MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

We Are Most Likely Alone in the Universe

No pesky Romulans, Klingons, Ferengis or Vulcans to get in way of Terran colonization of the galaxy

EnterpriseAir & Space Museum"Where are they?" famously asked Italian physicist Enrico Fermi in the 1950s. By "they," he meant space aliens. Fermi figured that if the galaxy contained space-faring civilizations it would only take them a few tens of millions of years to populate it. So why hasn't there been a saucer-landing-take-me-to-your leader moment already? This is the Fermi Paradox.

In 1961, American astronomer Frank Drake devised an equation in which he tried to estimate the number of technological civilizations that might exist in our galaxy. Depending on the values plugged into it, the galaxy could be brimming with extra-terrestrials or we might be its only technologically advanced denizens.

A new paper in arXiv seeks to "dissolve the Fermi Paradox" by specifying various values for the parameters in the Drake Equation. The paper is by three researchers from the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, research fellow Anders Sandberg, nanotechnologist Eric Drexler, and philosopher Tod Ord. As the researchers note:

We examine these parameters, incorporating models of chemical and genetic transitions on paths to the origin of life, and show that extant scientific knowledge corresponds to uncertainties that span multiple orders of magnitude. This makes a stark difference. When the model is recast to represent realistic distributions of uncertainty, we find a substantial ex ante probability of there being no other intelligent life in our observable universe, and thus that there should be little surprise when we fail to detect any signs of it. This result dissolves the Fermi paradox, and in doing so removes any need to invoke speculative mechanisms by which civilizations would inevitably fail to have observable effects upon the universe.

By "fail to have observable effects upon the universe," they are trying to address, among other issues, the prospect of a Great Filter that causes advanced civilizations to destroy themselves before they can colonize other stars or that aliens find watching television at home more edifying that traveling among the stars.

So what do the three conclude? From the article:

When we take account of realistic uncertainty, replacing point estimates by probability distributions that reflect current scientific understanding, we find no reason to be highly confident that the galaxy (or observable universe) contains other civilizations, and thus no longer find our observations in conflict with our prior probabilities. We found qualitatively similar results through two different methods: using the authors' assessments of current scientific knowledge bearing on key parameters, and using the divergent estimates of these parameters in the astrobiology literature as a proxy for current scientific uncertainty.

When we update this prior in light of the Fermi observation, we find a substantial probability that we are alone in our galaxy, and perhaps even in our observable universe (53%–99.6% and 39%–85% respectively). 'Where are they?' — probably extremely far away, and quite possibly beyond the cosmological horizon and forever unreachable.

Two takeaways: First, there is no reason for us to keep quiet and cower at home as some timorous souls have counseled. And second, the galaxy is ours for the taking. Let's go.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Rockabilly||

    I once saw a UFO.

    I was 9 years old. A friend and I were in the back yard late at night. We looked up and there was the classic UFO shape with lights all around it blinking on and off. It hovered over us and then took off very fast. My dad was a pilot so I was aware how fast military planes can travel and what they looked like.

    The next dad I told my dad and he said "son, don't tell anyone else about it." I said 'yes sir.'

    He has passed away so I don't see any harm in relating this story to you.

    I was too young to be on LSD or the other drugs I took as a teen. This shit was real. The universe is so fucking big, odds are there is something else out there.

    On the light touch I hope the creatures look like this.

    "Teenagers From Outer Space"

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r73WyAkRehc

  • Mongo||

    I've seen strange lights which were stars visually distorted under freakish weather conditions.

    Another time, my pal, as we were walking downtown in the fog, suddenly exclaimed that we were witnessing a UFO sighting. I had to point out to him that they were lights on top of a skyscraper.

  • Chipper Jones||

    ^This is exactly what an alien pretending to be human would say in the face of such clear evidence.

  • Freddy the Jerk||

    Mongo no alien. Mongo just pawn in game of life.

  • Longtobefree||

    So YOU are the alien!

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    Apparently one that has learned how to assimilate in western culture.

  • lap83||

    "son, don't tell anyone else about it."
    He has passed away so I don't see any harm in relating this story to you.

    and now he's spinning in his space grave, tsk tsk

    But seriously, cool story. I'm more likely to believe that than the average story, which coincidentally is always told by a crazy person hawking their vanity published book

  • Inigo Montoya||

    I once saw one of those black triangles, moving quite slowly and silently over a very rural and sparsely populated area in western Massachusetts. My first thought wasn't "aliens" but rather "military stuff that's still under wraps." It might have helped that there was some kind of Airforce base not too far away.

    Later on, a little online research turned up a supposedly classified electronic surveillance and jamming craft called a TR-3E. Sometimes also called the Aurora. The drawings looked pretty much like what I saw.

    To be fair, I sort of want it to be military rather than otherworldly. Given the billions in waste, and hundred of millions accounted for in Pentagon budgets, it would be sorta comforting to think that at least some of that is going into extremely advanced propulsion systems and exotic airframe research at some skunkworks facilities instead of entirely into the pockets of various bureaucrats and their corporate cronies. One can dream, at least.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    Unaccounted for...not "accounted for." Wasn't there some recent story about $500M that just disappeared?

  • CE||

    The story's gone now too.

  • TangoDelta||

    I was a UFO once. Well at least for a little bit, then I was an IFO. Who'da thunk it?

  • Eyedunno||

    Wait, do you remember what the 'U' stands for?

  • No Longer Amused||

    It's one of those things that sort of dawns on you slowly over the years as you realize just an improbable freak occurrence that Earth is, let alone sentient life.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I'm sorry your friend died Ron.

  • Robert||

    I used to think that, though not for the same reasons. Too many assumptions for the Fermi Paradox to be meaningful.

    I changed my mind when it was discovered that life started much earlier in the hx of Earth than previously thought.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Yes, life is only too ready to pop up. I think it far more likely that we simply can't imagine the tech which will be available in a mere 100 years, let alone what affect it will have on society. My guess is that once a society starts down the road to non-muscle energy, such as steam engines, the possibilities snowball so fast that civilizations just lose interest in visiting the myriad of possible worlds, and those that do have endless ways of avoiding detection.

    We've gone from life being brutish and short to much more controllable in what, 200 years since vaccination, 150 years since Florence Nightingale sanitization, 100 years since chemical and medical research took hold, and not even 50 years of the Internet making information almost free? All that progress in growing food and making life comfortable has cut way back on war and piratical states. I fully expect FTL travel in 100 years, and similar progress in a comfortable life will probably arrive first to the extent that there will be no or a very short window where there are Hitlers to harass other planetary civilizations. Why trade from a less-advanced civilization when you can spy from orbit and copy what you want?

  • Agammamon||

    With that, a 'virtuality trap' (where you retreat into virtual realms - potentially multiple nested virtual realms and to the extent that you forget where baseline reality *is*) is certainly a possibility - but for posthuman upload cultures. And those guys would be tearing their solar system apart for raw materials to build matrioska clouds around their sun. And if that were happening on any decent scale then we'd be seeing evidence of it.

    A 'speed trap' goes with posthuman civilizations too - where your subjective clock speed is so great that even interplanetary *speed of light delays* is like us talking to distant star systems you can lose interest in anything outside your local area simply due to to long ping times. But ther'd likely still be someone who converts themselve into a spore and launches themselves towards another star in the hopes of monopolizing all that energy and mass before anyone else gets there.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    I'm well aware of what Einstein said, but I'd still like to believe that FTL travel (and communication) might be possible given the right tech that we just don't have yet.

    The thing is, the area we are talking about is so vast, there could be aliens flying around and they'd miss us entirely as well as each other.

    One of the dumbest things in the recent Avengers movie was Thanos' idea that the universe was rapidly running out of room for everyone. Even if there were a hundred different spacefaring civilizations out there, it would be a drop in the ocean. You might as well worry that the sand people track into their cars after leaving rhe beach is going to leave nothing but a mud plain by the time they next visit.

  • Cloudbuster||

    "I'd still like to believe..."

    You and your crazy religion!

  • CE||

    Thanos wanting to cut the population in half was stupid too. On Earth that would only set us back like 50 years.

  • CE||

    You're assuming we're not already in the virtual realm. Which is highly unlikely.

  • Agammamon||

    The only assumptions in the Fermi Paradox is average speed of colonization - ie, the product of speed of travel between between stars a civilization might achieve and how long a time period it takes a civilization to go from seed colony to launching its own colony ships.

    Oh, and that there's no spiritual 'sublimation' where everyone goes to another dimension after achieving some level of technology.

    The galaxy is 180,000 ly across at its widest points. A speed of colonization of .1% the speed of light would get the whole galaxy colonized in 180 million years. With life on earth over 4.5 billion years old, a few tens of millions of years difference in start times is nothing on that scale. So, if they were out there, we should be seeing *something*.

  • sparkstable||

    Like the awesome late 80s/early 90s cartoon. Can't remember the name. An Alosaurus (is that right?) was the good leader. A pink T-Rex was the bad guy. Had dino-ships and all.

  • Z565||

    Lol

  • BeamMeUp||

    In the Star Trek Voyager episode "Distant Origin", evidence is found which suggests that a Delta Quadrant species called the Voths may be descended from an Earth dinosaur species called hadrosaurs. (The dinosaurs were around for over 100 million years. How do we know they didn't achieve space travel and that the technology disappeared in some upheaval. LOL.)

  • mrg||

  • Vernon Depner||

    So, if they were out there, we should be seeing *something*.

    But would we even recognize "something" if we saw it? Remember we could be talking about life forms that have been sentient for billions of years. Would we even know they were life forms if we saw them? Would we know we were looking at their technology? Does an ant know that a tree is natural but a lamppost is technology? Are galaxies natural formations? What if their physical culture is made of dark matter? Sorry, I think dismissing the possibility of widespread intelligent life based on the Fermi Paradox is a failure of imagination.

  • Z565||

    Damn dude.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Yup. What truly intelligent entities would want anything to do with us (except as pets or meat)?

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    I agree 100%

    To me, the most likely spot for something to develop intelligence is in a star. The energy budget is immense, the selection pressures are consistent, the diversity of expressions of form is high. It seems impossible that evolution isn't occurring at a fairly fast pace, and stars last a long time.

    Assuming the sun is populated with beings, would they be able to recognize us as anything more than some slow moving geologic accretion? We are literally not very bright and we occupy just the tiniest film at one layer of the sphere that is the Earth. Even if they recognize us as alive, how could they believe us any more interesting than we find lichens.

  • MoreFreedom||

    Not mentioned, is even if aliens exist, there's a lot of reasons they wouldn't come to earth. E.G., their bodies might be more accustomed to less gravity, they may prefer uninhabited planets, they might need more/less heat than earth provides, they may reject planets with a lot of, potentially dangerous to them, microbes, etc. They may prefer to not contact humans because tech transfer to us might become a threat to them later. The atmosphere here may be unsuitable for them. Further, how many individuals would like to get on a ship and leave home forever?

    Some of these issues aren't even mentioned in the Wikipedia article on the Fermi paradox.

  • JFree||

    So, if they were out there, we should be seeing *something*.

    Well that's a much bigger assumption. That we are capable of seeing/understanding an alien 'galaxy-conquering lifeform' without actually being able to accomplish that ourselves.

    It's akin to expecting an amoeba to recognize, understand and participate in an online discussion about the Fermi Paradox.

  • A Thinking Mind||

    You have major, major flaws in your math. Your underlying assumption is that colonization would somehow only travel in one direction in a straight line. The Galaxy is a three-dimensional object, so you can't just divide the diameter by the velocity and call it a day.

    The VOLUME of the Milky Way galaxy is over 8 trillian cubic lightyears. 8,000,000,000,000 is a bigass number. So if you want to take 0.1% of the speed of light as a speed of colonization (more on that), it would take 8 quadrillion years for the whole galaxy to be colonized-that is, 592 years longer than the Milky way galaxy has existed.

    Additionally, let's talk about another major issue here: Is colonization even practical at those speeds? We're talking about building a vessel that can operate and continue running for literally hundreds or thousands of years, and somehow keeping people on board it alive, and somehow carrying enough resources to another planet to actually start developing it. If you have the technology to actually do all of it, you likely have sufficient technology that colonization isn't necessary.

  • A Thinking Mind||

    ^typo: I should have said, 592 TIMES the age of Milky galaxy, which is around 13 and a half billion years old. Even if the galaxy is slowly being colonized by sufficiently advanced aliens, it's still going to be a very empty galaxy for a very long time.

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    A new paper in arXiv

    You mean the preprint site? This isn't a paper. It hasn't undergone peer review yet, if it ever even makes it that far.

  • wootendw||

    I tried Drake's equation once, and 'failed'. The question that failed was about the chances of life forming spontaneously on a planet with earth-like conditions. I consider this to be a biological rather than astronomical question. I don't remember what I entered, but I still believe the odds are pretty slim.

    Sure, the protein, DNA, and other necessary molecules can come into being now and then by chance, especially given the astronomically large number of atoms out there. But forming a living cell that can sustain and reproduce itself from the initial environment just seems too unlikely. It may have only happened once on earth. After all, science still hasn't created a living cell from non-living material.

    Of course, once life gets started, it's difficult to snuff out and it's possible that life spreads through the universe like dandelions. So maybe life came here from somewhere else or traveled elsewhere from here via meteor, or volcanic explosions.

    But, I would not count on finding extraterrestrial life in my lifetime. There are better reasons to explore the universe.

  • Ron||

    based on the diversity of both plant and animal species on this planet alone I would think the odds are good for some form of life to be on many of the billions maybe trillions of planets out there. heck life may not even need a planet to form on.

  • Agammamon||

    A problem here is - what do you mean by 'life'. A refrigerator does everything life does.

  • Ron||

    but a refrigerator is not self replicating, yet. biological self replication would probably be a requirement to claim something as a life form

  • Agammamon||

    . . . but a refrigerator is not self replicating,

    Neither are you. Neither is most multicellular life. But crystals are.

    A factory is a refrigerator's method of reproduction.

  • markm23||

    No, refrigerators don't build factories. On the other hand, sufficiently advanced robots could - and "sufficiently advanced" might mean today's hardware with somewhat better software, albeit with a huge cost hurdle. IMO, the most likely model for self-replicating robots isn't a pseudo-biological process ala budding, fission, or creating an ovum, nor two robots building a baby robot from spare parts. It's millions of robots (most of them specialized types with no resemblance at all to mechanical men) working together to build and run a network of thousands of mines, smelters, chemical plants, and factories, to produce the parts that finally come together in several roboticized assembly lines, producing more robots.of many specialized varieties.

  • Lawn Darts||

    Sure they are self replicating. You just have to have an expansive notion of "self". They get us to replicate them, much like we get cells to replicate us. Heh.

  • Devastator||

    No it doesn't.

  • Agammamon||

    Nobody ever said that all the variables in Drake's Equation were astronomical. So you didn't 'fail' it. There is no failing it. Its just a list of things we need to know to accurately estimate the chances of intelligent life forming. That's it. The equation is there to show the stuff we still don't know - its not there to provide an answer to 'where are they'.

  • wootendw||

    When I completed the test, they said my answer would mean that there was only one place in the universe where life exists. Then it asked if I cared to try again. I took that to mean they didn't like my answer. That doesn't mean failure which is why I put 'fail' in quotes.

  • Agammamon||

    Who is 'they'?

  • Ralph Wiggum||

    Shut up idiot.

  • gah87||

    First, we have barely touched the nearby universe. We do not know whether there is life or not. There may be life as near as Mars or Enceladus. Intelligent or not, discovery of life outside Earth will be a defining moment.

    Consider that the dinosaurs ruled for hundreds of millions of years. From what we can tell, they had no way of signaling aliens. So who would know if life existed on Earth at the time of the dinosaurs, monitoring from afar?

    Moreover, let's say we are alone in our galaxy. Our nearest neighbor galaxy, Andromeda, is 2.5 million light years away. So all the signals we see from Andromeda are 2.5 million years old. What signals were we sending to the universe 2.5 million years ago?

    That's not a snarky question. The Milky Way and Andromeda are roughly the same age. It's not a stretch to conclude that there is a high probability that within our galaxies, we are "advanced" life forms.

  • DarrenM||

    Yes. We'll explore the universe for many of the same reasons people explored other continents.

  • The Last American Hero||

    I disagree. Given the right conditions, some form of life is nearly certain to evolve. Getting those conditions is challenging.

  • Ron||

    We know way to little yet to make such assumptions about the know unknown variables let alone the unknown variables to be discovered.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Ron, is this your way of saying we're A Fluke of the Universe?

  • ||

    You have no right to be here. Whether you can hear it or not, the Universe is laughing behind your back.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    At least my dog is getting enough cheese.

  • gah87||

    The universe is laughing at Uranus.

  • Longtobefree||

    Remember the Pueblo

  • Ron||

    If there is only one that would almost certainly call for divine intervention

  • Freddy the Jerk||

    Why would that be?

  • Ken Shultz||

    This thread is begging for a Freeman Dyson quote:

    "Genetic drift is particularly important for the formation of new species, when populations may remain small for a long time. The predominance of genetic drift for small populations is due to a simple scaling law. Genetic drift scales with the inverse square root of population. This means that genetic drift is ten times faster for a population of ten thousand than for a population of a million. The scaling is the same for any kind of random mutations. If we observe any measurable quantity such as height, running speed, age at puberty, or intelligence test score, the average drift will vary with the inverse square root of population. The square root results from the statistical averaging of random events."

    ----Freeman Dyson, NYRB, May 2018

    http://www.nybooks.com/article.....verything/

    I don't remember the Drake equation having a variable for genetic drift--but there was one for annihilation, six of one, half a dozen of the other?

  • Ken Shultz||

    I hope we can build on what we discussed the last time genetic drift came up. Suffice it to say, I maintain that assuming we arrived in the middle of homo sapiens shelf life is the assumption with the lowest margin of error. Our species differentiated itself 100,000 years ago, so, yeah, I maintain that assuming we will have another 100,0000 years to go before we go extinct is the assumption with the lowest margin of error.

    This is not to say that our descendants won't survive as genetically engineered aquatic beings living under the surface of Enceladus, Europa, or some other watery moon, but 100,000 years from now, they're likely to have stopped being homo sapiens and started being something else. Would our aquatic descendants be interested in the same things? Would they bother looking outside our solar system for life? I'm not even sure they'd be interested in much beyond the surface of their own watery moon.

    Finding an alien civilization in our lifetimes would be fun, but if two civilizations only have 100,000 years to send and receive signals before they go extraterrestrial and underwater, I don't suppose the Drake equation gives us much hope that our signals will cross each other. On the other hand, we're almost 100% certain to meet an extraterrestrial civilization of another species, maybe in as little as 100,000 years. That extraterrestrial species, of course, will be our descendants. They're the extraterrestrials we're sure to find.

  • Eidde||

    Genetic Drift was the best of the Fast and Furious movies.

  • Agammamon||

    I thought it was the Jurassic World crossover you guys keep asking for.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I give you people gold.

  • Ralph Wiggum||

    No actually, you're terrible

  • Ken Shultz||

    You give people nothing.

    Maybe you give women indigestion, but that's about it.

    I give people gold.

  • DWC||

    There are an estimated 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe, there are may be 400 billion stars in the milky way galaxy alone. To suppose that we are the only intelligent species to arise, let alone the only instance of life arising is absurd. Some scientists actually believe the universe is infinite, which it definitely is for all practical purposes. It is likely every single configuration of atoms however complex is duplicated many times over somewhere in the universe.

  • sparkstable||

    Sure... billions of stars with billions of planets is a lot of chances. But it pales compared to the galactic lottery of life. Chances non-life becomes a single cell? Chances it dies immediately? Now what are the odds of hitting the jackpot on that first proposition for a second time given that the first time you got lucky it lasted for a fraction of time before it was all for naught? That's just to have ANY life, not counting complex intelligence. For that you need mutation into a multicellular form AND for that to survive long enough to propagate it's new form. Then THAT has to evolve. And so on.

    Hate to brake it to you but math doesn't say there is life out there. It says we are it (most likely... there's always a chance.)

  • King's Ransom||

    By my math we've been able to closely observe exactly one planet, that planet is teeming with life. Chance of life on other planets = 100%. Your fancy equations that purport to prove the impossibility of the only reality we actually know are limited by what we can currently observe or more importantly by what we believe we can observe. In astronomical terms I would assess our observational capabilities to be somewhere between utterly terrible and completely embarrassing.

    -Starlord the 47th
    Acting regent for the council of remedial Human development

  • Barnstormer||

    Best post in the whole thread.

    The hubris of the scientists is astounding.

  • DarrenM||

    That one planet was kind of self-selected. We couldn't have observed it to begin with if we hadn't evolved here.

  • CE||

    Assume we are an average planet around and average star in an average galaxy.
    The only thing peculiar about the Earth is a large moon in close orbit, which certainly has had a big impact on life. But there are enough planets and enough moons and enough stars and enough galaxies that even that advantage may be replicated countless times.

  • Napoleon Bonaparte||

    I used to think life would be a fairly ordinary occurrence, but not so much any more. For one, despite the fact that we have literally millions of examples and all of the required resources, nobody has figured out how to replicate that process. So apparently, life ain't easy!

    On top of that, we haven't been able to find any off planet examples locally, or been able to find any signs on exoplanets, to the extent we're able to examine them.

    Next, far from being in a typical situation, it turns out we're unique, or at least very rare, in our situation. Most solar systems have planets of similar size and composition. We're usual in having large gaseous planets such as Jupiter, as well as small, rocky planets like earth. It's been hypothesized that the reason we haven't been clobbered by space debris is that the larger planets act as a cosmic garbage collector. Also, we have an unusually large moon, which may or may not have influenced conditions that allowed for life.

  • Napoleon Bonaparte||

    Even assuming life has evolved elsewhere, there's no reason to think it's interested in communicating with anything else. We have a number of reasonably intelligent species on earth, but none of them have shown any interest in establishing any communications with us, despite a number of species being able to communicate with each other. That seems to be a feature unique to us. Perhaps even intelligent aliens have likewise determined that diversity is not their strength, and prefer to avoid interactions with other species.

    And lastly, on the strength of one example, we really have no idea what forms life could take. We can't even define it. Even if it exists, would we be able to communicate with it? How would we communicate with an intelligent tree? Is there any reason to think other life would exist in time scales we could even relate to? A species that takes several centuries to scratch it's nose would be impossible for us to communicate with.

    So I conclude that life such as ourselves is probably extremely rare, if it exists anywhere else at all.

  • CE||

    My cats communicate with me every day. They're quite good at it. Less good at understanding what I'm trying to tell them.

  • gah87||

    Counterpoint.

    Life is everywhere. It's hard to get rid of. Mold, mildew, ants, weeds... life takes over.
    Duh, there are places where chemical life cannot exist.
    On the other hand, we are finding life in nooks and crannies we would never have thought possible: hydrothermic vents, volcanic rocks, high atmosphere.

    Try killing life. Try literally to wipe out all life in a confined area. Good luck. You 1ill get molds, fungi, mildew; possibly plants and animals.

    We dont even know for sure whether there is life on other worlds in our solar system. Answering that question alone will be a huge step.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Not only that, but the ubiquity of life makes it VERY difficult for the transformation from a soup of pre-life molecules to what we think we recognize as living things, because those living things do like them some soup.

  • CE||

    Just because you don't know the recipe doesnt mean cakes are hard to bake.

  • Karl Hungus||

    Scientists believe there are up to 19,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars in the observable universe that have at least one Earth-like planet revolving around them. And to have found life-forming amino acids on our nearest planetary neighbor? That alone makes it very hard for me to believe that we're alone as an intelligent species in the universe.

    https://goo.gl/dcZuUt

  • colorblindkid||

    I think there might be bacterial life out there and even some complex organisms, but I do think it is very likely that the chance of a life form as advanced as us is very likely 1 in 19,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Especially when you add time to the factor. I have always been highly skeptical of the over eager scientists who think we're going to find life everywhere. I would love to be proven wrong, but I doubt it.

    Also, the one thing that could change my mind is if humans finally discover how life formed here. If humans figure out how to create life, if humans can create spontaneous life from inanimate matter, then we can truly understand how likely life is out there.

    I am not highly religious, but I do not rule out some unscientific "spark" required for life to start. I eagerly await being proven otherwise.

  • King's Ransom||

    When scientists prove they can create life or prove the concept mathematically you'll be faced with the likely conclusion that something else got there first. That something may be God or gods or some ancient privateer captain shedding genetic cargo in a high gee maneuver to evade the starcops.

  • Devastator||

    There is nothing special about us. There are no sky-wizards. There is other life out there. However, it's possible that interstellar travel just isn't possible.

  • Vernon Depner||

    Or, that interstellar travel isn't necessary for sufficiently advanced beings.

  • TLBD||

    Interstellar travel is currently possible. It just takes more time and money than it is worth. As was pointes out even .1% of the speed of light could colonize our galaxy in a couple hundred million years.

  • DarrenM||

    1% of the speed of light could colonize our galaxy in a couple hundred million years

    I guess we better get started, then.

  • Hooha||

    The "we're not unique" argument suffers from an internal inconsistency; it assumes that the universe as we know it is unique.

    If you accept a high degree of likelihood that our universe is but one of many, (notably, a conclusions planted firmly the same logic as 'we're not unique') then the possibility that most universes are lifeless wastelands - with the occasional exception - is extremely plausible.

    If you do not accept that our universe is almost certainly one of many, the obvious question is "why life, but not our universe?"

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Obviously God only makes beings in His image so He's not going to create Martians. He doesn't have green skin. That was always not just idiotic thinking but pretty fucking blasphemous.

  • Karl Hungus||

    Somewhere on Mars is a little green fucker that thinks the idea of your pasty white ass being made in the image of his god is equally blasphemous. So check your xenophobic bigotry at the door, we're a more inclusive forum than that.

  • Eidde||

    C. S. Lewis's Martians were pretty impressive and nonhuman-looking.

  • The Last American Hero||

    Meh, I'll take the Venusian chick.

  • buybuydandavis||

    #GreenLivesMatter

    Praise Kek!

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    Woody "We were made in god's image? look at me. Do you think god has red hair and wears glasses?"
    Rabbi "Well not with those frames."

  • stuartl||

    Mr. Bailey you mention Stephen Hawking but not the earlier Dark Forest? https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dark_Forest. Shame!

  • gaoxiaen||

    You go first.

  • Eidde||

    "You don't have to be alone in the universe - call this number and chat live with the triple-breasted whore of Eroticon Six. Call now!"

  • Karl Hungus||

    If we were on Facebook, this comment would rate a "like" at the very least. More likely a laugh react or maybe even a heart react.

  • Tanning by neutrinos||

    I was dumb enough to download and quickly read this paper -- 45 minutes I will not get back. Don't repeat my mistake, dear friends.

  • AustinRoth||

    The real barrier to the colonization thoery is propulsion. The amount of mass required to generate the thrust needed to even avchieve .1% the speed of light is (pardon the pun) astronomical.

    And where does that .1% come from? Certainly no empirical data. If it is off by a factor of 10, then it is not 180,000 million years but 1.8 billion. If it is off by a factor or 100, then 18 billion, or older than the universe.

    When I was young I dreamed of faster than light drive and galactic empires. As I have gotten older and have a much deeper understanding of physics, I no longer think any "warp drive" is out there to be found.

    I believe the universe is full of life though, but between physics, and the fact that most forms of life, even intelligent life, area very likely unrecognizable as such to us, we will never make contact.

  • Agammamon||

    Us your star to generate the propulsion. You leave your engine at home.

  • AustinRoth||

    Then you simply trade time for thrust. Solar wind propulsion does not provide high delta-v thrust, and therefore the time required to accelerate (and decelerate) go up enormously, again making high velocity colonization unworkable.

    However, the real difficulty with alien life, as I stated above, is the unlikelyhood that we could even recognize it as life, or intelligent, and vice versa for them.

  • TangoDelta||

    To paraphrase Pogo: 'Yep son, we have met the aliens and he is us.'

  • Ken Shultz||

    "The real barrier to the colonization theory is propulsion."

    I disagree.

    For one, aquatic worlds are plentiful even in our own solar system. It may not be necessary to go interstellar at all. Living under the surface of one of the water drenched moons in our solar system might be preferable to living on the surface of Mars--certainly in terms of temperature extremes.

    The other reason propulsion isn't the barrier is that people don't need to be convinced that the final destination of the spacecraft will be better than earth, so they can live out their lives there. People just need to be convinced that life aboard the spaceship heading to other systems will be better than what they have on earth.

    Think of the latter point this way: Do trekkies in urban Detroit fantasize about living on some distant world--or do they fantasize about living their lives aboard the Enterprise? You don't have to promise them life on some distant world to get them to want to go. Just offer them a life aboard the Enterprise--how hard would it be to make that better than urban Detroit? Don't worry about whether they make their final destination in one lifetime Just worry about the quality of life on board the ship..

  • Cloudbuster||

    You're making a powerful argument to both Trekkies in urban Detroit. The rest already moved to Ann Arbor. It was way easier than building a star ship.

  • Ken Shultz||

    The people who leave everything behind to go somewhere else for the hope of a better life probably aren't the well to do, top of the social pyramid.

    The state of Georgia was a prison colony. That's how a lot of people went to Australia, too--in chains. The rest of the U.S. was colonized by religious fanatics trying to escape persecution, indentured servants, slaves, . . .

    People don't generally make drastic changes in their lives because things are going great. It's a lot easier to leave everything behind when you don't have much to leave behind.

    Ever connected with an American expat community in a developing country? You'll find short term students there for a cultural adventure. I found that a lot of the Americans who left the U.S. and stayed there don't have a lot of options. Ut isn't that way with all of them, but that's the dynamic I see for people being willing to chuck it all to leave Earth behind for an uncertain future. They're people for whom the opportunity cost of leaving is relatively low.

  • CE||

    If your spacecraft is good enough to get to another star, it's good enough to live on indefinitely without even needing a destination.

  • Griffin3||

    We've already got a spaceship going .013% c. You don't think we can get an 7.5x increase before we implode?

  • Cloudbuster||

    Nope.

  • The Last American Hero||

    Give some rich people interstellar tax credits, and Elon will get right on it.

  • TLBD||

    It has always been an interesting thing to me that it seems like the universe is designed to ensure that information is fairly localized. Almost like a video game world where u can't see the horizon until you get closer because you don't have the processing power to render further.

    If one were to design as complex a simulation with finite computational power, I'm not sure how much different our solar system would be.

  • Lawn Darts||

    Exactly. Occlusion Culling is a feature, not a bug. Why render what nobodies' "looking" at? It's simulations all the way down...

  • DarrenM||

    The thing with physics (or any other science) is that there is still a great deal we simply don't know. The big mistake (made at just about every time there ever was) is thinking we know pretty much everything there is and will therefore be restricted by that forever. I wonder how some of the modern discoveries would look to someone just a couple hundred years ago. What will have been discovered by a couple hundred years from now that no one has even imagined today?

  • buybuydandavis||

    "And second, the galaxy is ours for the taking. Let's go."

    Imperialism! Phallologocentrism!

    I think there's plenty of life, and they're all living in the Dark Galaxies.

  • Likes To Sleep Late||

    This article is embarrassing. This is our "science correspondent" and he doesn't know the difference between a galaxy and the observable universe? I thought we were supposed to be the smart ones.

  • Weigel's Cock Ring||

    Bailey is neither a libertarian nor a supporter of science.

    He is a true believer in the man-made global warming nonsense, and any real man of science would have utterly excoriated that group of charlatans who deliberately destroyed their own data in an effort to cover their asses.

  • Ron Bailey||

    L: As noted in my post the FHI researchers claim that it is unlikely that another technological exists in our galaxy and perhaps not in the observable universe as well.

  • Ron Bailey||

    Technological civilization

  • SQRLSY One||

    Seeing as we believe that we may JUST BARELY be on the edges of being able to to detect oxygen (a sign of our kind of life) in the atmospheres of relatively nearby planets in OUR galaxy, going out and speculating about the presence or absence of technologically advanced life in ultra-mega-far distantly-located galaxies elsewhere (of which there are apparently untold billions, even in our observable universe) is of the utmost arrogance! Would our scientists PLEASE admit to their profound ignorance, having close-up observed ONE planet with life on it?

    I have seen that SOME scientists actually have the humility to admit that we still don't know the answer to a simple question: Is our universe finite or infinite? That's the kind of humility that we desperately need!

  • Hidebehindyourcause||

    Perhaps it's pride. It's like evolution, which some scientists swear has been proven. It hasn't, yet many act as if it has because you know everything has to be just a random occurrence right?

  • Bramblyspam||

    I think there's a good chance that life is commonplace, but the leap to technology is rare.

    Looking at the history of our own planet, dinosaurs were around for almost two hundred million years without evolving a species capable of technological civilization. That's a pretty clear indication that the odds of developing such a civilization are very small. When you look at what's required, the odds can seem quite daunting. You don't just need speech and hands (or the equivalent), you probably also need the species to have a ridiculously long childhood. Aside from humans, I can't think of any species whose young spend years in a state of utter helplessness. You'd expect natural selection to select against that.

    In the coming decades, I wouldn't be at all surprised if we detect exoplanets with liquid water and atmospheres with oxygen - and as far as we know, the only way to get a high atmospheric oxygen concentration is via life. The galaxy may indeed be full of planets that are ripe for human settlement, provided only that we find a way to make interstellar travel feasible.

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    "dinosaurs were around for almost two hundred million years without evolving a species capable of technological civilization."
    God created dinosaurs so we'd have plenty of high octane gas to put in our Corvettes. They served no other purpose.

  • Vernon Depner||

    ...dinosaurs were around for almost two hundred million years without evolving a species capable of technological civilization.

    We don't know that.

  • SQRLSY One||

    OK, so then, if there were "capable" dinos, then what is you theory about WHY they didn't do it? We've not even found any stone-age, let alone bronze-age, or iron-age, implements left behind by "smart" dinos... WHY?

  • Vernon Depner||

    We don't know they didn't do it. After tens of millions of years, there would be no "implements" left to find, except under the most freakishly unlikely conditions for preservation. Even after one million years, discovering recognizable artifacts of a lost civilization would be very unlikely.

    On a PBS TV science show I saw once (sorry I don't remember which one) a prominent archeologist was asked what would be left of New York City for a future archeologist to find after a million years. He answered that after that much time, all he would expect to find would be a layer of multicolored sand a few inches thick, distinguishable chemically from the soil or rock above and below by the presence of particles of foreign and artificial chemicals.

  • Bramblyspam||

    We've found countless fossilized dinosaur bones, eggs and more. If a dinosaur species achieved stone age tech, I would expect us to find stone tools dating to 65+ million years ago. Why wouldn't we? Wouldn't you expect stones to last longer than bones?

    Humans went from stone age to space age in the geologic blink of an eye. This suggests that a species capable of technological civilization is highly likely to produce such a civilization.

  • Vernon Depner||

    We've found countless fossilized dinosaur bones, eggs and more.

    "Countless"? No. We've found a few bones, and far fewer eggs. They represent a small sampling of the species that existed in that era. It is certain we have found no remains of the vast majority of species alive then.

    I would expect us to find stone tools dating to 65+ million years ago. Why wouldn't we?

    Lots of reasons. Geological activity could have destroyed or worn them into unrecognizability. They could be buried in places we would not have found them, such as in areas now under the sea or under the Antarctic ice. The population using them might have been small and localized, so that even if some were preserved enough to be recognizable, we just haven't stumbled across them. The period during which they were made and used might have been brief, such that the strata containing the implements is thin and there are few of them.

    Wouldn't you expect stones to last longer than bones?

    Fossilized bones ARE stones, yet their preservation is exceedingly rare compared to the number of animals there must have been.

    Humans went from stone age to space age in the geologic blink of an eye.

    Which means that, tens of millions of years from now, the stratum representing our time here so far would be a very thin slice that could be overlooked, even if anything identifiable remained.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Giant gaps ripped in hillsides for highways will remain for hundreds of millions of years. So will giant open-pit mining holes (if you dig into the silt and mud that will fill them). Artificial radioactive isotopes from our nuclear activities, ditto. AND craters from underground nuke tests too!

    If there was any dino-tech, it would have had to be very brief and of very small size, for us to not detect it today.

    Also, bones fossilized turn to rock, yes. But rocks don't need the highly selective fossilization process. We find a HELL of a lot more Native American arrow heads in North American soils than we find Native American bones or fossilized bones. And we have not found ONE dino-made arrow head, hand axe, or spear point, made of rock!

  • Vernon Depner||

    Giant gaps ripped in hillsides for highways will remain for hundreds of millions of years.

    No, they will not. You grossly underestimate the extent to which geological forces rework the surface of the Earth on that time scale. You need some Geology 101 to understand why you're wrong about this.

    it would have had to be very brief and of very small size, for us to not detect it today.

    Nope. If, for example, intelligent dino-people had inhabited Antarctica or the parts of the northern hemisphere subject to glaciation, there would be absolutely nothing of them left on the surface. In the region where I live, the surface rock is from the Lower Permian period, about 290 million years old. Everything deposited since then has weathered away or was scraped off by the glaciers. There is not a trace of anything from the era of the dinosaurs.

  • The Last American Hero||

    With a brain the size of a golf ball?

  • CE||

    Dinosaurs had teeth and claws. They didn't need axes and spears.
    Octopi and dolphins are intelligent. They can prosper in their environments without any tech at all.
    Humans not so much.

  • CptNerd||

    We're likely the first ones, which means in 1,000,000 years we'll get to capitalize and be called "The First Ones." Then we'll get to fly around in huge antimatter-guzzling starships intimidating new races and generally being galactic pests because none of them will be able to catch up to our tech.

  • DarrenM||

    Until some do-gooders provide them our tech out of "compassion" thereby violating Star Fleet's Prime Directive.

  • CE||

    Why should everyone else suffer without Facebook and Snapchat?

  • Devastator||

    Given the sheer size of the galaxy and the universe, these computations are silly. The real question is whether or not intersteller travel is possible; there should be no doubt that we aren't alone. There is nothing special about this planet despite what all the sky-wizard believers say. Everything in science and evolution points at there being more life in the universe.

  • CE||

    Well, there have been thousands of eyewitnesses who say it is possible. But scientists ignore them for some reason.

  • SQRLSY One||

    The interdimensional vorbulator will be invented very-very soon! Once the interdimensional vorbulator is invented, all humans will be given only 2 choices:

    A) Join the Galactic Confederation of advanced species, which exists for secretly protecting and advancing less-advanced species, using the interdimensional vorbulator... Which periodically malfunctions, or the pilots commit errors, which is when we see UFOs...

    or...

    B) Have your human consciousness interdimensionally vorbulated, and become an electromagnetic being which lives in the electromagnetic storms which constantly churn up the photosphere of our sun.

    After that, radio emissions and other signs of intelligent life on Earth will all go quiet. That's the usual pattern.

    The Galactic Confederation forbids intelligent beings from taking over anything beyond their home star, because new beings must be allowed to evolve, without much interference, beyond being protected from the worst of their own stupidities, such as bad haircuts and nuclear war. Otherwise, the dominant galactic culture would do the equivalent of swamping all planets with THEIR culture, and THEIR version of McDonald's fast food joints! So, no mass reproducing of humans ("The Trouble with Tribbles"-style) beyond our home star is allowed, in the name of preserving galactic cultural diversity. That's why no intelligent aliens have yet befestered the whole galaxy.

    Emperor Xenu told me all about it, so here you go!

  • Cy||

    I haven't come across my theory before, so if anyone has seen anything like it, I'd appreciate it if you point it out.

    We're a fly buzzing around a dimly lit street light in a very large parking lot.

    I think once a civilization goes full interstellar tech, they migrate towards being a dark civilization. Suns throw off ridiculous amounts of unpredictable energy. Why would a species who has gotten out of a gravity well just hang out by them?

    I would venture to say that most space-faring species live in dark planetary systems no where near a star. I would also venture to say that there is far more life on dark planetary systems through out the universe than there is orbiting suns.

    I would refer to our species as a "fire" species. We basically live next to a galactic blow torch. Once we escape the gravity well of earth and know how to create energy without having to hang out next to something as unpredictable as a sun, we'll begin to fully migrate to dark planetary systems and asteroid belts within 100,000 years.

  • Cy||

    Essentially, we've been assuming that everything else out there is like us. Our scientific community has made this same mistake before, we thought there'd be nothing at the bottom of the ocean, boy were we wrong. There's a lot more dark out there than there is light and we've only been looking in the light.

  • SQRLSY One||

    http://www.shakespeare-online......reamt.html

    There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
    Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
    - Hamlet (1.5.167-8), Hamlet to Horatio

    So yes, I think you are correct!

    Did you know that Shakespeare was a VERY advanced anthro-robotic avatar sent to Earth by the Zorstmastrians, to advance and guide our culture? THAT is where the above deep insight comes from!

  • TLBD||

    I saw an article about a black hole that had 140 trillion times the water of earth orbiting it. I'd take a guess you might find life there. Maybe the upper atmosphere of Venus?

    It definitely should not need to be a planet.

  • Azathoth!!||

    Humans do not yet know what life is. How it arises or how it is sustained.

    They busily catalogue the sliver of their local space that they can see and think they know enough to make existence spanning declarations.

    Such adorable little monkeys!

  • Vernon Depner||

    We don't really know what biochemical life is yet, but we at least have working assumptions that allow us some apparent understanding. We are as yet completely clueless about what consciousness is, though, and if it is necessarily connected to biochemical life. If it isn't, we might not have any way of detecting advanced intelligences by scientific means.

  • Azathoth!!||

    Precisely.

    Though you might try the construction thusly-- In the absence of proper accretants, life will make do with unliving components. This gives ruse to element-based forms within which life is housed. The processes needed to maintain those forms is what is commonly mistaken for as life itself.

    And that last sentence needs a 'yet'.

  • Vernon Depner||

    Yes—it could be that consciousness gives rise to life, not the other way around.

    And I don't know about that "yet". It may be that consciousness is immaterial and can only be apprehended by spiritual means.

  • CE||

    Not likely. The material comes first. Consciousness has to reside somewhere. Once the host is destroyed the consciousness fades out too.

  • Vernon Depner||

    We don't know that.

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    Could you elaborate? Are there conscious entities that we're unable to detect? Is it because we can't detect the beings themselves, or because we can't identify that there's a consciousness in beings we can detect (e.g. a tree)?

  • Vernon Depner||

    All of the above. We might not recognize the physical manifestations of conscious beings as being living things, and consciousness might exist independently of any physical manifestation.l

  • AlmightyJB||

    Laughing maniacally!

  • Ecoli||

    For all practical purposes, we are alone. Unless the speed of light is not a barrier, no other creature will be able to reach us, or us them. Maybe there is life on one of neighboring planets, or moons? That would be very interesting.

    I suppose it is possible that we might pick up years old transmissions from them, but I see no way that we will ever meet face to face.

  • DarrenM||

    You're assuming they have faces.

  • Ecoli||

    Is life necessarily carbon based? I think the answer is probably yes. Is life necessarily DNA based? Again, I think yes but with less certainty.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Probably carbon based, as no other element has the chemical properties to make complex molecules as carbon. Silicon comes close, but its chemistry does not create long chain molecules with the same versatility.

    There are probably any number of similar molecules to DNA that could be used for genetic code.

  • damikesc||

    I am of the belief that we are thinking too literally about life.

    There is zero reason to assume life means "life as we know it"

    Evolutionary theory is quite adept at explaining how life can exist in any of a wide array of situations that'd kill any type of life in existence on Earth.

    I personally suspect there is life out there. The life likely doesn't give two shits about the rest of the world. The vast majority of lifeforms on Earth aren't super curious about what is out there either. Humans are different.

  • Ken Shultz||

    The laws of economics are the way they are because that's the way they need to be. We could not overcome Malthusian type limitations if not for Adam Smith type network effects, etc.

    I suspect the forms of intelligence we're looking for are bound by similar rules. We're probably the way we are because this is the way we need to be in order to achieve our level of sophistication.

    I believe there is only one non-mammal that's managed to pass the mirror test, which, as I recall, is a magpie--a bird.

    Chances are that in order to achieve self-awareness, evolution needs to take us through similar processes. Take us through similar processes, and we're likely to find things that look a lot like we do--or something else on our planet that's achieved consciousness.

    Maybe they'll be more like elephants, dolphins, or magpies, but I suspect they'll be like something that's evolved more or less through the same process as something we already know. In order to be intelligent like we are, the'd probably need to be subjected to the same pressures.

    I suppose genetic engineering might muddy those waters a bit, but starting from when they became self-conscious, they probably look like something we know.

  • Ken Shultz||

  • Drave Robber||

    "Studies" purporting to demonstrate that this or that animal is "intelligent" have been periodically en vogue since good ol' Konrad.

    By now, there's a thick dossier on any species bigger than field mouse. If you're going to trust wikipedia, even degus are "intelligent".

  • Ken Shultz||

    It isn't about trusting Wikipedia. It isn't about testing intelligence. It's about measuring self-awareness. The mirror test is one way to attempt that--no matter what you, I, or anyone else thinks about Wikipedia.

  • Hidebehindyourcause||

    I guess if you believe that the theory of evolution is 100% true, all of that does make a lot of sense.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Survival of the fittest manipulates our genes regardless of whether I believe it.

    Genetic drift manipulates our genes regardless of whether I believe it.

    Both survival of the fittest and genetic drift manipulate our genes regardless of whether God created the world in six days.

    The mirror test measures self-awareness or not regardless of whether I believe it or whether God created the world.

    If self-awareness developed long after the common ancestor of chimpanzees, dolphins, and magpies went extinct, then it developed independently in those species--regardless of whether I believe it or whether God created their common ancestor.

  • TLBD||

    I dont like the mirror test much. Why do we assume that all animals should give a shit about visual 2 dimensional representations of themselves.

    It might be a good indicator of intelligence or visual intelligence, but not self awareness, which I believe is found in most species. Slap an animal on the ass and see if it is confused about who you slapped on the ass.

  • Ken Shultz||

    There's a big difference between a consciousness that perceives itself and one that doesn't.

    When you stare at a goldfish in a small bowl and wonder what it would be like to be that fish, that fish doesn't stare back and wonder what it would be like to be you.

    If some species have this ability and others don't, it's probably because evolving that ability was useful in some way. For instance, the consensus has it that our neocortex (the thing that differentiates us from some of our ancestors) evolved to accommodate the advantages of religion and language.

    If we're talking about contacting an intelligent civilization with the technology necessary to send and receive radio signals, we're probably talking about an alien species that's more like us than goldfish in terms of their ability to be aware of their own consciousness. That's why we were talking about this. We're likely to find that beings who achieved the level of consciousness necessary to achieve a technological civilization came to do so through processes that are similar to those that led to consciousness here. To my mind, that implies that they're likely to look like something familiar to us here on planet Earth.

  • damikesc||

    100% true? I doubt much of anything is 100% true. Everything has the inexplicable oddity that is difficult to explain (such as why the design of the modern human eye was the best one to survive as it is not a terribly good set up). Evolution just answers way, way, way more questions than any other explanation and my belief that the way the human eye works making no sense might make sense if one views it in a way I am unable to do currently.

  • Vernon Depner||

    You're assuming consciousness is a biological phenomenon. We're far from knowing that. We know squat about what consciousness is.

  • Ken Shultz||

    It depends on what we mean by consciousness.

    The mirror test is about self-awareness. Dogs may be conscious but they are not self aware. If they can't recognize themselves in a mirror, they're probably not about to invent the radio wave equipment necessary to transmit and receive signals. The part of our brains that makes us self-aware seems to have developed independently in bonobos, dolphins, and magpies, but it developed under similar conditions.

    The conditions that made that self-awareness evolve in those species are probably similar everywhere in the universe, and, what I'm saying is that if that's so, then the organisms that evolved from those conditions on other planets are likely to look a lot like the organisms that evolved self-awareness from those conditions here.

    P.S. The laws of supply and demand presumably work the same way on other planets, too.

  • The Last American Hero||

    There you go. A bird. Birds used to be dinosaurs. I saw that in Jurassic Park. So maybe there were intelligent dinosaurs.

  • CE||

    Lots of animals pass the mirror test. My cat recognizes himself in the mirror, and us.

  • Ken Shultz||

    No. Not lots. Just a few.

    Your cat may see a reflection in the mirror, but it doesn't recognize itself in the mirror as itself.

    Your cat sees another cat in the mirror and/or your cat sees the reflection in the mirror as something to be ignored--like one of its dreams.

    Dogs do the same thing. Dogs dream. They also see another dog in the mirror, at first. Over time, they learn to ignore the reflection in the mirror--like they ignore their dreams.

    Incidentally, human children (under two, as I recall) also can't pass the mirror test. When infants are born, my understanding is that they don't realize the hands they see flailing in front of them are connected to themselves and under their control. If that's true, it shouldn't be surprising that they don't recognize themselves in a mirror. That part of their brain is activated as they're stimulated and continue to develop and grow.

  • Widhalm19||

    Fermi's Paradox is not a paradox at all considering the enormity of the ever-expanding universe. True, there may not be life in our galaxy but there are a billion billion galaxies. The odds that life exists elsewhere is somewhere near 99.9999999999999999%.

  • Ken Shultz||

    If intelligent life exists somewhere in the cosmos, and we have virtually no chance of ever crossing the remnants of its path, then does it really matter whether it's out there?

    In that case, it might as well not be.

    And what are we hoping to get from extraterrestrial life anyway? A supernatural solution to our problems?

    Multiply the virtual impossibility of finding life times the virtual impossibility of supernatural solutions and what does that give us--(virtual impossibility)^2?

  • IceTrey||

    Yes we're alone in the universe. Life is meaningless and death is inevitable. But is that necessarily so depressing?

  • IceTrey||

    Yes we're alone in the universe. Life is meaningless and death is inevitable. But is that necessarily so depressing?

  • Z565||

    I'm alive today because an unbroken chain of reproduction occured for billions of years. That amazes me that the things we come from lived long enough to reproduce for a billion years. Then I come along and end it all by not having kids. Sorry ancestors the ride ends here.

  • Z565||

    I'm alive today because an unbroken chain of reproduction occured for billions of years. That amazes me that the things we come from lived long enough to reproduce for a billion years. Then I come along and end it all by not having kids. Sorry ancestors the ride ends here.

  • goneGalt||

    At least your posts are self-replicating.

  • TGoodchild||

    "We Are Most Likely Alone in the Universe"

    Holy sht is that a myopic statement. I appreciate Bailey's optimism towards the end, but only a small amount of research is required to show that the Fermi "Paradox" isn't really one.

    If you are interested in the topic, which I find fascinating, I highly, highly recommend Isaac Arthur's compendium and, moreover, his entire channel:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDPj5zI66LA

  • Live Free Or Diet||

    "Where are they?" famously asked Italian physicist Enrico Fermi

    They are all smart enough to hide in the tall grass,
    or they have fallen prey, each according to its choices.

  • ||

    So basically a scientist does an ass-pull, surrounds it with fancy math that doesn't reduce its ass-pull nature in any way, and somehow this is credible science -- as if the absence of something proves it cannot exist. And yet, we have recent proof of the existence of the Higgs boson, which was equally non-existent prior to that yet we as a species went looking for it anyway.

    I could hypothesize that the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists, surround it with fancy-looking equations and it would still be an ass-pull. Unless I was famous, then people might decide to ignore that it was an ass-pull.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Yup, and most amusing that drexler is one of the authors. His nanotechnology con was one for the ages.

    What do we call a system of equations with more unknowns than equations, kids? A fucking guess. And yours is as good as..

  • Longtobefree||

    The surest indication that there is intelligent life in the universe is that they stay away from Earth.

  • Echospinner||

    Is there other life in the universe? Almost certainly.

    Will there be contact and beyond light speed travel in my lifetime? Almost certainly not.

    May as well bring religion into this as anything else. The Lubavitcher rabbi, he was a wise man and was asked by a certain biologist if he should participate in a NASA project to try and find life on mars.

    The rabbi answered "Dr. Greene, look for life on Mars! And if you don't find it there, look somewhere else in the universe for it. Because for you to sit here and say there is no life outside of planet Earth is to put limitations on the Creator, and that is not something any of His creatures can do"

    So we go to the next step not knowing what will be found. I like that.

  • Thomas O.||

    If only more fundies believed that instead of dismissing any kind of extraterrestrial findings because "MUH BIBLE".

  • The Last American Hero||

    Well, then they wouldn't be fundies, would they?

  • Liberty Lover||

    The universe is unexplainable. It continues to expand, but into what does it expand? Personally I believe we are all alone, have always been all alone and will always be all alone. I believe the universe was made for us, and when the last human consciousness dies, with the last human death, the universe will cease to exist.

    If I am wrong, it makes no difference. We are so isolated in this universe we will never find that other life.

  • Sanjuro Tsubaki||

    Based on my calculations --which are in turn based upon an unimpreachable scientific model that accounts for all possible technological developments and all unknowns, both known and unknown-- I predict with 100% certainty that we are not alone, just as long as I keep talking to myself.

    If there is life on other planets, they're likely wondering if there is life on other planets. Either that or they bleepin' don't care.

  • Sanjuro Tsubaki||

    The real question is whether there's intelligent life on this planet. Lots of pretentious life on this planet, mind you.

  • Doug Huffman||

    This analysis, reanalysis, is a proper practical application of E. T. Jaynes' principle of maximizing the entropy (MaxEnt) of the (naive) prior probability.The MaxEnt prior is 0.5, "I don't know." rather than a stupid erroneous guess that may so limit subsequent choices as to never recover.

    Jaynes also identified ad-hockery as the corruption of science. Probability Theory: The Logic of Science (Cambridge, 2003)

  • Dread Pirate Roberts||

    I suspect the reason we haven't heard from our galactic neighbors is that they're jacked into VR pods with the happiness cranked up to 11.

  • Overt||

    I know I'm late to this, but it has been something I've thought a lot about, so I might as well opine.

    1) The likelihood of life starting somewhere seems pretty high.
    2) However, the likelihood of life encountering all the right conditions to make it to sentience seems pretty low. Just looking at our planet, only one species that we know of has transcended base instinct to form a civilization beyond small tribes. A lot had to go right on just the planet- from evolution of our species, to the evolution of our environment allowing for agriculture.
    2a) The likelihood of civilization gets even lower when you consider celestial factors. The size and placement of our moon has done much to stabilize our environment and reduce planet-killer strikes, and our unique galactic placement has allowed us to avoid a lot of super-novas.

  • Overt||

    3) Now add to that the small probability of communication. Radio signals quickly degrade to background noise as the propagate further out. Past a few hundred light years, any signal would have to be purpose sent for communication (not just stray radio signals)- a broadcast.

    3a) And even with stray signals, the window of opportunity to understand that message is extremely small. In around 100 years we have gone from analog radio to efficient digital communications. When compressed and encrypted, our radio signals are not much different from random noise- not really discernable from background noise.

    So add all that up, and you aren't just talking about probabilities of sentient life. You are talking about sentient life happening (low probability) and then its window of "understandable communications" happening at just the right time that those signals arrive during the last 50 years that we have been watching.

    So this isn't saying that life isn't out there, necessarily. Just that it is almost vanishingly unlikely that we could sense them.

  • The Last American Hero||

    2a) - and even then Dinosaur Bruce Willis couldn't stop the asteroid from hitting earth and allowing the mammals to take over.

  • CE||

    He should have gotten his oil rig drilling crew of dinosaurs together and demanded a lifetime exemption from income taxes.

  • Naaman Brown||

    Someone had to be first.
    It could be us.
    Our descendants could become the space aliens to future emerging beings elsewhere in the universe.

  • Thomas O.||

    They're out there. With the current count of galaxies - fucking GALAXIES - in the trillions, I find it hard to believe that Earth is the only space entity in the entire universe to generate life.

    Maybe it's only a handful of planets, and they're so far apart from each other that contact is essentially impossible. But I'm satisfied if this is as far as we get in our search.

    Besides, in the age of Photoshop and Final Cut Pro, actual extraterrestrial aliens could visit us and no one would believe it.

  • DarrenM||

    Given how large the universe is, I don't believe we are "alone". I do think there is other intelligent live in the universe.
    However, also because of this same size, anyone else is most likely so far away as to not matter. A slightly more interesting question would be "are we alone in the galaxy". At least we restrict the scope of inquiry a bit.

  • DarrenM||

    Two takeaways: First, there is no reason for us to keep quiet and cower at home as some timorous souls have counseled. And second, the galaxy is ours for the taking. Let's go.

    I agree wholeheartedly with this. The Vogons can go to hell.

  • ||

    Okay, so the conclusion of the Fermi Paradox is that humans are alone in the universe. So how does the arXiv "paper" dissolve the Fermi Paradox since it sure sounds like the conclusion is the same? If the scientific methodology used in reaching the arXiv conclusion is more solid than the Drake methodology then wouldn't it merely supplant the Fermi or shore it up.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    It's not really a paradox, it simply means that the initial estimate of the frequency of intelligent civilizations is buggered up, and they're much, much rarer than supposed.

    The real, important question coming out of the Fermi Paradox is, "Where does the filter take place"? What's the rate limiting step?

    If we're past that, everything's cool, we've got an empty universe to inherit!

    If it's ahead of us, we should be sweating.

  • CE||

    The universe is way, way bigger than the galaxy. Advanced civilizations in our own galaxy would be much easier to detect. Perhaps there are only a handful of advanced civilizations in our galaxy, and perhaps we're the most advanced. There's no reason at all to think that applies to the countless other galaxies. I'm very dubious of their math dropping the universal probability to the 39-85% range, even if the galactic estimate is right (53-99.6%).

  • Mark22||

    It's like they are arguing for "irreducible complexity".

  • Pat001||

    If there are advanced civilizations out there, they would discover us, not the other way around.

  • Vernon Depner||

    Assuming they give a shit. Our curiosity might not be common among advanced beings.

  • BeamMeUp||

    Given the vastness of the galaxy, let alone the universe, there's a high probability there is other life out there. We just haven't seen any yet. The fact is we don't know what's out there in the final frontier. We've only discovered there is no other intelligent life in our solar system. This paper, which is by the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, seems like an unwillingness to admit our ignorance.

    In the closing scene of the movie Contact (1996), Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) is talking with some young students:

    Kid: Are there other people out there in the universe?
    Ellie: That's a good question. What do you think?
    Kid: I don't know.
    Ellie: That's a good answer. Skeptic, huh? The important thing is that you all keep searching for your own answers. One thing about the universe, though. The universe is a pretty big place. It's bigger than anything or anyone has ever dreamed of before. So if it's just us, it seems like an awful waste of space. Right?

    Just wait until we -- or another world -- develops warp drive or is able to fold space. Then things will take off.

  • sudon't||

    "No pesky Romulans, Klingons, Ferengis or Vulcans..."

    I notice you left out the Kardashians, a very real enemy. This is why we need the Space Force!

  • Jim176||

    Didn't anyone consider that the answer to the Fermi paradox could be YES we were colonized by beings from somewhere else and now we are here because of that. Just because they don't come here obviously is really no surprise when you consider how primitive we still are. After all our main endeavor is tribal warfare. Just think about it. If a flying saucers were to set down on the White House lawn the secret service would be calling on an air strike to get it out of there. They Military would be falling all over them selves in an attempt to steal the technology. And our political opponents would be scared to death that they might succeed so they would probably try to preempt that possibility. It is no surprise to me that the government actively tries to downplay and debunk any credible sightings. We are currently little more than smart apes, intelligent but not wise.

  • Jim176||

    Didn't anyone consider that the answer to the Fermi paradox could be YES we were colonized by beings from somewhere else and now we are here because of that. Just because they don't come here obviously is really no surprise when you consider how primitive we still are. After all our main endeavor is tribal warfare. Just think about it. If a flying saucers were to set down on the White House lawn the secret service would be calling on an air strike to get it out of there. They Military would be falling all over them selves in an attempt to steal the technology. And our political opponents would be scared to death that they might succeed so they would probably try to preempt that possibility. It is no surprise to me that the government actively tries to downplay and debunk any credible sightings. We are currently little more than smart apes, intelligent but not wise. When was the last time you went to an ant hill and said "take me to your leader"

  • Eyedunno||

    "We Are Most Likely Alone in the Universe" is a very misleading headline, as the paper itself merely finds "no reason to be highly confident that the galaxy (or observable universe) contains other civilizations". That is a LONG way from saying we are most likely alone.

  • Eyedunno||

    "We Are Most Likely Alone in the Universe" is a very misleading headline, as the paper itself merely finds "no reason to be highly confident that the galaxy (or observable universe) contains other civilizations". That is a LONG way from saying we are most likely alone.

  • Johnimo||

    What a bunch of mumbo jumbo bullshit. Let's simplify. Life exists only on planets with moderate temperatures and water supplies. Our planet, so I'm told, is about 4.5 billion years old, with another 4.5 billion to go, right? Before we can get our act "together" for space travel, we'll be out of resources and time. End of story.

    We can't get to them, and they can't get to us. I'm having fun, and I hope you will too. Strive. Do the best you can. Take care of your loved ones. Fight like hell for what you believe in.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online