Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Space Science

Number of ET Civilizations In Our Galaxy Is 37,964 544

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the give-or-take-infinity dept.
KentuckyFC writes "The famous Drake equation calculates the number of advanced civilizations in our galaxy right now. But the result is hugely sensitive to the assumptions you make about factors such as the number of habitable planets that orbit a host star, how many of these actually develop life and what fraction of these go on to become intelligent etc. Disagreements about these figures leads to estimates for the number of advanced civilizations ranging from 10^-5 to 10^6. Now an astronomer in Scotland has worked out how to make the calculations more precise so that different theories about the origin of planets, life and civilizations can be compared. His calculations say that the rare-life hypothesis predicts only 361 advanced civilizations in the Milky Way now. However, the so-called tortoise and hare hypothesis predicts 31,573 and the theory of panspermia says that there ought to be 37,964 extraterrestrial civilizations more advanced than our own in the Milky Way."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Number of ET Civilizations In Our Galaxy Is 37,964

Comments Filter:
  • by Frequency Domain (601421) on Monday October 20, 2008 @08:51AM (#25439499)
    ...of spurious precision.
  • My estimate (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MyLongNickName (822545) on Monday October 20, 2008 @08:54AM (#25439529) Journal

    1.

    And it is as valid as this astronomer's estimation.

  • by Sockatume (732728) on Monday October 20, 2008 @08:55AM (#25439539)
    No kidding. Our current estimates of the number of stars in the galaxy only go to about one significant figure, with upper and lower estimates differing by a factor of two. That puts a pretty serious cap on the precision of his answer.
  • The real answer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Monday October 20, 2008 @08:58AM (#25439571) Journal

    We just don't have a clue.

    The number of things we don't have a clue about is staggering.

    • The number of planets that can support life. We just don't know, we presume we have observed some planets but they might be failed stars and have no direct observations for far.
    • We don't know exactly where life can and cannot occur. For that matter, we only have our own planet to judge what is alive and what isn't. There is no prove one way or another that oxygen is needed for instance to create life.
    • We don't know if space travel between stars is possible. Faster then light travel would change the rules as any species with such tech could settle countless planets and perhaps wipe out other civilizations OR seed them (Star Trek).
    • We don't know how life starts. Was life started on earth or did it arrive from somewhere else? Huge difference between life starting on its own on every planet OR there being some galaxy wide single seed.

    Counting the number of earth like planets is just plain silly. If life can only start in space and then find a planet, earth might be totally unsuitable for the first start. It also presumes life can only exist under earth like conditions yet we KNOW that even life on earth varies widely. If some species can survive on the bottom of the ocean outside the influence of the sun, is it impossible to imagine a lifeform that exist in space itself?

    No, I am sorry but until we can actually go and look our estimates of the number of civilizations is between 1 and 1+.

  • Advanced? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by i_ate_god (899684) on Monday October 20, 2008 @09:02AM (#25439607) Homepage

    But we have no definition of advanced.

    Look, just because an alien civilization has been around longer than we have, doesn't necessarily mean they will be more advanced than we are.

    Maybe they could have been around one million years before us, but are stuck somewhere between Mesopotamia and Rome.

  • Re:yuck. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by aliquis (678370) <dospam@gmail.com> on Monday October 20, 2008 @09:02AM (#25439609) Homepage

    But that one is terrestrial.

    Heck, it may even be the intelligent one!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 20, 2008 @09:08AM (#25439661)

    First, absence of evidence is absence of evidence. Not what you want to be. Do not make this kind of semantic tricks it's worth is a dime a dozen.

    Second, Fermi Paradox says that we are alone in galaxy because our belivings are wrong, or we are NOT alone in the galaxy but our observations are not as good as it should be to detect E.T. in some way.

  • Re:My estimate (Score:5, Insightful)

    by elrous0 (869638) * on Monday October 20, 2008 @09:11AM (#25439683)
    I wish I had mod points. There is simply no way to arrive at any meaningful number based on what we know right now (which is very little). Until we can accurately understand how life even began HERE, there is no way to know how common or uncommon this occurrence is across the galaxy.
  • by aliquis (678370) <dospam@gmail.com> on Monday October 20, 2008 @09:11AM (#25439685) Homepage

    What is the problem with more activity as long as you can get away? It's not like stars crashes into each other every millionth year or so is it?

    Wouldn't the extra radiation if any increase the number of mutations (if they worked as life on earth) and thereby increase their development speed? Same with shorter generations I guess.

  • Re:Advanced? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AdmiralXyz (1378985) on Monday October 20, 2008 @09:12AM (#25439701)
    I think there's also the possibility that there HAVE BEEN more advanced civilizations in the past, but they're gone now. Think about it: the Milky Way is what, nine billion years old? Humans have only existed for a minuscule fraction of that time, and humans capable of detecting advanced civilizations for a smaller fraction still. Perhaps many such civilizations have existed throughout the history of our galaxy, but we keep "missing each other on the timeline."
  • As always, no. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Monday October 20, 2008 @09:14AM (#25439721)

    And yes, in this case, absence of evidence *IS* evidence of absence.

    Because a species of intelligent dolphins would surely be detectable from their radio transmissions.

    No. That entire line of thought is based upon the incorrect assumption that WE are the model for all other species.

    We're almost unique on Earth. Where we share DNA with every other animal. Why expect that from creatures who evolved on a different world?

    Not to mention the incredibly SHORT time we've been looking over an incredibly SMALL portion of the galaxy.

    Your entire argument is based upon another species developing the exact same technology that we have ... and using it in a fashion we can detect ... far enough in the past ... but not too far in the past ... so that we can detect it ... using the technology we have ... during the time we have been trying to detect it.

    Yeah, like that "proves" anything.

  • by mcgrew (92797) * on Monday October 20, 2008 @09:17AM (#25439757) Homepage Journal
    You have no theory, as it stands it is only a hypothesis.
  • My assessment (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MyLongNickName (822545) on Monday October 20, 2008 @09:20AM (#25439775) Journal

    I am a polar bear. Don't bother to ask me how I managed to get on Slashdot and post this, you would never believe it.

    However, I have been doing some estimations of my own. I have always wanted to figure out how many polar bears there are in the world. In my neighborhood here in the arctic, there aren't too many polar bears. About 350. I estimate that we roam over 20 square kilometers. Now, based on some observations I made from the bottom of a well, I figure the earth is around 500 million square kilometers. I haven't actually been outside of my corner of this world, but I imagine everything must be like it is here, and life must be exactly like it is here. I have no evidence to the contrary.

    So, I figure there must be 25 million times 350 polar bears or 8.75 Billion of them.

  • Close neighbors? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JoeMerchant (803320) on Monday October 20, 2008 @09:20AM (#25439781)

    But, the diameter of the milky way is about 100,000 light years - so, if we assume that pre-Galileo civilization was oblivious to ET, we as a species are only aware of civilization signs within 400 light years or so.

    So, if there are 40,000 civilizations within a 100,000ly diameter, then there are approximately 2.56 civilizations within a 800ly diameter.

    Personally, I feel like Earth represents the .56 of a civilization in that scenario...

  • Re:Fermi paradox (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LordSnooty (853791) on Monday October 20, 2008 @09:30AM (#25439881)
    If we ask "where are they?", could it not be possible that NO advanced civilisation could make it to interstellar travel, given how difficult it would be to maintain a survivable environment, enough resources for the trip, and so on? After all, we can look in out neighbourhood and conclude that life is not abundant in the vastness of space, so it must need some kind of special environment to develop and grow. No matter what type of environment a civilisation may develop under, it's unlikely to be one easily recreated on a spacecraft.

    Oh, now I read the wiki I see this has already been considered. Well, there's no evidence that our TV signals and such would be powerful enough to reach beyond the solar system. All our deep-space communication is done to a very precise point. Same goes for the Arecibo message, and that has many years to travel before it reaches its destination. These other civilisations would have to be millions of years ahead of us for us to hear them now.
  • by ciderVisor (1318765) on Monday October 20, 2008 @09:33AM (#25439927)
    Michael Crichton criticised the Drake equation years ago:

    http://www.crichton-official.com/speech-alienscauseglobalwarming.html [crichton-official.com]

    My personal guess is that there are OVER 9000 civilisations out there.
  • by thelexx (237096) on Monday October 20, 2008 @09:35AM (#25439939)

    Please define exactly what evidence we should be looking for. Until that is done, absence of evidence will NEVER be acceptable as evidence of absence. There is simply way too much that we do not know about the nature of life, it's origins or it's potential manifestations. Bit of pot calling the kettle black there Mr Hand Waver.

  • Re:My assessment (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MyLongNickName (822545) on Monday October 20, 2008 @09:37AM (#25439957) Journal

    And since you miss the big point, I will spell it out.

    A polar bear is using the limits of his logic to speculate on the world as a whole. Had an intelligent bear been allowed to travel the world, he would see where his equation breaks down.

    An intelligent human attempts to speculate about the universe as a whole. He is smart enough to realize that he has no clue about how often intelligent life occurs on "habitable" worlds, so he plugs in a variable, then proceeds to put in numbers for something he has no clue about. Since it is unknown, his number is bullshit. Drake realized this, but countless amateurs have treated these numbers as the gospel and wildly speculated about the unknown. this in and of itself isn't bad. However when folks put weight on these numbers, it is bad.

    Just as the polar bear has no real clue about the planet it lives on, we have no clue about the universe we live in. I hope that as a civilization that we go out and really begin to explore this place. But as long as we are sitting here on earth, killing each other, and wasting resources on there here and now, we cannot jope to fathom the way the universe truly is.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 20, 2008 @09:42AM (#25440009)

    Doesn't that beg the question? I mean it assumes we have the means to actually make that observations. But we don't. We don't see very much of the universe.

    Assume there is a space ship that travels through our solar system. It would be pure luck if we would detect it. And there is zero chance we would see a space ship that is not in our solar system. And that whole space ship scenario assumes there is a way to travel faster than light...

    What about signals? How could we recognize them? Take a look at SETI@home. Huge amounts of processing time are donated to that project, to try to distinguish noise from signals. Only a small fraction of the stars is covered with only a small time frame. The Milky Way as like 200 billion stars. Observing one percent of them for one second accumulates to 1500 years of data. And we don't know how good the scanning algorithms really are.
    And that assumes the aliens are in our range, which means they are probably extinct at the moment we receive their signal.

    It is like observing a glass of water with bare eyes. You see nothing that is alive, and then you conclude you are the only living individual on the whole planet.

  • Re:The real answer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mcgrew (92797) * on Monday October 20, 2008 @09:48AM (#25440071) Homepage Journal

    There is no prove one way or another that oxygen is needed for instance to create life

    Incorrect. Life caused the Earth's atmosphere to have oxygen. There are still life forms here that oxygen is a deadly poison to.

  • by JasterBobaMereel (1102861) on Monday October 20, 2008 @09:57AM (#25440169)

    This is the problem with the Drake equation

        Most of the factors are not known to any great precision

        Most of the last factors are not known at all ...since we only have one example, us.

    With it you can prove that there are a vast number of civilisations or none just as easily

        There are currently 53.4565452112323(56) civilisations in our galaxy ....

     

  • by bornyesterday (888994) on Monday October 20, 2008 @10:01AM (#25440231) Homepage
    or if he was using an unpatched version of excel 2008
  • by gatkinso (15975) on Monday October 20, 2008 @10:08AM (#25440305)

    Lay off the sci fi.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 20, 2008 @10:19AM (#25440441)

    Good article references. I always thought it hilarious but sad the same "great minds" who support random evolution also make arguments against life on other planets. When your theory has to have so many caveats to make it continue to match the observed data, you need to revise your theory. The only theory in accordance with evolution from a single cell/proteins is most planets older than the earth will have life more advanced than the earth. Mars, I'm talking about you!

    Does anyone else think it odd ancient cultures have artwork of flying disks and flying men as well as stories about creatures from other worlds? A very interesting calculation would be the probability space aliens would visit earth during our recorded history or during the history of video recording. And then calculate the probability they would land in a way they would be recorded. Even hunters know how to create a blind. That's simple.

  • Panspermia (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bugeaterr (836984) on Monday October 20, 2008 @10:25AM (#25440517)

    Happens when you play Pan's flute too long.

  • Re:My estimate (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nutrock69 (446385) on Monday October 20, 2008 @10:31AM (#25440601)

    Until we can accurately understand how life even began HERE

    I agree there, but until we can cure ourselves (human society, as a whole) of the reasonably ridiculous notion that life began here when some mythical magical man in the sky waved his hands on a whim, we (as that society) are never going to actively and definitively search for that understanding.

    Because we are a generally religious planet, we are no better at figuring out how we got here than illiterate barbarians looking to their shaman 10,000 years ago.

    Truly, I wouldn't consider the human race to be intelligent until we decide to look around us for answers based on available evidence. I know we do some of this already, but way too many of us are willing to just simply "believe" what we're told by others who don't really know either.

  • by ciderVisor (1318765) on Monday October 20, 2008 @10:34AM (#25440623)

    His criticism of the Drake equation is even less well informed, in that he's criticising the equation itself, not the parameters that go into it. But the equation is trivially true; it's nearly a tautology. If the correct statement is "we don't know", it's not because the equations wrong, it's because we don't know what values go on the right side.

    From Crichton's piece:

    "The problem, of course, is that none of the terms can be known, and most cannot even be estimated. The only way to work the equation is to fill in with guesses."

    He IS talking about the parameters (on the right side). Your criticism is meaningless.

    In short, Crichton should stick with novels, which he's good at, and not critiquing SETI, something he seems to know little about.

    Hehehe. Marvelous. Keep it up.

  • by ciderVisor (1318765) on Monday October 20, 2008 @10:37AM (#25440679)
    Base 13 ?
  • Re:Fermi paradox (Score:2, Insightful)

    by maxume (22995) on Monday October 20, 2008 @10:42AM (#25440743)

    It is entirely plausible that a civilization could be a billion years ahead of us.

  • Why are we so unique? This is the Sagan argument, and it's answered by the Anthropic Principle.

    That's not an answer. It's a tautology. It amounts to "We are unique because the universe was tailored to produce us", which itself amounts to "We are unique because the universe exists", which itself amounts to "The universe exists". It's not so much an answer as it is the ultimate expression of vanity.

    The Fermi paradox and Drake equations are not predictive tools. They are not predictive because we have no estimations of any of the parameters, and no data on which to test them. They cannot tell us anything without data to back them up, and for that to exist we need to find at least one other "civilisation", if not more.

    A lot of the speculation among scientists about extra terrestrial life is pretty substandard, leading to frankly appalling constructs like the Anthropic principle being taken as a valid scientific argument. Nonsense statements like "All Life needs Water to survive" betrays an absolute lack of imagination among those supposedly seriously investigating these matters.

    Ultimately from a scientific standpoint, the existence of one life supporting planet allows at least the possibility of more existing. But then again, so too does the existence of one Elvis Presley. Until another is discovered, we must say that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and until that time, speculators can stick to science fiction stories, which are not entirely without benefit to society.

  • The number is 0 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jopet (538074) on Monday October 20, 2008 @11:17AM (#25441263) Journal

    Or 4352342. "Calculating" any such number is not in hardly more scientific than throwing dice to figure it out. Sometimes I wish scientists wouldn't have this urge to make the impression of having a clue, when, quite obviously, the don't have a clue. Or, as in this case, provably cannot have a clue.

    Now one knows yet how life came into being. Stop making calculations that require knowing that to even get close to meaningful numbers.

  • by Lord Ender (156273) on Monday October 20, 2008 @11:28AM (#25441427) Homepage

    The instinct to reproduce and grow in numbers is fundamental to all life. To "hole up" is to accept death as the local star fades--contrary to the most basic life instinct.

    Advanced civilizations don't "hole up," they spread.

  • by omnipresentbob (858376) on Monday October 20, 2008 @11:48AM (#25441775) Homepage

    With it you can prove that there are a vast number of civilisations or none just as easily

    Precisely. This way Dr. Frank Drake doesn't look like an imbecile when we discover there's no ET lifeforms in the Milky Way. Or looks like a genius when we do!

  • Re:My estimate (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Crazy Taco (1083423) on Monday October 20, 2008 @12:00PM (#25441967)

    I wish I had mod points. There is simply no way to arrive at any meaningful number based on what we know right now (which is very little). Until we can accurately understand how life even began HERE, there is no way to know how common or uncommon this occurrence is across the galaxy.

    I'm actually a creationist, so my personal view is that we didn't evolve. That said, if we say for the sake of argument that life here evolved, your statement doesn't quite work. Knowing how it evolved here isn't necessarily the key to determining how common an occurrence this is. What would be more helpful is know how many places like here exist in the galaxy. Obviously we have life here, but not on any other rocky bodies in the Solar System like Mars or Venus, so if we did evolve, it is likely that these conditions are necessary. And that's why the most important thing is to find out how many class M planets there are if we want to make guesses....

  • by IchNiSan (526249) on Monday October 20, 2008 @12:35PM (#25442455)
    Maybe not. It is not like Hans Reiser was tried by a jury of people who wrote advanced file systems, or a jury of homicidal maniacs, take your pick.
  • Re:Fermi paradox (Score:5, Insightful)

    by scribblej (195445) on Monday October 20, 2008 @12:38PM (#25442501)

    Correct me if I'm wrong here, but an Earth-like planet couldn't have come about much sooner, since we need so many elements that we can only get from old burned-out stars. There's gotta be a lot of cycles before there's enough material further up the atomic chart to make an interesting planet.

  • Re:Only 37,964? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by corbettw (214229) <corbettw.yahoo@com> on Monday October 20, 2008 @12:45PM (#25442617) Journal

    I didn't bother to RTFA, but is this guy talking about 37,964 intelligent species, or 37,964 different civilizations? Because if our little planet is anything to go by, a single species can have multiple civilizations, concurrently. Depending on how you count them, there are up to 245 different civilizations just on earth.

    Life isn't Star Trek, there's no reason we should assume a single species has only a single cultural heritage for itself.

  • by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) on Monday October 20, 2008 @01:14PM (#25443065) Journal

    It's the most trivial equation I've ever seen. It ranks up there with embarassing things like the Hardy-Weinberg equation [wikipedia.org] and the Fick equation [wikipedia.org].

    Maybe exp(pi*sqrt(163))'s equation ought to become famous. The probability of getting to work is the probability of me being alive in the morning times the probability of me getting up times the probability of it being a work day times the probability of me being bothered with going in times the probability of me surviving the journey.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 20, 2008 @01:15PM (#25443079)

    Predation seems unlikely given the resources needed for interstellar travel. Either the civilization is sufficiently advanced that they have no need for anything we might have and so are, at worst, ambivalent; or they are not sufficiently advanced enough in which case the cost of predation would outweigh the benefit gained.

    Given the size of the galaxy, predation seems even more unlikely. Why prey on another civilization when there are resources to spare available that are almost certainly closer and easier to acquire.

    But let's assume a worst-case scenario: A galactic empire consuming everything in its path as it grows. They are coming, certainly. But they will get here when they get here regardless of radio signals. And I still wonder what we could have that they could possibly want at that point.

  • by Kjella (173770) on Monday October 20, 2008 @01:25PM (#25443265) Homepage

    "The problem, of course, is that none of the terms can be known, and most cannot even be estimated. The only way to work the equation is to fill in with guesses."

    He IS talking about the parameters (on the right side). Your criticism is meaningless.

    No, he also says "Speaking precisely, the Drake equation is literally meaningless, and has nothing to do with science." and that I disagree with. Let's say you want to find the population development, and find the formula: population[n+1] = population[n]*(1+birth rate-death rate)+immigration-emigration. Then we investigate these factors and realize that we don't have enough data to tell us anything useful. Is it then unscientific because we never actually got an answer? No, we took a complex question and decomposed it into simpler questions that can be investigated individually in a very scientific way. We are probably a lot more certain we can't answer the question than before. That kind of meta-knowledge is very important and useful as building blocks to make new experiments to find out. Of course, wild ass guesses and saying there's 37,964 ET civs is unscientific, but he's throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Monday October 20, 2008 @01:28PM (#25443307) Homepage

    The truly funny part was user 804576 telling user 76198 to get off his lawn.

  • by evanbd (210358) on Monday October 20, 2008 @01:36PM (#25443435)

    His criticism of SERI is basically saying "the hypothesis that the neutrino has a rest mass of zero is scientific, but the hypothesis that a neutrino has a rest mass that is not zero is unscientific." This is silly; the same experiments would be used to test either hypothesis.

    No, Chriton is right. Assuming your experiments measure the mass of the neutrino with some error, then you can never falsify the hypothesis "neutrinos have nonzero rest mass." All the experiments can do is push the upper bound on the mass closer to zero*. Falsifiability is one of the requirements for a hypothesis to be scientific. Since your experiment can't establish the mass as zero, only require it to be closer to zero than the last experiment, no experiment you do can contradict the hypothesis. OTOH, an hypothesis that "the rest mass of the neutrino is at least X" is scientific for any X, as long as it is possible to conduct an experiment with that degree of accuracy (even if it's impractical). Similarly, the hypothesis that neutrinos have zero rest mass is scientific -- it would be easy to falsify, with any experiment that showed a nonzero mass.

    * (IANAPP, there may be experiments that distinguish between exactly zero and not quite zero that don't put an error bar around the measurement of mass. If that's the case, then either hypothesis is falsifiable.)

  • Re:Only 37,964? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kjella (173770) on Monday October 20, 2008 @01:39PM (#25443487) Homepage

    Because if our little planet is anything to go by, a single species can have multiple civilizations, concurrently.

    Based on how alien alien civilizations probably are, I imagine everything from Wall Street to bush men will fall under "human civilization" and the point you're trying to make would look as meaningless as saying you and the guys on the other side of town live in different civilizations.

  • by Your.Master (1088569) on Monday October 20, 2008 @01:57PM (#25443717)

    Well, if the universe is unsteady, that just means that each parameter represents a more complicated function that is dependent on time, rather than some vanilla number.

  • Re:As always, no. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sznupi (719324) on Monday October 20, 2008 @02:19PM (#25444099) Homepage

    Ahhh, but that's just an example of a peculiar case of "panspermia" (by Ancients, apparently)

  • by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Monday October 20, 2008 @02:46PM (#25444449) Homepage

    His criticism of the Drake equation is even less well informed, in that he's criticising the equation itself, not the parameters that go into it. But the equation is trivially true; it's nearly a tautology. If the correct statement is "we don't know", it's not because the equations wrong, it's because we don't know what values go on the right side.

    From Crichton's piece: "The problem, of course, is that none of the terms can be known, and most cannot even be estimated. The only way to work the equation is to fill in with guesses." He IS talking about the parameters (on the right side). Your criticism is meaningless.

    Nope. Crichton said, direct quote, "the Drake equation is literally meaningless, and has nothing to do with science."

    Not the values of terms that compose it. The equation itself.

    Crichton's criticism is literaly meaningless, and has nothing to do with science. In short, Crichton should stick with novels, which he's good at, and not critiquing SETI, something he seems to know little about.

  • by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Monday October 20, 2008 @02:54PM (#25444567) Homepage

    His criticism of SERI is basically saying "the hypothesis that the neutrino has a rest mass of zero is scientific, but the hypothesis that a neutrino has a rest mass that is not zero is unscientific." This is silly; the same experiments would be used to test either hypothesis.

    No, Chriton is right. Assuming your experiments measure the mass of the neutrino with some error, then you can never falsify the hypothesis "neutrinos have nonzero rest mass." All the experiments can do is push the upper bound on the mass closer to zero*. Falsifiability is one of the requirements for a hypothesis to be scientific. Since your experiment can't establish the mass as zero, only require it to be closer to zero than the last experiment, no experiment you do can contradict the hypothesis. OTOH, an hypothesis that "the rest mass of the neutrino is at least X" is scientific for any X, as long as it is possible to conduct an experiment with that degree of accuracy (even if it's impractical). Similarly, the hypothesis that neutrinos have zero rest mass is scientific -- it would be easy to falsify, with any experiment that showed a nonzero mass.

    * (IANAPP, there may be experiments that distinguish between exactly zero and not quite zero that don't put an error bar around the measurement of mass. If that's the case, then either hypothesis is falsifiable.)

    No, that's an idiotic misreading of what Popper said about falsifiability.

    Saying "I'm doing an experiment to test whether the neutrino has mass" and saying "I'm doing an experiment to test whether the neutrino has no mass" is exactly the same thing. It is silly to think that this is scientific if it's phrased one way, and unscientific if the exact same thing is said with equivalent, but slightly different phrasing.

  • by Effexor (544430) on Monday October 20, 2008 @03:36PM (#25445089)

    People hate facing up to the fact that we're alone. But it just seems to be the fact of the matter.

    Following that logic, if there was another civilization somewhere in the galaxy, they would likewise argue that clearly they are alone in the universe since they have seen no sign of us. It then follows logically that there is obviously no intelligent life in the universe.

  • Re:Only 37,964? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DerWulf (782458) on Monday October 20, 2008 @04:15PM (#25445623)
    an alien invasion force would care about as much about different human civs as you care about which hive an ant you just stepped on belonged to.
  • by MickLinux (579158) on Monday October 20, 2008 @04:20PM (#25445683) Journal

    "Fermi Paradox, which basically states that since technological advancement is so rapid compared to evolution, the first technological civilization in a galaxy will almost inevitably colonize the galaxy before any other civilization has had time to evolve.

    Unless, of course, the first technological civilization self-destructs on a surfeit of pride.

    Or unless, of course, the first technological civilization does not deem it worthwhile to conquer the galaxy.

    Which covers both extremes of the spectrum. Whether there is anything left in the middle is open to discussion.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 20, 2008 @05:42PM (#25446619)

    Maybe for his next act he can solve the vexed question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 20, 2008 @07:55PM (#25447735)

    Of course all of these wild guesses are based on the kind of linear determinism found in games like Civilization & based on the antiquated and racist ideas of social darwinism from the 19th century.

    Who says that "intelligent life" is a survival advantage? How does one say which society is "more advanced?" Based on our industrial western ideals of technology? Bah, if we were really smart we'd all be fat seals basking in the sun and eating fish to our heart's content.

"For the man who has everything... Penicillin." -- F. Borquin

Working...