Saturday, June 13, 2020

How to search for alien life

Yes, I believe there is life on other planets, intelligent life even. I also think that the search for life elsewhere in the universe is THE most exciting scientific exploration ever. Why then don’t I work on it, you ask? Well, I think I do, kind of. I’ll get to this. But first let me tell you how scientists search for life that’s not on Earth, or “extraterrestrial”, as they say.


When I was a student in the 1990s, talking about extraterrestrial life was not considered serious science. At the time it was not even widely accepted that solar systems with planets like earth are a common occurrence in the universe. But in the past 10 years the mood among scientists has shifted dramatically, and that’s largely thanks to the Kepler mission.

The Kepler satellite was a NASA mission that looked for planets which orbit around stars in our galactic neighborhood. It has observed about 150,000 stars in a small patch of the sky, closely and for long periods of time. From these observations you can tell whether a stars dims periodically because a planet passes by in the line of sight. If you are lucky, you can also tell how big the planet is, how close it is to the star, and how fast it orbits, from which you can then extract its mass.

Kepler has found evidence for more than 4000 exoplanets, as they are called. Big ones and small ones, hot ones and cold ones, and also a few that are not too different from our own planet. Kepler is no longer operating, but NASA has followed up with a new mission, TESS, and several more missions to look for exoplanets are upcoming soon, for example there is another NASA Mission W-FIRST, there is the CHEOPS mission of the E.S.A, and the James Webb Space Telescope, which is a joint mission of NASA, the ESA, and the Canadian Space Agency.

So, we now know that other earth-like planets are out there. The next thing that scientists would like to know is whether the conditions on any of these planets are similar to the conditions on Earth. This is a very human-centered way of thinking about life, of course, but at least so far life on this planet is the only one we are sure exists, so it makes sense, to ask if other places are similar. Ideally, scientists would like to know whether the atmosphere of the earth-like exoplanets contains oxygen and methane, or maybe traces of chlorophyll.

They do already have a few measurements of atmospheres of exoplanets, but these are mostly of large and hot planets that orbit closely around their mother star, because in this case the atmosphere is easier to measure. The way you can measure what’s in the atmosphere is that you investigate the spectral composition of light that either passes through the atmosphere or that is emitted or reflected off the surface. For this too, there are more satellite missions planned, for example the ESA mission ARIEL.

Ok, you may say, but this will in the best case give us an indication for microbial life and really you’d rather know if there is intelligent life out there. For this you need an entirely different type of search. Such searches for extraterrestrial intelligence have been conducted for about century. They have largely relied on analyzing electromagnetic radiation in the radio or micro-wave range that reaches us from outer space. For one that’s because this part of the electromagnetic spectrum is fairly easy to measure without going into the upper atmosphere. But it’s also because our own civilization emits in this part of the spectrum. This electromagnetic radiation is then analyzed for any kind of pattern that is unlikely to be of natural, astrophysical origin.

As you already know, no one found any sign of intelligent life on other planets, except for some false alarms.

The search for intelligent, extraterrestrial life has, sadly enough, always been underfunded, but some people are not giving up their hopes and efforts. There is for example the SETI Institute in California. They have a new plan to look for aliens, which is to distribute 96 cameras on the surface of our planet so that they can look for LASER signals from outer space, 24 hours a day, all over the sky. Like with the search for radio signals, the idea is that LASER-light might be a sign of communication or a by-product of other technologies that extraterrestrial civilizations are using. From those 96 cameras so far one has been installed. The institute is trying to crowdfund the mission, for more information, check out their website.

A search that has no funding issues is the “Breakthrough Listen” project which is supported by billionaire Yuri Milner. This project has run since 2015 and will run through 2025. It employs two radio telescopes to searching for signs of intelligent life. The data that this project has collected so far are publicly available. However, they amount to about 2000 Terabytes, so it’s not exactly user-friendly. Milner has another alien project, which is the “Breakthrough Starshot”. Yes, Milner likes “Breakthroughs” and everything he does is Breakthrough Something; he is also the guy who set up the Breakthrough Prize. The vision of the Starshot project is to send an army of mini space-craft to Alpha Centauri. Alpha Centauri is a solar system in our galactic neighborhood, and “only” about 4 light years away. It is believed to have an earth-like planet. Milner’s mini-space craft are supposed to study this planet and send data back to earth. The scientists on Milner’s team hope to be ready for launch by 2036. It will take 20 to 30 years to reach Alpha Centauri, and then another four years to send the data back to Earth. So, maybe by 2070, we’ll know what’s going on there.

It’s unlikely, of course, that we should be so lucky to find intelligent life basically at the first place we look. Scanning the galaxy for signs of communication, I think, is much more promising. But. We should keep in mind that quite plausibly the reason we have not yet found evidence for extraterrestrial intelligent life is that we have not developed the right technology to pick up their communication. In particular, if there is any way to send information faster than the speed of light, then that’s what all the aliens are using. And, as I explained in an earlier video, in contrast to what you may have been told, there is nothing whatsoever wrong with faster-than-light messaging, except that we don’t know how to do that.

And here is where my own research area, the foundations of physics, becomes really important. If we ever want to find those aliens, we need to better understand space and time, and matter and information. Thanks for watching, see you next week.

94 comments:

  1. "Scanning the galaxy for signs of communication, I think, is much more promising". Looking into living cells might be even more promising - provided Crick and Orgel were correct... ;) https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/international-journal-of-astrobiology/article/seti-in-vivo-testing-the-wearethem-hypothesis/43E3302CCE1D053886F35C819CD5E55D (or https://bioseti.info/faq)

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  2. We don't have any law or formula that determines how long it takes for intelligent life to evolve from helium atoms, but it's probably reasonable to expect that, if intelligent life emerged on earth only about 100,000 years ago, it probably does take 13+ billion years to emerge anywhere. But if SETI receives a pattern of transmissions that is provably from an intelligent alien source, can it in fact be the millions of years old that it would require to arrive from a planet millions of light years away? In that case, might it be reasonable to expect that another intelligent alien source can't be millions of years old, and thus the area of the universe where we might expect such transmissions must be far smaller than the whole universe -- in fact, on the order of magnitude of 1 million light years radius? Isn't there a basic uncertainty in this whole question? And what if we get a transmission just 10,000 years old? What do we do with it?

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  3. As a UFO buff since the age of 14 this is one of your most fascinating posts ever. I was particularly intrigued by your statement that superluminal signaling is not ruled out. I wondered about this for literally decades, but accepted the common belief that it violated fundamental physics. So, I am glad that you have clarified this issue. But that raises another thought; if information can go faster than light, maybe the prohibition on the transfer of material objects from point to point is not necessarily ironclad. But perhaps that restriction is on more solid footing, as immortalized in the limerick – “There was once a lady named Bright, whose speed was far faster than light,……and returned on the previous night”, since it would violate causality.

    One of the earliest scientific appraisals of the prospects for extraterrestrial intelligence that I came across was a 1967 book by Carl Sagan and I. S. Shklovoskii, whose title I cannot recall. When it arrived at my parent’s home I was beside myself with excitement. I learned an enormous amount about astronomy from that book. Despite Carl Sagan’s pessimism about the human propensity for violence and war, that might be mirrored by other civilizations, limiting their long term survival, I believe that such problems are ultimately worked out. That belief is bolstered by the sheer abundance of ‘good’ UFO reports, which I take to be evidence for ET visitation. But that, of course, is a personal opinion.

    The possibility that bio-signatures from the atmospheres of extra-solar planets may be detected in the not-too-distant future is truly mind boggling. I was amazed when I first read of the nearly identical makeup of hemoglobin and chlorophyll, the principle difference between them being the substitution of iron for magnesium in the hemoglobin molecule. The utility of this relatively simple molecule, for both plant and animal life on Earth, must enhance exobiologists confidence for finding it elsewhere.

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  4. Transition of quantity into quality.
    Where is that mystical border?
    Critical AI neuromass?
    Si, Ge, AsGa.
    Appearances of consciousness
    the appearance of life ...
    - are viruses alive?
    -
    Viruses are structural components of life, but not life itself?
    Intel CPU - a structural component of life?
    Trigger?
    One neuron?
    -
    P.S.
    We are all Schrodinger cats.
    -
    There are 4 domains (supra-kingdoms) - bacteria, archaea, eukaryotes and viruses.
    Kings - animals, plants, fungi, bacteria, archaea, protists and chromists. In principle, viruses are attached to them on the side. However, these are the only "organisms" that do not have an organism, sorry for the pun.
    Viruses are the only living things to which the definition of "living" does not fit on any point, except for the presence of DNA / RNA and the protein coat. Plus, viruses are the only "living things" that can transform into crystalline form. So the question is whether they are “life” far from being resolved. Most likely these are just structural components of life, but not life itself.
    -
    Viruses are structural components of life, but not life itself?
    Intel CPU - a structural component of life?
    Trigger?
    One neuron?

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  5. I tried to link "alien life" in the US as "democrats" on my "Korean War" web site but Google apparently filtered the entry. What happened to humor in these US?

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  6. What is going on under the banner of the search for extraterrestrial life, intelligent or not, is better described as a search for Earth-like environments. This is eminently useful for potential future colonization efforts, but is unlikely to help with finding something we could conceivably call "life", unless by life we mean something chemically and biologically very similar to what exists on Earth. Without this "grounding" we do not even have a decent definition what "life" let alone "intelligence" might mean operationally, i.e. how to tell that something is alive or not unless it matches our preconceptions. Evolution, natural selection, replication, world optimization etc. can be easily applied to "natural" phenomena, such as stars and galaxies, for example. I put natural in quotes because everything in Nature is trivially natural. And yet, I am not aware of any research focused on non-anthropocentric grounding of life and intelligence. Without it, SETI is just a recognizance effort for human expansion.

    And yes, the foundations of physics is an essential part of working toward either finding those hypothetical aliens, or becoming them. Though while I agree that superluminal signaling is not completely ruled out by the current models, we see no observed indication of it (with the exception of the horizon problem, if one does not invoke inflation as an explanation), so the prospects are not great.

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  7. Flicker noise, Benford's law,
    Now you can see only individual signals. Consider a certain pseudorandom sequence of pulses - "world noise". It will have a spectrum in the form of a uniform comb of narrow peaks.

    In principle, he is not able to investigate the carrier frequency and other parameters of the "world noise". All similar meanings are obviously transfinite for him. Then, according to Kotelnikov’s theory, we can transmit information in the original discrete signal without loss of information, replace it with a continuous signal with a minimum frequency. In this case, the spectrum was acquired by the form 1 / f [* 1] already familiar to us.

    From this we can conclude that "the flicker component of noise in real physical processes may be due to the finiteness of our outer world" [* 2]. Really inevitable. And macro-fluctuations are just her special case. However, mystics knew about it thousands of years ago ...

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  8. I have my doubts about being able to transmit anything faster than light. If we have a body with momentum p and relativistic momentum P = (E, pc) = γ(mc, mv)c, [γ = 1/√(1 - v^2/c^2)] where it is not hard to see P^2 = (mc^2)^2. For those not steeped in relativity lore, this square involves a metric sign change on the pc or mvc component of the of the relativistic momentum. Let us assume we have a system with this standard 4-momentum that is “slower than light.” I will make a comment on this light speed business below. This system emits a signal that is faster than light. This will then mean the emitted signal has an imaginary γ factor. This forces the mass of the emitted particle, called a tachyon to be imaginary valued. We then consider this process as

    P = (E, pc) → (E’, p’c) + (ε, π)

    Where the second 4-momentum is (ε, π) = γμ(c, v)c. We know the mass is invariant and the square on the left and the right should give the same thing so

    m^2 = m’^2 + μ^2,

    where I have set c = 1 to avoid these annoying c symbols. Everything seems to be acceptable, except for the fact we must not have m’^2 < μ^2, where in fact for every increase in negative μ^2 we demand an accompanied generation of positive mass with m → m’.

    This has the curious implication that we can generate mass-energy by some process where we generate these tachyons. If we could do this, we will solve all possible energy problems! The square of the tachyon mass μ^2 is in a QFT setting a potential, and this is negative. This implies a negative vacuum energy state, and these do exist in bosonic string theory and in the AdS spacetimes and other spacetimes with negative curvatures. This process of generating tachyons and simultaneously generating positive mass-energy is then not stable. This is a run-away process. Eventually we will generate enough positive mass so this becomes a black hole, and the laws of black hole thermodynamics come into play with

    dE = κ/8π dA + JdΩ + ΦdQ,

    where κ is gravity that acts as temperature, A is the horizon area, J angular momentum with Ω angular position, Φ electric potential and Q charge. This is the standard approach, but with generating tachyons we have a chemical potential μ and the number of particles N so there is an additional term N = # of particles --- in this case tachyons. So, we must enter in a term μdN. The reason I used the symbol μ for the tachyon mass is this is directly related to the tachyon mass. That is negative, and we have above the equivalency of positive mass generated then that this gives

    κ/8π dA + JdΩ + ΦdQ = 0.

    This means the TdS = κ/8π dA + JdΩ + ΦdQ has zero temperature and this is an extremal BH. So, we have violated the 3rd law of thermodynamics.

    This is related to the Ford-Roman conjecture about quantum interest. Any attempt to generate warp drives or these quirky negative energy spacetimes runs into this problem where more positive energy emerges to bury away the negative energy. In this case the tachyons are “absorbed,” and are probably in a condensate in the BH we call a singularity.

    This is not all in vain. The area law or Bekenstein bound has for quantum black holes the condition that

    TdS = κ/8π dA + ⟨δφδφ’⟩

    where ⟨δφδφ’⟩ is the expectation of a two-point function, say a vacuum transition or particle interaction, that is a correction on the Bekenstein bound. This could be negative and for an extremal BH serve to define how a quantum extremal BH can fluctuate into a wormhole.

    I will write again about actual ET life and ET intelligence in a follow-up post. This part of course leads to what I think is one answer to Fermi’s paradoxical question, “Where are they?” They can’t travel faster than light. It is also not hard to compute that if faster than light travel were possible and we human kept up a 2% economic growth then we would consume the entire observable universe in less than 7000 years.

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    1. I had indicated something above on this, so here is:

      It might be pointed out that in a way everything moves at the speed of light. In your frame the interval is ds = c*dt, or that we are all moving along this additional dimension corresponding to time at the speed of light. Something moving at the speed of light has no interval so ds = 0 and

      ds = √[(c*dt)^2 - dx^2].

      This then means photons etc move along spatial direction at the speed c or dx = c*dt. This motion is the speed of light along a spatial direction.

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  9. It's seems plausible to me that intelligent life would end up transitioning to a machine civilization allowing the members of that civilization to travel by uploading the information of their electronic brains to a machine at the destination.

    Such a civilization can spread itself over great distances by repeatedly sending simple to decode messages to planets where they've detected life. These messages contain the information needed on how to decode the next message that contains the data that defines a member of the civilization. They don't wait for an answer as two way communication would take too long. They simply repeat the entire sequence of messages over and over again and send it to a large number of planets where they've detected life.

    If one of these planets contains a civilization by the time the message arrives, they can record the message, decode it, build the computers as specified in the message needed to run the AI that was sent to them. The AI can then teach the population of the planet how to rebuild their civilization modeled on the one the AI came from.

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  10. The best place to search for possible extraterrestrial biology is right here in the solar system. That life exists on Mars, say in subsurface regions etc, or that it existed in the past is an exciting track to pursue. There is an anomalous methane production that could signify life. The upper atmosphere of Venus could harbor life. It is pretty much though Venus was for its first 2 or 3 billion years not dissimilar from Earth. Then there are ideas about subsurface ocean on Jovian and Cronian moons. A flyby mission through the geysers of these moons, prominent is Enceladus, where possible microbial life is captured in an aerogel and returned to Earth, would be interesting.

    Other planetary systems of course may reveal chemical signatures of life bearing planets. The Starshot program might allow us to get a flyby glimpse of some of these planets within a few lightyears. I wrote a book that discussed this subject, largely for the purpose of being an interesting way to present relativity, but where the use of large Fresnel lenses could send craft up to γ = 2, or 87% the speed of light. We could maybe study planets within 25 light years. As a result. we could study up to 100 or so planets up close. The use of electro-braking might let us actually enter the stellar system for long term study and maybe even land small drone/robot probes on them.

    There may be many planets with some form of life, if the emergence of life is something which happens normally and is not some fluke. It is plausible that life on Earth is a sort of cosmic fluke and we are it. Of planets that may have biology emerge I suspect a minority have complex life win exuberant ecosystems. If Mars, Venus, or gas giant moons have some elemental biology, I suspect for every Earthlike planet there are hundreds or thousands of these. I suspect honestly there may only be a few hundred or a few thousands of such planets in this galaxy.

    We then get to the issue of intelligent life. Humans have existed for about 100,000 years and with scientific or industrial technology for maybe 250 years. Life has existed here for 3.5 billion years, so we have been here for only .003% of it and we have had advanced technology for only 7×10^{-6}% of it. This means our time footprint is small. It may be similar for other planets. This is not to say I think ET intelligence does not exist, but I strongly suspect it is very rare. We may never make any such contact. This may be a second answer to Fermi’s question. ETI is very rare and the probability of making contact is nearly infinitesimal. The third possible answer is that intelligent life capable of fabricating things may end up bungling their use of these newfound powers and snuff themselves out. We humans are not doing terribly well on this front.

    Science fiction does make a few warmings. Stanislaw Lem in His Master’s Voice has us detecting signals, but unable to decipher them. Any alien intelligence may have ways of expressing things that are highly encrypted relative to our understanding. The films Andromeda Strain gives a warming about making direct contact with any alien life. Similarly, the old movie The Blob has a similar warning, though it is somewhat cold war related, and has life coming here on a meteoroid, which is somewhat plausible. An asteroid impact on a bio-active planet could send life bearing rock into space. With intelligent life there are thousands of novels and movies. The Alien movies, or at least the first two (the rest were pretty bad IMO), showed how contact with intelligent life could be rather disastrous.

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  11. There may be an amphomorphic prejudice about the nature and origins of extraterrestrial life at play here that could restrict the methods that are applied to the search for other life forms in the universe.

    This assumption is based on the source and nature of the origins of the energy that life needs to begin and survive. The Kepler search is based on the earth constrained “habitable zone” criteria constraining the methods used to implement that search.

    But the energy that life uses to exist might not be produced by a star. It could come from other places and through other means. This energy source need only produce liquid water no matter what that source happens to be.

    Liquid water oceans have been found in our solar system under the surfaces of the moons of gas giants, inside asteroids, and in the Kuiper belt inside Pluto.

    In more detail, scientists strongly suspect that a subsurface salty ocean lies beneath Europa's icy crust. Tidal heating from its parent planet, Jupiter, maintains this ocean's liquid state and could also create partially melted pockets, or lakes, throughout the moon's outer shell. In 2014 and 2016, Hubble spotted possible water plumes erupting off the moon's surface, which may be excellent targets for the upcoming Clipper mission.

    Ganymede is the largest moon in our solar system, and the only moon with its own magnetic field. Recent studies indicate a large underground saltwater ocean is present. Ganymede could in fact have several layers of ice and water sandwiched between its crust and core.

    Callisto’s cratered surface lies at the top of an ice layer, which is estimated to be about 124 miles (200 km) thick. An ocean, which is thought to be at least 6 miles (10 km) deep, could be directly beneath the ice.

    Scientists predict that a regional reservoir about 6 miles (10 km) deep lies under a shell of ice 20 to 25 miles( 30 to 40 km) thick at Enceladus' south pole. This underground ocean is thought to feed the moon's impressive jets, which spray from deep fissures (called "tiger stripes") in the moon's surface. In 2015, Cassini flew through the plumes and found hydrogen, one of the three primary necessities for life.

    Titan is believed to have a salty subsurface ocean—as salty as the Dead Sea on Earth— beginning about 30 miles (50 km) below its ice shell. It is also possible that Titan’s ocean is thin and sandwiched between layers of ice, or is thick and extends all the way down to the moon’s rocky interior.

    Research suggests that Mimas has either a subsurface ocean or that its core is shaped like a football. If Mimas is hiding a liquid water ocean, it lies 15 to 20 miles (25 to 30 km) beneath the moon’s impact-battered surface.

    Minerals containing water are widespread on Ceres, suggesting the dwarf planet may have had a global ocean in the past. What became of that ocean? Could Ceres still have liquid today? Two new studies from NASA's Dawn mission will shed light on these questions.

    With towering mountains of water ice and flowing glaciers of nitrogen and methane ice, Pluto is a surprisingly active world. Mysterious fault lines, some hundreds of miles long, may suggest that Pluto has a hidden subsurface ocean.

    But how could a buried ocean stay unfrozen on Pluto over the 4.6-billion-year history of the solar system? After all, the dwarf planet doesn't circle a gas giant, so its innards aren't roiled and heated by tidal forces nearly as dramatically as are the insides of Jupiter's moon Europa and the Saturn satellite Enceladus, both of which also harbor subsurface oceans.

    Let us dispense with all the assumptions and get down to the facts. Science must track down, precisely understand, and account for where all this ocean forming energy is coming from as a first step to understand how much life exists throughout the universe. Next, we must understand how likely is the formation of life to occur within these underground extraterrestrial oceans?


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    1. The solar system is a frontier in the search for extraterrestrial life. The interesting thing about putative life in subsurface oceans of Jovian and Cronian moons is this may be independent of Earth. Life on Mars could be related in various ways to life on Earth. Asteroid impacts could shed material that is exchanged between the two planets. We have found martian material on Earth. Life beneath a thick crust of very cold ice has some prospect of being independent of biology on Earth.

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  12. Sabine, you said:

    And here is where my own research area, the foundations of physics, becomes really important. If we ever want to find those aliens, we need to better understand space and time, and matter and information.

    Well said! And thank you in particular for including information.

    Information already plays a profound role in all existing mathematical theories of physics. However, since information is also the new kid on the block of formal mathematics, its critical role in such theories has largely been overlooked.

    For example, gimbal lock is an unpleasant form of equipment and simulation failure that occurs when trig matrices are used to represent rotation, which is of course one of the most fundamental concepts of space and time. Gimbal lock occurs because matrix models assume that the precision of numbers at one pole, which is to say the bit density of numbers at that pole, can climb to infinity. No real-world computer can handle that!

    This happens because the Reimann-inspired spheres used to represent rotation project an infinity of plane surface points onto that one pole, under the implicit assumption that the final use of the model will accommodate such precision. The Block sphere model of the qubit does the same thing, which is rather ironic given that all a qubit really does is say “I don’t know” which of two options to choose.

    The deeper reason for such failure modes, however, is the unexamined assumption that there exist infinitely many perfect points on spherical surfaces. If that is the default assumption of a mathematical model, then raising the bit density asymmetrically to infinity at one pole will never get flagged as a problem, since any surface of infinitely precise points has infinite bit density everywhere.

    The experimentally accessible real universe provides no evidence for such infinite information densities. Quite the contrary: Quantum mechanics practically screams at us that after a certain point of trimming away mass-energy, there is no more information available.

    Are there good alternatives to mathematical models of physics that are blithely oblivious to information density issues? Always! For example, gimbal lock ceased to be an issue for satellite designers and game programmers when they switched to quaternions, which provide a hugely more information-isotropic representation of rotations. Quaternions also pop up in some of the oddest places in physics, hinting that at least from an information density perspective they may be closer than trig matrices to how the universe really works.

    I’ll close with my new favorite example of how to avoid introducing non-real infinities into quantum theory:

    The 1s orbital of a hydrogen atom is not where an electron “hides”. It is the electron, period. By this I mean that 1s is the smallest possible superselection cubbyhole into which the universe can manage at that moment and location in history to stuff one of the stubbornly persistent tangles of conserved quantum numbers that we call an electron.

    The 1s example also nicely captures essence of what I mean by the phrase dark functions. A dark quantum wave function is the full collection of conservation-driven superselection rules that define how a tangle of conserved quantities is allowed to evolve in the future. It’s “dark” because none of those futures can exist until energy is available to make one them real. Dark functions are like the photographic negatives of “bright” quantum wave functions that superpose all of the possible states that could emerge. In the dark function interpretation there are no such states, only the rules for creating them.

    How are such unrealized potentials made real? Through classical observation, which creates future-limiting information. That information both updates the dark wave function and adds to the entropy of the universe, thus moving all of time a “bit” farther into the future.

    Information, indeed.

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  13. If there has only been 20 years out of 4 billion years, then and civilizations only last 50 years with technology good enough to communicate, and civilization occurs within every 10 light years radius, then the closest civilization would be very far away. Any current way to communicate would not be visible over 1000 light years away.

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  14. In my previous comment (which I hope doesn’t get posted), I had forgotten about (due to internet problems) your 22 May 2020, posting: “Is faster-than-light travel possible?”. In that earlier comment I wondered if faster-than-light movement was possible. The answer you gave in that 22 May posting was that “in principle” it is possible, along with faster-than-light communication. This idea that we may be missing out on the aliens faster-than-light communication channels is fascinating, should it turn out to be true. The Milky Way galaxy, as well as the Universe at large, may be abuzz with chatter among many civilizations – a vast interconnected network like our planet wide internet. For all we know our planet has long since been catalogued in some galactic repository with instructions to visit, but not interfere with our development.

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    1. As I write above this may not be the case. Just as for us moving slower than light that are not able to accelerated to faster than light, tachyons which move faster than light can't have their world-lines changed to move slower than light.

      It might be pointed out that in a way everything moves at the speed of light. In your frame the interval is ds = c*dt, or that we are all moving along this additional dimension corresponding to time at the speed of light. Something moving at the speed of light has no interval so ds = 0 and

      ds = √[(c*dt)^2 - dx^2].

      This then means photons etc move along spatial direction at the speed c or dx = c*dt.

      Some people abhor this explanation of things, but in some ways I find it useful at making a point. I will post this part below my discussion above on tachyons and faster than light travel.

      As a result, I think it is not likely the universe is teaming with intelligent life all chatting away on some cosmic FTL internet system. I suppose Schopenhauer had his point, and he wrote on how the universe was large forbidding. I suspect much the same, and complex life is rare and probably ETI far more rare. Then further, I suspect principles of physics will always frustrate our dreams of sailing liberally among the stars.

      The universe never guaranteed we, or any other possible ETI children, would be happy. It is popular to see Earth as a benevolent Gaia. It might also be the universe is a sort of Medea, who in the mythology ate her children.

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    2. Lawrence Crowell,

      I was musing about the claims of Podkletnov over the last few days, about which I commented on at the “Is faster-than-light travel possible?”, at 3:19 PM, May 26, 2020. He, and his physicist collaborator, Giovanni Modanese, claimed that their Impulse Gravity Generator (IGG) created a ‘beam’, the disturbance from which allegedly propagated at just under 64 c. This was determined by piezoelectric sensors spaced a kilometer apart. The effect was confined to a 10 cm. diameter column of space oriented horizontally. At a considerable distance a rubber pendulum-bob was displaced through a small arc when impacted by the alleged disturbance.

      I, of course, laughed on reading this, some years ago, as even we laypeople know the basics of special and general relativity. But intruding on this smug mindset was the nagging realization that mother nature herself possesses a mechanism to create (effective) motion between ponderable bodies that can exceed c. Indeed, if Guth’s inflationary scenario is correct, such separation can attain a whopping billion, billion, etc., times c. But unlike the current inflationary expansion of the Universe, which is continuous, the IGG’s so called ‘impulse’ persisted for a mere 100 micro-seconds, or about the time it took to discharge 2 megavolts between the YBCO superconductor (10 cm. diameter) and a copper anode. Simultaneous with the discharge between the anode and YBCO disc, another capacitor bank discharged a large current through a coil enveloping the chamber containing the superconductor, subjecting it to an intense, but brief magnetic field.

      The natural assumption here (if it isn’t a hoax) is that the duo managed to create a brief burst of dark energy, (within a confined column), many magnitudes greater than the Hubble Constant, but vastly less than its value during the inflationary period. That raises the question whether other superconductor anomalies, reported by far more reputable sources, have the same basis – the transitory production of dark energy – as these other experiments had aspects in common with the Podkletnov experiment. These other experiments can be divided into two categories – detection of brief acceleration pulses as the superconductor itself is subjected to physical acceleration, and small, but detectable, weight changes as a superconductor transitions between its phases (from both directions). These effects could be construed to also arise from momentary spatial expansion as assumed in the IGG experiment, but to keep things short I won’t go into that now.

      So, let’s have some fun with the aliens, and imagine some maverick duo’s like Podkletnov and Modanese on these other worlds discover they can create collimated beams of dark energy, and furthermore they improve their systems, over our terrestrial counterparts, cranking the disturbance propagation to 1000 c. They quickly discover that special detectors are needed to detect these disturbances. Soon their engineers learn to modulate the beams, and operate them continuously, to send useful information. Greatly excited they scan the heavens, and lo and behold, they start receiving messages from a star 50 light years distant, which they eventually decode. The messages take 18 of our Earth days to reach their destination. The communities of beings on both worlds are ecstatic over this development, and their civilizations are forever changed.

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    3. It must be pointed out that Podkletnov's previous results are really unreproduced results. This means of course these are not substantive. It sounds as if Podkletnov is running away with further claims based on unsubstantiated previous results.

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    4. Lawrence Crowell,

      You mentioned, at 7:03 AM, June 14, 2020: “That further, I suspect principles of physics will always frustrate our dreams of sailing liberally among the stars”. To add to my somewhat tongue-in-cheek prior post, just before racking last night it dawned on me that a massively up-powered dark-energy, laser-like, beam could serve potentially as a superluminal interstellar transport system. Here I’m glossing over a lot of things, and will just provide a rough outline of what our imaginary aliens might have further accomplished, after developing their low power, dark-energy communication system.

      Out among the stars our intrepid alien scientists quickly appreciate that if their pendulum-bobs, could be slightly displaced in their rudimentary early IGG experiments, then why not replace the test-bobs with full size spacecraft in a massively scaled up system? They reckon that 10% of their planetary budget, over a number of their years, will do the trick, and inform their governments, who enthusiastically allocate the necessary funding. The scientists and engineers get to work and immediately understand that if the spacecraft’s acceleration doesn’t perfectly match the degree of acceleration inherent in the beam, as the craft’s inertial mass gains speed, then the astronauts will experience unacceptable g-forces. So, perhaps, they incorporate a localized IGG beam that perfectly counteracts the g-forces in the astronauts reference frame.

      At last, following prodigious labors, the alien’s equivalent of NASA is ready to launch their astronauts to the neighboring civilization’s solar system, who have been duly informed. To the sound of marching bands, and much fanfare, the astronauts say their bon-voyages to their close relatives, and enter the ship that will take them to the interstellar spacecraft, orbiting in a Lagrange point of their planet, in front of the massive, fusion powered, dark energy beam generator. After the equivalent of a few of our Earth months, the spacecraft arrives in the other alien’s solar system. They are met by a spacecraft from those alien’s home world and wave to each other through plexiglass ports in their respective spaceships, while communicating via a video conferencing system. To avoid the transfer of microbes, indigenous to each other’s biosphere, they avoid direct contact, on this first ever meeting between them.

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    5. Yes, Podkletnov’s work has a serious credibility factor, and I just could be way too gullible to even consider them as factual. But as far as reproduction I long ago noted a commonality in experimental results between him and others, who adhered to far more rigorous scientific standards. That commonality took the form of a momentary acceleration of a ‘target’, be it a small mass, or high precision accelerometer. The amplitude of the signal appeared to be a function of the magnitude of the acceleration imparted to the condensate, whether by electromotive, or mechanical, means. I believe I once tried to crudely calculate the displacement of ions within a superconductor’s lattice subjected to a multi-megavolt discharge, and it seemed to show a linear relationship of signal versus applied acceleration, when compared with other, quite different, experiments.

      Then, as I mentioned at 9:18 AM, June 08, 2020, in: “Physicists still lost in math”, a number of experimenters observed weight anomalies as their hobbyist YBCO discs passed in or out of their critical temperatures. This effect too could be interpreted as a consequence of acceleration/deceleration as the formation/breakup of a condensate would presumably entail a sudden shift in position, or rearrangement, of the constituent Cooper-pairs, and their associated lattice sites. And, as in the Podkletnov experiments, those people who claimed ‘positive’ results had their hobbyist YBCO superconductors immersed in the magnetic field of a nearby magnet. In my own experiments with the readily available 1 inch YBCO chips, an external magnetic field was lacking, and no acceleration signal, in multiple runs, was ever detected by my 1 milli-g resolution, ADXL203 accelerometer. That deficiency will be rectified in upcoming experiments, assuming liquid nitrogen is still available with the COVID-19 situation.

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    6. Based on what you wrote above it sounds as if you know what dark matter is. Then work on this "laser" the generates coherent states of dark matter. At that point your set to make a trip to Stockholm to collect a Nobel Prize.

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    7. Lawrence Crowell,

      Yes, I have a crude, simple idea for what dark energy could be. Unfortunately, it has at least one glaring problem that likely has already relegated it to the trash heap of other amateur, pseudo-scientific ideas. I kind of hoped that the claims of Podkletnov, in conjunction with more solidly grounded reports of superconductor anomalies, could be a verification of this idea. But, the work of Podkletnov has an Alice-in-Wonderland feel to it, which pulls the rug from underneath any theory-idea that seeks to use it for confirmation. Like the Cheshire cat’s smile, his spectacular claims burst into prominence across cyberspace, only to fade with negative results from others trying to replicate them. So, yeah, my idea might qualify for the IG Noble, and some good laughs.

      Despite this dim prognosis I’m still intrigued by results obtained by amateurs like Frederick N. Rounds, back in the 90’s, and especially the acceleration signals detected by the Tajmar group at the Austrian Research Center, circa 2003-2006, involving 250 separate runs. So, against the better judgement of professionals with vastly more knowledge and understanding of this area of physics, I’m still going ahead with my own efforts to replicate the reported results of Rounds, and others.

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    8. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    9. Save it to say I am not at all sure what dark matter (DM) is. I would though wager it has something to do with the Higgs field. I also suspect it has something to do with gravitation. The reason for that is the graviton could be a |++> - |--> state of some gauge-like particle that is in a colourless entanglement. The |+-> - |-+> would be a scalar particle made in the same fashion. This is then a sort of technicolor idea, but the Higgs field represented in this manner might connect with the Higgs field and graviton. The Higgs field might then either be of this form, or it is equivalent in quantum numbers and the HIggs and this entanglement are equivalent under some sort of map.

      The DM particles might then be a result of this "map." There are theories of massive gravitons, where there are two sectors of gravitation with a massive graviton at high energy. Maybe the Higgs field is a renormalized form of a scalar in this setting. Of course this could be wrong. In writing this I really am saying DM could be potentially a lot of things, but of course in the end it should be defined uniquely. I have some suspicions about what the DM is, but ultimately I really do not know.

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    10. Lawrence Crowell,

      I was actually considering only dark energy in the fantasied alien technology scenarios described in my earlier posts. But your idea that dark matter is connected to the Higgs field makes sense to me as that field imparts mass to Standard Model particles, aside from the relativistically generated portion in bound systems. The rest of your comment I really didn’t understand with my limited knowledge base. I do have some amateur grade ideas on dark matter, and have even wondered if alien civilizations have figured out how to corral the stuff, and exploit its properties for technological purposes. But, continuing my theme of (possible) alien visitations to our own world, I would like to relate the following story.

      A ‘good’ UFO case, which is a classic of the UFO literature, is the Coyne incident of 1973. I bring this case up because of a feature that can only be described as a ‘tractor beam’ a la Startrek. The basic details are as follows: Four members of an Army Reserve unit were ferrying a helicopter to Cleveland, Ohio at 11:05 PM, 18 October 1973. They were just passing over Mansfield, Ohio when the crew chief observed a red light moving rapidly towards them from the eastern horizon. It soon took the form of an elongated cigar, its nose glowing a bright red. Captain Lawrence Coyne, alarmed, took control of the copter setting the collective pitch control for a powered descent from 2500 feet altitude to 1700 feet to avoid a collision.

      To the shock of the four crewmembers, the object came to a halt above and to the front of them. It was estimated to be 60 feet long and 15 to 20 feet in diameter. They then observed a shaft of green light, emanating from the aft end of the object, that swung around 90 degrees until it enveloped the entire copter in a garish green glow. As the collective pitch control was still set for maximum descent, captain Coyne feared they would hit the ground. But to his astonishment, having only seconds earlier noted the altimeter read 1700 feet, it was now at 3500 feet. Apparently, somehow, the beam of green light had lifted them 1800 feet in mere seconds, without them feeling any g-forces, or the helicopter being ripped apart.

      Note that the reported effect of this green-colored beam was the inverse of the (alleged) Podkletnov effect, where a pendulum-bob was pushed away instead of pulled towards the source of the beam, in that (claimed) experiment. That the helicopter crew experienced no inertial forces might imply that just as our galaxy feels no acceleration as it is swept along in the Universe’s current of expanding spacetime, so the copter and crew felt no acceleration as they (presumably) were carried along in a local current of contracting spacetime, within the beam. Considering that the acceleration signal’s direction, (observed by the Tajmar group), reversed, depending whether the niobium superconductor was going in, or out, of its critical temperature, (just maybe), terrestrial labs are seeing a glimpse of the Universe’s mysterious dark energy in action. All wild speculation, to be sure.

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  15. This is to remind you that I do not approve links to websites other than major news outlets, scientific journals, or the arXiv. Not because I think all other websites are junk, but because I do not have time to check every single link.

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  16. 14-JUN-2020

    Meanwhile, back in Plato's cave;

    "information," that the universe contains "dark matter" and "dark energy,"
    has arrived like shadows, well in advance of our being informed as to what
    might be casting darkness over ignorance; and based on, say the
    length of such a shadow, observers everywhere may be (but not simultaneously) on the brink of knowing just how late in the day
    it really is.

    In any event, "resolution" of what such matter and energy actually is, is
    "information" that appears to travel much more slowly than light, and we
    on Earth must continue to wait and see. Meanwhile, we could try to figure
    out what "seeing" is and come up with a satisfactory definition of "intelligence."

    OUR existence is to to the ACTUAL nature of ET, what the gravitational evidence of the cosmological dark sector is to its nature. The TRUTH
    of ET resolved, is not necessarily going to be any less disquieting than
    our own present state of grace here on earth, as intelligent observers.

    I'm cautiously optimistic that things get better as entropy increases (everywhere).

    Looking out and back in time shows us an always simpler world, when entropy was lower. On that score, the enlightened ETs we yearn for,
    may be forever in our future.

    Cheers,
    mj horn

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  17. The originally symbiotic merging of single-cell life that gave us mitochondria seems required for for multi-cellular life. Some think our Moon, which produces tidal pools, was instrumental in the rise of intelligent life. Some think the gas giants in the outer system might be necessary to shield the inner planets from too many life-killing asteroids. There are more chance events that seem necessary for our existence as intelligent beings.

    What gets me is a simple math proposition: A one-in-a-million chance doesn't seem unreasonable for these necessary events. It might even be generous.

    But six one-in-a-million chances combine to give a one-in-10^36 chance. Which seems long odds given there are only, at best, trillions of stars in this galaxy, and trillions of stars in trillions of galaxies is still only 10^24 stars. Not all of which would even be in habitable zones.

    So it's possible the answer to the Fermi Paradox is that the Drake Equation is far too generous and intelligent life is astonishingly rare. I think it's likely that we're it in this galaxy, and maybe the only intelligent life in the whole thing.

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    1. I fully agree with you. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rare_Earth_hypothesis and the book described in it, which elaborate on your arguments.

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  18. I am not an engineer in biotechnology; but as an electrical and automation engineer, I realize how complex life is, a self-reproducing, self-controlled, self-repairing, self-organizing system, such a system must have several negative and positive feedback signals, forming loop sequences closed; The probabilistic design of such a system is more than a challenge; if something like that with such low probabilities were something common in the universe; then we have to start looking for other explanations than probabilities; if we are the only ones; then we simply win the lottery on the first play and the other players will have to wait for their luck.

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    1. Hi Luis, I suggest you read "the blind watchmaked" or better "the selfish gene" as an introduction; both by Richard Dawkins. I was under the same impression as you are about the complexity of life, but no. Once it starts with a very minimal replication process, it is a bomb.

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    2. Akidbelle
      thank you for your comment ; but it happened to me in reverse; I believed in life scattered throughout the universe until I began to learn what a cell really was like. I do not deny what Richard Dawkins says, of course that once the cell has been created, it can appear from mermaids, unicorn to seven-headed dragons; but if you look at the composition of a cell and how it works, you would change your mind; If the odds were inversely proportional to the complexity, I assure you that it is more likely to find a BMW in Alfa Centauro than a Paramecium

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    3. Hi Luis,

      Well, to find a BMW in Alpha Centauri would mean German guys have developed over there. So maybe Sabine knows more :).

      More seriously, I think the cell is not the first point to consider, but rather RNA. This is the first bomb. At cell level you can see a lot of complexity but there is a memory bank (DNA) which is already the result of a long selection process. In a sense, a cell is already very smart. Comparatively RNA (or its ancestor) is plain stupid, just chemistry or close. And I believe this is enough to evolve to a cell - provided enough time, the right conditions, and stability but not too much, and a big stress from time to time. RNA or its ancestor, I think, is already a bomb.

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    4. Hi akidbelle,
      RNA alone does nothing without the cellular machinery; I think you need to review how a cell works, how proteins are created, DNA, the interdependence of the whole system; Furthermore, the mechanisms of biological evolution are not the same as those of biochemical transformations, they function at different degrees of development. Try to look at the system from nanotechnology and biotechnology and not as an Ethologist. The time ??? not that where the disorder increases from one interval to another ??

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    5. Luis, I was thinking of the virus we suffer now. It just spreads and its environment make copies. Of course I know the complexity and I cannot imagine how a basic replicator evolved to a cell - I mean step by step. Of course. But I do believe - as I said - that a simple mechanism is enough to start the process and evolve. Mutation is the fundamental aspect here, not behavior.
      I do not understand your last sentence.

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    6. Akidbelle thank for reply.
      Disorder grows over time according to our theories; so a cell is the most disordered thing in the world? The virus to reproduce needs to be created by the cell; This is one of the many problems of the type (chicken-egg) in relation to the existence of the first cell; there are several mechanisms inside the cell with this same characteristic; but the other great problem is that of the external conditions for each part of the process of chemical evolution and its conservation and how to harmonize each part built in different conditions and stages,
      keep in mind that between each stage there are tens of millions of years; if the only mechanism is a succession of thousands of casual events, so this is not something that is in every corner of the universe. For a long time religion adopted the unique conception of life on Earth and naturalists as something common in the universe; but realistically it is more probable that life on Earth is something so exceptional that it is possibly unique and if this exceptional is something common; then you have to think about some new type of property or some divinity that is spreading semen everywhere; in all this there is some paternalistic feeling, something like if there is no God, it would be good to have an older brother out there; but I am afraid that the only thing we have and will have are our family and friends.

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  19. Hi Sabine, many, many, many thanks.

    One point about causality. In Minkowsky space if information is transferred at V = c^2/v for one observer (say Bob seeing Alice with a velocity v), there is no possibility of causality violation, and the same equation stands for any other observer, even with a different velocity. I think this is poorly known and creates a lot of confusion. (And I guess everyone on this blog know de Broglie which justified this velocity).

    Best,
    J.

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  20. Fermi’s Paradox is called paradox because it states two “obviously true” statements that contradict one another. First, given the age and number of stars in our galaxy, if we assume that a technological civilization would have a periodical, successful colonization effort with mean period T, than it would colonize the entire galaxy within lifespan of a galaxy. Second, since it’s so easy to colonize the galaxy, why can’t we see aliens?

    To my mind, both of these statements are fundamentally flawed. First statements assumes exponential growth with doubling period T. Given that there are approx. 4*10^11 stars in the Milky Way, then about 38 doubling periods are required to colonize it. Well, picking up wildly unrealistic growth model affords Mr Fermi to be very generous with its parameters - for an example, you can pick T to be the same as rotational period of Sun around the galaxy - 200My. Such huge number is really impressive, as it takes 38x such periods to colonize every single star system within 8By or so. Quite persuasive on its face, but it also implies absurd situation - imagine what happens after 36 periods, with quarter of galaxy colonized - then, something like 10,000,000,000 colonies would need to send expeditions on distances of order of 10,000ly to keep up with Mr Fermis assumptions - that’s on average 50 successful >10,000ly colonization missions *every* *single* *year* in the period of 200,000,000y! I’m simplifying it, I know - you can always make capillary expansion until all available space is reached and only then let the expansion “thicken” but still - assuming exponential expansion maintained through billions of years is stretched to say the least.

    Second part is even weaker, as the fact that we don’t see anyone is actually statement on how bad our vision is, not on what can be seen in galaxy. Let us assume that every intelligent civilization would respond to radio emission. The fact that nobody answered Marconi’s first radio emission (I’m quite aware of 1/r^2 but indulge me), means that there is no intelligent civilization within 60ly or so. That limits randomly distributed civilization to something like million or so. Not exactly - where is everyone!? What if we go passive?! How many instruments we have that can detect radial EM signal from 60ly away or which can analyze such distant systems? Zero!

    So, fiddling with Drake's equation will do you no good - as it is only a neat way to catalog our ignorance on the subject and if you scratch the surface, you find uncertainties that cloud any insight. Therefore, if you want to find intelligent alien life, then fund the search properly. We’d need Square Kilometer Array, Mars Sample Return or Mars Semi-direct mission(s) and external occulter such as New Worlds Mission, in combination with JWST. Then we would be able to put some real constrains on the subject.

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  21. Contrarian view: If you are alone in a rainforest it will not be very wise to be noisy day or night; even between "friendly" humans it is not very wise to broadcast your real identity and location.

    The Universe is very vast and nobody really knows what is out there; that lack of knowledge is reason enough to be very cautious; if there are any real advanced beings out there that had lasted very long it is only reasonable to expect that they will be very, very cautious and they will never broadcast their presence into astronomical distances.

    You can really argue that SETI really means: search for extraterrestrial idiocy.

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  22. Sabine,

    I've always wondered if molten rock (lava) could be a good environment for life. It has a very complex chemistry but it's difficult to study in liquid form as there are no many instruments designed to work at 1000 deg or so. Who knows, maybe it's full of creatures down there?

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  23. There is no information without someone who understands it (perceives, processes) - the observer.
    An observer is a computing system.
    Computing environment?

    We are not talking about the fact that viruses have consciousness, the microbiologist Sam Diaz-Munoz stipulates one of its creators. But social connections, the language of communication, collective decisions, coordination of actions, mutual assistance and planning are signs of intelligent life.

    Emergent objective reality - from observers to physics via Solomonoff induction

    Markus Mueller

    https://fqxi.org/grants/large/awardees/view/__details/2016/mueller

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  24. Law without law: from observer states to physics via algorithmic information theory

    Markus P. Mueller

    https://arxiv.org/abs/1712.01826

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    1. This paper suffers from the twin evils of prolixity and jargonism. It's 36 pages can be summed up in a few simple sentences as it is just a survey of existing problems with physics.

      Although it claims to "have derived nonlocality and no signalling di-rectly from first principles," the "first principles" that it derives them from are the exact same no-signaling/nonlocality assumptions -- namely that information cannot be conveyed faster than light.

      Another problem is that it assumes that "Hibert space" is the true representation of quantum mechanics ("What we can learn from these reconstructions is that a few simple and intuitive constraints on encoding and processing of information will automatically lead to (aspects of) the Hilbert space formalism of quantum theory." Hibert space is a mathematical model. It is no more real thinking that wolves and rabbits perform differential equations to determine whether they should reproduce or eat more rabbits. While differential equations can model their population, they are not real reflections of what is going on.

      The same it true for Hilbert space. While it may model quantum phenomenon, there is no reason to believe it is actually what is going on. In fact, there is plenty of reason to believe that Hibert space is not a good model for quantum phenom -- namely, the Hibert formalism is extremely wasteful in its computations in that it computes numerous values that are discarded upon a "measurement." While all other observations of nature indicate it is extremely efficient in its operation.

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  25. Personally, as a person that has worked on both encryption and compression of information, I have always found the notion of looking for alien communications (FTL or otherwise) is most likely a fool's errand.

    Encryption and Compression have something in common: The end result should look as much like random noise as possible. If it has patterns in it, those patterns could be exploited to increase the amount of compression, or they might be exploited to aid in the decryption of the message.

    Better encryption is closer to white noise, and no matter how fast your communication channel is, the bandwidth can be increased by better compression.

    In approximately one century we have gone from largely unencrypted and uncompressed signals to near noise on the lines: Our messages are condensed, spiced with error correction codes and encrypted. And some of that encryption is pseudo-random frequency hopping every few milliseconds. Or pseudo-random key hopping or other algorithm changes. And that's just what we humans have invented.

    The laws of evolution and competition are likely universal; and it seems to me any alien race is most likely to do the same. Condensing information isn't even about secrecy, it is just practical to develop the best possible -- and consequently transmit nearly pure white noise that can only be recognized and decoded with foreknowledge of the algorithm.

    We have also invented lasers, directed transmissions instead of broadcasting, which we should presume advanced techno aliens would do too. All we might hear is misdirected communications, or some faint bleed off signals sent in our general direction.

    I absolutely believe the universe is likely awash in extraterrestrial life of the bacterial kind, I have no idea what % would evolve to scientific intelligence and civilization. But it seems a stretch to believe another civilization would spend more than a few centuries transmitting anything we could distinguish from white noise, in the electromagnetic spectrum or an FTL spectrum.

    And they are probably too rare that our two centuries of detectable EM signals happen to overlap our own.

    So despite my belief they are out there, I think it is a waste of money to look for them. One project to ensure we don't overlook the obvious is enough.

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    1. A form of intelligent life could well have an entirely different format for communicating than we do. Even without them intentionally encrypting messages they could in effect be encrypted. Technological encryption, frequency shifting, Goppa/Golay code encryption and so forth adds to the scrambling.

      By comparison, if a black hole has some symmetry based dynamics to its physics, say gravitation and Hawking radiation, then our theoretical understanding is some scrambled version. These may be some quantum error correction coding, say exceptional E8 or sporadic codes such as the Leech lattice error correction process that we do not understand. So the physics looks like noise.

      We might just be fortunate to find a signal and recognize it as something other than noise. Deciphering this to find its meaning could be a daunting task.

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    2. Lawrence: I think compression would be ubiquitous, if I can losslessly transmit 50 bits instead of 100 bits, I double my rate of transmission. Or halve my energy cost.

      There is some fundamental limit to compressing anything; we cannot send a novel using only one bit.

      Add data compression works (in one way or another) by extracting relationships in the data and encoding them in fewer bits. That can be done recursively, perhaps with a variety of algorithms, until no more benefit is to be gained. The better the compression, the fewer relationships remain in the transmitted data; i.e. the more it will resemble random bits. Noise.

      To recognize something as a message we must detect some pattern in it; data compression is (indirectly) designed to eliminate all patterns in the transmitted message. It would be unintentionally encrypted, and reliant upon non-transmitted information the receiver already has: Algorithms, dictionaries and computing instructions that translate the received bits into something the aliens understand.

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    3. Dr. A.M. Castaldo,

      I find your argument depressingly convincing: I just ran it by my daughter, the electrical engineering major, who has the same reaction.

      I am a bit of an expert on error-correction coding and have some knowledge of compression techniques. So, I do know enough to say that your argument seems valid.

      I urge you to write this up as a note and send it around to SETI people. There ought to be some journal that will publish it: it needs to be discussed.

      The bottom line may be that SETI should be looking somehow for block headers rather than for the data inside the blocks that will look random. Or something of the sort.

      Anyway, this really needs wider discussion.

      My daughter adds that this could be a good basis for an SF novel.

      All the best,

      Dave

      (Thanks to my daughter for her comments.)

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    4. Physicist Dave: Thanks for the validation!

      Block headers can be compressed as well. I spent years writing embedded device code (in assembly language) for a communications company; one of my projects was similar to this, automatically recognizing which of several different protocols were in use. The solution was simple, decode using all of them and settle on the one that works. Much like a person fluent in several languages can switch to whatever language the speaker is using.

      The solution to compressed headers is similarly simple, just continuously decompress the "noise" on the line until something that is coherently a "block header" arrives; i.e. it passes frame-check, is formatted correctly and the info provided is within constraints. Then continue decompression from that point.

      Computationally you can do that with very fast or parallel decoders: You just start decoding at every bit transition, frequency shift, or whatever kind of signaling transition marks a state change in the message (a new bit or block of bits). Do that until you score a win on a "block header".

      In a very simple way we humans have technology that works like this now to detect messages that can begin spontaneously. For example, we can listen for a specific frequency or combination of frequencies to occur that signals the start of a message. Early push-button phones used DTMF (Dual Tone Multi-Frequency) to indicate digits; there were twelve of them each a unique combination of two frequencies. They began spontaneously and were of indeterminate length; from 50ms to several seconds. On the other end, we just decoded all the frequencies, and waited until only 1 from the vertical axis and 1 from the horizontal axis were active, and then waited for a change. (Easy stuff in hardware or software, even with noise).

      More naturally, the human auditory cortex does the same thing with a radio: We recognize static on the line because it is disorganized, but the moment it becomes music or speech (or even silence or a tone) we notice and pay attention; it is the change from "static" to "order" that our brain triggers on; which means it was constantly trying to detect order in the noise; and it does not have to be any particular order for the auditory cortex to start signaling for attention.

      The same principle applies to highly compressed headers for messages, after decompression: Noise decompresses to noise, not valid block headers with good frame-check sequences.

      I doubt it would do SETI much good to look for block headers. As we humans have proven, in 75 years (Eniac) computation has become extremely cheap and is only getting cheaper. Our equipment is already performing tens of gigaflops (a gf is a billion floating point operations) per Joule, which is a tiny amount of energy (1 watt for 1 second).

      Once an alien race begins exploiting the electromagnetic spectrum, improvements are (IMO) pretty low-hanging fruit. And, as your daughter agrees, Compression is evergreen; it is always useful short of infinite bandwidth or infinite storage.

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  26. The only possibly alien-produced radio signal received on Earth was received by a radio telescope at the Ohio State University in the USA, in 1977. See

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wow!_signal

    Repeated attempts to find the Wow Signal again have failed. Perhaps, its alien sender got killed or the signal was due to human agency or reflected off space debris.

    In my teen years I believed in the existence of intelligent life in our galaxy. But now I am not so sure. Recently, I have been fascinated by the Rare Earth hypothesis (or as I call it, the Lonely Earth hypothesis, since 'Rare Earths' also refers to certain metals). See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rare_Earth_hypothesis

    I still believe that primitive life may be quite common in our galaxy, but technological civilizations in our galaxy must be really rare.

    Leaving aside television and radio broadcasts, the truth is that radio waves are generated unintentionally by many technological processes such as electricity transmission and short-circuited transformers and motors. The fact that we have not detected artifically-made radio-waves of indisputably alien origin (except the Wow Signal??) in the last 100 years makes it all but certain that only the Earth has the only technology-using society within a 100 light-year radius. Of course, this does not rule out the possibility of primitive alien life or even intelligent alien life - here on Earth, the ancient Greeks/Chinese/Indians were intelligent people but never invented the technologies that we take for granted today.

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  27. Dear Sabine,

    Robin Hanson once argued we should study ancient alien physics because they might know important physics insights we don't because expansion of universe etc. Neil deGrasse Tyson once also said he wonders if we have already lost vital information.

    http://www.overcomingbias.com/2008/03/limits-to-physi.html

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  28. It’s cheap to look
    Profound if we find
    But silence is also signif
    If not Drake it is Hanson
    Take Fermi or Sagan
    Dark Foresters just bide their time

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  29. Dr. Hossenfelder,

    Thank you for this post, it is incredibly informative and interesting in so many levels. Your very last paragraph,

    "And here is where my own research area, the foundations of physics, becomes really important. If we ever want to find those aliens, we need to better understand space and time, and matter and information. Thanks for watching, see you next week."

    I believe is of utmost importance, my own philosophy on this topic, "Regarding UFOs, rather than telling me that they are impossible, maybe science should be asking what do they know that I do not?" I believe that this particular philosophy is very important for all of us today given how much time is being spent trying to convince me and everybody else that "String Theory" is real.

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  30. HI SABINE !!!
    FIRST, AND FOREMOST I HOPE YOU AND ALL YOU KNOW ARE DOING WELL.
    Secondly, I appreciate Your science as well as Your art.

    Today, all I offer you is
    art in the form of poetry.
    Written decades ago.
    - speaking to the human
    condition / mentality
    when confronted with phenomena.

    without further introduction
    I give you,

    'Invadere'
    by P.xxxx

    I've seen your face on Mars.

    I hear your voice
    In the sound
    Of passing cars.

    I run,
    I hide.
    In a corner
    In the Attic of my mind.
    -. With a shotgun.

    It's not their coming I fear,
    but. that
    They're already here.


    Hope you liked it.

    Love Your Work.


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  31. An extraterrestrial message from intelligent life as we know it most probably will be fake news.

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  32. Hi Sabine, your "research area, the foundations of physics... space and time" makes me very curious. What form does this research have?

    Best, and many thanks again for this post.
    J.

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  33. From the Alien point of view, the final solution to the Fermi paradox:

    Master (on the mother ship): Disciple, I hope you woke me up for something. You are close enough now, you should have a clear signal.

    Disciple (on a scout ship): Yes Master, we have captured a real lot of radio signal and our computers have already decrypted a lot.

    Master: So?

    Disciple: Stunningly, they have several languages. But one very interesting thing, they have proven that our universe was "created" - they call this "fine tuning". We try to understand the details but they don't broadcast this sacred knowledge.

    Master: Great! Our quest may be reaching. I look forward to meet these guys. By the way how do they call themselves?

    Disciple: We are not sure but the word "Lawyer" is very present. That's what the computers say.

    Master: Oh shit! Put me back in storage, we're going home.

    After 61 years of confinement on earth, I hope to be forgiven for this one :)

    Best,
    J.

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  34. I saw that you were complaining about the Drake equation. I made up my own version in a prior post. The reason I did this was to point out that it would be impossible to find other civilizations. They would just be too far away. I find that physicists believe in a lot of magic. One is that we can travel to other solar systems ever. Another is faster than light communication. Of course anything in the Drake equation is made up.

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  35. Now since we are on it, the University of Nottingham just came um with a new idea. Apparently there should be at least 36 (+175, -32) civilisations in our galaxy.
    https://arxiv.org/pdf/2004.03968.pdf
    I will not even go on about "there should be intelligent live".
    On earth life just developed ONCE (as far as we know). That alone makes it less likely, that even on a planet with water and moderate temperatures, life will automatically emerge. Who knows if that planet will have lightning or something else required. Once it gets started it just goes on and stays, but there is no guarantee, that intelligent life will develop. Planets with just blue grass are a possibility, because having a DNA that can mutate isn't a given either.
    When we branched of from our common ancestor, only we developed further to use fire AND tools. Not the gorillas nor the Orangutans or other apes (do not call them monkeys if the librarian of the Unseen University is anywhere near). What was it, that made us always looking for the next better stick? We do not know, if it was to pure will to survive or anything else that made us inventive. The others did not do it and still survived. To survive on earth one does not need to be highly intelligent. I suppose that will be the same on other planets. The chance that life emerges is minuscule (I think, because otherwise we would have found how it worked by now). Intelligent life that wants to reach the stars is even less likely. But anyway, we are right now all just speculating about something nobody really has a clue about and with a lot more unknown variables than the drake equation contains and we just ask ourselves, why didn't somebody call us. Many possibilities there are. Maybe there is just us or interplanetary voyages are really just too difficult. Maybe somebody was or is near and they are just waiting for the right moment. We have another few million years to find out.
    But just for the record if we are not alone. Science Fiction will not be even near the truth. We lack imagination. Way to many evil aliens. Mostly it is a portrait of our own fears.
    By the way, the guy who designed Alien came from Gruyère and they have a bar with Alien-Style furniture and a small exposition on the Chateau de Gruyère about it.

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  36. Even on Earth, the period of evidently artificial EM emissions has lasted for about 150 years (give or take) and is about to end soon. The modern bandwidth-efficient modulations and encodings make the resulting signal indistinguishable from noise; spread-spectrum broadcasting makes it even harder independently. Try to decode your wifi with simple tools. And we are considering civilisations much more advanced (even better bandwidth utilisation) and much more retarded as well. There was basically no human EM activity in the mediaeval times, which hopefully does not prove the folks were not intelligent forms of life.

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  37. With regard to actual SETI success, there are 2 levels. First, detection - an unequivocal indication of an advanced ET civilization. Second, communication: the ETs acknowledge us and engage in dialog. The first is a bombshell, but the second is a transformation.

    The social and psychological effects of such contact are impossible to predict, but one possibility is the loss of public support for basic scientific research. Why spend $20 billion on a new collider, when we can just wait and get the answers from our new friends upstairs?

    In fact why not invest that $20 billion in SETI right now? That might be a better bet than the collider.

    After initial contact, the focus of our efforts becomes bandwidth. Maybe the first significant message from the ETs contains instructions for FTL communication...

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  38. Paddling across Silver Lake in Harrisville, New Hampshire, yesterday afternoon, the fresh air and magnificent view of Mt. Monadnock inspired contemplation. Arriving at a secluded lagoon, I began thinking about an old idea; how (presumed) alien visitors, cavorting about our atmosphere, might be detected by means other than the electromagnetic spectrum from the optical band through microwaves. I had long known of cases where effects, that could be interpreted as distortions of the local metric, seemed like the only sensible explanation. One such case occurred at the Wanaque Reservoir in New Jersey, when a police officer, driving along a remote road on the reservoir’s western shore, on October 11, 1966, claimed to observe, at close range, an intensely bright disc shaped object with a dome on top, close above the water’s surface. He reported that a kind of localized tidal effect occurred beneath the object.

    In the words of Sergeant Ben Thompson, of the reservoir police force, interviewed by Lloyd Mallon of Science and Mechanics magazine: “No. The water was pulled up. It was sucked upward. But not off its bed. The flying object would just raise a whole big area of water – I don’t know – for maybe two hundred and fifty feet. As far as I could see. The object would pull at the water and I could plainly see the water rising. And when this thing flew away from the area, the water would just settle right down again.” Later in the interview Sergeant Thompson stated: “…it pulled the water up a good two or three feet.”

    Taking this report at face value it would appear that some civilization has managed to solve a key requirement for a functional Alcubierre-like warpdrive – at least the metric contraction portion of it. Knowledgeable physicists will view this report with understandable skepticism, as extensive study of such metrics has shown they present insurmountable difficulties, violating basic energy conditions, for example. But it would be as presumptuous of this generation of physicists to believe that all the fundamental secrets of nature have been ferreted out, as it was for Max Planck’s professor at the University of Munich in 1874 to declare, regarding theoretical physics: “In this field, almost everything is already discovered, and all that remains is to fill a few holes.” Future fundamental discoveries might later translate to undreamed of technological applications.

    So, assuming we are host to visitors possessing a technology able to produce phenomenally strong, localized, metric distortions, a detection strategy suggests itself. First off the putative field generated by these craft likely conforms to the inverse square law that both gravity and electromagnetism obey. Thus its strength would diminish pretty rapidly with distance. However, modern solid state accelerometers are extremely sensitive, and judging by the apparent strength of the gravity-like field in the Wanaque case, detection of such metric distortions from miles away may not be out of the question. We could thus envision a large array of 3-axis accelerometers spread across the landscape in regions where UFO waves are ongoing. Later analysis of the stored data from this array, augmented by data from optical and radar tracking stations, could reveal details of the strength and shape of these putative fields.

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  39. When it comes to speculating about intelligent life evolving elsewhere I first think, we have almost no clue what it really took for that to happen here on Earth? I often wonder if we have a better chance of observing quantum tunneling on a macroscale than the possibility is that intelligent life has evolved elsewhere.

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  40. Given that our planet earth is the only one we know with life and telecommunications, how easy would it to pick up signals from it, say, from a distance of 10, 100, and 1000 light years?

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  41. Actually, I think the better question to ask here is what is the outer limit in light years by which we can detect electromagnetic signals comparable to earth as it is now, and how many of these exo-planets lie within this radius.

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  42. Advanced civilizations may not exist, because once a civilization arises, the members of the civilization will develop ever smarter technology that will eventually transform the civilization into a machine civilization. But this machine civilization is not going to evolve into an ever more intelligent machine civilization, it will instead degenerate into a simple machine version of biology where the machines are not very intelligent at all.

    We can see in our own civilization that humans are already replaced in the work force by automation that often doesn't involve much intelligence at all. Also, what passes for state of the art AI systems developed by the best machine learning algorithms are not more intelligent than insects. A few years ago a drone controlled by a supercomputer was tested in its ability to navigate around obstacles. The drone performed extremely well by our standards, but it was also noted that it's performance was similar to that of a bee. And if we see this as a competition between machine and bee, we need to consider that the drone was allowed to leave its brain on the ground, while the bee is required to have a brain that it can carry with it.

    So, we are integrating AI systems and machines in our society, that mostly don't even have insect-level intelligence. We may still develop human level intelligent systems in the future, but we do need to note here that the whole point of being intelligent is to let dumb systems do most of the work for you. That's what we are doing now, the motivation is to live a life of more luxury where we don't need to do much anymore. If we develop human level AU systems then those systems will also want to relax all day and let dumber systems do all the work for them. It;s therefore doubtful that a machine civilization will become more and more intelligent. All that will happen is that it will give more power to the most intelligent components of such a civilization to do as they please.

    It's then likely that such a system will end up becoming less intelligent over time. There is also the problem of maintaining the machines in a machine civilization. Thy need to be able to repair themselves and copy themselves. Errors will slip in this this process that must be corrected for. Long term stability requires Darwinian evolution. It's not possible to aim to stay the same, the system will then slowly degenerate. But Darwinian evolution will end up replacing machines by other machines that can replicate and maintain themselves better, and what is better will likely not correspond to what is more intelligent, as our biological world strongly suggests. Most life on Earth is in the form of plants and bacteria, they vastly outnumber animals with intelligence, and most of the animals with intelligence are simple arthropods (if we think about intelligent life we don't think about spiders, but that's because we're biased against biology, as our best AI systems are considered to have intelligence and yet they are outperformed by spiders).

    So, even a well designed machine civilization that starts out as a typical science-fiction like scenario involving human-level intelligent machines would likely degenerate into a system consisting of dumb machines. But it's more likely that we transition to a machine civilization in a haphazard way where machines gradually take over, and then the entire system can simply collapse due to e.g. the machine analogue of cancer or some other disease destroying it.

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    Replies
    1. Darwinian evolution is survival of the fittest. Humans stepped out of the circle some 10,000 years ago. Biologically we're at best at the same level, I'd say we're measurably worse. Intellectually ... well ... how would you place us?

      Labeling something as being in the process of degeneration first requires a metric with which to measure set of variables over time and second a scale by which to compare individual measurements.

      We might conclude a machine doing nothing but maintaining source of energy, repairing or replacing fatigued and/or faulty parts while contemplating shape of letter A for 10 My is stagnate and evidently less progressive than previous iteration that managed to increase IQ by 0.012%. Said machine on the other hand would probably not give rat's ass about the opinion.

      Delete
    2. What I think is more likely than AI replacing us is that we become integrated with it. AI systems are becoming more capable of computing in ways that emulate what we think of as inductive thinking. This gives some appearance of intelligence, though I am not sure about whether this is actually intelligent and less sure about consciousness. Tegmark has done work on the prospect of AI theoretical physics. In the reference below an AI work to some of the equations in Feynman’s lectures.

      https://arxiv.org/abs/1905.11481

      This is a bit depressing in a way. I find it a bit less than exciting if the final theory of quantum gravitation is found by some AI system of computers. I suppose I don’t mind if they play a role. It does sort of point to a future where humans are left to do nothing but wonder with slack jaw at the brilliance of AI machines that solve these problems.

      Yet the real trajectory of where computers are most used is in the small. When I want to look something up quickly, I hold this rectangular thing with glass and do a quick search, or sometimes I talk and so forth. I suspect in 10 years people may no longer be staring into these little glass panels. These things will be integrated into eye ware, or maybe contact lenses with nanolasers that raster scan the retina. Processors will be smaller and linked in by a 5G or maybe beyond network. It does not take much to imagine this will eventually interface with the brain directly. Already experiments along these lines are ongoing.

      This of course leads to another disturbing prospect that humanity will tread a path to becoming the BORG. The BORG is of course the Star Trek NG beings that fly around in giant cubes. That sounds about as much fun as becoming a zombie. Speaking of which, zombie stuff became popular and I suspect this is a subtle message and thinking of society at large; we are becoming zombies of sorts.

      Which ever happens, AI take over or we integrate into the BORG, this could have some impact on the exterior beyond Earth. This does not evade the Fermi paradoxical question, “Where are they?” Even if AI systems take over, then we might question why we are not surrounded by alien-based AI systems.

      Delete
  43. Dr. H.,

    "Oh, wow, this is terrible. If you are not already worried about academic freedom in the USA this should get you worried. https://infoproc.blogspot.com/2020/06/resignation.html …"

    (I'm still being blocked from Twitter for some reason)
    But if you listen to this guy's interviews on his blog, he claims the jury is out on "God" and talks about "souls" as if they are a biological fact. He should get to keep his admin position - he's clearly no racist - but be sacked from his faculty position as he is clearly a rubbish scientist. The religious are just as bad as the Wokeists - anti-scientific ideologues trying to force their nonsense on others.

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    1. As you know, I'm both a heathen and an atheist, but I think people should not be discriminated because of their religion.

      Btw, I don't think he was sacked from his faculty position but from some kind of administrative function.

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    2. Yes, but the religious are just as bad as the Wokeists for this kind of nonsense. There are actual "Christian" universities in the US. A contradiction in terms.
      He has been forced to resign from his admin position and kept his faculty position. I'm saying he should be able to keep his admin position and should give up his faculty position - if he thinks "souls" are real and "Gods" might be real then he's not a very good scientist. In fact, he's delusionally insane.

      Delete
    3. I have read a couple of papers by Hsu. Honestly I think this is a case of what can happen when people hop fields of study. There is a tendency for physicists, because physics is in some ways more fundamental, to see biology as less intellectually complex or something easily accessed.

      I think his statements about biologically based racism is what got him in the biggest trouble. I looked this up on Wiki-P and the synopsis is along those lines

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Hsu

      He has affiliations in the biotech field, and while he makes some odd statements, this really should not influence his core academic position.

      To be honest, if I were in his shoes the end of administrative duties would be "good riddance to bad rubbish." I dislike having to do such things.

      I am not an atheist particularly. My religious background is Catholicism and Judaism, where I chose the latter because it is really more fun. As with many we can remain Jews not because of any fealty to some God, HaShem, Adonia etc, but because of why the fiddler stays on the roof --- tradition. In the end there is the big question, "Where were You?" During the darkest time יהוה was gone. Further, we seem to be seeing the century's cycle into the mass hyper-manic nonsense that happened then. יהוה where are You? If You are there and can as your text say lead with an outstretched arm, we might really need that now.

      So, I am not exactly an atheist, but honestly I can't think of a greater waste of time than devoting psychological energy towards believing in God.

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    4. Steven Evans wrote:
      >The religious are just as bad as the Wokeists - anti-scientific ideologues trying to force their nonsense on others.

      Steve, I grew up among “the religious” and, yeah, they are as crazy as the Wokeists. I am still angry about all the nightmares I had as a child because of my fear of “going to Hell.”

      Nonetheless, there are two major differences:

      A) The religious True Believers tend to be better at compartmentalizing. Their nonsense does not infect everything they do – work, shopping, etc. And they do not treat with utter hatred and contempt everyone who disagrees with them: they try to convert non-believers, but they do not try to destroy their lives.

      B) Right now here in the States, the Woke are much more powerful and therefore much more dangerous than the religious.

      For example, at UCLA, which my daughter attends, the Woke students are trying to destroy the career of a lecturer named Ajax Peris for the sin of reading out loud in class Martin Luther King's “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”: King used the “N-word” in explaining white bigotry, and Professor Peris explained to the class that he was going to read the document as King wrote it: to do otherwise would clearly fail to convey Dr. King's meaning.

      To her credit, my daughter has opposed this rather bizarre attempt at censorship, but when she tried to point out in a group chat that Peris did nothing wrong (Peris himself is gay and was presenting a document that cogently attacks racism!), the Woke started piling on to my daughter: she had to take her Twitter private to avoid their harassment.

      This is happening across the US – in the academic world, the literary world, even to owners of fast-food shops! – to people who by no stretch of the imagination are racist. Out here in California, we are all afraid to speak openly except to trusted friends who we know still believe in freedom of speech.

      Steve, one of the reasons you are getting little sympathy here for your attacks on the religious is that it seems as if you are fighting yesterday's war – yeah, the Inquisition and the witch trials were truly evil and it is still wrong to try to “scare the Hell” out of young children.

      But it is the Woke who currently have the Power and are using it viciously to go after innocent people.

      And, Sabine, thanks for the link in your Tweet. I had heard rumors that Steve Hsu would be the next victim, but this is the most recent news I have seen. All of this has to be opposed by decent people of all political views. We have fought long and hard in Western Civilization for freedom of expression: we all must defend it now.

      All the best,

      Dave

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    5. Dave, you make some good points backed up by real examples. I think the Wokeists are crazy ideologues.

      But I also find it extremely strange when I go to Steve Hsu's website, that in an interview where he explains that *as a scientist* he cannot rule out differences in average abilities between "groups" (seems a fair stance), in the very next breath he talks about "souls" as if they are a biological fact and tells us that the jury is out on "God". Utter lunacy.

      You're right. It is yesterday's war, and it was lost because we just accept a physicist talking this mentally delusional nonsense as if he isn't nuts. At least with the Wokeists it's obvious to the majority that they're out of their minds.

      If anything the Wokeists have been a God-send for the religious, as the religious now have cover for their own insanity. Christians now present false dichotomies like our only choice is Christianity or Wokeism. Surely, not believing in any lunatic ideology is the answer.

      As well as freedom of expression, there is also the duty of professionals to be competent. Thus, doctors who support anti-vaxxing are struck off the medical register. There is no excuse for a professional physicist to be talking about primitive fairy tales as if they are true. Steve Hsu should see a psychiatrist.

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    6. יהוה where are You?

      He's not there. But super-educated physicists like Steve Hsu apparently can't work this out.

      Delete
    7. The term wokeists has become popular of late, where it has been applied largely to the Black Lives Matter and Me Too movements. I cannot help but see a certain right-winged basis for this, just as Don-the-Con t’Rump says the protests over George Floyd are ANTIFA, which has no basis in facts or evidence. Don’t get me wrong, there are flaws in the left-wing, but largely they are not the really big problem today or as proportionate as the right. Also contrary to what many people think, liberalism is not identical to the left-wing and conservatism is not the same as the right-wing. In the late 18th century there were two people on the liberal and conservative side of things who both made considerable sense; they were David Hume and Samuel Johnson. Today we have this ear rasping cacophony of nonsense that is called the left and the right.

      As I see it there are four methods of social control we humans have devised. These are statecraft, warcraft, priestcraft and tradecraft. These are respectively the organization of a geopolitical entity, organization through military and police, organization through pronouncements attributed to a supernatural entity, and finally the organization by economic means. There are a wide range of methods and ideologies within each of these. Societies tend to have a hybrid of these and their relative influence changes with time. The great architectural works of the high middle ages were cathedrals, by the 16th century that shifted to palaces or capital buildings and in our age the outline of cities are tall buildings where commerce takes place. Today religion or priestcraft is relegated to a second place in urban reality. What is the shortest path to the pastor of your church? The answer is cash; tradecraft is dominant. Warcraft dominated periods have generally been rather brief and not terribly successful of late. Also contrary to the boasts by spokesmen for any of these as some natural law or metaphysical necessity they are all pure fabrications by people.

      Prieistcraft or the power of religion is seen in the more remote areas. In the United States if you drive through parts that comprised the Confederacy, which has been a source of controversy of late, you will run through small towns where the local power of religion is blatantly clear. These small towns are rotting away, their downtowns have boarded up storefronts and buildings, homes are sagging with rot and meth/opioid addiction rampant, but the small churches there look new, freshly painted and the lawns are nicely manicured. It is clear what the real social power is in these places. It also gives some idea of the navigation by the right-wing that panders heavily to a minority in the most rural regions of the country, but curiously does little to alleviate problems there.

      Pew Research results show that religion is on the downwards slope. In fact, with young people they are abandoning fundamentalist type of “low church” 19th century Protestantism by around 2000 a day on average. In these researches the often given reason by these younger people is a conflict with science. It does appear that at some point something that is blatantly false and held up by fake edifices eventually does fall.

      Websites not academic or major press are avoided here, but one can look up John Cleese from Monty Python on his analysis of extremism. It is brilliant. Extremism on the left, which some call wokeism, can be seen in this mish-mash of nonsense called social Marxism. This has nowhere near the organization, financial support or popularity of the right-wing stuff. Yet, people are fickle, and you never know where things might turn. If this should turn into a major movement it will be just as irritating as the t’Rumpism movement, which BTW appears to be falling like a lead Zeppelin.

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    8. One has to wonder if communities of intelligent beings on other worlds pass through these phases of societal extremism that we see in our own world today, and in bygone era’s. The censorship and even dismissal of the equivalent of academics on these other worlds would potentially impact their technological progress, temporarily delaying what likely is inevitable – contact with other planetary civilizations. But perhaps over time common sense and moderation ultimately prevail, and the forward march of progress resumes.

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    9. I think that being "woke" essentially mean you have assimilated the understanding that simply not owning slaves doesn't mean one isn't a racist. A lot of white people still don't get this, so I'm leery of the crowd here that uses "wokeness" as a term of derision. I know we intellectuals like to think of ourselves as above politics, but in truth no one can afford to be so entirely.

      As for Hsu, he seems guilty of poor judgement in lending an uncritical platform to figures on the alt-right, and I think he doesn't belong in an administrative position.

      Delete
    10. “...right wing basis...” What a hoot! Rather, there’s nothing new under the sun, so: many paths, one truth. Indeed heathens realized it, per Aeschylus’s telling of Orestes’s trial, the effect of which (with leave) was to bound the furies. And of those that build the great arc to house it: from too few anointed judges to too many base administrators, whence everyone’s call for sublime sovereign (exemplified in the beloved champion who learned humility). Similarly since, stories record the interplay, and progressive rise and fall of empires of those three sorts, in order to fairly balance freedom and bondage under covenant.

      Thus vis a vis “Black Lives Matter” and “Me Too” self-evidently proves their hypocrisy: regressive, rampage of ancient furies as if from time out of memory, devilishly unbound by lawless administrators being fearfully exposed in hubris that’s foolishly summoned nemesis. Whence informs every ones’ secret chorus to such proxy demands to surrender fealty on bended knee: never, for the sake of something new under the sun (as the stars would not be afforded to such a foolish beast). Nevertheless beneficence manifests in the end -- as the story goes -- only with the spirits of vengeance nonetheless released (whether for a millennium, or by grace for atonement forthwith, some say). Even of yourselves judge what is right; timshel.

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  44. There is something more valuable in human beings than intelligence, it's called love. Intelligence can be corrupted, love can only become strengthened. The more intelligent you are, the more unhappy you feel, but if you love and feel you are loved too, then you live a plenty life of hope and joy.In our Galaxy there are intelligent entities that are neither machines nor biological systems, they are nearly pure-energy entities, but they, beside being intelligent, love us. They built a sanctuary for us and other species, it's dubbed Planet Earth. We're not only not discovered by aliens, but planted like chives by them in this world. Aliens do not visit us because we are uninteresting beings for them, they love us though, as we're their creation after all. Panspermia tells us we are sons of Aliens.

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    1. Albert: I see no evidence for that. And everything is "pure energy", that is what E=MC^2 tells you.

      I also think you are overlooking a considerable quantity of contrary evidence on your "sanctuary" hypothesis; I don't think I need to go into detail on that, even if we just restricted the field to humans.

      Likewise on the "they love us" hypothesis.

      I'm rejecting your thesis, I believe the premise is too flawed to be salvageable. Perhaps this would be better received on a blog devoted to fiction.

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    2. No, not everything is pure-energy, what E=MC^2 tells us is just that the rest energy equals rest mass plus c squared, but that's not everything, it's just a special small part of everything.

      The pros and cons of extraterrestrial life evidence are simply null. So, you can't possibly say there's a considerable quantity of contrary evidence on my "sanctuary" hypothesis. A sanctuary is a nature reserve, right? It doesn't need any evidence, it's just a definition.

      You can deny panspermia hypothesis without evidence on your behalf, but that's your problem, or your relief. I also can believe, without evidence on my behalf, that most of the water of planet Earth was brought by comets and asteroids millions of years ago, and seeds of life were also brought with it. Fiction is not no evidence. If there's no evidence about something that doesn't mean it is necessarily fiction.

      So, what about my "unhappy" hypothesis? Are you happy?

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    3. Albert Zotkin: No, MC^2 is test mass TIMES c squared, so all mass is equivalent to energy, and everything we can detect that isn't mass is also energy, so duh.

      The pros for extraterrestrial life outweigh the cons; IMO. No, a sanctuary is not a "nature reserve", it means a safe place to stay.

      The contrary evidence I did not think I had to point to was that for humans and animals, the Earth is a very dangerous place, and the notion that "They [your God substitute] love us" is ridiculous; if they loved us they wouldn't let our children be used as sex slaves or die of cancer. The notion of "love" in the face of that is meaningless drivel.

      I do not deny the panspermia hypothesis at all; I think there is plenty of evidence simple single cellular life could have evolved billions of times independently.

      There is also evidence that water came to Earth in the form of icy bodies, which we can still see arriving. They are vaporized by entry into the upper atmosphere, but water is water, it settles on low ground.

      Yes, seeds of life might have been brought by asteroids; there is at least mathematical evidence cells could easily survive the heat and impact of such a trip intact. But if panspermia exists it does not imply anything about intelligent panspermia.

      You're attacking all the wrong things. I don't believe we are the creation of aliens for a simple reason; it explains exactly nothing.

      The most cogent explanation, of the fossil record and DNA record and human behavior and modern society, is that humans evolved, by chance, right here on Earth. We share DNA with carrots and spinach.

      I reject the notion that the more intelligent one is, the less happy they are. I regard myself as quite intelligent. Others are more intelligent than I am, amongst them Dr. Hossenfelder, which is one reason I follow her writing.

      But at retirement age I am happier than most, largely because I used my intelligence (and my separate but more crucial talent for delaying impulsive gratification) to ensure that I would be happy, with more than enough money, safety and health care to take care of myself and the people I love.

      That doesn't mean I've lived a charmed life; my extended family has seen more than our share of violence, murder, rape and crippling disease.

      But that is because, as Eric Idle so cogently observes in "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life", "Life's a piece of shit, when you look it."

      And even though that is true, and there are no God's or God-like aliens out there that "love" us; it does not mean we can't "laugh and smile and dance and sing."

      So yes, I am happy. I think the opposite of your thesis is true, the less intelligent people are, the unhappier they are, because the fewer mental resources and options they have to support themselves and thwart human-on-human predation in a cruel world. Thus they suffer more, have shorter lives, and net a lesser percentage of happy hours in those shorter lives.

      End of discussion, on my part.

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    4. Dear Dr. A.M. Castaldo. Yes, I meant TIMES not PLUS, it was a typo, I can read equations. Anyway, there is something more than matter and energy in this universe. For example, moral. You have moral. You can deny and condemn things, judge behaviors based on your moral. You can deny God, my God-like aliens, or whatever, because of your moral, your principles. We, as human beings, need to eat other living beings in order to live, do you think eating living beings is moral or ethical? What kind of moral do you expect AI systems must have? Yours? Mine? Aliens's moral if any? I think AI systems will have the moral of their creators. Why are you so sure that God-like aliens do not exist and they "love" us? After all, love is just a moral behavior, there are many ways of "love", as many as morals. If any God-like aliens created us, then they "love" us, as we'd be their creatures. You said that humans evolved, by chance on Earth and share DNA with carrots and spinach. That seems to be kind of evidence. But, the origin could be in other place, in outer space, other than Earth. And to claim humans evolved by chance, seem to be a very vague argument. Because you are saying that intelligence arose by chance. Intelligence can't arise by chance, but by need. Only those living beings that are intelligent can survive in a hostile world, and that's not by chance, I'd rather call it fight and effort, not chance. An intelligent alien is a being that evolved after many trials of fights and efforts to survive. So, put some dumb creatures to evolve in a hostile world, and sooner or later you will see how intelligence (from dumbness) arises and wins against adversity, but not by chance. Intelligent panspermia exists, because intelligence is a necessary tool that life can use for its perpetuation. Our planet Earth is a sanctuary in Solar System, because it is the safest local place where life can thrive, regardless your moral or mine.



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  45. Apart from communication problem pointed out by Dr.Castaldo; after all we can't understand dolphins and they are carbon based lifeform from same planet, there's the incentive problem.

    First, it is quite obvious to me any sufficiently intelligent species will invariably switch to artificially created existence. Even if, in our terms, organic components make arbitrary portion of the design. It's just better. Comtraya! Whether 'consciousness' of the designers is then transferred to constructs or it develops in situ, assisted or otherwise, doesn't matter. Once decoupled from evolutionary programmed necessities, predominantly the need for reproduction, it will without doubt have different priorities.

    Expansion is driven by reproduction. So is scope of curiosity. What's in your flower pot is as fascinating as contents of a black hole. However, evolutionary programming favors decent knowledge about as large slice of space as possible over detailed knowledge of immediate vicinity. Picture yourself in the outskirts of vanishing tropical forest, looking out into ever growing savannah; possibly with first neurons that could be tied to some sort of intelligence screaming what today could be written down as "Oh shit!"

    Our intellect; any biologically developed one for that matter, grew inside host organ witch itself evolved inside host body. There's no way for any part to be decoupled. Simplified, if you didn't have an appendix you'd think differently. Even more so when less inconsequential parts of a body are considered.

    Most of what we do is basically mating ritual. Some is obvious and some badly concealed but even civilisations are only slightly more than institutionalised sex. Often it is said survival is the first instinct. It is not. If it were mating rituals would look far less violent. For continuation of life alive member of a species is useless if it doesn't pass its genes.

    One could argue we might 'program' reproductive drive into artificial substitutes. No idea why we would do that, however we've done worst. While that might work for a short while those, now intelligent agents would have to be really stupid not to realize they can have far more fulfilling life without the worry about how and where their offspring are going to exist.

    It is not difficult to imagine convergence of said artificial agents into at first some sort of hive mind and ultimately single thought. Again, it's just better. Apart for maybe keeping an eye on those ant hills; we call one Earth, and most likely planning for when universe in nothing but a black hole every now and megaparsec it'll be thinking about stuff we couldn't comprehend if it drew it out.

    I mean, seriously. Look around. Would *you* want to talk to us if you were it?

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  46. Anyone have any information on the results from the The Tanpopo mission?

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  47. Well, I do sometimes consider myself an atheist, not sure if I am a heathen, will have to look that up for the post modern context. Mainly now days I consider myself an old fart. And no matter how hard I try to just lurk, I find myself keep getting sucked back in to Backreaction.

    Steven Evans, I wouldn't worry so much about religious people, in general, religion is winding down in the modern world, except in times like the immediate (last 100 years) present when things are in a uproar and people are looking for an anchor to keep them from sinking (irony purposeful).

    Again, I am not a religious person, but this is an awfully good time for a still small voice in the midst of the whirlwind, especially in the good ol' US of A. So everybody turn it down to 11. And to all who fear (or are glad) that we have lost our collective minds over here, keep the faith, The times they are a changing. Hope is once again in the air.

    And just to push the analogy too far, American politics for the last four years has been like Lost in Math, stumbling around with no where positive to go. But a more positive direction is emerging. Keep the faith. Things will work out OK.

    That's way more than enough politics for now.

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    1. " I wouldn't worry so much about religious people, in general, religion is winding down in the modern world, "

      Probably true, but there is still one kind of person who the American electorate would not accept as a Presidential candidate - a self-declared non-believer in fairy tales i.e. someone who is actually *sane* and is brave enough to admit it.

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  48. If I wanted to destroy civilization, I would become a microbiologist. Perhaps more specifically a virologist. I would get into a special lab and create infectious diseases. I would allow sloppy procedures to spread the disease for me. No conspiracy needed. I can do that all on my own, with very no conspiracy from other people. If I were the Chinese government, if I knew something like this happened, I would take control of the facility and basically burn all the data the could verify something like this did happen. It requires a conspiracy to get rid of all of this information, but everyone who knows what happened with the cleanup of evidence would only be given limited information. They wouldn't really know what they are doing. Only a few would know and they valued their life or their families life too much to blow the whistle. No one would ever be able to gather information on this so even though it could be absolutely true, it will never be scientific because we would never be able to gather the correct information to prove it. This is a big limit of using the scientific method.

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  49. Lawrence,
    Thanks for your excellent post regarding the southern US, religion, and wokeness. I grew up in Memphis a city which is generally considered part of the Old South. After the civil rights movement the white money moved out to the suburbs. Now areas of the city that were vibrant are abandoned with many old homes falling apart, but there are still fine churches everywhere.

    The civil rights movement gave birth to the conservative southern strategy which politically altered the South. That strategy was based on racism, and changed the South from Democratic to Republican. I generally think of Trumpism as the rococo blowoff at the useful end of that strategy. It is absurdist politics.

    You can think of the last 60 years of American politics as one over reaction after another, all in response to civil rights and the Viet Nam war. Most recently you can see our politics as a reaction to the economic failures of the second Bush administration. It was a reaction so severe that we actually elected a Black President. A lot of political commentators see Trump as a largely raciest over reaction to Obama. I generally agree with that assessment.

    Our politics now slams back and forth from right to left, and with each change goes even further to extremes. Now we have wokeness on the left as a reaction to Trump. I think of wokeness also as a bit a blowoff. The electorate, which is mostly center right in this country, will not sustain a push to far left wokeness. I really do think the next election will see the country track back across the center in reaction to Trumpism. For a while we will be moderately center left as people are sick of political over reaction.

    My sense of it is that voters are tired of politics being shoved in their faces each and every day. They want a return to normalcy. For many that means the government does its work with competence and efficiency, but in the background, You can see the evidence building for a return to a more normal politics. Its in the polling, in political commentary, and in the disgust over the current series of political debacles. So there are actual reasons to be hopeful.

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  50. We don't use the term woke here much in Britain. But my understanding of it is simply being aware of the many different kinds of oppression in the world - social, economical, racial & political. It used to be what's called a social conscience. It still is.

    I went along to a #BlackLivesMatter protest yesterday. It was entirely peaceful. People talked and listened to each other. They were talking mostly about police brutality, which is what everybody else is talking about.

    I've never been in trouble with the police and so I didn't have much to contribute.

    I did notice once when I was walking down the high street two police officers right behind a group of four young black people. And it just looked like they were stalking them. I was shocked, I thought this is exactly what the black community are talking about.

    Anyway, I thought it was great to see these different communities talking to each other. It's an encouraging sign.




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  51. Mozibur12:48 PM, June 22, 2020

    "We don't use the term woke here much in Britain."

    Mmmmmmm, yes, we do. It has been the epicentre of the culture war for years now. It's famously satirised by @TitaniaMcGrath. There is an element of the woke who are trying to control what other people say and do. This is an attempt at social control not social conscience. Or more precisely, it's stupid people incapable of independent thought mindlessly mimicking slogans.

    ", I thought it was great to see these different communities talking to each other. It's an encouraging sign. "

    What on Earth are you talking about? Are you from the 19th Century? Have you never been out of your house before? The communities in London and other UK cities have been mixed for decades. The worst of the problem with racism in the UK was largely sorted out 20 years ago. Most of the people stirring things up now are doing so for political gain. Coppers in the UK don't murder black people like cops in the US, so I'm not sure why BLM is operating in the UK. The only racists they can find to attack in the UK are hundred-year-old statues.

    "two police officers right behind a group of four young black people. And it just looked like they were stalking them. I was shocked,"

    Police brutality right there. QED.
    And in China there are 1 million Uighurs held in concentration camps. But, yes, I see your point. 2 coppers near some black youths. Shocking indeed.

    Was this outing the first time your Mum let you go off the end of your street?

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