Viewing a single comment thread. View all comments

robertojh_200 t1_j3kuhvi wrote

Reply to comment by DroidLord in Milkdromeda. by Acuate187

>But the fact is that we just don't know how common life is (and more importantly intelligent life). Currently we have a sample size of one and that isn't enough to draw any meaningful conclusions.

That's fine, but the baseline statement of the Fermi Paradox is "if there are aliens, why haven't we heard from them?" as if we should have or even could have by now. It makes some serious presumptions about interstellar communication, interstellar travel, the proclivities of aliens engaging in either, and whether they even care about us enough to try and engage with us. Because make no mistake, anything we get from an alien race will almost assuredly have to be a deliberate attempt at communication; local TV and radio signals are far too weak to survive the interstellar void before degrading into indistinguishable background radiation.

Any message we receive would have to be deliberate, and that means that they would have to 1) have spotted us first, 2) recognized that we are a life-carrying planet, meaning their observational technology is at least better than JWST, 3) sent a signal exceptionally powerful enough via tight beam to survive the journey and be recognizable, 4) last long enough for our receivers to be able to parse it from the noise and identify artificial patterns, would need to 5) practically bullseye the solar system as it travels thousands of kilometers per second through the galaxy potentially hundreds of light years away, and we'd need to hope 6) that the Earth is on the correct side of the sun when the signal reaches the solar system so that it doesn't get drowned out by solar radiation, 7) that our receivers are aiming in the right direction at the right time for the right duration, and 8) that during it's travel through the void it doesn't get blocked by some unforeseen object like a black hole. This is all assuming they even use radio.

The amount of things that have to go perfectly right for us to receive a signal are insane; the WOW signal got only partially recorded because the receiver that picked it up was fixed and moved with the rotation of the earth, turning the receiver away from the signal just as it started picking it up. We may literally have missed an alien communication because we just lacked the technology to keep our ear on it for long enough, and it reached us at the wrong time.

We would likely need some kind of space-based radio observatory constellation network to truly survey the void for signals in a manner that leaves little room for doubt. And again, this is communication over vast interstellar distances, which creates its own problems. A 50,000 year old interstellar empire could be engaging in stellar engineering on the other side of the galaxy, and if they're 60,000 light years away, we will be physically incapable of ever knowing about them for 10,000 years. 10,000 years is far, far longer than the timescale upon which we'd been searching for alien life when Fermi asked "where is everybody". What would we have to say for ourselves when, after 9,999 years of not hearing anything, we conclude that we are alone, only to then get the very first light from a sequence of artificially induced stellar collapses on the other side of the galaxy? How foolish would we be, then, to have spuriously decided we were alone when even 9,999 years is a blip on the scale of space and time that separates us from our possible neighbors. At these scales, we will never be able to conclusively state we are alone from the sole vantage point of Earth; surrounded by 400billion stars in our galaxy alone, it would literally be faster and more productive to develop interstellar travel and just go look, than it would be to try and talk ourselves in circles around hypothetical fermi paradoxes, drake equations, and other probabilities all formed out of a sample size of 1 planet.

It's true that the we simply don't know, empirically, but the Fermi Paradox seems to take a presumptuous stance on the subject by implying we're alone and life must be rare simply because, in the vanishingly short amount of time we've been even capable of searching with anything resembling earnest (like, a few decades), we would have heard something. It's the equivalent of our cavemen ancestors approaching the shore for the first time, tasting the water, vomiting, and concluding that the water is poisonous and nothing could possibly live in the ocean simply because we couldn't do it ourselves--when a whole universe of life in fact lives just out of sight, oblivious and uncaring about either our ignorance or our arrogance.


ThatDaveyGuy t1_j3ltbgb wrote

Your brain has a tremendous amount of surface area. Ya done good with this.


Michael_823 t1_j3lpydb wrote

Dude wrote a whole nobel prize winning essay to prove a point. Probably the most mind blowing and convincing thing I have ever read.


robertojh_200 t1_j3mk9xr wrote

To give some more thoughts on the matter, much is often said about the probability of life in the universe, and the possibility of life's emergence in any given scenario. Leaving aside for a moment that developing probabilities with a sampling size of 1 is ludicrous at best, the method behind the conclusions--reverse engineering the requirements for life to evolve at least as we understand it to get some idea of what might likely be out there--can be flipped in the other direction.

We know, from our experiences, at least a little of what it takes to develop life. As far as we can tell, life on earth emerged from a single ancestor, which is to say we have one tree of life on earth that traces its roots back to a common ancestral microbial organism from which all life emerged, and all life shares family with. This original life form is an "emergence event" for life. Should life exist on Mars or Europa or even early Venus (which likely was a water world), it too would have had one emergence event similar to ours, and that life will have evolved along its own branching paths in its own tree of life. What then does it take to develop intelligence out of a microbial organism?

Because the discussion around the search for aliens usually implies the search for other intelligences, ones capable of using technology to communicate over vast distances, develop civilization, and explore the cosmos. Microbial remnants on Mars, aquatic animals on Europa, or whatever might have existed on Venus 500million years ago wouldn't be the holy grail first contact scenario we like to envision, though such discovery would completely change our understanding of life in the cosmos more generally; in one solar system, life will have had up to potentially four distinct emergence events, maybe more. The next question one might ask is, what happens if life emerged more than once on a single planet?

But our concern is with intelligence. Intelligence on earth had its own, distinct emergence event about 200,000 years ago with the emergence of homo sapiens. The thing is though, depending on how you define "intelligence", Earth may have had more than that. If you define intelligence as the capacity to make and utilize tools fashioned from the environment to better improve the odds of survival, than numerous species across the Earth already engage in that, from small maki monkeys using basic hammering implements, to Otters building dams, to other primates using weapons. Even homo erectus and other sub phenotypes of humans, distinct from Sapiens, used tools and built small communities; they now remain silent, but they existed nonetheless.

If you define intelligence as the capacity for language and communication along complex social structures or the ability solve complex problems, again, we see that all over the world, most notably in dolphins, who use a truly complex communication style to form sophisticated battle strategies in either hunting or playing, form social structures, and seem to hold very human like feelings for others--good or ill. And of course, primates have been able to learn sign language to communicate with humans. They even have senses of humor, and it's been argued they even have names.

If you define intelligence as self awareness--or sentience, the ability to recognize ones own feelings either physical or emotional as oneself--we see that everywhere. Dogs, parrots, primates, dolphins, elephants, and many more can look in a mirror and acknowledge that they are themselves, the foundation of consciousness, what one might call the soul.

And if you define intelligence as the capacity to develop civilization, and claim that humans are distinct in that category of all life on earth, than I would argue that civilization is merely the cooperative expression of beings that build with tools, communicate with language, and recognize oneself in the mirror as distinct from others in the group. In my view of the Earth, intelligence has had not one emergence event on Earth, but in fact dozens of emergence events, with humans being the obviously most advanced--but nonetheless only the greatest among many.

And at the risk of sounding conspiratorial, I can't even say with certainty that we were the first. We have no direct evidence of intelligence before us, but we also can't discount the possibility; intelligence's frequent reemergence in our tiny window of time would suggest that complex life naturally lends itself to complex, problem solving brains that lend further to the emergence of intelligence. What, then, may have existed 66million years ago, just before the fall of the dinosaurs, when the oxygen was richer and the life on it larger? What may have looked up at the stars and wondered to themselves--in their capacity to understand that they are themselves--what else might be out there, and what else might yet come?

In this view, while we can't say for certain how common life is, we can say with some degree of certainty that, where life does emerge, intelligence is not that far behind.