July 16, 2013
If progress was inevitable...
...the space aliens would be here already.
My thought for the day on the Drake Equation.
Update: The comment is about my view of the inevitable workings of natural selection. I suspect the success of a sentient species combined with selective pressures for reproductive success leads to population explosion and a very violent reentry into the Malthusian Trap. That violent reentry might wipe out any intelligent species.
Randall Parker, 2013 July 16 08:24 PM
Those are two separate but related thoughts. I've had both thoughts myself.
RE: The Drake equation. Absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence. They may exist but not advanced enough to provide us evidence of their existence. Or perhaps they're isolationist. SETI always pissed me off. Who are they to announce to the universe, "Here we are. Come kick our ass!" Or perhaps we're the first to reach this level of development. Someone has to be first. If it's possible for us it's possible period.
OTOH when you limit the universe to only those planets capable of sustaining life. Then consider it takes quite a bit of luck to jump start the process. Then consider that of the millions of species that have existed on our planet for billions of years that only we have reached this point. And that we're not advanced enough ourselves to either provide evidence to others or recognize the evidence of others. I think it's premature to speculate one way or the other.
RE: Your update. I sort of agree. It's arrogant to think one can escape natural law. We're a part of nature not above it. Though I'm not convinced the danger is necessarily Malthusian. The danger could be from a population collapse rather than a population explosion. Or perhaps something different entirely.
When you have one data point you draw any sort of curve throug it you want.
I am pessmistic about alien visitors for two reasons.
1. Life is easy; intelligent life is hard. When you add up all the factors that led to a habitable Earth (one of three: Mars and Venus didn't make it), the extremely odd event that gave us a Moon, the dinosaur reign which did not as far as we know produce intelligent life, and a host of others, it seems to me intelligent life must be very sparse in the Universe. I saw one calculation that put a 2,500 year separation in time and a 2,500 light-year separation in space between civilizations.
2. Forget the time separation. A question I keep asking is why would a civilization voyage to the stars. Forget Avatar's ridiculous unobtainium, a civilization wealthy enough to travel to the stars doesn't need anything from another star system. Same for conquest.
True people are willing to invest considerable sums for thrills and chills but virtual reality could provide the same adrenaline rush considerably cheaper.
I would go to another star in a heartbeat but I don't know why anyone would pay for it. Perhaps that is the important factor missing from the Drake Equation: why is the profit in trnasmitting a signal or in traveling to another star?
We THINK life is easy but we do not know it. It is still scientifically possible that life occurred only once, here, because the assembly of proteins or whatever is so improbable. Hope not, but jury is out.
The problem with anyone proposing any filter solution is that it or the combination of filters needs to work 100% of the time such that we're not infested by some N sigma alien species that made it and decided to populate the galaxy.
Randall, look at the Cambrian/Pre-cambrian boundary in the geological record. You'll find not only some very interesting hydrothermal ores (the kind you can't get from asteroids) were apparently depleted prior to that boundary but that an explosion of life occurred immediately thereafter. Also, the asteroid belt is plausibly the result of an original planetoid that was split into a few pieces around that time -- and those pieces have been grinding away at each other ever since creating the present mass distribution.
That may indicate that interstellar hydrothermal ore mining life forms (who also go for nickel iron cores of planetoids for bulk metals) do, rarely spread through the galaxy -- which would create a really impressive Malthusian overshoot.
But there is another fate that may await some intelligent species as indicated by E. O. Wilson's recent book "The Social Conquest of Earth". Perhaps every now and then a sentient species realizes that eusociality isn't such a good idea after all and that it is better to uphold sex not only via female choice of mate but also via masculine choice in natural duel to the death. That would have very interesting consequences for evolution that would not only inhibit eusociality (hence war) and its ecological conquest of planets but also quite probably prevent Malthusian overshoot.
"But there is another fate that may await some intelligent species as indicated by E. O. Wilson's recent book "The Social Conquest of Earth". Perhaps every now and then a sentient species realizes that eusociality isn't such a good idea after all and that it is better to uphold sex not only via female choice of mate but also via masculine choice in natural duel to the death. That would have very interesting consequences for evolution that would not only inhibit eusociality (hence war) and its ecological conquest of planets but also quite probably prevent Malthusian overshoot."
Does this mean that species which reject eusociality would stay on their home planets?
Maybe sentient species, especially upon scientific achievement, commit mass-suicide once they realize the pointlessness of it all? A general ennui settles in, causing initially cognitive dissonance, but ultimately malaise, which can only be relieved by termination.
AB asks: "Does this mean that species which reject eusociality would stay on their home planets?"
It's really hard to even speculate on what evolutionary direction(s) would result from maintaining full individuality/sexuality in a fully sentient species. It is simply too alien to we, the products of the direction humanity has chosen since domesticating the northern Europeans during Christianization outlawed the widespread practices similar to Holmganga that prevented civilization from spreading there for millenia.
If I were going to write a science fiction novel, it would focus on the development of vertical transmission of replicators resulting from masculine territoriality preventing horizontal transmission of replicators, with the consequence being the evolution of symbiont life forms, both organic and inorganic replicators, that had relationships to humans that can only be compared to that which we have with dogs -- but probably a lot more personalized so that an individual might have an entire menagerie of symbionts develop with him/her into adulthood. Some of these symbiont life forms may evolve flight and some may evolve space flight -- in which case humans might travel in space in a manner reminiscent of the way they ride horses. The time span over which this kind of vertical transmission of replicators would result in this kind of symbiosis would, of course, be immense.
"Some of these symbiont life forms may evolve flight and some may evolve space flight -- in which case humans might travel in space in a manner reminiscent of the way they ride horses."
Would they rely completely on organic symbionts, including for travel into space? Would they not depend on technology as we know it, machines and like, in general and for space travel i.e. rockets?
When I talk about "inorganic replicators" I mean both memes and self-replicating machines. The memes would be strictly transmitted vertically -- from parent to child. Some of the memes may produce "machines" but they would be different from the machines we think of in that they would be, by cultural restriction, built entirely by the individual from materials obtained by the individual from the natural environment -- no "property rights" as we know them. The natural environment might include a lot of artifacts -- junk left over from others "doing their own thing" sort of the way beavers "doing their own thing" build damns from branches, twigs, etc. which are left over from trees "doing their own thing". Of course, there would also be the occasional "tree felling" which, in the case of acquiring artifacts of other humans, might entail simply walking off with the artifact or, if necessary, killing another human in natural duel over the artifact.
I've often had the thought that any civilization that makes a lot of noise is destroyed by "?". The smart ones are hiding.
Two American space specialists, Gordon Cooper and Dr. Edgar Mitchell, have gone on public record - repeatedly - that the American Government has regularly detected intelligently controlled extra-terrestrial craft.
That seems consistent with what we would expect given our recent data driven updates to the Drake equation.
Make of it what you will. I actually think it is bizarre that someone like Snowden gets such scrutiny when these two old school whistle-blowers have been summarily ignored by the greater public all these years - despite the fact that neither of these two NASA employees claims were ever officially denied by their former government employer.
Why does the United States run a very expensive foreign policy (especially military) with so little gain? Surely a civilization of a few billion people with living standards far above the US today and life expectancies in the thousands or tens of thousands of year could send out pods to explore other solar systems just like we send Mars rovers. Look at our Voyager probes. Given far more wealth we could send out something much faster just to do it.
Could we send something that could send a transmission back thousands of years later that we (or robots) would be able to receive?
My point is that civilizations will do things with seemingly large negative ROIs. I would expect civilizations to send out probes to watch stuff in other solar systems just for the thrill of doing it, to know that the will of the people is being expressed by space probes cruising around between stars looking for interesting things.
Yes, if we do not all become part of a Borg consciousness then various small factions within humanity could decide to send out space probes with all sorts of capabilities.
Imagine sending out space probes with microfluidic devices that, once a suitable planet is found, will build a variety of single-cell organisms (including chloroplasts) to send to the planet to start life. I mean, if you had the ability to do that you might do it just to do it.
Personally, I'm baffled by the assumption that blasting omni-drectional radio waves off the planet is something that any civilization would do for very long. I suspect that a few hundred years from now that will look very much like 18th century semaphores.
The probability for intelligent life is very poorly constrained, so any inferences that take the existence of other intelligences for granted are very, very weak. Personally I would say they are too ill-founded to count as an interesting discussion topic.
it is likely that were there such an advanced civilization we would be intellectually incapable of detecting it in the same way that flees do not detect dogs as such. For instance, it is conceivable that humans are the neurons of planet Earth, but are at the moment rather epileptic.
Further, it is likely that the pervasive solipsistic tendencies of humans acts as a physical barrier to space faring. My current understanding of population scale human behavior is similar to what one can observe by looking into the bag of a Japanese beetle trap. The lure is sex and food (check) the beetles can't resist and thus drop into the bag onto the top of the resident hapless beetles - who then spend the rest of their sorry and short lives crawling over the top of one another which are on top of the heap of already dead beetles. All are looking for a way out when there isn't one. We are not as clever as we think we are.