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Space Science

A New Take On the Fermi Paradox 388

TravisTR points out some new research that aims to update and supplement the Fermi paradox — the idea that if intelligent life was as common as we expect, we should have detected it by now. The academic paper (PDF) from scientists at the National Technical University of Ukraine is based on the idea that civilizations can't expand forever on their own. The authors make the assumption that an isolated civilization will eventually die out or go dark through some other means, which leads to some interesting models of intergalactic colonization. "In certain circumstances, however, when civilizations are close enough together in time and space, they can come into contact and when this happens the cross-fertilization of ideas and cultures allows them both to flourish in a way that increases their combined lifespan. ... Bezsudnov and Snarskii say that for certain values of these parameters, the universe undergoes a phase change from one in which civilizations tend not to meet and spread into one in which the entire universe tends to become civilized as different groups meet and spread. Bezsudnov and Snarskii even derive an inequality that a universe must satisfy to become civilized. This, they say, is analogous to the famous Drake equation which attempts to quantify the number of other contactable civilizations in the universe right now."
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A New Take On the Fermi Paradox

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  • My take (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Monday July 26, 2010 @06:08PM (#33037556)

    Them that advertise get eaten.

  • Maybe it's as simple (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 26, 2010 @06:12PM (#33037568)

    As the speed it would take to get nearby stars in a short period of time is just not physically possible no matter how advanced you are and no civilization has yet wanted to spend 500 years getting here.

  • by Bill, Shooter of Bul ( 629286 ) on Monday July 26, 2010 @06:57PM (#33037788) Journal
    Sounds like they came up with the outcome they desired and worked backwards to derive the initial conditions they needed. Which might be valid in some circumstances, but to me it always seems like a newspaper article whose headline reads.

    We have no need of Oil

    Scientists announced today that, counter to everyone else on this planet, we do not need oil. The researchers stated that with an initial assumption that water will become combustible tomorrow at 5 pm, we will no longer need to use gasoline, diesel or any other oil products ever again. They are expected to receive tenure, and a substantial research grant to further develop their ideas into production. The added, that their plan may also require Indian to redefine the value of Pi to an integer, but pointed out no politician would want to be the one that freed us from relying on foreign countries for our energy needs.

  • by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Monday July 26, 2010 @06:58PM (#33037790) Journal
    Here's an alternative: Perhaps we are the First. Perhaps humanity is the first culture to rise to the point of being able to leave their home planet, even for a short while.
  • by painandgreed ( 692585 ) on Monday July 26, 2010 @07:02PM (#33037848)

    As the speed it would take to get nearby stars in a short period of time is just not physically possible no matter how advanced you are and no civilization has yet wanted to spend 500 years getting here.

    That makes some big assumptions on not only the culture of alien races but also their life span. While it might be true of humans, we have no idea what the life span of an alien might be, what their interests are, or what their civilizations value. If we were dealing with a race that usually exists in solitude with a thousand year life span living on an overpopulated world, being on a ship by yourself for the next 500 years might seem like not only a blessing but very doable. Of course, the same race might not have any interest in contacting another race. On the other end, if human life span is on the long side of things, it may make it even less likely they'll try and leave on a great trip.

  • by Surt ( 22457 ) on Monday July 26, 2010 @07:03PM (#33037852) Homepage Journal

    Does anyone who has ever rubbed their eyes still doubt that we are living in a simulation? I mean, why else would you wind up with an input error grid?

  • Maybe (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rossdee ( 243626 ) on Monday July 26, 2010 @07:09PM (#33037918)

    Democracy is more common than we thought, and the aliems governments cut their funding too.

  • by erichill ( 583191 ) <> on Monday July 26, 2010 @07:12PM (#33037950) Homepage
    There's been a lot of argument that "close in space *and time*" is precisely the problem. In the cosmically vanishingly small time of a million years ago, we weren't very interesting. If we're still around in a million years, we probably wouldn't want to detectably approach anyone at the level that we're at now. There's also evidence that we're heading towards "going dark" as a result of using more efficient communications so there will be an inner surface to our radio sphere of influence. There may be other things to look for, like the gamma ray signature of antimatter powered interstellar vehicles. We wouldn't see anybody on a ballistic trajectory. I'm rather taken by arguments that suggest that really advanced cultures won't want to be very spread out because of communications latency. See, for instance, this [] by Cirkovic and Bradbury.

    As already mentioned, there is the possibility that we're the first [in our light cone].

  • Re:My take (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Planesdragon ( 210349 ) <slashdot@castlesteelst o n e .us> on Monday July 26, 2010 @07:18PM (#33038028) Homepage Journal

    Hawking's a moron.

    If your society travels between the stars, you can get all that want from ANY star. Solar power, fission, and raw materials are all at least as easy to find just floating in space (or on a random planet) as they are on an inhabited planet -- and anyone who's ever done ANYTHING with their hands knows that it's better to grab the raw materials that don't have random organic gunk all over them.

    Unless, of course, Star Trek is right, and all aliens are essentially just like us. But I think that backs up my previous statement.

  • by sconeu ( 64226 ) on Monday July 26, 2010 @07:34PM (#33038220) Homepage Journal

    Perhaps advanced civilizations are not using EM transmission (radio/light), but some other form of communication that we are unable to detect.

    Yes, Trek is fictional, but to use it as an example: We wouldn't detect Starfleet because they use "Subspace communications" instead of radio.

  • by Locke2005 ( 849178 ) on Monday July 26, 2010 @07:40PM (#33038280)
    Life is common, but so are cataclysmic events. Very few life forms evolve higher intelligence. After a point intelligence isn't very useful for survival; we evolved intelligence far beyond that needed for mere survival because we used it for social competition since smarter people had more chance of breeding (hard as that is to believe today).

    Of the few life forms that evolved higher intelligence, very few of them would have won the race to establish viable self-sufficient colonies off-planet before a cataclysmic event wiped out their planet, solar system, or galaxy.

    And finally, of course, the obvious -- any really intelligent being wouldn't go around hanging up neon "I'm here!" signs to broadcast their location to potential predators.

    Finally, it may be that really advanced civilizations discover a "party line" that enables faster than light communication, which would enable most of the benefits of interacting without other species without the expense of physically traveling to them or the risk of giving away one's own location. In which case, they are merely keeping a low profile while waiting for us to also discover this communications method.
  • by thesandtiger ( 819476 ) on Monday July 26, 2010 @07:45PM (#33038332)

    Even if you posited a 10000 year development time before a colony could successfully send out just 1 other colonizer, and another 10000 year development time before it could send out another, you still wind up filling up the galaxy REALLY fast. Even if 9/10 of those colonies fail to sprout (so let's call it, effectively, 100k years per new colony), in just over 5 million years (a cosmic blink of an eye) you have over 10^15 colonies. Even if it was 1 in 100 colonies that succeeded, you're still just talking about 50 million years.

    Look at human history over the last 5000 years - we've gone from pre-technological to being on the verge of being able to break out of our solar system (relatively speaking, assuming we survive, we should be able to get out of town within the next 100000 years if we aren't dead). A colony on a future world would have all that technology and knowledge already developed - I'm going to say that, if we do get to another world, it'll take us WAY less time to fill it up and move on than it will take us to do this.

  • by Curunir_wolf ( 588405 ) on Monday July 26, 2010 @09:18PM (#33039126) Homepage Journal

    but look at our world (as we naturally must for all such predictions): The richest portions of the world are the ones with the lowest population growth, including negative. People traditionally had many children because of 1) lack of birth control 2) needing extra labor for their farms 3) high mortality rate among children from illness etc. That only leaves culture as a reason to reproduce beyond replacement rate

    No, there are other reasons as well. In fact this analysis is very subjective - there are no other examples of life forms that slow their own reproductive rate for any reason other than lack of resources.

    You raise an interesting point, though. One that was examined in "The Mote in God's Eye" by Niven and Pournelle. The sentient species in question spoiler alert - if you haven't read the book was unable to slow its reproductive rate, due to the way they had evolved their reproduction. So they colonized their own solar system (extensively), but were unable to advance far enough to travel elsewhere. The conflicts of resources was dramatic, so they basically ended up blowing themselves back to the stone age over and over again, only to rise again, mine resources, re-colonize the solar system, escalate their resource battles, and destroy themselves again.

    Seems a bit of a stretch, but maybe we're better at birth control that most...

  • by Nethead ( 1563 ) <> on Monday July 26, 2010 @09:23PM (#33039166) Homepage Journal

    I can't tell you but I know it's mine.

  • Re:My take (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Wolvenhaven ( 1521217 ) on Monday July 26, 2010 @09:42PM (#33039332) Homepage
    Alastair Reynolds wrote a series called Revelation Space which is about a machine swarm intelligence designed to destroy all life that goes outside their solar system because it prevents a galactic catastrophe trillions of years in the future. The machines leave races alone of they stay on their planet, but if they start moving through space and colonizing other worlds, they swoop in and eradicate them.
  • by Paul Fernhout ( 109597 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2010 @08:04AM (#33042664) Homepage

    "You jest..." Well, not exactly. I don't know what to believe for sure. That is just one of the obvious possibilities at this state of our understanding of information processing. It may be true, or it may not. Enumerating it as a possibility at least is a bit of an antidote to fundamentalism of other kinds. I think you may be right on the bugs though. :-)

    I've thought about writing a sci-fi novel based around three interacting groups (taking off on Arthur C. Clark's ideas of any advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic):
    * Those who have expanded human consciousness in a transhumanist technical nanotech/biotech direction and can do magical-looking things like with nanotech (like when nanites rebuilt the Red Dwarf).
    * Those who have found this debugger link or just a bug and can affect reality in magical seeming ways (so, like Harry Potter or Earthsea, where words an incantations and symbolic movements and symbolic devices like wands are combined to create patterns that invoke complex programs written in arcane symbols, such as from "lumos" causing light to all sorts of complex spells invoked in complex ways -- maybe with a high degree of secrecy involved in who makes these things and who is told about them).
    * Those who have just expanded humanity in a brute-force sort of way throughout the solar system and beyond through self-replicating space habitats duplicating themselves from sunlight and asteroidal ore, and maybe also have recently learned to tap zero-point energy and so create energy and matter in empty space (so, they can duplicate things out of thin vacuum as it were).
    I have no idea where that would go. But those are the major sorts of "magic" things I can imagine in our future, and all are hard-sci-fi "plausible". Would the mystery of consciousness be an underlying theme?

    In keeping with the theme of this article of interacting "alien" civilizations in space, maybe it could be humans plus two other "alien" races from other stars that meet, each with a different technological approach as above, and they try to understand each others tech? On the other hand, it's likely that humans will radiate into multiple species if we expand, so the "aliens" may just be some form of us, in terms of, say, a cyborged person-whale hybrid that travels through space, or human mental patterns copied into robots (and then changed further in there?), and biotech variations, and Amish-like "pure strain humans" (a term used in the Gamma World role playing game of the 1980s which had a diversification of human forms). So, there could be three very different species of humans to go along with those three technological approaches.

    Maybe ZeroExistenZ's other comment on Terry Pratchett has gotten me to think again on this. But I don't have the story-telling skill or attention to humanistic detail of someone like the late James P. Hogan. I just finished rereading his "Star Child" to my kid as a way to honor all the great stories he had written, and how they effected my own life in a positive way. His "Entoverse" has aspects of what you suggest -- computational processes in a big computer start moving out into the real world through what one might think of as a sort of "bug" in the computer system.

    Your point on bugs etc. raises another issue. At what point is something running on a virtual machine really just a contained item? If it can do things that affect the outside world, then patterns in it can migrate outwards into an enclosing virtual machine (or "real" machine). So, sims evolved in a VM could be copied into robot bodies (or even biological bodies) in the outer enclosing world. Or those in an economic simulation used to decide policy in the outer world could choose to act differently to effect the economics of the outer world (or the morality or whatever is being learned through simulation).

    I can wonder what the ethics might be in relation to simulating worlds? I think about that even now, in playing computer games with "sprites". We don't really know what c

Fear is the greatest salesman. -- Robert Klein