[meteorite-list] Contact! - OT - ish
From: Sterling K. Webb <sterling_k_webb_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Wed Feb 1 22:44:37 2006
Yes, during the Tucson Lull, we can babble of other things...
I posted some months ago, the simplest and most obvious
argument against SETI's vision of a universe filled with friendly
chatty aliens (simple and obvious is hard to be wrong about).
While it is tremendously difficult to discriminate a single,
intensely narrow-band signal out of the Galactic noise, the
existence of an EM-using civilization would be impossible
to miss. The Earth is already so bright in the radio spectrum
that it could be detected halfway across the Galaxy using
1950's technology (if we'd been broadcasting for 50,000
years, that is).
For 10-15 years now, SETI science has been fighting a
rear-guard action. Speculation in the field centers around
coming up with some excuses to explain why we haven't
detected a signal yet.
Here's some of them:
a) the signal has a very, very narrow-bandwidth (this is usually
combined with a financial appeal for a 100-trillion-channel
receiver), hence is almost impossible to detect. This seems
to be the current favorite of SETI-ites.
b) the aliens are all so advanced that they no longer use the
crude medium of EM waves but are gossiping everywhere around
us via tachyons, or phase-modulated neutrinos, or gravitational
wave radio, or... (This is a cheap shot excuse.)
c) the universe is such an incredibly dangerous place that
using radio waves is like putting on colorful clothes and going
to picnic in the no-mans-land between the barbed wire trenches.
Species that do it, get snuffed in short order (Gregory Benford).
d) intelligent life is dangerously suicidal, and no technological
civilization lasts for more than a century or two before it wipes
itself out. The challenge to intelligent life is to keep from blowing
yourself up within a century or so of discovering, say, nuclear
fission and fusion, so the Universe is littered with the blasted
and destroyed planets which were once the home worlds of
fledging intelligent species like us (Arthur C. Clarke and
lots of others).
e) a similar argument to the above, only in instead of the
nuclear fears of the 1980's, it substitutes the ecological fears
of 2000; intelligent life destroys by its industrial ecology its
own planetary environment to such an extent that it collapses
into a pre-industrial culture, with no radio, a Universe filled
with medieval or primitive aliens (Ursula K. LeGuin was
the first to offer this, before SETI).
f) terrestrial planets should have (so the argument goes) so
much more water than the Earth that they are all Waterworlds.
Intelligent life evolves, yes, but underwater, so the smart aliens
are all brainy dolphins and cephalopods, very philosophical,
but with no hands, no technology, hence no radio (David Brin).
The Earth, with only modest oceans and some dry land, is a
vary rare exception in this model.
g) as a young intelligent species, we are dangerous to ourselves
and others. The Earth is a Wildlife Preserve. No communication
nor contact is permitted. Do Not Feed The Animals. Heavy
Fines are Possible... (Lots of folks like this one, too.)
h) fiddling with the Drake equation to come up with N=1.
Of course, you could always come up with N=0 as easily,
which rules us out as well. Hmmm.
As is always the case in religious disputes the beliefs and
biases, yes, the hopes and dreams, of the "thinker" strongly
color the outcome. When Carl Sagan fiddled with the Drake
equation, he came up with N=10,000...
Don't get me wrong. I spent most of my life "believing" in the
eventuality of "SETI success," but it gets harder and harder to
hold to, requiring more faith and less logic to maintain
with every passing decade (four, so far). I love ET. I've
watched CONTACT, Oh Lord, how many times?
The thought of a Universe in WE are the best that
intelligent life can manage is profoundly depressing.
The saucer lands; the glowing aliens say (telepathically,
no doubt), "Take us to Your Leader." And I mutter,
"Wouldn't you rather meet somebody else? I know lots
of nice interesting humans who'd love to chat with you..."
That's not a political comment, BTW. It pretty much
applies to most Leaders I can remember. And they're
too late to have a fireside chat (literally) with
Well, I already answered A.
B. Well, tachyons or not, they would still use EM waves
for something, radar, beacons, something, for the simple
reason that electrons are CHEAP. I can buy a gallon
of electrons for the price of a pico-liter of tachyons.
(The price went up again last week!). And a big
civilization would use lots of cheap electrons, hence
they would show up in the radio spectrum, just we do.
C. If this theory were correct, the planet-smashing probes
of the Galactic Machine Civilization should be arriving
any minute, or the Intergalactic Locusts of Independence
Day would just be passing the Moon. We've been screaming
away in the EM for eighty years, so if The Danger is within
40 light years... An eighty light-year sphere contains
A LOT of stars. I'm not in a figuring mood; just get
yourself zeroes, bucket of, one (1).
D. Keep your fingers off that Big Red Button...
Is every species as dumb as we are? Hard to
believe. After fifty years, we (meaning the West)
seem to have learned about playing with these
really dangerous toys. Now, all we have to is
convince Iran, and North Korea, and...
E. Global warming...? Don't be silly.
F. Of the four terrestrial planets we know of, the
Earth has the most water. The argument that terrestrial
planets should be drowning in water seems like special
pleading cooked up for the occasion.
G., H., et cetera. Oh, heck, the rest are just excuses,
really. They're really all just excuses.
MAYBE it's intelligent life that's really rare. Since it
took almost five billion years for it to pop up on
this planet, you could reasonably argue that it's
the bottleneck in the Drake equation.
Five billion years to evolve intelligence, you could
also argue reasonably, that it's essentially a matter
of chance that it evolves at all. IF intelligence is
only an accident, it might well be that the average
time to evolve intelligence is longer than the lifetime
of a star! That would sure cut N down to size...
You could calculate the likelihood of intelligent
life this way: cellular life has existed on Earth
for roughly 90% of its lifetime; multi-cellular life
has existed on Earth for roughly 10% of its
lifetime; intelligent (well, more or less) life has
existed on Earth for roughly 1/1000th of 1%
of its lifetime. Therefore, intelligent life exists
for 1/100,000th of the life of a life-bearing planet.
That reduces factor-sub-i from 0.01 to 0.00001.
If additionally, you reduce the lifetime of technical
civilizations and their dangerous toys to a few
centuries, that really chops old N down to size!
(How many times do I have to tell you to stay
away from The Big Red Button?)
Rob suggests that it is possible that once a
technical civilization becomes advanced enough,
it is virtually immortal. Arthur Clarke suggested
the same thing. Pleasant thought. We all like that
immortality talk. We like it more and more the older
we get... Futurist Ray Kurzweil just wrote a book
("The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend
Biology") suggesting mankind is about to evolve
into super-organic-inorganic immortality. Hey!
You can sign me up for the silicon; I'm ready
to chip out...
So, the Universe (the "Heavens") is filled with
wise immortals? Ever notice how many scientific
notions end up sounding a lot like religious ones?
These Wise Immortals have Wings? Harps?
Look like Buddha? Never Mind... I'm just
So, the many intelligent lifeforms in our Galactic
neighborhood, taking note of our commencement
of the use of EM technology, have imposed a ban
on radio spectrum signals within 100 lightyears of
Earth, the restricted zone to expand at the rate of
one lightyear per year until further notice. Nothing
permitted but tachyon traffic.
"Do you have any idea of what that will do
to our operating budget? It's totally unfair
for us to have to bear the burden of those
costs just because some... some..."
"Yes, monkeys. I know... Who would have
"OK, just because some monkeys have gotten
smart all of a sudden. I mean, not to mention
having to mothball all that equipment... Why should
we get stuck with it?"
"There's an 80% tax credit on both capital and
operating cost over-runs."
"In that case... No problem!"
On the other hand, if WE are it, the only ones,
the sole representative of intelligence in the
Galaxy, maybe, just maybe, it might prove to be
an incentive to GROW UP, fer cryin' outloud!!
Why don't you monkeys stop carrying all that
BS around with you and ACT like intelligent life
once in a while. I know, it's hard... Here's what
I suggest: just PRETEND you're the only wise
aliens in the Galaxy and do what you think the
only intelligent Galactic life, in all its wisdom,
Maybe, after a while, it would get to be a habit...
Sterling K. Webb
PS: That last comment not addressed to any Poster
nor Member of the List, naturally; just to Humanity
----- Original Message -----
From: "Matson, Robert" <ROBERT.D.MATSON_at_saic.com>
Sent: Wednesday, February 01, 2006 1:48 PM
Subject: RE: [meteorite-list] Contact! - OT - ish
> Hi Mark,
>> N = N* fp ne fl fi fc Fl (The Drake Equation)
> I've always enjoyed jiggering with the numbers in the Drake
> equation; unfortunately, most of the parameters are completely
> unknown and so whatever value you choose is a complete guess.
> Here's my w.a.g. at parameter values (vs. yours in parentheses):
> N* represents the number of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy
> N* = 500 billion (100 billion)
> (Btw, that's American billion, not British billion). The actual
> number of stars in the Milky Way is certainly at least 200 billion,
> and could be over a trillion.
> fp is the fraction of stars that have planets around them
> fp = 50% (60%)
> ne is the number of planets per star that are capable of sustaining life
> ne = 0.1 (0.33)
> fl is the fraction of planets in ne where life evolves
> fl = 20% (10%)
> fi is the fraction of fl where intelligent life evolves
> fi = 1% (5%)
> fc is the fraction of fi that communicate
> fc = 5% (10%)
> fL is fraction of the planet's life during which the communicating
> civilizations live.
> L = 5000 years (L = 1000 years)
> You didn't indicate the average lifetime of the planet, but reverse
> engineering your answers suggests that you assumed 10 billion years
> (roughly the earth's expected lifetime). I guess planetary lifetime
> is intimately tied to stellar lifetime, which of course varies a
> great deal depending on star type. Since the majority of stars in
> the Milky Way are red dwarfs, I would heavily weight stellar (and
> thus planetary) lifetime toward the red dwarf lifetime -- around
> 100 billion years. So I'll say 50 billion years. So you and I still
> end up with the same fraction (5000/50 billion vs. 1000/10 billion).
> fL = 1E-7 (fL = 1E-7)
> N = 0.25 (N = 1)
> So we're within an order of magnitude of each other. The main factor
> affecting the outcome is the lifetime of a communicating civilization.
> Suppose that once a civilization becomes advanced enough to communicate,
> it doesn't die until its star does? Then fL could be a million times
Received on Wed 01 Feb 2006 10:44:32 PM PST