fast enough to prevent human greed from de-terraforming our own planet. It has probably happened many times over all over this universe at different times. Now if we are in fact, the culmination of life’s persistance through interstellar genetic material transport (teleportation gone wrong?) instead of spontaneously recreated from basic elements, then we are the species we are searching for.

  9. Paul Gracey says:

    1. We would only recognise and be recognised by a species similar to us with similar needs, size, lifespan and capabilities. Any large variation in those factors would have us talking past each other, if we could communicate at all. The scale factors could be immense. Hawking is probably right. Look at what our ignorance has done interacting with the other intelligent species on this planet. Nearly wiping some of them out completely.

    And look at how likely it is that we cannot get our act together fast enough to prevent human greed from de-terraforming our own planet. It has probably happened many times over all over this universe at different times. Now if we are in fact, the culmination of life’s persistance through interstellar genetic material transport (teleportation gone wrong?) instead of spontaneously recreated from basic elements, then we are the species we are searching for.

  10. Torbjörn Larsson says:

    Sorry. I haven’t read Kaufman’s book, but the interview contains so many errors that I don’t feel inspired to. Good idea but poor outcome. =D

    – It is true that Fermi’s question is too poorly constrained to be an actual paradox. But to argue “logic” of circumstances is to put aside physics twice over, first as an axiomatic game, second as something else than likelihood of a chemical to biological evolution process. This is Monod’s idea of “chance or necessity”, and it has no real process model.

    One way to interpret it is like a vast phase space which is frequently revisited, but with a minute volume for success. Neither physical dynamical nor stochastic processes looks like that, they have likelihoods that are much more differing from zero.

    Exolife is not vanishingly rare.

    – There is no “ladder of development” in evolution, no “logic” that makes individual traits more likely. _That_ description is, ironically, medieval.

    Biologists think, for good reasons of the non-recurring and complicated endosymbiosis of mitochondria required for complex multicellularity, that evolution of language capable brains are as rare as evolution of the elephant trunk or the dinosaur feather: it only happened once.

    The phase space of traits is combinatorial (number of legs, eyes, et cetera). Specific traits becomes naturally rare.

    Exointelligences may well be vanishingly rare.

    – Evolution can’t be exclusive to a biosphere. Selection for differential reproduction optimizes population sizes compared to, say, eternal individuals.

    Which is presumably why they are so rare here, there are a handful of species that make do with it. (A few planarians and cnidarians are now known to be individually eternal. And they don’t rule the place…)

    So it must be a universal phenomena.

    • lcrowell says:

      I think the evolution of intelligence has a sexual selection with regards to communications. Dolphins are I think an intelligent life form. They are not however technological, for they do not have hands to manipulate things and living in water prevents the early use of fire. Yet they do have complex communications, as do other cetaceans, and are complex enough in their behavior to be at least considered intelligent. I read in the AAAS a year or two ago about this subject, where researchers report that dolphins appear to exhibit a frustration with our inability to understand them. IOW, in these experiments to communicate with them, they are in some ways trying to communicate with us.

      It is likely to my mind that elementary life exists fairly universally. We may have to put this to the test in our solar system with Mars or Encaledus and so forth. The occurrence of self-replicating organic chemistry should occur under the appropriate geo-chemical conditions early in the evolution of a planetary body. Complex life is probably much rarer, and highly complex multi-cellular organisms far rarer again. On some planet with complex life it is most likely evolution has forged life that is organized on entirely different lines than fungis, plants and animals. Then intelligent life is probably far rarer again. It is unlikely there are many ETs that exist close by that are on our past light cone of communications. The closest ETI bearing planet could be 25 million light years away in some other galaxy.

      LC

      • jjbreen says:

        I think once we bridge the communication gap with Dolphins and Whales … We will take some major steps forwards. MAJOR STEPS.

      • lcrowell says:

        What I find curious is why the human experimenters don’t try to emulate dolphin sounds. By doing that they might elicit responses and figure out what dolphins are saying by speaking and doing it their way instead of trying to get dolphins to do it our way.

        LC

      • jjbreen says:

        How do you know they are not? We’ve made a lot of stride. There is one thing – a number of years back, when they tried doing that with Orcas — if memory is correct, it backfired and sent the whale into a frenzy. The problem is – what is “echo/sonar” -vs- communications? One is shooting in the dark so to speak.

  11. Dampe says:

    I’m amazed that there are still people who can arrogantly assume that there is no other life in the universe. I just don’t understand how people can really accept that.
    It’s that old assumption that we are the centre of the universe.

    • Kind of like the people who are amazed there are still people who arrogantly assume there is no God.

      • delphinus100 says:

        We absolutely know life exists. We can say some testable, observable things about how life came to arise here, and extend that to how probable it is elsewhere. We can in principle, go look for it. At least in this solar system.

        We can say none of those things about deities, at this time.

    • Jonathan Neufeld says:

      You’re reading-into posts too much, modal logic is boring.

    • Jonathan Neufeld says:

      You’re reading-into posts too much, modal logic is boring.

    • jjbreen says:

      I don’t think we say that anymore.

      We’ve finally evolved to see “life” does not need to equal “Intelligent Life”. It means cellular to microbial, to simple life basic life forms, bacterial and such.

      I just find it curious that we equate “space traveling aliens” to “advanced”, in “spirituality” and “peaceful” and such.

      Why? We have zero foundation for that thought. None what so ever.

      • delphinus100 says:

        “We’ve finally evolved to see “life” does not need to equal “Intelligent Life”. It means cellular to microbial, to simple life basic life forms, bacterial and such.”

        Some of us are simply *more interested* in finding intelligent life, as cool as any life unrelated to Earth would be. But if we find simple forms on Mars, we won’t be using words like ‘contact.’

        Otherwise, I agree with the rest of your post.

  12. Kev Girard says:

    Yet everything needs to be money and profit! When we rid of the monetary system and politics, we can start being technologically advanced.
    /end rant.

    Very good article Nancy, thanks 🙂

    • jjbreen says:

      Do not hold your breath on that one. You would not look good in that shade of blue.

    • delphinus100 says:

      To be replaced with…what? Those things exist for a reason, and those reasons have not gone away.

  13. Harold Wolfe says:

    When we can decipher bird language(s), I will believe that we might have some hope of communicating with aliens. Intra species communications is weak and inter-gender communications is weaker.

    • jjbreen says:

      Well we have learned to understand Bumble Bee Communication. We do understand to a degree bird calls and what they mean. Mating calls, Warning calls and such.

      What I would like us to do is, start working to understand better Whales and Dolphins. That would be a major step.

    • Thomas Houck says:

      I protest the inter-gender comment…My wife and I yelled at one another just last night. At least I refrained from dragging her around by her hair…

    • Alien says:

      Tell that to my birds. They are probably as frustrated as the dolphins at my inability to understand their commands.

      Animals are good at reading body language. Unfortunately we are advancing in the direction where our body language is being reduced to the use of emoticons 🙁

  14. Kopdogg22 says:

    An argument against the likely-hood of first contact is as someone stated. Why do we need to look to the cosmos when it is already here with us being conscious beings to think these thoughts of the universe and to understand it. Another argument is if we run into a species that is advanced enough, why come talk to us? Is it really worth it talking to 1 other species to get a bigger understanding of life? I would rather get on a cosmic internet where there is probably infinit amount of species. Or somehow become consciously aware where you are free to search the universe consciously somehow and meet probably infinit amount of species that way. Or whoever is advanced enough to realize what intelligence is on the same level. And space is sooo vast and large that the nearest star for a re-fuel is 4 light years away.

    • jjbreen says:

      Sometimes we need a push to think beyond ourselves and our own backyard. As for “refuel” and the nearest star. That is assuming there is “fuel” there to be used.

  15. lexuskywalker says:

    Let’s hope they don’t have the same reptilian brain as ours
    Or it will be awe first then becoming very awful very quickly

  16. Lord Haw-Haw. says:

    The newsstands current edition of “Astronomy” magazine (May) has a catchy cover title:
    “What happens when we detect alien life, the inside story from Seth Shostak, the man who will know first.”

    The May issue is worthy of procurement by the SETI enthusiast, on page 28 there is an informative column on abridged SETI detection protocols, under “Response to signals” it reads:

    “In the case of confirmed detection of a signal, signatories to this declaration will not respond without first seeking guidance and consent of a broadly representative international body, such as the United Nations.”
    [From the International Academy of Astronautics Commission] “Space Physical Sciences” Meeting on October 2, 2011.

    As senior astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, CA. Seth Shostak achieves a balance between aspiration and reality commensurate, you can check out an admirable video presentation of Seth Shostak on SETI strategies by clicking here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jAOHPbd2sQ

  17. alextseng says:

    Let’s hope they don’t have the same reptilian brain as ours
    Or it will be awe first then becoming very awful very quickly

  18. Jesper de Jong says:

    Well, I hope to be still alive when the Vulcans come. I’ll be 97 then, so the chance isn’t that good.

  19. wwmorty says:

    If humans continue on the path they are going, the only life to meet any aliens will be cockroaches, rats and bacteria…

  20. Peristroika says:

    Face it. With an example of …well, one, we have no basis at all of even suggesting a pattern ie: percentages of worlds in habitable zone will have some life, or life becomes multicellular after so many years on each habitable planet. We have not, so far, even been able to induce life into inanimate matter even while understanding much of the basis of our own. Clearly, even our own world is extremely harsh to life and has been and will be harsher still. The rest of the bodies in our solar system are only remote possibilities for even microbial life.
    IMHO, If, in the remotest likelihood, from the remotest system, a species did come, it would never be with laser cannons blasting or germ warfare bombs adropping because it would have had to be: organized (humans read as: not squabbling amongst themselves), inventive, intelligent, curious, interested enough to put much effort (humans read: money) into their hopes, patient, persistent, cautious, productive, and hopeful, together which do not describe a people of bomb first, ask questions later, mentality. Look at us as example. Even with our baser instincts, we still build our spaceships in clean rooms and avoid contamination at all costs even on dead looking bodies of our own system.

    • Terrill Kincaid says:

      I find it interesting that you are saying it’s impossible for a civilization like our own to find us, because they would not bother looking, while at the same time pointing out that we are looking.

      It makes no sense to assume just because they have found us that they are some utopian society.

      • Peristroika says:

        Terrill, you certainly read much into a simple statement. Not much that it actually says though! I didn’t mention impossibilities. I didn’t mention not looking or that we are. So maybe you replied to the wrong person.
        Also, I didn’t say Utopian. I only said with those attributes, they would be hard pressed to be violent warlords.

    • Torbjörn Larsson says:

      I don’t necessarily disagree or agree with all that. But I note that we have “induced life” (made self-replicating molecular systems) in our laboratories. (Say, those DNA strands where X builds Y and Y builds X.)

      However, we have not yet made evolving life. Even less evolving life that would be robust enough to be a feasible pathway once taken. I bet Shostak Lab will be the first to do that.

      • bfmorris says:

        The truth is, we’re no where near qualified to receive a star on our forehead for creating life . ‘Inducing life’ looks like the equivalent of happening onto an an old tire to play with, then watch it roll down the road while saying we’ve built a car. To be brutally honest with ourselves, shouldn’t we get at least a single cell, (complete with it’s mind boggling thousands of simultaneous processes all working together) going from scratch before we call our product ‘life’ in any fashion?

        I love to read these threads though, and daydream of the possibilities; it certainly give a break from the harsh truths alluded to by Peristroika.

  21. klrog says:

    How would we respond? That’s easy. We would send them our genome so they could simulate us and see what we are like. After they finish laughing, they could return suggestions for improvement. We could then improve our genome to the point that we could answer our own questions.

  22. space_sailor says:

    There are a lot of possibilities why there where no contact so far. One of them is simple fact that maybe we don`t offer nothing interesting for this much more developed civilisations who can communicate with us so there`s no need to do that from thier perspective.

    • jjbreen says:

      Or there is simply no life out there, “close enough” to communicate. Likely more the case then not.

      • space_sailor says:

        One more general idea. If other civilisations measurements are based on electromagnetic waves produced by our civilisation and we are sure that FTL is impossible only worlds closer that let say 150 light years are in signal range (divide by 2 for possible answer). If faster then light is impossible it means also that such expedition will take whole life or more from human perspective. We don`t know life span of aliens but it could be completly different (shorter or longer). But it`s still not weekend trip and they need THE REASON to do that.

      • jjbreen says:

        Belief in intelligent life is different then having proof. Belief is just not enough. We can have all sorts of wonderful beliefs …. but well ….. proof is another reality.

    • delphinus100 says:

      As I noted elsewhere, what’s the definition of ‘interesting?’ ETs may not share yours, and it would take only one that wants to go check out the ‘primitives’ anyway…

  23. jjbreen says:

    A couple of points –

    First:

    I’m glad to see we’ve gotten over the “fear factor” and such. Last time I heard – read that argument, I asked, ‘Really? With Star Trek, Star Wars and all the other movies out there. One actually thinks we are ‘not ready?’. I think we are actually at the point that we expect it to happen. Hope it will happen.”

    Second:

    Life. I am glad to see we’ve moved that “Life” can be microbial, cellular, simple (amoeba), to non-intelligent (animal/fish) life. Yes I except that Dolphins and Whales are “Intelligent”, but none technological creators.

    Third:

    You may not agree with the guys theology. But I suggest a read the first 5+ chapters of: WHY THE UNIVERSE IS THE WAY IT IS. By Ross.

    He points out the science of what is involved with the Habitable Zone. It’s not just Planets that need to be “IN THE ZONE”. So do stars, in relationship to other stars, and their Galaxy. Plus you have to have the “RIGHT” star and such. Just because a planet is “In The Zone” – does not mean “Life”.

    There is a lot of “chemistry” that has to be “just right”, not just in a given solar system, but that systems location in their galaxy.

    Now do I believe we will find life any time “soon”? (Within the next 100 – 200 years.) We will find cellular life on some of the moons in our system. But technology creating life? No. I don’t think so. I think we will find that, and please read what I write, it’s not as common as we would life to believe. There is just to much science that has to be “just right” and even in our own evolution, the first spark had to have everything “just perfect”.

    • Torbjörn Larsson says:

      Rare Earth is nuts.

      First off, it is meaningless to weigh in everything from inflation to the last meal you ate to make up how “right” everything would need to be for your existence.

      Second, the speed with which life originated on Earth shows how easy such a process is. That translates to how robust it likely is, and how little constraints it has.

      And really, everything we observe on the pathway from chemical to biological evolution shows how universal these processes are.

      As for technology, which sundry organisms from fishes to apes and those dolphins you deny having been seen using tools have shown (or at least in apes been shown as multigenerational examples of learned technological culture), that is no biggie.

      The problem, according to biologists, are unique traits such as language capable brains. Those will likely happen once in a blue Moon.

      So, no Rare Earth, but a Rare Moon. =D

      • jjbreen says:

        Thus says you. But right now the proof is, could there be “earth like planets”, YES! But that does not equate to “life on said earth like planet”.

        Even for Evolution to take place. Things just had to be “Just Right”, even my Anthropology Science Classes have said that.

        She is a confirmed “Non-Believer”, but even she said, “If things were not just right, we might not be here.” She pointed out in our class that we have tried to ‘create’ life – simple cells, from what we believe were the conditions “then” and have yet to do so. We needed/need “life” to begin it. (BTW – That was a college class 3rd year.)

        So it has nothing to do with the “God Equation”. But everything to do with SCIENCE, in that if the conditions are not “just right” – even the best planned out science experiment can and will go “sour”.

        Even for us on Earth – If all things had not been “just right” – Evolution would have never happened. A stray meteor, the wrong temperature, etc … could have, well we would not be posting this right now.

  24. Mastercope says:

    If and when we are visited or if we visit, the thing we need most to be rid of is Greed. we are all equal and need to understand this if we are ever to advance in the schema of things. Look at ourselves, we think MAD is the balance of power. We are but infants.

    • jjbreen says:

      Well you have a flaw in that thinking – > You assume that other life out there is not greed endowed. Why? What if GREED and LUST and such is “Universal”?

      • Mastercope says:

        Then we are doomed

      • delphinus100 says:

        Or why it would matter to contact. Whatever ‘ready’ for contact might be, the Universe may not care if we are, when it happens.

      • Alien says:

        If GREED and LUST were universal, we would have seen these traits in other species on our own planet.

        Our problem is our economics and politics rather than technology. Even among the human species greed and lust is not ‘universal’. Otherwise how could there be compassion, altruism, etc etc to counter these two traits?

      • jjbreen says:

        All humans suffer from this from one degree to another. Yes some less then others …. But it is a Intelligent Species trait. You would be sore pressed to prove other wise.

    • Torbjörn Larsson says:

      Greed is good, that is how we manage local resource distribution by resource exchange. In the end it originates in the success of “selfish (greedy)” gene reproducers aka evolution. I don’t mean to say that not culture can have replacements for it, I mean to say it is useful biologically and culturally.

      And we are decidedly not “equal” on any measurable scale. I think you are confusing this with democratic practices that legalize equal rights et cetera. They are useful too.

  25. Steve Nerlich says:

    At the end of the day communication is a transaction. Give them something they need (hey, we proved that neutrinos don’t move FTL) and they might give something useful back (no @#%$ – btw dark energy is just accelerating expansion, it’s not energy).

  26. Thomas Houck says:

    And we assume that we would be viewed as worth visiting? If another intelligence was technologically advanced enough to travel here from their home system they would likely be hundreds of thousands of years ahead of us in most araeas fo development. Waht would we have that they would want…some polished bits of glass and shell necklaces…?

    • delphinus100 says:

      We can’t assume too much about what ETs, however advanced, would consider worthy of their time and attention. It’s often said that they won’t bother, we’d be like ants to them…

      …Yet there’s a subset of humans that study ants and other insects, and with no intention to ‘trade’ with them.

      We also don’t care if ants are aware f our existence. One would still expect identifiable, megascale engineering works like Dyson Spheres to be seen somewhere. Unless, of course (and also perhaps like ants) such things abound, but we don’t recognize or perceive them, at least as yet.

  27. Ernie Dunbar says:

    I suspect that Star Trek might just have the answer to the Fermi paradox: any intelligence even close to our level of technological advancement would already know that contact with less advanced cultures is utterly destructive to those cultures. I’m certain that on other planets with intelligent life, there would have been culture clashes between remote, isolated and primitive cultures and far more advanced ones, just within their own planet.

    In other words, they wouldn’t contact us on purpose because they know it’s a Bad Idea.

    • danangel says:

      Unless Hawking is right and they are intent on dominating less advanced species. Slave species probably die out or are absorbed after a while, so they need fresh ones to replace the old.

      • lcrowell says:

        Intelligent life is probably pretty rare in the universe. There might only be one ETI bearing planet per galaxy per million or billion years. Even less frequent would be an ETI which builds spaceships and travels to other planets — even less frequently to other stars.

        LC

      • Torbjörn Larsson says:

        You are assuming that colonizers would like to mess with existing biospheres and, worse, existing technological civilizations. Too risky, too costly.

        One idea would be to locally sterilize a spot in an existing biosphere (with a neutron bomb, say). And then try to adapt before the biosphere figures out how to take advantage of the new nutrient resources.

        But bacteria will adapt in a few decades, and we would have no help from the innate immune system to manage them. I’ll say, still too risky.

      • delphinus100 says:

        At this point in our development, we’re already becoming concerned with the prospect of technologies that would make very large sectors of employment utterly unnecessary, and what kind of economy is possible under those circumstances. If you can build fleets of starships, you can be assumed to have extreme mechanization and automation, right down to the molecular assembly level.

        I submit that even given FTL travel, it’s far easier to have machines to do any likely work, than to import slaves that are much harder to acquire or maintain. What are slaves going to do, unless perhaps you possess a belief that you simply have a ‘right’ to organic entities you can consider property, or acquire for other reasons. Therefore…

        If there’s any basis for interstellar conflict at all, it will be based on ET equivalents of philosophy, politics and religion. Not material resources. Those will be far more available in utterly uncontested, more convenient places.

      • danangel says:

        My ‘slave’ hypothesis is only one possibility, Torbjorn touches on another. They could say, “Umm, nice planet for colonization. All we need to do is exterminate the vermin and move in.” Homo Sapiens being said vermin. A little ‘Black Flag’ or ‘Raid’ (ET grade) or perhaps some sort of pathogen, sprayed from high altitude. Voila! Planet ready for colonization!

        Actually, under the slave idea, they could just want our brains to place in symbiotic robots. Probably easier than AI.

        Of course, any thoughts we have on this subject are by necessity based on a human perspective. An alien culture may have no concept of individual rights (hive). At the least, as you say, they will have their own equivalents of philosophy, politics and religion. Think, if their religion teaches that everything that exists is here only for their pleasure, it would not bode well for us.

        In the end, it doesn’t much matter what any of us thinks. If they have the ability to come here, they will do whatever they want.

    • danangel says:

      Unless Hawking is right and they are intent on dominating less advanced species. Slave species probably die out or are absorbed after a while, so they need fresh ones to replace the old.

    • delphinus100 says:

      Ernie, it takes only one civilization and/or one sufficently powerful entity within a civilization to disagree with that, and land on the White House lawn, or whatever. Not everyone will believe in a ‘Prime Directive,’ in spite of (or possibly *because* of) their history.

      Indeed, I find it interesting that some people use that argument (especially where humans going out there are concerned), yet others (mostly in, but not limited to the UFO community) are *hoping* that ETs will show up one day, and help us with our assorted problems…

  28. Here’s what happens:
    A specie economically & scientifically rises on it’s planet.
    Their society is made, like ours, of cooperative egos.
    Everyone in the end always thinking about themselvees and their own comfort, deliberately decide to ignore the limits of their world. They spoil and waste their ressourses until their climate and biosphere crashes and wars for survival kills the most part of the population.
    They rapidly return to middle age then deprived of the ressources they have spoiled, they slowly recedes to a new stone age, possibly evolving to a new specie more fitted to survive their desert planet or go extinct.
    New intelligent species may rises, but with no ressources, they may never reach a new technology era and remain crawling on the surface of their planet forever.

    • danangel says:

      First, you say mankind will ruin our planet and die out, then you conclude “we probably should go to Venus-like or desert planets first” looking for evidence of other civilizations. Ummm…
      Which is it?

      • I mean tha if I apply the mediocrity principle, technological civilizations might not stand long before collasing and auto-destructing.
        So, if technological civilizations stand only for a few thousands years, considering the age of the Universe and what remains of our dinosaurs (only 65million years ago), I believe the best way to find traces of ETs (and not ETs themselves) is to bring archaeologists on the right planets.

        I also believe that they may have altered the climate and the biodiversity of their planet enough to have left observable imprints on the current state of their biosphere, millions of years later.

        I’m desperatly cynical about the future of mankind and our planet. I guess you have noticed.
        We have been smart enough to build the car, get in it and drive it because that suits our egos and our lazyness, but aren’t smart enough to make the great sacrifices that comes with pulling the brakes. We like to much our comfort so we will kill each other instead of rationnating our ressources. We too much rely on infinite economic growth, in a finite planet.

        Evolutionnary convergeance principle states that for a same problem, evolution finds a same solution, like wings for birds, bats and flies.

        Intelligence may come with long life and learning phase, then with egos and individualism, then with infinite search for a better comfort, then with infinite needs of ressources, then the spoiling of the biosphere…

        I might be wrong (and I seriously hope so), but I would bet all I possess that it is the the moste frequent destiny of technological civilisation.

        To avoid this fate, a specie should probably the more like an ant colony. But to be that way, the individuals of those species might have really slowly advanced their science because the worth of individuals is really low and because personnal curiosity and ambition has been a major lead to knowledge. Also, that kind of intelligent being might just not be interested in contacting us.

      • Alien says:

        But the fact that people like you exist (count me in too, if you will) kind of makes a case for at least some technologically advanced civilizations to have prevented their own destruction and thrived. Also, if any of them have entered the space faring stage, they might have more resources at hand to avoid the self destruction that might await if you are stuck to one planet with its limited resources.

        I don’t fully agree with the view that intelligent aliens visiting Earth would be necessarily hostile and interested only in our resources. There are so many planets out there full of resources that unless the Earth has something unique that is worth plundering (and life itself, I think, is probably not something worth plundering) I doubt the aliens would have a reason to be hostile with another civilization like ours.

      • I don’t think we may reach the point to be able to find the remains of a distant civilization. most of them are extincted, and we will do so before we’ll ever travel the distance to find alien remains.

    • Torbjörn Larsson says:

      Not to rain on your parade =D, but that has already happened many times over on our planet.

      – The photosynthesizers famously wasted reducing resources until the whole biosphere crashed and is forever poisoned with oxygen ~ 2.5 billion years ago.*

      – The first calcium skeleton sponges wasted the free organic resources by locking them up in sediments until the whole biosphere crashed and is forever scarce of methane ~ 700 billion years ago.*

      Nothing our civilization can do will ever come up to the scale of damage these organisms caused to the biosphere then and forever on, because of the vast time scales necessary.

      And we have 5 more mass extinction events to go through, either directly caused or promoted by the biosphere. Say, the K-Pg impactor caused an extinction event because it crashed down in calciferous and sulfurous waste heap sediments of organisms that was “always thinking about themselvees and their own comfort, deliberately decide to ignore the limits of their world. They spoil and waste their ressourses until their climate and biosphere crashes”.

      Yet there remains vast resources for technological civilizations many times over. One reason is because everything from reducing resources (mantle cycle) over organics (kerogen cycle) are recycled over time. Another reason is because technology is adaptable to economical resources, say as when we stopped using coal and started using oil because it was more efficient.

      One problem with dystopian (or utopian, for that matter) ideas is testability. Generally they can’t be tested. But I would say your particular dystopian scenario has been tested, and rejected, many times already.

      ————-
      * Never mind that these two catastrophes combined to make large complex multicellulars possible. We still have to eke out our meager existence in the trashed world they left after wasting their plentitude of resources and tipping the balance forever.

  29. Satake Yoshinobu says:

    One problem with the Fermi Paradox is that it assumes that an alien civilization has developed FTL capabilities which makes getting around the galaxy seem simple. More likely is that since FTL is the holy grail that no one has achieved or achieve with a very limited success, it’s unlikely that aliens are going to be filling up the void with space ships just checking things out. Their economies could not likely support mass production of star ship (unless they figure how to make Mr. Fusion to power everything). Star ships would have to be fantastically complex machines that aren’t popping off the assembly line at a high rate. It takes years to build one sea going battleship. How long would it take for one star ship? Even during WWII when a number of countries were producing war ships at the fastest rate in history, the thousands produced and put afloat on the vastness of the ocean were no more than insignificant specks. Scale up to a space faring economy that has to cross interstellar distances with let’s say 1,000 ships that don’t have FTL, what’s the likelyhood that they’re going to expend time and resources on some backwater worlds? And then factor in the time scale wherein space faring civilizations could have risen and fallen many times before we figured out fire. The chances of some aliens just dropping in to say “hi!” quickly becomes vanishingly small.

    • jjbreen says:

      Well the first part I totally agree with. But, ya – I love dialogs. There is a whole lot of assumptions here. First we assume we are “backwater worlds” – what IF we are not? What if we are actually (assumption on my part and for dialog sake) – one of the more advanced civilizations in the galaxy? SETI right now would seem to back that up, since over how many decades have we been combing the galaxy for signals?? Even with the advent of finding exo-solar planets. I know SETI has watched those areas as well. NADA. Plus what if we are “it” in this galaxy? That is still a very strong possibility …. based on current evidence. Now by “it” I mean, intelligent life that produces technology.

    • Torbjörn Larsson says:

      As seen from my earlier comments I am highly critical to the hypothesis that Fermi’s question is anything than an apparent paradox, because it is too loosely constrained. I think you describe well the problems of economics with space explorations.

      However, the question can be useful. In astrobiology it is used to point to the constraints of SETI and the Drake equation factor of civilization lifetime, which you touch on. Conceivably, if technological civilizations are long lived and curious enough, they could launch signaling programs and von Neumann exploration or even migration waves with little initial seed resources.

      However, SETI will take decades to rule signaling out. And the natural pathway for migration is among the Oort clouds between stars, not the expensive and risky colonization of deep gravity wells, which means we likely could never observe it. (If Oort cloud migration need fusion or can make do with fission is an open question AFAIK. Fissiles would be concentrated in the differentiated mantle of large enough objects (litophiles), but is it economically retrievable?)

    • delphinus100 says:

      “One problem with the Fermi Paradox is that it assumes that an alien civilization has developed FTL capabilities which makes getting around the galaxy seem simple.”

      Where has that assumption been part of the Fermi Paradox? By a species both able inclined to do so (and even if there’s only one such species), you can get good coverage of the galaxy in 5-50 million years, at average speeds well under .5c of expansion.

      FTL, if possible, only makes the Fermi Paradox yet harder to explain, unless something in the nature of such travel is actually a negative factor that we don’t know yet…

      I don’t think it’s safe to liken starship construction rates to our current ability t build capital naval ships, either. With rather modest improvements in technology, this could be made much easier in either case, and we may assume the use of off-planet resources for anyone contemplating interstellar travel.

  30. Satake Yoshinobu says:

    One problem with the Fermi Paradox is that it assumes that an alien civilization has developed FTL capabilities which makes getting around the galaxy seem simple. More likely is that since FTL is the holy grail that no one has achieved or achieve with a very limited success, it’s unlikely that aliens are going to be filling up the void with space ships just checking things out. Their economies could not likely support mass production of star ship (unless they figure how to make Mr. Fusion to power everything). Star ships would have to be fantastically complex machines that aren’t popping off the assembly line at a high rate. It takes years to build one sea going battleship. How long would it take for one star ship? Even during WWII when a number of countries were producing war ships at the fastest rate in history, the thousands produced and put afloat on the vastness of the ocean were no more than insignificant specks. Scale up to a space faring economy that has to cross interstellar distances with let’s say 1,000 ships that don’t have FTL, what’s the likelyhood that they’re going to expend time and resources on some backwater worlds? And then factor in the time scale wherein space faring civilizations could have risen and fallen many times before we figured out fire. The chances of some aliens just dropping in to say “hi!” quickly becomes vanishingly small.

  31. Olaf2 says:

    First communication will not be intelligent at all.
    It will probably be some drunk alien spacetruck driver finding new places to dump the illegal toxic waste.

  32. newSteveZodiac says:

    Alien contact will probably be as good for us as it was for the native Americans or the polynesian islanders.

    • Alien says:

      No. Alien contact would not be as good (I presume that’s a sarcastic ‘good’) as it was for natives of America and polynesia, because the explorers went there in search of resources and routes to get to those resources easily. If that’s the case with visiting aliens, they’d have had plenty of star systems before they reach us. If, on the other hand, they are coming to visit us out of curiosity for another life-supporting planet and another intelligent race, then it would be more mutually rewarding encounter. There are many possibilities, and invading aliens is just one of them.

      • newSteveZodiac says:

        I was thinking of culture shock, almost inevitable – even in benign contact.

      • Alien says:

        Culture shock, yes. That I agree. I guess it will be more than just culture shock. To start with, it’s hard to say if they’d resemble any living creature we know on Earth.

  33. Robert Thomson says:

    There is a small possibility and I entertain this often that we are the most advanced intelligence in the Milky Way, I hope I am wrong. I would love to see contact in the next 30 yrs of my life before I die.

  34. Prism2Spectrum says:

    Planets discovered orbiting in Habitable Zones is an exciting revelation. But, as many know, a lot more is required. A whole complex array of essential, delicate, and finely-balanced conditions to support—and maintain life—would be required:

    A suitably stable, life-promoting Star (in life-friendly Galaxy Space). The world itself, of course, would have to have a life-supporting Atmosphere. And some kind of circulating Hydrosphere. A sufficiently stable surface (hulking, nearby moon, for example, would wreak havoc, from its muscular tidal embrace): the lithosphere (of right chemical composition[?] ), and “geological” makeup, interior construction, and surface layout (circulations in many forms are vital, I think). Then, it would have to have a Magnetosphere (not just any M.[?]), to protect its “developing” Biosphere. And, another controversy aside, a life-promoting moon (one, not three, say).

    Also, even in a perfectly centered, life-nurturing orbit, would not the geometry of the planetary System itself have to be configured in such a way, as to keep the Planet sufficiently confined, where again, Life can “evolve” over the substantial time necessary, which would-require a relative level of overall stability to afford a “Biosphere” formation, so its undisturbed teeming growth could ascend to a triumphal summit of thought and intelligence–and the right Body to put its Science & Technology to use! And so, send it on its stellar way.

    [ I really love the Science Fiction Films that portray super-Advanced Aliens, who have traveled in Star Ships(!), operating their other-world technology–from all the Science they would have had to accomplish(!), that launched them on their star-exploring ways–with tentacle fingers, or claw-like hands (I won’t even go into their heads, eyes and faces)! Imagine designing and building a Keck Observatory, or Cassini Spacecraft, with some of the Sci-Fi appendages screened. Then consider the human HAND (and all that goes with it!): measure the difference in mega-parsecs! ]

    OK, you have all the settings just right: But the Star-embraced Planet is near a large, dense Nebula, and Earth’s constellation of shining Star is on the other side. Or this life-thriving Alien World is near a bright Star Cluster. Even its Star-Field location may have some import, from a certain familiar direction, anyway.

    And we can hope, that a not so distant behemoth, to this awakening world of alien star, does not go Supernova. (Then its “lights out”.)
    ___________________________

    “Throughout history, humans have looked to the skies and thought that we’ve experienced something ‘out there’ – be it angels or gods or spaceships. There is, I believe, a deep human craving that we aren’t alone, and that would be a significant part of our response.”
    ___________________________________

    That souring line made me think of Europe, in reawakening from a grim Dark Age sleep: When a spirit may have arisen from its dawning Enlightenment, and Renaissance resurgence, and that same “human craving” (and more favorable Climate conditions?) was loosed to look longly to the horizons, and begin the journeys to “First Contact”: To boldly go where no Europeans (supposedly, anyway) had gone before, and seek out New Civilizations.

    (All questions are rhetorical. Just ONE reader’s view, however flawed)

  35. Herbert says:

    Long ago I saw this infographic and now i feel prepared to make first contact! http://bit.ly/chsLBU

  36. Dill Weed says:

    We’d kick their asses, take their technolgy and make them slaves. And if they taste good put them on them menu as intergallatic beef.

  37. Dill Weed says:

    We’d kick their asses, take their technolgy and make them slaves. And if they taste good put them on them menu as intergallatic beef.

  38. Duncan Ivry says:

    Nancy, you touched something with your article. Great work! My thanks go to all the participants for their vibrant contributions. That’s what I like so much.

Comments are closed.