SMBC resolves the Fermi paradox

By Phil Plait | September 19, 2010 7:11 am

smbc_klingonsHonestly — and frighteningly — I think Zach may be on to something. [NSFW language in the comic. But it's SMBC. You should be used to it by now.]

And yes, that’s me in the first panel. I always was more of a B’Etor than a Lursa man myself, of course.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Geekery, Humor
MORE ABOUT: Fermi Paradox, SMBC

Comments (50)

  1. Oh, yea. Lursa’s little sister was cute.

  2. ND

    That’s something I’ve always wondered about, will technology and it’s use develop to point where the radio emissions will be reduced to essentially nothing? Thus making SETI useless?

    What is the radius from earth that SETI is useful in finding emissions en par with what we put out?

  3. gopher65

    ND: SETI could detect targeted radio transmissions from a great distance, but if you’re taking about passive detection of the “noise” that a civilization puts out (ie, TV signal leakage), then the distance is surprisingly small. I’ve read that standard analog TV transmissions from Earth should wash out to nothing more than noise by the time they reach the edge of the solar system (digital is lower power, so it happens faster). They should be essentially undetectable.

    EM radiation decreases in brightness at the square of the distance. So if a TV signal is static-filled by the time you receive it from a mere 100 miles away, it will be what, 10^14 times weaker (or something) by the time it reaches Neptune — nevermind another star. It will just look like random static by the time it gets anywhere.

  4. Trebuchet

    “Crappy TV” followed by “Less Crappy TV” apparently refers to the quality of the signal and clarity of the image, not to the content!

  5. The Jigsaw Man

    Considering that most TV is done by cable these rays, radio is declining, and I can’t even get a cell phone signal in my bloody living room, I’m pretty sure we’ve stopped transmitting.

  6. Trebuchet, don’t get too hung up on classic TV . . it sucked just as much then as it does now, if you doubt me, go backlog anything with “Lucy” sometime.

  7. Lucas

    Probably the TV ages are BS and AS: Before and After Startrek

  8. Gary Ansorge

    Love the virtual reality reference.

    If we were to consolidate the resources in our solar system, plant humans in large space colonies, asteroids, etc., have our self replicating resource recovery robots doing all the mining, refining and transport of resources, it might well take us 30 million years to completely utilize the resources of this system,,,I expect, by then, our descendants would be something other than human and might well have no further use for exploration for its own sake.

    Fermi Paradox resolved,,,

    Gary 7

  9. B’Etor was much hotter than Lursa. Definitely the party girl of the two.

  10. RAF

    “Honestly and frighteningly” is exactly how I read it too…but very funny at the same time…

  11. ive never really understood the difficulty of the fermi paradox. seems to me that if einstien, darwin and drake are correct (and for all we know they are) then its not really a surprise than there are no aliens here, is it? you cant travel faster than light, the chances of evolving into an intelligent species is low and takes a long time and the chances of it happening on a habitable planet near hear are low.

    whats so hard? what am i missing?

  12. Crudely Wrott

    I agree, Techskeptic @ 11. The problems of intergalactic travel are orders of magnitude more difficult and costly than interstellar travel. Interstellar travel is orders of magnitude more difficult and costly than travel within an individual stellar system which is travel that we are just now learning.

    The cost in terms of energy and time combined with the ability of individuals and societies to keep their focus on a journey that will outlive them is a problem that all space faring civilizations face.

    How widespread through the universe, I wonder, is the sentiment, “Why bother? Isn’t there enough wonder right here? Why spend several lifetimes going way over there?”

    Additionally, suppose you are living in the future, say one thousand years from now. You hear one day that a mission to a nearby star is on the last leg of its return voyage and is expected to land on Earth tomorrow. Assuming you are interested, would your interest be scientific or would your interest be more anthropological? That is, would you be more interested in the knowledge the travelers have brought back or would you be more interested in observing a sample of a small, ancient society that has been cut off from the mainstream (planet side) development?

    I find that a hard question to answer. I also find it difficult to assume that any long distance travel by humans, between star systems for now because intergalactic travel makes my head hurt, would have any use for a return voyage. Shoot! By the time you get to where you’re going your kids have grown up, your dog is dead, your family home is now a parking lot, music has become even more shrill and screechy and no body except a few space geeks remembers you.

    Maybe there is motivation for long distance space travel among sentient societies. That would be those who recognize that any benefit of such travel will be limited to those who reach a destination. Those at home will probably never know anything about what happened to the intrepid explorers. At least among humans this is a hard thing to accept. I wonder how our distant cousins “out there” deal with it.

    NB — I still think we should go. And I think we will. Someday a trip into space will become routinely one way. No return. Endless horizons . . .

  13. @techskeptic: The problem is considering the age of the universe compared to the speed of light. Sure taking ten million years to cross the galaxy seems like a long time to us, but to a civiliation hundreds of millions of years old, it’s almost trivial.

    In short, if a species is smart enough to rise to sentience and realize that it must one day colonize the stars to survive (as we have already realized), why isn’t our galaxy already fully populated and/or covered in Dyson Swarms. Or perhaps even large portions of the universe. To me, if alien life existed, it would be BLATANTLY OBVIOUS. I think the most likely solution is: we’re completely alone. At least within our light cone. Maybe there are ruins of long dead, not-quite-so-advanced civilizations strewn across the universe, or maybe there’s just billions of worlds covered in algae, but we have the chance to be the first truly interplanetary and interstellar species in the history of the universe. Let’s not blow it.

  14. Martin Moran

    On a less serious note, or maybe not who knows how they may interpret the transmission. I would like Captain Kirk to be added to the ‘ how ours would look like bit’ not the ideal message to be sending out. I mean if he couldn’t shag it he would kill it!

    Clearly nothing like Captain Picard who is a proper star ship captain.

  15. logicalyrandom

    @ arik rice

    The problem with comparing the age of the universe to the speed of light is that for most of it’s history, the universe was uninhabitable by any sort of life.

    The simple fact is that interstellar travel is far to costly and slow for any civilization to invest in it. Anything with a lizard brain simply won’t be able to rationalize the idea of going on a colony ship, killing any attempt at pooling resources to spread out.

  16. Chris

    Actually if an alien did pick up our TV signal it’s unlikely they’d be able to watch it. The signal from one TV station would be too weak, but all the TV stations would put out a lot of energy and the carrier signal would be what they pick up. Actually since we made the switch to digital TV, the power requirements are much less and we put out less radio noise.

  17. Don Gisselbeck

    If von Neumann probes can be made, they could visit every star in the galaxy in much less than the few billion years that life like ours has been possible.

  18. johno

    Perhaps all the dark matter in the Universe is made up of cloaked civilizations that don’t want the likes of us primitive savages disturbing them.

    johno

  19. but to a civiliation hundreds of millions of years old, it’s almost trivial.

    really? which civilization told you that?

    we are going to try but there may be no practicable solution for getting a species intact out of a solar system. The problem may never get easy enough to follow through on.

    so while there may be a lot of civilizations out there, they may all be equally doomed

  20. QuietDesperation

    To anyone who understands radio it’s not a paradox at all. Look up inverse square law.

    SETI’s own calculations show that typical broadcast services are hard to detect even as “close” as Pluto without an Arecibo class dish. The only thing you are going to detect at light year distances are intentional, directed signals with powers in the gigawatt to terawatt range.

    And as other have pointed out, the move to putting everything on shielded cables/fibers connected into a vast network thing is a huge factor to consider.

    Another minor factor is digital communication. They use encryption and error correcting codes that tend to randomize data, making it look like just noise.

  21. QuietDesperation

    why isn’t our galaxy already fully populated and/or covered in Dyson Swarms.

    Because maybe it’s not as easy as science fiction would have us believe?

    It may take far longer than you assume?

    It may be impractical?

    Maybe unfathomably alien species with minds we cannot even hope to hypothesize about simply don’t have the desire to follow the civilization path that Arik Rice thinks they should?

    Maybe they are there, right there in our scopes, and we just don’t recognize it as such. I always wondered about that one. It’s like how lower life forms here on Earth probably don’t recognize our works as, well, works. A branch is the same as a power line to a bird (unless the insulation is gone). A lawn is the same as a rug to a sleepy cat. Could there be things right in our midst that are so advanced, at such a high level relative to what our minds can grasp, that we simply do not see them as such?

    Probably not, but a sort of creepy thought.

  22. johno

    @QD #21
    A branch is the same as a power line to a bird (unless the insulation is gone).

    The insulation has nothing to do with the bird not getting electrocuted. It is safe because there is no path through the bird to somewhere else for the electricity to flow through. I’ve seen cases where big crows touched 2 lines at once (with insulation) and were instantly fried. Likewise if you touched a metal ladder off of a power line, the electricity would find it easier to break through the insulation and get to ground through you than to continue on over many miles of copper and transformer stations before it gets to the ground.

    johno

  23. People often say if there’s aliens out there then we would have heard them by now. Or they would have contacted us after picking up our radio transmissions.

    Not so…the expanding sphere of our transmissions is really, really puny when seen in perspective with the rest of the universe, even just the rest of our galaxy. The video “The Known Universe” on http://www.astronomycentral.co.uk shows this to good effect. There could be thousands of intelligent civilisations out there, but the vast gulf of space between us means we would never know they exist.

    We always seem to make the mistake of projecting our own traits, weaknesses, and ambitions onto any possible aliens out there. By their very nature they’re probably going to be so different from us than we could ever imagine. Why would we assume they’d be building radio transmitters, or even looking into space? Also there could be plenty of intelligent alien races not quite as advanced as us, but they’re still intelligent races.

    I think the universe is teeming with at least microbial life, on both planets and moons. Are there intelligent civilisations out there? In an unimaginably old and huge cosmos I would say yes, it’s happened here, there’s no reason it can’t happen elsewhere.

  24. gopher65

    I’ll note that even if there are aliens out there everywhere, we’re not going to detect a single Dyson Swarm. Why? Because you only need a halfway efficient fusion reactor a few dozens of kilometres across to produce as much energy as a decent sized star. Stars are *incredibly* inefficient energy generators. The difference between a star and a designed fusion reactor is much like the difference between a “natural fission reactor” (such as the Oklo reactor — wikipedia linkie) and a nuclear power plant. Natural reactor = inefficient, slow suckage.

    So we’re never going to build a Dyson Swarm and neither is anyone else. Why waste a Jupiter-mass worth of resources when you can achieve the same energy capture/creation far more easily with a few giant fusion plants that cost a tiny, tiny fraction of the resources of a Swarm (or more likely a few thousand smaller reactors)?

  25. gopher reply

    Considering that there are no functional artificial fusion reactors in existence, they might not be possible either, making that argument moot.

  26. Curt

    Here’s a relatively meaningless question:

    In the first panel of the comic, what is “Phil” holding and doing with his hand? At first, I thought it was a joy stick or mouse. Then it started looking like a saltine cracker. Having never operated SETI equipment, I’m curious what this is.

  27. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Curt : Dipping a nacho into its salsa for consumption.

    @ 1. Geis Says:

    Oh, yea. Lursa’s little sister was cute.

    B’Elanna Torres – now there was one hot Klingon lady. ;-)

    @ 7. Lucas Says:

    Probably the TV ages are BS and AS: Before and After Startrek.

    Which version of Star Trek : TOS, Next Gen, DS9, Voyager? ;-)

    @13. Arik Rice :

    I think the most likely solution is: we’re completely alone. At least within our light cone. Maybe there are ruins of long dead, not-quite-so-advanced civilizations strewn across the universe, or maybe there’s just billions of worlds covered in algae, but we have the chance to be the first truly interplanetary and interstellar species in the history of the universe. Let’s not blow it.

    Seconded by me. :-)

    Sadly, I fear right now we are blowing it – at least in the West. :-(

    @21. QuietDesperation :

    Maybe unfathomably alien species with minds we cannot even hope to hypothesize about simply don’t have the desire to follow the civilization path that Arik Rice thinks they should?

    &

    24. Betelgeuse :

    We always seem to make the mistake of projecting our own traits, weaknesses, and ambitions onto any possible aliens out there. By their very nature they’re probably going to be so different from us than we could ever imagine. Why would we assume they’d be building radio transmitters, or even looking into space? Also there could be plenty of intelligent alien races not quite as advanced as us, but they’re still intelligent races.

    Maybe .. but I think more likely not! Or at least not for the majority of other sentiences out there.

    There is such a thing as convergent evolution y’know! Okay it won’t necessarily produce humanoid “funny forehead” aliens a la Star trek, Star Wars and so many other Science Fantasy franchises but there may well be similar body patterns and features & morphologies in the same way a fish, a reptilian icythosaur and a dolphin all look similar with (probably) similar lifestyles & ecological roles.

    Also basic biology dictates that to survive we need to hunt or forage for food, find water, find partners for breeding, fight predators and compeditors etc ..

    Intelligence has survival value. Curiousity and the desire to explore and colonise new areas has survival value. These traits have become hard-wired into our instincts for good reason methinks. I don’t see this as being too different for alien extraterrrestrial sentiences.

    Technological development and the desire to use technology for the study the stars and other things, to strive for understanding and improving thewolrd would be abig partof my definition of what constitutes an intelligent species.

    There are of course, counter arguments and there is also thequestionof varying levels and kinds of intelligence. Eg. dogs are intelligent relative to fish, fish are intelligent relative to bacteria. Insects have “hive minds” type intelligent, octopi have individual intelligence & Artificial intelligence might well be different again. Dolphins & whales are highly intelligent but non-technological. Etc ..

  28. Messier Tidy Upper

    Typos correction from above :

    Technological development and the desire to use technology for the study the stars and other things, to strive for understanding and improving the world would be a big part of my definition of what constitutes an intelligent species -or at least a *highly* intelligent one that we could communicate and work with. There are, of course, counter arguments and there is also the question of varying levels and kinds of intelligence.

    24. Betelgeuse :

    I think the universe is teeming with at least microbial life, on both planets and moons.

    Never mind the whole universe, it seems to me that this is quite likely true just for our own solar system with strong chances of microbial life on Europa, Mars and Titan and good outside chances for Enceladus, the atmospheres of Venus plus the Jovian and ice giant planets, potential microbes in underground oceans of other Jovian, Saturnian, Ouranian moons -and even on Pluto and Charon.

    I think you are very likely spot on in thinking many worlds elsewhere inthe cosmos will have lower level microbial or primitive life. Intellignece of human and above level is likely rarer.

    Couple of major obstacles here that the exoplanet hunt has turned up so far though : We now know that even if a good sun-like star exists its planetary system may be messed upin several ways. It may have a hot Jupiter that migrated inwards and wrecked the planetary system in the process eg. 51 Pegasi. Or there may be eccentric orbiting Jovian or SuperEarth type planet(s) whose gravitational perturbations would make other planets impossible and that have such extreme environments (eg. temperature ranges) on any moons that life finds it very hard to begin or develop.

    Also an otherwise suitable sun-like star may lack any Jovian planets to mop up the loose debris and thus have far more frequent – too frequent – asteroid and cometary impacts on any Earth-like worlds that are present or the otherwise ideal earth-like world may lack a large nearby moon and thus lack tides sufficient to encourage the “fish” (or equivalent critters) to emerge from the water trapping lif ein the marine stage. Thus we may have many ocean ecosystems and very few land ones developing.

    That said :

    Are there intelligent civilisations out there? In an unimaginably old and huge cosmos I would say yes, it’s happened here, there’s no reason it can’t happen elsewhere.

    Yup. Agreed.

    My guesstimate here is that life will prove to be extremely common in some form or other – microbes & algae mostly – this was the case for most of Earth’s history too let’s remember. Of the vast span of Earth’s existence, for most of it life was limited to bacteria and the sea. So far as we can tell, in all Earth’s four and half billion or so years there’s only been one truly technologically advanced sentience – us – and that’s only been around for the geologicval eyeblink of two or three million years.

    Thus it seems intelligent life – & especially technological sentient species – may prove to be exceedingly rare and spread a lo-oong way apart indeed. But given the scale of spacetime, even with all the things noted earlier, yes I think Extraterrestrial Intelligences – technological sentient and capable and eager to communictae with us wil be out there somewhere. Just not close by.

    That, I think, will end up being the answer for Fermi’s paradox.

    ***

    “Few men realise the immensity of the vacancy in which the dust of the material universe swims.” – Page 7, ‘The War of the Worlds’, H.G. Wells, first published 1898, this edition : Aerie books, 1987.

    “The triple triumph of the Moon, then, is that it made it possible for man [sic] to exist; it made it possible for him [sic] to develop mathematics and science, it made it possible for him [sic] to transcend Earth and conquer space.”
    - Page 38, ‘The Tragedy of the Moon’, Isaac Asimov, Mercury Press, 1972.

    “Suppose the nearest civilisation on a planet of another star is, say, 200 light years away. Then some 150 years from now they’ll begin to receive our feeble post-world war II television and radio emission.”
    - Carl Sagan, ‘Pale Blue Dot’ page 388, Headline Book Publishing, 1995.

  29. sophia8

    “Suppose the nearest civilisation on a planet of another star is, say, 200 light years away. Then some 150 years from now they’ll begin to receive our feeble post-world war II television and radio emission.”
    Even if the TV signals survive intact over that amount of distance, aliens will need the tight equipment to decode and display it. That would mean building every essential component of a 1950s-type TV and receiver entirely from scratch without even knowing what the signals are, let alone knowing anything about how terrestrial TV is broadcast and received.
    Even if they passed those hurdles, aliens wouldn’t be able to actually view our TV pictures unless their neurologic and visual structures were very similar to ours.
    So, on the whole, I doubt that any aliens will ever get the chance to enjoy I Love Lucy.

  30. Messier Tidy Upper:…..”Never mind the whole universe, it seems to me that this is quite likely true just for our own solar system with strong chances of microbial life on Europa, Mars and Titan and good outside chances for Enceladus, the atmospheres of Venus plus the Jovian and ice giant planets, potential microbes in underground oceans of other Jovian, Saturnian, Ouranian moons -and even on Pluto and Charon”.

    Well said, if we find extraterrestrial life on another planet or moon in this solar system, then we can probably sumise that the universe is crawling with life, or at least common, even if it’s just bacteria. To think not would be kind of arrogant, although saying that nothing in science usually ends up being as simple and straight forward as we thought.

    …The world seems so cynical right now that if we did recieve a signal from another intelligent race, proven and backed up by science, a good proportion of people would be refused to be convinced…citing a government hoax/conspiracy to divert our attention from other issues etc, etc. I mean, a good percentage of people don’t even believe we landed on the Moon.

  31. Captn Tommy

    It is foolish to dishonor us foolish Earther. You and your kind have little sense of life. We would not copulate with a targ the likes of you, as our offspring would be embarrassed at their father’s geekness. Besides the VarQ’ucha’choo Achtuwatrd claim your star and no one wants to copulate with them.
    Irregardless !

  32. ShavenYak

    Even if the TV signals survive intact over that amount of distance, aliens will need the tight equipment to decode and display it. That would mean building every essential component of a 1950s-type TV and receiver entirely from scratch without even knowing what the signals are, let alone knowing anything about how terrestrial TV is broadcast and received.

    If an alien civilization has ever had their own analog electronic method of video distribution, they would probably recognize our TV signals for what they are if they received a sufficiently strong transmission. The horizontal and vertical sync signals would be pretty obvious, and once they recognized it was video, they could display it pretty easily. I’m not sure why you would think they’d need to build a 1950′s TV – we build TV tuners into USB sticks nowadays, and they would be perfectly capable of receiving all but the earliest TV broadcasts. Up until the digital transition, our broadcast system didn’t really change much (color was backward-compatible – incidentally, I wouldn’t expect aliens to figure out how it was encoded in our signal, and their color vision is likely to be too different from ours for it to be worth the effort anyway).

  33. Gary Ansorge

    12. Crudely Wrott

    “Maybe there is motivation for long distance space travel among sentient societies. That would be those who recognize that any benefit of such travel will be limited to those who reach a destination.

    There’s that planetary chauvinism again.

    I expect that any species that goes for star travel will be more oriented toward munching on interstellar debris than setting up house keeping on a planet, as in, “Oort clouds are tasty and comets are easy to get to/from. Why would anyone want to go down a deep gravity well, acquire a few resources and then have to climb out again?”

    High tech civilizations don’t belong on a planet. They’re just too disruptive to the ecology.

    Gary 7

  34. Gary Ansorge

    25. gopher65

    “So we’re never going to build a Dyson Swarm and neither is anyone else.”

    Dyson Swarms are not all about energy harvesting, they’re about room to do whatever you want and the other resources(Iron, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen) needed for the elements of life and habitat construction. I expect people will continue breeding to the limits of their environment.

    The Solar system is a much more interesting environment than one measly planet.

    Gary 7

  35. Gary Ansorge

    21. QuietDesperation

    “Could there be things right in our midst that are so advanced, at such a high level relative to what our minds can grasp, that we simply do not see them as such?”

    You always bring me the most interesting questions.

    Consciousness is considered by many researchers in neurology to be an “emergent property” of a complex system.

    If one considers the interactions between species as a form of data transfer, there may well be an “emergent consciousness” from that interaction, of which we would likely be completely unaware.

    There may even be gaseous or plasma based intelligence existing within planetary atmospheres or stars. I expect we’d not recognize intelligent behavior on their part, unless they actually tried to communicate with us and I just can’t envision that we and such as they would have anything in common.

    Gary 7

  36. allium

    “Come on, lady Klingons. Come onnnnnn, lady Klingons.”

    “Yes, there they are….I think…is that a forehead ridge?…dang it! They’re scrambled!”

    #ppvinthe80s

  37. amphiox

    Maybe unfathomably alien species with minds we cannot even hope to hypothesize about simply don’t have the desire to follow the civilization path that Arik Rice thinks they should?

    This argument is less and less likely the more alien civilizations there are. Because it only takes one to fulfil the Fermi Paradox, and not even just one alien civilization, but one faction at one instance in time of an alien civilization which should be expected to be at least as diverse as humanity, with a complex and constantly evolving history. Just one successful colony ship or Von Neumann probe launch (which could even come down to one single eccentric private citizen), even if the civilization implodes the very next day, would be all it takes to satisfy the conditions of the Fermi Paradox.

    So it only works as an “answer” to the Fermi Paradox if the number of civilizations to begin with is small, which means it is not an answer at all, as it presupposes that which it tries to address.

  38. amphiox

    It should be noted that the logic of Fermi Paradox does make several assumptions the veracity of which course we don’t know.

    1. It assumes that the time to travel between stars is the rate limiting step in expansion, as opposed to say the time from one successful colonization to the next colonization program, or the success likelihood of individual colonization attempts.

    2. It assumes that either a) alien civilizations will colonize all star systems indiscriminately without bothering to pick and choose which ones to go for, or b)if they do pick and choose, our solar system/local neighborhood is highly likely to be one of those desirable destinations.

    3. It assumes that the activities of alien civilizations will be obvious and easily detectable, such that we would not fail to notice them, so long as they are nearby.

    As an example of #2 and #3 being in error, consider the possibility that the technologies aliens must acquire to launch a successful colonization attempt (such as long term self-sustainable life support, the ability to extract energy and replenish resources even when far away from any stars or solar systems, supreme efficiency and maximal recycling of resource usage, etc) also provide them with the capacity to flourish in deep space without ever needing to colonize planets ever again. In this scenario they could be drifting in trillions of asteroid-sized generation ships in the voids between stars and perhaps pausing to linger in Oort clouds throughout the galaxy to harvest resources, without ever bothering to expend the considerable effort to descend deep into gravity wells to approach planets like earth (which would be of no economic value to them). There could be billions of them in our Oort Cloud and Kuiper Belt right now and with our current technical abilities, we might not be able to detect their presence at all.

    And if they do have any interest in planets like earth, it would most likely be a scientific interest, in which case they would be most likely to spend most of their efforts observing from afar, and if they do decide to visit, they would have motivation to do so discreetly and on a small scale.

  39. Buzz Parsec

    Everybody’s arguing about ET’s, interstellar travel, the Fermi Paradox, etc.

    I’m going to discuss the comic. I think he’s got the radio shell inside out. The outside should be spiky as random early broadcasts went sporadically in random directions. Then it becomes solid and intense and isotropic (middle phase.) Then the zombie apocalypse wipes out everything in a matter of days, resulting in a sharp inner edge to the shell.

  40. Don

    That is just so lovably geeky.

  41. Jess Tauber

    Maybe the Fermi Paradox is due to assumptions that aliens are made of classical Fermions, which are by nature limited to speeds less than that of light. We can interconvert mass and energy (bosons), and there is still the little issue of whether there are basic spin 3/2 particles. My guess is that any alien civilizations will have converted to the latter, which would be relegated to traveling minimally at the speed of light. Not only would they be able to get anywhere they wanted to quickly, they have all of negative time to do it in. Those who haven’t yet worked out how to do this don’t merit further interest except as idle curiosities, better to be left alone to evolve, or not.

  42. Nigel Depledge

    Amphiox (39) said:

    It should be noted that the logic of Fermi Paradox does make several assumptions the veracity of which course we don’t know.

    1. It assumes that the time to travel between stars is the rate limiting step in expansion, as opposed to say the time from one successful colonization to the next colonization program, or the success likelihood of individual colonization attempts.

    So, assume about 1000 years between a colony ship arriving at a suitable planet and the next one leaving – at most it multiplies the amount of time required by a factor of a few, which really does not seem significant.

    2. It assumes that either a) alien civilizations will colonize all star systems indiscriminately without bothering to pick and choose which ones to go for, or b)if they do pick and choose, our solar system/local neighborhood is highly likely to be one of those desirable destinations.

    I’m not sure I agree with (a), but you’re right about (b). However, you simply replace one assumption with a different assumption – i.e. that our solar system is unlikely to be desirable for colonisation.

    3. It assumes that the activities of alien civilizations will be obvious and easily detectable, such that we would not fail to notice them, so long as they are nearby.

    There are many indicators on Earth that we are a technological society (aside from our radio emissions, there are, for example, CFCs in our atmosphere). Is there any reason to assume that an alien technological society wouldn’t have a similar impact on their environment?

    Besides, as far as we can tell, EM radiation is the only means for long-ish range communication.

    As an example of #2 and #3 being in error, consider the possibility that the technologies aliens must acquire to launch a successful colonization attempt ([snip]) also provide them with the capacity to flourish in deep space without ever needing to colonize planets ever again.

    This is a very interesting idea, and one I find strangely compelling.

    In this scenario they could be drifting in trillions of asteroid-sized generation ships in the voids between stars and perhaps pausing to linger in Oort clouds throughout the galaxy to harvest resources, without ever bothering to expend the considerable effort to descend deep into gravity wells to approach planets like earth (which would be of no economic value to them). There could be billions of them in our Oort Cloud and Kuiper Belt right now and with our current technical abilities, we might not be able to detect their presence at all.

    I’m not sure they’d be completely undetectable – but I think that the chances of detecting minor traces of alien activity in our Oort Cloud or even the Kuiper Belt are very, very small.

  43. Gary Ansorge

    43. Nigel Depledge

    “but I think that the chances of detecting minor traces of alien activity in our Oort Cloud or even the Kuiper Belt are very, very small.”

    One way of detecting these critters is the basis of this short story by physicist Mike Combs(and SSI moderator). Entertaining and thoughtful,,,

    http://writings.mike-combs.com/eyeshine.htm

    Gary 7

  44. QuietDesperation

    You always bring me the most interesting questions.

    I have vast neurochemical problems, but it does lead to out of the box thinking which pays well in the engineering trade.

    There may even be gaseous or plasma based intelligence existing within planetary atmospheres or stars.

    Good idea, but I was think more along the lines of something we can see visually, right there in the open, but our minds do not grasp it for what it really is. And not in a “They Live” artificial mental filter sort of way, but a “our minds simply do not connect with it at all” sort of way.

    Or, once true sapience (as opposed to mere sentience) is attained, are such things no longer possible, and the only secrets are those not directly or easily visible?

    And at that point I wonder when the heck Fallout: New Vegas is coming out.

  45. QuietDesperation

    Even if the TV signals survive intact over that amount of distance, aliens will need the tight equipment to decode and display it. That would mean building every essential component of a 1950s-type TV and receiver entirely from scratch without even knowing what the signals are, let alone knowing anything about how terrestrial TV is broadcast and received.

    Reverse engineering unknown signals is old hat to the intelligence community. And, as others said, you don’t need the exact equipment. You can build an AM radio from a diode and an antenna. I built one using an FPGA evaluation board- took in the raw signal, digitized it, digitally filtered it and sent it over Ethernet to the PC which then converted it to WAV files for playback. It was an exercise. :)

  46. felixthecat

    Before we can consider ourselves a successful species, we must survive longer than the previous species on this planet.I wonder how many board meetings the dinosaurs held? Or elections?
    They seem to hold the record for the most successful species,and who is to say they were not sentient?Just because they did not organise in our sense of the word?
    Even bacteria communicate across species, exchanging information about immunities, and hold back launching an attack until sufficient numbers exist for a high probablity of success (strategy?).
    So do we really have a handle on the true definition of intelligence?
    Imagine if we could communicate across species?

    We could learn much from whales,dolphins,cats,dogs,birds,etc.,even the “lowly ” earthworm. Maybe they know what we have yet to learn:?

  47. Messier Tidy Upper

    @30. sophia8 Says:

    Even if they passed those hurdles, aliens wouldn’t be able to actually view our TV pictures unless their neurologic and visual structures were very similar to ours. So, on the whole, I doubt that any aliens will ever get the chance to enjoy I Love Lucy.

    On the bright side that hopefully also means they miss out on seeing Hitler’s broadcast as their introduction to (in?)Humanity as postulated in Carl Sagan’s Contact novel & movie.

    @47. felixthecat Says:

    Before we can consider ourselves a successful species, we must survive longer than the previous species on this planet.

    Really? You think so? I would question that assumption. It is not how long you’re here for but what you do with the time you’re given, methinks. :-)

    I wonder how many board meetings the dinosaurs held? Or elections? They seem to hold the record for the most successful species,and who is to say they were not sentient?

    Using your own logic there the insects and jellyfish are actually more successful having been around longer. The coelocanth or stromatolite maybe?

    I would say one possible definition of a truly sentient species is a species that leaves its home planet and explores and colonises space. By this criterion we were doing okay .. in the late 60′s-early 70′s but not so much now. :-(

    Space exploration & development : it’s a survival necessity not a luxury – just ask the dinosaurs! ;-)

  48. Hi Phil,

    Just wanted to point out that SMBC did not solve the Fermi paradox, althoutgh they did a wonderful job simplifying it. Stanislav Lem, in his wonderful masterpiece Fiasco (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiasco_%28novel%29) is the first one, to my knowledge, to point out that the window of oportunity to contact another civilization is really small, because civilizations evolve in the direction of being non-contactable.

    Wonderful novel, I really recommend it.

  49. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Johnnie : Thanks for that recommendation – looks good & I’ll have to try and find a copy somewhere. :-)

    There could well be something in that idea I agree.

    Makes you wonder how we’d react to “forced contact” & whether we’d have the sense to leave an alien sentience alone if they wish to be left alone.

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