This entry was posted by Thursday, 5 March, 2009
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The only ones in the WHOLE universe..
This might not be my best post. But what’s the point of HAVING a blog if you can’t rant about intelligent life in the universe. No need to indulge me. If it’s boring, you can tune out. It’s OK.

Even MY cynical friends will have tears in their eyes when the day finally arrives and – amid plumes of smoke and dust – large ships, perhaps scraped and dented from too many light years of interplanetary traveling, start settling down by the Super Stop & Shop, displaying emblems from their own culture, intended (I hope, I hope) to assure us of their peaceful intentions. Earth has yearned for that day for a long time and, when I was a young earthling, we didn’t think it would take long. In fact, we thought they were already here. The tabloids were totally hot for UFO’s. Sausages, saucers, and all kinda’ lights, flying in formation, decorated the National Enquirer and the Star, crowding out everything but Elizabeth Taylor. Lots of ships came from Mars or Venus.

After we got ourselves into orbit and had had a look around, we realized that any intelligent civilizations in our solar system must be very shy. If they’re here, they’re hidden in planetary cores and have pulled the antennas in after them. So, pragmatists that we are, we turned the search for company outward and started a systematic radio search (called SETI) of other solar systems . This has continued for decades and has been completely fruitless; it is, frankly, discouraging.
Some time ago, Enrico Fermi asked a question. Pointing to the large number of solar systems much older than our own where civilizations should be much more advanced than ours, he asked why we haven’t had a single contact. After all, they’ve had time to send radio signals over galactic distances or to even travel great distances themselves. So why no aliens? Could it be that we are truly alone?

You betcha.

The more we study our plight here on earth, the more we understand how lucky we have been. The parade of life-snuffers is amazing. Rocks and ice (asteroids and comets) rain down. Some of this debris is larger than a mountain and would explode with enough energy to cleans all surface life. We are quite sure this has happened before. Add gamma rays, volcanic eruptions, tidal waves, planetary wobble, and other threats that are much too numerous to list, and “miracle” isn’t too strong a word to describe the fact that we’ve had a more-or-less continuous civilization hereto. Is this the hand of God? Or luck? If it’s luck, it could run out any time.

So, generalizing from our own planet (always iffy), though there’s reasonable evidence that life can get started spontaneously and with some ease there’s also good evidence that evolution is frequently “reset” by unwelcome events. Could be lots of bugs out there in the universe. Not so many smarties.

Unless such luck is widespread in the universe, our rivals may not have made it past the last surface cleansing blast. It may be rarer than we ever imagined to survive till you figure out rockets.

Still. As we look for planets, we’re finding out they’re SO very common that at least a few of them should have some lucky survivors like us. So what’s the deal then? Where’re or buddies? Here are some thoughts on this matter that could explain “Fermi’s Paradox”:
1. We want to know if we’re alone. It’s an obsession with us. Alone, alone, alone. Where IS everybody???? But maybe other civilizations don’t think about it this way? Maybe a “normal” civilization doesn’t FEEL so lonely. Although we romanticize the concrete benefits of contacting another civilization, imagining that they will teach us about perpetual life and the meaning of existence, our first encounter’ll probably be a big fat disappointment. Could be another government boondoggle. And..

2. we might actually regret the contact. We ( again, romanticizing), think that they, being old and wise, are probably gentle and loving. But they might want to eat us. Or, at least, steal our food. Perhaps a “normal” civilization is more cautious about putting its address out all over the galactic Internet the way we do; they may not fall all over themselves to answer our signals.

3. Here’s a good one. Our progress toward becoming a technical civilization, capable of communicating with others, seems tied to our mastery of science. We tend to assume that other smarties would share this cultural feature. But science seems to have been “discovered” just once on our planet. It was “lost” for many (dark) generations and then, eventually, rediscovered (as opposed to reinvented). Is science really inevitable? Maybe smart civilizations focus on art, poetry, or philosophy. THAT’LL cut down the competition for rocket fuel. Technical civilizations may be very, very rare.

4. Maybe space travel between stars isn’t realistic – even for advanced civilizations. While there’s a common perception (Star Trek, Asimov, etc) that you need some kinda “warp drive” to scoot around the universe at great speeds, this is really a misunderstanding of Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity. As a matter of fact, you CAN keep your foot on the throttle all right, going faster and faster, and faster. While it would look to an observer on the planet from which you departed as though you can’t quite reach light speed, you could, in fact, reach speeds that would propel you across galaxies. Just don’t plan on going back . The clock on your planet of departure will have raced into the future while you’re gone and all your contemporaries will pass away before you finish breakfast. THAT’S the impact of “The Special Theory”.

So why not then? If they’re willing to cut the ties with their home planets, why wouldn’t they have shown up here?

Some reasons. 1) I don’t know what THEIR politicians are like, but imagine getting ours to fund a big, expensive expedition that has ABSOLUTELY no payback for the home planet because we vanish and are never heard from again. They pay, we play. I don’t THINK so. 2) I said relativity wouldn’t prevent the trip. I didn’t say there are no obstacles. As a matter of fact, once you boost up your speed relative to the debris you are passing by, you are in terrible danger. The collision energy is a square of the collision speed. We don’t see too many objects going by us at faster than about 100,000 mph. I wonder why? Could it be that very fast objects, inevitably, hit SOME li’l fragment of rock and get blowed up? That would be my guess. Add to this, gamma radiation and God knows what else, and intergallatic travel may be more romance than realism – even for very advanced civilizations.

As far as communications go, maybe, once again, advanced civilizations don’t see much POINT in “communications” that take hundreds or thousands of years. Could you blame them? The more I think about it, our own desperation for confirmation that we’re not alone, may very well not be common. If it isn’t, don’t look for “them” to be appropriating large funds for “radio beacons”.

There’s also the “zoo” theory – that they want to protect us from ourselves till we’re “ready”. But the zoo theory implies coordinated behavior and shared goals by beings thousands of light years away from one another – tough to believe in this. Much easier to believe, however, is the self-preservation theory. Assuming that most beings got that way by some form of natural selection, they, like us, may have some degree of surviving predatory behavior. A wise civilization might be more intent on HIDING it’s presence than advertising it.

5 Responses to “… THE COMPANY THAT NEVER CAME ….”

  1. LunaMom

    Reminds me of the old Twilight Zone episode: To Serve Man

    A race of aliens known as the Kanamits lands on Earth and promises to be nothing but helpful to the cause of humanity. Initially wary of the intentions of such a highly advanced race, even the most skeptical humans are convinced when their code-breakers begin to translate one of the Kanamit’s books, with the seemingly innocuous title, “To Serve Man.”

    Sharing their advanced technology, the aliens quickly solve all of Earth’s greatest woes, eradicating hunger, disease, and the need for warfare. Soon, humans are volunteering for trips to the Kanamits’ home planet, which is supposedly a paradise.

    All is not well, however, when a code-breaker discovers the Kanamits’ true intentions: Their book, “To Serve Man”, is a cookbook, and all their gifts were simply to make humanity complacent, much like fattening pigs or cows before they are slaughtered.

  2. Anonymous

    The Kepler spacecraft just launched Friday night. Its mission is to search for worlds that can support life as we know it: smallish rocky planets like earth at a distance from their suns that allow liquid water to exist. In about 3 years we should have some statistics on how common or rare earths are.

  3. Anonymous

    All of what you say is true but it all presupposes that any intelligent species will communicate the way we do. Why is it a given that other intelligence will recognize, and understand how to use, radio? Or visual or audible signals. How about mind-to-mind communication, of something else we’ve never even thought of because we don’t have the biology or intelligence to imagine it?

  4. Dick Pirozzolo

    Nope — they got within about 70,000 feet and said, the air smells funny, the water is dirty, the ice is melting and flooding all the good stores in Manhattan, there are too many chemicals in the food and then there are all this little metal things that keep bumping into each other.

    Dick P.

  5. Anonymous

    I spoke to my son about the idea, and said to him that such an advanced culture would prolly have about as much in common with Man as Mas has with a a Venus Fly Trap. He responded that we *would* have a common language: mathematics.

    While insightful on his part, it was difficult for me to immediately imagine an equivalent mathematical expression to the concept: “Please don’t abduct me right now; I just bought a new townhouse!” |-)

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