Where are they?

Today’s headline reads:

Milky Way teeming with earth-like orbs.

They don’t have to visit, they can manipulate star patterns for an advertising campaign or a fundraiser.  Not to mention solar-powered self-replicating probes.  They don’t seem interested.

The obvious conclusion is that highly intelligent species do not last very long and are also not very common.  Here is my previous post on the Fermi Paradox.  Here is Geoffrey Miller on the Paradox.


More galactic real estate for me then.

I do wonder though how many worlds there could be that would not require significant terraforming. We can also assume that any world suitable for human life would have its own (non-sapient) life, and any introduction of Terran species would either be fruitless (because they were so hopelessly out gunned by the natives) or like bringing rabbits and horn toads to Australia. Either way, if we plan on living on those worlds it would probably require either living in artificial and limited habitat-biomes or wiping out most indigenous life.

I agree with Brock. But my theory is that species intelligent enough to expand end up politically dominated by preservationist movements strong enough to prevent terraforming. If the European Union won't even support a couple extra genes in our corn, they'll never support changing the Martian climate.

For a novel based on the same ideas, check out Charlie Stross's *Accelerando* .


"You can infer, but not yet prove, that among them are many rocky Earth-like planets," he said. "Eventually, we hope to find life -- and possibly intelligence there."

What if other societies have also begun the search for intelligent life beyond their world, found us, and decided to pass us by?

"The obvious conclusion is that highly intelligent species do not last very long and are also not very common."

The durability of civilisations is inversely proportional to the weight given to the opinions of its economics professors.



Ah. I understand, then. So anything that was "behind" us, as it were,
must be very, very behind. Thank you.

In general:

It seems at this point that any additional speculation might be, well,
highly speculative. I mean, aliens could have all sorts of nifty technology,
no interest in talking to us, no inclination to travel, have died out eons
ago, and so on. But isn't it easier, before we begin generating lots and
lots of reasons why we don't observe other life, to start with the far
simpler supposition that we don't see it because it doesn't exist, rather
than start from the hypothesis that it must exist, and we therefore need
to explain why we don't see it?

We're looking in the wrong place, we're looking for the wrong thing, we haven't been looking long enough, they don't want to talk to us, we're purposefully isolated, we're the first, we're the only, no one uses radio longer than 150 years, God created just the Earth, it's too expensive - the possibilities are endless.

- Josh

This study really doesn't show a lot that is new---the frequency of planets is about the same near the center of the Galaxy as it is in the solar neighborhood. The main new thing is that they found planets around low-mass M dwarfs, which haven't been systematically searched nearby yet. This increases by somewhat the number of planets expected around stars that we could communicate easily with, if there was anyone there to listen.

Astronomers Peter Ward and David Brownlee explain why we are probably the only intelligent life in the
universe in their book Rare Earth. Basically, the conditions to sustain life have to be near perfect and
together with the periodic mass extinction events make the liklihood of intelligent life developing
extremely small if not rare.We may truly be alone in our galaxy if not the universe.

I make it a policy not to read any story with the word "orbs" in it.

Much of this discussion is akin to the theory that the Biblical rapture has already taken place and that we are what is left behind.

A few possibilities:

1. Getting from fire and pointy sticks to spaceships is a long, multi-generation process. Building a civilization that lasts long enough for it to happen, without degenerating into a tyranny that actively interferes with the process of figuring out how to build spaceships and the countless technological marvels needed to keep people alive inside them, is hard. We've had many thousands of different civilizations on Earth, and only a handful have ever even come close to being what's needed for an intelligent race to get to the stars, and even those are showing signs of becoming actively hostile to the activities needed to finish the job.

2. There seems to be a lot of dark matter out there. If it can be converted to regular matter, or otherwise turns out to be useful, people with spaceships may seek out concentration of dark matter and ignore star systems entirely.

3. Star systems are a giant pain in the ass in many ways. Lots of radiation in unwanted wavelengths that has to be shielded against, too much space junk that could poke holes in your hull, getting rid of unwanted heat gets trickier if you're getting blasted by bright sunlight and so on. And if you've got a starship, you already know how to build closed ecosystems, and you don't really need a habitable world anymore. And you've probably also got a mass converter, since you need positively enormous amounts of delta-vee to cross interstellar space in a reasonable amount of time. So even without dark matter, aliens might look for brown dwarfs, bits of rock floating far from star systems, maybe extreme outer planets of star systems, and the galaxy will have to be pretty crowded before they'll consider getting close to an active star.

4. As someone said above, looking for aliens with radios is like Indians looking for European cultures by checking the sky for smoke signals. Wormholes you can walk through may be insanely expensive to build, but a tiny wormhole you can send a few particles through gives you a tool combining the best features of a cable and a radio, making both obsolete and enabling communication between star systems without a multi-year lag. So really, radio silence from the rest of the galaxy is pretty much what we should expect.

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