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Space Science

Fermi Paradox Predicting Humankind's Future? 854

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the magic-eight-ball dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The Fermi paradox says that if extraterrestrial civilizations exist, at least one of them should have colonized the entire galaxy by now. But since there is no evidence of this, humankind must be the only intelligent life in the galaxy. The Space Review has an article on how the Fermi paradox can be applied to human civilization. It says that, like the extraterrestrials, humans have three choices: colonize the galaxy, remain on Earth, or become extinct."
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Fermi Paradox Predicting Humankind's Future?

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  • More likely (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Monday February 19, 2007 @12:36PM (#18068106)
    The speed of light is a real and unbreakable rule as a result nothing more than 4 or 5 light years away is reachable.

    Sure- you *might* be able to theoretically build a ship that could go further but all politics is local. Look at our politics- could we gather the will to build a 10 trillion dollar multi-generation star ship?

    I think civ's do okay, never get off the planet the started on, and eventually die out from lack of resources, some kind of self destruction, or being wiped out by an external event.
    • Re:More likely (Score:5, Interesting)

      by peragrin (659227) on Monday February 19, 2007 @12:42PM (#18068184)
      While the speed of light may be constant it doesn't mean there aren't other ways around the problem.

      Let's figure out how first.

      Besides why would an alien race need the whole galaxy? A small section would do. Even so they could have died out millions of years ago. Or we could be the first advanced race and as we reach out amoung the stars we shall find other less advanced races.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 19, 2007 @12:46PM (#18068236)

        we could be the first advanced race and as we reach out amoung the stars we shall find other less advanced races.
        ... Lord help them
      • Re:More likely (Score:5, Insightful)

        by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy AT gmail DOT com> on Monday February 19, 2007 @12:55PM (#18068362) Journal
        Well, it's a population pressure thing. If there is no limit to your expansion, you'll expand to your limit.

        Not that I don't think Fermi is full of it. All the "There can be no intelligent life if they haven't already a) been found by us or b) taken over the galaxy, theories are pretty foolish. There could be intelligent life inside 10 light years from us, and we wouldn't know it now; hell, we could be living on a planet seeded with life by an advanced society and we wouldn't know it...Maybe the dinosaurs were killed off by an automated terraformer. =P

        Basic probability also suggests that it is extremely unlikely that we are an isolated occurrence...You'd have to buy into Creationism to think that such as we could never have happened anywhere else.
        • Re:More likely (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Cerberus7 (66071) on Monday February 19, 2007 @01:02PM (#18068466)
          Extremely unlikely also means it's possible. We might very well be the first intelligent life to emerge in this galaxy. We might be the first in the universe. Extremely unlikely doesn't mean impossible. If we are, God help the younger species; the humans are coming.
          • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 19, 2007 @02:05PM (#18069424)
            Here is why we do not see alien colonizers: Any civilization sufficiently advanced to discover Space Travel evolves its own GW Bush.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Garse Janacek (554329)

          Basic probability also suggests that it is extremely unlikely that we are an isolated occurrence...You'd have to buy into Creationism to think that such as we could never have happened anywhere else.

          Not necessarily. It might be that such as we could have happened somewhere else, but that in fact the probabilities required for intelligent life are so mind-bogglingly bad that it is only by an extremely small chance that it ever emerged anywhere for the entire life of the universe. It could be, for example,

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TomHandy (578620)
      Yeah, I think this is where I'm starting to come down on this question. I didn't realize there was a "Fermi paradox" that described this, but I used to also make a similar assumption in regards to UFOs.... that surely there would be a few intelligent species out there that would visit us).

      But it seems like it is a very real possibility that the kind of spacetravel required to visit other species might just be impossible. I don't think one could take it as proof that other intelligent life doesn't exist

      • by Smallpond (221300) on Monday February 19, 2007 @01:14PM (#18068614) Homepage Journal
        If you live in a typical suburban neighborhood, there are at least 200 houses within a 30-minute walk. How many have you visited? How many would you visit if it took the entire output of your civilization for 10 years in order to visit?

        Anyway, amongst the nearest alien species this is called the "Brakloo'tj Paradox".
    • Re:More likely (Score:5, Interesting)

      by AJWM (19027) on Monday February 19, 2007 @12:49PM (#18068274) Homepage
      The speed of light is a real and unbreakable rule as a result nothing more than 4 or 5 light years away is reachable.

      The Fermi Paradox assumes the light-speed limit.

      There are an awful lot of hidden assumptions in your bald statement that the speed of light automatically limits travel to a range of 4 or 5 ly. Why not 3, or 6, or 10? It doesn't take much to allow for hops from one star to the next, and if you've got the tech to build starships, you've got the tech to colonize a star system that doesn't have Earthlike planets. (Ie space colonies, not terraforming - although the latter may also be possible.)

      I think civ's do okay, never get off the planet the started on, and eventually die out from lack of resources,

      Quite likely a civilization that never gets off its home planet will eventually run out of resources. But there are resources aplenty for those that take that first step. That's why people talk about He3 mining, solar powersats, mining asteroids, etc. Remember O'Neill's question: "Is the surface of a planet the right place for an expanding industrial civilization?" The answer is "no".
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Maxo-Texas (864189)
        Oh for the love of god this is slashdot- nitpicking on casually slung out ideas is really stupid and pointless.

        If you want to discuss and explore my assertion then hit the meat of my point-

        Regardless of how advanced ANY civilization gets, it will be limited by POLITICS and the SPEED of LIGHT from ever colonizing outside it's native star system.

        I picked 4 or 5 LY because we have exactly one star system in that range and last I heard, it is probably not habitable.

        I was attacking two underlying assumption:
        That
      • by squiggleslash (241428) on Monday February 19, 2007 @12:58PM (#18068392) Homepage Journal

        The Fermi Paradox assumes the light-speed limit.

        If it does, I can't see how it'd ever be right, given the fact the universe is still expanding. No civilization can ever populate the entire universe with slower than light travel.

        There are an awful lot of hidden assumptions in your bald statement that the speed of light automatically limits travel to a range of 4 or 5 ly.

        Could be that more than 4-5 light years makes travel a little... hairy. I mean, people start to ...wig-out at those kinds of distances. There's a lot of distance to cover, with a lot of dangerous particles flying in the same space, so it's safe to say the further you go the more... close shaves you'll have!

        Har har har I kill myself.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Canthros (5769)

          bald[...]
          3. lacking detail; bare; plain; unadorned: a bald prose style.
          [....]

          Welcome to the Internet. Here is your dictionary. [reference.com]

          (In case the misunderstanding was intentional, I do apologize for the unnecessary pedantry.)
      • Re:More likely (Score:5, Interesting)

        by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy AT gmail DOT com> on Monday February 19, 2007 @12:59PM (#18068416) Journal
        The problem is, expansion is driven by population pressure. The kind of space travel you're theorizing wouldn't do a damn thing to relieve local population pressure, so it would be more of a sort of species level masturbation, to send out ships to make colonies that are so far away that you'd never be able to engage in any sort of trade or cultural exchange.
    • Re:More likely (Score:5, Informative)

      by aditi (707829) on Monday February 19, 2007 @01:03PM (#18068484)
      "The speed of light is a real and unbreakable rule as a result nothing more than 4 or 5 light years away is reachable."

      An insertion here about relativity: if the ship were traveling fast enough, you mightn't need several generations just for 4-5 years. Because of relativistic time dilation, the astronauts in the spaceship would feel considerably less time elapse, while the journey would seem to take decades to everyone on earth. The question then becomes whether people would be willing to spend trillions of dollars on something only their children and grandchildren would see.
      • Re:More likely (Score:5, Informative)

        by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Monday February 19, 2007 @01:14PM (#18068604)
        You are correct... some interesting comments here http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/physics/Relativity/S R/rocket.html [ucr.edu] From the article, for 1g acceleration: Distance Location On Ship Time.
        4.3 ly nearest star 3.6 years
        27 ly Vega 6.6 years
        30,000 ly Center of our galaxy 20 years
        2,000,000 ly Andromeda galaxy 28 years
        • Re:More likely (Score:4, Interesting)

          by rudy_wayne (414635) on Monday February 19, 2007 @02:20PM (#18069668)
          There's more to this problem than just the issue of time. What if intelligent life exists in another galaxy (We have now identified more than 100,000 other galaxies in the universe.)

          http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/physics/Relativity/S R/rocket.html [ucr.edu]

          According to the calculations in that article, using 1g acceleration someone from Andromeda (2 million light years) could reach us with only 28 years passing on board their ship. Sounds nice. Outside the ship, however, millions of years would have passed, which means that the visiting aliens would have had to leave their home planet before there was any human life on earth in order to arrive today.

          Also, the fuel requirement, assuming 100% efficiency, is 4000 tons of fuel for every 1 kilogram of ship weight. And that's only if the visiting aliens want to go sailing past us. If they want to stop and visit, they have to start slowing down at the half-way point of the journey, which means:

          1. They have to know exactly where they are going so that they know when to start slowing down. Coming from Andromeda, how would they even know that earth would be a desirable destination?

          2. It greatly increases the fuel requirement -- 4 thousand million tons of fuel per kilogram of ship weight.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by flyingsquid (813711)
      Sure- you *might* be able to theoretically build a ship that could go further but all politics is local. Look at our politics- could we gather the will to build a 10 trillion dollar multi-generation star ship?

      Larry Niven did a lot of hard sci-fi; that is he actually took into account things like elementary physics and economics. The book that sticks out in my mind here is "The Mote in God's Eye", where an alien civilization builds a slower-than-light probe with a light sail and launch it to a nearby star

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Paulrothrock (685079)

      The idea that you can "run out" of resources is ridiculous. Silicon, the most plentiful element in the crust of our planet, can be used to harness solar power and convert it into electricity. This electricity can be used to harvest other raw materials or recycle those that have already been utilized. It can also be used to crack water and create rocket fuel. This rocket can then be used to harvest other materials from the inner solar system.

      Through effective recycling and fusion power the solar system can

    • by quokkapox (847798) <quokkapox@gmail.com> on Monday February 19, 2007 @02:22PM (#18069690)

      I think the answer to the Fermi paradox is this:

      Once a civilization has derived the laws of physics and chemistry to sufficient precision and certainty, there is no longer any pressing need to pursue direct observation of extraterrestrial intelligence. You can simply assume that it exists, based on your local knowledge.

      We are reaching this same point with our knowledge of biology; everywhere we look on Earth, we find life. Simply confirming the existence of microbial life on Mars would make it a bit less urgent to get all the way to Europa and verify that it's there too. If we did make it to Europa to confirm that life has evolved there as well, I'd be reasonably comfortable making the prediction that life exists pretty much everywhere else in the galaxy.

      If there's no reason to doubt life elsewhere in the galaxy, there's probably intelligent life too. So why worry about going there and confirming something by direct observation, when there's a 99.999% probability that it's true? It makes more sense to stick around here for now and simulate what they're like instead of going there and seeing it directly.

      Once we have learned how to just simulate the biochemistry of Europa with high enough fidelity, there's no longer any pressing need to go there, is there? If we make it that far and our simulations and models indicate the presence of life on extrasolar planets, that's good enough for me.

      In other words, the reason the aliens haven't bothered to travel here, land, and say "take me to your leader" is because they know what would happen already. It doesn't matter what we are actually like. It doesn't matter what they're actually like either, because we can imagine them now and we will be able to simulate them soon enough.

      The reason we don't run into aliens is because we can imagine and simulate them and they can imagine and simulate us and there's no point in actually confronting each other expensively IRL.

    • Re:More likely (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Dogtanian (588974) on Monday February 19, 2007 @02:38PM (#18069922) Homepage

      The speed of light is a real and unbreakable rule as a result nothing more than 4 or 5 light years away is reachable.

      There are at least two major issues with extra-terrestrial intelligence.

      Let's assume that they evolved independently of us. It is often said that- by the sheer number of star systems- that there are likely to be a very large number of potentially life-supporting planets elsewhere in the universe. Let's assume that this is correct, and further that life may have evolved on a proportion of them.

      Thus, the reasonable conclusion is that there is life "out there". Fair enough. Now; consider the timescale of the evolution of intelligent life on Earth. Very simple bacterial/single-cell type stuff for a large portion of that time. Moderately-intelligent creatures (dinosaurs, birds, etc...) evolving at slow speed for a very long time. Then- on the cliched "24-hour-evolutionary-scale"- mankind, the only organism likely to get anywhere near space-travel- appears at "five-to-midnight".

      Furthermore, although Homo Sapiens in their modern form have been around for 200,000 years, most of the progress made towards space travel hasn't been even; it's been very skewed towards the present day. Technological sophistication has been growing ever-faster, on a pretty-much-exponential scale; how much modern technology has been developed in the past 100 years (a lot)- how fast has computer technology developed in the past *30* years (an incredible amount- by many orders of magnitude(*).

      It doesn't take a genius to see where this is going. Around 10 years ago, I figured out by myself (**) that the next 1000 (if not closer to 100) years are likely to see more significant and fundamental changes in the nature of the human race than those since the dawn of human-like-intelligence.

      My point being this:- Yes, there may be many planets/systems out there capable of evolving and supporting life, and possibly many with life as we speak. However, if we assume that the evolution of life (and technology) follows broadly the same pattern elsewhere as it does on Earth, (very slow for a very long time, then an incredibly sudden surge in intelligence/development), then...

      Unless intelligent evolution (and its inevitable offshoot, technology) has independently reached the same "explosive" stage on one of those other worlds at *exactly* at the same time it has on earth (i.e. around the present day), they'll either be way behind us (at best.. primitive man? monkeys? horses?) or so far ahead of us that it's unlikely we can even speculate on where they'll have reached.

      Remember; our recent technological evolution has been very sudden relative to the timescale of mankind's evolution. In turn, mankind's evolution has been a sudden event relative to the history of life on the planet.

      So, the chances of independently-evolved life elsewhere having reached a comparable stage to us is similar to the chances of two independently-set 24-hour clocks purely coincidentally reading the same time to within a small fraction of a second. If they're more than a few seconds behind, they're nowhere near achieving space travel.... if they're more than a few seconds ahead, they're likely gods, as far as we're likely to be able to comprehend them.

      That's assuming they haven't made a fatal mistake as they progress on their exponential evolutionary/technological curve. As with mankind, by the time they've developed space travel, it's likely that they'll be developing sciences and technologies that have the ability (if not used carefully and responsibly), to wipe them out completely. If they're anything like us, their technological evolution will not be matched by social evolution, and there will be great danger that around the time of (shortly before or after) developing space travel, that they'll put a foot wrong and wipe themselves out.

      Back to the parent comment; if the alien intelligence has survived, and is more

  • Only two choices. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AJWM (19027) on Monday February 19, 2007 @12:36PM (#18068114) Homepage
    "Remain on Earth" and "become extinct" are not distinct choices. As Heinlein and numerous others have put it, the Earth is too small and fragile a basket for humanity to keep all its eggs in.

    It's not so much a matter of "if" but of "when". Ask the dinosaurs.

    • Re:Only two choices. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by flyingsquid (813711) on Monday February 19, 2007 @12:53PM (#18068334)
      The dinosaur argument doesn't hold water. Turtles, salamanders, crocodiles and pike all survived the extinction, and none of them had, to my knowledge, any kind of a space program. What killed the dinosaurs was that they had high food requirements- being large and warm blooded- didn't have the ability to store food, and then the ecosystem collapsed. We, on the other hand, do have the ability to anticipate asteroid impacts and store food.


      The best way to survive a Chicxulub-style impact is the Dr. Strangelove model. Get an underground complex to ride out the initial fallout of red-hot debris, have a nuclear reactor for power, some parkas for ventures outside into the cold, food to survive for 10-100 years, a force to defend it from looters, and store up the machinery needed to start reestablishing an industrial civilization when things have recovered. It wouldn't even have to be a terribly large population, since you could have a bank full of ten thousand frozen embryos to maintain adequate genetic diversity.

      Concievably there are threats where a space program is the logical answer- say, the sun goes supernova- but an asteroid impact just isn't one of them.

  • by Viol8 (599362) on Monday February 19, 2007 @12:43PM (#18068212)
    Any intelligence advanced enough to reach Earth from another star system (or dimension?) would easily be able to disguise their presence so we couldn't see them but they could still study us. Just because aliens might exist doesn't mean they'd want to interact with us - thats taking a very human centred view of their motives. For all we know they could view us as barely above pond life in the scale of celestial intelligences and so interaction with us for them would be like us trying to have an interesting and meaningful conversation with an insect - a waste of time and effort.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by roman_mir (125474)
      Someone watched way too many X-Files episodes I think. The Truth Is Out There, Trust No One, Deny Everything and I Want to Believe are really great slogans, but they don't make it the case that aliens even bothered to leave their solar systems and go somewhere to give some strange creatures across the galaxy some anal probing. Of-course if anything did move us towards colonization of the Galaxy, Hot Alien Porn would be the most likely reason to do it.
  • by twifosp (532320) on Monday February 19, 2007 @12:50PM (#18068280)
    The math used in the paradox is flawed. It only contains a linear probability using only one variable: quantity. Wikipedia states that there are an estimated 250 billion visible stars in the milky way and 70 sextillion in the visible universe. What it does not take into consideration is time. For every lightyear of distance a potential life carrying solar system away from Earth is, a year is subtracted from the amount of time it took that potential system to reach space maturity.

    In other words, it has taken primates some-odd half a million years to evolve into humans capable of inventing devices that can decipher energy waves from space. It has taken the Earth some 200 million years (from early life to humans) to evolve life on this scale. Assuming other planets have roughly the same time scale, we can only assume those planets inside a 200 (give or take a 100) million lightyear radius contains no life.

    The paradox with the paradox is as follows: Earth contains intelligent life. Earth has not colonized the galaxy. Earth's evidence in space only reaches back into the 1930s when the very first signals were sent into space.

    • by mcvos (645701) on Monday February 19, 2007 @01:26PM (#18068840)

      In other words, it has taken primates some-odd half a million years to evolve into humans capable of inventing devices that can decipher energy waves from space. It has taken the Earth some 200 million years (from early life to humans) to evolve life on this scale. Assuming other planets have roughly the same time scale, we can only assume those planets inside a 200 (give or take a 100) million lightyear radius contains no life.

      You're forgetting the age of the earth and the age of the universe. The universe was already over 10 billion years old before earth came into existence. Even if every other earth-like planet really needs at least 4.5 billion years too evolve an advanced civilisation, I still don't see why such a planet couldn't have formed one or two billion years before earth has.

      The odds are really simple: if the evolution of intelligent civilisations is likely, then some of those must have a multi-million year headstart on us. Why aren't they here? The possibilities are limited:

      • Our evolution is sufficiently unlikely that we are one of the first (someone has to be, after all),
      • It's completely impossible to colonise other solar systems,
      • Advanced civilisations that are aggressive enough to colonise space are too aggressive to not wipe themselves out before they get there,
      • Somebody is protecting us/has quarantined us/is keeping us isolated for whatever reason.

      Could be there's a few other options, but basically they all boil down to: we're incredibly lucky, or we're doomed.

  • by Jerf (17166) on Monday February 19, 2007 @12:50PM (#18068286) Journal
    For what I consider a much better treatment of this topic, see: The Great Filter - Are We Almost Past It? [gmu.edu]

    This stuff is a big deal, and the Great Filter paper actually manages to draw some useful concrete conclusions from the question, or at least useful concrete questions.

    Also related, albeit a little more tangentially, is "Are You Living In A Computer Simulation? [simulation-argument.com]". "We're in a simulation and there are no extraterrestrials in the simulation" must be considered one of the leading possible answers. (I'm not advocating it either way, I don't have an answer. Nor do I consider this post anywhere near a complete list, just some relevant pointers.)
  • by radtea (464814) on Monday February 19, 2007 @12:52PM (#18068302)
    Webb's 50th solution is the one that he believes is the most likely. Unfortunately for extraterrestrial enthusiasts, the solution is depressingly pessimistic: "...the only resolution of the Fermi paradox that makes sense to me--is that we are alone." Webb's preferred solution is highly controversial, but it satisfies Ockham's razor; out of all the Fermi paradox explanations, it is the simplest one. On the other hand, the solution is only as good as the evidence it is based on. New evidence could lead to a different solution to the paradox.

    Fermi's Paradox isn't really a paradox, it's a question: "Where are they?" One possible answer is, "They don't exist." It seems probable that as we explore the galaxy we will find life everywhere, and intelligence nowhere.

    The evidence for this is very strong. For one, there is the fact that we see no evidence for them at all. For two, life on Earth shows us that the kind of intelligence that builds spacecraft is extremely unlikely to evolve.

    Evolution routinely produces some complicated solutions to common problems over and over again. The eye has (probably) evolved many, many times. Wings have certainly done so, as have fins. Everything we know about natural history on Earth tells us that evolution by variation and natural selection will produce the same solution to the same problem with very high reliability. This is even true of things like extra vertebra in the necks of some Central American lizard: there are a couple of species that have this feature, and previously they were thought to have a recent common ancestor. Gene sequencing shows this is not the case--it is merely a result of common evolutionary pressures on similar forms having similar results.

    Human intelligence, on the other hand, seems to be something of an evolutionary fluke. Our ancestors were a marginal species of mediocre tool users for hundreds of thousands of years before we suddenly started on our current course about fifty thousand years ago, with the Upper Paleolithic Revolution. If intelligence was even just ten times harder to evolve than eyes and wings, it would have occurred more than once in the entire history of the Earth.

    Until someone comes up with a compelling account as to why human-style (i.e. machine-building, empire-building, world-colonizing) intelligence should be anything other than incredibly rare, there really isn't any other reasonable answer to Fermi's Question.
    • I'd wager that one more informed than I could argue that some elephants have higher intelligence potential than some humans. Whales too, perhaps? The issue is, thier physical form doesnt allow them to -DO- anything WITH that intelligence ... we got lucky with our opposable thumbs ....
  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Monday February 19, 2007 @01:21PM (#18068762) Homepage
    Clearly, then, humankind has the right, nay the obligation to expand throughout the universe.

    We should terraform any planets that are not already Earthlike, use the energy of however many stars it takes to achieve our goals, and find some black hole into which to pitch any planets that become inconveniently polluted.

    Any semi-intelligent life we encounter along the way will obviously be inferior, since it has not colonized the universe first. If it gets in our way (or even if it doesn't) we should trample it under our jackboots, but only if necessary. Whenever possible we should altruistically force them to accept the inestimable benefits of the English language, democracy, and McDonald's hamburgers.
  • by unfortunateson (527551) on Monday February 19, 2007 @01:47PM (#18069142) Journal
    1) "Accelerando" by Charles Stross: Civs advanced enough to create computing will shortly turn all of their available power (the sun) into shells of 'computronium', each operating off the waste heat of the one inside it. With nearly infinite virtual worlds at your disposal, why go anywhere else?

    2) "Berserker" by Fred Saberhagen: There are civs out there, but they're really, really quite to avoid being noticed by fleets of robotic intelligences sworn on eliminating all biological intelligences

    3) "Quaarantine" by Greg Egan: We're cut off from the rest of the galaxy until we prove ourselves. What we're seeing of the sky is cleverly only showing what they want us to see.

    I'm a bit of a fan of the "We're living in a computer simulation" theory too: since in the future there will be enough computing power to simulate a huge number of realities, the odds are greater that this is a simulation than that it isn't. It would also explain why socks disappear from the dryer, my car keys aren't where I left them, voting irregularities, etc.: Microsoft has got its hand in the kernel somewhere.
  • A factor of time... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dpilot (134227) on Monday February 19, 2007 @02:02PM (#18069394) Homepage Journal
    We're all made partially of stars. As for original matter, there was mostly hydrogen, a little deuterium, less helium, and negligible (maybe none) amounts of the rest. For that matter, the early universe was too hot to even allow atoms or nuclei to exist, let alone heavy elements.

    All of this stuff in us, excluding the H in our H2O, came out of stars. It took several generations of stars being born and dying to get to the raw materials out there for us. I once read, though I can't quote where, that we are relatively early onto the scene, as far as this galaxy goes. Relatively may be a fuzzy term, but I would interpret it to mean that there won't be intelligent life billions of years older than us.

    Just like there's a roughly defined habitable zone around the sun, there's also likely a habitable zone in the galaxy. Too far in and the radiation is too great, too far out and there haven't been enough stellar generations, enough scattering of heavy material, to produce complex life.

    IMHO, the Drake Equation is optimistic, and doesn't properly address time.
  • by vidarh (309115) <vidar@hokstad.com> on Monday February 19, 2007 @02:21PM (#18069684) Homepage Journal
    As we can ALREADY see, some mechanism is at least in humans reducing population growth in the parts of the population that have reached a certain level of social safety: Most developed nations are seeing sub-replacement level birth rates. In countries who have not yet reached this stage, we are seeing mass deaths and low life expectancies. And it's worth noting that this is not cultural either - immigrants moving to developed countries typically adapt to the host nations birth rate patterns within 1-3 generations.

    So a simple possible answer to the Fermi paradox is that this is an inherent biological mechanism and that in any population that grows to fill its biological niche, birth rates will sooner or later drop until an equilibrium is reached, and this is likely to happen before there is significant pressure to colonize the nearby solar system or stars. While that would leave visits to other planets still reasonably likely, and perhaps even small "local" colonies, without an expanding population and diminishing resources driving prices up, pure economics would dramatically slow down the tempo of any colonization effort to what private individuals could afford and would want to try.

    Look at how long Europeans had the capability to reach America before the wave of colonization started, for example. This was a set of cultures that were aggressive and expansionist. Assume the drive to start colonization gets successively less likely as the cost of doing so goes up and the immediate benefit of doing so drops. Once it takes more than a lifetime for economic value to be derived from a colony due to travel time even at light speed, the motivation for pushing for it dramatically reduces for most individuals (look at how hard it is getting people to even sacrifice spending today vs. getting a good pension until they're getting to a certain age, not to consider getting people to sacrifice now for the benefit of their children).

    Even with dramatic population growth, a colony would either have to bring economic value (in the form of resources) OR cost little enough in terms of resources to initiate and transfer colonists to than leaving the people the colony would have been made up of in place for a long enough amount of time to make giving up those resources seem prudent. If improvements in how we exploit various resources keep improving, that in itself might put a significant damper on any colonization efforts.

    That leaves us with possibly the odd colony here and there or the odd probe. Small colonies would face high odds of dying off, and would be unlikely to be established far away - presumably nearby stars would be targeted. Unless these colonies then enter an aggressive expansionist phase, and either had the technology to pull it off (provide resources for itself) or had the fortune of finding a location that provides abundant resources, it would take a lot of time before such a colony could produce offshoots further away. Chances are they'd grow to fill their new solar system first, and run into the same hypothetical growth reductions as we're currently seeing with developed countries on earth.

    That leaves radio. Why haven't we heard radio chatter? Stephen Baxter suggested a simple solution in the novel "Space": IF there are aliens out there, we might not want to make a big fuss about our existence, and also, a civilization may simply grow past broadcasting (That book does also, btw. pose an alternative explanation for the Fermi paradox, but stating it here would be a huge spoiler - it's a good read). We might already be nearing the time where we'll "go silent", as technological advance continues. Given the number of possible stars, how short time we've been listening, and how short periods potential civilizations may broadcast, it's very possible that there just aren't enough civilizations at the right stage of development that their radio chatter happened to intersect with the time periods we are currently monitoring. We may for that

  • by boyfaceddog (788041) on Monday February 19, 2007 @02:29PM (#18069792) Journal
    1) A species capable of galactic colonization must be organized
    2) Organization requires competition. The better the competition, the better the organization
    3) Competition promotes conflict - either between species or within competing factions of a species
    4) As the ability to colonize space develops, so does the ability to destroy the whole species
    5) Since colonizing a new area is the essential goal of all species (survival requires species to spread as far as possible) reaching this "ultimate" goal will require overcoming the competition at all costs including destroying the original habitat and all members of the species.
    6) All species capable of colonizing space must enevitably destroy themselves.
    Colonization is not possible. Cooperation will NOT lead to galactic colonization as it will ony lead to cooperative use of existing resources.
    At least that's my two cents.
  • by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Monday February 19, 2007 @03:18PM (#18070592)
    What did Fermi say exactly?

    From wikipedia [wikipedia.org]. . .

    The extreme age of the universe and its vast number of stars suggest that extraterrestrial life should be common. Considering this with colleagues over lunch in 1950, the physicist Enrico Fermi is said to have asked: "Where are they?" Fermi questioned why, if a multitude of advanced extraterrestrial civilizations exist in the Milky Way galaxy, evidence such as probes, spacecraft or radio transmissions has not been found. The simple question "Where are they?" (alternatively, "Where is everybody?") is possibly apocryphal, but Fermi is widely credited with simplifying and clarifying the problem of the probability of extraterrestrial life.

    Okay then. Many people have pointed out the numerous and embarrassing flaws in this logic, but I really don't think Fermi was being stupid or ignorant at the time he posited his question. It was the 50's, after all, and people trusted their government. People did not yet grasp how the world worked with regard to government secrecy and population thought control. From our stance today, we have a great deal of available insight into this; we know about Joseph Goebbels [wikipedia.org], we know that advertising is incredibly effective, we know that the strobe effect of Television puts the human brain into a highly suggestive state [cognitiveliberty.org]. We know that what you teach kids at a young age shapes them for life. And if we dig deeper, we know that the human brain is easily manipulated in far more disgusting ways; (Greebaum) [cassiopaea.org].

    It is easy to control people's beliefs. Churches have done it for centuries. For those who reject religious dogma, the media picks up the ball; ie, replace 'religion' with 'cult of science'. Real scientists don't care about embarrassment or being laughed at; they can't afford to because at some point every new and important idea posited by a scientist is going to be ridiculed and attacked by the layperson. So those who fear to talk about UFO's in an open manner, without any trace of fear or bias or mocking doubt in their tones, are not really scientists. They are just another brand of dogmatist.

    As I've said, it is easy to control people's beliefs, --and by extension, their perceived realities.

    So continuing Fermi's logic. . , If logic implies that the Milky Way is teeming with life, then perhaps it IS, and perhaps there is another reason we have not heard from that life.

    Consider: There are UFO's constantly buzzing our skies. We have seen hundreds and hundreds of crop circles. We have countless reports from people who claim abduction experiences.

    How can any rational person live in the same world as all of this and insist that there is no evidence? That's kind of strange. Crop circles are the perfect example; they are there in a manner which is available to anybody, (One recalls the old complaint of the sceptic, "I'll believe it when there is some evidence layed at my feet!"), they cannot be rationalized away; (the Ropes and Planks explanation falls hopelessly short when you get close enough to actually look at the details of the problem.) And yet, the world carries on as though nothing were happening.

    It reminds me of a Douglas Adams creation; a system of invisibility where rather than bend light, you bend minds. --So that people ignore like crazy that which is right in front of them.

    Aliens are already here, and they have been for centuries. The logic, if expanded to include this, might want to ask this little question...

    How much effort do humans make to communicate with the cattle they raise? (As above, so below.)

    Well, we've got the crop circle side of the equation. But we also have the abduction side. There are two different approaches to anyt

  • by Master of Transhuman (597628) on Monday February 19, 2007 @03:48PM (#18071018) Homepage
    Chimpanzees imagining what a higher intelligence would do.

    It's laughable.

    First of all, "civilization" is a meaningless term derived strictly from human behavior. It might be possible to imagine a collection of technologically advanced entities who do not exist in anything we would term a "civilization" or "society". In fact, I suspect truly advanced entities do not operate in "societies" at all, but are more like the fictional representation of "dragons" in fantasy literature - more or less independent entities who only interact with others of their kind for specific reasons.

    Second, "colonization" might be utterly irrelevant to an advanced intelligence for any number of reasons, especially reasons we haven't thought of based on the nature of that intelligence.

    Third, the concepts require the notion of biological reproduction. What about a sentient entity which is not based on biology? Such an entity has no need to reproduce. While it can and may reproduce, there is no evidence that it or any particular population of it would see any need to reproduce to the level of "colonization" or even "civilization" in the human sense.

    If my prediction is correct that a Transhuman requires nothing but energy, materials, nanomass, computing power and knowledgebases to exist, what need does a Transhuman have to reproduce or "colonize"?

    All the Fermi Paradox demonstrates is the lack of imagination on the part of so-called "scientists".

It is much easier to suggest solutions when you know nothing about the problem.

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