Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Grand Tour

For the first time ever, I fooled someone into thinking I have something worth talking about. I've got a post up over at Stephen Tremp's blog, Breakthrough Blogs, where I talk a bit about the Fermi Paradox. So please go over and check it out.  If you don't visit his site already, he is a SF author that posts several times a week, almost always on Science or Science related posts.

In other news, I've been sick. It sucks. I would pray for death if I wasn't such a wimpy soul.


Andrew said...

Hey, nice post over there. How did you trick them into hosting you?

And it sucks to be sick. Eat some chicken soup!

Rogue Mutt said...

Being sick blows. I fell on my ass yesterday and it still hurts and my wrist hurts like a SOB too.

Sylvia van Bruggen said...

Great blog!

Hope you feel better soon!

Rusty Webb said...

Andrew - I have no idea how that happened. I kept waiting for Stephen to email me and say, "waitamintute, you have no idea what you're doing here. Forget the whole thing." But, lucky for me, he never did, so there it is.

I'm not sure I could have kept down anything, I did feel well enough to eat around 8 this evening though, so I think I turned the corner.

Rogue - yes, falling down hurts too, at least for me, the pain lasts longer than illnesses do.

Sylvia - Thanks, I'm sure I will.

Anonymous said...

Debs says,

Great post, Rusty. It's fun to get out and about. I did it for the first time this week, too. Have your hits for this blog gone up?

sorry for being anon-- blogger hates me.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

And you did a fine job at Stephen's site! And don't die. I still need your help!

Suze said...

Feel better.

Briane P said...

I found your blog by seeing your comment on Rogue's blog, just so you know, and I read the Fermi article you linked to but I'm leaving the comment here so it goes to your credit.

The problem I have with the "where are they, they should be here" theory is the same one I had with the reductionist scientific thinking that led someone to say "Assume 100,000,000,000 stars. If 10% have planets in the habitable zone..." and so on after which they'd end up with 100,000 planets with intelligent life, all of which assumes a variety of factors with no basis for asumming them. It's like saying "Assume that I am alive for 100,000 days, and on 10% of those days I buy a lottery ticket..." and so on to prove that tomorrow I will definitely win the lottery.

The biggest problem, I think, with intelligent life being found is not intelligent life existing; if it formed here it may well have formed elsewhere. Instead, the problem is getting there. If a planet is 100 light years away, then even traveling at the speed of light we won't get there for 100 years, but Einstein's theory of relativity tells us that traveling that quickly is nearly impossible: not only would the energy required be prohibitive but it would increase the mass of the object (and the people on the object) to a point that might be unbearable...

... aside from which all the observers of such a journey -- meaning the people left behind and the people waiting at the other end of the trip-- would be aging at a normal rate while the people on the ship would not age at that same rate...

... of which means that if a society formed 100 light years away, and progressed to the point where they had worked out travel at any reasonable fraction of the speed of light, they would STILL not arrive hear until 100 years (in terms of the people on the ship) had passed, while in the meantime our society would be moving forward at a greater rate than the people on the ship, making it amazingly unlikely that their ship would arrive here at the same time as our society was able to greet them, and vice versa.

Meanwhile, traveling at speeds well below light speed avoids time dilation but spends much more time for the people on the ship: travel at 1/3 light speed (impossible for us now) and that trip takes 300 years -- or 50% longer than America has existed. Which means you need to keep people alive (and sane) for 300 years, or send an entire colony into space.

In other words, the odds are against our ever coming into contact with the other intelligent life forms that may exist out there. So when you say "Where are they?" the answer is "Still out there."

But good article!

Michael Offutt said...

I hope you feel better soon.

Rusty Webb said...

Debs - I didn't even think to look until you mentioned it, but yes, they did have bit of a spike there. Wish I had something better to offer new visitors.

Alex - I think the touch and go part has past. I'm still here and raring to go.

Suze - I do. I'm glad I didn't surrender to hopelessness when I was at my worst. I had a good day today.

Briane - Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you've put some thought into this. I'm sure you're aware of the Drake equation. Which is humanity's best guess at figuring out the population of the galaxy. When examined, the only way to keep the galaxy from brimming with life is to plug a zero into the equation somewhere.

And in writing a piece as short as I did, I couldn't address everything I'd have liked to. The galaxy is a big place, and the distances between stars is enormous. The Fermi Paradox was born out of a time (the 50's and 60's) when we looked at the stars sort of like it was manifest destiny for us.

Nowdays, not that many futurists put much stock in manned exploration. We're too fragile, it costs orders of magnitude more to send a person into space than it does a probe, and as technology improves, so do the reasons that people shouldn't bother.

But that doesn't mean we still won't be heading out there. Modern variants of the Fermi paradox don't necessarily mean we meet aliens in person, but instead we find evidence that they exist at all. Our ambassadors to any alien civilization will be our radio to TV signals, or, in another generation or two, probably microscale probes scattered into the cosmos at a significant fraction of the speed of light (in fact, some have argued that if we could make the perfect long term means of seeding the galaxy, what we would come up with would look an awful lot like a virus).

So yes, the galaxy is big, huge, a 100,000 light years across at its largest. But compared to the age of the galaxy itself, that's enough time for folks like us, sending out something like a single Von Neumann probe at just 2% the speed of light - to explore every single star, every asteroid, every piece of debris larger than my fist, several times over. It's just math. Once you become familiar with the size of the galaxy it may be counter intuitive to think so, but when compared to the age of the galaxy, a few million years is nothing.

Michael - thank you. I do.

Stephen Tremp said...

Get well soon. I had strep throat a few years ago and that was the worst pain I went through. More so than the umbilical hernia operation, throwing out my back, or tearing a muscle where my leg met my torso. That pain sucked.