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Aliens and the Fermi Paradox

samzenpus posted about 4 months ago | from the take-me-to-your-leader dept.

Space 686

First time accepted submitter sayhem (1842674) writes Various explanations for why we don't see aliens have been proposed—perhaps interstellar travel is impossible or maybe civilizations are always self-destructive. But with every new discovery of a potentially habitable planet, the Fermi Paradox becomes increasingly mysterious. There could be hundreds of millions of potentially habitable worlds in the Milky Way alone. This impression is only reinforced by the recent discovery of a "Mega-Earth," a rocky planet 17 times more massive than the Earth but with only a thin atmosphere. Previously, it was thought that worlds this large would hold onto an atmosphere so thick that their surfaces would experience uninhabitable temperatures and pressures. But if this isn't true, there is a whole new category of potentially habitable real estate in the cosmos.

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Progenitors? (5, Insightful)

jythie (914043) | about 4 months ago | (#47218097)

Well, it is always possible we are simply the first. We do have an unusually old population I star and it still took billions of years for humans to come on the scene, so it is possible that the typical case simply takes longer and many suns are younger then our's.

Re:Progenitors? (0, Redundant)

geekoid (135745) | about 4 months ago | (#47218131)

There is so much a water and other elements key to life as we know it that have been floating around for billion of years.

Re:Progenitors? (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218349)

There is so much a water and other elements key to life as we know it that have been floating around for billion of years.

Unlikely? How can you know that?

What's the probability of life beginning in the first place?

What's the probability of life becoming complex?

What's the probability of sentience evolving?

There's no reasonable way to know what those probabilities really are. The only way to even get to the question is for all of them to have happened.

And the fact that it took about 1/2 the lifetime of our Sun for them to happen could very well be an indicator that all three aren't very likely at all to happen before the sun's life runs its course for any other habitable planet.

Re:Progenitors? (3, Informative)

mythosaz (572040) | about 4 months ago | (#47218391)

We're not even orbiting a 1st generation star, for FSM's sake.

Stars had lived their entire lives before ours even formed.

Re:Progenitors? (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218481)

All stars and stellar generations are not the same. As the Universe ages, every generation of supernovae introduces more metals (which in astro means 'anything except hydrogen and helium') into the galactic medium. Stars significantly older than our sun are unlikely to have had enough metals to form lots of rocky planets. Or if they did, any intelligent life there would find many of the metals that we consider fairly rare to be virtually nonexistent.

Conversely, in the far future when a large fraction of the ISM is heavier elements, the freak exception will the formation of rocky worlds small enough that the inhabitants on their surface can escape into space at all...

Re:Progenitors? (1)

gatkinso (15975) | about 4 months ago | (#47218519)

You have no basis at all for your assertion that the hypothesis is unlikely.

Re:Progenitors? (1)

rubycodez (864176) | about 4 months ago | (#47218633)

very likely,

most of the time life on earth was single cell organisms. that's the likely inhabitants of most worlds that can support life

Re:Progenitors? (1)

harperska (1376103) | about 4 months ago | (#47218739)

What seems plausible to me is that habitable planets are overwhelmingly common, while spacefaring races are relatively rare such that there are millions or billions of habitable planets in the Milky Way, and perhaps only a few thousand spacefaring civilizations. Therefore, there is no 'need' for spacefaring aliens to colonize earth as there is an abundance of other inhabitable worlds out there and the chance that a spacefaring civilization happens to be close enough to us that we happen to be on their colonization path is pretty small. No need for them to be specifically ignoring us, just that it is unlikely that they will 'accidentally' cross paths with us.

As far as detecting alien life elsewhere, remember space is big. I don't know the numbers but I think I have heard that without constantly sending out high power radio beacons in all directions, the amount of radio signal that we give off would be below the signal to noise threshold to be detectable even from Alpha Centauri much less wherever an alien looking for other aliens (e.g. us) might likely be. So unless ET beams a very powerful radio beacon directly at us at the moment we happen to be looking in that direction (minus speed of light transit time), we would never know they were there.

Re:Progenitors? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218853)

There is so much a water and other elements key to life as we know it that have been floating around for billion of years.

You and your idiocy again ?

Am I going to have to come out there and stuff my 10" cock
in your ass again to get you to stop posting ?

Don't make me, your asshole wasn't even tight.

Re:Progenitors? (5, Insightful)

Cryacin (657549) | about 4 months ago | (#47218149)

You know what? All very nice, but how about this? We are not all that interesting, nor special, and in the last 35,000 years when we could comprehend what we're looking at, no-one's bothered to swing by and ask for a cup of sugar.

It may also be possible that we are part of a nature preserve, or that there are more than enough planets with similar conditions to inhabit, to not have to displace or destroy an entire culture.

Another possibility is that we're left alone, because other civilizations have been contacted before, and once given technology, have self immolated themselves akin to giving firearms to the natives.

That, or we're won the interstellar lottery, and we are indeed the first who will learn a lot of lessons as we swarm across the galaxy once we figure out how to get off this damn rock.

Re:Progenitors? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218295)

Not one of your brain dead scenarios is even worthy of consideration. Turn back to the Simpson program and leave the hypothisizing to the rest of the sociopathic retards here. They actually believe there is no God. Pathetic morons.9

Re:Progenitors? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218799)

Not one of your brain dead scenarios is even worthy of consideration. Turn back to the Simpson program and leave the hypothisizing to the rest of the sociopathic retards here. They actually believe there is no God. Pathetic morons.9

You can't even spell hypothesize correctly, you cock gobbling white trash
piece of subhuman spunk.

I bet your mom sucks nigger cock for money so she can buy crack.

There is no god. The idea of god is an invention which has been used to control
idiots like you.

Do the world a favor and kill yourself NOW.

Re:Progenitors? (4, Interesting)

Firethorn (177587) | about 4 months ago | (#47218323)

It may also be possible that we are part of a nature preserve, or that there are more than enough planets with similar conditions to inhabit, to not have to displace or destroy an entire culture.

I've been told off for proposing the nature preserve idea. Various arguments were that the aliens would need a 'huge fleet' to stop colonization efforts from reaching our system, that we'd notice our neighboring systems are inhabited, etc...

They didn't have a good response to my point that our radio reception efforts have been primitive enough that in order to 'hear' Alpha Centari the aliens would need to deliberately transmit an easy to intercept radio signal at us using several GW of power using the best dish technology we have.

The Earth, at it's loudest(digital technology is actually making us 'quieter' on the interstellar scene), wouldn't be 'heard' by the Arecibo Observatory at distances over a light year.

In short, I don't see an alien civilization beaming GW level signals at prospective systems more or less continously for millions of years in the vague hope that we'll notice and answer back. Meanwhile, we've been able to 'listen' for the equivalent of not even an eyeblink.

Eh, whatever. My other pet theories are that by the time a civilization is capable of colonizing other solar systems it's either become too insular to want to bother(you give up a LOT going to another solar system), or so adopted to space that colonizing planets is no longer a thing. Which makes 'nature preserve' for potentially life-bearing planets, cradles for new civilizations, not an expensive strategy at all.

Re:Progenitors? (5, Insightful)

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) | about 4 months ago | (#47218409)

That, or we're won the interstellar lottery,


So far, we have precious little evidence one way or another about this. Lots of people make up all sorts of numbers for the Drake equation, but frankly it's almost entirely speculation. There seems to be this assumption nowadays that life will inevitably evolve on planets with similar conditions to Earth, but how do we possibly know that? What counts as sufficiently "similar"?

Go back before Carl Sagan and a few other such scientists, and the idea that the cosmos was littered with life was treated only by imaginative science fiction writers -- the presumption that something like SETI should turn up something would have been seen a little weird, certainly not based on any scientific evidence.

And what evidence exactly have we accumulated since then? Other than 40 years of Star Trek finding civilizations everywhere, do we have anything scientific to base our estimates on?

No. Not really. In particular, while there has been some work in self-organizing systems and theories about how we get from basic amino acids to the first "living" cells, there's a whole lot of steps to fill in to explain how life begins.

And frankly, until we sort that out, let's just not pretend we're doing anything other than speculating from a single data point -- which means we have absolutely no evidence at all to decide whether the universe is teeming with life in every star system, or whether the situation on Earth was so specific that we're alone (or nearly so).

These articles about the Fermi Paradox always bother me a bit because of this. There's nothing "scientific" about them. I'm not saying we shouldn't look for aliens (and it would be truly interesting if we found anything), but we simply have no clue whether life is likely to evolve on 1 in 10 planets or 1 in 100 trilllion planets. Until we find life somewhere else or we can figure out the details of how to manufacture it in a lab (and determine how likely such conditions are to occur naturally), this is all idle speculation. Thus, there's really no "paradox" to resolve, since the probability estimates are meaningless.

Re:Progenitors? (4, Interesting)

Sibko (1036168) | about 4 months ago | (#47218581)

Or maybe the universe is so competitive that anyone who announces their presence eats the bad end of a relativistic weapon.

Who knows - maybe one's already headed for Earth. It's not like we have been hiding our radio transmissions or anything. Sure would be naive of us to assume aliens are all sunshine and rainbows and want nothing more than to love and hug us. Now granted, I think if relativistic weapons flying about were a real issue, we'd probably have seen evidence for it in the universe by now, but anyone who ascribes benevolence to aliens is just a fool ignoring every lesson nature has taught us on this planet.

Personally, I'm against alien contact unless it's US doing the contacting. The kind of power-play dynamic where we're met by aliens only puts us at a serious disadvantage. We're basically blind right now. We need to stay silent, open our eyes and ears, and see what happens around us a little before we go shouting to the galaxy at large "Hey! Over here!"

I think the only comforting fact about it all is that our biodiversity is probably the rarest thing about our planet - so if there is any value in that, any conquerors will at least leave our biosphere intact.

Re:Progenitors? (4, Interesting)

Immerman (2627577) | about 4 months ago | (#47218661)

Well, it's been less than a century since we started broadcasting our existence as a technological species to the cosmos, the signals have only had a chance to reach a few hundred other planets so far. And through an accident of evolution our atmosphere was flooded with toxic oxygen early on. It's quite possible that any alien astronomers would have glanced at our world and thought "Whoa - an oxygen atmosphere, that's weird. What sort of hellish fire-stormed world do you imagine *that* would make for? Well, we're not going to find any life there, make a note in the logs and lets keep looking for more promising candidates."

Not to mention the fact that even if we had an identical twin Earth around Alpha Centauri, one of our nearest neighbors, it's unlikely that we could detect their transmissions with our current radio telescopes - they would be lost in the much louder radio noise of their star. So I think it's still a little premature to assume there's any paradox at all. Technological civilizations could be orbiting practically every star in the galaxy, and unless one of them when out of their way to contact us (or someone else in the same line of transmission) we would have no idea they were there. Hell, we're barely beginning to reach the point where we could detect massive engineering projects like a Ringworld around even the nearest star

Re:Progenitors? (3, Insightful)

Jeremi (14640) | about 4 months ago | (#47218675)

We are not all that interesting, nor special, and in the last 35,000 years when we could comprehend what we're looking at, no-one's bothered to swing by and ask for a cup of sugar.

Or it could be that interstellar travel is just extremely expensive, so that any aliens civilizations that exist either don't bother, or they can only afford to visit a small number of places (and we're way down the list), or they can only send extremely small (read: hard-to-notice) spacecraft.

Until we invent something like a Warp Drive (or at least discover a reason to think such a thing might be possible even in principle), I'm inclined to prefer this explanation, at least over the 'nature preserve' idea :)

Re:Progenitors? (1)

uCallHimDrJ0NES (2546640) | about 4 months ago | (#47218693)

If alien politics are anything like ours, I'm voting for scenario #3.

Re:Progenitors? (2)

Rockoon (1252108) | about 4 months ago | (#47218197)

...or how about that space faring races would tend to travel towards the center of the galaxy, instead of way out here in a spiral arm?

Re:Progenitors? (1)

Simonetta (207550) | about 4 months ago | (#47218297)

The chances of advanced technological lifeforms developing is nearly infinitely small, and the distances between the ones that actually do develop are so great, that they never contact or even become aware of each other. Life forms on earth that are far in advance of humans are based on intelligence that evolved into post-biological form before one of the 100 million year cycles that periodically destroys all life on earth.

Re:Progenitors? (1)

Oligonicella (659917) | about 4 months ago | (#47218597)

And they very nicely cleaned up the place spic and span so we wouldn't find the slightest trace of them, unlike the literally thousands of fossils that are much older from much smaller and imprintable.

Re:Progenitors? (4, Interesting)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | about 4 months ago | (#47218319)

We can't be.

We weren't the first complicated life here. It took several mass extinctions, but then humanity as we know it took around 300,000 years to evolve from the ancestor primates, give or take a few million to get from the single-cell stage.

So sans a few mass extinctions, someone would've been here are a lot sooner - and the Earth is 4 billion years old and we know planet formation doesn't seem to take that long.

So given the size of the universe, we know from just here that there's definitely been life and intelligent life favorable conditions elsewhere just from the limited sample set we've collected. What we don't know is what happens to it - what's the "main sequence" behavior of technological civilizations like ours? What do they become?

Of course, it's also entirely possible we actually are in particularly well governed galaxy and everyone is staying out of our way till we reach out and make first contact. Then we'll find out that Galactic Resolution 8A prohibited the international broadcasting of luminal RF in our direction or something.

Re:Progenitors? (1)

CrashNBrn (1143981) | about 4 months ago | (#47218407)

Best Response. Funny and Insightful.

Re:Progenitors? (1)

Artifakt (700173) | about 4 months ago | (#47218479)

  In this particular context, I do not think that word means what you think it means.

Re:Progenitors? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218567)

Then we'll find out that Galactic Resolution 8A prohibited the international broadcasting of luminal RF in our direction or something.

I'd imagine the number is much larger that 8A. That has got to be one unimaginably large beaurocracy.

Re:Progenitors? (1)

Oligonicella (659917) | about 4 months ago | (#47218641)

But very, very efficient.

Re:Progenitors? (4, Informative)

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) | about 4 months ago | (#47218589)

So given the size of the universe, we know from just here that there's definitely been life and intelligent life favorable conditions elsewhere just from the limited sample set we've collected.

[Citation needed.]

Until we have any actual evidence of life or intelligent life "elsewhere," we have absolutely no evidence that conditions "elsewhere" are sufficiently "favorable" for anything. It's all just speculation. The "sample set" is ONE instance, which is not statistically significant evidence for anything.

"Favorable" could be 1 in 10 planets, or it could be 1 in 100 quadrillion quadrillion. You can't conclude anything from a sample size of 1. (There's also not a lot of evidence AGAINST favorable conditions existing elsewhere, since we really can't know what "favorable conditions" are until we've enlarged our sample set, but that doesn't mean anything either.)

Re:Progenitors? (1)

WrongMonkey (1027334) | about 4 months ago | (#47218731)

We weren't the first complicated life here.

We're the first technologically intelligent life here. Which is odd in itself. There are other biological features that have independently evolved multiple times: fins, wings, eyes...

If intelligence is such a huge advantage, why has been so rare, even on a planet where life is abundant? Maybe intelligence isn't such a great evolutionary advantage when weighted against its disadvantages. Maybe humans are a fluke where sexual selection got carried away in era with little competitive pressure from established species. In which case, there's no reason to expect intelligent life to be common elsewhere in the universe.

First in whose frame of reference? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218855)

> We can't be.

You're basing that on probability where we don't know the odds and we have to use Fermi estimates where the errors are at the level of "a few orders of magnitude." Furthermore, no matter how big the universe is, time is *relative* so we most certainly could be the first life in our own frame of reference. It's odd how many people forget about that and try to impose absolute time coordinates on the universe that aren't meaningful.

Progenitors? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218403)

It doesn't seem that we did it particularly quickly, though. It took most of 2 billion years for photosynthesis and atmospheric oxygenation to come around. Having a head start of only 5% on photosynthesis would give an equivalent alien planet time to produce a galaxy-spanning civilization before we climbed down from the trees. Moreover, there are population I stars in our galaxy substantially older than the Sun.

What the Great Filter is, it has to be really strong. None of the 'weak' explanations is really enough to overcome the apparent statistical favor towards civilizations being abundant.

Re:Progenitors? (0)

pushing-robot (1037830) | about 4 months ago | (#47218455)

That reminds me of the Drake equation, which lets you calculate based on the observed size, age and biodiversity of the Earth, the mobility of civilizations and the growth of population and technology, how incredibly unlikely it is that there could be other intelligent life on the planet who hasn't already made your acquaintance.

And the next day, Sir Francis Drake shows up and enslaves you.

Re:Progenitors? (0)

NicBenjamin (2124018) | about 4 months ago | (#47218491)

I think people really underestimate how unusual it is to spend lots of money exploring places. They also severely over-estimate the resource needs of a space-capable culture.

Almost any state on the Eurasian landmass could have funded Chris Columbus. But only the Spanish did, because nobody else actually wanted to know what was in the middle of the ocean between Europe and Asia. The Spanish only went for it because they thought Columbus'd get to Asia, and they could get rich trading European luxury goods for Asian luxury goods.

So let's say you're a space-going culture. You've got a beautiful planet which is the perfect temperature for your people because you evolved there. It has the resources to support your population. Why would you spend a significant amount of money sending colonists to other planets in your system? They'll take forever to terraform. Pretty much the only reason to spend money on your equivalent of NASA is if your population is growing at an exponential rate, so you actually need the space. Your smartest strategy in almost any other case is to use your technology to manage your resources on-planet, rather then risk throwing an asteroid into the only planet you;ve got when you're trying to wrangle the thing into orbit.

But why would your population be growing that quickly? Human children are a pain in the ass, so us humans prefer not to have them unless there's massive cultural pressure to do so (population is declining in every rich country that doesn't allow lots of poor immigrants from places where such pressure is pretty strong). Why would our hypothetical race be any different?

As it is the US is spending a truly trivial amount (roughly $60 per person) on space exploration. It's basically just enough for our President to be able to claim he's got the leading program in the world. Other countries spend just enough to claim they're important too. Everybody talks big. Nobody is actually serious about exploration. No domestic constituency is so serious about space exploration that it would prefer a big NASA funded by a new tax, or even a big NASA funded by halving it's sixth favorite domestic program, to the current NASA.

In other words Fermi's Paradox is only a paradox if you grew up in the 50s. At any other time the answer is simple: we haven't met them because virtually no intelligent race is gonna get it's head out of it's ass long enough to develop a starship, much less build enough of them that we should expect to see them.

Re:Progenitors? (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about 4 months ago | (#47218549)

Are you sure about that? As I recall our sun is believed to be a relative latecomer among third-generation stars, born roughly halfway through the period in which such stars are expected to form. There should be more stars out there with a similar element mix that were born before ours than after, and many, many of those stars would have been around long enough that life on them could have reached our current level of development before our star had even formed.

Of course if life arrived here by way of panspermia then we may have started out with a significant head start compared to a planet that needed abiogenisis, potentially giving life a much better chance of managing excess carbon before conditions became too extreme. Of course that would also suggest that countless other planets were similarly "infected" with life, but might drastically reduce the number of early 3rd-gen stars that would have developed life, and thus explain the apparent lack of ancient alien artifacts crowding our solar system. I mean a billion years is a long time - even moving at only a tiny fraction of lightspeed that's more than enough time for a spacefaring race to colonize the entire galaxy. Though why they would want to is a separate question - after all without cheap FTL few of the usual colonization motives would apply.

NO it does not. (3, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | about 4 months ago | (#47218105)

It's meaningless.
Space is REALLY BIG. In fact, space s bigger than time is long.
You could have started sending out robots 12 billion years ago and they wouldn't have even made a scratch in colonizing the universe.

Re:NO it does not. (1)

rossz (67331) | about 4 months ago | (#47218271)

Which, sadly, enforces the theory that FTL is not possible.

NO it does not. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218495)

Space is big, but not intractably big.

A civilization in a galaxy the size and structure of our own, expanding at an average of 0.1% of lightspeed, could still colonize every habitable planet in that galaxy in 100 million years. 0.1% of lightspeed is only about 20 times faster than Voyager 1 is currently moving, and well under the theoretical limit for a nuclear pulse drive. And 100 million years is not that long compared to cosmological and evolutionary timescales.

Re:NO it does not. (1)

rubycodez (864176) | about 4 months ago | (#47218653)

nuclear pulse drives need special fuel that may be quite hard to come by, a working geodynamo in a planet's core to concentrate a particular ore body is needed.

toat fart (1)

For a Free Internet (1594621) | about 4 months ago | (#47218109)

This post has been preempted by toad fart.

What's mysterious? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218119)

It's the same atoms from one end of the universe to the other. We know an awful lot about the 90 or so stable and useful elements, how they get together to make alloys and chemical energy sources.

Metal alloys and hydrocarbon fuels are the physical backbone of how stuff gets moved around. There is practically no other way.

People have looked.

The Fermi Paradox is actually as follows : "Given what we KNOW about physical reality and engineering and how big the Universe is, why do we expect to find anything at all?"

The knowledge that the Universe is actually larger than the Mily Way is not even a hundred years old yet, I guess we need some time for that to sink in!

We haven't even dug into our planet passed 12 kilometers! We've barely explored the bottom of the ocean! Who cares about cubic parsecs of sucking void?

So Space Nutters, colonization fanbois and asteroid Death Cultists/miners, stick that in your 3D printed pipe and smoke it.

Re:What's mysterious? (1)

mythosaz (572040) | about 4 months ago | (#47218415)

We haven't even dug into our planet passed 12 kilometers! We've barely explored the bottom of the ocean! Who cares about cubic parsecs of sucking void?

Nothing prevents us from exploring them all...

What's mysterious? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218541)

Actually, electromagnetic drives (e.g. mass drivers and ion drives, both tested and known to work) and nuclear pulse drives (never tested, but theoretically pretty solid) can move stuff around in space quite a bit more efficiently than chemical rockets. If you wanted to go about interstellar colonization using existing physics and foreseeable technology, that would be the way to do it. There is absolutely no known physical principle that would prevent a sufficiently determined civilization from colonizing the entirety of its home galaxy.

Re:What's mysterious? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218727)

Sure, but words don't move mass, you have to build it. And you're sending people? We have no example of a man made 100% self-sustaining, self-repairing and self-powered technology.

It's not just some theoretical rocket drive, it's all the engineering realities around it. What engineered system is 100% reliable?

You know any Home Depots in space on the way?

No one's going anywhere. Not me, not you, not now, not ever. And no one else is coming here either.

Deal with it.

Multiculturalism Destroys Cultures (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218127)

Hence if there are aliens they know better than to go seeking out new societies to interact with. Trade and communication lead to integration, integration leads to changing cultural ideals, changing cultural ideals go against whatever a species or even a subset of a species evolved into over time and ultimately the collapse of the original society. Any species smart enough to build an interstellar spaceship would have already learned on their own world that multiculturalism is inherently unsustainable and destructive to themselves and there probably aren't that many self-hating suicidal aliens flying around.

Re: Multiculturalism Destroys Cultures (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218161)


Re: Multiculturalism Destroys Cultures (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218229)

Politically-incorrect factually-correct.

Re:Multiculturalism Destroys Cultures (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218337)

If you have a piece of bread, you should go look at it. If you don't have a piece of bread, just sit silently while reciting outloud your third least favorite poem about ice cream. You may begin.

Slashdot and the Beta Paradox (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218135)

Beta sucks, Dice. Get use to it.
Boycott Dice!
Boycott ThinkGeek!
Boycott Beta!!!!

Alternative hypothesis (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218139)

We could just be one of the fastest planets to evolve life. I think our star is what? 3rd generation or so? So we could have a cool opportunity to seed other worlds with hardy microbes and such (e.g. waterbears, various anerobic life, etc.) if we really wanted to. Maybe a few billion tiny capsules with solar sails shipped off in random directions.

Under our noses... (1)

guygo (894298) | about 4 months ago | (#47218147)

It is not certain that we would recognize it if it was right under our noses.

Self destruction built into intelligent life? (-1)

fnj (64210) | about 4 months ago | (#47218159)

The miracle is that the human immune system has held the line against extinction from viruses and infections for so long. As we tamper with that balance through antibiotics and resistant strains of unimagined virulence burgeon and explode, over a period on the order of 100 years out of 1 million+ years of human existence, that is coming to an end. Why would not the selfish impetus to preserve one's personal life not spell the end of the species life for most/all intelligent species?

Just a thought.

Re:Self destruction built into intelligent life? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218339)

Self destruction built into intelligent life?

I hope that is also built into Beta.... Oh wait: It has to be intelligent life.

Re:Self destruction built into intelligent life? (2)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | about 4 months ago | (#47218343)

Actually it isn't. And also what balance?

The problem with being unintelligent and a virus is that you die when the host dies, and so you can only ever kill everyone in a small geographically specific area. Global pandemic only became possible with the rise of trading civilizations, but any organism which kills a large % of the population will burn itself out before it can kill all of them.

We worry about disease today because we are trying to do a lot better then middle % survival rates through adulthood.

Re:Self destruction built into intelligent life? (1)

fnj (64210) | about 4 months ago | (#47218817)

And also what balance?

Really? You don't understand how the immune system can go off the deep end on either side?

Immune system too weak -> infection, cancer.

Immune system too strong -> self-attack (rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, a LOT more).

Fermi paradaox, gee. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218167)

Guessing is easy work.

Quantum CB Radio (3, Insightful)

Surak_Prime (160061) | about 4 months ago | (#47218169)

Maybe travel at the speeds necessary to reach other star systems is impossible, and there ARE a TON of civilizations out there. But, they're all talking on some type of communication form - like Quantum CB or something - that we haven't discovered quite yet.

One day we will, and we won't make first contact with ONE species that day. We'll meet millions.

We are still stupid monkeys... (2)

TiggertheMad (556308) | about 4 months ago | (#47218401)

this makes a lot of sense to me. Given that EM radiation only travels at the speed of light, and falls of with the square of the distance, it is the cosmic equivalent of writing a letter, stuffing it in a bottle, throwing it in the ocean and hoping that your friend in Japan gets it. We think we are clever monkeys, but we are in effect beating on a log with a stick, when the rest of the universe is likely sending data packets via the cosmic version of fiber optic.

It speaks to our hubris that we assume that we are smart and we use this technology, and that other people will use the same technology. They probably don't even look for 'young civilizations' that use EM for communication, because they blow themselves up half the time before achieving a useful form of communication technology. Would you try to talk to an amoebae on the off chance that it might evolve into something interesting in a few million years?

If there is any way to communicate in a faster than light fashion with others, it will be the standard by which advanced civilizations talk.

Re:Quantum CB Radio (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about 4 months ago | (#47218703)

Or even just via tightbeam radio - it would have to be be a frelling LOUD signal to be heard over their own star's radio noise after all, and power radiated in any direction other than directly at their target would be completely wasted. Or if they had worked out a way to receive the signal through the noise, then there's no reason to believe we could hear it even if it were aimed right at us.

Or Maybe (2)

sexconker (1179573) | about 4 months ago | (#47218203)

Or maybe we're just the only ones here.
Or maybe aliens have their own shit to worry about.
Or maybe they're already among us.
Or maybe nerds should stop wasting their time wanking off about shit for which their is zero evidence - for, or against - and trying to derive concrete meaning from it.

I fully expect and eagerly anticipate the day we make first contact (hopefully without subsequently getting blown to shit, enslaved, whatever). But I'm also sensible enough to realize that no amount of masturbatory theory, such as this shitty link to an absolutely retarded article about climate change and aliens, means anything.

Re:Or Maybe (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218247)

The next upgrade to the simulator we are running in will incorporate enough processing power to simulate additional species.

Re:Or Maybe (1)

gnasher719 (869701) | about 4 months ago | (#47218421)

For an alternative explanation in SF: "Lord of all Things" by Andreas Eschbach.

Re:Or Maybe (1)

gatkinso (15975) | about 4 months ago | (#47218539)

Sadly, I think humans will be the side blowing peace loving civilizations to shit.

Re:Or Maybe (1)

LesFerg (452838) | about 4 months ago | (#47218883)

Or maybe humans already achieved interstellar travel then, being the warmongering destructive bastards we are, went out and destroyed every non-human intelligence they could find. Afterwards, being the warmongering destructive bastards we are, we turned on ourselves and blew ourselves back to the stone age.

Re:Or Maybe (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about 4 months ago | (#47218715)

Right, we should be like "normal"people and waste our time worrying about sports playoffs, celebrity gossip, etc. You know, IMPORTANT stuff.

We have already contacted alien civiliations. (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218213)

At a certain point that starts looking like an attractive option. If NASA announced that they've managed to create a warp bubble, no matter how small, then I'd say the low hanging fruit is that aliens are in contact with certain elements of humanity and that this isn't widely known because a huge percentage of the world would freak the fuck out.

At Los Alamos, right around the time of the Fermi Paradox, everyone was agog at the green fireball phenomenon. One of the greatest collections of scientists ever assembled were pretty evenly split on the subject. Some though the the green balls of fire flying through the sky and changing direction as if being intelligently guided were some kind of secret earthly craft, while many other were certain they were extraterrestrial in origin. No one doubted they were real, however, and no one thought they were natural.

You don't really hear about this, but it's part of what started Fermi along the way towards his paradox.

As for the usual "OMG, nobody could keep that secret!" meme. Even if someone had 100% proof of alien encounters, the signal to noise ratio is assumed to be no signal and all noise. Someone could have been shouting the truth from the rooftops for forty years and nobody would care because they'd be lost in the din of people seeing little green men and anal probes.

Between "every civilization eventually kills itself" and a high level conspiracy to keep the world from shitting their pants at alien life, I'll pick the conspiracy. The fact that half of humanity isn't really ready to stop killing one another over five thousand year old superhero stories is kind of telling. Hell, half of humanity is confused by shoes.

Re:We have already contacted alien civiliations. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218301)

so many mod points waisted on previous posts i would use every mod point i have or ever will receive modding this gem up if i could

The Arrogance of Humanity (1)

BluPhenix316 (2656403) | about 4 months ago | (#47218223)

I think expecting intelligent life to have visited earth is a bit arrogant. The fermi paradox is mysterious because we haven't been visited by intelligent life yet? It is highly likely that intelligent life either wouldn't want to visit us, or maybe they have something like the prime directive where they aren't allowed to interfere in our lives until we can match them technologically.

Re:The Arrogance of Humanity (1)

Darth Turbogeek (142348) | about 4 months ago | (#47218583)

IF intelligent life is rare and they find us, then you fucking bet they are going to want to visit. We'll be so unusual that other intelligent lifeforms will be compelled just by the fact we exist to check us out and find out what the hell we are. If intelligent life is common, then they'll visit because.... well it's nothing odd so lets say hi to make war or trade.

The simple fact is that if there's intelligent life and they know about us, then they'll be dropping by. Prime directives and shit like that are Star Trek masturbation fantasys that are clueless about how things really would work. The evidence so far however is utterly absent of any ET out there so it's a moot point.

Who doesn't see aliens now ? (1)

Lexor (724874) | about 4 months ago | (#47218227)

YOU might not see aliens, I might not see aliens, but hundreds of thousands have had very unusual experiences and there's more than enough evidence -- including high level military witnesses -- that the US Government makes a big deal about this topic and goes out of the way to ridicule anyone who gets close to making a big deal about it.

Re:Who doesn't see aliens now ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218427)

It's great that military pilots and such have come forward with UFO tales, but we need something more substantial to prove anything. UFO videos have been a bust so far, and it will be worse once there are tens of thousands of civilian/commercial/academic drones flying around in 2015+.

Re:Who doesn't see aliens now ? (1)

Lexor (724874) | about 4 months ago | (#47218867)

I wasn't referring to "UFO tales" but the many actual encounters with both "visitors" and the Earth folks who don't want them telling anybody about them.

Not really a paradox (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218231)

Despite all our advances, we can still only only explore a drop of water in the ocean of the universe. It's not very surprising at all.

We haven't looked long and hard enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218233)

SETI and Astrobiology are barely-funded ventures. Humanity has only been looking for a few decades at most (maybe a century if you count Tesla)....

On the grand scheme of things...that's a nanosecond.

Re:We haven't looked long and hard enough (1)

maliqua (1316471) | about 4 months ago | (#47218333)

and for everything but the most recent part of human history even if we had been visited we would likely have reacted in one of 3 ways:

1. What is that kill it and burn it
2. What is that run away and tell the story only to be ridiculed
3. Grunt grumble scratch hide in cave *MAY BE* draw a crappy picture on the wall with another rock

hell #2 is still true to this day.

Re:We haven't looked long and hard enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218467)

Hell, all 3 are still true today.

Re:We haven't looked long and hard enough (1)

hurfy (735314) | about 4 months ago | (#47218423)

What if there ARE 100's of millions of civilizations advanced as us?

Wouldn't that sound an awful lot like background noise?

Perhaps no one else has cable TV and all 200 channels in each country are OTA and there are 200 billion signals floating around ;O
Perhaps think SETI is simply overmatched unless someone targets us and that signal would still be inroute most likely.

Implications of Billion Year Old Civilizations (2)

mbone (558574) | about 4 months ago | (#47218261)

If, as seems possible, the first civilizations in the galaxy arose billions of years ago, they presumably know about us, or at least our planet (as the galaxy can be inventoried in a billion years). If they cannot exceed the speed of light, they are also used to very long scale conversations and travel delays. My guess, and it is just a guess, is that they wait 5000 or 10,000 years before getting back to any new civilization, because that's how long galactic conversations take, and also to weed out the flash-in-the-pans; either way, we may have a while to wait.

As for where they are, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from astrophysics," so look around. As just one example, the spiral arms of the galaxy are more recent than the possible age of the first civilizations, so they might be engineering constructs.

Windows Update Shovelling Malware (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218307)

I kid you not. Do not check for updates.

Obvious (1)

gweihir (88907) | about 4 months ago | (#47218373)

The others have a pretty good idea what is going on on our planet from decades of radio and tv broadcasts. Nobody in their right mind would visit our dirt-ball with vicious and stupid people in abundance.

Prime Directive (4, Insightful)

dpilot (134227) | about 4 months ago | (#47218417)

First off, forget Hitler's Munich Olympics broadcast, that's way to new. The most interesting thing about Earth is roughly half a billion years old, and that's its "unnatural" atmosphere. Our atmosphere shouts, "Life!" like nothing else. The stuff in our air just doesn't cohabit from ordinary chemical processes - it has to be maintained. Not as old, but still older than Hitler's broadcast is the sustained presence of pollutants in the atmosphere. This might suggest, "intelligent, if immature/foolhardy life."

We can almost see this kind of stuff with Kepler, though to get to this level of detail we use several instruments in parallel - Kepler is the first-weeder. We're nowhere near having interstellar technology, so any race that does will likely have commensurate technologies in other areas as well. Most notably, if you're going to travel far, you want to know which direction to go, and as much about your destination as you can. They would have tools that make Kepler look like a child's toy. They would know how interesting Earth is. Where that ranks us with respect to other planets in another question, but I'll bet it's not as bleak a prospect as some say.

Personally I think the presence of us on Earth has to do with it's "sufficiently interesting history", including the collision that formed the moon, several asteroid/comet strikes like the dinosaur killer, etc. Not to mention plate tectonics, the magnetic field that keeps the solar wind from blowing our atmosphere away, etc. Like I said, I think Earth would be on the short-list.

By the same token, I also think they would observe. Our society and existence are fragile enough, one big kick could easily topple the whole mess. Imagine a preemptive strike by one power to prevent another power from getting "the advantages of alien technology," etc. We're also pretty darned "memetically susceptible," and even allowing an alien idea to reach us might upset the apple cart.

Or as an alternative, perhaps the Catholic Church was right, and Galileo (and Copernicus) were wrong. If not the physical center of the universe, if we're all there is, perhaps the Earth is the philosophical center of the universe.

1 - We're all there is, perhaps to become the Progenitors, perhaps not.
2 - There is other life, hasn't gotten here yet, may not bother, may not be able.
3 - There is other life, observing us, careful to remain unknown - the Prime Directive.
4 - There is other life, getting ready to invade/destroy us.
5 - There is other life, in contact only with the Illuminati and Club of Rome.

Personally I'd prefer option 3. Option 2 is equally likely. Option 1 is rather sad. Options 4 and 5 are IMHO silly.

Re:Prime Directive (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218785)

Indeed. Using Earth as the example, the existence of civilization on a planet at a given time is much less likely than the existence of life. Like, by a factor of 50,000 (we have a record of ~10Ky of "civilized" humanity, ~500My of complex animals). If an alien species was interested in invading living planets, they would probably be smart enough to pick ones with no civilization there to resist them. Even more likely, if an alien species is able to cross interstellar distances, they would have to be capable of long-term survival in space and it would be easier for them to harvest resources and materials from asteroids and comets than planets with deep gravity wells. Living organisms in places you want to colonize are an obstacle, not a positive! You would have to be constantly paranoid of an alien micro-organism becoming a plague that your immune system doesn't recognize.

First Contact (2)

ChunderDownunder (709234) | about 4 months ago | (#47218419)

Zefram Cochrane has another 49 years to 'invent' warp technology.

A primitive society as found on Earth is of little interest.

Re:First Contact (1)

Darth Turbogeek (142348) | about 4 months ago | (#47218617)

Oh bullshit. If there's intelligent life out there capable of getting to us, then it'll be interested in us or the rock we are on. And it wont be waiting to say hi.

Re:First Contact (1)

R3d M3rcury (871886) | about 4 months ago | (#47218781)


Consider "the rock we are on." What makes this rock so interesting? In theory, there are lots of rocks out there like ours. If they're able to get to us, they've certainly been to other rocks and ours isn't all that special.

Consider "Us." I won't go off on humanities foibles, so the only interest in us would be biologically or sociologically. Biologically, they can just show up and take samples. Sociologically, we might be interesting, but introducing themselves would change us--which would sort of negate the observation.

Explanation (1)

gatkinso (15975) | about 4 months ago | (#47218469)

Here's your explanation:

1) We don't know shit about the universe, physics, or exobiology

2) We have not been listening very long

Give it time - lot's of time.

The Matrix is to blame (2)

currently_awake (1248758) | about 4 months ago | (#47218477)

We are just on the edge of being able to upload humans into the machine, and give everyone virtual reality. Once we achieve that, everyone can have anything they want, without needing to colonize or mine anything. Turn the moon into our Matrix supercomputer, upload everyone, and turn the Earth into a nature preserve. Once you have that set up and everyone starts cranking out game modules, why would you want to give that up to visit another star? You think the colony ship will support the latest VR's?

Re:The Matrix is to blame (1)

WrongMonkey (1027334) | about 4 months ago | (#47218623)

The technology doesn't even have to be as sophisticated as mind-uploading or lunar supercomputers. The first consumer-grade technology that adequately simulates sex will lead to an almost immediate population collapse. What remains of the human race after that might not have the means to maintain an industrial civilization.

Rare Earth Hypothesis (3, Interesting)

WrongMonkey (1027334) | about 4 months ago | (#47218509)

The Rare Earth Hypothesis is still the strongest contender for the solution to the Fermi Paradox. Suppose that there are a hundred different conditions necessary for intelligent life to evolve. These could include basic requirements (like liquid water and protection from ionization radiation), up to more subtle components (like a moon that massive enough to cause tides or an axial tilt to create seasons). Until we have another data point for reference, any condition on Earth might be considered a necessary condition. If each of these conditions has an independent probability of 1 out 10 or less, then it very well could be that Earth is unique in the galaxy, possibly the the universe. The universe is big, but it is not 10^100 planets big.

100,000 Light years across the Milkey Way ... (1)

BoRegardless (721219) | about 4 months ago | (#47218511)

So if we wanted to signal a civilization on the other side of the Milky Way (assuming we could muster the power), We would have to aim the focused radio beam on where that world would be in somewhere 50,000-100,000 years from now and they in turn would have to know the signal is coming and instantly reply to where we would be in another 50,000-100,000 years.

The whole communication thing is a total joke.

Any smart civilization would just want to make their world a nice place to live for as long as they could.

Re:100,000 Light years across the Milkey Way ... (1)

rubycodez (864176) | about 4 months ago | (#47218713)

but four light years to the nearest star and 14,600+ stars within 100 light years. And by the way, we know EXACTLY where to point lasers (not foolish radio SETI) for stars at that distance to be detected.

Re:100,000 Light years across the Milkey Way ... (1)

BoRegardless (721219) | about 4 months ago | (#47218825)

14,600 star systems within 100 light years means that probably a majority of them, if they have more intelligent life than here on Earth, might not yet have received a recognizable signal from Earth.

Re:100,000 Light years across the Milkey Way ... (1)

BoRegardless (721219) | about 4 months ago | (#47218835)

And If they are more intelligent and accomplished than Earthlings, then our search for signals from within 100 light years should have discovered some of their radio transmissions by now.

Interstellar travel impossible?? (1)

Comboman (895500) | about 4 months ago | (#47218537)

Various explanations for why we don't see aliens have been proposed—perhaps interstellar travel is impossible

Not only is interstellar travel possible, we've already done it (at least, we've sent 2 space probes outside our solar system which will eventually reach other stars). Interstellar travel within the lifespan of a single human being might be impossible, but enough other solutions exist (robotic probes, generational ships, suspended animation, long-lived alien species) that this limitation is not an adequate explanation for why alien ships have not reached Earth.

Re:Interstellar travel impossible?? (1)

BluPhenix316 (2656403) | about 4 months ago | (#47218761)

We have already sent 2 probes outside the Solar System? Really, they were just arguing earlier this year if the first probe we sent has even exited our solar system yet. Additionally, it will lose all contact with us before it gets very far into interstellar space. We could probably sent out a ship that would take a very long time to reach another star system, but communication would take twice as long and it just not very feasible. We can't even feed and cloth everyone on this planet, much less send a bunch of people on a very long journey into the stars.

Or maybe... (1)

maharvey (785540) | about 4 months ago | (#47218561)

Pasteur was right all along, and spontaneous generation isn't a thing

Few make it past the critical moment (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218625)

Fermi for all his brilliance, never foresaw the idiocy we are witnessing today. Can anyone serious believe that humanity will sustain another 500 years - let alone the 5-10,000 it might take to begin to travel the universe. I don't give it 100 years till collapse.

What alien would think to look here? (1)

Ken_g6 (775014) | about 4 months ago | (#47218691)

I currently subscribe to a variant of this climate change theory. [] (Natural, not anthropogenic.)

My variant is that all, or almost all the civilizations the aliens know about formed around red dwarf stars. It's nice and stable there for very long periods of time. We're only stable here by luck - and our big moon helps some.

Another fun thing to think about: If you look at our system as a whole, from a very long distance, we look like we're still a pre-multicellular world. Sure, there's free oxygen and water (Earth), but there's lots of iron still to be oxidized (Mars), and lots of free CO2 (Mars and Venus). I imagine there are a lot of pre-multicellular worlds (like Mars IMHO) orbiting yellow stars, so we don't stand out. (But for our radio transmissions.)

Science loves to dance... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218743)

The conditions on Earth are so unique - and it's these details that Science, in their quest
to prove that God doesn't exist, dance around. Examples include the Earth's core, which
generates the magnetic field that protects us / life from out Sun's solar winds. Mars doesn't
have it. When these "other" candidate worlds are found, no mention of this is ever made.
You could have oceans of water but without the magnetic field, nada on the life front.

Water and temperate / consistent climate isn't enough. And Carl Sagan wasn't an atheist.

Also, the fact that very few catastrophic events have happened to Earth - asteroid impacts.

With no real facts, intuition only, I guess that at best, each universe _may_ have 1 or 2
systems that have a planet that has the conditions to support life. So start your calculations
from there - which percentage of those have life; of those which have intelligent life?

Just sayin' that we should take better care of what was given to use - we're the caretakers,
because the Earth really is very rare within the CosmoS.

Who's to say we're not being watched now? (2)

Hotawa Hawk-eye (976755) | about 4 months ago | (#47218783)

Before diplomats from one country meet with diplomats from another country on Earth, they study everything they can about the situation and their counterparts. What if aliens are monitoring our communications to learn more about us -- what we do, why we do it, what we believe, how we're likely to respond to different scenarios, etc.? No one says that even if aliens came to Earth the first thing they'd do is find some schlub and say "Take me to your leader." Nor is it unlikely that a race capable of crossing the void between stars could hide from us, say by looking like a comet or asteroid.

Racist (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47218805)

Maybe you should stop calling them "Aliens".

this is obvious (1)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 4 months ago | (#47218809)

Everyone is looking at this all wrong. When a species is sufficiently evolved, it loses its motivation to either live or reproduce. A 2nd option is personal power of any individual increases with technology until one person can annihilate an entire planet purposely or on accident. The level of power it would take to travel faster than light be bending space would destroy a planet. A 3rd option is that technology or pharmaceuticals can basically make a safe version of meth where it triggers the brain's happiness receptors and then all motivation to do anything else fails and the species dies off. Considering that all of those 3 are incredibly likely, that explains why all the alien races are dead.
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