Skip to main content

An essay for the middle of night.


In principle life will begin any place where the conditions for it are suitable, but the eventual evolution of an intelligent species, i.e., one possessing what we call would call true consciousness, is a much more complex proposition, resting as it does on an increasing number of variables at each emergent level. The number of ways life can evolve without producing an intellectually advanced species is formidable, and it is entirely possible that most life in our Universe is no more advanced than microbes. Even if it becomes established, an intelligent species may destroy itself in any number of ways; we might eventually provide our own example of how this is done. Nonetheless, we may suppose that there are in fact other civilizations which have emerged in our home galaxy. How numerous such civilizations might actually be is still a matter of considerable dispute, however. Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee have argued that the number of true civilizations in the Milky Way might be much lower than we commonly believe. They have come up with a formula which they believe to be the basis for a realistic estimate. They first discuss the famous Drake Equation (after astronomer Frank Drake), formulated in the 1950s:

                        N* x fs x fp x ne x fi x fc x fl=N


N*=  stars in the Milky Way Galaxy
fs =  fraction of sun-like stars
fp =  fraction of stars with planets
ne = planets in a star’s habitable zone
fi  =  fraction of habitable planets where life does arise
fc =  fraction of planets inhabited by intelligent beings
fl =   percentage of a lifetime of a planet that is marked by the presence of a communicative civilization.

Based on the assumption that planets are very common, Carl Sagan and other astronomers posited at one time that the Milky Way contained 1,000,000 communicative civilizations. But Ward and Brownlee point out that planets may be less common around stars than initially believed (although a number of exoplanets have been discovered) and they also point to the complex interaction of variables on our own planet (the influence of plate tectonics, a low number of mass extinctions, the presence of a large moon) that may be necessary for the emergence of intelligent life. Their equation, therefore, looks like this:

                N* x fp x fpm x ne x ng x fi x fc x fl x fm x fj x fme = N


N* =    stars in the Milky Way Galaxy
fp  =    fraction of stars with planets
fpm =  fraction of metal-rich planets
ne =    planets in a star’s habitable zone
ng =    stars in a galactic habitable zone
fi =     fraction of habitable planets where life does arise
fc =     fraction of planets with life where complex metazoans arise
fl =     percentage of a lifetime of a planet that is marked by the presence of complex                metazoans
fm =    fraction of planets with a large moon [to stabilize the tilt of a planet’s axis and  to  help stabilize its atmosphere]
fj   =   fraction of planets with Jupiter-sized planets [ones that gravitationally attract             asteroids and comets]
fme =  fraction of planets with a critically low number of mass extinction events

Based on these much more rigorous criteria, Ward and Brownlee estimate that planets where communicative civilizations emerged are very rare. Even assuming that there are just a few thousand planets in the Milky Way with any advanced life might be optimistic.

In my view, to be pessimistic, there might be no more than 100 civilizations, including our own in the 100,000 light year diameter of our galaxy. A civilization on average every 1,000 light years. But multiply this figure by 125 billion or so galaxies (to use a low estimate), and there may still be more than twelve trillion civilizations in the Universe. Perhaps it’s not as lonely out there as we might fear. Even if there is only one civilization per galaxy on average, it still means that the population of the Universe may be well into the quintillions of intelligent beings.

What are they like? To say the least, the images of aliens provided by our popular culture have not, for the most part, been helpful in answering this question. Any life form must conform to certain physical boundaries, and perhaps it would be useful to confine ourselves to examining where these might lie. To begin with, extraterrestrials are probably three-dimensional (no flat aliens need apply). As Peter Atkins has pointed out,  nervous systems function most efficiently in three dimensions and in particular the neuronal interconnectivity with which we associate higher order intelligence is only possible in such a configuration. It is conceivable that there are stringy intelligent beings or beings for whom depth has no meaning, but the probability of them is vanishingly small.

Next, we must assume that they are neither incredibly tiny nor breathtakingly gargantuan. Different gravities on different planets would, of course, permit a wide range of sizes among intelligent creatures, but I would guess the planets where such beings evolved are probably not characterized by Jupiter-like gravity (which would make the vertical growth of animals problematic although they could be stretched very far horizontally). Very low gravity would present difficulties as well, so such beings probably live on planets that are not radically different from terrestrial size (unless these beings have re-engineered their home worlds). We should also remember that physical laws dictate the proportions and dimensions of living things. Intelligent giants could exist elsewhere. but their structures would still be severely circumscribed by gravity. There could be enormous cloud-like beings (which has been speculated by some writers), but as Arthur C. Clarke has pointed out the speed of their nervous systems would be limited by the speed of light and in order to function effectively and intelligently their brains would have to be of a manageable (and inherently limited) size. Physical laws also restrict smallness of size. There could be very small intelligent beings, but the cells out of which they are constructed would have to be very small as well, and cells are pretty tiny as it is. If we assume that brains need large numbers of cells to develop intelligence, it would seem to rule out a race of intelligent creatures the size of a spider monkey. And yes, we should forget about worlds of intelligent creatures who live around atoms. (A wonderful discussion of such matters is found in Clarke's Profiles of the Future). Therefore, we should not expect that aliens would be many orders of size different from ourselves, although there could be a great deal of variation. (Witness the difference between our tallest humans and the smallest dwarves.)

We should probably assume that intelligent beings are not photosynthetic (and hence not plants) and thus they would need to ingest material for their metabolic processes. (Yes, we might indeed be appetizing to them.) If they do need to eat in the sense we understand it that means they must be mobile in some way. We must also assume that they have some way of manipulating the physical objects around them. If they couldn't do so, it’s hard to see how they could construct a civilization unless they were telekinetic (which I strongly doubt somehow). Dolphins and whales on our own planet are highly intelligent beings but they are not technological. Their inability to grasp and manipulate objects precludes this. (So does this mean our alien friends live on land rather the water? Not necessarily. but it might be easier for them if they did.) Therefore, extraterrestrials probably have appendages of some sort, although these could be of a startling variety of sizes, shapes, and flexibility.

They would also have to have some sort of sensory apparatuses for detecting the energies which flow and undulate around all of us. Their primary sense for navigating the physical world might not always be sight, however. As Richard Dawkins has pointed out, bats construct a sonic reality which is as vivid to them as visual reality is to us. Therefore, alien eyes might not always be as acute as ours (or even exist, for that matter). If they are of a race which evolved eyes, those eyes may be adapted to perceive different parts of the light spectrum than our own. They may be multiple in number (although two eyes are handy in the construction of a visual field which permits depth perception). Other sensory apparatuses which they may have evolved or given themselves through genetic engineering may allow them to perceive various forms of radiation, signals transmitted directly from other brains, or forms of energy the existence of which we might not suspect.

Of course, the above limits leave a lot of room for variation. What are their body chemistries? Are they carbon based, like terrestrial life forms, or are they perhaps based on silicon or some other element which bonds readily to form organic molecules? Are they based on nucleic acids of some sort? Do any of them resemble terrestrial mammals or could there be intelligent creatures which resemble Earth’s amphibians or reptilians in appearance (or even its birds, for that matter)? Is it possible that there are multiple species of intelligent, culture-possessing, symbol-manipulating beings on some of these planets? Do the beings of other worlds have lung-like structures or do they process atmospheric gases in some other way? What are their brains like? Do their brains, like ours, reflect their species' evolutionary history, and if so are these beings mixtures of instinctive emotional. and intellectual behaviors? How do their brains process and transmit language? Have any of them figured out a way to transcend physical bodies altogether and exist as pure intelligence (which strikes me as improbable, but who knows)? One thing is certain: they don’t look like us. The odds against this are so prohibitive that we needn't concern ourselves with it. Any science fiction which portrays aliens as human-like in their appearance strikes me as being particularly unimaginative.


But aside from my child-like curiosity about the possible appearance and physical features of extraterrestrial intelligent beings, there are deeper issues with which I’d like to deal. Is there a set of rules that would apply to any intelligent, consciousness-possessing, sentient being anywhere in this or any other possible Universe, rules which would arise naturally from the very nature of  mind itself?  I ask this not because I think we will ever encounter such beings—I consider the odds of this happening to be remote—but rather to try to connect us intellectually and emotionally to a larger reality than ourselves, and to see our moral rules in a new perspective.

We must imagine that intelligent creatures everywhere possess awareness of the impact of their actions on others and thus (in some way) have a moral and ethical sense. It’s difficult to see how they could interact with each other if they didn’t. (In that sense, an ethical system has utility. It serves as a minimal social good.) If they, like us, evolved in part through physical struggle and violence, have they learned how to overcome their violent tendencies? How do they get along with each other now in light of their own past histories? In how many ways have moral issues been resolved, and what kinds of sufferings and sacrifices were necessary to bring about these resolutions? Have others been able to achieve the precarious balance between the rights and integrity of the individual and the needs of a broader social group? Is there a universal sense of right and wrong, a sense of empathy perhaps based on phenomena similar (although obviously not identical) to the mirror neurons in our own brains?

More ominously, are there planets where the doctrine of Might-Makes-Right has triumphed to the exclusion of all other possible ethical systems? Has the utility of evil proven so alluring that there are planetary civilizations that are nightmare worlds of oppression, savagery, violence, suffering, and uninhibited cruelty? On our own planet the grim history of would-be world conquerors must give us at least some pause. The impulse toward mass murder and mass enslavement still rests in the darkest recesses of some of our fellow humans’ minds. There is at least the possibility that such horror may yet engulf us. There is a very real possibility that it has engulfed others elsewhere.

Moreover, in the course of the social evolution of other intelligent species, did they evolve belief systems that were planet-centric, ones that placed them at the center of creation, as did ours? Did their planets tend to develop several different belief systems, and if so, did their worlds undergo the agonizing religious clashes we have seen on ours? If there are indeed multiple intelligent species on these planets, how did they learn to co-exist? There may have been terrible racial wars, true inter-species conflicts that scarred the history of these worlds. How have the civilizations which may have experienced such events managed to overcome their deleterious effects?

In attempting to address such questions, we must assume, I believe, that any intelligent species anywhere in any frame of reference:

A.  Is the product of some sort of organic evolution in which reproductive success was of paramount importance.

B.  Is sentient in some way and to some degree, and this sentience is the product of its evolutionary inheritance.

C. Is descended from ancestors who had to figure out the rules of their planet from scratch, just as ours did, and discovered the true nature of their world haltingly, over a great period of time.

D. Has ancestors for whom survival involved certain difficulties and hardships, and for whom certain rules of conduct were indispensable.

E. Has undergone a long process of social evolution which has not always proceeded smoothly, and which may have involved a significant amount of interpersonal violence
and other upheavals.

Therefore, an ethical system anywhere in the Universe or Multiverse might rest on the following assumptions:

1.  The awareness of the self.  Assumption: The survival and physical well-being of the self is desirable, and hence a being has the fundamental right to acquire those things that are essential for its survival and to defend itself.

2.  Emotional attachment to a kinship group. Assumption: The security and survival of a being’s family, especially its offspring, is a matter of vital concern.

3.  Group Identity. Assumption: The well-being of the broader group of which a being is a member is a vital concern, in light of the group’s likely importance to the survival of the being and its in-groups.

4.  Group cohesion. Assumption: Intra-group violence is generally counter-productive and something to be discouraged. Rules of conduct must therefore exist and be enforced.

5.  Unregulated Group Relations. Assumption: Ordinary interaction between members of a group must rest on interpersonal trust, lest chaos and anarchy come to prevail.

There are other assumptions which could be made, of course, but to me these seem to be
the most fundamental ones, inasmuch as they are directly related to the reproductive success of the individual and the group of which it is a member.

A group somewhere in the Multiverse may take into consideration other ideas, over and above the basic assumptions, ones which encompass a much wider range of beings. A truly advanced ethical system anywhere might embrace such propositions as:

1.  All sentient beings are as real as any others, and since they are sentient, have the capacity to experience both pleasure and suffering. Conversely, I am as real as any other sentient being, and I have a right to expect other intelligent beings to be cognizant of this fact and act accordingly.

2.  Our sympathies must not lie entirely with our own group, our own kind of being, or our own culture. They must extend to all others. We have a right to expect reciprocity in this matter. Our empathy must extend as widely as possible as well.

3. We must never seek to deliberately impose needless suffering on any sentient being, and we must never inflict suffering on others who are innocent of any offense against us.

4. We must respect the world upon which we live, and preserve it for those who will come after us.

5.  We must grant to all sentient beings the right to make of themselves what they can, within the boundaries of respect for other sentient beings.

Again, there are others, but in my view these all represent a step beyond the basic ethical principles. If a civilization embraces the doctrine of mutual respect among its members, it has genuine hopes of avoiding a future of endless brutality and the horrific reality of “the war of all against all”.

A major complication which might alter these assumptions is the possibility that the intelligent life form of some other world might be machine-based, the product of what we would call artificial intelligence. In that case, we would have to assume that such entities are the successors of organic beings. They would be the indirect product of organic evolution, a sort of secondary offshoot of it. Such machine-based intelligence would have undergone its own evolutionary path, but it might have been a very rapid one, as it has been on this planet, and the machines may in fact have aided and directed their own evolution significantly. Whether an AI entity is capable of consciousness is an issue, as we have seen, that has yet to be resolved. From an ethical standpoint, would an AI entity be a person, some one instead of some thing? And would an AI entity have any capacity for empathy or respect for the survival of others? Would such entities have goals and purpose? Would they evolve an interior emotional life, or is such a question merely the product of one human’s inability to conceive of consciousness on any basis but his own?


How many histories are taking place out there? How many wars, migrations, scientific and technological revolutions, religious movements, artistic developments, empires rising and falling have there been? How many philosophies have been generated? What explanations have the Aristotles, Lao-Tzus, Siddharthas, and Augustines of other planets come up with for the mysteries of existence? In how many civilizations is a god of some sort worshipped? lf there is in fact a single universal God, has He (or it) played out a series of huge cosmic dramas with the intelligent beings of other planets in ways similar to those believed by Jews and Christians to be taking place on this planet? (Have there been, in countless number, prophets? Messiahs? Saviors? Resurrections?) In how many ways is love expressed? Hatred? Passion? Artistic sensibility? We must imagine that somewhere, every conceivable act of which intelligent beings are capable is happening right now (in our frame of reference), from the most deeply spiritual and altruistic to the most atrociously horrible. In a sense, in various parts of the Universe or Multiverse, our entire experience is being recapitulated at any given moment. This is a reality I can't see but it overwhelms me just in its contemplation.

It may be extremely unlikely we will ever directly encounter any other intelligent, language-possessing species. But in the most general sense, we should acknowledge them as fellow perceivers of the Universe, and wish them well in their pursuit of knowledge of it. From an ethical standpoint, we must regard any extraterrestrial intelligent beings as persons. This means, if we endow persons on Earth with certain rights and considerations, that these extraterrestrials would deserve the same. We must know that even though we may never encounter them, that they are as real as we, and by virtue of that fact, deserving of our sympathies and respect. We must hope that they feel the same way. In that sense, perhaps, we might know each other after all.  

Originally posted to Yosef 52 on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 11:48 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  i had to stop reading but (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    native, Yosef 52

    intend to come back to this diary, so filled with information provoking ideas about "life", here and everywhere

    that a species could evolve which has the ability to "read" an other by way of unseen energy given off, that is not yet understood or even recognized in our society

    some people here and now have that ability

    how much of what we are capable do we not yet "know" about?

    see ya later

  •  Tipped for Clarke (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Yosef 52, Angie in WA State

    Someone else has read Profiles of the Future!

    "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

    by quarkstomper on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 06:05:19 AM PST

  •  Tipped for 'earth with a moon circling a red dwarf (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Yosef 52, Angie in WA State

    (just 13 light years away).

  •  The Social Conquest of Earth by E. O. Wilson (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    native, Yosef 52

    helps answer some of your questions through his theory that in some species an evolutionary process group specific develops. Ants, humans and a few other species on our planet are products of this type of natural selection as well as the individual entity specific natural selection process. Altruism in our species has always been hard to explain and Wilson has constructed a new theory to explain how that naturally come to be when group evolution begins in a species. To me all advanced species that are technical and communicative would have to be based on this type of evolution because no individual creature is capable of making the type of advances without others of their species continually adding to the commonly accessible fund of species knowledge. I'm late for work but will comment more later.

    Love = Awareness of mutually beneficial exchange across semi-permeable boundaries. Political and economic systems either amplify or inhibit Love.

    by Bob Guyer on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 08:17:31 AM PST

  •  One other thing to mention is the longevity (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    greenotron, Yosef 52

    of civilizations or species.

    Our species has only been around for a short time in geological time scale.  Our civilization has only been around for a tiny portion of the lifetime of the universe.  Any other sentient species that have developed a civilization would most likely be far older than ours.  What will human life be like a million years from now?  Will the human race still be here by then?  Do intelligent species last for a longer or shorter time on average than other species?

    At sometime during a million years, I would guess that any technological society will have hit a technological plateau where further scientific advancement becomes much slower and more difficult.  It would be very interesting to see just where that plateau is, but present day people will never find out.

    "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." Bertrand Russell

    by Thutmose V on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 08:48:21 AM PST

  •  Not all life need live on planets (5+ / 0-)

    Plasma creatures could be pretty gargantuan. They could conceivably be ergovores, feeding off raw energy. More like plants with brains. They would think very differently than we do.

    Is dark matter/energy capable of supporting life? Who knows? Who knows what its characteristics might be?

    A being that was made up of semi-sentient sub components might not even be mortal, as sub components died off, new ones would take their place. Such a being would have VERY different ideas about self than we do. It might not even comprehend mortality at all.

    Beings might evolve that could share qualia exactly, perhaps even complete memories and/or sensory feeds. They would need no representational language, and might lack any sense of "kinship group."

    In short, your basic assumptions about the mentality of sentient life are based on one particular kind of sentient life: ours. Alien life could well be truly alien, not just "humans in funny suits." We may well find aliens that make even my suppositions look tame. Distributed planetary scale intelligences. Smart clouds. Electromagnetic beings that live in stars. Dark matter beings that destroy and disrupt regular matter without even realizing it is there.

    The possibilities for life are endless, and not all those possibilities lead to a unified system of ethics that favors that life in any way being our "friends." It's nice to think that the universe wants all life to be pals, but it isn't necessarily so.

    •  S F plot line - as the universe goes to (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      SethRightmer, Yosef 52

      entropy/ heat death - gets colder & more diffuse -

      giant sentient entities made of clouds of elementary particles come to be - their seconds are our eons - time sense slowed & they last millions of years

      The Last Dragons - pretty cool (cold, actually)

      "Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what's right." - Isaac Asimov

      by greenotron on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 10:36:45 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Sci Fi speculations on aliens are fun (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Yosef 52

        I've read a lot of really good sci fi over the years, and one of the hardest things to do is to try to come up with really alien aliens, and not just humans in funny suits. It is a comparable challenge to coming up with a really super-human intelligence. But some stories really do a good job of it. Stephen Baxter, Greg Bear,  Greg Egan, and Octavia Butler come to mind as authors who have presented really different sorts of life. But I know I'm forgetting some other greats as well, I can remember the stories but not who wrote them.

        •  Try fellow kossack David Brin's tales in the (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Yosef 52

          Uplift War and the rest of that series.

          I prefer that book, which can be read as a stand alone.

          My youngest prefers the earlier books starting with the first, Sundiver (a ship crewed by sentient Earth Dolphins is chased by aliens because they found out a terrible secret) and the next two books.

          Either way, a great look at aliens from a believable alien POV.

          "I like paying taxes...with them, I buy Civilization" -- me

          by Angie in WA State on Sat Feb 16, 2013 at 01:44:06 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  as a further corolary of the longevity point (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Yosef 52, Angie in WA State

    it seems to me probable that higher types of biological intelligence will sooner or later produce machine intelligence, which by its nature would be much more long-lived than the fragile biological sort which is pretty dependent on planetary consistency (two asteroids in one day? wow).

    So I surmise/profess that most of the intelligence in the galaxy is machine based, & probably not confined to the surface of planets. Arthur C. Clarke put this as the basis for his "Rendezvous With Rama" - that a sort of  hybrid machine/bio-form would be the most common spacefarer.

    Of course machine (silicon?) intelligence would be subject to the great evolutionary dynamics, variation & selection, as much as any bio-form. I used to think that the Frankenstein's Monster plot lines of fiction wouldn't apply to artificial intelligence - that machines would have no motivations, no desire to not be turned off (be "dead") - but now I think that a variation of platforms & software will insure that some machines will "prefer" not to be off, & will come to dominate the A.I. population - just as those religions who inveigh against birth control come to prevail.

    In the forest late one night I saw a tree whose bark seemed full of channels of light, like roads (shamanic vision-quest type thing - fasting & lack of sleep) & had the "insight" that perhaps our world was, like that tree, an enclave, a terrarium, put up by those hypothesized vast machine intelligences as a garden experiment.

    Because the one thing the machine intelligences would be missing would be an emotional attachment to a bio-sphere. They would cultivate us for our loves & art -  the arbitrary nature of their existence would burden them. Their technical mastery would be fantastic, beyond our understanding, but they would lack the "poetry" of bioforms evolved in balance with a beautiful environment - so they would treasure us (& cheetahs, etc.).

    It's kind of ironic that we, by giving over control of our planet to non-biological entities with artificial "desires" (corporations, churches), are destroying the garden & maybe eliminating our value to these super-intelligences.

    (Of course this is all just an elaborate Sci Fi metaphor. Ain't it?)

    "Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what's right." - Isaac Asimov

    by greenotron on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 10:25:03 AM PST

  •  life forms, you lovely little life forms (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Yosef 52, John DiFool

    I think it entirely possible for there to be a sentient life-form with no concept of ethics whatsoever, aside from what we would call consequentialism: an act is good or bad based on its consequences.  This could be considered so self-evident that it is not thought of as ethical, merely sensible.  ("There is but one Law, and the whole of it shall be: don't be a dumbass.")

    I find much more interesting the possibility that other sentient peoples would have ethical systems completely unlike anything we humans have ever come up with.  Heck, there could be aliens out there who haven't answered our constant stream of attempts to communicate because they believe it immoral (or taboo, or just rude) to speak to anyone who isn't a family member, or to someone who can't see you speaking, or to anyone with whom you have not first exchanged gifts / names / firstborn children / threats of war.

    Speculating about this is fun, but ultimately pointless in terms of trying to guess what's actually likely.  We won't know until we find it.

  •  Excellent review of some aspects of possible (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Yosef 52, isabelle hayes

    life/intelligent life. Much of speculation irritatingly is really only life "as we know it", assuming there is only carbon type based life (hence looking mainly for only earth type planets and environments. About high gravity worlds, one of the best imaginings was Hal Clement's Mission of Gravity (also a terrible pun :) ).

    "They will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy. The full faith and credit of the United States of America is not a bargaining chip."

    by TofG on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 11:33:51 AM PST

  •  Thanks for posting this (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Yosef 52

    It made a fascinating read for someone who wanted to unwind on a Friday night.

    It's depressing that we may never communicate with any other civilizations out there, but in some ways it may also be for the better.

    I can understand the logic behind how you say these universal values should develop, but I wonder how it would impact the development of the universal values of a species to have a much more advanced race interfere and try to "uplift" them.

    What would happen if a species that has never properly developed these values enough to respect different groupings on their own planet is given the technology to interact with the rest of the galaxy? Perhaps by a race that only did so with the best of intentions?

  •  Assumed variables raised to the Nth power (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Yosef 52, centrist2008

    I've read the Drake equation before and find it to be 10 assumed variables raised to an assumed power.  In other words you can spin it anyway depending on little more than the current prevailing assumptions.  For instance, at the time we thought there would be relatively few stars with planets and now we believe that the majority of stars have planets but he universe is a huge sandbox and the truth is, we don't know.   We don't even know if we are the in the only universe and maybe we are even a universe inside another universe.  One current assumption is that 96% of the universe is dark matter and dark energy and we don't even know what the hell those are.  So it's all pretty much speculation don't you think?  

    In a universe were time, space and motion are all relative I choose to assume that there are no universal--fixed--values.      

    We do know that the universe was not created but is being created as I type and you read.  In a little over a billion years our sun will begin to expand and at about 1.5 billion the earth will be as hot as mercury.  Our sun will burn out in  around 4.5 billion years.  Does anyone think humans will be around to see either event?  In that time frame we may have evolved into something dramatically different but homo,homo,sapiens will be extinct.  

    Global warming will not destroy earth and is unlikely to destroy all life on earth.  In general, life is very resilient but individual species do hit dead ends.  In fact some estimate that 200 species go extinct every day.   I don't believe that a major die off is planned in any conspiratorial sense but I do predict that there will be a major pruning of the human orchard within the next 100 years.   We have created a trap that is closing at least 3 dimensions: energy, water, and climate and therefor food.  We've known for centuries that when animal populations over breed the resources available to them nature makes a correction. Yet believing that we were created perfect and pure we have never applied the logic to our own species so the planet will do it for us.    Depending on how harsh the correction is we may survive or humans could hit our own dead end soon.  But then it seems that people have been predicting that every since we became people.  Either way we are neither the alpha nor the omega.  The earth and the universe will continue to evolve for what ever it's purpose and for it's allotted time and values will evolve correspondingly.

    A bad idea isn't responsible for those who believe it. ---Stephen Cannell

    by YellerDog on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 10:23:53 PM PST

  •  I enjoyed your thought paths (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Yosef 52

    Unfortunately, knowing that our solar system is located in what amounts to a teeny, tiny backwater section at the end of a long spiral arm...

    the only reason any species would visit Earth falls into only two categories, and neither would be good for current occupants of planet Earth:

    1. Explorers looking for new planets to colonize

    2. Exploiters, looking for new planets to harvest

    So personally, I hope we never meet ET, s/he'll be looking to erase me and all of my fellow humans at first sight, so we'll quit ruining their fucking planet!

    "I like paying taxes...with them, I buy Civilization" -- me

    by Angie in WA State on Sat Feb 16, 2013 at 01:40:28 AM PST

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site