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Space Science

Why Life On Mars May Foretell Our Doom 431

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the doesn't-everything-foretell-our-doom-these-days dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Nick Bostrom has an interesting interpretation on why the failure of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) for the past half-century is good news and why the discovery of life on Mars could foretell our doom. Bostrom postulates a 'Great Filter,' which can be thought of as a probability barrier and consists of one or more evolutionary transitions or steps that must be traversed at great odds in order for an Earth-like planet to produce a civilization capable of exploring distant solar systems."
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Why Life On Mars May Foretell Our Doom

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  • by huckamania (533052) on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @05:52PM (#23256884) Journal
    That would be a major headline. Even when hints of life on Mars are announced there is a story.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Forge (2456)
      There was life on Mars and there will be again. It's just a little dormant right now.

      As for the doom foretold by finding any or by the success of SETI? Come on. The aliens are already here.

      The problem is that they have surrounded Earth with the cosmic equivalent of yellow tape. Hence the strange activities of those aliens which have been spotted.

      Some of them are CSI detectives trying to figure out what's wrong with the lifeforms on this planet. The rest are teenagers sneaking across the line on a dare to m
  • by jmorris42 (1458) * <jmorris.beau@org> on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @05:57PM (#23256934)
    The guy dismisses the possibility that most civilizations evolve in some direction other than midlessly colonizing every star they can reach.

    After all our own civilization has pretty much lost interest in anything beyond putting up more geostationary TV transmitters.

    What if most evolve beyond physical forms? What if most lose themselves in virtual realities. What if many simply don't bother leaving their own solar system because the speed of light proves to be unbreakable and they aren't interested in planting colonies that will have little or no contact or impact on their own civilization?

    Or what if we just got lucky and got a galaxy to ourselves?
    • by eln (21727) on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @06:11PM (#23257084) Homepage
      He presupposes a lot of things that aren't necessarily true, or are pretty improbable.

      For example, the whole article (what I read of it before my eyes glazed over and I passed out) seems to revolve around this whole idea of the existence of a "Great Filter" event that makes technologically advanced species highly unlikely. He bases this on the statistical probabilities of such a species existing but not contacting us, but offers no really convincing arguments that such a filter event must exist.

      However, I would argue that with the number of planets out there (many millions probably, since we've managed to find some around lots of stars, and we can't even detect the Earth-sized ones yet) and the vast distances involved, the chances of some interstellar-traveling species coming upon our particular little planet is pretty slim, no matter what sci-fi would have you believe. If the civilization lives, say, 200 million light years away, it could have been making a beeline for us since the beginning of mankind and still not be anywhere near reaching us.

      Much of our fantasizing about extraterrestrial life has assumed that there is some way to travel faster than light and we just haven't discovered it yet. However, what if there really isn't? What if physics simply won't allow faster than light travel? In that case, unless the advanced civilization was extraordinarily close to us, it's virtually impossible for them to have encountered us by now, even if they had been out landing on other planets for thousands or millions of years.

      My theory (hypothesis really, since it's not particularly testable) is that it's impossible to know or even meaningfully speculate on the existence of extraterrestrial life given the limits of our current knowledge of the Universe. We are a flea on an elephant's back trying to understand the entirety of the elephant using nothing but a magnifying glass. It's probably impossible to really get the whole picture, and even if it isn't it will take a really long time.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by OldSoldier (168889)

        If the civilization lives, say, 200 million light years away, it could have been making a beeline for us since the beginning of mankind and still not be anywhere near reaching us.

        Most of TFA surrounded life in our galaxy. 200 million light years away is VASTLY bigger than our galaxy. It is a region of space that contains perhaps 1000 galaxies. Our galaxy, in contrast is about 100,000 light years wide.

        On the other hand I do disagree with TFA that intergalactic colonization will ever be possible, essentially for the argument you may have inadvertently expressed above. Intergalactically the distances are too vast. But galactically not so much on the time scales he's talking about.

      • Of course, 200 million light years would be out of the local group of galaxies.
      • by Sylver Dragon (445237) on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @08:40PM (#23258550) Journal
        For example, the whole article (what I read of it before my eyes glazed over and I passed out) seems to revolve around this whole idea of the existence of a "Great Filter" event that makes technologically advanced species highly unlikely. He bases this on the statistical probabilities of such a species existing but not contacting us, but offers no really convincing arguments that such a filter event must exist.

        The reason for the assumption of a Great Filter comes out of the Fermi Paradox. If you start by looking at the Drake Equation and the assumption that Earth like planets with intelligent civilizations are not that uncommon, you very quickly come to the conclusion that there should be a whole lot of intelligent species in just our own galaxy. Further, since there are billions of stars which existed well before our own (talking billions of years before) one would expect that there should be at least a few advanced civilizations which have had time to colonize our galaxy. Even with slow generation ships this should only take on the order of a couple hundred million years. If they only started out while our planet was cooling, they should have found us by now, known that this planet was going to be Earth-like and setup shop back when they could go hunting Dinosaurs.

        So, where the hell are they?

        However, I would argue that with the number of planets out there (many millions probably, since we've managed to find some around lots of stars, and we can't even detect the Earth-sized ones yet) and the vast distances involved, the chances of some interstellar-traveling species coming upon our particular little planet is pretty slim, no matter what sci-fi would have you believe.

        Much of our fantasizing about extraterrestrial life has assumed that there is some way to travel faster than light and we just haven't discovered it yet. However, what if there really isn't? What if physics simply won't allow faster than light travel? In that case, unless the advanced civilization was extraordinarily close to us, it's virtually impossible for them to have encountered us by now, even if they had been out landing on other planets for thousands or millions of years.


        Yes, but in the amount of time in which the Milky Way is known to have existed; and assuming that space faring civilizations are not ridiculously uncommon; they've had plenty of time to map this galaxy.

        The oldest known star in our galaxy is about 13 billion years old, so the galaxy is at least that old, if not close to the actual age of the Universe itself (current estimates put it around 13.7 billion years). So, let's try to make some reasonable assumptions. For example, let us assume that it took our galaxy half of it's life to produce the first space faring civilization which felt the need to expand. If we call the formation of the galaxy year 0 and go forward, this civilization would have set out to colonize the universe at year 6.5 billion. Our very own solar system was still about 1.96 billion years from forming. At about 250 billion stars in our galaxy, it means that they would have needed to map an average of 128 stars a year to know about the Earth when it was forming. And then they had another 4 billion plus years before humans decided to show up, reducing the mapping load to 42 stars a year on average. And they probably wouldn't need to visit every star. Even with the technology we have now, we can get a good idea of what a star is like and know where it is. Our ability to detect exoplanets is getting better and better; it is quite possible that we will reach a point where we can detect Earth-like planets without the need to go there. So the mapping need would really amount to only visiting stars with likely planets. The problem is that, they should have had billions of years to be finding planets, not just the paltry millions you are giving them.

        So again, where the hell are they?

        There are only a few possible logical conclusions:
        A) They're hiding - For whatev
        • by LurkerXXX (667952) on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @09:31PM (#23258926)
          You are still making a lot of assumptions in your theory.

          1) What if they already mapped our solar system a billion years ago, and it just wasn't to their taste. You assume there is something great about our solar system that they'd want to hang around. What if they like 7G's of gravity with a methane atmosphere and liquid water surface? We don't might not have any planets that are to their particular taste, so they moved on from this wasteland of a solar system.

          2) What if they mapped it out, but it wasn't quite right then? Maybe they dropped off seeds to kick off life on earth. Maybe they started some 'terraforming' on some planet, say Mars, that has changed it's atmosphere, but they just haven't come back yet to move in to the changed digs?

          3) Maybe it takes a hell of a lot of resources to make a generation ship needed for travel, and they take much longer to produce than you think, or aren't made at a lot of the 'destination' planets because it would use too much resources. In any case, exploration may take a lot longer than you think it should for them.

          4) We've likely only been 'advanced' enough to be interesting to talk to (if we actually are yet) for maybe a few thousand years. That's a tiny, tiny, tiny amount of time on the galactic scale. If their nearest inhabited planet is a few hundred light years away, why would they waste resources sending a ship to say hi to some funny looking monkeys?
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by capologist (310783)

            1) What if they already mapped our solar system a billion years ago, and it just wasn't to their taste. You assume there is something great about our solar system that they'd want to hang around. What if they like 7G's of gravity with a methane atmosphere and liquid water surface? We don't might not have any planets that are to their particular taste, so they moved on from this wasteland of a solar system.

            Sure, that might explain why a particular spacefaring civilization hasn't shown up in our neighborhood.

            But the question we have to ask isn't "Why hasn't spacefaring civilization X set up shop in our neighborhood?"

            The question is "Why is it that, out of the hundreds of billions of solar systems that exist or have existed since the beginning of the Milky Way, not a single one has produced a spacefaring civilization with a detectable presence in our corner of the galaxy?" Are all spacefaring civilizations in

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by fractoid (1076465)

            1) What if they already mapped our solar system a billion years ago...

            This is my main sticking point here. Surely a civilisation advanced enough to travel interstellar distances would be advanced enough to scan a planet from orbit rather than requiring a landing party? Human history is so incredibly short compared to the timespans we're talking here that even if an alien species DID land on Earth sometime more than, say, 5000 years ago, we'd probably never know unless they left empty Alpha-Zorp-Cola cans everywhere when they left. And if they simply orbited once or twice, sa

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Jason Levine (196982)

        What if physics simply won't allow faster than light travel?

        From my days as a physics major (before I hit the brick wall of Quantum Mechanics), I remember that the problem isn't going faster than the speed of light. You can do that. You just can't speed up from sub-light speeds, pass the speed of light, and then go faster than light. You could start out faster than light, but then you would be unable to slow down to sub-light speeds again.

        As far as the chances of there being intelligent life out there ve

    • by khasim (1285)
      So if we find trilobites on Mars ... Mankind is doomed.

      Because the trilobites couldn't find a way to get to the sweet Earth oceans before Mars dried up on them. And, therefore, there is a "Great Filter" that prevents us from colonizing the galaxy.

      WTF ?!?

      The "Great Filter" is DISTANCE. It takes a LONG TIME and a LOT OF ENERGY to travel from one solar system to the next. Extrapolating our demise from the failure of a bunch of imaginary trilobites' space program is ... beyond stupid.

      The galaxy is HUGE. Even if
      • by vertinox (846076)
        Because the trilobites couldn't find a way to get to the sweet Earth oceans before Mars dried up on them. And, therefore, there is a "Great Filter" that prevents us from colonizing the galaxy.

        "The dinosaurs became extinct because they didn't have a space program." -Larry Niven

        Also... The Galaxy is 100,000 light years across.

        So if a civilization is able to travel at 1/10th the speed of light, they can get to one side of the other in a million years. Sounds like a long time, but cosmologically a million years
        • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @06:37PM (#23257346)
          Suppose we find trilobite skeletons on Mars ... and the next day an alien ship enters our system. In his work, those two are contradictory events. They cannot happen in the same universe. But there are all kinds of ways they COULD happen.

          So his theory is flawed.

          Now, whether a million years is significant or not ...

          It is not in the entire history of Life.

          It is VERY significant in the history of any single species.

          You assume that such civilization would instantly launch a ship to each and every star and that none of those ships would have problems in the million year long flight. Although many ships would have to cross our galactic core.

          Rather, a civilization would colonize the area around it ... develop that area ... and then move out from that fringe in X years. So you would have a new fringe area every X years. And X would (given human life spans) be a few thousand years. Just long enough to get the colony's population up to where it could build a space program of its own.
          • by ArcherB (796902)

            Suppose we find trilobite skeletons on Mars ... and the next day an alien ship enters our system. In his work, those two are contradictory events. They cannot happen in the same universe. But there are all kinds of ways they COULD happen.
            Actually, if we find trilobite skeletons on mars, that would mean to those poor little trilobites that an alien ship (ours) just entered their system and has already negated his theory.
          • by terjeber (856226)

            Now, whether a million years is significant or not ...

            ... It is VERY significant in the history of any single species.

            That's an absurd statement. It depends on how long that species has existed. A specie could, for example have reached space-colonization state for, lets say 100 million years ago. They go ahead and start colonizing. Let's say it takes them about 1000 years to travel and settle (that is a long time) and for the new colony to start colonizing. Assume that the mother planet and all colonies start 10 colonization expeditions every 1000 years. After 100 million years (today) they would have colonized the vast

          • Suppose we find trilobite skeletons on Mars ... and the next day an alien ship enters our system. In his work, those two are contradictory events. They cannot happen in the same universe. But there are all kinds of ways they COULD happen.

            Not really, it just means that they have been hiding from us this whole time, and life is common. He accepts that whatever aliens exist could be hoodwinking us, but it's not worth considering. If they are, they are doing a damn good job of it and we aren't likely to fi
            • Consider the US, the European colonies didn't have to start over again and build up from the stone age.

              That is correct. But when you're talking inter-stellar distances, it is meaningless.

              Our previous colonies could look forward to resupplies within a couple of years (at the most). A colony in another solar system ... your great-great-grandkids MIGHT see the resupply ship. You are on your own.

              And THAT is even considering that you're on an Earth-clone planet. If you're on a space station (the way I believe it

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by mbone (558574)

          So if you simply planet hopped to all planets closet to your planet and then colonized and then repeated the process you could colonize the galaxy a lot faster than it took for evolution to go from single cell creatures to mammals... Heck... You could do it before amphibian and dinosaurs show up.

          There is a third possible answer - that the ecological niches in the galaxy tend to be already filled with entities that are hostile to such exponential growth. (As, indeed, are the ecological niches on Earth.) That suggests that the Great Silence may be a defensive mechanism, which would have very worrying implications for us, as we sit here broadcasting away the fact of our existence.

        • by peragrin (659227)
          Actually I can shave about 250,000 years off of that. I think it takes the galaxy two million years to complete on revolution. So proper planning means you can literally have the galaxy meet you part way.
      • Other species have had an incredibly long time to colonize the galaxy, if they're out there. On the order of billions of years. Von Neumann machines, generation ships or just giant sperm banks in the sky should have gotten here by now.
      • He's got Sagan-itis, the irrational fear that because he failed to get ET to call us, every civilization is doomed. Actually it wouldn't surprise me to learn that manned spaceflight is basically impractical. So far we've gotten to our moon, but we haven't been there long enough to live through one magnetosphere passage, let's talk about lunar colonies after we're sure one day doesn't include an ant-bully with a magnifying glass frying us. Next on the agenda is Mars, yet the radiation doses in the six month

    • by vertinox (846076)
      The guy dismisses the possibility that most civilizations evolve in some direction other than midlessly colonizing every star they can reach.

      If we take the view that intelligent life has the same rules of evolution then one is eventually bound to evolve like a bacteria and spread to every planet possible. Even if there are millions of intelligent civilizations in the universe quite content to never leave their solar system, all it takes one species hellbent on galactic colonization before they are on every
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Jordan ez (1270898)
      Those are all 'bad filters' as Bostrom would say. Some civilizations may opt to stay in their home system, but it only takes a single civilization to colonize the galaxy, and really, it only takes a single person from a single civilization. I'll be the first to say, if we are all alone in the galaxy and mankind colonizes the solar system but is too lazy too go forward: screw you all, the galaxy is mine.
    • ascended Ancients have rules that say they can't contact the rest of us.
    • by cplusplus (782679) on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @07:18PM (#23257844) Journal

      After all our own civilization has pretty much lost interest in anything beyond putting up more geostationary TV transmitters.
      Only because it's outrageously expensive and really really hard to keep people alive in space. If space travel were as cheap and easy as a walk in the park, we'd be EVERYWHERE.
    • You can't evolve beyond a physical form. That's an oxymoron. I wish people wouldn't believe the kind of semi-religious crap about ascension spouted on certain low brow yet enjoyable sci-fi shows.

      Evolution describes the mechanism that underlies the observed differences in physical form between related animals or plants. There is simply no "exit" from the physical form predicted by evolutionary theory, that would be like asking if some players in a basket ball game might swim to the basket.

      • by jmorris42 (1458) *
        > You can't evolve beyond a physical form.

        Sigh. Stop worshiping at the altar of Darwin for a few minutes. Evolution only holds when discussing the development of life in the ABSENCE OF INTELLIGENT DIRECTION. Once H. Sapiens crossed the line into sentience Darwin went right the hell out of the window because whether or not "Intelligent Design" is part of our past doesn't matter because it IS our future.

        We already live in a world where most of the organisms we see are the products of design... genetic e
        • Yes, yes, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster will touch us all with its soft, warm tomato sauce.

          Sorry, I can't quite figure out if you're just making fun, or actually believe that last stuff you wrote.

        • While I agree with most of what you say this line is obviously false:

          We already live in a world where most of the organisms we see are the products of design ... genetic engineered by US to serve OUR needs

          While our presence has undoubtedly impacted on nearly every creature on earth one way or another, this does not make them designed by us. One could say that creatures have co-evolved with us, and some creatures (especially farm related things) have been artificially selected by us, but its been only very recently that we have begun to play with proper genetic engineering (i.e. proper design).

          For one I hope that we do change our own na

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      After all our own civilization has pretty much lost interest in anything beyond putting up more geostationary TV transmitters.

      I'm not saying that, say, NASA has our best interests in mind, but if you can develop the space elevator in a close time scale, then it makes sense to put all available and useful effort into that right now, because it trumps pretty much every non-imaginary means of getting to orbit.

    • That's unpossible (Score:3, Informative)

      by MisterSquid (231834)

      What if most evolve beyond physical forms?

      There is no such thing as "beyond physical." Everything we know of has a basis in physical reality. Even ideas. Unless you're positing some kind of transcendental disembodied magic, everything has a physical existence.

    • by terjeber (856226)

      The guy dismisses the possibility that most civilizations evolve in some direction other than midlessly colonizing every star they can reach.

      Actually, that wouldn't be mindless at all, and any intelligent species will try to colonize space eventually. They have no choice. Anything else would be suicidal.

      Where the article goes wrong is where it assumes that there is some trait we can evolve towards that is the "Great Filter", and that therefore, the Great Filter for life on Mars is in any way relevant for Earth. That is an absurd idea.

      The Filter will vary from planet to planet and from species to species. On Mars it was probably (if there w

    • by FleaPlus (6935)
      Heh, this is Nick Bostrom [wikipedia.org] we're talking about, co-founder of the World Transhumanist Association. I think it's safe to assume he isn't ignoring the possibility of the Singularity -- in fact, he was an invited speaker at the Singularity Summit [stanford.edu].
    • What if most evolve beyond physical forms? What if most lose themselves in virtual realities.

      A civilization losing itself in virtual realities ala Matrix would be an instance of a "great filter" the author is talking about. But you make a good point about the speed of light being unbreakable after all. That would certainly dampen interest in inter-stellar exploration.

      I suspect that any future FTL travel will be in the form of "stargates" constructed via sub-light automatic probes. That scenario makes the "they are there but not contacting us" option much more likely. A stargate could be sittin

    • Vernor Vinge spoke at my company once and talked about ways the Singularity might not happen. For example, what if we never figure out how to create massive software that actually works?

      The most interesting scenario he pointed out is one in which exponential technological progress is a temporary phase, like a 13-year-old's growth spurt, and the curve of development goes S-shaped and reaches a high but stationary plateau.

      Vinge pointed out a book called "The Coming of the Golden Age -- a View of the End of Pr
  • For those of you who didn't want to read through six pages of thick words: the author is basically expanding the Drake equation to possibly include something past our current tech level. The idea is, if the really unlikely thing for life to survive is something we already passed (such as, life instantiating in the first place) then we have nothing to fear. But if it's something that happens once life already exists on a planet (very likely if another planet in our very solar system once held life) then we m
    • Re:R'd T F A (Score:4, Insightful)

      by defile39 (592628) on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @06:04PM (#23257010)
      But he doesn't really address the possibility that there will be sufficient advanced life to "deal with" the advanced life trying to bring havoc to innocent blue-green balls. If you do expand the Drake equation thusly, you must also account for advanced civilizations interacting with advanced civilizations. What is the probability of an intergalactic ethic forming versus an intergalactic ethic not forming? Frankly, based on the fact that developing technology to the point of intergalactic travel requires social stability on your home world, I would think the balance favors HAVING an intergalactic ethic.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        I would think the balance favors HAVING an intergalactic ethic.

        No doubt. Of course, there's nothing about the concept of "ethic" that implies "We'll let you live out your pathetic lives peacefully on your planet, instead of building an Interstellar Bypass through it."

        Remember, the Azteca had Ethics too.

        "ethic" != "nice"

    • by jmorris42 (1458) *
      > the author is basically expanding the Drake equation to possibly
      > include something past our current tech level..

      Except most instances of the Drake Equation I have seen ialready included the possibility of blowing up.

      About the only real insight this guy has is instead of pondering the implications of the Drake Equation regarding little green men he is asking what the implications of the size of the various improbabilities might mean for US.

      But like all attempts to make sense of the Drake Equation it
    • One would think that there might be a number of barriers. Once life becomes wide spread, the next barrier could be when intelligent life becomes wide spread, in which case we are safe for a while yet. On the other hand, it could be when a dominant species fails to develop intelligence and destroys its environment instead.
    • by Toonol (1057698)
      Thanks for the excellent summary. It's a pretty straightforward idea, but I think a lot of poster here are misunderstanding it.

      Another possibility that your wording excluded (perhaps inadvertently) is that the filter might be between the origin of life and the origin of intelligent life... or multicellular life. Either of those steps might be very unlikely; we don't really have any way of knowing. Perhaps the galaxy is teeming with the equivalent of blue-green algae.
    • Judging by how hard it was to load the article, I believe this guy's web server barely managed to get through its own "great filter."
  • Advanced Aliens, having evolved separately from us have a different means of perceiving the Universe. Their senses are not our senses. SETI is searching a very narrow range of frequencies, so it could be that the Aliens are simply broadcasting on one we aren't even aware of. That plus everyone knows that the first step towards extrasolar excursions is manifest psychic abilities;-)
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by RatBastard (949)
      There aren't that many ways to perceive the world around you. There are a limited number of information vectors out there.

      And SETI is searching a narrow range because the frequencies outside that range get garbled in the interstellar noise.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ChronoReverse (858838)
      That would imply a entire universe subset that isn't available to our senses nor even hinted on the possibility of how we could even potentially sense.

      If true, then they wouldn't matter since we wouldn't be able to interact anyway.
  • Fermi Paradox (Score:4, Informative)

    by kingmundi (54911) on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @06:05PM (#23257012)
    In a way, he is just restating the Fermi Paradox
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fermi_paradox [wikipedia.org]

    The Fermi paradox is the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and the lack of evidence for, or contact with, such civilizations.
    • by JordanL (886154)
      There are only two solutions to the Fermi Paradox:

      1. Our estimates are off because we are opperating with faulty data.
      2. Life evolves into intelligent life nearly 100% of the time, and nearly 100% of intelligent life actively disguises itself from detection.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by amohat (88362)
        Or, duh, life-bearing planets are so few and far apart that our primitive tech hasn't noticed anything in the last, oh, moments of time humanity has existed.

        Sometimes I'm glad we haven't found anything. How embarrassing it would be, like having guests show up during a ugly fight with your spouse. (hehe, that episode of Office was painful!)

        I'm not sure we deserve to meet an advanced alien race. Humans pretty much suck, we'd prolly figure out a way to try to war with them anyway.
      • by vertinox (846076)
        2. Life evolves into intelligent life nearly 100% of the time, and nearly 100% of intelligent life actively disguises itself from detection.

        Did the Conquistadors show up pretending to Aztecs?

        If the Aliens are there and undetected they are quiet cruel for letter us suffer with our ignorance with death and disease. At least the conquistadors thought they were doing the Aztecs a favor by giving them Christianity albeit small pox.

        If there are Aliens out there they obviously don't care about other sentient life
        • by RatBastard (949)
          You assume that they can cure diseases of an alien species and / or that they have conquered death. Why would either of these be true?

          Why do people have this need to elevate aliens to near godlike status.
      • What if the Fermi Paradox is broken?

        What if "they" do come here? What if there are lots of sightings? What if people who report sightings are dismissed as lunatics?

      • Given that intelligence makes one a useful slave to others more powerful, it is arguably a good idea to hide one's species' intelligence from the attention of unknown aliens with unknown quantities of firepower.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by moosesocks (264553)
        The other alternative is that we simply haven't waited long enough. Relativity can be a bitch.

        The universe is estimated to be at least 93 billion light years across.

        Assuming that special relativity* is mostly correct, if a civilization evolves at the opposite end of the universe, it will take us at least 93 billion years to find out.

        *Special relativity: Nothing travels faster than light in a vacuum. No exceptions.

        As a point of comparison, the Earth is about 3.9 billion years old, with the oldest meteorite
  • by geekoid (135745)
    It was a good place to avoid environmental laws while the try to do multidimensional work.
    Real shame about the 'flaming skulls' incident..real shame.
  • Because he's afraid of the egg-istential risks!
  • In an article in SEED magazine, Geoffrey Miller suggests that technological civilizations lose ambition toward real achievement once they start playing computer games. [seedmagazine.com]

    Cripes, I known fellers like that.
    • by drinkypoo (153816)
      If nothing else, we'll explore the galaxy in search of new plot lines... you know, kind of like Berman and Braga.
  • What if most life gets snuffed by cosmic events like gamma ray bursts?

    The Earth isn't going to be habitable for much longer. Solar output increases with the age of the Sun, which will eventually tip the Earth into thermal runaway.

  • ... is that they're alien. Such is the phrase often mentioned by Benford, Niven and others. They're more acutely aware, as those who by trade imagine what aliens might be like, than are those such a SETI scientists. The latter keep themselves boxed in with the idea that what they're looking for will look enough like what they're used to, and so engage in scientific human-chauvinism. The error here is that there are so many others forms that life, and even intelligent life, may take that we wouldn't be able
    • by blueg3 (192743)
      As mentioned elsewhere, the hydrogen frequency is chosen because other frequencies are too noisy for long-distance communication. Whether aliens knew that or not, long-distance signals from them wouldn't get to us on other frequencies very well.

      As far as mode of communication, SETI is blind to that -- it's independent of *how* such communication is done, only that the aliens are sending some kind of EM energy at that frequency. (It is again by necessity that they look for signals above the background level.
  • I read the article last night and posted a comment about this line on my blog [geofffox.com]:

    "Cosmological theory implies that because the universe is expanding, any living creatures outside the observable universe are and will forever remain causally disconnected from us: they can never visit us, communicate with us, or be seen by us or our descendants."

    In other words, even if the universe is infinite, it is finite to us! And, it must always be finite. Period. End of story. I'd never heard that expressed before. It

    • by mbone (558574)
      Yes, I know, 15 billion light years is so limiting. I feel cramped just thinking about it.
  • This is Nick Bostrom, the fellow who last tickled our fancy (ahem) with the notion that it is far more likely that we are currently living in a computer simulation of the present than actually living in the time being simulated.

    He seems here to be pulling the same kind of statistical trick as he did in the simulation argument: estimating the probability of what is in our experience a necessarily singular event by considering many thousands or millions of like events. This is anti-scientific in the highest
  • I think he glosses over the possibility that the great filter lies between the origin of life and our current state. Thus the closer any life we find on Mars to our own, the worse for us. But I have my own doomsday power hypothesis.

    I think there is a final great filter, and that it is ahead of us. Technology increases power, and people use power. Ultimately it is likely that the power to destroy all life on earth, or at least all intelligent life, will exist, and someone will use that power. Will we leave e
  • Rubbish! It's The Coming of the Great White Handkerchief [wikipedia.org] that will prevent further space exploration.
  • The author's entire argument is based on the dubious leap: since we haven't observed any advanced civilization that they don't exist and that they are not here. How does he know our present science, theory or experiment, is sufficient for such observation? Can bacteria understand what Slashdot is? There could far greater gap than that between our present knowledge and a civilization which is few billion years ahead of us.

    Consider, for example that in our present physics the low edge of space-time scale is a

  • by mbone (558574) on Wednesday April 30, 2008 @06:56PM (#23257588)
    Mars is too close to us to say much about exobiology IMHO. The Earth and Mars have been exchanging tons of biologically active material for their entire existence (large meteor strikes cause material to be ejected to escape velocity, and some small fraction of that will be treated gently enough not to kill any bacteria).

    So, there is is likely to be life on Mars, and it is likely to be pretty similar to some life on Earth, proving nothing on the big question of where is everybody.
  • Wait, so the headline isn't a crafty way of referring to a new DOOM game? Color me disappointed.
  • I don't think its unexpected, but I think its an unsafe assumption we tend to make when talking about life elsewhere in the universe that the development of social intelligence is really an evolutionary advantage. To the best of our knowledge its only happened a few times on Earth. It didn't help species like the Neanderthal, and our genes tell us we almost went extint at least once. There's substantial evidence that the sequence of events that lead to us becoming socially intelligent is uncommon -- us and
  • There's another reason we don't see extra-terrestrial civilizations: time and distance.

    As the article notes, we can't actually see extra-terrestrial planets. All our looking for ET civilizations is done by watching for indirect signs of them passing Earth, primarily radio waves. Here on Earth, though, it's only been in the last 2 centuries that we've been putting out any radio signature at all, and we're rapidly moving towards putting out less and less of a signature. Communications systems that broadcast

  • There are so many holes in this guy's argument, I'm not really sure where to begin....

    Let's start here: "The oldest confirmed microfossils date from approximately 3.5 billion years ago, and there is tentative evidence that life might have existed a few hundred million years before that; but there is no evidence of life before 3.8 billion years ago."

    Life began on Earth not too long (in geological terms) after the conditions for supporting life as we know it were available. The Earth is thought to be roughly
  • The author glosses over the following point: We have no way to prove or disprove the idea that an intelligent non-human species would think in terms that would make technology or communication possible in the first place.

    Just as we only have one example of a life-supporting planet, we only have one example of an intelligent species. There is a tacit assumption in science fiction that other species would stumble onto language, mathematics, and advanced technology, even if their brains were organized in a m
  • Site was starting to puke on me. Full text.

    Technology Review - Published by MITMay/June 2008
    Where Are They?
    Why I hope the search for extraterrestrial life finds nothing.
    By Nick Bostrom
    People got very excited in 2004 when NASA's rover Opportunity discovered evidence that Mars had once been wet. Where there is water, there may be life. After more than 40 years of human exploration, culminating in the ongoing Mars Exploration Rover mission, scientists are planning still more missions to study the plane
  • That wasn't Life on Mars. That was the season 3 finale of Doctor Who. I see how you could get confused since John Simm was in both but that was definitely Doctor Who. And if you bothered to watch the whole thing you'd see that the doom was averted and even retconned.
  • As we have seen through our own history and present, when civilizations interact, it is often hostile and violent. It would only take one aggressive, space-faring, xenophobic race to send the rest into hiding.

    With two such crazies, even the aggressors would hide lest they meet their doom in a kinetic fireball. Planets and space habitats are just too easy a target.

    This fits with UFO observations too. We see their ships, but not their home worlds. Ships are mobile and hyperspace travel may be untraceable. Additionally, why would they communicate with us when we're broadcasting everything into space? That's crazy talk. It's only a matter of time before the Zurgs find us, drop some comets in our oceans and turn Earth into an algae farm or just bust it up and leave us for dead.

    Hell, it may have happened before. We have an asteroid belt that some propose was formerly a planet. Our Moon was supposedly formed through some sort of cataclysmic collision between Earth and some other large planetoid.

    We need ships. Lots of them. We're sitting ducks out here.
  • As Rob Malda once put it, in our world the extremes of whatever prediction (be it in Microsoft's or Apple's PR output or a Humanities Professor having a go with statitics) is seldom the true outcome. Much more often, as Rob would put it, "it's somewhere in between".

    Translated to the possibility of intelligent civilisations in our universe (or galaxy) the most probable likleyhood is that there is neither an all encompassing galactic civilisation nor is there an utter dearth of intelligent civilisations. Ther
  • by The Famous Druid (89404) on Thursday May 01, 2008 @04:52AM (#23260926)
    The author doesn't consider the possibility that interstellar travel is prohibitively difficult.

    It may be, for example, that a minimal interstellar expedition costs 20 years production of the entire civilization.
    That's a lot of effort to put into finding out that the neighboring star system consists of dead rocks, and even if we're lucky and find a habitable planet, it's our great-to-the-nth grandchildren who will reap the benefit.

    Can you really see any human civilization taking such an enormous gamble? What politician is going to tell the people "You'll have to pay 20% more tax for the next 100 years, because I want to send a probe to Alpha Centauri, which is probably a dead rock, but our great-great-great-great grandchildren will be very interested in the result" ?

    If a lunatic dictator did embark on such a folly, would his successor, and his successor, share his monomania?
    It only takes one politician in a century tp see some advantage in offering the people a huge tax cut, and the project would lapse.

I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve immortality through not dying. -- Woody Allen

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