Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Where The Hell is Everyone?

I read this great paper today on the Fermi Paradox. Everyone please do yourselves a favor and go read it. It may help your nerd cred out some telling folks you've read stuff from arXiv.

I've posted about the Fermi Paradox before. Several times actually (click for my take or click for a better explanation). I've read several books on the subject, I've read sci fi novels about the topic. I'm something of a Fermi Paradox junkie. My unpublished novel is sort of a take on the subject as well. Or, in other words, I've heard every possible explanation and considered it, gaged its truthiness, and moved on.

What the paper postulated for our consideration, was that a cosmic natural selection process was at work. Those that went about exploring the galaxy, broadcasting their whereabouts (Like us, in other words) were getting systematically wiped out. By what? Predator species that prey on the naive civilizations that let everyone know where their at.

The paper continues to point out that if earth analogues can be used - and assuming natural selection is the only possible means for any species to evolve - then any intelligent species probably was a predator anyway. That isn't new, but further makes his point that what we meet out there would probably be more like Alien than E.T.

Stephen Hawking is on board with the idea, as he mentioned in his mini series that aired last year on the science channel. At the time I disagreed, I still think I do, but it got me thinking. The whole idea of some sort of cosmic natural selection is at work, culling outgoing species and fostering intensely secretive ones I think is flawed, it's like social Darwinism writ large.

Still. it's interesting.


Stuck In A Window said...

I've thought about it a good deal too, but i rarely read papers or get other people's take on it. My opinion is that it depends on the nature of the species in question (duh). I think if they're social creatures, like us, they'll evolve ethics and morals and therefore not be hostile. If their ethics/morals suck i'd bet they'd wipe themselves out before they ever got to advanced space travel. On the other hand, if the species were more hive minded i'd definitely think the chances of them being hostile would increase. Not sure how the ethics/morals of a hive minded species would play out... Hmm, that's an interesting question i've never thought of before.

I have to say, though, i was disappointed when Hawking came out with his opinion to the public. People put a lot of weight into his opinion, for obvious reasons. Anything that hurts the search for ET life is a definite downer in my book. Shame on him for shaping public opinion by being truthful about his own opinions! =P

I may give that paper on the Fermi Paradox a read when i have some more free time. But for the time being, i must get back to studying!

Rogue Mutt said...

Yeah we really better watch out for all those nonexistent little green men out there. I think there probably is life elsewhere in the universe, but too far away that it will ever make much difference to us.

Tara said...

My musings on the subject would take more than a blog comment - probably more than a post, but I'll head off and read your links now.

alberta ross said...

so why should'nt a form of social dawinism be rife out there ?!!!

There are many 'social being' cultures on this planet and over time and distance their moral and ethic codes differ from the white western take on it all - why should it not be different out there?

Personally I think Bacteria and Virus will win the interplanetry wars!!!

Rusty Webb said...

Stuck - Great response. I'd recommend checking the link if you get a chance. It's pretty short (the pdf if around 14 pages or so) but even if I don't think the author hit on it exactly, he does at least address a few of the points you brought up. He doesn't got into the type society an alien civilization may develop per se, but does categorize them by how predatory they may be - I think the paper is really a thought experiment regarding game theory myself - but the pessisment in me would wonder if a race of social creatures might just end up being terribly xenophobic, being great an moral amongst themselves, but not so kind to strangers. I think there is a strong pressure for social animals to see other groups as potential enemies first, not the other way around.

Rogue - I'll make a bet with you. If we both die before an alien civilization is discovered... I'll owe you lunch.

Tara - I'd be thrilled if you tried to put your opinions out there (or here). What I think is great about the Fermi Paradox is that most folks can discuss without getting too emotionally attached. So we can bat around ideas all day since no one has a real good answer.

Arlee - Social Darwinism irks me, moreso because I'm of the opinion that Darwinism (natural selsection) is one of the greatest revleations humanity has ever come up with. Social Darwinism is taking a beautiful theory and trying to use it to justify political or social injustices. It's as valid as having a quantum theory of road construction - it may work out sometimes, but it ain't because the theory is right.

Anyway, so my complaint is that the author of the paper is applying natural selection to interactions of alien societies. I find his premise very intriguing, but in the end I think it only takes away from the nuanced beauty of natural selction... even if it does illustrate the point better than anything else.

So, I suppose everyone has a soapbox, that just happens to be one of mine. I'd agree that bacteria or viruses have a better chance of colonizing the cosmos than any race would. Paul Davies (I forget the name, I think that's right) goes so far as to surmise that if we really wanted to explore the universe, that's how we'd need to do it... engineer something very close to a virus and scatter them everywhere.

Michael Offutt said...

I often read the stuff on the Cornell University sites (I have a link to their paper on my blog). It does pose some interesting questions when we consider how full and empty the universe seems to be (both conditions at the same time). I think that the distances are just so vast that broadcasts from intelligent life have not had the chance to reach us yet and vice versa. But that will end someday.

Anonymous said...

Great post! I'm going to go back and read your links. I saw much of the Stephen hawking mini series. It was speculative and fascinating. Fun to discuss and intellectually stimulating.

Stuck In A Window said...

Yes, i think you're right that animals are naturally very defensive. It makes sense that the more defensive animal would have greater chances of survival over a less defensive animal. But we're more that just animals. Regardless, it's all speculation. That's why i like to observe the only known species that's anywhere close to space travel, ourselves. I know i would be very excited to find intelligent life besides ours. I loved the movie Contact.

Rusty Webb said...

Michael - I saw the link on your home page. Cool. I'd like to think that you're right. I think Seth Shostak (a SETI guy) mentioned recently that we're either gonna find some unambiguous evidence of Extra Terrestrial intelligence in the next couple of decades or we'll have to seriously re-evaluate our ideas regarding life in the cosmos - listen to the 'are we alone' podcast if you ever get a chance, it's one of my favorites.

Some of the SETI folks are now thinking radio isn't how any advanced civilization would choose to contact other civilizations anyway... we could have been wasting our time for the past 40 years.

Stephen - Agreed, fun to discuss, Hawking has become a bit of an alarmist in the past few years though. Wonder what's up with that?

Stuck - If we run into intelligent aliens and they turn out to be just like us I will be terribly disappointed. They better be better than we are.

Contact is one of my most favorite movies ever, I've read the book like, twice, and seen the movie at least a dozen times. I keep the DVD in the bedroom just in case I want to pop it in at a moment's notice. Carl Sagan again, what a guy - died way too soon.

Andrew Leon said...

I've picked you out for a blogger award; stop by and check it out.

Stuck In A Window said...

Yeah, i'd definitely hope they'd be more advanced than us. One of the biggest reasons i'd like to find intelligent life out there is to benefit from the shared knowledge between the aliens and us. I'm still nothing but a selfish little monkey. =D

Carl Sagan was awesome. Ever read the demon haunted world? I really think parts of it, specifically the parts on the skeptical tools he refers to (his "baloney detection kit"), should be taught in schools. I'm so sick of the widespread gullibility our race seems to suffer from.

Ok, so i've completely derailed from the original conversation. But it's all good. Blogger really needs a messaging system better than successive comments in a person's blog post...

Rusty Webb said...

Andrew - thanks, I'll be posting about this soon.

Stuck - I think I read almost all of Sagan's books. The Demon Haunted World was my favorite, and is the most influential book I ever read. At least the most influential book in my life.