Posts Tagged ‘Fermi Paradox’
Alas, yet another well intentioned and optimistic attempt has been made to search for alien civilizations. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for SETI (The search for alien technological civilizations) and am glad it gets done. I just don’t think they are going to find anything, and am not surprised this latest search is a failure. Why? Some background first:
NASA has a satellite, the WISE satellite. Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer. It basically made a survey of the sky in infrared. It was a big deal. Many new discoveries, thousands of asteroids, numerous star clusters, and a whole wealth of data about the skies. Including information on millions of galaxies. Then scientists with private funding (our precious tax dollars saved for ever more drone strikes) computer sifted through this data to find 100,000 promising galactic candidates for further investigation. They then hand searched these galaxies, looking for galaxies with signs of widespread industrial civilization. How is that? Well, the idea being that aliens that colonized a galaxy would use starlight to power industry, and thus the galaxy in question would be shy on starlight, but long on infrared, the waste product of industrial processes. The results? Nada. None of the galaxies showed anything that was obviously unnatural. A few warrant further looking, but there was certainly no smoking gun.
What can we glean from this? On the first pass, a Star Trek or Star Wars galaxy is ruled out. Bad news on one level, we won’t be joining any Galactic Federation anytime soon, because it doesn’t exist. That’s not surprising, the aliens in these sorts of imagined galaxies are pretty much just people with funny costumes. While it would be fun and comforting to find out that’s what aliens are like, there’s simply no reason to think aliens would be anything like us. In fact essentially all SETI has been doing is steadily eroding the idea of a universe populated by anthropomorphic aliens. At this point, it’s looking pretty grim for the Star Trek galaxy.
So what’s left? Well, maybe our idea of how advanced alien civilizations would look needs some tweaking. Most, if not all, of our ideas about SETI involve searching for aliens who are acting like us. Granted, how to imagine aliens who aren’t like us is a bit tricky. I suspect the goal shouldn’t be to decide what to look for and look for it, but try to look for anything that doesn’t have a good natural explanation. Granted that’s a pretty nebulous concept in and of itself, but it has the advantage of eliminating our own prejudices about what aliens will be doing. And yes, it’s also limited by the fact that our understanding of what is and isn’t natural in the Universe is also pretty nebulous at this stage. Still, it would be a start, and I hope at least some in the SETI community are looking into searching for the unexpected.
Lastly, and the point that seems to distress so many people, it’s possible that we are alone. We simply don’t know how likely it is for species like ours to come along and start building technological stuff. Maybe it’s so incredibly unlikely that it’s only happened once. People love to claim that the size of the Universe means there “has” to be others, but that’s simply an argument from big numbers. What are the chances that one grain of sand on Earth contains an exact miniature replica of a McDonalds® outlet down to the smallest detail? Saying, there’s trillions of grains of sand so one must contain a miniature McDonalds® because there are so many grains of sand, is an absurd argument.
In any event I hope SETI continues. Heck, I wish it was better funded, but it’s too easy an idea to ridicule and there’s no SETI lobby to speak of, and certainly no SETI industry, so it’s going to continue to be a privately funded search. I wish SETI all the luck in the world, I just don’t recommend making any bets on it succeeding any time soon.
Have a great weekend everyone.
(The above image was taken on Mars about a year ago by the Curiosity rover. As a NASA photograph, it is for most practical purposes, including inclusion in this blog, a public domain image. NASA does not in any way endorse Doug’s Darkworld. I used this image because, gee, Mars is sure looking like a barren lifeless rock. And because I still think its effing incredible that we have machines on Mars able to send pics like this. The blue sky means it’s sunset. On Mars the sky is normally scarlet or a bright orangeish-red colour. It turns rose at sunset and sunrise.)
No, Aliens Will Not be Solving All of Our Problems; plus Fermi’s Paradox Solved and Alien Abductions Explained.
I’ve been reading a book about SETI and boy, it’s everything and then some one would ever want to know about SETI, the “Search for Extraterrestrial intelligence.” In excruciating detail, page after page, chapter after chapter. And everything we have discovered about alien intelligence can be summed up in five words: “We don’t have a clue.” So, um, it’s not a very exciting book, but it sure is detailed. Reminds me of medieval scientists debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. I don’t recommend reading it unless SETI is a lifetime interest or better yet, an obsession.
Moving right along, the book does have a few interesting points which I will get too by and by. The first point is in fact what drove me to write this blog post. There are many chapters on the possible consequences of contact with aliens, something about which people have given a great deal of thought. And there’s a whole school of thought about superior aliens giving us the solutions to our problems, and how that would effect our culture. Our energy shortages, our food shortages, war, cancer, disease, all the myriad problems that humans face today … many believe that aliens can or will solve these problems. From dyed-in-the-wool Roswell cultists to serious social scientists people have debated the possibility of aliens solving our problems for us. Even the late President Reagan had thoughts along these lines.
Um, I have a problem with this alien saviour idea. Several problems in fact. And thank goodness, if I agreed with everything I read, this would be a very boring blog. First off, the stunning similarity between hoping and expecting aliens to solve our problems to the ancient idea that God/angels/the saviour will come and solve our problems. If a modern idea looks just like an ancient fairy tale except for a few props, what, exactly, is the difference? In other words this isn’t a new idea at all, and is so archetypal to human culture and civilization, that’s it’s hard for me to avoid the conclusion that the “aliens will save us” idea is just wishful thinking. Yeah, we’re too “modern” to believe God will fix everything for us, but it’s OK to believe that equally imaginary aliens will do so? No, it’s not OK, in fact it’s equally as illogical, at least until there is some indication that intelligent aliens even exist.
Secondly, even a cursory look at how “superior civilizations” on Earth have helped out their less advanced brethren speaks very poorly of the idea that a superior alien civilization will be able to help us out. Most of the efforts to “help out” the natives on this planet have been cynical in the extreme, painfully misguided, and often both at once. And the results have not been pretty. Sure, some have fared better than others. Japan adopted western civilization with amazing aplomb, the Maoris did OK for themselves, Tonga held out for a long time … but for the most part civilizations that came into contact with more modern civilizations have been reduced to museum exhibits, scholarly treatises, and mass graves. And their people, if they survived, are second class citizens to this day. If the native Americans had any clue what the future held for them, they would have finished the job at Jamestown and every other settlement the Europeans tried to set up.
Lastly, and the reason I find people’s belief in beneficial aliens solving our problems to be so deluded, is this. We don’t have any problems! With modern technology and industry we live in an age of unbelievable wealth and productivity. In almost any area one mentions we now have resources and tools that even 50-100 years ago were undreamed of. In fact it’s safe to say that in the entire modern era, since the widespread construction of factories, steamships, and railroads … we have had the ability to easily house and clothe and feed the world’s population at very acceptable standards. And our powers have grown since then. People are not dying of starvation, disease, lack of clean water, lack of shelter, or any of the other “problems” the vast majority of the world’s populations suffers through because there are shortages or we don’t know how to provide these. The food Americans throw away would feed 200 million people for god’s sake. People are dying for lack of modern amenities because of distribution problems, period. And these problems are caused by greed and politics and racism and religion and corruption all the other wonderful attributes that separate us from the animals. I mean, how can it be described as a problem … if were doing it to ourselves?
The aliens aren’t flying over head thinking “Gee, let’s give these guys some machines that will turn dirt into food, and boy, all their problems will be solved!” No, they’re flying over head saying “Oh, Dear god, would you look at that? Those people are starving, how come no one’s bringing them any food? And look over there, they are filling up that gulf with toxic hydrocarbons! And there, there, did you see that … they are blowing each other up! I don’t believe this! What’s wrong with these creatures?!” I mean let’s be real, how else would superior beings react? Unless they can somehow tie us all to some sort of super alien psychiatrist’s couch and fix the tangled knots in our heads, giving us more gadgets and knowledge isn’t going to help.
In conclusion, I have thus solved both Fermi’s Paradox and the alien abduction phenomenon. Fermi wondered why we don’t see any aliens despite the arguments that alien intelligence should be common in the Universe, the “where is everybody” theorem? They’re hiding from us because we are clearly nucking futs as a species. Would you contact people who strapped bombs on their bodies and blew each other up, or built super remote control machines so that bored teenagers in Kansas can blow up wedding parties on the other side of the globe? Of course not, especially if you’re a superior, intelligent alien. And alien abductions, well, the superior aliens are trying to help. They’re doing their best to figure out what’s wrong with us. And they clearly aren’t making much progress.
So if you wake up in the middle of the night and aliens are dragging you into an operating theatre and preparing to insert probes in various bodily orifices, stay calm, they’re just trying to help. And better yet, even if you’re uninsured they’ll still treat you and there’s no copay! Yes, the aliens are socialists. Have a great weekend everyone.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit and is central to illustrating the post. Plus the original user is apparently distributing the movie the image is promoting for free, so I can’t be interfering with their commercial use of the image. Credit and copyright: Alien Abduction 2009. I have an alien abduction story all of my own, I suppose I should write about it someday. Heck, readers are welcome to share their own alien abduction stories, I can rewrite them and post them anonymously even.)