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Why Life On Mars May Foretell Our Doom

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 6 years ago | from the doesn't-everything-foretell-our-doom-these-days dept.

Space 431

Hugh Pickens writes "Nick Bostrom has an interesting interpretation on why the failure of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) for the past half-century is good news and why the discovery of life on Mars could foretell our doom. Bostrom postulates a 'Great Filter,' which can be thought of as a probability barrier and consists of one or more evolutionary transitions or steps that must be traversed at great odds in order for an Earth-like planet to produce a civilization capable of exploring distant solar systems."

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SLASHDOT SUX0RZ (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23256864)

_0_
\''\
'=o='
.|!|
.| |
why goatse may foretell out doom [goatse.ch]

Re:SLASHDOT SUX0RZ (1)

nawcom (941663) | more than 6 years ago | (#23256898)

don't they have a mountain on mars shaped like that? heh

Re:SLASHDOT SUX0RZ (1)

Shadow of Eternity (795165) | more than 6 years ago | (#23256990)

How the hell does this guy keep getting first?

Re:SLASHDOT SUX0RZ (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23257182)

Don't know. Thjey banned my addy for my first posts.

Re:SLASHDOT SUX0RZ (1)

infonography (566403) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257220)

Obviously,

He's a Martian, thats why he is so interested in Anal Probes.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=ogXJ7YBb3NE [youtube.com]

Kids In The Hall Sketch

Life on Mars? (2)

huckamania (533052) | more than 6 years ago | (#23256884)

That would be a major headline. Even when hints of life on Mars are announced there is a story.

Because of bacteria there waiting to kill invaders (1)

Dopamine, Redacted (1244524) | more than 6 years ago | (#23256904)

from earth?

There were Jews on Mars? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23256926)

I was wondering where all the water went.

Stopped Reading TFA here.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23256932)

The universe might well extend infinitely far beyond the part that is observable by us, and it may contain infinitely many stars.
AFAIK, there's no even remotely plausible cosmological theory which contains an infinite number of stars.

Ignores possibility of the Singularity (5, Insightful)

jmorris42 (1458) | more than 6 years ago | (#23256934)

The guy dismisses the possibility that most civilizations evolve in some direction other than midlessly colonizing every star they can reach.

After all our own civilization has pretty much lost interest in anything beyond putting up more geostationary TV transmitters.

What if most evolve beyond physical forms? What if most lose themselves in virtual realities. What if many simply don't bother leaving their own solar system because the speed of light proves to be unbreakable and they aren't interested in planting colonies that will have little or no contact or impact on their own civilization?

Or what if we just got lucky and got a galaxy to ourselves?

Re:Ignores possibility of the Singularity (1)

Hojima (1228978) | more than 6 years ago | (#23256974)

Or on the less likely note, what if we can travel between parallel dimensions much easier? Bring on the "George Bush has declared...terrorist" jokes of course.

Re:Ignores possibility of the Singularity (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257050)

Except other dimensions are way too small.

Re:Ignores possibility of the Singularity (1)

sir fer (1232128) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257190)

Really? Wow, how did you find out? Please inform Hawking et al so they may add more known factors into their equations. I'm glad someone has finally found out the true nature of our multi-dimensional reality. Are there parallel universes as well or are there just multiple Hubble volumes? Please hurry, inquiring minds want to know!

Re:Ignores possibility of the Singularity (4, Interesting)

eln (21727) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257084)

He presupposes a lot of things that aren't necessarily true, or are pretty improbable.

For example, the whole article (what I read of it before my eyes glazed over and I passed out) seems to revolve around this whole idea of the existence of a "Great Filter" event that makes technologically advanced species highly unlikely. He bases this on the statistical probabilities of such a species existing but not contacting us, but offers no really convincing arguments that such a filter event must exist.

However, I would argue that with the number of planets out there (many millions probably, since we've managed to find some around lots of stars, and we can't even detect the Earth-sized ones yet) and the vast distances involved, the chances of some interstellar-traveling species coming upon our particular little planet is pretty slim, no matter what sci-fi would have you believe. If the civilization lives, say, 200 million light years away, it could have been making a beeline for us since the beginning of mankind and still not be anywhere near reaching us.

Much of our fantasizing about extraterrestrial life has assumed that there is some way to travel faster than light and we just haven't discovered it yet. However, what if there really isn't? What if physics simply won't allow faster than light travel? In that case, unless the advanced civilization was extraordinarily close to us, it's virtually impossible for them to have encountered us by now, even if they had been out landing on other planets for thousands or millions of years.

My theory (hypothesis really, since it's not particularly testable) is that it's impossible to know or even meaningfully speculate on the existence of extraterrestrial life given the limits of our current knowledge of the Universe. We are a flea on an elephant's back trying to understand the entirety of the elephant using nothing but a magnifying glass. It's probably impossible to really get the whole picture, and even if it isn't it will take a really long time.

Re:Ignores possibility of the Singularity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23257996)

maybe we should pinch the elephant trying to get us to hit it with it's tail. Then sneakily attach ourselves to it's tail and use it as a mean of transportation

Re:Ignores possibility of the Singularity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23257998)

If you honestly can't grasp something straightforward beyond a text message, you really can't have an informed opinion on a subject. Nor have an intelligent discussion of things beyond your grasp.

Not that it stops you from pontificating.

He ignores DISTANCE. (1, Insightful)

khasim (1285) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257140)

So if we find trilobites on Mars ... Mankind is doomed.

Because the trilobites couldn't find a way to get to the sweet Earth oceans before Mars dried up on them. And, therefore, there is a "Great Filter" that prevents us from colonizing the galaxy.

WTF ?!?

The "Great Filter" is DISTANCE. It takes a LONG TIME and a LOT OF ENERGY to travel from one solar system to the next. Extrapolating our demise from the failure of a bunch of imaginary trilobites' space program is ... beyond stupid.

The galaxy is HUGE. Even if there are 100 billion stars in it, we'd have to cross HALF A GALAXY to get to 50 billion of them.

Re:He ignores DISTANCE. (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257232)

Because the trilobites couldn't find a way to get to the sweet Earth oceans before Mars dried up on them. And, therefore, there is a "Great Filter" that prevents us from colonizing the galaxy.

"The dinosaurs became extinct because they didn't have a space program." -Larry Niven

Also... The Galaxy is 100,000 light years across.

So if a civilization is able to travel at 1/10th the speed of light, they can get to one side of the other in a million years. Sounds like a long time, but cosmologically a million years is a drop in the bucket when you talk about time.

So if you simply planet hoped to all planets closet to your planet and then colonized and then repeated the process you could colonize the galaxy a lot faster than it took for evolution to go from single cell creatures to mammals... Heck... You could do it before amphibian and dinosaurs show up.

I can explain the flaw easier. (3, Insightful)

khasim (1285) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257346)

Suppose we find trilobite skeletons on Mars ... and the next day an alien ship enters our system. In his work, those two are contradictory events. They cannot happen in the same universe. But there are all kinds of ways they COULD happen.

So his theory is flawed.

Now, whether a million years is significant or not ...

It is not in the entire history of Life.

It is VERY significant in the history of any single species.

You assume that such civilization would instantly launch a ship to each and every star and that none of those ships would have problems in the million year long flight. Although many ships would have to cross our galactic core.

Rather, a civilization would colonize the area around it ... develop that area ... and then move out from that fringe in X years. So you would have a new fringe area every X years. And X would (given human life spans) be a few thousand years. Just long enough to get the colony's population up to where it could build a space program of its own.

Re:I can explain the flaw easier. (1)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257534)

Suppose we find trilobite skeletons on Mars ... and the next day an alien ship enters our system. In his work, those two are contradictory events. They cannot happen in the same universe. But there are all kinds of ways they COULD happen.
Actually, if we find trilobite skeletons on mars, that would mean to those poor little trilobites that an alien ship (ours) just entered their system and has already negated his theory.

Re:He ignores DISTANCE. (2, Interesting)

mbone (558574) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257722)

So if you simply planet hopped to all planets closet to your planet and then colonized and then repeated the process you could colonize the galaxy a lot faster than it took for evolution to go from single cell creatures to mammals... Heck... You could do it before amphibian and dinosaurs show up.


There is a third possible answer - that the ecological niches in the galaxy tend to be already filled with entities that are hostile to such exponential growth. (As, indeed, are the ecological niches on Earth.) That suggests that the Great Silence may be a defensive mechanism, which would have very worrying implications for us, as we sit here broadcasting away the fact of our existence.

Re:He ignores DISTANCE. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23257266)

The galaxy is HUGE. Even if there are 100 billion stars in it, we'd have to cross HALF A GALAXY to get to 50 billion of them.
What an absurd notion.

Re:He ignores DISTANCE. (1)

Jordan ez (1270898) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257358)

The time it would take to cross the galaxy is chump change compared to evolutionary timescales.

Re:He ignores DISTANCE. (1)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257604)

The time it would take to cross the galaxy is chump change compared to evolutionary timescales.
How big is the Milky Way ? 100 000 light years across.

Assuming we sent out our fastest ship to date back when the mammoth walked around Michigan, we would not even been to our nearest star system by now. The universe is BIG place. Even if the very first human somehow built and launched a ship that could travel half the speed of light, he would not have made it across the milky way by now!

Re:He ignores DISTANCE. (3, Interesting)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257880)

Humans are a very young species. In fact, mammals as a whole are quite new on this planet. The first mammals appeared around 164 million years ago while the earliest fossil records of multicellular animals are around 610 million years old. If a species on the edge of the galaxy had begun sending out ships at 1% of the speed of light when they appeared, then by now they would have gone the length of the galaxy 61 times - enough time to spend a little while colonising each planet before starting for the next one. If they can go at 10% of the speed of light, then the galaxy is quite a small place for a species which thinks in terms of evolutionary timescales.

And don't forget that our Sun is a second-generation star. The lack of heavy elements makes developing technology on a planet orbiting a first-generation star, but a civilisation evolving around one that didn't kill itself off by now would have had a few billion years head start on us by now. If our rate of technological progress continues linearly (which would involve quite a slow-down) then a million years is enough time for us to colonise the entire galaxy, decide it was a bad idea, clean up all evidence of our existence and go off somewhere else.

Mod parent up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23257154)

Just do it.

Re:Ignores possibility of the Singularity (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257166)

The guy dismisses the possibility that most civilizations evolve in some direction other than midlessly colonizing every star they can reach.

If we take the view that intelligent life has the same rules of evolution then one is eventually bound to evolve like a bacteria and spread to every planet possible. Even if there are millions of intelligent civilizations in the universe quite content to never leave their solar system, all it takes one species hellbent on galactic colonization before they are on every rock in the galaxy. Even if the speed of light can never be broken, it would only take a million years to travel to most places in the Milky Way at speeds just under the speed of light.

What if most evolve beyond physical forms? What if most lose themselves in virtual realities. What if many simply don't bother leaving their own solar system because the speed of light proves to be unbreakable and they aren't interested in planting colonies that will have little or no contact or impact on their own civilization?

Thats a good question that I've asked myself. However, if one does live in a virtual reality society one may at least recognize the fact that the universe as we know it may face serious problems such as Heat Death or the Big crunch. Even if we as humans are unable to understand the problem while we are playing World of Warcraft 40,000 in our brain cells, we will most likley have set out intelligent machines to go about and requisition resources to determine if the universe can be saved from its doomed fate.

The machines themselves might need extraordinary computational power and go about aquiring entire systems with computers big as Jupiter running simulations to answer best how to save their civilization from doom after all the suns burn out.

Actually... Isaac Asimov wrote a short story on this called "The Last Question" Its a good read...

http://www.multivax.com/last_question.html [multivax.com]

Anyways... In order for these intelligent machines to finish their task, they may deem it needed to build dyson spheres and aquire as much mass and energy as possible in order to prevent the end of the universe so at which time may decide to show up at the lesser civilizations doors asking to use their sun as part of their computational requirements to solve the question.

Re:Ignores possibility of the Singularity (2, Insightful)

Jordan ez (1270898) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257280)

Those are all 'bad filters' as Bostrom would say. Some civilizations may opt to stay in their home system, but it only takes a single civilization to colonize the galaxy, and really, it only takes a single person from a single civilization. I'll be the first to say, if we are all alone in the galaxy and mankind colonizes the solar system but is too lazy too go forward: screw you all, the galaxy is mine.

Ignoring the "singularity" is smart. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23257596)

If there are older civilizations out there, then we are most likely at a very primitive level compared to them, and expecting to be able to communicate with or even recognize such a civilization is laughable. You might as well expect a cold virus to talk about the weather with an elephant.


Yes, technology moves forward, but it can only do so at a rate upon which we can understand it. Unfortunately for the quasi-religious nutters who worship at the church of the "singularity", our ability to reach new levels of technological sophistication moves at approximately the same rate over time. New generations of humans can absorb and build upon developments in technology only so fast, and even in the unlikely event that we magically come up with an AI smarter than us to accelerate the process, why would we expect it to bother with us after it achieves "enlightenment"? Sorry folks, but "singularity" theory is just another expression of end times religious nuttery in the grand old tradition of the many religious philosophies that came before it.

ascended Ancients have rules that say they can't c (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257728)

ascended Ancients have rules that say they can't contact the rest of us.

Re:Ignores possibility of the Singularity (3, Informative)

cplusplus (782679) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257844)

After all our own civilization has pretty much lost interest in anything beyond putting up more geostationary TV transmitters.
Only because it's outrageously expensive and really really hard to keep people alive in space. If space travel were as cheap and easy as a walk in the park, we'd be EVERYWHERE.

Re:Ignores possibility of the Singularity (1)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257852)

You can't evolve beyond a physical form. That's an oxymoron. I wish people wouldn't believe the kind of semi-religious crap about ascension spouted on certain low brow yet enjoyable sci-fi shows.

Evolution describes the mechanism that underlies the observed differences in physical form between related animals or plants. There is simply no "exit" from the physical form predicted by evolutionary theory, that would be like asking if some players in a basket ball game might swim to the basket.

Re:Ignores possibility of the Singularity (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257948)

After all our own civilization has pretty much lost interest in anything beyond putting up more geostationary TV transmitters.

I'm not saying that, say, NASA has our best interests in mind, but if you can develop the space elevator in a close time scale, then it makes sense to put all available and useful effort into that right now, because it trumps pretty much every non-imaginary means of getting to orbit.

R'd T F A (1)

Eco-Mono (978899) | more than 6 years ago | (#23256948)

For those of you who didn't want to read through six pages of thick words: the author is basically expanding the Drake equation to possibly include something past our current tech level. The idea is, if the really unlikely thing for life to survive is something we already passed (such as, life instantiating in the first place) then we have nothing to fear. But if it's something that happens once life already exists on a planet (very likely if another planet in our very solar system once held life) then we may soon be in for a world of hurt.

So, interesting speculation, even if people have been batting it around for years now.

Re:R'd T F A (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23256976)

Why is the author starting from the assumption that there's only one "great filter"?

Re:R'd T F A (1)

Eco-Mono (978899) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257004)

To simplify his conclusions I'd guess. *shrug*

Re:R'd T F A (4, Insightful)

defile39 (592628) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257010)

But he doesn't really address the possibility that there will be sufficient advanced life to "deal with" the advanced life trying to bring havoc to innocent blue-green balls. If you do expand the Drake equation thusly, you must also account for advanced civilizations interacting with advanced civilizations. What is the probability of an intergalactic ethic forming versus an intergalactic ethic not forming? Frankly, based on the fact that developing technology to the point of intergalactic travel requires social stability on your home world, I would think the balance favors HAVING an intergalactic ethic.

Re:R'd T F A (2, Insightful)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257408)

I would think the balance favors HAVING an intergalactic ethic.

No doubt. Of course, there's nothing about the concept of "ethic" that implies "We'll let you live out your pathetic lives peacefully on your planet, instead of building an Interstellar Bypass through it."

Remember, the Azteca had Ethics too.

"ethic" != "nice"

Re:R'd T F A (1)

jmorris42 (1458) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257054)

> the author is basically expanding the Drake equation to possibly
> include something past our current tech level..

Except most instances of the Drake Equation I have seen ialready included the possibility of blowing up.

About the only real insight this guy has is instead of pondering the implications of the Drake Equation regarding little green men he is asking what the implications of the size of the various improbabilities might mean for US.

But like all attempts to make sense of the Drake Equation it is pointless. We are suffering from an almost total lack of data which makes it all but impossible to get a grip on any of the numbers we need to start filling in the Drake Equation. And we will continue to lack information until we actually get our butts out there and look around.

If we fly through and examine ten thousand star systems and find nada we still won't know all that much. What if some event wiped out most life in our neck 'o the woods? Put down real teams and look hard at ten or a hundred thousand systems and we will know pretty good bit about the probability of life in our galaxy. One of a few billion such galaxies.

Re:R'd T F A (1)

Tired and Emotional (750842) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257124)

One would think that there might be a number of barriers. Once life becomes wide spread, the next barrier could be when intelligent life becomes wide spread, in which case we are safe for a while yet. On the other hand, it could be when a dominant species fails to develop intelligence and destroys its environment instead.

Re:R'd T F A (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23257138)

The idea is, if the really unlikely thing for life to survive is something we already passed (such as, life instantiating in the first place) then we have nothing to fear. But if it's something that happens once life already exists on a planet (very likely if another planet in our very solar system once held life) then we may soon be in for a world of hurt.
I thought it was generally believed that due to Mars' smaller size it lost atmosphere, heat, and ultimately liquid water. If so, we don't have any immediate-to-near worries unless the planet is going to shrink sometime soon. Or have I got that all wrong?

Re:R'd T F A (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23257618)

Indeed, the article makes a lot of sense. However his 'great filter' theory assumes that there is a single primary low probability in the Drake equation that results in the Fermi paradox. Rather there may be many. He points out that it took a few hundred million years for life to spontaneously start to exist on earth and suggests that must have been a low probability event, but then it did take 3.5 Billion more years for it to turn into us - there were certainly a few hitches along the way between life and intelligent life.

In the next 50 years we'll have space telescopes capable of analyzing the atmospheric makeup of exo-planets, and we'll learn fairly quickly then how common primitive life is in the universe, which will allow us to put numbers to some of the first bits of the Drake equation. That should prove interesting.

SETI may also simply be looking the the wrong way, there may be some reason that more intelligent life doesn't use extremely loud radio transmissions of the type that SETI looks for. Perhaps quantum entanglement or some other known or unknown process has a near 100% chance of being used over radio by an advanced civilization. Or perhaps once a civilization becomes advanced to a certain point, their SETI program detects intelligent life, they are invariably concerned about it, and stop advertising their presence via radio.

There are many ways one could explain the Fermi paradox, but it does seem true that our species is in more danger of extinction than it was 100 years ago, if that risk keeps growing we may well be on our way to, or already experiencing, a 'great filter'.

Or... (1)

Shadow Wrought (586631) | more than 6 years ago | (#23256954)

Advanced Aliens, having evolved separately from us have a different means of perceiving the Universe. Their senses are not our senses. SETI is searching a very narrow range of frequencies, so it could be that the Aliens are simply broadcasting on one we aren't even aware of. That plus everyone knows that the first step towards extrasolar excursions is manifest psychic abilities;-)

Re:Or... (2, Insightful)

RatBastard (949) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257014)

There aren't that many ways to perceive the world around you. There are a limited number of information vectors out there.

And SETI is searching a narrow range because the frequencies outside that range get garbled in the interstellar noise.

Re:Or... (2, Insightful)

ChronoReverse (858838) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257018)

That would imply a entire universe subset that isn't available to our senses nor even hinted on the possibility of how we could even potentially sense.

If true, then they wouldn't matter since we wouldn't be able to interact anyway.

An ol' story (1)

ittybad (896498) | more than 6 years ago | (#23256988)

An English Professor, talking to a Mathematics Professor, at length, describes with lofty words and colorful adjectives why God does not exist. In response, the Mathematician writes a complex formula on a chalk board and proclaims: Therefore, God exists. The English Professor could not retort. Moral of the story: I donno. Somehow I thought it fit, and now have forgotten why.

Re:An ol' story (1)

Translation Error (1176675) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257672)

Well, it shows the importance of peer review, I suppose.

Blah blah blah (1)

teknognome (910243) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257006)

More speculation based on one data point of life evolving (Earth), and the fact that we haven't detected any signals from life. Leading to some dubious speculation that there must be some single catastrophic thing ("the Great Filter") that prevents intelligent life from populating the galaxy, and how somehow if life evolved and died out on Mars, it means the Great Filter is more likely to be ahead of us. As opposed to behind, say, near where whatever caused the hypothetical Martian life to die.
Of course, this all assumes there is some Great Filter, and not a series of probabilities that add up to make planet-colonizing life unlikely. And a bunch of other typical assumptions about life being similar to us, etc.

Re:Blah blah blah (1)

RatBastard (949) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257062)

Or we could be the first in our neck of the woods to make it this far. Or, everyone else is afraid of Berserkers. Or they've been extinct for a million years already. People forget the time issue with Drake's equation: it's not just how many other intelligent species might be out there, it's how many intelligent species might exist right now.

Fermi Paradox (3, Informative)

kingmundi (54911) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257012)

In a way, he is just restating the Fermi Paradox
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fermi_paradox [wikipedia.org]

The Fermi paradox is the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and the lack of evidence for, or contact with, such civilizations.

Re:Fermi Paradox (1)

JordanL (886154) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257106)

There are only two solutions to the Fermi Paradox:

1. Our estimates are off because we are opperating with faulty data.
2. Life evolves into intelligent life nearly 100% of the time, and nearly 100% of intelligent life actively disguises itself from detection.

Re:Fermi Paradox (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23257222)

3.) See the sci-fi series called "THE OUTER LIMITS" (new edition from the 80's/90's vs. the sixties one) &, specifically, the episode entitled:

"THE FINAL EXAM"

Sadly, I think THAT'S the direction we're headed... however, I hope not.

Re:Fermi Paradox (2, Funny)

amohat (88362) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257238)

Or, duh, life-bearing planets are so few and far apart that our primitive tech hasn't noticed anything in the last, oh, moments of time humanity has existed.

Sometimes I'm glad we haven't found anything. How embarrassing it would be, like having guests show up during a ugly fight with your spouse. (hehe, that episode of Office was painful!)

I'm not sure we deserve to meet an advanced alien race. Humans pretty much suck, we'd prolly figure out a way to try to war with them anyway.

Re:Fermi Paradox (1)

Tangent128 (1112197) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257492)

I've never understood why some people consider aliens = advanced = "enlightened". Sure, it makes for convenient sci-fi social commentary and deus ex machinas, but given our current sample size, intelligent life is probably less than pacifistic.
For all we know, we could come across as paragons to them for never having an out-and-out nuclear war.

Re:Fermi Paradox (1)

dpilot (134227) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257792)

> For all we know, we could come across as paragons to them for never having an out-and-out nuclear war.

It's a bit early to make that statement. We've merely avoided all-out nuclear war for about 50 years. The opportunities are still all-too present.

IMHO it's simple: The energies required for an interplanetary civilization, let alone an interstellar civilization, are SO great that if a species has more than the slightest tendency to make war with itself, it will extinguish either itself or its technological base. We are orders of magnitude away from the spare energy required to be an interplanetary civilization, and we're having a tough time keeping a lid on things.

Even if you want to posit homogeneous aliens who only make war on others, interstellar separation would likely be enough to cause enough differentiation to end that uniformity. So far hyperspace and warp drive is the stuff of Star ****, and travelling the hard, slow way kind of prevents tight-knit interstellar civilizations.

Plus space is downright hostile. Maybe with enough energy we could conquer the radiation/duration problems of interplanetary flight, but once again interstellar flight is more orders of magnitude beyond that. (Any idea what the radiation levels are like outside the Heliopause? I don't, but I find it hard to believe they'd be lower.)

Re:Fermi Paradox (1)

Gavagai80 (1275204) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257272)

3. Space is actually big, and nothing travels faster than light.

Re:Fermi Paradox (1)

JordanL (886154) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257340)

The Fermi Paradox does not actually require that civilizations be space faring/colonizing.

Re:Fermi Paradox (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257356)

2. Life evolves into intelligent life nearly 100% of the time, and nearly 100% of intelligent life actively disguises itself from detection.

Did the Conquistadors show up pretending to Aztecs?

If the Aliens are there and undetected they are quiet cruel for letter us suffer with our ignorance with death and disease. At least the conquistadors thought they were doing the Aztecs a favor by giving them Christianity albeit small pox.

If there are Aliens out there they obviously don't care about other sentient life and its suffering.

Re:Fermi Paradox (1)

RatBastard (949) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257900)

You assume that they can cure diseases of an alien species and / or that they have conquered death. Why would either of these be true?

Why do people have this need to elevate aliens to near godlike status.

Re:Fermi Paradox (1)

flaming error (1041742) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257386)

What if the Fermi Paradox is broken?

What if "they" do come here? What if there are lots of sightings? What if people who report sightings are dismissed as lunatics?

Re:Fermi Paradox (1)

yariv (1107831) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257450)

I can think of several other options:

3. Civilazations tend to destroy temselves within several hundred years from the invention of radio communication.
4. There are better ways to communicate, some form of communication that we can't detect at the moment ("sub-space" crap, telepathy, you name it).
5. Other life forms communication is so alien we won't be able to detect it and believe it is a natural effect.
6. Space is both huge and pretty old. The process takes time and we are the first in the area (let's say, 100 light-years in every direction). No one is sending signals in this area (except for us, of course) and those further away are to far for us to get their signals.

And that's without "The Conspiracy".

Re:Fermi Paradox (1)

JordanL (886154) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257524)

Only 4 and 5 are not taken into account by the Drake equation.

Re:Fermi Paradox (1)

yariv (1107831) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257758)

But what I want to point out is that there are probably many other explanations. The universe is so complex, we should never assume something is true because we can think on no other option.

Re:Fermi Paradox (1)

Plekto (1018050) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257742)

4. There are better ways to communicate, some form of communication that we can't detect at the moment ("sub-space" crap, telepathy, you name it).
****

I think it's simpler than this, even. Any communication traveling at the speed of light(tm) would be a very weak signal that would be pointed at a specific location, much like our space probes currently are. Voyager 1 isn't even a significant distance to the nearest star and it's already almost too faint to pick up.

As such, the need to develop faster than light methods of communication would be one of the first things any civilization living in space would find a way to do, since even with our current technologies, we'd likely not pick up a signal from a colony more than a few dozen light years out. They certainly wouldn't be using radio waves except as a last resort.

Gamesters of Triskelion (1)

BorgCopyeditor (590345) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257546)

Given that intelligence makes one a useful slave to others more powerful, it is arguably a good idea to hide one's species' intelligence from the attention of unknown aliens with unknown quantities of firepower.

Re:Fermi Paradox (2, Informative)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257554)

The other alternative is that we simply haven't waited long enough. Relativity can be a bitch.

The universe is estimated to be at least 93 billion light years across.

Assuming that special relativity* is mostly correct, if a civilization evolves at the opposite end of the universe, it will take us at least 93 billion years to find out.

*Special relativity: Nothing travels faster than light in a vacuum. No exceptions.

As a point of comparison, the Earth is about 3.9 billion years old, with the oldest meteorites in the solar system being 4.6 billion years old. Within 3.5 billion years from now, the sun will have grown hot enough to give Earth surface conditions similar to Venus, rendering the planet uninhabitable.

By the time the distant reaches of the universe are able to visually observe the very existence of earth, we'll have been obliterated billions of years earlier by the expansion of the sun.

The reverse is equally true. By the time we receive a signal or visual evidence of a distant civilization, it's not unlikely that they'll have died out or moved elsewhere billions of years prior.

Depending upon which theories you subscribe to, all matter will have decayed within 10^40 years. Although this is a very long time, it's fairly probable that many civilizations will evolve, and not discover each other in spite of attempts to do so.

To discover/be discovered, you've got to be in exactly right place at exactly the right time. Considering just how %*$#ing big the universe is, the odds of this actually occurring are slim-to-none.

The Fermi paradox is interesting to consider, although there are far too many exceptions or alternative explanations to take it seriously.

Oblig. HHGTTG Ref (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23257582)

THE UNIVERSE:
4. Population

        It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them. However, not every one of them is inhabited. Therefore, there must be a finite number of inhabited worlds. Any finite number divided by infinity is as near to nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the Universe can be said to be zero. From this it follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely the products of a deranged imagination.

Re:Fermi Paradox (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23258080)

On the communication aspect. Might the galactic noise threshold be just a highly compressed and error correction coded communication that we can't understand? One day we'll finally develop a perfect Shannon-Hartley theorem fitting algorithm and notice that the noise is communication all along.

WHITE civilisation, not black... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23257038)

"Bostrom postulates a 'Great Filter,' which can be thought of as a probability barrier and consists of one or more evolutionary transitions or steps that must be traversed at great odds in order for an Earth-like planet to produce a civilization capable of exploring distant solar systems."

I think they meant WHITE PEOPLE...

Because obviously BLACK people will NEVER put a man into space.

Cue the dumbass responses from all the self-congratulating liberal hand-wringers here, who can't face reality.

Seriously. Just imagine if blacks were the ONLY humans on Earth. What would it be like? AFRICA. A shithole.

Mudhuts, disease, jenkem, wars, fistulas, babies starving to death, the usual shit that blacks excel at.

Anybody care to DEBATE me on this?

Re:WHITE civilisation, not black... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23257612)

You must be the life of the party.

Seems slashdotted. (1)

gl12 (1164635) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257046)

I can't access it.

Easy (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257080)

It was a good place to avoid environmental laws while the try to do multidimensional work.
Real shame about the 'flaming skulls' incident..real shame.

Re:Easy (1)

My name is Bucket (1020933) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257164)

Don't worry, they sent a guy in to take care of it. Word on the street is he's a berserker-packin' man-and-a-half.

Re:Easy (1)

TheLazySci-FiAuthor (1089561) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257200)

Frankly, I think that whole incident was blown out of proportion. I mean BLOWN AWAY out of proportion.

Why Doesn't Bostrom Work on A Chicken Farm? (1)

TheLazySci-FiAuthor (1089561) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257102)

Because he's afraid of the egg-istential risks!

Time. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23257114)

Maybe the so-called "great filter" is just time? We're viewing the universe as it was millions of years ago, for the most part, and maybe the rest of the universe is just like us in terms of the scale of time required to achieve complex space travel.

Cthulhu? (1)

bsa3 (200) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257160)

The other civilizations played with artifacts of the Great Old Ones, who ate their brains.

(c.f. "A Colder War" [infinityplus.co.uk] )

Prime Directive (1)

Derlum (216320) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257178)

Maybe there is a secret society of advanced civilizations that know about us but have decided not to contact us until we're mature enough to be admitted into their club. Perhaps they're observing us as if we were animals in a zoo. I don't see how we can conclusively rule out this possibility. But I will set it aside in order to concentrate on what to me appear more plausible answers to Fermi's question.

Set it aside?! Wait just one minute! That happens to be my favorite theory!

Re:Prime Directive (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257402)

Set it aside?! Wait just one minute! That happens to be my favorite theory!

Mature enough? Wouldn't it suck to be the last human who dies of war and disease and then the aliens show up and say "Ok. The rest of you get FTL space travel, a cure for cancer, and eternal youth!"

If there was a benevolent alien race the first thing it would do is find sentient life and enlighten it or exterminate it depending its views of what constitutes suffering.

The Inhibitors... (1)

jte (707188) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257246)

...are doing their job reasonably well - trimming life down as it emerges to prevent another galactic dawn war among any space-faring organisms.

The Great Filter? WOW! (1, Funny)

StefanJ (88986) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257292)

In an article in SEED magazine, Geoffrey Miller suggests that technological civilizations lose ambition toward real achievement once they start playing computer games. [seedmagazine.com]

Cripes, I known fellers like that.

Re:The Great Filter? WOW! (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 6 years ago | (#23258000)

If nothing else, we'll explore the galaxy in search of new plot lines... you know, kind of like Berman and Braga.

Doom on Mars? (1)

angryfirelord (1082111) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257302)

Better get the shotgun and health kits ready.

Rough Neighborhood (1)

Detritus (11846) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257324)

What if most life gets snuffed by cosmic events like gamma ray bursts?

The Earth isn't going to be habitable for much longer. Solar output increases with the age of the Sun, which will eventually tip the Earth into thermal runaway.

The problem with aliens (1)

DynaSoar (714234) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257390)

... is that they're alien. Such is the phrase often mentioned by Benford, Niven and others. They're more acutely aware, as those who by trade imagine what aliens might be like, than are those such a SETI scientists. The latter keep themselves boxed in with the idea that what they're looking for will look enough like what they're used to, and so engage in scientific human-chauvinism. The error here is that there are so many others forms that life, and even intelligent life, may take that we wouldn't be able to recognize it with our present understanding. As an example, we take discovery of gas giant planets in other systems as a matter of course, and get excited about "Earth-like" discoveries, even though what's presented is hardly Earth-like. Yet we're finding that there is life in some unlikely places here on Earth, the so-called 'extremophiles', a fact that could be taken as suggesting that life could exist in the environments found on some of the 200 odd exoplanets already known. This applies to not just life in general, but also to that which would be considered "technological" or "advanced" if we could be conceive of these things in the myriad ways they might occur besides what we know from experience.

Consider: How much for how long of SETI has listened for interstellar communication on the "neutral hydrogen" frequency, when any portion or amount of the electromagnetic spectrum could be used along with various planar and circular polarizations, and amplitude and frequency modulations to multiplex vast amounts of information in a shorter burst? Signal analysis people consider these well, but SETI researchers restrict themselves to that which they imagine we would do. They end up not looking for alien life or civilizations, but rather other humans in the universe, something exceedingly unlikely.

Unless and until we lose this Earth-centric provincialism, we might detect life and even high technology out there, and never recognize it.

Re:The problem with aliens (1)

maGiC_RS (946022) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257692)

NIGGERJEW!

The most interesting part of the article (1)

ctwxman (589366) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257486)

I read the article last night and posted a comment about this line on my blog [geofffox.com] :

"Cosmological theory implies that because the universe is expanding, any living creatures outside the observable universe are and will forever remain causally disconnected from us: they can never visit us, communicate with us, or be seen by us or our descendants."
In other words, even if the universe is infinite, it is finite to us! And, it must always be finite. Period. End of story. I'd never heard that expressed before. It makes our place in the general scheme of things seem smaller.

Re:The most interesting part of the article (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257614)

Yes, I know, 15 billion light years is so limiting. I feel cramped just thinking about it.

Nick Bostrom (1)

BorgCopyeditor (590345) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257506)

This is Nick Bostrom, the fellow who last tickled our fancy (ahem) with the notion that it is far more likely that we are currently living in a computer simulation of the present than actually living in the time being simulated.

He seems here to be pulling the same kind of statistical trick as he did in the simulation argument: estimating the probability of what is in our experience a necessarily singular event by considering many thousands or millions of like events. This is anti-scientific in the highest degree.

My hope is that this is another in a series of large-scale pranks intended to demonstrate how even quite educated people fail to understand basic statistical concepts.

Because they can, so they will (1)

obtuse (79208) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257544)

I think he glosses over the possibility that the great filter lies between the origin of life and our current state. Thus the closer any life we find on Mars to our own, the worse for us. But I have my own doomsday power hypothesis.

I think there is a final great filter, and that it is ahead of us. Technology increases power, and people use power. Ultimately it is likely that the power to destroy all life on earth, or at least all intelligent life, will exist, and someone will use that power. Will we leave earth before doomsday power exists, or is used? That seems vanishingly unlikely, since doomsday power looks a lot closer than meaningful space travel.

Perhaps I am wrong, and no madman could acquire such power.

Unfounded premise (1)

Nightlight3 (248096) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257562)

The author's entire argument is based on the dubious leap: since we haven't observed any advanced civilization that they don't exist and that they are not here. How does he know our present science, theory or experiment, is sufficient for such observation? Can bacteria understand what Slashdot is? There could far greater gap than that between our present knowledge and a civilization which is few billion years ahead of us.


Consider, for example that in our present physics the low edge of space-time scale is at 1E-33 meters, the Planckian scale, while our "elementary" particles or any experiments are at the scale 1E-16 m or greater. The region between 10E-16m and 1E-33m is a "desert" as far as anyone knows. Yet this "desert" contains as large span of scales as the range between our elementary particles and any lifeform or any of our technological creations.


For all anyone knows there could be the entire hierarchy of complexity, far greater than our own, built between the Planckian scale objects and our present "elementary" particles. While the number of orders of magnitude is the same between the two regions, recall that the "clock" of that underlying hierarchy would be ~1E16 times faster than the clocks of our elementary particles (since signals there travel much shorter distance) and that the density of components making up complexity at that scale would be a cube of that ratio, i.e. this underlying hierarchy of complexity would be 1E50 times more dense, with clocks running 1E16 times faster, than anything we can build with our "elementary" particles. Within such picture, our elementary particles and anything built upon them, would be a galactic scale engineering projects of such super-civilization (which to us would be for all practical purposes god-like). Yet, within our present scientific framework, we wouldn't have a clue that it exists.


Hence, "they" may well be here, and we may be even "their" little project or an experiment, but we are too primitive to recognize any of it. The author starts with a premise of near omniscience of our present science and thus leaps from 'absence of observation' to 'observation of absence' and from there weaves his story. That premise will seem ridiculously arrogant even to our grand-grandchildren hundred years from now, let alone to a civilization few hundred million years more advanced than ours. We may have no more understanding of "them" than one-bit cells in Conway's game of Life have about us.

Any life on Mars in also on Earth (2, Insightful)

mbone (558574) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257588)

Mars is too close to us to say much about exobiology IMHO. The Earth and Mars have been exchanging tons of biologically active material for their entire existence (large meteor strikes cause material to be ejected to escape velocity, and some small fraction of that will be treated gently enough not to kill any bacteria).

So, there is is likely to be life on Mars, and it is likely to be pretty similar to some life on Earth, proving nothing on the big question of where is everybody.

Flawed fundamental argument: One Great Filter (1)

Mingco (883841) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257730)

The basic premise of his argument is this: There is one great filter. If we cannot find one in our past, then it must be in our future.

First of all, there doesn't need to be a single highly improbable event. The improbability of a single event is indistinguishable from several somewhat more probable, but still unlikely events that must all occur to satisfy the conditions for life. The odds of me winning $10m in the state lottery might be about as good or even better than me winning $10m in 100 or more $100,000 slot machine jackpots.

There are so many improbable events that occurred between the first microbial life to human life today. We can begin to list the various improbable events that have directly or indirectly led to intelligent life on earth. Eventually, we will have a list so long that it will make it clear that a SINGLE great filter is extremely improbable.

There does not have to be a single great filter. It can be many events, both in our past and in our future that prevent a similar civilization from making contact. To an advanced race building Dyson spheres, we would be about as advanced as the microbes we may or may not find on the Mars polar cap. Maybe they are in the great void of the Bootes sector, capturing all of the stars' energy from that part of the universe. It could be that in our future we DO find microbial life on Mars and just decide that it's not that different from life on Earth and thus not that interesting to study or preserve. Most likely, we simply colonize over any microbial life we happen to find because it will be common.

In any case, here is a few improbable events, out of the top of my head, which may allow intelligent life on Earth to evolve, but make it unlikely elsewhere, including Mars.
- The human race at one point was reduced to 5000 individuals. Perhaps lack of genetic diversity in an advanced species was a precondition for intelligence.

- We have H20, but not enough to cover the entire surface of the planet. Sharks are the most evolutionarily advanced species because they are perfectly fit for their environment and have not changed significantly in millions of years. Perhaps intelligent life cannot develop without a geologically young planet that has mountains and shifting land masses because in a mono-ocean world, a single predatory non-intelligent species would dominate.

- A carbon-dioxide rich environment is slowly transformed by plantlife to an oxygen rich environment that allows oxygen respiratory systems to develop. Perhaps having all of our carbon trapped in crude oil for millions of years allowed us to breathe the air.

- Dinosaurs were wiped out, paving the way for mammals. Who knows what the implications are here? Just recognize that mass extinctions in which some life still survives and thrives is rare.

- Rapid reproduction and rapid metabolism. Let's face it. As creatures we are very fast compared to geological or cosmological time. This lets us get this far in the wink of a cosmological eye--- before any of the common cosmological events have a chance to hit us.

Re:Flawed fundamental argument: One Great Filter (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 6 years ago | (#23258074)

intelligent life on earth

      There's intelligent life on Earth? Where? Certainly there isn't much intelligence among the misnamed species H. sapiens. Oh we like to THINK we're intelligent, as if pulling sticky black stuff out of the ground and burning it or covering the earth with it was intelligent, or continually breeding without regards to our finite resources was intelligent, or our occasional fits of mass murder when we slaughter millions of our own for ideals which a mere couple generations later are completely forgotten was proof of intelligence.

      Oh there are some bright people out there. Perhaps enough to fill a stadium. However even these, our very brightest, only have limited intelligence as they are constantly interrupted by primal needs and emotions.

      I'm not so convinced there IS intelligent life on this planet. Sentient yes. Occasionally predictable and rational? Yes. But the signal is very faint, and the noise very high.

Space Marines (1)

RichPowers (998637) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257754)

Wait, so the headline isn't a crafty way of referring to a new DOOM game? Color me disappointed.

We have met the probe and it is us? (1)

Gim Tom (716904) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257790)

Perhaps WE are the von Neumann probe of which you speak. We seem to fit the criteria. Also, it is very difficult to have a perfect filter or perhaps a perfect probe. If there is a series of less than perfect filters and less than perfect probes then perhaps less "developed" life forms have evolved on other planets. In that case it may be the case that there is no future GREAT FILTER, but only a continuous series of minor ones that act together to prevent the malignant spread of one space faring specie throughout the galaxy -- much as we have done to our home planet.

Minor abiogenesis qualm (1)

afish40 (774995) | more than 6 years ago | (#23257848)

"No instance of abiogenesis (the spontaneous emergence of life from nonlife) has ever been observed."

Uh, what about all life on Earth?

We are... (1)

actionbastard (1206160) | more than 6 years ago | (#23258002)

doomed. Doomed! DOOOOOOMED!

One bad misassumption... (1)

tgd (2822) | more than 6 years ago | (#23258032)

I don't think its unexpected, but I think its an unsafe assumption we tend to make when talking about life elsewhere in the universe that the development of social intelligence is really an evolutionary advantage. To the best of our knowledge its only happened a few times on Earth. It didn't help species like the Neanderthal, and our genes tell us we almost went extint at least once. There's substantial evidence that the sequence of events that lead to us becoming socially intelligent is uncommon -- us and our ancestors, perhaps elephants and some of the marine mammals.

But to be intelligent AND able to communicate between the stars means also developing technology, and there's possibly even LESS evolutionary pressure for that. For it to be beneficial you need to have some sort of external pressure that keeps a species from occupying once niche in the environment. You need that pressure to happen to a socially intelligent species (because you need to be able to share and communicate accumulated knowledge). You also need to presumably have fairly fine motor control -- elephants may be intelligent but they're never going to be building electronic devices, or mining, constructing habitats, etc.

You need to develop technology to a fairly advanced level without killing off your planet. You need to develop energy sources capable of powering long distance travel and communication... and you need to have something that drives you to that. Remember our brains have evolved to make us curious, to want to travel, to want to expand and we still don't have the motivation as a species to take the next step yet.

Thats a LOT of ifs. The universe could be teeming with life and most of it is likely not intelligent. And the universe could be teeming with intelligent life that never became technical.

Remember, success is survival of the species, not inventing TV or space flight. If it takes eight billion years between the development of life and the death of a star to weed out life that didn't evolve to travel between stars, there hasn't been much time to weed out the ones that didn't. Think planetary evolution on the scale of billions of years. We just haven't had that many billions yet.

(This ended up both longer and somewhat more rambling than I intended...)
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