Saturday, March 13, 2010

Poll: Do you believe in extraterrestrial life?

I always take the overnight flight from Toronto to Frankfurt. I hate overnight flights because I never manage to sleep on planes, but the flight has a bonus: It lands in Germany in around sunrise, so one gets a spectacularly beautiful top-down view on clouds bathed in orange to pink colors. This morning, we passed through several thin layers of clouds before we landed in a grey and foggy typically German Spring morning. It's still grey and foggy now, and my inner clock is wondering if it's morning or evening and if I've had breakfast or if the airline muffin at 4am doesn't count. Coffee, I think. Coffee is always a good idea.

In any case, gazing on the planet from above always makes me think about how fragile our life-enabling environment is. How thin the layer of gas that we breathe. How lucky we are to be in the right distance to the sun. How amazing the sheer number of lifeforms that came about in all their diversity, now crammed on the planet's surface in a not always peaceful coexistence. And of course there's the question did this happen elsewhere? So here's a weekend poll. I'm a believer. I think there's intelligent life out there, and sooner or later we'll find it. Or it will find us. What do you think?


  1. I realize that the odds are in favor of there being other planets with intelligent life; I understand the arrogance of believing that we are unique; however, I am incapable of believing something based on odds alone, so I answered "I don't know."

  2. I suspect it is more likely then not that there is some kind of life (self replicating and evolving complex pattern) out there. As to intelligence life I have insufficient data to conclude one way or the other.

  3. Given local observation of life from -40 C pore water to 120 C deep sea vents, the universe is filthy with unremarkable biology. Living bacteria have been recovered from a South African gold mine (buried swamp) 3.2 km deep and from 250 million-year old salt deposits.
    Nature 407 897 (2000)

    Intelligent life is a wholly different matter. A society cherishing its defectives by bleeding its productives is in a death spiral. SETI observes zero technological life within a 50 lightyear radius of Earth, 524,000 ly^3 (about 2100 stars).

    Universal pond scum, a sparse dust of Klingons, no Federation.

  4. The reports on intelligent life on earth are greatly exaggerated. The investigation continues.

  5. :-)

    Or, as Monty Python put it

    "And pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space
    Because there's bugger all down here on Earth"
    ~ The Galaxy Song

  6. Hi Bee,

    As usual an interesting question and would say I firmly believe life exists in places other than here and with it being intelligent being=v also a strong possibilty. Then again it depends on how one qualifies being intelligence as to what parameters given, as only to find it has us excluded;-) Actually I like to look at this question more scientifically, with using the Drake equation as a starting point as it considers the lilehood of this being true rather then in terms of certainty, which like it or not marks how things are considered from such a perspective.

    This has me reminded of when I had the privilege of attending a PI public lecture of perhaps the staunchest believer of all with that being Jill Tarter, the head and founder of SETI. Not many know that she was also who represented as being her counterpart heroin in Carl Sagan’s fictional novel dealing with the subject ‘Contact’. I particular agree with the argument given to her by her father in the book when she asked him why he believed we weren’t the only ones out there, in responding that if that were true then it would also certainly be a terrible waste of space.. So again from the scientific perspective. if economy is taken as one of the bedrock characters of nature then to think otherwise would simply be unnatural.



  7. I don't think we know enough to have a reasonable belief. My unjustified hunch is that there should be more life out there.

  8. If it was based on reason it wouldn't be a believe, would it?

    Well, yes, I also think we don't know enough to know, that's why I'm asking for what you believe. Best,


  9. Possible once, so why impossible twice or more?... I do not like unjustified speculation, so I just vote "I don't know" on the base of the wait'n'see paradigm.


  10. Hi Bee,

    Just as a postscript is to remind that unless we discover a real flaw in our current understanding of natural law us ever coming across others as to meet is a much more remote possibility. Then again if the Bohmian perspective is one day shown to have some truth, especially from the standpoint of Antony Valentini, we may at least be able to become aware of others and even able to communicate. I then would ask what might serve as the Rosetta stone to allow this, with being reminded many saying that being mathematics as the only logical choice.



  11. Hi Bee,

    In as a key aspect of the scientific method relies on inductive reasoning, as to have any dission in respect to truth based in statistics rather than absolute certainty, how then can being convinced there is life beyond earth be considered as only only a matter of belief; that is unless you are prepared to surrender science itself as representing being the same.



  12. I believe.

    But I don't believe that the Universe cares whether I believe or not.

  13. Hi Bee

    Voted for "I don't know", not because I can't make up my mind, but because I look at it in a different way, which I'm eager to share.

    Odds are, there's probably other life in the universe, but it being intelligent or not is not really important in my view.
    In fact, whatever the odds are, life is probably not just what we think it is : what difference is there between stupidly terrestrial behavior of matter - or in other words "living beings" - and the cunning structuring of matter at the scale of the universe ?
    So I think that life is just a particular local case of matter behavior, but we're too involved in it to be objective enough and really see it that way...

    We so desperately want some sense out of it that we through history thought of ourselves as "living at the center of the universe", then as "being the center of the universe", and "being conceived by the center of the universe" or now to be "the reference model of what intelligent life should be in the universe", or more generally (including the other life forms of earth) "the reference model of what life should be in the universe" etc, etc. Our ego is bound to alter our judgment of what is life.

    I'm just saying that earth doesn't have more life (in this extended sense) than the rest of the solar system, galaxy or universe. Earth just is a more accessible-to-our-senses and resembling-of-what-holds-our-conscience nest of organized matter. We use that as a reference frame to define what is life, that is our bias.

    If we see ourselves not as a so particular behavior of matter - contrary to our feelings (right distance to the sun, right amount of water, air, right weight, development ratios and whatnot lucky constants that supposedly made life; we can see as much as we want of these !) - then the question looks kinda misplaced, like "Is there in the universe some matter behavior that, on this specific level, I can relate to ? cause I so want there to be !"...

    I'm not advocating some "all is life" crap, but rather the converse "life is nothing but matter" crap, if you will. Even if it would be an extension of what I'm saying in fact, but it's a simple way to put it approximately.

    Am I being at least slightly clear or does it look like a load of mumbo jumbo ?


    PS: My pseudo is not usually "Mad", it's "Tiger", but i can't change it back in my google account ^^

  14. Bee: "If it was based on reason it wouldn't be a believe, would it?"

    Well, I'd suggest that beliefs reside along a spectrum from completely unjustified (or even irrational) hunches, all the way up to (nearly) certain knowledge.

    I understand that you're thinking of a belief as something that falls short of solid knowledge, but surely that doesn't mean that some beliefs can't be more reasonable (i.e., better justified), while others come up short.

    Look at it this way: there are some beliefs I'd bet my life on, and some beliefs I'd only bet a quarter on. The former group would be included in what I was referring to as a "reasonable belief," the latter group would be counted as a "hunch."

    My two bits earlier was merely my opinion that we're ignorant of a good many things that could move a response away from the "hunch" end of the spectrum and towards the "well-justified belief" end.

  15. "I am incapable of believing something based on odds alone,"

    I'm not. If the odds are in one outcome's favor over another, my belief will go with the odds. (Though admittedly I still won't know.)

    For this reason, yes, I believe there is intelligent life out there.

  16. Hello Bee,
    normally I would have answered "Yes",
    but because You wrote:

    "and sooner or later we'll find it. Or it will find us."

    I refined Your question to :
    life, in a distance close enough to
    get in cantact some day.
    For that reason I voted No.

  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

  18. "I am incapable of believing something based on odds alone"

    Actually, correct me if I'm wrong being an unseasoned grad student, but real science is often based on odds, right?

    For example, we publish papers saying "parameter X being zero has been ruled out by five sigma" and the rest of the community then believes parameter X isn't zero.

    But this beilef is stemming from no more than the *odds* against it being zero are incredibly small. Am I wrong?

  19. Hi CapitalistImperialistPig,

    “But I don't believe that the Universe cares whether I believe or not.”

    And yet many would insist that for you in being able to care as to believe is required for the Universe to exist as it does. So I would counter that in as you believe has this ability to have the universe able to be care free, as only you need worry about it. Then again it could be contended that we are the direct result of the universe being careless, rather than care free; which marks a subtle yet distinct difference, as it having us resultant of it being negligent as opposed to us being extremely fortunate. That sounds like a good title for a new age book, “The negligent Universe” :-)



  20. Hi Joseph,

    I would suggest that if you are not prepared to have statistics form for you as what is true, then you need to find a new calling. That is you don’t have to put it as abstractly as you have to understand why. That’s like I said before that the bedrock of science is dependant largely on inductive reasoning, which is are the result of actual observation. However, the strength of the inductive conclusion is not simply based on the quality of the observations , yet also on the number of them and also of the soundness of the reasoning in your initial statement.

    So for instance one could say that as all the polar bears I have seen are white, therefore all polar bears are white. This takes into account that each observation that you made being accurate, yet that also despite not having seen all the polar bears you conclusion is statistically valid. Then there is the strength of your statement to consider, as for example to say that as you have never observed an atom therefore there are no such things. This of course is how I view those who contend there is no life to be found outside of our planet, even though the conditions necessary for it appears to exist throughout the universe. Not an air tight argument I would admit, yet in light of the evidence of observations this far I would say it more required that the non believers disprove this as being likely as opposed to saying there is not enough evidence for it to be creditable.



  21. Bee wrote:
    If it was based on reason it wouldn't be a believe, would it?

    Do You work with "REASON" from
    WayForward Technologies?
    I thougt this software never
    was used outside Pentagon.

  22. Hi Phil,

    Well, there are probably some flaws in our understanding of the laws of Nature in the sense that they are incomplete. However, what I think is more relevant here than the fundamental laws is that we're talking about very complex processes, and this complexity that comes into play here isn't even only of the biological type, which is already hard to fathom, but it includes emergent features of the social and cultural type. This is basically why I think it is very hard to say anything about what intelligent civilizations might or might not do, if we know exactly nothing about their culture or values. Best,


  23. Hi CIP,
    Well, but part of the universe cares what you believe, even if it's only a few readers of some blog. Best,


  24. @Mad/Tiger: I like your writing very much... I, in fact, already thought this in the past, so it may still be somewhere stored in my brain, more or less exactly the way you write it here, and when reading it, I simply feel that you are are some matter I can relate to as a second ego out there, and I feel good.

    Right when you say the question of plausible extraterrestrial life addresses the "what is life?" question.

    Very straightforwardly speaking, biologists haven't it really hard to define what life is, as anything that reproduces in an autonomous manner possesses DNA or RNA, which hence appears as the very definition of life. This is indeed the use of computation and information through DNA/RNA use together with the ability to reproduce which seems to define life at best. What if we discover extra-terrestrial life with other polymers as a means for information storage? One may possibly consider a continuity principle between living matter and "dead" matter, in which case the question of exatra-terrestrial life should only be a question of threshold on the level of organization the considered entity has.


  25. Physicalist,

    Sure, I agree that there's a whole spectrum of believes with one end being knowledge and the other one being pure fantasy. Best,


  26. Hi George,

    You're right, I didn't formulate that very clearly, sorry. But what do you mean with "one day?" One day... before mankind goes extinct? Before the sun blows up to a red giant? Before the end of the universe if there is one, or the return of the Boltzmann brains if there's not? Best,


  27. Paul Davies has published a new book on this subject called The Eerie Silence.

    I'm going to a talk he's giving on Wednesday about this subject. To be honest, I don't think about it much myself, but it will be interesting to hear what he says. I'll report back.

  28. Hi Bee,

    All good points and yet what as of late leads me to consider life and even intelligent life existing elsewhere has been strengthened by the mounting evidence that once it takes hold as to how durable and persistant life is. That’s to consider things like our planet over the period since the time that primordial life first appeared to up until now has seen many violent changes in its environmental conditions and yet life still persists. This coupled with finiding life forms that draw their energy from chemical process rather than being linked as to be directly dependant on the sun for it. Also such life has been found many kilometres below the earth surface and also in deep water at temperatures if at the surface above boiling around volcanic vents.

    With all this it has me to understand, rather then simply believe, that not only is life far less fragile then was first thought, that with the realization of it also durviving constant change over billions of years that nature must have firm reason attached for it being so. That’s to say it must be fundamental if only in the emergent sense, with no reason yet found why other solar systems and other galaxies throughout the cosmos would have for it them not being the same.

    “But there is a third stage of religious experience which belongs to all of them, even though it is rarely found in a pure form: I shall call it cosmic religious feeling. It is very difficult to elucidate this feeling to anyone who is entirely without it, as there is no anthropomorphic conception of God corresponding to it.”

    -Albert Einstien, Ideas and Opinions (Crown Trade Publishers)



  29. Well there is no doubt?:)

    Correlation in Perception

    Can I be forgiven for my transgression from the reasonable? After all, I am a Layman and my reason to pursue science "might be different then any of you" who have chosen your professions.

    For most of you professionals there is little room other then to "make a poll and hide behind it." Your transgression can have a greater effect on your standing?:)So, I understand the reservation you might have while you contend with the basis of philosophical questions "about belief." About, being reasonable?

    It is okay "to be creative" and break free of the constraints that ideologically contain you to the profession. To wonder about the world, from a different perceptive.

    Sound, in this respect is a important consideration "in my view" even though it is an analogically proposed in terms of how we see gravity working.

    A cross modal connection in the brain perhaps that serves to make senses partitioned indistinguishable, if we are to see that the perfection of the soul going back to the source is a asymmetrical realized entropic matter constituent constantly pushing back to the realization of what we were??

    Some people recognize this aspect of the work they are doing, has some deeper relation, and they do not understand why?

    We of course like to dote lot in materialistic dances, while these serve to help us move in the reality we so carefully hold?

    Has reductionism come to an end?

    What said the "spirit of" is not "from a different culture" then the ones that occupy earth now?

    Is the "spirit of all" either Italian, German OR French? Is there some unifying principal that does not distinguish race by the color of one's skin or the language of the portrayed cultural perspective?

    The basis of another cultural viewed is historically contained around us, does not mean, that all that is ancient is the basis of the brain yet to be formed, to get to where we are today?

    Those "alien cultures" have to contend with the design of the human biological system?

    What said that in such historical cultures there were not signs that physically lifeforms were different then the standard form we hold today?

    Just throwing ideas around.


  30. But what do you mean with "one day?" One day... before mankind goes extinct? Before the sun blows up to a red giant? ...
    Hello Bee,
    "some day" means as long as mankind will be able to send /or receive signals.
    I think that distance to the next
    intelligent lifeforms is to great, to
    allow contact by "radio".

  31. Maybe this Form of Communication Georg?

    As you know, our perceptions are constantly being adjusted according to the progression of the science we use.

    Calorimeter evidence is more telling, as is the use of "configuration boxes" as large as, IceCube or SNO?


  32. Bee:

    I answered "No" – meaning highly improbable.

    In 1964, in Science:

    and in 1982, in Physics Today:

    I argued why Drake's Equation, if the biology is 'correctly' weighed, lead to something very close to 0 probability.

    All we've learned in the ensuing 28 years has not significantly changed the probabilities!

    This all appears, in context, in the middle of the page:

    under "Next, I critique fantasies concerning hypothetical extra-terrestrial intelligence and extra-terrestrial life:".

  33. And here's an only slightly different Up TO Date (yesterday) take on the subject from Richard Dawkins:

  34. Hi Georg,

    I agree that the long duration that it takes to submit signals severely limits our contact chances. One can only hope that there's something about the fundamental laws of Nature that we haven't understood yet that might eventually enable us to overcome this limitation. If not, whether that's because we're too dumb or because it's just not possible, it seems indeed very likely our contact with other civilizations, should they exist, will remain very limited. Best,


  35. Hi Len,

    After reading the pieces you referred to I would say your claim that not much has changed since 1982 is a highly unqualified statement. That is in terms of what I talked about earlier as to the robustness of life and tenacity as in respect to its continuance. Still further there is new research which has also hinted that there is a feedback mechanism in biological process that appears in serving to augment and enhance the evolutionary process, which in turn would have intelligence as an end result a far less surprising occurrence. The only thing I agree with is what you said about the chance of success for a discovery by SETI as the technology incorporated simply has too short a reach. Oh yes I did enjoy Dawkins’ very scientific statements in that article you pointed to which could, might, maybe or perhaps be true:-)

    "There are billions and billions of planets out there, so there could be millions of planets that have life on them, but the origin of life could still be a staggeringly good stroke of luck”
    -Richard Dawkins (as from the article you pointed to )

    I must say that actually I feel sorry for Dawkins, as he has evolved enough to be able to recognize that we don’t need a God to have life explained and yet not far enough to come to understand you still must have a cosmos of a type and nature that provides conditions to allow for it or even require it. This leaves him in a place where the only way he can reconcile his very existence is in it being simply an accident. I would say its one thing to come to feel that you were never planned for and yet quite another to feel that you don’t even belong.

    “Moreover, among the seeds anything must have come to be at random. But the person who asserts this entirely does away with 'nature' and what exists 'by nature'. For those things are natural which, by a continuous movement originated from an internal principle, arrive at some completion: the same completion is not reached from every principle; nor any chance completion, but always the tendency in each is towards the same end, if there is no impediment.”

    -Aristotle (From his essay entitled Physics)



  36. Who here and among us has done the thought experiment of stepping outside not just ourselves, but our species, and asked the question: "If YOU were part of a galaxy-spanning intelligent species and came upon the Humans of Earth, would YOU want them to join polite Galactic Society?"

    I wouldn't. Not yet, not at our current immature stage of development. Los Alamos brought our species' childhood to an end, but all that means is we're adolescents playing with adult weapons. It wouldn't surprise me if we're being quarantined in such a fashion as not just to protect us from outsiders, but to protect polite galactic society from humanity. We should be thankful we haven't been exterminated yet. But tomorrow is another day!

    Then again, we are pretty comical. We may be the biggest on-going situation comedy in the galaxy.

    "If you want to know what God thinks about money, look at who he gives it to."
    ... Old Irish saying

    See what I mean?

    Happy Pi Day, everyone. March 14th is International Pi Day. I prefer the exponential, e, but Pi is better known. C'est la vie.

  37. Hi Steven,

    Now as us being more generationally closer you should know they won’t make first contact until we develop Warp drive. This is of course not as we will have become advanced enough to be considered intelligent, yet only advance enough to become a nuisance on a cosmic scale:-)



  38. Hi Steven,

    Carl Sagan in his wonderful book cosmos had imagined an Encyclopaedia Galactica where all planets with sentient beings would be categorized with ours listed as follows:

    Civilization Type:1.0J.
    Society Code: 4G4, "Humanity".
    Star: G2V, r=9.844 kpc, 8=00o05'24".
    Planet: third, a= 1.5 X 1013 cm. M=6X10^27g,R=6.4 X 10^3 cm, p=8.8 X 10^4 s, P=3.2 X 10^7
    Extraplanetary colonies: none.
    Planet age: 1.45x1017sec.
    Receipt first galactic nested code: application pending.
    Biology:C,N,O,H2O,PO4 Deoxyribonucleic acid. No genetic prosthesis. Mobile heterotrophs, symbionts with photosynthetic autotrophs. Surface dwellers,
    monospecific, polychromatic Oxygen breathers.Fe-chelated tetrapyroles in circulatory fluid. Sexual mammals. m= 7 X 10^4 g, t=2 X 10^9 s
    Genomes: 4 X 10^9
    Technology: exponentiating/ fossil fuels/ nuclear weapons/ organized warfare/ environmental pollution.
    Culture: about 200 nation states, about 6 global powers; cultural and technological homogeniety underway.
    Prepatum/postpartum: 0.21 [18].
    Individual/communal: 0.31 [17].
    Artistic/technological: 0.14 [11].
    Probability of survival (per 100 yr): 40%

    The question I would ask of you is the last line which relates to our continuance seem reasonable to you?



  39. Are you talking about the Alcubierre drive as proposed by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcibierre? If so, where's the Nobel prize in Physics for this guy?

    You see, that's precisely my point. We don't only not know the answers to some of the more basic questions a galaxy-spanning species needs to um, span the galaxy, I'm certain we don't even have the right questions! Maybe after what Woit has christened "The Entropy Decade", we will. Step by step, slowly we turn. Walk this way.

    From le Wiki:

    The Alcubierre Metric defines the so-called warp drive spacetime. This is a Lorentzian manifold which, if interpreted in the context of general relativity, allows a warp bubble to appear in previously flat spacetime and move off at effectively superluminal speed. Inhabitants of the bubble feel no inertial effects. The object(s) within the bubble are not moving (locally) faster than light, instead, the space around them shifts so that the object(s) arrives at its destination faster than light would in normal space.

    and ...

    Significant problems with the metric of this form stem from the fact that all known warp drive spacetimes violate various energy conditions. It is true that certain experimentally verified quantum phenomena, such as the Casimir effect, when described in the context of the quantum field theories, lead to stress-energy tensors which also violate the energy conditions and so one might hope that Alcubierre type warp drives could perhaps be physically realized by clever engineering taking advantage of such quantum effects. However, if certain quantum inequalities conjectured by Ford and Roman hold, then the energy requirements for some warp drives may be absurdly gigantic, e.g. the energy equivalent of 1067 grams might be required to transport a small spaceship across the Milky Way galaxy. This is orders of magnitude greater than the mass of the universe. Counterarguments to these apparent problems have been offered, but not everyone is convinced they can be overcome.

    Dayam. And ...

    Therefore any theory which permits "true" FTL also has to cope with time travel and all its associated paradoxes, or else to assume the Lorentz invariance to be a symmetry of thermodynamical statistical nature (hence a symmetry broken at some presently unobserved scale).

  40. Probability of survival (per 100 yr): 40%
    The question I would ask of you is the last line which relates to our continuance seem reasonable to you?

    My cheeky answer Phil is that it seems reasonable with a -35/+55% margin of error. Who knows? For those of us who have studied Nonlinear Dynamical Automatic Feedback Control Systems, aka "Chaos"-should-be-"Order-in-Chaos" Theory starting with Edward Lorenz, we know that a small change in initial conditions leads to a wide range of possible results. The same goes with the Drake Equation. The range of parameters are too wide. Kinda like Superstrings too.

    I'll tell you what REALLY amazes me, Phil, and that is that ONLY two nuclear weapons have been dropped on cities since 1945, doubly so given the sheer incompetence of the United Nations. It's almost like somebody out there is protecting us; likes us just enough to keep the Human Comedy Show going. Good directors/producers, keep up the good work. Now, go fix Sudan, Somalia, Haiti, and North Korea, thanks in advance.

  41. Hi Steven,

    First many of the concerns expressed have for some time been the focus of the research effort of Antony Valentini, who’s latest synopsis of this is found in the paper I pointed to earlier. It’s interesting that he envisions the actions of entropy as the mechanism that conspires to form what he calls the cosmic censorship. Now if it happen to be true what he proposes, although it might not allow for use to travel to distant worlds, it might have it possible at least to communicate with them in real time. So just imagine a comic internet and what could be going on inside of that:-)

    One thing howvert that has always left me to wonder has to do with that Golden record which NASA placed on Voyager some 33 years ago and is now about to reach the far edges of our solar system. The wondering has to do with the fact that our television and radio transmissions are well ahead of the information contained on the record and will have those that may discover it learn that if nothing else we seldom practice what we preach. Not a good start if we would have them impressed I would say:-)



  42. Hi Steven,

    Yes I acknowledge what Chaos has to say about the difficulty of prediction. as is so often related as the Butterfly effect. However, what is least understood and more often ignored is the feature of Chaos known as the strange attractor, which is what differentiates Chaotic action from random action, as the first although difficult to know still determined, while the latter is not determined and in a manner of speaking not reasonable at all. So we come down to what Bee cites as belief once again which is to believe if our universe or rather all of reality is reasonable or not.



  43. Thanks for the heads-up on Antony Valentini's work, Phil. If as his Wiki biography says he's working on "a major revolution in physics [that] would possibly make the cosmic landscape string theory Popper falsifiable" then sign me up, I'm all for that.

  44. Hi Steven,

    You are more then welcome and yet would have it recognized that despite being of the Bohmian persuasion of thought will only point to such things on this blog when I feel it may be applicable and relevant. However, I guess when you boil it all down that unlike what I expressed about the place where Dawkins find himself I really can’t conceive of having existence in a place that I don’t belong, That’s of course to find me in opposition and contrast with Groucho Marx:-)

    ”I don't care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members”

    -Groucho Marx

    Not quite the same as Russel’s paradox, yet not bad for a comedian:-)



  45. As far as militant atheist Dawkins goes, once again it's time for a favorite quote by the favorite scientist of yours, mine, and everyone else's:

    “The bigotry of the nonbeliever is for me nearly as funny as the bigotry of the believer.” – As quoted in Einstein’s God (1997) by Robert N. Goldman.

    Which is to take nothing away from Dawkin's work on evolution, with its scientific logic. But I've been-there-done-that on Atheism. Lack of proof works both ways, but whatEVer I see no place for a serious discussion of Theology in Science, which is and always should be Agnostic, if it's done right.

    And my personal favorite Groucho quote is from "Duck Soup," which is ...

    Hey, can you loan me twelve dollars? I'll give you my ninety-day note. If I don't pay you back in ninety days, you can keep the note.
    .. Groucho Marx

    Good lord that man was funny. As are all professional comedians come to think of it, with the exception of Dane Cook. Maybe they're the aliens. Humans shouldn't be that smart.

  46. Hi Phil,

    Dawkins is one end of the spectrum, but the idea that we could be here for no discernable reason comes from the traditional cultures as well.

    E.g., see this on my blog.

    The idea that human life is part of a Divine Plan and its secularized versions are specific to the cultures of the Abrahamic religions, as far as I know.


  47. Hi Steven,

    In relation to Pi on this day, have you ever considered that although all a physicist needs is to have 39 digits of it expressed as to have a circle the size of the observable universe accurate to within the magnitude of one atom of hydrogen, so then what could it possibly mean to go much further then this? I guess it’s just another way to consider what a continuum might represent to be as relevant and in contrast to things which are both finite and discrete. Of course I don’t have to bother with such concerns, since knowing others which includes one of the authors of this blog has it as an element of their main focus of inquiry:-)



  48. Hi Arun,

    I’m aware of what you speak of and yet was more attempting to have distinguished the difference between a plan, as what relates to being a scheme and what could simply be inevitability mandated by an initial potential found to be fundamental of reality. This I also discussed in my mostly dormant blog as to point out there is nothing original in such thinking, as expressed for instance in the Hindu Creation Hymn from the Rig Veda, first written in Sanskrit before the rise of the Greek civilization. I was always impressed by finding in this text that the authors considered asking questions more important then offering explanation s for which they couldn’t claim to have known by any reasonable means.

    ”Not even nothing existed then. No air yet, nor a heaven. Who encased and kept it where? Was water in the darkness there? Neither deathlessness nor decay. No, nor the rhythm of night and day: The self-existent, with breath sans air: That, and that alone was there. Darkness was in darkness found. Like light-less water all around. One emerged, with nothing on. It was from heat that this was born. Into it, Desire, its way did find: The primordial seed born of mind. Sages know deep in the heart: What exists is kin to what does not. Across the void the cord was thrown, The place of every thing was known. Seed-sowers and powers now came by, Impulse below and force on high. Who really knows, and who can swear, How creation came, when or where! Even gods came after creation's day, Who really knows, who can truly say when and how did creation start? Did He do it? Or did He not? Only He, up there, knows, maybe; Or perhaps, not even He.”

    Of course we have drifted far off the topic of little green beings or whatever colour we would imagine them to be:-)



  49. Hi Phil, it's "fun with semantics" time:

    Area (of a circle) = π times r squared


    Well, that can't be right! A circle is round, not squared!

    :-p Click here for Pi Day's official website.

    Hi Arun, most of us (non-Indians) are well aware that of the world's 4 major Religions, which in order of numbers of followers are Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, that Hinduism is the only one so old it's "central figure" is lost to antiquity (therefore spooky), but ya thanks for sharing that. I especially love your poster CIP who said "I think I like the Hindu Multiverse better than Sean Carroll's." lol, righteous. ;-)

  50. Contrary to the arrow of time? Naw! a engineer can't be so foolish:)

    You know what I am talking about below here in quotations?

    "Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be. As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change". (Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2, texts 12-13)

    The transmigration of souls, or metempsychosis, is a concept which underpins Plato's ideas concerning innate knowledge. Plato may have incorporated this concept from two Greek religious groups that preceded him: the Pythagoreans or the Orphics. Plato taught that "all learning is but recollection" because we have innate knowledge of universal ideas (e.g., everywhere, a triangle has 3 sides—hence its universality) from the past experiences of our immortal soul. This soul, according to Platonic thought, once separated from the body, spends an indeterminate amount of time in "formland" (see The Allegory of the Cave in The Republic) and then assumes another body. Therefore, according to Plato, we need only recall our buried memories to manifest innate knowledge.

    And how do you do that?

    It's just not feasibly possible to travel back in time? Where do these memories reside? Just in the neurons? What use is there to remember anything and have it wasted? We can never learn?


  51. It's just not feasibly possible to travel back in time? Where do these memories reside? Just in the neurons? What use is there to remember anything and have it wasted? We can never learn?

    Yes, just in the neurons most likely, Plato (the blogger). And as Larry Niven says in his latest and current and possibly LAST "Known Space" book: "The Destroyer of Worlds" : "Photons and electrons beat neurons every time".

    Dipping into "memory" is in no way "time travel," not physically anyways. Plato didn't have the scientific advantage we have today. let us be grateful for what he did teach us. And doubly so for Aristotle, aka Mr. Logic.

    Heck, maybe they were aliens.

    And yes, memory is wasted when we die, unless we taught someone. The old must pass to make room for the young, the old leaves must fall so the new buds emerge, The fall of Freddie the Leaf, etc.

  52. Yes, but remember, chaos, heat death and latest research on the brain??:)It starts off with an idea.

    Aw! one of yous have got the latest research some where.

    I am not just talking about a correlative perception of historical documentation of artifact, but of the possibility of the "soul in Avatar" to be able to be used as a biological form to present it's case?

    Nor, the masking of the psychological to "recant experience" that one cannot deal with. So they "fabricate a new image of the world around them.":)


  53. Nope, ain't gonna go there with you, pardner.

    The "latest research on the brain" is a bigger bunch of hot potatoes than "interpretations of Quantum mechanics." Have ye not seen the recent science magazine special issue on "The Mind" on newssstands, laddie? The various "best minds" in biology and medicine can't even come CLOSE to DEFINING what "consciousness" actually IS!

    As far as Physics is concerned, I blame Eugene Wigner and John Archibald Wheeler for muddying up these already muddy waters. Sort of like their Physics ancestors' versions of Bohr, Heisenberg and Pauli outside of the lab (where Pauli always should have been outside of, given "The Pauli effect").

    So, what does any of this have to do with aliens, the very topic of this blog article?

    Nothing I guess, but maybe the way WE define "consciousness", assuming we ever do agree on one definition, is different than the way other sentinents, assuming there are other sentinents, do.

  54. Phil:

    1) In the ensuing 28 years, although a lot has been learned, the most salient bits further support my arguments that the most promising cases of significantly independent convergent evolution of complex 'structures'(e.g., the evolution of the many different kinds of eyes) are really not as they appear. It has now been shown that all those eyes almost certainly have evolved from a single common ancestral eye.

    2) No GOOD alternative explanation, better than that AN EXTREMELY TINY EVOLUTIONARY BOTTLENECK – i.e. most probably a 'single ancestor', has appeared to explain why all organisms use the same chiral types of amino acids, sugars etc. Nor why all use the same genetic code.

    These are some of the biological 'facts' that continue to make it extremely unlikely that anything like the origin of life on earth will have occurred anywhere else in the observable (finite) universe.

  55. Hi Steven,

    ”Well, that can't be right! A circle is round, not squared!”

    Actually it isn’t a matter of semantics, yet rather one of perspective. For that matter some of the first purely mathematical calculations of the ratio by Archimedes took this perspective that a circle was the infinite limit of a polygon. His first calculation of the value incorporates a polygon of 96 sides which gave him a value of about 3.14185.

    Then again is a circle really to be defined as a set of points at equal distance from a central radius or rather in terms of it character with conservation as a quality, which is to say it’s the shortest line possible to enclose the greatest area. The interesting thing is this conservation has the circle have a corresponding symmetry which displays yet another aspect of its character in terms of quality, which Emmy Nether was to prove true in the more general sense. The point being from this perspective a circle is not required to be a set of points on a line, yet rather a continuum with no need to have imagined the necessity of points. This again serves to indicate the difference between something being quantified as the perspective of Archimedes, or to qualify them as the perspective of Noether stand as being.



  56. Hi Steven,

    Just as a postscript to what I just said as in relation to the topic at hand, which is to ask if there is life on other worlds and more importantly intelligent life. The thing all this has me to wonder about is the point Bee made when I asked her if perhaps mathematics or science might serve as the Rosetta stone so we might be able to communicate, with her responding that it depends if we each think about things in similar ways.

    This difference between a quantitative and a qualitative perspective might mark as being one of those central commonalities or differences, which will have things easier or more difficult. I would say currently despite the discoveries and insights lent by those such as Noether as to the value in looking at things from the qualitative perspective, that in the main in respect to mathematic’s and science’s beginnings from before the Greeks and extending through Newton to the present era we still consider things more from the quantitative perspective. So perhaps before we ever encounter whatever else could be out there, we should give more thought to how we will deal with the way they might think.



  57. Hi Len,

    The first thing I would have made clear is I respect and can appreciate the fact that you are both an educated and intelligent person, with a level of expertise in aspects of biology and microbiology that far exceeds anything that I have or will ever hope to have.

    With that said I would like to point out a few things, the first being that the opinions you express in being convinced the possibility is remote in relation to our current understanding should not be considered the norm, even among your peers. Also to insist that having eyes being a prerequisite to anything becoming intelligent for me indicates that you understand a particular path of evolution, better then you appreciate the resourcefulness innate of the process. Further, I would contend that both the mathematical models and mathematical concepts relative to complex systems and resultantly microbiology itself are still in their infancy. Finally and most importantly I note that you addressed none of my points in respect to the growing evidence indicating how much more robust and persistent life is once it does come to be then at first thought

    So let me simply say that we agree to disagree and let time if we have enough inform us who may be right. You may also be surprised to learn that whomever it is I will be not disappointed.



  58. One of my favorite topics, but I promise not to over-bloviate.

    The more we see telescopically, the more planets we see. The more we see microscopically, the more life we see. This all sharpens Fermi's question: Where are they?

    I don't assume warp drive, but plain old rockets would do the job. Although the expense and time would be great, the selective / economic advantages of interstellar colonization would be greater yet.

    This further sharpens: Where are they?

    The implication is that there is a bottleneck -- not behind us, but ahead of us.

    I don't think it's self-destruction. It doesn't take more than a few who do not self-destruct to resurrect the Fermi question, and anyway it's probably harder for civilizations to suicide than they think (see: reconstruction of Germany and Japan).

    I don't think it's interstellar cops.

    It might be the sheer frequency of civilizations, which would remove the selective advantage of interstellar colonization. Don't come here, or we'll shoot you, everywhere. But then, why no interstellar Internet? So that can't be it.

    Any ideas?

  59. Hi Michael,

    Well, there's many possibilities. One is that we're just very early. Or, as I remarked to Phil above, there might be all sorts of cultural and social reasons why other lifeforms don't want to or are not interested in seeking contact. But you're right of course, one of the interpretations is that there is a high risk civilizations go extinct after a short period of time. One interpretation that I found interesting and not entirely implausible if you look around is that with the development of new technologies civilizations increasingly prefer virtual over real reality and simply lose interest in the rest of the universe. I believe I read that in an Edge essay, but can't recall whose it was, will see if I find a reference. Best,


  60. Here it is:

    Runaway consumerism explains the Fermi Paradox
    Evolutionary Psychologist, University of New Mexico; Author, The Mating Mind

    "I suggest a different, even darker solution to Fermi's Paradox. Basically, I think the aliens don't blow themselves up; they just get addicted to computer games. They forget to send radio signals or colonize space because they're too busy with runaway consumerism and virtual-reality narcissism. They don't need Sentinels to enslave them in a Matrix; they do it to themselves, just as we are doing today."

    (Read the full version, it's well written)

  61. So what is the list of questions that we would need (better) answers to to be able to estimate the probability of n civilizations existing that may be able to communicate with us?

    1. What is intelligence?

    2. What is life?

    3. How many planets (or places, to be more generic) are out there that provide the needed environment?

    4. What processes create life from a lifeless environment and how probable is their occurance?

    5. How probable is the development of a civilization from primitive life that would develop the abilities to communicate with us?

    6. What is the probability that a civilization capable to communicate with us would actually try to?

    My impression is that we could find anwers to 1. und 2. that are precise enough to work with, but probably no consensus on an exact definition.

    We'll never be able to answer 6., because I don't believe that you can extrapolate the behaviour of an unknown civilization from the ones you do know, especially if you talk about species and civilizations that are no longer governed by instincts.

    Basically, I think the aliens don't blow themselves up; they just get addicted to computer games.

    I did not get addicted to computer games because you basically have to outthink the game designers, and after you have succeded it get's boring. It's the same with Hollywood blockbusters, once you recognize the patterns, it get's boring. But that's just me, just now, of course. Maybe some day the virtual universe does become more interesting than the real one, who knows...

    And we probably could improve our knowledge of 3. and 4. using the scientific methods we already employ, but did not succeed so far (at least as far as I know there are no answers beyond mere speculation - any update that I missed?).

    One could try to answer 5. with the observation that intelligence is a necessary consequence of evolution and provide examples from earth's history (maybe the development of the dinosaurs point to the tendency of more intelligent species).

  62. If the universe is infinite, then the probability for ET intelligent life becomes certain, as I calculate. So I vote yes for intelligent life.

    If the universe wraps around in some odd-ball, abstract geometrically-finite fashion, or if the universe just goes a certain distance, then comes to an end (in some way I can't imagine or conceive), as a result of being a finite size, then it is simply a probability calculation as to the likelihood of intelligent life ... based on number of earth-like planets. But simple life is certainly ubiquitous, and evolution of intelligence is a strong evolutionary tendency, so the billions and billions of likely solar systems make intelligent life probable even if the universe is not a lot bigger then the visible universe.

    But why haven't we heard from them? Perhaps because they are more intelligent than we are, and they therefore have no infantile need to be discovered or discover other intelligent lifeforms. Also, ET's will probably have migrated from biological life forms to artificial but sentient life forms, as humans will also do within a few decades to a few centuries; and with that change, their contentment with privacy will be increased.

    Another possibility is that all intelligent lifeforms with advanced technology are driven to smash atomic particles in search for discovering the deepest secrets of the forces of nature (e.g. LHC & Higgs boson)... with the possibility that the process of doing so unexpectedly results in the creation of particles which destroy the lifeform's world and existence. However exceedingly unlikely that may be, if that did occur, then it would qualify the ET's advanced-technology life as being quite sort-term; and would thereby also explain the failure of SETI to hear from advanced extraterrestrials: since they quickly self-terminate. I don't believe in such an event, but ... just saying.

  63. Another possibility is that all intelligent lifeforms with advanced technology are driven to smash atomic particles in search for discovering the deepest secrets of the forces of nature (e.g. LHC & Higgs boson)

    Male humans especially. Boys like to smash things.

  64. ....ya sure as to what make things tick, or, why things gather around. We all, have heard it a million times. Without Inquiring minds how are we to know.

    Storms in a Teacup Tempest VII, Len's been watching for a while with the same message.

    The oddity is that for everything that made sense in the world, how strange it might seem that given something out of context, why is it so?

    So like Einstein, child like carrying his compass from his youth into adult life, an amazement of the force that moves the needle so? Time clocks, and such.

    There is no room in the highly structure world for such an oddity/anomaly to make it's appearance?:)It starts out with little observations in experiments.


    You all know that.

    It may seem that the effect of consciousness itself neurologically connected, "is" always the result?

    What shall we say that we remove the life force( what is that, perhaps consciousness itself). Do the neurons work?

    What if we were to change the meaning of the result as to the idea that the neurons work, because there is a life force(consciousness?:)

    Sort of like the result being, general relativity as seen as "a result" from a "higher dimensional" consideration.

    Avatars imported in the virtual world, are a aspect of the "idea of what we embody in the representation" as in second life. Mind can work in mysterious ways.

    Put that aside. That's not what I am talking about.


  65. A Beehive mentality perhaps in a beehive economy: LOL Geometrics and all.

    A species, that is culturally foreign to the way we do things?

    Naw! I don't think so:)

  66. Bee:

    Thanks for your comments.

    With regard to self-absorption, I prefer to avoid theories depending upon something very unlikely never happening if that something is critical. It only takes one non-video-game civilization a few hundred million years ago to be here, and they aren't.

    With regard to being early, I am sort of left with this, but it implies bottlenecks behind us that we have not yet identified.


  67. Michael,

    What I was trying to say to Phil above is that absent any knowledge about non-human cultures or societies, it is impossible to tell how "unlikely" or generic one or the other development is. Virtual reality might be next to inevitable. You don't seem to think so. I actually don't think so either, but that's not the point. Point is, we don't know, and we have no basis on which to tell. Best,


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  69. What are we to conclude from some of these recent comments? That advanced civilizations turn inward, frustrated perhaps of the distance between star systems, and the great cost to traverse said distances compared to say, purchasing a video game?

    That's one way to describe a strong possibility for some, I guess. But will that be true of Humans?

    I submit that for some Humans, perhaps even the majority, that will be true. Politics enters here, including the will of the marketplace, but those are two areas I've been-there-done-that with, and wish to visit no more.

    I think, with Humanity, there will always be the at least some rarefied few of us who will reject inward thought and push for outward expansion. That is why I feel eventually we will conquer, first: Earth orbit (which we have), then the Moon, then Mars and Mercury, then the Asteroid Belt, then the gas giant moons, and outward bound from there.

    When we get there, we'll meet life. Simple life at first, but eventually ... fellow sentinents.

    Not in OUR lifetime, most likely, but eventually.

    To our children ===> the stars .... assuming those of us who actually give a shit about this stuff keep doing what we do.

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  71. I have a big gripe regarding the ET debate. It's the discordance between "the Fermi Paradox" (mentioned here a few times) and skeptical disdain of UFOs. The FP proposes that ETs should be common enough, and at least one ETC would send robotic vehicles here by now, etc. Then it asks (curiously to those who believe there are signs of visitation, even if not "proof"): "why aren't they here?"

    Well, it's kind of weird for one faction to propose "they should be here, why *don't* we see them" and another faction to say, "the claims that ET spacecraft (aside from whether occupied or not) have been seen are not credible, since it's so hard to get here." Yeah, I know there are other reasons to doubt UFO sightings but that isn't the point addressed by this discrepancy. The discrepancy is: those who say they could and should have gotten here, v. those who say it's too hard to get here (aside from any other issues.) That's just incompatible in general at least.

    But the doubts of the latter are usually taken for granted in most discussions of the UFO issue. We rarely find the FP attitude accepted in those arguments, such that other complaints (e.g. why not good radar contact and confirmed by NORAD, why do they dicker around scaring ordinary peopole instead of contacting agencies, why the strange variety of craft and entities, etc. and going on decade after decade etc) become the key issue instead. This is strange.

    BTW, some say we do have good radar evidence etc. But some top researchers like Jacques Vallee and J Allen Hynek (I could and would play him if a movie is ever made) say the UFO phenonmenon does not come across as a rational ET expedition etc.

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  73. There is also a theory which states that ours could be one of the first intelligent life forms in the universe because the process to reach that stage would be quite long, taking the order of billions of years, and only "now" the universe has reached that age. So there would exist very few intelligent life forms in the universe or ours could even be exactly the first one to appear.

  74. Hi Christine,

    Yes, is what I referred to above as "maybe we're just early." Best,


  75. Hi Christine,

    You make a good point especially considering the very elements present in both our bodies and planet are resultant of previous exploding stars,. Then again the cosmos could be considered as a nursery for life, where once the conditions become optimal it would mark the time it occurs in multiple places. I think there is arrogance innate in our species that would like to imagine that we are in some way unique or special ,that manifests itself even among scientists. It’s what Einstein’s cited as them surrendering to believing in the god of chance, rather then one of potential.

    This is made evident as to be found in the quote below, taken from a letter to his friend Max Born, which expresses his sentiments, where I agree with his two central points. The first is the cosmos is something ruled and formed by potential where chance is only to assure its components are properly strirred. However second and most important is acience has the ability to ultimately decide the matter. The first being only a belief for now, with the second being a conviction. I then find then the only thing that distinguishes science from religion rests only in its conviction, with that the cosmos’ existence can be reasoned rather than only being resigned to as matter of faith.

    “We have become Antipodean in our scientific expectations. You believe in the God that plays dice, and I in complete law and order in a world which objectively exists, and which I, in a wildly speculative way, am trying to capture. I firmly believe, but I hope that someone will discover, a more realistic way, or rather a more tangible basis than it has been my lot to find. Even the great initial success of quantum theory does not make me believe in the fundamental dice-game, although I am well aware that our younger colleagues interpret this as a consequence of senility.No doubt the day will come when we will see whose instinctive attitude was the correct one.”



  76. It also makes me wonder the fact that we are chemically complex (at the electromagnetic level); however, I see no reason not to suppose that some kind of intelligence could arise from complexity at other levels: be that of fields, or space, or time (or a combination of that) levels. For instance, an intelligence arising from the complexity of some field at superhorizon scales, or from the complexity arising in fluctuations of the spacetime foam at the Planck scale. Or from a billions years integration along time of some interconnected events (a complex intelligence only arising in time). I mean, the basis for intelligence could be complexity, in which chemistry at the right temperature, composition, etc (leading to life as we know) is just but an instance.

  77. Carbon is the 15th most abundant element in the Earth's crust, and the fourth most abundant element in the universe by mass after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen. It is present in all known lifeforms, and in the human body carbon is the second most abundant element by mass (about 18.5%) after oxygen.[14] This abundance, together with the unique diversity of organic compounds and their unusual polymer-forming ability at the temperatures commonly encountered on Earth, make this element the chemical basis of all known life.See:Carbon

    It was necessary to recall the links from one to the other, to show how one's perception "about Carbon was drawn" into the discussion.

    The Law of Octaves



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