October 29, 2010

Playing Video Games

From the LA Times:
At least one in every four stars like the sun has planets about the size of Earth circling in very close orbits, according to the first direct measurement of the incidence of such planets, researchers said Thursday.

That means that our galaxy alone, with its roughly 200 billion sun-like stars, has at least 46 billion Earth-size planets orbiting close to the stars, and perhaps billions more circling farther out in what scientists call the habitable zone, said astronomer Andrew Howard of UC Berkeley, a coauthor of a paper on the subject published in Friday's edition of the journal Science.

200,000,000,000.

So, as Enrico Fermi asked, where is everybody?


85 comments:

DavidB said...

Is this really a puzzle? We could only know about intelligent beings in other solar systems by means of (a) interstellar travel, or (b) electromagnetic signals. Inter-stellar travel would take so long, even at light-speed, that no intelligent being would want to make the effort. (Granted, at light-speed they would be in suspended animation due to relativistic time-dilation, but by the time they got back home many 'years' would have passed for their stay-at-home fellows.)

As to (b), at interstellar distances electromagnetic radiation produced by street lighting, radio, etc, would probably be undetectable with our present equipment.

DavidB

CC-bLF said...

So, Ideocracy is inevitable, and the idiots are incapable of inventing a star drive?

Anonymous said...

If they didn't have continuous period of ultra-powerful radio transmissions exactly as long ago as it would have taken to get from those planetary systems to us when we were trying to listen, then we can't hear them. 99.99% of all the stars in the galaxy are more than 500 light-years away from us.

There could be thousands of technologically advances civilizations out there, and they would all ask "where is everybody", but no evidence of us would have ever reached them.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps every advanced society devolves into an obese sedentary dystopia, where everyone is waited upon my mechanical servants, like in Wall-E. Eventually, the mechanized infrastructure deteriorates at just about the same time the low IQ component of society has bred itself into an overwhelming majority; then, the formerly intelligent race goes extinct. Looking back at the Zeitgeist of early 60's America, when billions were spent on the space race, and where we are now -- in Diversity Dystopia where we spend trillions to support consumption and procreation by idle low IQ populations -- how can anyone doubt this possibility?

Anonymous said...

Astronomers are looking for Earth-like planets when what they should be looking for is Earth-Moon systems like ours. It's hard to overestimate how important it is to have a moon the size of our moon and the distance of our moon. The moon is key to keeping Earth's axis from wobbling wildly as well as deflecting many life-killing asteroids (see, literally, the surface of the Moon).

It's extremely rare to get an Earth-Moon system like ours.

Life may get a start on many planets, but without a Moon to stabilize and protect those planets, it almost certainly gets wiped out before it evolves very far.

Anonymous said...

Simple unicellular life is probably everywhere, very common.

More complex life takes billions of years under favorable conditions to evolve, so is less common.

Intelligent life is rarer still. Technological civilizations, rarer still.

The interstellar distances are unimaginably vast, and there's no indication that technology will ever allow anyone to travel faster than light.

Given this it would not surprise me that there might on average only be one technological civilization per galaxy. It could take billions of years to travel between galaxies, and why do it? All of the necessities of life for a technological civilization are available in one's own local solar system.

There's simply too much empty space out there to make old-style colonialism and imperialism profitable or attractive. A civilization would have to measure out its growth and expansion amongst the stars in terms of hundreds of thousands of years, and we simply aren't used to thinking and planning on such a long term scale. No human civilization has ever operated on such time scales.

Chief Seattle said...

Where is Everybody links to a good article. Hard to argue with what he says about more and more of our "productive" effort going towards entertainment and manipulating each other. Although part of that is our empire in decline. The environmentalists and product-safety lawyers made it too expensive to mess around much with the real world, at least in this country.

Why haven't we found them? Space is a big place. The only tool we have is listening for transmissions, mostly in the radio spectrum, that were made hundreds or thousands of years ago. And there's a thin civizational sliver of time between RCA and Cable TV. What does an encrypted, digital 2.4Ghz wifi connection look like? White noise. By design.

Our best bet if we're going to find aliens is to make sure we're around for a long time. 50 years of listening for radio transmissions doesn't cut it. 10,000 might.

Jonathan said...

I recently read Peter Ward's excellent book, "Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe." The book makes the point that while microbial life is likely common on other worlds, complex organisms are almost certainly extremely rare.

We also need to consider the vast gulfs of time and space that separate us from other solar systems. Even if aliens are out there, communication would take thousands of years. In addition, the strength of EM signals drops off rapidly with distance. We probably wouldn't pick up an alien transmission unless it originated in the local neighborhood and was beamed right at us.

Bottom line: this is the only home we've got, so we better not screw it up.

Anonymous said...

Steve: I enjoy reading your blog on a near daily basis. This article assumes that planetary formation conditions in the galaxy are the same for every sun. Considering the extreme variations from sparsely poupulated galactic rim to incredibly densely populated galactic center, this is an absurdity. Also, even if a sun has earthlike planets, the chances of life, let alone intelligent life, evolving on those planets is extraordinarily dependent on galactic location. Planets of suns anywhere near the galactic center are going to be fried by radiation. The development of intelligent life woulsd also require steady rotation of the planet, a not too eccentric orbit, and stabilizing satellites (our moon is perfect for this). This is why conclusions about the likelihood of other intelligent life besides man computed from the soi disant Drake equation drive me nuts. They're all based on absurdly unrealistic and optimistic assumptions.

Anonymous said...

Whenever creatures of any species (e.g., homo sapiens) get smart enough to communicate across interstellar distances, they lose interest in procreating and their smart genes are lost. The species as a whole regresses to the average IQ of Ghana.

sabril said...

I don't know where the extra-terrestrials are, but billions of planets seems like a nice opportunity for would-be state builders.

What will be the immigration policy on Sailer's World?

Jon Claerbout said...

They rise. They consume their local energy and material resources. They decay.

OldSkool said...

I hereby invoke the Strong Anthropic Principle.

Anonymous said...

Steve,

Interesting article you linked to. It raises the question that I have never put this way but I suspect you may have thought of: if European civilization has given us the most technologically advanced in history, and if Europeans are now reducing themselves through low birth rate to be replaced by non-European workers, are we literally seeing the peak of world history likely to decline right before our eyes? It's common to lament that the world is declining. But on a purely IQ level that actually does seem likely to be happening right now.

Marlowe said...

Mr. Sailer - we don't need any more immigrants.

Anonymous said...

Fermi was right, and so is Freeman Dyson who argued essentially the same thing in the late 1960's. He posited that if there were super-advanced aliens out there we should be able to detect their presence considering our understanding of physics and astronomy. There should at least be indirect evidence of artificial structures, since there is isn't, intelligent life is probably non-existent or so rare as to not make any practical difference between yes and no.

I thought Miller's piece was funny, but there may be a more mundane explanation, there is no in-built "drive" to intelligence as far as evolution is concerned. Virtually every other species on Earth gets along quite well without big brains and the huge metabolic costs involved in having them. We may be alone, or in a very funny twist, we may be the most advanced civilization in the galaxy.

Jonathan said...

Steve, the good people of Denver are one step ahead of you. They are about to vote on Ballot Initiative 300:

"Shall the voters for the City and County of Denver adopt an Initiated Ordinance to require the creation of an extraterrestrial affairs commission to help ensure the health, safety, and cultural awareness of Denver residents and visitors in relation to potential encounters or interactions with extraterrestrial intelligent beings or their vehicles, and fund such commission from grants, gifts and donations?"

I, for one, welcome our new alien overlords.

David said...

Don't forget jerking off to porn.

And all their potential support people are watching MTV. And jerking off to porn.

There's nothing up there that we know about - no women, for instance. No verdant valleys. No exploitable coolies. It's a big blank.

Very little human motivation exists to bust one's butt for a blank.

Simon in London said...

Maybe the Gods of the Copybook Headings got them.

Wanderer said...

Why is this entry titled "Playing Video Games"? Talk about a non-sequitur.

Dahinda said...

Earth has a lot of fossil fuel to fuel an industrial world. Other planets may not be so blessed. Also the distance between worlds that have intellegent life capable of comprehending any extraterrestrial communication maybe so great as to limit the amout of communication. There may be life on may worlds but not with what were percieve as intellegence. Dolphins are intellegent but show no interest in communicating with other galaxies.

kudzu bob said...

Our understanding of the “diseases of civilization” grows daily. More and more people (including a big percentage of your readers, I’d wager) “eat paleo” to avoid the illnesses caused by today’s carbohydrate-laden processed foods. People have begun to wear footwear such as the Vibram Five Fingers to mimic the healthful podiatric benefits of going barefoot that our hunter-gatherer ancestors once experienced. And thanks to you and like-minded thinkers, an awareness of evolution informs our political outlook, giving it a distinctly paleoconservative tinge that will eventually bring an end to today’s dysgenic public policies.

Any species clever enough to develop to develop microchips and nuclear energy will perforce devise strategies to cope with the evolutionary challenges posed by its technology and thereby seize control of its genetic destiny.

As for where the space-faring species are, well, look around you. Ten million years from now our descendants will have filled this galaxy as rapidly and thoroughly as algae do a country pond. We are they, the first and only intelligent species to arise in the Milky Way, and very lucky for it.

Wanderer said...

Some of the comments here remind me of the humbling and scary article "All 10 million Europeans".


__________________
The EU [at current TFRs] would fall by year 2300 to only 59 million. About half the countries of Europe would lose 95 per cent or more of their population, and such countries as the Russian Federation and Italy would have only 1 per cent of their population left.
...
If Europe in 2300 is still an important continent, then it will almost certainly be a black continent.
...
It is no longer possible to say simply, that the end of the demographic transition is a stable population. Perhaps a shrinking population is "normal" -- as growth was once considered to be "normal". Perhaps a shrinking population is characteristic of any planets with an advanced technology. If so, then Latvia and Estonia have also answered a theoretical question of SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence). The famous question, used by those who do not believe in extra-terrestrials: if there are billions of advanced civilisations, why are they not here to visit us? Look at the table of Latvian population, project it 10,000 years into the future, and you have an answer: there are not enough aliens to build a spacecraft. All those huge galactic federations in science-fiction films, with billions of billions of alien inhabitants, may simply reflect mistaken demographic theory.

__________________

Severn said...

An "Earth-size" planet is a very different thing from an Earth-like planet. Venus is an Earth sized planet in a "very close orbit" to the Sun. You wouldn't want to try to live there though.

The truth is that we still have no idea how common or uncommon Earth-like planets are. They may be very rare. They probably are very rare.

elvisd said...

"Astronomers are looking for Earth-like planets when what they should be looking for is Earth-Moon systems like ours. It's hard to overestimate how important it is to have a moon the size of our moon and the distance of our moon. The moon is key to keeping Earth's axis from wobbling wildly as well as deflecting many life-killing asteroids (see, literally, the surface of the Moon).

It's extremely rare to get an Earth-Moon system like ours.

Life may get a start on many planets, but without a Moon to stabilize and protect those planets, it almost certainly gets wiped out before it evolves very far."

Beautiful point, I've never thought of that.

Luke Lea said...

People do have an insatiable appetite for entertainment. Amusing ourselves to death? Not out of the question.

Anonymous said...

Modern theoretical physics consumes quys with 180 I.Q.'s at a frightening rate. Is that just a fancier kind of useless entertainment? Is the LHC a big video game?

Luke Lea said...

Keep in mind that Miller's thesis in The Mating Mind was that humor, music, the narrative arts, and various other forms of entertainment evolved to attract a mate. Live was boring around the Paleolithic campfire.

Justin said...

Let's not forget they haven't actually found any planets like ours. They are interpreting wobbles in light waves a certain way, but this has not been experimentally verified to actually mean "planet".

Souns like more of the typical over-hyped announcements from our pampered astrophysics establishment.

Mark Wethman said...

I was going to note that there are some groups that eschew video games and would, presumably, eschew sex-bots and other civilization-retarding technologies. But then I realized I was thinking of the Amish.

Anonymous said...

Watch Karlheinz Stockhausen on human evolution:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTeLI5dUzKw&feature=related

kurt9 said...

So, as Enrico Fermi asked, where is everybody?

Its all in the mitochondria:

http://www.astrobio.net/pressrelease/3661/the-universal-need-for-energy

Anonymous said...

Asking astronomers to "look" for certain kinds of planets is utterly ridiculous. Though scientists claim to have discovered countless extra-solar worlds, if I'm not mistaken only 1 or 2 have actually ever been seen. Mostly all they can ever see is a wobble or slight dimming in a star's light, from which they then postulate what kind of world might be orbiting it (mass) and at what distance. Based on heat characteristics and spectrometry, they then figure the chemical composition of the star and what likely accreted at which point in its solar system (i.e. gas giant vs. rocky world).

Most of the extra solar planets "discovered" haven't been seen, and are just theorized worlds based on the evidence above. Most of them are massive gas giants orbiting close to the star.

That's not to say there aren't Earth like worlds out there. There probably are. But they are much harder to spot or even deduce given current technology.

none of the above said...

Chief Seattle:

Even without encryption, just trying to get full use of the available spectrum tends toward white-noise-sounding transmissions. I think it would be hard for people with 1950s era equipment to get anything more than white noise out of a lot of commonly-used radio stuff we do.

Think about digital voice over a cellphone network. You're using spread-spectrum techniques (and maybe adaptively moving around among frequencies in response to signal quality) to avoid interference, your audio stream is going out compressed with something that the best computer on Earth in 1950 couldn't decode in realtime, and as you move around there's a whole handoff protocol going on between towers.

And this is true of a bunch of stuff we do now, and will become more true over time. Sending your compressed audio stream using CDMA will look, to someone with 60 year old technology, indistinguishable from background noise.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous writes:

Steve,

Interesting article you linked to. It raises the question that I have never put this way but I suspect you may have thought of: if European civilization has given us the most technologically advanced in history, and if Europeans are now reducing themselves through low birth rate to be replaced by non-European workers, are we literally seeing the peak of world history likely to decline right before our eyes? It's common to lament that the world is declining. But on a purely IQ level that actually does seem likely to be happening right now.

So suppose Europeans do go the way of the dodo, as (mostly European-derived) Leftists are either excited or nonchalant about. The question is unrelated to ET, but what happens after that?

The answer is usually "duh, China," but I'm thinking way past that (China is showing incipient signs of vulnerability to Western-style decay, anyway). In Peter Ward's book the Life and Death of Planet Earth he predicts that the human species will schlep along on this planet with some kind of continuing industry (and enormous landfills) over the next half-billion years until the earth gives out.

Is that really possible? How many iterations of industry are possible until resources can't be recycled again? Will humanity revert back to the hunter-gatherer state, only to find insects, lizards, and rats/mice left for protein? It's difficult to imagine humanity as we know it continuing on such an ecologically-devastated world.

Are humans extinction-proof? If not, will their demise signal the end of the Holocene and the commencement of a new post-homic era (perhaps we could call it the Metacene)?

Carol said...

Haha, Man is so lonely, looking for Intelligent Company in the universe. Sadly, it's probably there, but it's too far away to make any difference. So, ultimately it means nothing to Man. Maybe that will change - but why would it? Time would mean nothing to other beings. Yesterday is as good as tomorrow.

Yearning for an extraterrestrial sign seems about as foolish as yearning for communion with God.

Brent Lane said...

We may be alone, or in a very funny twist, we may be the most advanced civilization in the galaxy.

I've recently contemplated the following two possibilities:

1. The universe is every bit as vast as our crude scientific measurements indicate that it is.

2. Earth is the only place in it where life exists.

Kind of terrifying, and yet strangely uplifting at the same time.

Anonymous said...

On our "bar" of the Milky Way, there would be millions of potential solar systems.

The Milky Way rotates, so we could shorten the distance of travel time by focusing on the systems that are "behind" us in the rotation of the galaxy, like a gnat on a spoke of a slowly spinning bicycle wheel jumping up to latch onto the next spoke coming up behind him.


I think we can travel about 1/10 light speed, but theoretically out in deep space, if the rockets just stay on and have no gravitational interference, its theorized that a ship would eventually go faster and faster (no resistance out there, about one atom of helium per square meter).


Whack asteroids, small undetected black holes, and comets might be waiting for us out there in interstellar space within the galaxy also. Who knows?


I would imagine civilizations advanced enough to truly travel outside their home solar systems probably have nanotechnology, and would be able to make anything they need out of interstellar dust by using it. They probably also would have the ability to place atmospheres on dead planets near themselves and thus increase the amount of livable planets in their own solar systems. If Mars had an atmosphere, it would probably be inhabitable to us over time. If Venus were a little farther out from the sun, and we could re-engineer its atomosphere to be more like our own, who knows? Maybe it would be, with our help, eventually a livable planet also. As it stands now, Venus has a surface temp of about 800 degrees on the sunny side. Perhaps some of the other advanced beings out there have been more fortunate and have found themselves in solar systems with three or four potentially inhabitable planets and simply haven't needed to venture out.

Then there is the whole danger aspect. We probably wouldn't look like very nice beings from space (multiple wars going on down here at any one time, groups using religion to dominate people, etc). Would they even bother? If they have taken a look at us, its probably been by stealth, like us using the Blackbird Aircraft to spy on the Soviet Union, as to not alert us of their whereabouts.


When Columbus brought Europeans and Native Americans together, it didn't work out too well for the Americans. Any group of beings that could get here from other parts of our own bar of the Milky Way, or from another one of the bars hundreds of light years away, would no doubt be much smarter than we are, and would be able to militarily annihilate us on a whim. Helium 3 should be the power source that they'd use. There would be tons of it one atmosphereless-rocky planets throughout the galaxy.

AmericanGoy said...

"(a) interstellar travel, or (b) electromagnetic signals."

Wormholes.
Shifting reality.
Shifting from 3D into 2D or 4D.

The list is endless.

Wandrin said...

"Inter-stellar travel would take so long, even at light-speed, that no intelligent being would want to make the effort."

I don't know. Going by the Hubble photographs (and Rutger Hauer's speech in Bladerunner) i'd be tempted to do it just for the view.

Svigor said...

I don't feel like running the numbers again, but if you look into the age of the universe and evolutionary time on Earth you'll get some clues.

Basically, it took a significant portion of the life of the galaxy for life to evolve on Earth, we're in one of the older parts of the galaxy (in one of the older galaxies).

Humans like to think the aliens we encounter will be the elder statesmen of the galaxy, when it's more likely we'll be the elder statesmen visiting the primitives.

Svigor said...

So you take those two facts (we got an early start in the older part of one of the older galaxies; our evolution took most of the life of the galaxy) and mix in the fact that evolution isn't a given, and the fact that intelligent life is a subset of organic life (and not a given), and curious, capable intelligent life is a subset of organic life (and not a given) and I think we've got the broad strokes of a plausible answer.

Or they're hiding on the other side of Pluto, biding their time for the right time to strike (this is what a wise species would do, btw).

Svigor said...

I thought Miller's piece was funny, but there may be a more mundane explanation, there is no in-built "drive" to intelligence as far as evolution is concerned.

Barring semantics, I disagree. Intelligence is the ability of evolution to tinker with itself, there's a huge in-built drive there.

Svigor said...

As for where the space-faring species are, well, look around you. Ten million years from now our descendants will have filled this galaxy as rapidly and thoroughly as algae do a country pond. We are they, the first and only intelligent species to arise in the Milky Way, and very lucky for it.

Kudzu Bob and I are on the same wavelength here. It'll take about 100-200k years to colonize the galaxy once we create vehicles that can achieve a significant fraction of light speed. Give or take - in any event, an eyeblink in evolutionary time. Barring disaster, humans are going to infest the entire Milky Way (or die at the hands of the species that beats us to it) in short order.

Bob said...

"Modern theoretical physics consumes quys with 180 I.Q.'s at a frightening rate."

We'll eventually have cheap fission power as a result so it is worth it.

Experiments are slowly progressing.

Anonymous said...

Can't we at least make the video games entertaining enough that the low IQ among us would slow down their prolific breeding? Contraception has become so simple and available that I can only believe they are procreating by choice. Someone make them something shinier! How about a really good drug that not only ruins your brain, but incidentally ruins your gametes?

It seems in general that the smartest are the moat susceptible to the alure of fitness work-arounds.

Qaz

Anonymous said...

"So, Ideocracy is inevitable, and the idiots are incapable of inventing a star drive?"

Ideocracy, until only the Amish and radical Islamics are left.

But things don't move in straight lines, which is why predictions of current trends to infinity are always wrong. There will be crises which will force change. New elites will arrive and overthrow old elites. New systems of belief and social organization will arrive and replace old beliefs and systems.

The ability to have a civilization that lasts by conserving itself (which is what the old stagnant pre-modern civilizations did) without changing, is not enough. We need a civilization capable of planning for the long term and carrying through on that plan - a civilization capable of thinking in terms of not merely thousands, but in terms of millions of years. Some of this will have to be deliberately engineered, some of it will emerge spontaneously from new science and technology, but it has to happen eventually. We can't blunder around forever and expect things to last as they are now.

"Why is this entry titled "Playing Video Games"? Talk about a non-sequitur."

Follow the links.

"Earth has a lot of fossil fuel to fuel an industrial world. Other planets may not be so blessed."

There are oceans of liquid hydrocarbons on the surface of some of the moons on the outer planets of our very own solar system. Coal may be limited to Earth and other life-bearing planets, but hydrocarbons are extremely common throughout the universe.

"Asking astronomers to "look" for certain kinds of planets is utterly ridiculous. Though scientists claim to have discovered countless extra-solar worlds, if I'm not mistaken only 1 or 2 have actually ever been seen."

This is like saying that because we haven't actually seen Pluto complete a full orbit around the Sun, because we've known of its existence for only a fraction of its full orbit, that therefore, we have not "proved" that Pluto orbits the Sun! We don't need to actually see something to prove that it exists and that it contains certain properties (size, mass, etc), and this is especially true of extra-solar planets. Your notion that it is ridiculous to search for extra-solar "earth sized" planets is simply wrong.

"I don't feel like running the numbers again, but if you look into the age of the universe and evolutionary time on Earth you'll get some clues.

Basically, it took a significant portion of the life of the galaxy for life to evolve on Earth, we're in one of the older parts of the galaxy (in one of the older galaxies).

Humans like to think the aliens we encounter will be the elder statesmen of the galaxy, when it's more likely we'll be the elder statesmen visiting the primitives.


Quite so. The odds of the universe teeming with ancient civilizations is effectively zero; the early universe contained almost nothing but hydrogen and helium (of the elements we are familiar with); it took a long time to evolve a universe with a rich blend of elements like we have now, and a long time to evolve life like we have now. We're part of the early wave of intelligent life in the universe; if we weren't someone else would have gotten here by now and prevented us from existing simply by being here first.

Toadal said...

DavidB said
(Granted, at light-speed they would be in suspended animation due to relativistic time-dilation, but by the time they got back home many 'years' would have passed for their stay-at-home fellows.)

Let's look at how DavidB's relativistic time-dilation can be applied to space exploration.

If you had a spaceship that could travel 99.9999999 the speed of light, and it took 6 months to accelerate to and decelerate from that speed, you could:

1) Travel to the center of our Milky Way galaxy.
2) Explore its center and black hole for one year.
3) Return to earth.

And *you* would be about 25 years older.

But unfortunately, your friends on earth would have died over 52,000 years ago.
.
Check out: http://www.1728.com/reltivty.htm

Hey, relativistic time-dilation is a useful tool for human colonization and terra-farming too. Transforming earth-sized planets to earth-like plants through moving them into more hospitable orbits, introducing more evolved and robust carbon-based life, or simply populating a primitive life bearing planet with mammals and birds can be done.

Future Spacemen can simply set these activities in motion, leave at near light speed, and return 10s or 100s of thousands of years later to continue the transformation or rest from his labors in a new Eden.

Of course, other advanced species are probably already doing these things and unfortunately have a lock on the best neighborhoods.

Anonymous said...

When the Fermi question is finally answered I doubt if that answer will have first appeared in the comments section of an Internet blog.

That having been said, there are plenty of sci-fi plots that revolve around first contact - or the lack thereof. Currently we view the universe as a very, very big flat single reality where intelligence is the province of biological organisms. Let's deal with each of these assumptions.

It's pretty clear that humans are a form of biological nanotechnology. My car is made of a small number of large simple components while I'm made of billions of complex microscopic units. That won't be true forever, indeed most "people" out there are probably non-biological right now. When we send an astronaut to Proxima Centauri he will probably not need to breathe or eat. He will probably be able to sit there watching his instruments without getting bored or needing sleep for decades or centuries. Earth monkey people are just not well suited for space travel.

There is this idea called the multiple universe interpretation of quantum mechanics. It states that there are an infinite number of parallel universes that split off from this one at every sub atomic choice point. There have been a number of sci-fi novels and stories based on the development of a technology that let's you travel among these worlds. If such a technology existed there would be little need for space travel. Every spot in the universe would be infinitely interesting. You could stay at home and travel to one of the universes in which the K-T event didn't happen, for example.

Finally the idea that the universe is large seems to be a fact that almost every sci-fi story has to circumvent somehow. Far flung space empires can be envisioned in Star Trek and Star Wars only because they assume superluminal velocities. Einsteinian space is flat except for the depressions around mass. Almost all space sci-fi today posits "folding" space or wormholes. But maybe the speed of light is indeed a cosmic speed limit around which you can not get. That would keep aliens away.

If the mean distance between any two intelligent civilizations is a million light years and there is no faster than light travel, we will never meet another intelligent species - or we will meet one only every billion years or so.

Maybe the quizzical nature of the Fermi question arises in our minds because we simply haven't considered size. All measurements and theory says the cosmos is very damn big but all our imaginings (sci-fi stories) assume that the cosmos is rather cozy.

Albertosaurus

spacehabitats said...

The problem is parallel evolution.
Just as marsupials evolved their canine and feline equivalents to fill ecological niches, Political Correctness (or its alien equivalent) would have evolved in other species at the same point of technological development.

The alien counterparts of Crimethink would have arisen at precisely the time when the alien race reached the crisis of exploding population and diminishing natural resources.

The impetus to escape the planetary boundaries would have required the same things; an intelligent race (slightly inbred extended family) that is capable of cooperation, guilt, responsibility, trust, etc.

But all of these attributes would have made them politically vulnerable to the alien race(s) with more "street smarts".

The last hope for making their species unkillable would have been lost as the most capable were denied the resources to reproduce, (were not allowed to even THINK about what was being done to them!) and given instead the virtual tokens of fitness.

David said...

Why assume that intelligent beings want to have anything to do with us?

Anonymous said...

This is a HBD blog. We're still in search of intelligent life on this planet, aren't we? Or have people given up?

CC-bLF said...

"Future Spacemen can simply set these activities in motion, leave at near light speed, and return 10s or 100s of thousands of years later to continue the transformation or rest from his labors in a new Eden.

Of course, other advanced species are probably already doing these things and unfortunately have a lock on the best neighborhoods."

That means OUR alien overlords are due back any minute. OH SHIT!

CC-bLF said...

"Some of this will have to be deliberately engineered, some of it will emerge spontaneously from new science and technology, but it has to happen eventually."

No, it don't. Extinction, of us, is far more likely.

"We can't blunder around forever and expect things to last as they are now."
No, we can't. You're correct. It's entirely possible that things wont last as they are now -- that in fact they, and we, won't "last" at all.

CC-bLF said...

"Dolphins are intellegent but show no interest in communicating with other galaxies."

What could POSSIBLY make you say such a thing? Didn't you ever read the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books? Sheesh.

corvinus said...

Astronomers are looking for Earth-like planets when what they should be looking for is Earth-Moon systems like ours. It's hard to overestimate how important it is to have a moon the size of our moon and the distance of our moon. The moon is key to keeping Earth's axis from wobbling wildly as well as deflecting many life-killing asteroids (see, literally, the surface of the Moon).

It's extremely rare to get an Earth-Moon system like ours.

Life may get a start on many planets, but without a Moon to stabilize and protect those planets, it almost certainly gets wiped out before it evolves very far.


Double-planet systems may not be all that rare. I mean, one in four terrestrial planets has a large moon. Asteroids and Kuiper Belt Objects (the most obvious example being Pluto) also seem to have large moons quite a bit. And incidentally, the reason Venus does not have a large moon is its retrograde rotation; any large moon would have spiraled in and crashed due to tidal deceleration.

I'm also quite certain that many of the farther-out (>0.5 AU from host star) extrasolar planets that have been found are actually doublets (say, a Saturn orbiting a Jupiter at a couple hundred thousand clicks away).

Bruce Lewis said...

The longer I live, the more I think that we're the only rational form of life extant, and that the Universe is ours to subdue and turn to our own uses. I'm with Dyson and Fermi; I think if aliens existed, we'd have met them (or detected them) by now. I do think that we will eventually find bacteria and other life forms on our neighboring planets; I'd also be willing to bet that every species we find will be some form of known terrestrial life, carried between planets by impact events. Indeed, this has already occurred:

"The Surveyor probes were the first U.S. spacecraft to land safely on the Moon. In November, 1969, the Surveyor 3 spacecraft's microorganisms were recovered from inside its camera that was brought back to Earth under sterile conditions by the Apollo 12 crew. The 50-100 organisms survived launch, space vacuum, 3 years of radiation exposure, deep-freeze at an average temperature of only 20 degrees above absolute zero, and no nutrient, water or energy source.... No other life forms were found in soil samples retrieved by the Apollo missions or by two Soviet unmanned sampling missions..." [Source: NASA]

I personally believe that God created the human race, and we're it as far as intelligent life goes. The only other rational beings are the Angels (good and evil) and the Nahash, the Serpent mentioned in the Book of Genesis.

Jonathan said...

Perhaps the galaxy is filled with alien civilizations that are hiding from self-replicating spaceships designed to seek out and destroy all life. If that's true, humanity could be like a baby bird peeping in the woods, drawing down the wolves on itself.

Wanderer said...

_____________________
Anon-#41643 wrote:
"Why is this entry titled "Playing Video Games"? Talk about a non-sequitur."

Follow the links.
_____________________

What links? The OP links don't mention anything about games.

Is this one of those "Emperor Has No Clothes" situations?

Anonymous said...

@Wanderer: "What links? The OP links don't mention anything about games."

No, but the title does.

You understand how a web browser works, don't you? Those bits of text in the OP that are colored differently are hyperlinks. Click on them and they take you to other web pages. One of them is an article that talks, among other things, about video games.

Is this your first time on the internet? You really sound pretty clueless.

"Is this one of those "Emperor Has No Clothes" situations?"

No, it's one of those "better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt" situations.

none of the above said...

Wanderer: The Discover Magazine link. Or think of it as simply answering the question "where are they?"

The question is unanswerable with our current knowledge, but it's still kind of fun to think about. As we learn that there are probably a huge number of planets enough like ours to evolve/sustain life, we should be worrying more about extinction or other permanent cultural sinkholes that would prevent anyone ever venturing from this solar system.

Anonymous said...

"Some of this will have to be deliberately engineered, some of it will emerge spontaneously from new science and technology, but it has to happen eventually."

No, it don't. Extinction, of us, is far more likely.


You are taking my quote out of context. If we aren't going to go extinct, some other path is likely to emerge. And extinciton is not "far more likely"; crisis events produce survivors who learn to adapt, they don't just produce extinction. Humanity ain't a single organism, it's a collection of competing groups. Some will adapt and survive when others go extinct: that's evolution. Evolution produces survivors, not just extinction.

"We can't blunder around forever and expect things to last as they are now."

No, we can't. You're correct. It's entirely possible that things wont last as they are now -- that in fact they, and we, won't "last" at all.


Nothing lasts "as they are now", ever. Change is constant. That is why predictions of extinction based on current downward population trends are baseless: all predictions made by postulating current trends towards infinity are wrong. Things will not happen like that. They never do. Therefore, predictions of human extinction are most likely the usual doom-and-gloom fear mongering. Barring some unforseeable catastrophe such as another killer astroid, humanity isn't going extinct any time soon. That's plenty of time for human evolution to work on a solution that gets us out of the potential trap that we are in.

Kevin said...

Why is it that after thirty+ years of reading this stuff and nodding my head saying; "that sounds reasonable" I'm no more closer to the truth than when I started?

CC-bLF said...

"What links? The OP links don't mention anything about games"

You don't get it?

In the OP, the "Where is everybody?" link takes you to this article: "Why we haven't met any aliens."

Since estimates for the factors in Drake's equation (How many technological civilizations are there in the galaxy?) appear reasonable, the argument has been made that, by now, there ought to exist many technological civilizations in the galaxy capable of communicating with us, and we should be able to detect them.

Fermi said, "Okay. So where are they?" This is Fermi's Paradox.

In the linked article, the author hypothesises: "I suggest a different, even darker solution to the Paradox. Basically, I think the aliens don’t blow themselves up; they just get addicted to computer games."

So, the answer to Fermi's Paradox is the title of this post. Where is everybody? Playing video games.

Wanderer said...

CC-bLF wrote:
So, the answer to Fermi's Paradox is the title of this post. Where is everybody? Playing video games.

Thank you for explaining this.

Wanderer said...

crisis events produce survivors who learn to adapt, they don't just produce extinction. Humanity ain't a single organism, it's a collection of competing groups. Some will adapt and survive when others go extinct: that's evolution.

Correction: Humanity is not a single unit, yet. Some day we will all be Obamacized/Tiger-Woods-icized. Or are you some kind of genocidal-racist who opposes this? -- Wait a minute...

none of the above said...

Basically, either we're among the first technological civilizations to arise anywhere close to us (probably within the galaxy), expansion past your own solar system never really works out, or something eats advancing/expanding civilizations. Evolution happens so much more slowly than travel, even interstellar distances, that people who can get up to 3% of the speed of light and survive the trip (which is plausibly within reach for us in the forseeable future, assuming we can get controlled fusion reactions going and work out some way for people or robots or both to survive the long trip), you cover the galaxy in a lot less than the time taken to evolve technological civilization on Earth (around 3 billion years).

CC-bLF said...

"Evolution produces survivors, not just extinction."

Yeah, but what it does NOT inevitably produce is survivors capable of the advanced science and technology required for "a civilization that is capable of thinking in terms of not merely thousands, but in terms of millions of years" that you say is inevitable.
It's far more likely that it'll be the cockroaches that will live on than that spacefaring humanity will.

tommy said...

Maybe they're out there, but they obey the Prime Directive more or less.

CC-bLF said...

"Thank you for explaining this."

You're welcome. I don't know why the other posters were snarky to you. That attitude needs to be reserved for "Truth."

CC-bLF said...

"something eats advancing/expanding civilizations."

Yeah, that's my vote. If Idiocracy is not inevitable, then it must be the Assassins doing it.

From Frederick Pohl's Heechee Series:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heechee

http://goldkeys.com/ScienceFiction/reviews/0345300629.html

"The minds that Audee reaches are not Heechee but a race that the Heechee know. Their Eddas told the Heechee a million years ago that a race of Assassins exists and has previously destroyed two technologically advanced civilizations. The Assassins prefer an energy rich universe and are molding ours to fit their needs - destroying anything in their way. When the Heechee found out about the Assassins, they hid themselves in a Black Hole at the center of our galaxy."

Rats. I wanted to be a United Starship Communications Officer when I grow up.

Anonymous said...

Double-planet systems may not be all that rare. I mean, one in four terrestrial planets has a large moon.


You can't extrapolate from that to assume that one in four terrestrial planets in the galaxy has an Earth-like moon.

Besides, in our solar system there is only one terrestrial planet.


Asteroids and Kuiper Belt Objects (the most obvious example being Pluto) also seem to have large moons quite a bit.

But asteroids and KBO's are very improbable places for water-based life to develop. You need a double-planet type system which orbits within its solar systems "habitable zone".

The planets in question have to lie within a certain narrow size range - not too big or too small.

The solar system in question has to be an old one, with plenty of "recycled" atomic elements. You can't get an Earth-like plant from a solar system made from a ball of hydrogen.

David Davenport said...

But asteroids and KBO's are very improbable places for water-based life to develop. You need a double-planet type system which orbits within its solar systems "habitable zone".

Do you consider Europa to be part of a double planet system?

Galactus said...

something eats advancing/expanding civilizations.

That would be me.

Svigor said...

or something eats advancing/expanding civilizations.

Galactus! I #!&@ing knew it!

Evolution happens so much more slowly than travel, even interstellar distances, that people who can get up to 3% of the speed of light and survive the trip (which is plausibly within reach for us in the forseeable future, assuming we can get controlled fusion reactions going and work out some way for people or robots or both to survive the long trip), you cover the galaxy in a lot less than the time taken to evolve technological civilization on Earth (around 3 billion years).

That was basically my thinking, as well. I kept looking at the enormous stretch of time it took us to evolve the tools to make space-faring plausible, and the time it will plausibly take us to expand throughout the universe, and concluded it's likely those tools are low-probability. Otherwise someone should've kicked in our door by now. It's easy to anthropomorphize nature, it's the human default, so the tendency is to assume "we're" all over the place, but it isn't a particularly rational one. Seems likely we'll be the ones kicking in doors, at this point; really, what are the odds, now that we've gone through the billions of years it takes to evolve the tools, that someone else is on (more or less) exactly the same time frame and will find their tiny window of galactic colonization coinciding with ours? Possible, but not at all likely.

Though I don't think fusion's necessary. There's that Orion thing, and it runs on plain old nukes. I forget exactly what the speed projections are, but if memory serves it's a lot more than 3% of light speed.

Svigor said...

I don't play video games anymore, so I got bored. :)

13.75 BYA Birth of Universe
13.20 BYA Birth of Milky Way
08.80 BYA Birth of "thin disk"
05.00 BYA Birth of the Sun
04.50 BYA Birth of the Earth & Solar System
03.50 BYA Birth of Life on Earth

100K LY Size of the Milky Way
025K LY Distance from Earth to center of Milky Way

Time to colonize galaxy at various fractions of lightspeed:
075KY @ 1.00; 150KY @ 0.50; 300KY @ 0.25; 750KY @ 0.10

X=time to evolve space-faring species; Y=time to colonize galaxy

Ratio of of X to Y varies between 4500my/0.75MY and 4500MY/0.075MY
or 6000:1 and 60000:1

Notes:
[I didn't G**gle it up, but last time I looked into this, I read that the Milky Way is an old galaxy, and our region of the galaxy is an older part of it, which shifts the galactic colonization sweepstakes in our favor.

Life wasted little time in bootstrapping itself on Earth.]

The Solar System:

The Solar System's location in the galaxy is very likely a factor in the evolution of life on Earth. Its orbit is close to being circular and is at roughly the same speed as that of the spiral arms, which means it passes through them only rarely. Since spiral arms are home to a far larger concentration of potentially dangerous supernovae, this has given Earth long periods of interstellar stability for life to evolve.[96] The Solar System also lies well outside the star-crowded environs of the galactic centre. Near the centre, gravitational tugs from nearby stars could perturb bodies in the Oort Cloud and send many comets into the inner Solar System, producing collisions with potentially catastrophic implications for life on Earth. The intense radiation of the galactic centre could also interfere with the development of complex life.[96] Even at the Solar System's current location, some scientists have hypothesised that recent supernovae may have adversely affected life in the last 35,000 years by flinging pieces of expelled stellar core towards the Sun as radioactive dust grains and larger, comet-like bodies.[97]

The Sun:

Around 5.4 billion years from now, the hydrogen in the core of the Sun will have been entirely converted to helium, ending the main sequence phase.

[I don't know what this means for life on Earth, but I doubt it's anything good. I doubt even more it would be good for organic life sans a spacefaring species. I also don't know anything about the generalities of the stellar life cycle, or how typical the Sun is of these generalities, but I do seem to recall that stars have life cycles and it seems reasonable to suppose the averages represent the bounds of the average window a life-bearing planet has to produce a space-faring species; in short, you don't have forever to get off your ass, get smart, and start colonizing the galaxy; considering it took almost half of this window just to evolve to become plausibly space-faring, I think it's reasonable to suppose this should be factored into our thinking on the subject at hand]

Links:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_the_universe
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milky_Way
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_System#Galactic_context
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_the_Earth
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_evolution

Svigor said...

Maybe they're out there, but they obey the Prime Directive more or less.

If so, that would leave 2 options:

1: they're literally omniscient and omnipotent.

2: we'll be exterminating them "soon."

Svigor said...

It's far more likely that it'll be the cockroaches that will live on than that spacefaring humanity will.

Not if stars have life cycles like I assume above that they do. Deliberate space-faring is the only viable long-term prospect for complex life.

Severn said...

Do you consider Europa to be part of a double planet system?



Europa is a not a viable candidate for the development of complex life. It's possible that there may exist something like bacteria or even nematodes underneath all that ice. Not very probable, but possible. But the notion that Europa might spawn a spacefaring species is just fabulism.

RGH said...

Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) thinks that if we ever invent something like a holodeck it will be the last thing we ever invent: "If I had a holodeck, I'd close the door and never come out until I died of exhaustion. It would be hard to convince me I should be anywhere but in the holodeck, getting my oil massage from Cindy Crawford and her simulated twin sister."

CuChulainn said...

The follow up article by Miller is pretty good, though perhaps we are actually being led to partake in fake fitness cues by the elites to keep everyone happy and disinterested while they quietly remold the country.

Anonymous said...

Dinosaurs ruled the earth for 150 million years and were apparently awesome. We've been here for, what, a few hundred thousand years in our current pesky form? The aliens stop by once in a while to see where their favorites have gone, but end up going elsewhere. Would you even bother going to a zoo without giraffes, elephants and gorillas? And when was the last time you made vacation plans to take in the wonders of primitive civilization?

Svigor said...

One interesting possibility for encountering "alien civilizations" is "Warp Drive" or some other FTL. Suppose humans blast off of Earth for destinations throughout the Milky Way. As time goes on, faster and faster methods of travel might be developed, allowing humans to "discover themselves" as "aliens." E.g., an extreme example would be the aforementioned travelers who fly near the speed of light for what they perceive to be 50 years, 25 years out and 25 back, only to discover that the Earth they return to is populated by a species bearing no resemblance to the humans they knew, having evolved for 50k years. Or a colony ship traveling at .2 of light speed for planet X get there to find a weird alien species evolved from humans who left a century after they did, but got there a thousand years earlier.

CC-bLF said...

"Not if stars have life cycles like I assume above that they do. Deliberate space-faring is the only viable long-term prospect for complex life"

Yeah, complex life (not synonymous with "intelligent") can continue for a couple billion more years til our star leaves the Main Sequence (era of hydrogen fusion).
At which time, the sun goes nova, scorches the Earth to a crisp, and settles down as a white dwarf, eventually to cool to a black dwarf cinder.

The "blip" of a potentially galaxy-colonizing species will have come and gone, having failed to achieve a star drive because of affirmative action and PC and welfare.

The red dwarf stars will continue to flicker dimly, parsimoniously consuming their meager stores of hydrogen fuel, for another 100 billion years or so, and then they too will dim and die.

And the universe will continue to expand for eternity. No Big Crunch to follow the Big Bang and the cycle to begin anew. Just expansion, and cooling, and the few pinpoints of light left slowly winking out as the island universes spread ever thinner and thinner, yet.
"This is how the world ends; Not with a bang, but a whimper."

Random Black Guy said...

Lol, CC-bLF (curvaceous) I usually don't like your posts, but if you're a fan of Frederik Pohl's Gateway, you can't be all that bad.