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Space Radio: More Static, Less Talk

Article #304 • Written by Alan Bellows

Arecibo Observatory, a 305-meter-wide radio telescope (courtesy of the NAIC - Arecibo Observatory, a facility of the NSF)
Arecibo Observatory, a 305-meter-wide radio telescope (courtesy of the NAIC - Arecibo Observatory, a facility of the NSF)

Owing to radio's aptitude in transporting information, our planet is endlessly peppered by man-made low-frequency radiation. Phone conversations, computer data, text messages, radar echoes, sitcoms, and morning DJ chatter are all electromagnetically belched in every direction at the speed of light-- including straight up into outer space.

Purveyors of science fiction are fond of exploring the ramifications of this radio leakage, suggesting that someday an advanced alien race might materialize to befriend, enslave, or destroy humanity after a little electromagnetic eavesdropping from afar. Indeed, if there happen to be any radio-savvy civilizations within 114 light years of Earth-- an area which encompasses roughly fifteen thousand stars-- humanity's earliest meaningful transmissions will have already reached them.

Similar speculation appears in science non-fiction, such as the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project, which strains its giant radio ears for extraterrestrial signals. When consulting the wisdom of probability, one finds that the universe ought to be teeming with technology-toting aliens; but aside from a couple of interesting-but-inconclusive detections, no discernibly intelligent patterns have ever been observed by Earth's space-listening instruments. One might surmise that the conspicuous silence is "evidence of absence," but such a conclusion might be a bit premature under the circumstances.

Outer space, as it was aptly put by the late Douglas Adams, is vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big. Astronomy's most up-to-date observations and calculations number the stars in the visible universe at somewhere around seventy sextillion (7 x 1022), an incomprehensible value which is seldom welcome in polite company. This figure is so formidable that any attempt to scale it for human consumption results in such impotent analogies as "ten times as many stars as grains of sand on all the world's beaches and deserts;" or, "ten trillion stars for every man, woman, and child on Earth."

An infrared image of the core of the Milky Way galaxy
An infrared image of the core of the Milky Way galaxy

At least two hundred billion of these stars reside within our own 13-billion-year-old galaxy, along with millions or billions of planets and moons. Considering the abundance of potential habitats and the amount time our galaxy has been around, it seems inconceivable that our ordinary planet is the only one which has produced intelligent, signal-radiating life. Even if a solar system's odds of developing intelligent life is only one-in-a-billion, that means that the Milky Way should be home to two hundred or so past or present civilizations, in addition to some seventy billion amongst the other galaxies.

In 1950, famed physicist Enrico Fermi was one of the first to popularize the discrepancy between probable and observable life in the universe. While lunching with colleagues and discussing the notion of interstellar neighbors, Fermi summed up the question by wondering aloud, "Where is everybody?" Thereafter the inconsistency was known as the Fermi Paradox. The paradox is a product of science's mediocrity principle, the observation that the Earth seems to be an ordinary planet orbiting an ordinary star within an ordinary galaxy. It follows, therefore, that Earth-like planets are probably somewhat common.

In 1961, a collection of ten distinguished scientists and engineers known as The Order of the Dolphin set upon a quest to remedy this astronomical shortcoming in our knowledge. They pondered the possibility of employing massive radio telescopes to scan the sky for stray extraterrestrial signals, a concept which eventually evolved into SETI. During these early discussions, astronomer Dr. Frank Drake first described a formula which effectively estimates the number of technologically advanced civilizations within the galaxy at a given time. To this day the Drake Equation remains as a framework for extraterrestrial speculation. There is much fist-shaking and spittle-making debate regarding most correct inputs, but as we gradually increase our knowledge of the universe, our guesses for these values become increasingly educated.

Even when using somewhat conservative inputs, the Drake Equation illustrates that our own humble galaxy is probably home to at least one other advanced civilization at present, along with the lingering physical and electromagnetic remains of many others. Massive radio telescopes have scoured the sky for such alien signals, including efforts by the Big Ear Observatory in Ohio; the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico; and the famous Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, the largest single-aperture telescope ever constructed. In forty-seven years of signal-seeking, SETI twice detected signals of possibly intelligent origins-- The "Wow!" signal in 1977, and Radio Source SHGb02+14a in 2004. But both had plausible Earthly explanations, so science must assume for now that they were not of extraterrestrial origin. The failure to find any stray radio evidence is taken by some as an indication there may indeed be something special about our planet and its location in the cosmos.

The Rare Earth hypothesis is the antithesis to the mediocrity principle, suggesting that complex life requires an extremely uncommon combination of astrophysical and geological events and circumstances: a slightly tilted planet with just the right chemistry, a large moon, a suitably metallic sun, and an orbit at just the right distance.

Attenuation of electromagnetic signals
Attenuation of electromagnetic signals

The hypothesis also advances the notion that there is a narrow galactic habitable zone where radiation levels are survivable, rogue meteors are few, and gravitational perturbations from neighboring stars are negligible. If all life relies upon such factors, then Rare Earth resolves the Fermi Paradox. The hypothesis carries the faint odor of anthropomorphic bias, however, since it assumes that all complex life must be very much like humans.

All these factors aside, there is one additional daunting obstacle which complicates any effort to tune in to intergalactic radio. Even if the universe is thick with signal-slinging civilizations, including some old enough that their indiscriminate electromagnetism has had sufficient time to reach Earth, not even the most massive and sensitive equipment of science is currently capable of plucking the signal from the static. When any non-focused electromagnetic signal is generated-- such as a television broadcast or a cell phone conversation-- the energy propagates as a spherical wavefront at the speed of light. When a sphere is doubled in diameter, its surface area increases by a factor of four; but in a spherical wave the "surface area" is the energy itself. This means the signal's energy is spread over four times more area at twice the distance, resulting in a 75% loss in intensity. To put it another way, in order for a broadcasting tower to double its effective range for a given receiver, it must quadruple its transmitting power.

To demonstrate the degrading effect of distance on an everyday omnidirectional signal, one might imagine a spacecraft equipped with an Arecibo-style radio receiver directed towards the Earth. If this hypothetical spacecraft were to set out for the interstellar medium, its massive 305-meter wide dish would lose its tenuous grip on AM radio before reaching Mars. Somewhere en route to Jupiter, the UHF television receivers would spew nothing but static. Before passing Saturn, the last of the FM radio stations would fade away, leaving all of Earth's electromagnetic chatter behind well before leaving our own solar system. If a range-finding radar beam from Earth happened to intersect the ship's path, it would be observable from a much greater distance; though its short duration and smooth, Gaussian meaninglessness would make it an inconclusive detection-- much like the Wow! signal and Radio Source SHGb02+14a. A highly focused beam such as that used to communicate with space probes would also remain detectable for some distance beyond the edge of the solar system.

If, hypothetically, A) a race of extra-intelligent extraterrestrials happened to reside in the nearby Alpha Centauri star system, B) they happened to broadcast a 5 Megawatt UHF television signal, and C) we were fortunate enough to be pointing the mighty Arecibo telescope directly towards the source when it arrived four years later, we would still be unable to enjoy the zany capers of the Alpha Centauri equivalent of Mork & Mindy.

In order to detect such a signal from this relatively proximate star, a dish with a diameter of 33,000 kilometers would be required. Even using Very Long Baseline Interferometry to link two Arecibo-style radio telescopes on opposite sides of the planet-- thereby providing a virtual radio telescope the size of the entire Earth-- our antenna area would still be 20,244 kilometers too small.

By coupling the laws of probability with our best current observations, we can be reasonably confident that some fraction of the 70,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 star systems in the visible universe are home to radio-sending species. It may indeed be that our planet is subjected to an unending spray of alien TV and radio signals, though they'd be attenuated beyond our best hardware's receiving extremes. Unless we dramatically improve our interstellar listening skills, or some alien race makes a specific and vigorous attempt to send us a message, there is little chance that we Earthlings will be trading messages with our astronomical neighbors anytime soon.

Article written by Alan Bellows, published on 30 November 2007. Alan is the founder/designer/head writer/managing editor of Damn Interesting.

Article design and artwork by Alan Bellows.
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151 Comments
JamesCCPA
Posted 30 November 2007 at 04:30 am

FIRST!


OverWind
Posted 30 November 2007 at 04:46 am

Damn interesting article. As most geeks I love science fiction, and the idea that we're not alone in the universe.

Thanks for the atricle Alan.


kwiksand
Posted 30 November 2007 at 04:49 am

Thanks Alan, Damn interesting as usual.

Well worth the wait!


etonalife
Posted 30 November 2007 at 05:14 am

DI Alan! And I must say you're up rather early! I suppose I am too...

I love the interactive table. Although I will need more coffee to actually determine my own probabilities. I do hope someday we find (or are found) by others out there. It would certainly be humbling for most humans, so long as they're not too trigger happy or self-righteous wielding ancient books. But the sharing of knowledge would literally open up our perspectives to include a universe larger than our own beautiful bluish pearl. It would also undoubtedly allow us to lessen our chances of extinction, again only if we can figure out peace first...

Personally I would prefer them not to be carbon-based, because the more differences we encounter the larger our imaginations will grow. And all inventions & novel ideas of humans all began with imagination


nona
Posted 30 November 2007 at 05:28 am

The leakage of our radio signals in outer space will one day lead to aliens arriving to demand a better ending to Ally McBeal, the return of Richard Dean Anderson to Stargate, and how did they all get off the damn island in the end?

They won't care about peace between worlds, or sharing knowledge, or what damage we're doing to what our world in whatever way is fashionable this week, they'll all be TV geeks! (As was proved by Futurama)


magkneetoe
Posted 30 November 2007 at 06:58 am

I'm of the opinion that we are wasting billions upon billions of dollars looking for intellegent life in space. We have so many problems on earth that those resources could take care of.
The probabilites of life are very likely, almost shockingly, but that we will find each other is not. But if we do find something, I hope they are way ahead of us on the evolutionary ride, maybe they could teach us how to prioritize.


Pax Americana
Posted 30 November 2007 at 07:12 am

Drake's equation is interesting and, even with conservative estimates, seems to suggest the high probability of a universe teeming with intelligent life.

However, there are two big problems:

1) "Intelligence" is just an evolutionary adaptation that a species of primates developed in Northeast Africa about 100,000 years ago. Suggesting that intelligence is some inevitable destination for all life makes as much sense as saying that the universe has just GOT to be full of big gray animals with floppy ears and a trunk.

2) Let's pretend that the above problem doesn't exist. OK, if there are 1,000,000 planets with intelligent life on them, doesn't it stand to reason that one of them was first? They can't all have spontaneously developed intelligent life at the same instant. What if we're first? What if we're first to have any kind of life? The Rare Earth theory seems to be the only valid one, absent any other evidence.


adastra
Posted 30 November 2007 at 07:51 am

Excellent article! I like the interactive table, too. My theory is that we being too radiocentric here. What makes anyone think that civilizations advanced beyond our own (and we're very young) would be communicating with radio waves? Searching for coherent light makes more sense to me, but it could well be there is a much more efficient technology that we know nothing about.


wh44
Posted 30 November 2007 at 08:00 am

magkneetoe said: "I'm of the opinion that we are wasting billions upon billions of dollars looking for intellegent life in space. We have so many problems on earth that those resources could take care of."

At its peak in 1991 the SETI project only received about 13 million a year from the government, and since 1995 has been entirely funded by donations, not by the U.S. government. If it is a waste, it's not your money they're wasting.

If you want to talk about billions (wasted or not), you have to start talking about the military and war.

I would like to point out that the "Average number of years that an advanced civilization will send such signals" is probably vastly over blown:
a) as the article points out, we aren't even sending signals we ourselves could detect.
b) we have had radio for a bit over 100 years, and yet already the trend is to send less into outer space as people switch to cable and fewer and fewer stations actually use airwaves.


Locke
Posted 30 November 2007 at 08:22 am

It seems to me that Drake and much of the astronomical community are engaged in the same type of self-delusion found in much of the general public. The "conservative" numbers used, and indeed the numbers of Drake himself, bear absolutely no resemblence to reality in any fashion. I have an aunt that's convinced she can make money playing slot machines, but that doesn't mean she will.

For instance, EVERY estimate puts the proportion of stars with planets at 50%. Based on what guesses and assumptions? Based on our observations, even 10% is overly generous. In addition, the number of "life-compatible" planets that we've found so far is...ONE - and we're living on it. One is a very poor sampling for a statistical assessment, much less a real world estimate.

That being said, I don't believe the Rare Earth theory to be the only valid proposal. As PAX implied, Drake's equation seems very useful but only if you use data based on real-world observation. At this point in time there is no reason whatsoever to "estimate" there is anyone else out there, much less spend money trying to find them.

However, being the scientist I like to think I am, I do believe that the statistical probabilities do warrant the continued search for the type of evidence, such as planets, that would inevitably lead to a better understanding of our universe and provide the necessary, real-world data that would make Drake's equation useful.


tampagirl
Posted 30 November 2007 at 08:32 am

I would like to paraphrase what has been stated above...even though we are young as a species perhaps we are the first to develop intelligence and that given enough time (pending our self destructive bent) we will be the ones to initiate first contact with newly evolving species out in the galaxy. Maybe it's my American "rather be a leader than a follower" complex...but thats the explanation I have always chosen to believe.


Radiatidon
Posted 30 November 2007 at 08:49 am

Pax Americana said: "…

2) Let's pretend that the above problem doesn't exist. OK, if there are 1,000,000 planets with intelligent life on them, doesn't it stand to reason that one of them was first?"

Or perhaps they just claim to be first, so that the other alien intelligences roll their eyes and ponder how immature that intelligent life is acting. Kidding here.

Just because there is no evidence that we can see/hear, does not mean they do not exist. First we need to receive a signal that our technology utilizes. Is it not self-centered to assume that there is no other technology than that based on the electromagnetic spectrum, or at least that small section that we use?

Then even being able to receive the hint of a signal is remote. As the author stated, the power decreases with distance. As an example, imagine if you will a pond of still water. You disturb the glass smooth surface with a small pebble. That sends ripples radiating 360 degrees from the stone’s point of impact (same as a radio tower, or even your cell phone’s antenna). As the ripples move away, they decrease in size until there is the faintest flutter reminiscent of the original wave. Soon even that seems to disappear to you (we are talking a really big pond here). There is still motion, but it is beyond your eye’s ability to perceive it, and before long even that will finally vanish.

Also notice that as the ripples radiate outward, if they strike any obstacles, secondary returning ripples are created. These interfere with any ripples following the first wave, decreasing their size, to even canceling them out. Thus it is with artificially generated electromagnetic waves, or radio-tv-cell phone-etc generated signals. You probably experienced this when using your cell phone. The signal is weak so you “walk about” trying to find better reception. Unlike you, a receiver antennal cannot move about to intercept that better signal. In order to do so, the entire planet would have to move about as you do to find the “sweet spot”, not a viably choice.

Now have you ever been in an area with hundreds if not thousands of singing, squawking, chirping tropical birds. The din is deafening. Imagine a friend about two hundred feet away and behind you. Normally you could easily converse without difficulty, but not today. You friend is calling you, but you don’t realize they are behind you. The bird noise is overwhelming and drowns out their voice. Space is the same way with billions, no trillions of electromagnetic spewing bodies. Suns, novas, quasars, even celestial bodies grazing some planet’s atmosphere create magnetic noise. This electromagnetic barrage can reduce the power, even punch holes in the intelligence created signal so that it is virtually impossible to decipher it from the surrounding ruckus. Otherwise it would sound like the rest of the cosmic created clutter surround us.

Improvement is created with “out of the box” thinking. Otherwise we would still believe the universe revolves around the Earth, which is flat and you would sail off the edge if you sailed even that far, only to be eaten by the monsters that live in the void beyond.

As far as being first… Our existence on this planet is a mere blink of the Sol system’s eye and Sol is actually a very junior star in a universe that has seen the passage of many stars before Sol was born. No, as slim as the odds may be, they still favor another first before us.


sd9sd
Posted 30 November 2007 at 08:59 am

:) The "Damn Login" phrase always makes me smile. Damn! The login procedure! :)

Guys, we live in a very different world from the animals living around us. The simplest example is that our pet dog can't see T.V images as we see it. Life forms on another planet can have a totally different sensory system from ours.

And why would they need to communicate with radio signals? We communicate with such signals because some blessed souls invented things which built upon one another till we came to our current state of technology. If Tesla had successfully implemented his theory of charging the earth and sending signals thru an underground reservoir of charge (as I remember it), then our signals might not have even gone out into space.

There might be many more highly efficient means of communication which some blessed souls in the other planets might've discovered :) But wth! All we can do is to keep guessing while the mosquito flying in front of my monitor might be an alien in mosquito camoflauge. Alien or not alien, I'll be smashing it to pulp very soon for a good night's sleep ;)


Matt Castle
Posted 30 November 2007 at 09:12 am

"Sometimes I think we're alone in the universe, and sometimes I think we're not. In either case the idea is quite staggering." Arthur C. Clarke


georgepoor
Posted 30 November 2007 at 10:31 am

Quite "damn interesting", that's for sure. I definitely think that the probability that extra trarrestrials are using radio waves is small. Believe me, I would love it if they were becuase then we might know that they are there. But I get the feeling that humans might just have to go take a look under the rug themselves in the future. Meaning physical exploration as opposed to radio and tv wave testing


slapnut
Posted 30 November 2007 at 10:41 am

Shutup you bunch of gays


Yardvark
Posted 30 November 2007 at 10:42 am

Radiatidon said: "Otherwise we would still believe the universe revolves around the Earth, ...."

With all due respect, you can't prove that it doesn't. The universe has mass. That mass has a center of gravity, somewhere. Everything will rotate on that center of gravity. Do you know where that is? Can you prove that it's NOT Earth? I'm just sayin' ...


slapnut
Posted 30 November 2007 at 10:50 am

so you think the sun and all of the other planets in our solar system and all the stars in the universe are possibly revolving around the earth? You sir are a buffoon


Yardvark
Posted 30 November 2007 at 10:58 am

slapnut said: "so you think the sun and all of the other planets in our solar system and all the stars in the universe are possibly revolving around the earth? You sir are a buffoon"

You can call me what you want. I'm just raising the point. But if you can PROVE it wrong, I will have the word "buffoon" tattooed upon my forehead and send you a picture. Talk is cheap, and name-calling - apparently - is free.


Sett
Posted 30 November 2007 at 11:26 am

Damn interesting, indeed. DI as they come ;p
just to be an a$$: but technically... there is only one solar system. And you're living it. there are billions of star systems in the galaxy but just one Sol, barring the freakish possibly coincidence of an alien civilization naming one of their stars Sol as well....


sid
Posted 30 November 2007 at 11:30 am

Radiatidon said: "Unlike you, a receiver antennal cannot move about to intercept that better signal. In order to do so, the entire planet would have to move about as you do to find the “sweet spot”, not a viably choice."

When did the planet we are on stop moving?


Radiatidon
Posted 30 November 2007 at 11:38 am

sid said: "When did the planet we are on stop moving?"

The planet moves upon a set orbit. As I noted

In order to do so, the entire planet would have to move about as you do to find the “sweet spot”...
the planet cannot move around its normal plane of axis as you can. Otherwise it cannot back-up, climb higher, move lower, deviate from its plane of travel. I never stated that the watery orb was stationary, just not as mobile as we can be.


jhon
Posted 30 November 2007 at 11:46 am

Author's estimates ... 42
Good One! : )


VidLord.com
Posted 30 November 2007 at 12:04 pm

great article thanks. just want to point out a couple things. Let's say there is intelligent life on the other side of the milky way. It would take 180,000 years for their signal to reach us and vice versa. That brings up the interesting possibility that they sent us a signal say, 50,000 years ago, have since gone extinct, and by the time it reaches us, we will have gone extinct! Our entire civilization is nothing but a flicker on the time scales of the universe. Also - in order to explore just our own galaxy effectively we would need a space ship that goes FASTER than the speed of light. Unfortunately if we had such a machine our very atoms would break apart at those speeds. "To move faster, you add energy. But when you get going near the speed of light, the amount of energy you need to go faster balloons to infinity! To move a mass at the speed of light would take infinite energy. It appears that there is a distinct barrier here." Check out this link for more info:
http://www.nasa.gov/centers/glenn/research/warp/warpstat.html


sid
Posted 30 November 2007 at 12:05 pm

I think what you mean is that we cannot control the movement of the planet/watery orb. Whether or not it is "as mobile" as are we is a matter of perception/opinion. Simply stating it is "not as mobile" is not really very accurate, in my opinion. The planet moves pretty far and pretty fast, especially when compared to our abilities to move as individuals. Thus, it could be argued it is not just "as mobile," but probably far more mobile. Controlling where it goes, of course, is a completely different story.

Now, I'm not an expert on these things, so feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't the orbit/rotation/axis orientation of this planet vary a certain amount? Coupled with the ever-expanding nature of the universe, one might argue that this planet, and, therefore, the antennae on it, are, in fact, constanly wandering about, and could hit that coveted "sweet spot" for reception. Of course, it would not be intentional, since the movement is beyond our control, and since we can't stop the planet, we could not remain in that "sweet spot." Nonetheless, one could imagine that this planet is one big T-Mobile subscriber desperately trying to find another bar. It just doesn't know it.


Radiatidon
Posted 30 November 2007 at 12:19 pm

Sett said: "Damn interesting, indeed. DI as they come ;p

just to be an a$$: but technically… there is only one solar system. And you're living it. there are billions of star systems in the galaxy but just one Sol, barring the freakish possibly coincidence of an alien civilization naming one of their stars Sol as well…."

Well , Sol is Latin for sun. Solar means things relating to the sun. Thus solar system pertains to sun system. Since sun is a generic term referring to a star or stars in a system of planets, then technically would it not be correct to call any star system a sun system or just solar system?


another viewpoint
Posted 30 November 2007 at 12:24 pm

tampagirl said: "I would like to paraphrase what has been stated above…even though we are young as a species perhaps we are the first to develop intelligence and that given enough time (pending our self destructive bent) we will be the ones to initiate first contact with newly evolving species out in the galaxy. Maybe it's my American "rather be a leader than a follower" complex…but thats the explanation I have always chosen to believe."

...as we continue to pollute the world (and outer space as well) and dream up even more ways to kill people...you call this intelligence??? :-o


Radiatidon
Posted 30 November 2007 at 12:43 pm

sid said: "I think what you mean is that we cannot control the movement of the planet/watery orb. Whether or not it is "as mobile" as are we is a matter of perception/opinion. Simply stating it is "not as mobile" is not really very accurate, in my opinion. The planet moves pretty far and pretty fast, especially when compared to our abilities to move as individuals. Thus, it could be argued it is not just "as mobile," but probably far more mobile.

Mobile - capable of changing quickly from one state or condition to another.

Think of it this way, a train can move in two directions only. It is upon a set track and can only go where that track goes. Should it deviate its course from that track, disaster.

That is not very mobile. If there is an obstruction in the way, or a bridge is out, the train stops (if able) or crashes. You on the other hand can avoid the obstruction and find an alternate path. This makes you more mobile.

Like the train the Earth follows a set track. Unlike the train, the Earth travels in only one direction upon its track and at a fixed speed, not able to speed up or slow down. That track is not a circle, but an oval. The planet also pitches within that oval upon its axis. These create the seasons. Should that change, even slightly, then so would the seasons.

Now the Earth could hit the sweet spot, but at its speed, it zips past the signal, allowing a very small window of opportunity with noway to back up and find it again. Not thats not really very mobile IMHO.


roc ingersol
Posted 30 November 2007 at 01:21 pm

"Intelligence" is just an evolutionary adaptation that a species of primates developed in Northeast Africa about 100,000 years ago.
That's why the Drake equation uses a variable to represent the percentage of life-bearing planets where intelligent life will eventually arise. Feel free to adjust it to suit your data and hypotheses.

As to your question of "what if we're first?":
Given the estimated age of the universe, suggesting that human life may be 'first' is to effectively claim the Rare Earth hypothesis. If it took this long for intelligent life to spawn, the odds of it happening at all must have been so low that the mediocrity principle is right out the window.

The true weakness of the Drake Equation is that it's aimed at determining total civilizations over time. The niggling detail is -when- those civilizations existed over, say, the ~13 billion years our galaxy has been kicking around. Once you separate possible civilizations over the life of their galaxies, it doesn't really matter if there's 5 or 10 or 50. We could easily all be further apart than humanity and separated by hundreds of millions of years.

Unless we assume intelligent civilizations are immune to catastrophic failure (unlikely) we'd need well into the -thousands- of intelligent civilizations to give us a decent shot of existing at the right time to encounter another civilization or their artifacts.

The reasonable response to Fermi's "Where is everyone?" is: "When?"


sid
Posted 30 November 2007 at 01:21 pm

Mobile: Capable of moving or of being moved readily from place to place.

That's the first definition in my dictionary, while yours is option 2a. The planet is certainly capable of moving from place to place, since it does so constantly. One might even argue it is capable of being moved readily from place to place. Just not by us. Again, you should have included (whether you realize it or not) reference to control, over which we have none when it comes to the planet.

Unlike your train example, which involves an object that travels on a track that is set, in relation to its universe, and, thus, covers the same ground over and over again, the planet travels within an ever-expanding universe, with slight variances in its orbit/rotation/axis orientation (again, unless someone can tell me there are no variances). Because of these variables, one could argue that the planet has never really been in the same place as it had been at any other time. Sounds considerably mobile to me, IMHO.

As for seasons changing, they do. The labels may not, but you can look at records, and I'm sure you are familiar with such dramatic changes as the various "Ice Ages." Dramatic, of course, when looked at with the right time perspective. One might argue that Summer is still Summer during an Ice Age, but the concept of Summer as the warmest time of the year loses a lot of meaning when a glacier has planted itself on your favorite fishing hole (if you feel like waiting, once it recedes you will probably have an even bigger fishing hole, if/once the fish return).

Zipping through the "sweet spot" is understood, as is the inability to do anything, on our part, to get back to it (unless, of course, we are lucky enough to notice and locate, in which case we can try to put a man-made satellite into the "sweet spot"). I believe I already conceded that. But that does not negate my "mobility" discussion. Just because we cannot control the movement does not make the moving object any less mobile. Or is human control the only thing that fits into your "mobility" discussion.


roc ingersol
Posted 30 November 2007 at 01:25 pm

We could easily all be further apart than humanity and separated by hundreds of millions of years.
Ugh. Read: "We could easily all be separated by hundreds of millions of years."

(I was toying around with phrasing the time delta as a comparison to the time elapsed between humanity and dinosaurs; ~65m years.)


tampagirl
Posted 30 November 2007 at 01:51 pm

Another thing these comments got me thinking of is that Mothman legend/movie. In the Richard Gere movie, it is suggested that the reason that mothman leaves riddles instead of straight information is that it's like a human and an insect. We are aware of the fly, we know it is approaching disaster (the bug zapper), but we lack the ability to communicate to the fly effective...and most of us don't care that the fly is about to self destruct. It's been years since I've seen it but the analogy is the same. Maybe there is intelligent life, they are aware of us, they are so beyond us that they can't work up the interest to find a way to communicate to us...even though where headed toward the giant bug zapper.


David Massat
Posted 30 November 2007 at 02:54 pm

I found this interesting, not saying it's true, just interesting...

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8524267568796529301


smokefoot
Posted 30 November 2007 at 04:37 pm

I read a Scientific American article which talked about how the orbit of the sun in the galaxy was such that we seldom have close encounters with other stars. Suns in other orbits will have far more dinosaur-killing asteroids and comets disturbed from distant orbits.

This is a variation of the "rare earth" theory which is both observable and doesn't require life to be very similar to humans - an extinction event every million years or so will put a crimp in the development of any genus.


knowsalot12
Posted 30 November 2007 at 05:33 pm

I think the point about detecting ET RF signals is a very good one.

Let me put it this way, Arecibo and many other radio observatories are built to observe celestial objects and events, IE detecting the EM radiation of a neutron star.

Now consider this, if we need a radio dish that big to observe the radio emission of something like a Neutron star, supernova, or gamma ray burst, what are the chances of us picking up some piddling weak intelligent transmission?

For example its a bad metaphor but if the universe is an ocean and we have tools to observe it, they are designed to detect things such as wave height, tsunami's etc. Big macro events. Do those same tools have much chance of picking up a boats wake or any other man made activity (barring perhaps a nuclear weapon being detonated?).


oldmancoyote
Posted 30 November 2007 at 07:23 pm

I tend to agree with adastra. Coherent light would be a much more effective way to communicate over extreme distances. While even a laser will spread out and lose its intensity , a truly advanced species/culture could have found a way to put a tight focus on the beam. Admittedly, this would require that in order for us to detect the signal it would have to be aimed at us.
Now, that would mean "they" know we are here, correct? It all boils down to whether you believe or not. I'm not so arrogant as to think that humans are the only intelligent species/lifeform in the universe.

We must also think about our definition of intelligent. Think your cat is dumb? You feed it. You change its litter box. You make sure it stays healthy.YOU go work your ass off 40 hours a week(usually more). Your cat comes and goes at it pleases. Sleeps when and where it wants. Pays you attention when it wants. And guess what! That darn cat doesn't have to go to work, pay taxes, or spend 2 hours a day commuting in gridlocked traffic. Sounds like a smart way to spend ones time to me.

Admittedly, that is a hard sell for "intelligence" but it falls back to defining what you are looking for.


rev.felix
Posted 30 November 2007 at 08:10 pm

The true measure of intelligence is how good of a pie you can make. And I bet you could make one hell of a pie using the Arecibo dish.


Helazoid
Posted 30 November 2007 at 10:42 pm

magkneetoe said: "I'm of the opinion that we are wasting billions upon billions of dollars looking for intellegent life in space. We have so many problems on earth that those resources could take care of.
The probabilites of life are very likely, almost shockingly, but that we will find each other is not. But if we do find something, I hope they are way ahead of us on the evolutionary ride, maybe they could teach us how to prioritize."

This reminds me of a joke where a man is drowning and each time a boat passes and offers to help, he replies "No thanks, God is going to save me". After he drowns and goes to heaven he asks God "Why didn't you save me?" God replies "I sent you three boats, you dumb !@#$. Why did you refuse my help?"

The reason I mention the joke is because I've heard many use religion to explain why God thinks we shouldn't spend money on things related to space exploration. Whether one is religious or not, how does one know space exploration, the discovery of ET, etc. isn't going to provide the solution to current problems or a possible rescue from a future cataclysmic event?

I'm not trying to turn this into a religious debate, but I do believe if there is a god, then God doesn't give you what you pray for, but instead provides a way to get what you want; however, it is up to you to recognize it when the opportunity comes and to seize it by the horns. Watch the movie Evan Almighty...Morgan Freeman plays God and explains my philosophy better than I could, hehe.


soulkitchen
Posted 01 December 2007 at 12:22 am

Nice article Alan! I for one hope that when the aliens receive our signals, it isn't daytime TV. A few episodes of :
-Maury
-Montel
-Springer
-WWE
-Judges - Judy, Alex, Joe Brown, People's Court, Divorce Court, or Judge Dredd

Would probably result in a decidedly "DeathStar-esque" scene.

-So long and thanks for all the Fish


Intellectual-Bonobo Hybrid.
Posted 01 December 2007 at 12:48 am

My thoughts on the evolution of intelligence as it applies here.
When a creature already evolved to a sufficent level of intelligence, reptiles and birds, for example -as opposed to worms, are faced with conditions changing too rapidly for instinctual behaviors to keep up, an environment where ability to change behavior "on the fly" would have an advantage over the time need to evolve new behaviors.. For example, humanoids during the ice ages. William H. Calvin wrote a damn interesting book on this possible explanation of human evolution call "The Ascent of Mind." This would also explain why dinosuars--although around far longer than us--didn't build campfires or internets. There climate was much more stable.

Given the likelyhood that changes always, entually change, it therefore seems very likely that intelligent life would spout accorss the Universe. But asking questions lie "are we alone," and asuming they want to communicate seems to be projecting alot of our social nature, perheaps our current social pathology (Eleanor Rigby and the lonley people) to alien species whose culture and prediliction is less likeky --in most cases--to resemble humans as are squids.


Anonymousx2
Posted 01 December 2007 at 05:31 am

And now for something completely different.

The opening of Mr. Bellows' article states that "...our planet is endlessly peppered by man-made low-frequency radiation."

To read one person's worries about this fact, read "The Zapping of America: Microwaves, Their Deadly Risk and Cover-Up" by Paul Brodeur. You will most likely have to ask either a public or a university library to find a copy for you.

Then, for a rebuttal of Brodeur's book, go to this site: http://www.commentary.net/view/atearchive/s76a4132.htm
Here's a bit of the site's introductory comments: "'THE ZAPPING OF AMERICA' is the title of a scaremongering book by Paul Brodeur, who hardly realizes how well he has chosen the title of his book; for America is indeed being zapped by a collection of Luddites, technophobes and reactionaries who are determined to kill technology so as to avenge their inability to understand it."

Having read both sides of the issue, I currently agree with the scientists and disagree with Brodeur. Also, I base my opinion on the fact that, despite a marked increase in microwaves in our country, I have not yet exploded like a kernel of popcorn.


Zaphod2016
Posted 01 December 2007 at 07:20 am

Pax Americana said: [...] 1) "Intelligence" is just an evolutionary adaptation that a species of primates developed in Northeast Africa about 100,000 years ago. Suggesting that intelligence is some inevitable destination for all life makes as much sense as saying that the universe has just GOT to be full of big gray animals with floppy ears and a trunk.

Not just intelligence, but the ability to COMMUNICATE intelligence. Perfect example: my dog wants to go for a walk. I'm still waking up. Every time I howl at her (playfully) she barks back at me. We are communicating, at some level, but I could not prove her grunts represent any meaningful message. I can INFER she is saying: "Finish your coffee and let's GO!!" but I could not prove that scientifically.

Let us assume that a) intelligence is inevitable and b) all intelligence is displayed through some form of verbal communication and c) we get lucky enough to find the "Howard Stern of Andromeda". We would STILL need an inter-stellar "Rosetta Stone" in order to make sense of it. Furthermore, who's to say that alien beings use vocal chords at all? They might communicate with some sort of clicking noise, like some insects do. In that instance, not only would we have the dilemma of translation, we would lack the ability to "talk back" without using some sort of "clicking" device.

Also, to suggest that 1-in-100 planets support intelligent life sounds a bit optimistic to me. Besides some fossilized bacteria on Mars, and the oceans of Europa, as far as I know, most known planets appear to be desolate rocks.

That said, if the physical laws of the universe hold constant throughout the universe, and evolution is a physical process, it is absolutely, 100% true that there is, has been, or will be some alien life, somewhere, at sometime. The far more improbable scenario is "making contact" with it. To paraphrase D. Adams: the universe is certainly not small.


HiEv
Posted 01 December 2007 at 08:02 am

Pax Americana said: "1) "Intelligence" is just an evolutionary adaptation that a species of primates developed in Northeast Africa about 100,000 years ago. Suggesting that intelligence is some inevitable destination for all life makes as much sense as saying that the universe has just GOT to be full of big gray animals with floppy ears and a trunk."

Not necessarily. We simply don't know how likely it is for intelligence to evolve, and unless we find a large number of other life-bearing planets/moons, we may never know. Just because it took so long on our world is no reason to assume that's how long it will take on every other world. On average it could be longer or it could be a lot shorter. We just don't know.

Pax Americana said: "The Rare Earth theory seems to be the only valid one, absent any other evidence."

Nonsense. The lack of evidence for other hypotheses does not constitute evidence for any other hypothesis. One could just as easily say, "The absence of evidence for the Rare Earth theory probably means that the Common Earth theory is the only valid one." I think you can see the fallacy there.

adastra said: "My theory is that we being too radiocentric here. What makes anyone think that civilizations advanced beyond our own (and we're very young) would be communicating with radio waves? Searching for coherent light makes more sense to me, but it could well be there is a much more efficient technology that we know nothing about."

Many people here have commented much the same question, "Why radio?" Well, no matter how different an alien species is, radio waves will probably still be the easiest method for most "short" range communication (i.e. on a planet/moon/ship). In other words, while the aliens may vary, physics will remain the same for all of them, and radio waves are cheap and work well. So, while they may use other forms of communication depending on the situation, they will most likely be using radio waves too.

Now, besides the signal strength, the other big problem, as I see it, is that most signal usage will likely change from analog to digital in a civilization at around our technological level, and in the process the signals will become indistinguishable from most background noise. So we may only have a brief (100-200 year) window to detect any analog signals from any particular radio wave-using civilization.

Locke said: "For instance, EVERY estimate puts the proportion of stars with planets at 50%. Based on what guesses and assumptions? Based on our observations, even 10% is overly generous."

No, not really. In fact, 10% is now a minimum estimate based on our observations. Keep in mind that "our observations" are pretty much limited to finding finding planets that are more massive than Jupiter around other suns, and that we are still quite early in the planet-finding game, with more extrasolar planets found in 2007 than any previous year. 50% seems like a reasonable estimate to me, and that may even be low if planets are a normal consequence of stellar formation.

Locke said: "In addition, the number of "life-compatible" planets that we've found so far is...ONE - and we're living on it. One is a very poor sampling for a statistical assessment, much less a real world estimate."

Actually, it's "life-compatible planets and moons." And it should be noted that the number of solar systems we've studied somewhat closely is one. On top of that, the number we've found here that could potentially support life may actually be three. Earth is the obvious one, and Mars may have some life hidden underground and/or around the poles, and we can't forget Jupiter's moon Europa, which may have a subsurface ocean with an environment similar to the deep oceans of Earth. And those are just "life-compatible" to life as we know it. There may be more exotic forms of life out there that would expand our definition of "life-compatible". That's three potential places in the only sample solar system we know a lot about, and while it's still an unusably small sample, I'd say it gives us reason for hope that other "Earths" are not too rare.

Radiatidon said: "Otherwise we would still believe the universe revolves around the Earth, …."

Yardvark said: "With all due respect, you can't prove that it doesn't. The universe has mass. That mass has a center of gravity, somewhere. Everything will rotate on that center of gravity. Do you know where that is? Can you prove that it's NOT Earth? I'm just sayin' ..."
Yardvark said: "But if you can PROVE it wrong, I will have the word "buffoon" tattooed upon my forehead and send you a picture."


Well, you'd better get out your tattoo gun and digital camera ready, because the proof is rather simple. The universe is the sum-total of everything that exists, and for it to "rotate" it would have to be rotating in respect to something else. Since there is nothing else besides the universe, it can't rotate. QED

Besides that, the Earth revolves about the sun, which revolves about the Milky Way galaxy. There's simply no way the Earth could influence the rest of the universe instantaneously to keep at its center of mass. It would violate physics. Unless you've set your standards for proof ridiculously high, either of those points should prove it to you.


Mememe
Posted 01 December 2007 at 09:13 am

I think the first mistake we're making is the assumption that conditions for life to evolve have to be like those on Earth. Who is to say that life couldn't (or even hasn't at one point in billions of years of history) evolve on Venus, Mars, Neptune let alone thousands of planets not yet discovered.

I don't why is there a general consensus that for any kind of life water would be needed. Who is to say that there isn't a life based on totally different chemical basis than ours somewhere?


Decimator
Posted 01 December 2007 at 10:19 am

There

Mememe said: "I think the first mistake we're making is the assumption that conditions for life to evolve have to be like those on Earth. Who is to say that life couldn't (or even hasn't at one point in billions of years of history) evolve on Venus, Mars, Neptune let alone thousands of planets not yet discovered.

I don't why is there a general consensus that for any kind of life water would be needed. Who is to say that there isn't a life based on totally different chemical basis than ours somewhere?"

There aren't many other compounds that share the various properties of water. It stands to reason that any life would need some sort of transport mechanism, and water provides that. Water is composed of two very common elements, which react readily to eachother. You could have hydrocarbons as a transport mechanism, but they are significantly more complex. And if we go even higher, let's say molten lead based life, you end with all sorts of problems.

So no, it's not impossible, just more improbable than water.


sd9sd
Posted 01 December 2007 at 11:03 am

HiEv said: "Many people here have commented much the same question, "Why radio?" Well, no matter how different an alien species is, radio waves will probably still be the easiest method for most "short" range communication (i.e. on a planet/moon/ship). In other words, while the aliens may vary, physics will remain the same for all of them, "

Immature thought. Fine. The physics will remain same. But the physics have to be DISCOVERED. Just because we've discovered radio waves, it doesn't mean that it's a simple means of communication. Once upon a time, sending radio signals was as impossible as teleporting a person from earth to the moon.
Get one thing clear. We see only what has been uncovered for us. It takes a genius mind to discover a new technology. Speculating alien technology and comparing it with our limited range of technology is bulls*%t.
It's like how man believed that God resided on the clouds. When man reached the clouds, man said that God lives outside the earth. And when the first man went to space, he said he looked in all 4 directions, but couldn't see God. LOL


Stead311
Posted 01 December 2007 at 12:48 pm

I read all the comments and the entire article.

This is one of those topics that both sides can argue about until they are blue in the face and be wrong without knowing it. As a philosopher, these happen to be my favorite topics. Everyone should listen to what other people have to say with open minds. I think we have fascinating view points on both sides of the equation here but we must first acknowledge that we have no answer to this proposed question of: "are we alone?", only speculation. Great article!!!


Stavrosnco
Posted 01 December 2007 at 03:35 pm

Damn Interesting indeed!

As far as possible life in the universe I find it interesting to consider exactly what are the requirements for life? I think this passage from The Cosmological Perspective puts it well:

"If we think about ourselves, the requirements for life seem fairly stringent: We need abundant oxygen in an atmosphere that is otherwise not poisonous, we need temperatures in a fairly narrow range of conditions, and we need abundant and varied food sources. However the discovery of life in 'extreme' environments... shows that many microbes can survive under a wide range of conditions.

The organisms living in the scalding hot water near black smokers and hot springs prove that at least some microbes can survive in much higher temperatures than we would've guessed. Other organisms live in other extremes. In the freezing cold but very dry valleys of Antarctica, the surface appears barren but microbes have been found living INSIDE rocks, surviving on tiny droplets of liquid water and energy from sunlight. Other microscopic organisms have been found living up to several kilometers underground in water that fills pores within the subterranean rock. We have found life thriving in environments so acidic, alkaline, or salty, that we humans would be poisoned and die almost instantly. We have even found microbes that live inside the cores of nuclear reactors, surviving direct exposure to 'lethal' levels of radiation and making it possible for them to live many years in the radiation-filled environment of space.

Therefore life on Earth as a whole has only three basic requirements
1.) A source of nutrients (elements and molecules) from which to build living cells.
2.) Energy to fuel the activities of life, either from sunlight, chemical reactions, or the heat of the planet/moon/body itself.
3.) Liquid Water."

Three broad solutions to the Fermi Paradox:

"1. We are alone: There is no galactic civilization because civilizations are extremely rare-so rare that we are the first to have arisen on the galactic scene, perhaps even the first in the universe. If this is true, then our civilization is a remarkable achievement. It implies that through all of cosmic evolution, among countless star systems, we are the first piece of our galaxy or the universe to ever know that the rest of the universe exists. Through us, the universe has attained self awareness. Some philosophers and many religions argue that the ultimate purpose of life is to become truly self aware. If so and we are alone, then the destruction of our civilization and the loss of our scientific knowledge would represent an inglorious end to something that took the universe some 14 billion years to achieve. From this point of view humanity becomes all the more precious, and the collapse of our civilization would be all the more tragic.
2. Civilizations are common, but no one has colonized the galaxy. There are at least three possible reasons why this might be the case. Perhaps interstellar travel is much harder or vastly more expensive (in terms of resources) than we have guessed and civilizations are unable to venture far from their home worlds. Perhaps the desire to explore is unusual and other societies either never leave their home systems or stop exploring before they've colonized much of the galaxy. Most ominously, perhaps many civilizations have arisen, but they have all destroyed themselves before achieving the ability to colonize the stars. This has much more terrifying implications. If thousands of civilizations before us have all failed to achieve interstellar travel on a large scale, what hope do we have? Unless we somehow think differently than ALL other civilizations, this solution says that we will never go far in space. Because we have always explored when the opportunity arose, this solution almost inevitably leads to the conclusion that failure will come about because we destroy ourselves. We can only hope that his answer is wrong
3. There IS a galactic civilization, but it has not yet revealed its existence to us. This solution is perhaps the most intriguing. It says that we are newcomers on the scene of a galactic civilization that has existed for millions or billions of years before us. Perhaps this civilization is deliberately leaving us alone for the time being and will someday decide the time is right to invite us to join it.

No matter what the answer turns out to be, learning it is sure to mark a turning point in the brief history of our species. Moreover, this turning point is likely to be reached within the next few decades or centuries. We already have the ability to destroy our civilization. If we do so, then our fate is sealed. But if we survive long enough to develop technology that can take us to the stars, the possibilities seem almost limitless."

Being a huge sci-fi fan I of course pull for the third solution. Many of the items of technology we have now would have been difficult, if not impossible to conceive of a few hundred years ago. I have to believe that so long as our rate of progress continues, we will see many wondrous and incredible things that will spark the imagination of still greater accomplishments.


Phil Jones
Posted 01 December 2007 at 10:08 pm

Very interesting discussion.

I'd like to put forward another possibility as to why we're not picking up any 'chatter'

Perhaps the length of time a civilisation uses radio as a major means of communication is typically very short. Perhaps shortly after the discovery of radio (150-200 years?), a civilisation typically starts to use quantum effects to communicate information, which our radio disks can't pick up. So not only are we trying to sort through a very large and naturally noisy universe we're also looking for a radio signal from a very small time 'window'.

It may be our radio dishes are the subject of many a joke on the galactic quantum internet ('LOL look at what the humans are doing!'), but we wouldn't know anything about it - indeed the skies could be filled with chatter but we're still looking for 'pigeon mail', which just makes the joke even funnier.


elifint
Posted 01 December 2007 at 11:06 pm


Actually, it's "life-compatible planets and moons." And it should be noted that the number of solar systems we've studied somewhat closely is one. On top of that, the number we've found here that could potentially support life may actually be three. Earth is the obvious one, and Mars may have some life hidden underground and/or around the poles, and we can't forget Jupiter's moon Europa, which may have a subsurface ocean with an environment similar to the deep oceans of Earth. And those are just "life-compatible" to life as we know it. There may be more exotic forms of life out there that would expand our definition of "life-compatible". That's three potential places in the only sample solar system we know a lot about, and while it's still an unusably small sample, I'd say it gives us reason for hope that other "Earths" are not too rare.

Well, you'd better get out your tattoo gun and digital camera ready, because the proof is rather simple. The universe is the sum-total of everything that exists, and for it to "rotate" it would have to be rotating in respect to something else. Since there is nothing else besides the universe, it can't rotate. QED

Besides that, the Earth revolves about the sun, which revolves about the Milky Way galaxy. There's simply no way the Earth could influence the rest of the universe instantaneously to keep at its center of mass. It would violate physics. Unless you've set your standards for proof ridiculously high, either of those points should prove it to you."

A couple of things:
It may be even more than 3. The number should be the number of planets or moons that could potentially support life at some time during the history of the system. There are plenty of people who think that Venus may also be added to the list. Recent work suggests that Venus may have been much more earth-like in the past, but lost all its water. Planetary climates can change dramatically over billions of years!

Another thing:
An even more basic problem with Yardvark's statement is this: Why assume that the universe has a center of mass? I don't know of any current cosmological model where it does have a center of mass. The idea that the universe consists of some spherical ball of stuff that came out of the big bang, a well-defined point at its center, and is expanding into empty space is one of the most common, and fundamental, misunderstandings of the big bang theory.

What the theory really says is that the space itself was created at the big bang, and that the space itself is growing. All of space is more or less uniformly filled with stuff, and the universe doesn't have a center of mass. Its large-scale geometry is a little weirder than that. Exactly what the large-scale geometry is, though, is apparently still being debated.

For a flawed analogy, consider the question: Where on the surface of the earth is the center of mass of the surface of the earth? Nowhere, of course. But the analogy is flawed, because the earth's surface is a curved two-dimensional object embedded in a three-dimensional space. So it still has a center of mass, but you have to travel in the third dimension to reach it. The universe itself is a very large curved object that isn't necessarily embedded in a higher-dimensional space.


Mystagogue
Posted 01 December 2007 at 11:19 pm

I've been enjoying DI at least a couple years now, but this is my first post.
Pondering the earth's place in the cosmos often causes me to think about "God." Sometimes I believe, sometimes I don't. But I can't help but "sense" that the nature of our inability to achieve conclusive evidence about our cosmic neighbors is similar to Ridley Scott's "replicant's" inability to alter their mortality (see "Blade Runner"). In other words, the limitations we are discussing feel like they are designed, and designed to be innocuous at that. Indeed, the replicant's very appearance was also designed to be innocuous...

Anyway, in sum, sometimes I feel the earth (or our solar system) is just a veiled terrarium for people.


Helazoid
Posted 02 December 2007 at 12:52 am

Stavrosnco said: "3. There IS a galactic civilization, but it has not yet revealed its existence to us. This solution is perhaps the most intriguing. It says that we are newcomers on the scene of a galactic civilization that has existed for millions or billions of years before us. Perhaps this civilization is deliberately leaving us alone for the time being and will someday decide the time is right to invite us to join it."

I'd say option 3 is also the most terrifying. Imagine a galactic civilization that is to us as we are to spiders. Now imagine the universe as their EARTH, and budding civilizations as spiders in their back yard. We like to study spiders, ignore them, make movies about them, but what do we do to spiders that make a home in our house? Most of us kill them, and only a few of us will put them back outside. I think the main reason we kill spiders is because if you leave them alone, they'll overrun your home, and eventually you'll get bit.

Once we send a man out of our solar system, we'll find out fast whose house we are in....the 99% that kill spiders, or the 1% that put them back outside. Does that mean we should stop dreaming of putting a man on Mars and beyond? Heck no!!!!!!!!!!! After all, even though 1% of us would not kill a spider in our house, even less would attempt to save a spider from death by a hawk. Its just not worth our time.


rev.felix
Posted 02 December 2007 at 01:42 am

Zaphod2016 said: "Howard Stern of Andromeda."

Well, that's it. The universe is doomed.

Locke said: "the number of "life-compatible" planets that we've found so far is...ONE - and we're living on it."

As to the number of intelligence bearing planets, that number is still, sadly, zero.

"HiEv said: "there is nothing else besides the universe"

Oh yeah? Prove it.

sd9sd said: "And when the first man went to space, he said he looked in all 4 directions, but couldn't see God. LOL"

I agree with your comment as a whole, however I don't think it's really worthy of a lol. Also, there's 6 directions (that we perceive) , not 4.

Welcome to the club, Mystagogue. Have some pie, and put on a fire-retardent suit. Because at some point in the future, you will get flamed.


solarwind
Posted 02 December 2007 at 05:39 am

wow, DI!!!
Loved the elegant simplicity of the article and the interactive drake equation thingy.
Is it just me or is everybody sort of reminded of Carl Sagan?
Hmmm...


adastra
Posted 02 December 2007 at 09:59 am

Matt Castle said: ""Sometimes I think we're alone in the universe, and sometimes I think we're not. In either case the idea is quite staggering." Arthur C. Clarke"

It's fun to quibble about this and that, but that quote is the heart of the matter. That is why the subject so damn interesting.


orc_jr
Posted 02 December 2007 at 10:05 am

HiEv said: "there is nothing else besides the universe"

rev.felix said: "Oh yeah? Prove it."

To be technical, the Universe is defined as all matter and energy that exists, and all space and time in which they exist. That applies to the past and future as well. Admittedly, some folk like the idea of a Multiverse in which our Universe is only one of an infinite set, but that rather dilutes the power of the term, don't you think?


sd9sd
Posted 02 December 2007 at 10:07 am

rev.felix said: "I agree with your comment as a whole, however I don't think it's really worthy of a lol."

Damn! Ain't anyone allowed to laugh in peace here?! ;)
The looking in four directions, is what the first man who went into space said. I'll pass on the message to him ;)
Dude! Really appreciate your time and effort, but we'd love it if you could be a little milder in your comment reviews :)
Sure am glad I found this site. Great article as always Allan! Waiting for the next one...


HiEv
Posted 02 December 2007 at 11:30 am

sd9sd said: "Immature thought. Fine. The physics will remain same. But the physics have to be DISCOVERED. Just because we've discovered radio waves, it doesn't mean that it's a simple means of communication. Once upon a time, sending radio signals was as impossible as teleporting a person from earth to the moon."

I think you misunderstood my point. It is simple from a technological standpoint to produce and detect radio waves. If you've got a 9 volt battery and a coin you can produce radio waves (try doing it right next to an AM radio tuned to static some time.) Any time you produce a spark you produce some radio waves. For a reciever you just need lots of wire, a diode, a crystal, and another small thin wire. In other words, it only takes a few simple and inexpensive components to make a transmitter and a reciever for a radio. (For more, see "How Radio Works.)

Suggesting that they might find other more advanced communication techniques before radio is like suggesting that they'd invent rockets before boats or cars.

sd9sd said: "Get one thing clear. We see only what has been uncovered for us."

"Uncovered for us"? I'd rather say "uncovered by us." The "for" version makes disovery seem like divine revelation.

sd9sd said: "It takes a genius mind to discover a new technology. Speculating alien technology and comparing it with our limited range of technology is bulls*%t."

No, it's not. Radio waves are such a fundamental and integral part of electronics that any advanced civilization could not possibly overlook their existence or value. Furthermore, it does not take a "genius mind" to discover a new technology, many discoveries were discovered by accident! See here for a few examples, or here for many more.

Phil Jones said: "Perhaps the length of time a civilisation uses radio as a major means of communication is typically very short. Perhaps shortly after the discovery of radio (150-200 years?), a civilisation typically starts to use quantum effects to communicate information, which our radio disks can't pick up. So not only are we trying to sort through a very large and naturally noisy universe we're also looking for a radio signal from a very small time 'window'.

It may be our radio dishes are the subject of many a joke on the galactic quantum internet ('LOL look at what the humans are doing!'), but we wouldn't know anything about it - indeed the skies could be filled with chatter but we're still looking for 'pigeon mail', which just makes the joke even funnier."


First of all, quantum entanglement does not allow the transmission of information faster than the speed of light. Transmitting any information with it requires that you use some other means to pass the entangled state (usually fiber optic lines, where communication is at about 70% of the speed of light.) It's way more difficult than radio, and therefore much more expensive. It might be useful for secret communications, but there is no good reason to use it on a normal basis. If you had some other "quantum effect" in mind, please name it, but currently there do not appear to be any possible methods of superluminal communication. Also, radio waves in a vacuum already travel at the speed of light, so I wouldn't compare them to "pigeon mail".

Obviously I'm basing this on known science, which will change to some degree as we learn more, but once you go off into sci-fi physics you're more likely to end up with fiction instead of science.

(begin rant)
I find that usually when non-physicists start waving around the word "quantum" in an attempt to explain things that they not only get the physics wrong, but they don't really explain anything either, they just throw out some misunderstood jargon. Quantum physics may be weird, but it's not magic, it still has limits on what it allows.
(end rant)

HiEv said: "there is nothing else besides the universe"

rev.felix said: "Oh yeah? Prove it."


Simple, the word is usually (though admittedly not always) defined that way in this context. See dictionary definition #1 here or most of the definitions in the Wikipedia article on Universe. If the universe is defined as everything that exists, then there can't be anything else. It's true by definition.


Bewildered
Posted 02 December 2007 at 03:40 pm

Maybe we should be looking for intelligent life here on our own planet before we start looking abroad... We can't even communicate effectively with other species on this planet, much less hold an "intelligent" converation with a species that hasn't been found to exist yet... So i suggest we start looking for the babel fish immediately and ask our planets occupants (flora/fauna) is they've seen anything. With the size of the probabilities involved in finding extraterrestrial life, it's just as likely that trees have been communicating with trees on other planets for years...


rev.felix
Posted 02 December 2007 at 03:50 pm

orc_jr said: "Admittedly, some folk like the idea of a Multiverse in which our Universe is only one of an infinite set, but that rather dilutes the power of the term, don't you think?"

Well, a bit. But science isn't about the power of words (that would be literature), it's about knowledge. And until someone can definitively show me the nonexistence of the multiverse or metaverse or whatever you wish to call it, I will hold on to my wacky theories.

On another note, sorry if my comments are a bit rough, sd9sd. Usually I just carry on floj's legacy and talk about pie, so I may not be the best at serious conversation. But really, who goes into space and thinks there are only four directions?


Bewildered
Posted 02 December 2007 at 04:04 pm

rev: (x, y, z, t)


Si
Posted 02 December 2007 at 07:37 pm

I like Douglas Adams' original wording better, "mind buggeringly big. Much more to the point.

Chances are, within a couple of decades we'll have all but abandoned high-powered broadcasts in favour of downloaded TV and radio, leaving the airwaves to directed satellite beams and small broadcasters like mobile phones. Any civilisation out there probably either already did the same thing, or haven't invented radio.

Though there was that episode of Futurama, where the inhabitants of Omicron Persei watch thousand year old Earth broadcasts of Ally McBeal as their light entertainment ...

And my last point is that we just don't have enough data to make any informed estimate of the number of intelligent species in the universe. We depend on a single observation, humanity. As a graph that would be a dot, meaningless.


ChrisW75
Posted 02 December 2007 at 07:57 pm

Alistair Reynolds has the answer to the Fermi Paradox. They were wiped out by a race of aliens called The Inhibitors who were trying to keep advanced civilisations from progressing too far in order to avoid a far distant cataclysm that they had predicted.
Sorry if you haven't read the books, I just ruined 3 books worth of plot... :-)
Still worth reading though.


Helazoid
Posted 02 December 2007 at 08:51 pm

Thanks for the DI article Alan:)

Can anyone provide an explanation why SETI still analyzes radio waves from the sky when the math in this article easily points out why it is futile? Is it really a big conspiracy secretly funded by "the man" to make others think someone is looking for ET when "the man" has already found the answer? Or could it be that some scientists disagree about the amount of signal loss that happens over X distance in space?


supercalafragalistic
Posted 02 December 2007 at 09:12 pm

To Quote Allan-
"sextillion (7 x 1022), an incomprehensible value which is seldom welcome in polite company."
This sentence made me giggle, and I appreciated the article very much. The writing style Allan incorporates is something I appreciate because of its nuances and layers. It gives the intellectual something to chew on. Many thanks!

Communicating with lights instead of sounds is a good thought, why limit to radio waves is another good question. A question I have is are we assuming that aliens would first look to humans and not the giant squid, whales, dolphins, rainforests, or even coral reefs, televisions, perhaps even machines themselves? How do we know that aliens have not already contacted killer whales and the like? Aliens may just see humans as these annoying locust like creatures with no value whatsoever, and have something more meaningful in common with a mitochondria or a volcano? What about the strange activities taking place in the Dragon's Triangle and the Bermuda Triangle? Would those locations attract aliens?

What I love in this discussion is the ability humans have to look outside of themselves and to look outside of our "bluish pearl" as someone stated above. (I loved that description!)

A couple of movies come to mind: Contact, and The Star Trek Movie where aliens are trying to communicate with humpback whales. (Forgot what it's called.)

More and more, I think it's great to be interested in other planets and moving to another galaxy, but so much of our ocean remains unexplored I think ocean exploration is sometimes undervalued in its importance. Global warming threatens to make sea levels rise, so we may be forced to pay more attention to underwater life. Anyone for renting a U-Haul to move to the ocean floor? If global warning goes all the way someone living in a FEMA trailer right now in New Orleans may just have to stay put and wait a few years to be living on the ocean floor. Now that will be adapting to an alien terrain! Yikes!!!


sd9sd
Posted 02 December 2007 at 09:48 pm

rev.felix said: "But really, who goes into space and thinks there are only four directions?"

Hey, I looked it up in Wikipedia and apparently, there's no official records of any such statement of Yuri during his time in space. He must've told it to his folks at home after he returned....and the message would've got modified while it was passed on from person to person.
To keep it simple, let's just say: Yuri said - "I looked in all directions but I didn't see God" :)


dtaylor
Posted 03 December 2007 at 01:39 am

Scientist Marcel E. Golay computed the odds of self replicating biological life forming randomly at 1 x 10^450.

I don't know where the astronomical community gets its numbers, but we quite frankly shouldn't be expecting anyone else.


sd9sd
Posted 03 December 2007 at 03:20 am

HiEv said: ""Uncovered for us"? I'd rather say "uncovered by us." The "for" version makes disovery seem like divine revelation. Furthermore, it does not take a "genius mind" to discover a new technology, many discoveries were discovered by accident! See here for a few examples, or here for many more."

My dear dear HiEv, when something marvellous happens, you can either behave like a superstitious native and say that the marvellous happening is the wrath of God, or you could investigate that marvellous happening and find out potential uses for it. That would be a discovery and an invention. That's the quality that a genius mind possesses. You probably wouldn't have discovered gravity if an apple fell on your head (you might have...who knows :) You may be a genius too).
You talk about radio waves like as though its something very obvious. Well, we've had paper for so many years, we've had light for so many years, we've had glass and plastic for so many years. But it's only in 1995 that the OHP was invented using all these materials.
It's not easy to discover something. You have to notice it. Have you noticed how many steps you climb when you go to office everyday?
When someone discovers something, he/she has discovered it "for" us. That's why we're so grateful to Einstein, Newton, Tesla and all those other geniuses.
Would really love it if you begin to appreciate the amazing complexity of everything that you see around you.


Skydive
Posted 03 December 2007 at 04:17 am

One thought that always gets me wondering that I haven't seen raised much before is the question around time perception. People often discuss the limits of our senses and give examples of animals on Earth having better hearing and vision than us humans. However how about the way we perceive and experience time. Please excuse my lack of formal scientific education while I attempt to explain.

We humans experience time passing at a certain rate. Now while I agree this is essentially a universal constant, our perception isn't. We have all seen insects and other creatures like small birds performing activities and flying at rates no human could match. The amount of information they process and decisions made in short amounts of time exceeds our abilities. Couldn't it be argued then that assuming there are other life forms out there, their perception of time passing could be massively different to ours, and as a result any attempts to communicate be virtually impossible do to massive mis-matches in each others perceptions.

Bad example time (merely to illustrate my point):
1) The last 20,000 odd years of humans existence may have only been the time they took to wake up and have their early morning scratch.
2) Would we really notice a message being sent across the galaxy that took 5 years from the moment the first part was received to the last part being captured?

Furthermore (and more bad science coming up!) if that was the case then for other civilisations faster than light travel might not be an issue, as travelling at a fraction of that speed would be just as good if you were long-lived.

Then there is the possibility we are the slow ones …!


sd9sd
Posted 03 December 2007 at 04:35 am

Skydive said: "We humans experience time passing at a certain rate. Now while I agree this is essentially a universal constant, our perception isn't. We have all seen insects and other creatures like small birds performing activities and flying at rates no human could match. "

That's a lovely example. And very true too. The senses and perception of different creatures vary so much from ours, that they live in a totally different world from us. We rarely seem to notice that :)
Regarding time, I believe that if humans lived longer (and were able to control population better) then we'd be able to make better progress coz every generation of ours, is having to learn and re-learn from books. Instead if we could've lived for 1000 years, we could have gained enough knowledge, experience and wealth to divert our attention to more meaningful and developmental persuits instead of spending all our time cramped up in an office earning money to fill our stomachs. Of course this is mere speculation. Anyone would be able to poke holes in this argument and I wouldn't be there to defend it, coz there's nothing that I intend to defend.


shanachie
Posted 03 December 2007 at 09:15 am

The Universe! It's the only place to be!


shanachie
Posted 03 December 2007 at 09:24 am

Oh, and the REALLY big RF sources on our planet are the radar systems of the various defense departments, much stronger than any radio or TV station. They are continuously emitting highly focused, high power radio beams aimed above the horizon, conincidentally into space. I read once, I don't remember where, that we could detect those signals at a distance of 100,000 light years. Maybe, maybe not but since the first big system (the DEW line, I think) went live in 1948, only the first 59 years' worth of space has been penetrated.

I suspect that any civilization that evolves to the level of radio and lasts another 1,000 years is doing exceptionally well. JMHO.


shanachie
Posted 03 December 2007 at 09:31 am

Oops, not the DEW line, it was the Pinetree Line and construction began about 1950. Same points apply.


etonalife
Posted 03 December 2007 at 09:55 am

Interestingly enough, the comments have remained on topic! Congrats!! Also, since this has also become a discussion on what is intelligent, I cannot but help thinking about this quote by Bill Watterson (Calvin & Hobbes author) -

"Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us."


sid
Posted 03 December 2007 at 10:14 am

sd9sd said: "Hey, I looked it up in Wikipedia and apparently, there's no official records of any such statement of Yuri during his time in space. He must've told it to his folks at home after he returned….and the message would've got modified while it was passed on from person to person.
To keep it simple, let's just say: Yuri said - "I looked in all directions but I didn't see God" :)"

Actually, Wikipedia attributes the "quote" to Khrushchev, who seems to have made it up to promote his anti-religion views. The piece states a close friend of Gagarin claimed Yuri never made such a comment. As happens so often, unfortunately, nobody bothered to check, and just accepted it as so.


benmajor
Posted 03 December 2007 at 11:07 am

We often don't even bother talking to our own neighbors at home. Why do we think any intelligent civilization would bother reaching out to such a dysfunctional, and, in many ways, still such a primitive planet such as our? The Drake Equation leaves our probably "motivation" for bothering to communicate, as well as the probability they even bother with the electromagnetic spectrum to communicate. What is the probability an "alien" civilization would communicate out of "loneliness", "altruism", "science" or a need for a "smarter" race to help solve their own problems? Frankly, I would welcome communicating with this planet as much as I would welcome a neurotic creepy relative to my house for Thanksgiving.


frenchsnake
Posted 03 December 2007 at 12:30 pm

While the human species does have much to be ashamed of, and it could be frankly embarrassing to meet species from another world that might have no such problems, I do hope that we will come into contact with aliens someday. It's just too sad to think that we're alone in the universe. If some catastrophe were to happen to our planet -- whether man-made or a force of nature -- it's thoroughly depressing to think that everything mankind has ever done would be gone without a trace.

As for being the "leaders" or "followers" in the effort to communicate with other planets, I would be perfectly happy if there were aliens already nearby and observing us right now without making contact, like in Star Trek. It would mean that something of us would survive. Seven of Nine commented that it's easier to face your own mortality when you know that a part of you will continue somehow, such as in the Collective; those are my feelings exactly.


Locke
Posted 03 December 2007 at 12:38 pm

HiEv said: "In fact, 10% is now a minimum estimate based on our observations. Keep in mind that "our observations" are pretty much limited to finding finding planets that are more massive than Jupiter around other suns, and that we are still quite early in the planet-finding game, with more extrasolar planets found in 2007 than any previous year. 50% seems like a reasonable estimate to me, and that may even be low if planets are a normal consequence of stellar formation."

Actually, that was exactly my argument. We are very limited in our "planet-detection" technology. Of the billions of billions of stars out there, we have found, relatively speaking, almost none with planets orbiting them, only a couple hundred so far. If we VASTLY underestimate there are 1 billion stars in the universe and overcount the number of planets we've found at 500, the percentage is a mere .00005%. Add to that the fact that the detection requirements for our current technology precludes us from taking a random sampling and the end result is that it just isn't possible to justify such a grossly over-reaching estimate as 10%, much less 50%.

That is not to say that will not change. Indeed, I expect that we will discover a lot more such cosmic debris out there (possibly enough to even lay to rest the need for dark matter?). However, my point is that we have no evidence, to date, to support these "estimates".

HiEv said: "Actually, it's "life-compatible planets and moons." And it should be noted that the number of solar systems we've studied somewhat closely is one. On top of that, the number we've found here that could potentially support life may actually be three. Earth is the obvious one, and Mars may have some life hidden underground and/or around the poles, and we can't forget Jupiter's moon Europa, which may have a subsurface ocean with an environment similar to the deep oceans of Earth. And those are just "life-compatible" to life as we know it. There may be more exotic forms of life out there that would expand our definition of "life-compatible". That's three potential places in the only sample solar system we know a lot about, and while it's still an unusably small sample, I'd say it gives us reason for hope that other "Earths" are not too rare."

I agree that there is reason to hope, and I do. However, you argue my point exactly by your liberal use of the word "may". Though we are trying to find out, we don't know whether Mars or Europa could or did harbor life.

We know of only carbon-based life. When someone discovers silcon based life, we can say we know of two types. We know of only one planet can has the potential to allow the development of life. When someone discovers a planetary environment that has demonstrated its ability to support life (which, by the way, includes fossils, environment, etc.) then we can say we've found two. However, to date we have found no evidence whatsoever that life is even possible on any other planet besides Earth. Possibilities, yes, but evidence and facts - no.

In order to conduct serious scientific inquiry, one must base conclusions and theory on established knowledge. Some astronomers are jumping to conclusions about the possibility of life out there based on their own desires, not based on objective facts. What if we redirected the SETI money to identifying planets? Is it possible that we might develop better technologies at a faster rate? Is it possible that we might identify habitable planets that could be colonized or used as a resource or to further our understanding of how planets work so we don't mess up our own? Wouldn't all of that still further, although in smaller, incremental steps, the goals of identifying other civilizations?

Is it better to spend our resources on a plan that will yield incremental, proven and useful results or all-or-nothing plans based on little more than wishful thinking?


orc_jr
Posted 03 December 2007 at 01:01 pm

rev.felix said: "Well, a bit. But science isn't about the power of words (that would be literature), it's about knowledge. And until someone can definitively show me the nonexistence of the multiverse or metaverse or whatever you wish to call it, I will hold on to my wacky theories."

Of course you are correct that preference for any given outcome does not change the truth. I think a better way to communicate my point is to ask you to consider what you think the word Universe means. To me the Universe is everything that is, has been, or will be. By that definition there can be nothing else. If you believe that there are infinite Universes which form a Multiverse, then we're still really talking about the same thing, just by a different name.


Halfnut
Posted 03 December 2007 at 01:24 pm

Massive radio telescopes have scoured the sky for such alien signals, including efforts by the Big Ear Observatory in Ohio; the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico; - edited for brevity.

The VLA is used in the study of astonomy and as far as I know has never been used with SETI or any other effort that might look for intelligence from space.

DJ Beard
National Radio Astronomy Observatory
Very Long Baseline Array
North Liberty, Iowa


VidLord.com
Posted 03 December 2007 at 01:31 pm

couple of my favorite links on this topic. The following regarding the possibility a race developed self-aware, self replicating machines before going out of existence:
http://www.terrybisson.com/meat.html

and this one regarding how the future of the human race could pan out after all the stars eventually burn out.

http://www.multivax.com/last_question.html


st33med
Posted 03 December 2007 at 03:41 pm

I have alway wondered the probability of contacting a planetary body like ours and discovering that it has a civilization of alien life. Now, that would be weird, since the aliens most would consider would breath, eat, and reproduce in a different way in a different environment. But, it could happen.

And, was is the definition of 'Habitual planet' in the Drake Equation?


Yardvark
Posted 03 December 2007 at 04:05 pm

HiEv said:

Radiatidon said: "Otherwise we would still believe the universe revolves around the Earth, …."

Yardvark said: "With all due respect, you can't prove that it doesn't. The universe has mass. That mass has a center of gravity, somewhere. Everything will rotate on that center of gravity. Do you know where that is? Can you prove that it's NOT Earth? I'm just sayin' …"
Yardvark said: "But if you can PROVE it wrong, I will have the word "buffoon" tattooed upon my forehead and send you a picture."

"Well, you'd better get out your tattoo gun and digital camera ready, because the proof is rather simple. The universe is the sum-total of everything that exists, and for it to "rotate" it would have to be rotating in respect to something else. Since there is nothing else besides the universe, it can't rotate. QED"

I never said that the universe actually rotates. But IF it does, it will rotate on its center of gravity. Has to.

"Besides that, the Earth revolves about the sun, which revolves about the Milky Way galaxy. There's simply no way the Earth could influence the rest of the universe instantaneously to keep at its center of mass. It would violate physics. Unless you've set your standards for proof ridiculously high, either of those points should prove it to you. "

Now we are speaking of relativity. IF the Earth is stationary, and all else revolves about it, you are incorrect. If I sit on a moving merry-go-round, it will seem as though the Earth is revolving around me. You cannot prove that Earth is NOT stationary, and that the universe does not rotate upon it, that's all I'm saying. Therefore, I will never need a tattoo gun, although one of those labelmakers would be handy.


Falco Peregrinus
Posted 03 December 2007 at 04:20 pm

Based on my knowledge of the subject and my own inferences, couldn't the development of intelligent life be hindered by the chemical limitations of that life's origins? For example, feel free to correct me on this, either as proposed by scientists or discovered near those "black smokers" as mentioned above or other hydrothermal vents, silicon based, as opposed to carbon based, life could/did form. Perhaps, and this is pure speculation, the orders of complexity needed for intelligent life to form are so difficult or improbable in silicon and other non-carbon based life that after its genesis that branch of life stagnates at an evolutionary plateau.

A second point I would like to make, using the evolution of ourselves as an example, is that when we, a relatively physically ungifted species, where forced due to climatic and environmental changes to adapt and leave our arboreal lifestyles the rate of those environmental changes was slow enough for us to survive but fast enough to require radical change. My belief is that while our ancestors did have a cognitive predilection it seems that up until that point most adaptations to survive where generally physical in most life and that given the relatively fast nature of the change from jungle forests to open savannas we while also changing significantly physically were also required to change intellectually as well. Meaning that the conditions required to produce intelligent life need to stress that species after it arises to a very high degree, even to the point of surpasses the rate of physical change, but still within the range of them surviving. We, for instance, supposedly were whittled down to near extinction to only a population of only 4000 or so, some scientists say.

Assuming that anything I've said is coherent at all, I would conclude that while we can grasp many of the factors involved that spawn intelligent life, the unknown factors can outstrip all the conjecture we can muster at present to even begin to accurately guess the numbers.


BobTheMad
Posted 03 December 2007 at 05:43 pm

If anyone is interested in assisting in the search for extra-terrestrial life, you can join the "SETI@home" project. It utilizes your computer's unused CPU cycles to process incoming radio signals, looking for 'intelligent' patterns.

Website:
http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/

More information:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seti%40home


kiwi_guy
Posted 03 December 2007 at 05:46 pm

dtaylor said: "Scientist Marcel E. Golay computed the odds of self replicating biological life forming randomly at 1 x 10^450.

I don't know where the astronomical community gets its numbers, but we quite frankly shouldn't be expecting anyone else."

Why not? It's already happened at least once.

(BTW, first post to DI after many articles read :)


wclark
Posted 03 December 2007 at 06:54 pm

HiEv said: "So, while they may use other forms of communication depending on the situation, they will most likely be using radio waves too."

Not necessarily. What's "simple" or "obvious" is in the eye (or mind) of the beholder. Aliens that developed in a radically different environment (maybe they evolved underground and the surface of their planet is metallic and acts as a huge Faraday cage) may have difficulty even conceiving of things such as radio waves. Humans don't even have a good theory of how smell or taste really work, as compared to sight or hearing -- but I bet if dogs had been dominant, the reverse would be the case.

HiEv said: "The universe is the sum-total of everything that exists, and for it to "rotate" it would have to be rotating in respect to something else. Since there is nothing else besides the universe, it can't rotate. QED"

It's entirely possible for the universe as a whole to rotate -- in fact, Kurt Goedel (sorry, don't know how to type umlauts) published some work in that area. In a rotating universe, it's possible to move in a closed loop at sub-light speeds and return to your starting point earlier than you left. He was trying to prove that the "flow" of time was an illusion, or at least that it was incompatible with General Relativity, and he found a valid solution to the GR equations that implied a rotating universe. The rest of his argument was a bit questionable (involving some generalization principles from one possible solution to ANY possible solution) but the mathematics of the rotating universe were sound, and I believe some more recent work has actually revived some of his ideas because it appears that the universe as a whole may in fact be rotating (though not enough for the cool closed time-like curves to work out.)

HiEv said: "Besides that, the Earth revolves about the sun, which revolves about the Milky Way galaxy. There's simply no way the Earth could influence the rest of the universe instantaneously to keep at its center of mass. It would violate physics."

There's no reason to assume that the Earth would need to exert a causal influence in order to remain at the center of the universe (assuming the universe were structured such that it HAD a center.) It's entirely possible (though absurdly unlikely) that the rest of the mass in the universe could be distributed such that the center of mass just so happens to move about in precisely the same manner as the Earth -- and that it would continue to do so even if the Earth were to suddenly cease to exist (through some non-mass-redistrubting / physics-violating method, of course!) I'm obviously excluding the possibility that the Earth would remain at the center following some intentional alteration of Earth's movement, which would necessarily violate causality (assuming you believe in free will.)

(BTW, first post to DI after many articles read.. I just couldn't resist mentioning the rotating universe bit in connection to Goedel, since I've always thought it was so DI!)


Gerry Matlack
Posted 03 December 2007 at 07:23 pm

VidLord.com said: "couple of my favorite links on this topic. The following regarding the possibility a race developed self-aware, self replicating machines before going out of existence:

There's a few people here already familiar with that one... http://www.damninteresting.com/?p=256


CorpusCallosum
Posted 04 December 2007 at 12:55 am

Locke said: "In addition, the number of "life-compatible" planets that we've found so far is…ONE - and we're living on it. One is a very poor sampling for a statistical assessment, much less a real world estimate."

Actually, Venus has zones near the poles with temperatures in the liquid water range. Mars demonstrably has ice and likely liquid water beneath the surface. Europa may have liquid water beneath it's ice. All of these planets/moons are capable of supporting some form of life as we know it on earth, and probably have it. The fact that earth is teeming with life should be an indicator that these other worlds in our very own star system have life as well, simply by a panspermia deduction. We know that earth has been wracked by massive comets and meteors in the past, which would certainly have liberated microbial and bacterial life from the surface, showering the other bodies in our star system with these basic life forms, some percentage of which would have likely survived the journey from our surface/oceans to their ultimate destinations. It is highly likely that earth has seeded other planets/moons in this star system with life.

My point with the above is that our own star system is probably teeming with life and is not at all a contra-indicator to the ubiquity of habitable planets in the universe as you seem to be implying. Moreover, panspermia is definitely not only a local phenomena. There are absolutely pieces of the earth that have escaped the gravity well of our solar system and are cruising at very high speed out towards other star systems. These high velocity bits of earth were the result of impacts and many of them contain frozen little bundles of joy all ready for the right conditions to re-awaken from hibernation. It's highly probably that life on earth started this way as well; Bacteria from some ancient and distant planetary body, raining down on the earth, waking up and setting up shop here on terra firma.

As far as radio signals go, I can't imagine why we think we could detect distant civilizations from radio signals. It seems like lunacy to me. The problem isn't even as simple as one of detection. Even assuming that we could detect the faint signals from distant worlds' radio communications, it seems to me that we would have to catch that civilization within the first hundred years or so of their use of radio if we ever hoped to be able to distinguish between static and signal. The reason why is simple: Compression and encryption. As a civilization advances, broadcast spectrum usage, commerce, paranoia and other forces inevitably would lead to the compression of signals and the encryption of signals. Both compression and encryption take patterned and distinguishable (from static) signals and render them indistinguishable from random noise.

How could we distinguish between compressed and encrypted signals and static?


Richard Solensky
Posted 04 December 2007 at 06:33 am

One thing to keep in mind is that we don't really need to determine the content of a signal - sometimes just the signal itself is enough. If we detect an unusually strong signal at a frequency that isn't produced by any known natural phenomena, then it's a pretty good chance there's Something Out There.

I recall reading a paper in my grad school days that looked at some of the questions put forth in this discussion. It was noted that while military sources are indeed extremely powerful, their specific frequencies change often for security reasons. This makes them unlikely to be identified as intelligent signals. On the other hand, by studying the Doppler shifts in television signals, an observer could rather easily determine both the length of the year and the length of the day as the planet moves. One could even determine the rough layout of major civilization centers as the various stations rose and set relative to the observer as the planet rotated.

Another paper was a survey of SETI programs. When you look at the size of the radio spectrum, and the sheer amount of sky that needs to be covered, we have barely touched a fraction of the possibilities. A SETI program is not the same as sticking a microphone outdoors to record any and all sounds. One has to pick a specific frequency or band of frequencies, and point the radio telescope at a specific target. Even with modern broadband receivers and computerized signal processing, we still have a heck of a lot of searching to do.


sulkykid
Posted 04 December 2007 at 10:38 am

Falco Peregrinus said: "... feel free to correct me on this, either as proposed by scientists or discovered near those "black smokers" as mentioned above or other hydrothermal vents, silicon based, as opposed to carbon based, life could/did form..."

Silicon based life forms are still speculative. The tube worms along deep sea volcanic vents are carbon based. They are unique in that they do not require the sun whatsoever.


noway
Posted 04 December 2007 at 12:36 pm

You have to appreciate God's sense of humor in this. He made everything so complex that you have to have WAY more faith to believe in our so called "science" than you will ever have to have to just believe in Him. Keep trying folks. Better hurry though, there's only a short time before you decay back to nonexistence. What then?


willy
Posted 04 December 2007 at 01:33 pm

Purveyors of science fiction are fond of exploring the ramifications of this radio leakage, suggesting that someday an advanced alien race might materialize to befriend, enslave, or destroy humanity after a little electromagnetic eavesdropping from afar.

I think we do enough of a good job of such things ourselves... ha ha ha....


humblebumble
Posted 04 December 2007 at 03:47 pm

and this one regarding how the future of the human race could pan out after all the stars eventually burn out.

http://www.multivax.com/last_question.html"

*sees the possibility of humankind passing with out a trace*
*Wilhelm Scream*


Bewildered
Posted 04 December 2007 at 03:59 pm

So much speculation... does anyone here actually know what i am? Where i came from? What started me? Us? I'm not after speculation or statistics, I'm after the real history. My life started when i popped out of my mother (or shortly before that). Therefore, as i understand it, life has to come from life. I've never seen or heard of anything springing to life from nothing. You can speculate all you like about where the 'first' life came from, but when you actually look at the facts, no one here has ever seen it happen, you're all just assuming that it happened at some point in the past, the chicken and the egg. But is it possible that it's always been? Am i my own distant son and father? I really have no idea, but would love to know the solid hard facts...


HiEv
Posted 04 December 2007 at 04:12 pm

HiEv said: "[I]t does not take a "genius mind" to discover a new technology, many discoveries were discovered by accident!"

sd9sd said: "My dear dear HiEv, when something marvellous happens, you can either behave like a superstitious native and say that the marvellous happening is the wrath of God, or you could investigate that marvellous happening and find out potential uses for it."


Uh... No, those are not the only two options, and none of that changes the fact that some discoveries were accidental either. It doesn't take a "genius mind" to take advantage of some discoveries that were stumbled across, and some merely discovered things without being able to take advantage of them. For example, polyethylene was discovered by accident while heating diazomethane, and it was another 35 years before a practical means of synthesizing it for industry was discovered, again by accident. In the latter case they found it when they accidentally contaminated the mixture they were creating with oxygen. Is that supposed to be a discovery by a "genius mind"? It still took someone else a few years to figure out how to reliably produce the results.

And that's just one example. Plenty of other discoveries have been made by accident, some quite remarkable, but to me, stumbling across a discovery doesn't necessarily make you into a "genius mind." Some observations are obvious, and don't require a "genius mind" to spot, unless having a pair of eyes qualifies you for that title. ;-)

sd9sd said: "You talk about radio waves like as though its something very obvious."

To any technologically advanced civilization, radio waves are obvious. That's my point.

sd9sd said: "Would really love it if you begin to appreciate the amazing complexity of everything that you see around you."

I do, thank you very much. Please, don't talk down to me and don't try to lecture me on things you know nothing about. You don't know me, so don't attempt to tell me what I do and don't appreciate.

HiEv said: "In fact, 10% is now a minimum estimate based on our observations. Keep in mind that "our observations" are pretty much limited to finding finding planets that are more massive than Jupiter around other suns, and that we are still quite early in the planet-finding game, with more extrasolar planets found in 2007 than any previous year. 50% seems like a reasonable estimate to me, and that may even be low if planets are a normal consequence of stellar formation."

Locke said: "Actually, that was exactly my argument."


No, it wasn't. The fact that my point disputes yours should make that clear to you.

Locke said: "We are very limited in our "planet-detection" technology. Of the billions of billions of stars out there, we have found, relatively speaking, almost none with planets orbiting them, only a couple hundred so far. If we VASTLY underestimate there are 1 billion stars in the universe and overcount the number of planets we've found at 500, the percentage is a mere .00005%. Add to that the fact that the detection requirements for our current technology precludes us from taking a random sampling and the end result is that it just isn't possible to justify such a grossly over-reaching estimate as 10%, much less 50%."

I'm sorry, but you are making numerous mistaken underlying assumptions there. First of all, you're assuming that we've actually examined "billions of billions of stars", which we simply haven't. The numbers are more in the thousands. Second of all, you're also making up numbers on how many we've found so far. You're even ignoring the very fact that planets in most solar systems are undetectable by current means, which, last time I checked, included planets in solar systems identical to our own. That means that it is a fact that the percentage has to be higher than what we can currently detect. Beyond that, you're assuming we know nothing about the formation of planets in solar systems which would allow us to make estimates based on our observations. And finally, scientists in this area of study are the ones that say that 10% is a minimum. For example, this paper says that, based on observations up to 2005, about 12% of stars of type F, G, and K have gas-giant planets nearby, and of those stars, about 14% have at least one other planet. So, the people who use real numbers, instead of made up ones, put the percentage way higher than you did.

Locke said: "However, my point is that we have no evidence, to date, to support these "estimates"."

If you'd bothered to take a look at the Wikipedia article I pointed you to on the topic you'd have known that we do have the evidence you claim doesn't exist. Just because you don't know of the evidence doesn't mean you should assume it doesn't exist.

Locke said: "However, you argue my point exactly by your liberal use of the word "may". Though we are trying to find out, we don't know whether Mars or Europa could or did harbor life."

Again, no, I don't make your point. I only make your point if you totally misconstrue mine when I'm disagreeing with you. My use of the word "may" does not invalidate my point, it is merely reasonable caution. Whether they did or didn't harbor life isn't the point either, only whether they could harbor life. Considering what we know about extremophiles today, it's clear that life can survive, even flourish, in environments we once thought uninhabitable. Many think that Mars or Europa could support life, which disputes your claim that there is only one place in this solar system that can do that. The fact that there might be three places in this solar system suggests that, if our solar system is fairly typical (and yes, that's a mighty big if), then life in the universe might not be so uncommon after all.

Locke said: "However, to date we have found no evidence whatsoever that life is even possible on any other planet besides Earth. Possibilities, yes, but evidence and facts - no."

I disagree. We know quite a bit about the environment on Mars, and we know some about Europa too, that is where the evidence comes from that causes people to say that life may be possible in those places. To say we've found "no evidence" is to ignore all of the evidence we've already gathered that has given us reasons to say that it might be possible in those places.

Yardvark said: "I never said that the universe actually rotates."

Yes, but you did say that you can't prove that it doesn't, and I proved just that.

Yardvark said: "But IF it does, it will rotate on its center of gravity. Has to."

This is also not true. As elifint pointed out, the Universe may have a bizarre topology, as some theories suggest, which would mean that it has no center of mass.

HiEv said: "Besides that, the Earth revolves about the sun, which revolves about the Milky Way galaxy. There's simply no way the Earth could influence the rest of the universe instantaneously to keep at its center of mass. It would violate physics. Unless you've set your standards for proof ridiculously high, either of those points should prove it to you. "

Yardvark said: "Now we are speaking of relativity. IF the Earth is stationary, and all else revolves about it, you are incorrect."


That's not relativity. You are confusing relativity, which simply states that the laws of nature are the same at all times, with using different frames of reference. Furthermore, if you begin with false assumptions then your conclusions are meaningless.

Yardvark said: "If I sit on a moving merry-go-round, it will seem as though the Earth is revolving around me. You cannot prove that Earth is NOT stationary, and that the universe does not rotate upon it, that's all I'm saying. Therefore, I will never need a tattoo gun, although one of those labelmakers would be handy."

In order for the universe to revolve around you that would require that the stars and galaxies move around you at speeds exceeding the speed of light, which violates the laws of physics. They also move in eccentric patterns that are only reasonably explained by saying that we move within the universe, instead of the universe moving around us. In other words, the Earth being stationary in the universe simply can't be true.

wclark said: "What's "simple" or "obvious" is in the eye (or mind) of the beholder. Aliens that developed in a radically different environment (maybe they evolved underground and the surface of their planet is metallic and acts as a huge Faraday cage) may have difficulty even conceiving of things such as radio waves."

Radio waves can still be used within a Faraday cage, or even when you're standing on one. And if they have difficulty conceiving of something as relatively simple as radio waves, then they wouldn't be able to develop a technologically advanced civilization.

wclark said: "Humans don't even have a good theory of how smell or taste really work, as compared to sight or hearing — but I bet if dogs had been dominant, the reverse would be the case."

I beg to differ. We actually understand the senses of taste and smell quite well, and we understand taste far better than we understand sight or hearing. (I'd also estimate that smell is understood just about as well as sight or hearing.)

wclark said: "It's entirely possible for the universe as a whole to rotate — in fact, Kurt Goedel (sorry, don't know how to type umlauts) published some work in that area."

I think you are misconstruing what his model said. From what I understand, in his model the universe did not rotate as a whole, merely some parts of the universe rotated in respect to other parts of the universe. Furthermore, it did not imply a center of rotation. Most importantly, the model is not consistent with our universe, for example it exhibits no Hubble expansion, so this is not a possible model of our universe. If you need more proof, Gödel's universe could have allowed time travel to the past! See here for an essay on the topic. Amusingly, the author notes that radio messages sent around in such a universe could be recieved before they were sent!

In fact, this also brings up the excellent point that if the universe were rotating about Earth, then everything would be flung away from us by centrifugal force. I don't know the math, but I would guess that the rate would be much higher than we see in cosmic expansion, plus cosmic expansion shows everything is moving away from everything else, not just away from us. This is yet another proof that the universe is not rotating, around us or otherwise.


HiEv
Posted 04 December 2007 at 05:02 pm

noway said: "You have to appreciate God's sense of humor in this. He made everything so complex that you have to have WAY more faith to believe in our so called "science" than you will ever have to have to just believe in Him. Keep trying folks. Better hurry though, there's only a short time before you decay back to nonexistence. What then?"

Well, faith (meaning "trust") in science is well founded, since it is based on tested theories, with observable evidence and peer review. On the other hand, faith (meaning "blind belief") in religion is easy because it doesn't require understanding, it's usually indoctrinated by the person's parent(s) from birth, and it presents pleasing notions like eternal life and that the evil always get punished and that the good always get rewarded. However, while a faith (meaning "blind belief") in the existence of a fabulous treasure buried in your back yard may be pleasing and easy to have if you are told about it all your life, that doesn't make it true.

Personally, I find it much more difficult to put my faith (meaning "trust") in claims unsupported by objective evidence than I do in accepting well tested scientific theories that survive peer review.

Keep trying yourself, and maybe you'll eventually understand the difference between "faith" in science and religion and the problems of equivocation. Oh, and there's nothing "so called" about this science, but I'm sure everyone here really appreciates your attempt to impose your religion and your antiscience perspective on the discussion.

Have a nice day! :-)


Bewildered
Posted 04 December 2007 at 06:37 pm

HiEv: "I do, thank you very much. Please, don't talk down to me and don't try to lecture me on things you know nothing about. You don't know me, so don't attempt to tell me what I do and don't appreciate." Yet you speak to "noway" in a degrading and demeaning manner? tisk tisk... A little more static and less talk might be beneficial hahahahahahaha....


supercalafragalistic
Posted 04 December 2007 at 09:52 pm

HiEv said: "Well, faith (meaning "trust") in science is well founded, since it is based on tested theories, with observable evidence and peer review. On the other hand, faith (meaning "blind belief") in religion is easy because it doesn't require understanding, it's usually indoctrinated by the person's parent(s) from birth, and it presents pleasing notions like eternal life and that the evil always get punished and that the good always get rewarded. However, while a faith (meaning "blind belief") in the existence of a fabulous treasure buried in your back yard may be pleasing and easy to have if you are told about it all your life, that doesn't make it true.

Personally, I find it much more difficult to put my faith (meaning "trust") in claims unsupported by objective evidence than I do in accepting well tested scientific theories that survive peer review.

Keep trying yourself, and maybe you'll eventually understand the difference between "faith" in science and religion and the problems of equivocation. Oh, and there's nothing "so called" about this science, but I'm sure everyone here really appreciates your attempt to impose your religion and your antiscience perspective on the discussion.

Have a nice day! :-)"

That is one of the best written statements I've ever read in support of being non-affiliated with any organized religion. No offense meant in any way to the other viewpoint. Here's a question: Is God an alien?


sd9sd
Posted 05 December 2007 at 12:47 am

HiEv said: "To any technologically advanced civilization, radio waves are obvious. That's my point.....
I do, thank you very much. Please, don't talk down to me and don't try to lecture me on things you know nothing about. You don't know me, so don't attempt to tell me what I do and don't appreciate."

Just trying to kindly make you understand my point. But I guess it's quite tough to convince you against theories you quite firmly believe in.
So radio waves are obvious because of of the basic physics involved. Well I guess there are some other things that are obvious and that every intelligent alien in the universe would be well acquainted with.
1. Boiled egg: The basic physics of boiled egg involves cracking an eggshell and heating the contents of the egg on a surface for two minutes. Find some oil too and you can make an omlette.
2. Papyrus Scroll: The basic physics involves getting lost within annoying reeds, smashing ones way through and returning to collect smashed reeds which are intelligently recognized as a recording device.
3. Sling: The basic physics involves placing a projectile within the depression of a flexible U shaped material, rotating it by clutching both free ends of the flexible material to generate centrifugal force and launching it by releasing one end of the flexible material.

Anything else that aliens might be using that are similar to what we're using?....anybody?... :)


sd9sd
Posted 05 December 2007 at 01:11 am

Well, I've been trying to understand HiEv's point of view....and HiEv, I guess this is what you're trying to tell us: - "That there are many complex things in this universe, but if we humans could have discovered radio waves so quickly, then an alien race with a sufficient amount of intelligence, might chance upon radio technology because its an easier-to-understand technology than trying to communicate using quantum physics or some other complex technology"
I hope I've understood what you wanted to convey?
If that is really what you intended to convey, then here's what I want to convey to you: - "While travelling by train, if you try to count how many railway gates you've passed by, then there's a good chance that when you bend down to pick up a dropped handkerchief, the train would've passed by a railway gate and you would have missed counting it. So if you'd have counted 10 railwaygates during the journey, your friend on the same train would've counted 11 railwaygates. I believe its pretty much the same way with discoveries. In our search for a solution to our problems, we sometimes miss out an easier way of solving a problem. Or, the problem could not be solved using existing know-how. So many inventions and discoveries get delayed, forgotten or completely ignored. If Tesla had executed his theory of charging the ground and everyone drawing power from it, we'd have said that that's the most darn obvious and sensible thing to do! But we didn't. There are so many many many different possibilities that can make radio waves a totally improbable discovery for an alien civilization with the same or greater intelligence as ours" (Sorry if my earlier post was a little on the sarcastic side)


prototypepariah
Posted 05 December 2007 at 03:34 am

it speaks volumes to the article, both how it's written and the subject when there is a 100 mostly detailed comments in 5 days.

If you stretch the limits of your imagination until it hurts you couldn't even scratch a few sub-atomic particles off the surface of what's possible.


sd9sd
Posted 05 December 2007 at 04:39 am

Good article no doubt, but the number of comments show how much we have to explain, in order to get our point through. Much like having a motorist behind one's truck, honking and honking coz he can't see that there's a traffic jam ahead.
And oops....the boiled egg was supposed to be 'bulls eye' :P Me and my boiled egg theory! ;)


Radiatidon
Posted 05 December 2007 at 07:30 am

I think that this is worth noting. I completely forgot about it until last night. Back in the 1960’s the USA launched a series of probes to the moon. One such was Surveyor 3. Only this probe took more than the scientists realized. On board that spacecraft was something that no one planned to send. It was not until nearly three years later when Apollo 12’s crew retrieved the probe’s camera and returned it to Earth was the secret revealed.

The camera was placed in a sterile and airtight container once removed from the Surveyor 3. This was done in the harsh environment of the moon before being returned to the cargo hold of the LEM. Back on Earth, scientists dissected the camera, once again in a sterile environment, to see what the harsh conditions of the moon had done to the components. Examining minutely each piece they discovered [I](insert mood music here – duh, duh, duhhhh –[/I] “The Colony”!

A colony of approximately 100 microorganisms of the common bacterial called Streptococcus mitis. This microbe can commonly be found residing in your nose and throat. Apparently some worker inadvertently sneezed during the construction of the probe. Not thinking about NASA’s strict protocol about no containments, they pulled out a hanky and wiped the sputum off most of the components, almost. Perhaps it was just the teeny fleck of a booger, or the tiniest speck of a loogie, but it contained life and was left unnoticed on the camera’s innards.

These common little buggers survived a High-G launch from Earth, endured the trip through the vacuum of space, then continued to endure almost three years on the radiation blanketed, water and nutrient free surface of the moon. Simply amazing, so if these things could survive, who’s to say that living and virile microorganisms have not been introduced to the other planets? Not just in our Solar System, but to countless other systems throughout the cosmos?

I searched NASA and found this interesting article on these guys --- > http://science.nasa.gov/newhome/headlines/ast01sep98_1.htm

So it seems that life will endure... at least the weeds in my yard always come back!

The Don.


sd9sd
Posted 05 December 2007 at 07:32 am

HiEv said: "Uh… No, those are not the only two options, and none of that changes the fact that some discoveries were accidental either. It doesn't take a "genius mind" to take advantage of some discoveries that were stumbled across, and some merely discovered things without being able to take advantage of them.....(blah).....Is that supposed to be a discovery by a "genius mind"? It still took someone else a few years to figure out how to reliably produce the results"

My apologies for posting comment after comment, but I noticed this part of the huge comment only now. My God! HiEv, you're a warrior of some sort. Fighting off people fiercely from all sides. Reminds me of the Last Samurai scene where Tom Cruise fights off warriors all around him :)
Sigh, now, about the "genius mind" part - It works out something like this - One bright soul (could be anyone) suddenly gets an idea and it turns out to be very useful for everybody. Everybody proclaims this soul to be a genius. The rest of the blokes join in and improve the 'idea' and make it better (now-a-days we call those blokes 'engineers'). Blame it on society for proclaiming a genius. Happy? :)
Hope the next time a coconut falls on someone's head he/she discovers the secrets of dark matter. I'll call them a genius for sure ;)
And hey, I surely wouldn't want to keep answering the tiny microscopic arguments that are pulled out of the grave of an age-old comment. One should try to see the general perspective.


Aperio
Posted 05 December 2007 at 01:24 pm

I still have to go with "Not only is the Universe more complex than we imagine; it is more complex than we can imagine." If the Universe is infinite, then so are the possibilities. Understanding is limited by our perspective. Categorically stating that something is not possible only underscores our ignorance, regardless of the topic.

My daughter used to think the Universe revolved around her. -She's better now. I introduced her to Pie and she started revolving around it. It's just a matter of perspective.


JoshDestardi
Posted 05 December 2007 at 03:15 pm

1)Vidlord, http://www.multivax.com/last_question.html
Is amazing..thanks for sharing that.

2)This blog has some of the most respectful, intelligent "debaters" I've ever had the pleasure
of discovering. Thanks.


kiwi_guy
Posted 05 December 2007 at 05:48 pm

noway said: "You have to appreciate God's sense of humor in this. He made everything so complex that you have to have WAY more faith to believe in our so called "science" than you will ever have to have to just believe in Him."

You have to appreciate science's sense of humor in this. It explains so many things where people had WAY too much faith in their religions: Earth vs. the Sun, for the center of the Solar System; Witchcraft vs. medical conditions; 6000 years vs. 4.5e6, thanks to old Archbishop Usher , etc, etc...

On second thoughts, I think that science is probably feeling somewhat frustrated, saying "That's not right, dammit! When is someone going to discover this bit?"


HiEv
Posted 05 December 2007 at 06:47 pm

sd9sd said: "Just trying to kindly make you understand my point. But I guess it's quite tough to convince you against theories you quite firmly believe in."

No, it's quite easy, actually, it just takes good evidence. So far most of the arguments have been, "But the aliens could be sooo different." To me that's not a good argument because the physics will be exactly the same regardless of what the aliens are like.

sd9sd said: "So radio waves are obvious because of of the basic physics involved."

To a technologically advanced civilization, yes.

sd9sd said: "Well I guess there are some other things that are obvious and that every intelligent alien in the universe would be well acquainted with.

1. Boiled egg: [snip]
2. Papyrus Scroll: [snip]
3. Sling: [snip]"


This assumes that they have eggs or papyrus reeds. That's not a realistic comparison because, while electronics and physics can be discovered independently, there's no reason to assume they'd come into contact with those organic items. Yes, they'll discover substances that hardening after heating or can be made into flat sheets, but "boiled eggs" and "papyrus scrolls" are too specific. Also, if they don't have eyes then the "scrolls" might not be painted on as we did, though they may use something like Braille.

Also, the point in their development where they discover these things will partially depend on their environment. For example, some form of the sling is quite likely for any species, though it may be discovered much later in the culture's development if it wouldn't be as easy to use and construct, such as in a high-gravity environment.

sd9sd said: "Anything else that aliens might be using that are similar to what we're using?….anybody?… :)"

Probably countless other things. Just because they're aliens doesn't mean that they will have nothing in common with us, and considering we share the same physical laws, certain things will likely be designed in fundamentally similar ways regardless of who designs them.

sd9sd said: "Well, I've been trying to understand HiEv's point of view….and HiEv, I guess this is what you're trying to tell us: - "That there are many complex things in this universe, but if we humans could have discovered radio waves so quickly, then an alien race with a sufficient amount of intelligence, might chance upon radio technology because its an easier-to-understand technology than trying to communicate using quantum physics or some other complex technology"

I hope I've understood what you wanted to convey?"


Sort of. But "complex things" doesn't have anything to do with it, and I never said we discovered radio waves quickly. My point is simply that A) any civilization would have to discover it in the process of becoming a "civilization advanced beyond our own" because it's fundamental to so much other technology and theory, and B) even if they did discover other means of communication that doesn't mean they'd abandon radio.

sd9sd said: "So if you'd have counted 10 railwaygates during the journey, your friend on the same train would've counted 11 railwaygates. I believe its pretty much the same way with discoveries."

Some discoveries, yes, others, no. Sometimes you can't get from A to C without going through B first, and radio is one of those things. You can't invent the car if all of the technologies it depends on haven't been invented yet.

Missing radio waves wouldn't be like missing a railway gate, it would be like missing New York City while riding through the heart of it with a big brass band pointing out the window while playing "New York, New York" right next to you. Electromagnetism is one of the four fundamental forces of physics. After a certain point in their advancement in science no society could miss it.

If they use electricity, then even something as simple as power lines and telephone lines would demonstrate electromagnetic interference (EMI), which is basically radio waves (EMI is also known as "radio frequency interference" or RFI). If a civilization has integrated circuits, radar, or even an understanding of electromagnetism and inductance, it would be nearly impossible for such a civilization to miss discovering radio. And without all of those things which require a knowledge of radio waves, I don't see how they could be called a technologically advanced civilization.


kiwi_guy
Posted 05 December 2007 at 07:08 pm

Oops - I meant 4.6e9


sd9sd
Posted 05 December 2007 at 09:30 pm

HiEv said: "This assumes that they have eggs or papyrus reeds. That's not a realistic comparison...[blah]... Also, if they don't have eyes then the "scrolls" might not be painted on as we did, though they may use something like Braille"

Dude! you're squeezing the pulp out of those humorous lines and looking for reason there :)
Okay, so you didn't find it funny. Forget it. The argument reminds me of a lesson I learnt in school when I was about 8 years old. The wise men of gotham. The story is here on this page. Scroll down to the "Bridge thinking" story. http://oaks.nvg.org/gotham-men.html
They argued about sheep that they couldn't see and we're arguing about aliens we can't see.
If you're looking for reason and evidence, then neither you nor me nor any blessed soul on this planet can provide enough reason to convince anyone.
My side of the discussion ends here. Full stop.


Bolens
Posted 05 December 2007 at 10:08 pm

Those convinced beyond their will are of the same opinion still.

{shuffles off, mumbles something about firing Leela and removes ignition key from the Planet Express ship}.


kjdsahf
Posted 05 December 2007 at 10:42 pm

The article text:
"Even using Very Long Baseline Interferometry to link two Arecibo-style radio telescopes on opposite sides of the planet– thereby providing a virtual radio telescope the size of the entire Earth– our antenna area would still be 20,244 kilometers too small."

should be deleted. VLBI is useful only for increasing resolution, not for increasing intensity. The sensitivity to dim sources is determined primarily by the sum of the collecting area of the dishes, not their separation.


dtaylor
Posted 06 December 2007 at 02:20 am

HiEv said: "Well, faith (meaning "trust") in science is well founded, since it is based on tested theories, with observable evidence and peer review.

If I wanted to get philosophical on you, I would point out that the scientific method rests on assumptions which cannot be tested by the scientific method. You assume you exist in a real universe and are able to observe it. Maybe you're wrong. (Read Rene Descartes. Or just rent the Matrix.)

But rather than do that, I'll consider it sufficient to point out that much of what we call "science" today is in fact faith on the same level as religious faith. We've never observed and have no evidence of abiogenesis, something which would appear to violate at least one observed law, and which would appear to be mathematically impossible in this universe. Yet we're discussing the search for ET as if it's a given that life is randomly forming all over the universe and has been from the beginning. That's faith my friend.

We've never observed and have no evidence of information increasing mutations, yet another thing we can't even imagine happening without trashing the laws we observe and test. Yet the scientific community demands that everyone accept the idea of intelligent life happening by chance as fact. If it's not observable and can't be tested, it doesn't even belong in the realm of scientific discussion, and only the faithful would insist otherwise.

I could go on and on with examples of faith among the science faithful in areas that have nothing to do with life, the odds of it forming or the odds of us finding it, in this universe. How about anthropogenic global warming? An untestable "fact" based on computer simulations which cannot accurately model the climate observed in the 20th century (and we know all the inputs for that century). But we call it "science" and "fact" and it even passes "peer review". (It looks as if the next couple solar cycles are going to be very calm. I hope so. It will be quite entertaining to see the faithful try to explain temperatures dropping like rocks.)

"On the other hand, faith (meaning "blind belief") in religion is easy because it doesn't require understanding, it's usually indoctrinated by the person's parent(s) from birth, and it presents pleasing notions like eternal life and that the evil always get punished and that the good always get rewarded. However, while a faith (meaning "blind belief") in the existence of a fabulous treasure buried in your back yard may be pleasing and easy to have if you are told about it all your life, that doesn't make it true."

Faith that life randomly forms and then randomly becomes complex and intelligent, and that it does so with such frequency that we're going to meet ET can be easy and pleasing in its own way. Blind belief in the existence of ET may be pleasing, but that doesn't mean he exists.

"Personally, I find it much more difficult to put my faith (meaning "trust") in claims unsupported by objective evidence than I do in accepting well tested scientific theories that survive peer review."

Don't get me started on peer review. The trash bins of science are overflowing with theories once accepted by peer review.

Simply stamping something with the label "science" does not make it so. Science is just a tool which we're still using to try and understand the workings of this universe. Unfortunately the label "science" is too often applied to ideas not yet established, and even ideas not testable by science.

I hate to break the news to everyone, but the Drake equation falls into that category.


wh44
Posted 06 December 2007 at 05:35 am

dtaylor said: "You assume you exist in a real universe and are able to observe it. Maybe you're wrong."

True. However if we do not assume this, then what is the point? Should we just sit in a corner and jibber? The world appears 'real' and responds in a 'real' way, with little that cannot be understood using the principles of science. Should we then reject this apparently useful tool? Are you implying that God, who gave us the tool of reason, would not want us to use it?

dtaylor said: "But rather than do that, I'll consider it sufficient to point out that much of what we call "science" today is in fact faith on the same level as religious faith. We've never observed and have no evidence of abiogenesis, something which would appear to violate at least one observed law, and which would appear to be mathematically impossible in this universe."

Plain wrong: good science always generates testable hypotheses, and all the theories of abiogenesis always include some testable hypotheses, some testable assertion about how those first biological molecules came together to form something self-replicating. The famous "primordial soup" was one of those tests. I would put to you, that "God did it" and abiogenesis are not mutually exclusive.

dtaylor said: "We've never observed and have no evidence of information increasing mutations,..."

I'm not sure about your "information increasing" mutations, "useful" mutations (for the life form involved) most certainly occur - otherwise we would not now have antibiotic resistant bacteria.

dtaylor said: "Yet the scientific community demands that everyone accept the idea of intelligent life happening by chance as fact."

You haven't been paying attention in biology class or here: evolution is not random! If there is selective pressure towards more intelligent life, then it should occur through evolution.

dtaylor said: "How about anthropogenic global warming? An untestable "fact" based on computer simulations which cannot accurately model the climate observed in the 20th century (and we know all the inputs for that century)."

The laws of physics didn't accurately match the movement of a ball on an incline until we developed theories regarding air drag, and even now, there is some small variation. Does that mean that we shouldn't have used those earlier models? That we shouldn't use our current models?

dtaylor said: "Faith that life randomly forms and then randomly becomes complex and intelligent, ..."

Again: evolution is not random, only the individual mutations are random - selective pressure is anything but random.

dtaylor said: "Don't get me started on peer review. The trash bins of science are overflowing with theories once accepted by peer review."

And what put those theories in the "trash bin"? Experiments, new evidence, and peer review - not blind faith.

dtaylor said: "Simply stamping something with the label "science" does not make it so. Science is just a tool which we're still using to try and understand the workings of this universe. Unfortunately the label "science" is too often applied to ideas not yet established, and even ideas not testable by science."

Something we agree on.

dtaylor said: "I hate to break the news to everyone, but the Drake equation falls into that category."

I count "Intelligent Design" under that category. The Drake Equation itself seems pretty straight forward to me - however there are some steps in it, in particular abiogenesis, for which we have absolutely no way of making a good estimate.

That doesn't make it less fun to think about such things, form hypotheses and develop tests for the more plausible ones. That is the way science moves forward. :-)


sd9sd
Posted 06 December 2007 at 07:33 am

Heh heh heh...the argument continues :)
Allan....Puhleeezz put up the next article and please don't let it be about space or aliens :) else the next article's comments will touch the 500 mark ;)


ironcross
Posted 06 December 2007 at 10:02 am

Mindblowing and to think people think there re no other life in the universe, but then again I believe in God and the fact that all of this just didn't "happen" one day. I do have a question, if radio waves can be detected out to Mars and Saturn would that mean if we had a ship that traveled fast enough, arrived at Mars and listened, what broadcasts would we hear? Is it possible the broadcast (if there was one) of Babe Ruth's 714 home run is still screaming away from Earth or do they dissipate over time and only the latest broadcast still exist?


shanachie
Posted 06 December 2007 at 11:38 am

I'm interested in the Drake Equation.

What values did you use and what was your justification?

For example, I felt that the propability of stars having planets is 50%, after watching an interesting, relevent episode of Universe last night;

the number of planets in the habitable zone I pegged at 0.50, using a strict definition of habitable;

the probability that life appears on a habitable planet: 20%, as I feel that, if the conditions are right (i.e., "highly habitable"), life is nearly inevitable; if conditions are almost right, almost nearly inevitable; 20% was my SWAG (note that this is highly dependent on the definition of "habitable");

the probability of intelligent life develops: a conservative 10%, on the assumption that Darwin always wins eventually (1 for 1 in the observable cases), unless a meteor alters events;

probability that the intelligent life develops radio: 25%, depending on the type and style of "intelligence" involved (would cats count as intelligent?);

number of years the civilization is around sending out those radio signals: 2,500 on average, my reasoning being that there are a lot of good ways for a civilization to destroy itself and many, maybe most, will run up on (I'm a mariner, hence the following analogy) one of the "rocks and shoals" not long after reaching industrialization, but any that "keep to the channel" will be around for a long time, averaging out to 2,500 years; 10,000 seemed to me too high for an average.

Net result: 18.8 extant civilizations in our galaxy at any one time.

It's all speculation but I'd like to hear others' ideas and results.


Falco Peregrinus
Posted 06 December 2007 at 02:24 pm

Falco Peregrinus said: "For example, feel free to correct me on this, either as proposed by scientists or discovered near those "black smokers" as mentioned above or other hydrothermal vents, silicon based, as opposed to carbon based, life could/did form."

sulkykid said: "Silicon based life forms are still speculative. The tube worms along deep sea volcanic vents are carbon based. They are unique in that they do not require the sun whatsoever."

Although my comment seems to say that carbon and silicon based life are mutually exclusive to living in the harsh environment of deep sea volcanic vents, I was trying say that silicon based life was a theorized possibility and that hydrothermal vents were a favored theorized habitat for it to exist in by some scientists. Not to say that the already well established and diverse carbon based inhabitants such as tube worms and others that I am familiar with were in fact not there.

And while I would agree that at present all the energy the worms need is provided chemically from the dissolved elements in the hot water feeding the unique bacteria that the worms depend on, the evolutionary ancestors of these worms, and the bacteria maybe, have come from sunlight dependent organisms. Also the oxygen they use from the water is most likely from the massive amounts produced by ancient sun dependent organisms, like cyanobacteria.


Silverhill
Posted 06 December 2007 at 02:38 pm

dtaylor said: "Scientist Marcel E. Golay computed the odds of self replicating biological life forming randomly at 1 x 10^450.

I don't know where the astronomical community gets its numbers, but we quite frankly shouldn't be expecting anyone else."

The odds of rolling a 7, with fair dice, are 1 in 6. The odds of rolling a 7, with loaded dice, can be much lower---or much higher.
Atoms and molecules are similar to loaded dice! That is, certain combinations have a tendency to happen, and a system with a tendency is not at all random. Therefore, calculations such as Golay's are meaningless.
Now, you may ask, why are there these tendencies? That is, why does the universe have such a characteristic? Maybe it's the only way a stable universe could have formed. Maybe it's the "signature of the artist"---the mark of an intelligent creator. That's not decidable here, nor is it relevant. What's relevant is the fact---as far as we can tell, it's a fact---that we are here and that chemistry works in certain observable, reliable ways that often have distinct departures from randomness.

dtaylor said: "We've never observed and have no evidence of abiogenesis, something which would appear to violate at least one observed law, and which would appear to be mathematically impossible in this universe.
It's not mathematically impossible; see above.
Now, which "observed law" do you claim is being violated? Can you support your claim?

We've never observed and have no evidence of information increasing mutations
You appear to mean "mutations that increase the information content of a genome". These are, however, observed to happen. Reversals, transpositions, substitutions, and duplications during DNA copying all cause change in, and some cause increase of, the local genetic information. Most of that new information turns out to be useless or even deleterious, but that does not preclude the occasional beneficial change.

ironcross said: "I do have a question, if radio waves can be detected out to Mars and Saturn would that mean if we had a ship that traveled fast enough, arrived at Mars and listened, what broadcasts would we hear? Is it possible the broadcast (if there was one) of Babe Ruth's 714 home run is still screaming away from Earth or do they dissipate over time and only the latest broadcast still exist?"
If you had a superluminal ship, you could overtake a broadcast that had happened within the last 22 minutes---the time required for a signal to cross from Earth to Mars at their maximum separation.
The Babe Ruth broadcast is still screaming away from Earth, but its intensity drops rapidly (as noted in the article; it's an inverse-square phenomenon). It would not be distinguishable from cosmic noise at, say, interstellar distances unless some seriously good equipment were used for the task.


Radiatidon
Posted 06 December 2007 at 02:51 pm

ironcross said: "Is it possible the broadcast (if there was one) of Babe Ruth's 714 home run is still screaming away from Earth or do they dissipate over time and only the latest broadcast still exist?"

Aw, I see Silverhill has beaten me to the punch. Oh well, here is my input. :J

Depending on the orbit distance of Mars to Earth, the delay is measured around 3 to 20 some odd minutes.

A radio wave travels basically at the speed of light. Now a small unit of measurement in space is the AU (Astronomical Unit), which is the distance from the Sun to the Earth. It takes light approximately 8.34 minutes to travel those 93 million miles. Look at a measuring tape with 32 marks per inch. Now let us assume that one 32nd mark is equal to one AU. Otherwise 32 marks per inch are equal to 2,976 million miles on our tape. Saturn is an average of 790,500,000 miles from earth so less than the half-inch mark on our tape.

It has been around 961,700,470 minutes since the Sultan of Swing smacked his 714th home run, give or take. If we lay out our space tape, it would have traveled over 56-1/2 miles (over 92-1/2 kilometers) by the tape in only one direction. We will keep it simple for this example. If we measure our Solar System using Pluto’s orbit around the sun as the edge for comparison, it would measure less than 2-1/2” on the space tape.

Alpha Centauri would be around 695 feet by our tape. So you can see that the signal of that famous last hit by the Big Bambino has traveled through multiple other star systems in an ever-expanding half bubble, not just a wave. Why only a half bubble, because the broadcasting antenna sends out a signal like an expanding inverted bowl. The earth beneath the tower obstructs the signal keeping it from expanding like a growing bubble. Obstructions (suns, planets, etc) will have poked holes in the signal, decreasing its reach. Also as the signal continues to expand, it gets weaker. Plus this signal has been traveling over 71 years and either is too weak to receive now or like the icon that it was about, has died off in the electromagnetic maelstrom that fills space.

Now realize that many of the numbers I represent here have been rounded up and assume the average distance of the various objects used orbital planes, but for this discussion the errors are acceptable.

The Don


Inti
Posted 06 December 2007 at 05:19 pm

The possibility of an extraterrestrial contact could have tantalizing and terrifying consequences for our own existence. A number of scientists have explored this possibilities, like Carl Sagan, who includes a chapter on this issue in his book COSMOS. Another interesting book is Guns, Germs and, Steel by Jarred Diamond. Just recall what happened to all those cultures that made contact with other, militarily more powerful, ones.

It might be possible that in our thirst for knowledge and curiosity, we might get so closer to ultimate truths that in this we find our own demise. Icaro's flight to the sun, the moth and the fire, and the sorrow of Prometeus come to my mind at this moment.

In any case, I will be damn happy if we waste humanity for the sake of knowledge. That will be a really good way to go, at least we will not destroy ourselfes in a stupid and irrelevant conlfict for oil or land. We will leave that into the hands of others more deserving than us. Evolution will prove itself at a cosmic scale.


Insanity
Posted 07 December 2007 at 03:53 am

Intellectual-Bonobo Hybrid. said:
Given the likelyhood that changes always, entually change, it therefore seems very likely that intelligent life would spout accorss the Universe. But asking questions lie "are we alone," and asuming they want to communicate seems to be projecting alot of our social nature, perheaps our current social pathology (Eleanor Rigby and the lonley people) to alien species whose culture and prediliction is less likeky –in most cases–to resemble humans as are squids."
[sic]
I would contend that intelligence is in part the result of socialization. Without the need for social interaction so many of the contributing factors of what has made us what we are would simply not exist.

We speak because we needed to communicate, if we weren't social this wouldn't have happened. This evolved all the way to the point of where you're sitting right at this moment reading my response.
Community gave rise to agriculture, gave the ability for vocational specialization, cycle>nudge>boom invention! Each invention building on previous discoveries, because the new inventory is aware of them, due to communication, language, books, etc.
I fail to see how any non-social species could evolve to the point of sentience. Isn't part of being self aware, the understanding of our places in the communities in which we live? I am, because I understand that I am. Otherwise I'd just be snuffling in the mud looking for bugs to eat...


Insanity
Posted 07 December 2007 at 04:19 am

Mememe said: "I don't why is there a general consensus that for any kind of life water would be needed. Who is to say that there isn't a life based on totally different chemical basis than ours somewhere?"

Water isn't the magic potion, *liquid* is. The reason is simple, liquid environments provide the most likelihood of containing all of the necessities for life as we currently define it to evolve and to flourish. Propulsion is much easier in a liquid environment, but isn't necessary so long as there is some form of tide. This is why Titan should and has been added to the list of possible locations for life in our solar system. Liquid methane, while very cold, still provides an ideal environment for life.
With a little imagination, I would also personally include a few other places. Venus, while extremely hot, might offer subterrainian places cool enough for life. Or life may have evolved to thrive in that heat (see volcanic vents in the ocean). Almost any body with an atmosphere offers some form of possibility, even moreso if there is a stable orbit and axis(large moon or some such). That's without even trying to include the possibility of organisms that could survive space(we have bacteria on earth that lives in a vacuume in, why not space?)


Kao_Valin
Posted 07 December 2007 at 12:08 pm

If we dont find anything on other planets, who's up for planting life seeds around the galaxy? We could send microbial cocktails all over the universe. Certainly would ensure that life finds a way for those who think life is so precious. In a billion or more years when another sentient mulitcelliar organism begins to thrive again maybe it will discover its origins were a probe sent out by a race long gone from a now dead planet.


Aperio
Posted 07 December 2007 at 01:13 pm

Isn't it logical to presume that anyone taking the trouble to figure out how to physically exceed what we believe to be the cosmological speed limit might have also figured out how to communicate with one another in reasonable time along the way? Granted that for a period in our own history long distance communication was largely tied to how fast someone could get from one place to another and back. Just the interstellar distances involved might make this method extremely inefficient.

I'm thinking that someone would have to be looking specifically at certain wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum, just as we are. As we haven't really been listening very long relative to the time we've been broadcasting, we shouldn't assume anyone else would start out listening from the get-go either. Possible, but unlikely. There would just seem to be a very small window of opportunity here. Even if someone out there 100+ light years away heard our most primitive broadcasts, it would still take us another 100+ years to hear their response in kind. -And by then the funding would have dried up and the project cancelled....


Nicki the Heinous
Posted 07 December 2007 at 03:45 pm

Plus there is the likelihood that another sentient race wouldn't want to talk to us. Somewhere earlier in DI I followed a link to an awesome story by Terry Bisson. Here it is:

http://www.terrybisson.com/meat.html


HiEv
Posted 07 December 2007 at 08:44 pm

sd9sd said: "Dude! you're squeezing the pulp out of those humorous lines and looking for reason there :)"

Text is a poor medium when it comes to conveying subtleties. Besides that, I've seen people say things in all seriousness that were far more ridiculous than that, so I apologise for taking you seriously.

sd9sd said: "They argued about sheep that they couldn't see and we're arguing about aliens we can't see."

But we're actually arguing about science we can see. Really, I don't see what's wrong with evidence-based speculation.

dtaylor said: "If I wanted to get philosophical on you, I would point out that the scientific method rests on assumptions which cannot be tested by the scientific method. You assume you exist in a real universe and are able to observe it. Maybe you're wrong. (Read Rene Descartes. Or just rent the Matrix.)"

I've already read some of the former and seen the latter, and I just know that I am not smart enough to come up with a universe like this, nor do I have a good enough memory for it to be this consistent. On the other hand, when I'm dreaming I do notice inconsistencies in the dream. I go with what is most probable, and Occam's Razor says that I'm not imagining this universe.

dtaylor said: "But rather than do that, I'll consider it sufficient to point out that much of what we call "science" today is in fact faith on the same level as religious faith."

No, it's not at all like blind religious faith. To claim that is to proclaim ignorance of the basis of the very science you are attempting to dismiss. Too frequently people don't bother to find out or try to understand the reasons for a scientific hypothesis, and instead simply assume there is no objective basis for it, especially when they don't want to believe it. However, if there really is no objective basis for a hypothesis, then it is, by definition, not science. Evolution and abiogenesis are science because they make testable claims and predictions.

dtaylor said: "We've never observed and have no evidence of abiogenesis, something which would appear to violate at least one observed law, and which would appear to be mathematically impossible in this universe."

No, your pseudoscience creationist websites have mislead you. Abiogenesis does not violate any observed laws, nor is it "mathematically impossible".

By "violate observed laws" I'm guessing you're referring to the old canard about evolution/abiogenesis violating the second law of thermodynamics, right? For why that law isn't violated, see "The Second Law of Thermodynamics,
Evolution, and Probability
" (or this, or this, or item #9 here, or just Google any secular science website).

As for "mathematically impossible", we're talking about a process that took place continuously over an area the size of the Earth across hundreds of millions of years. It's like a lotto that has 200 billion to 1 odds of winning each prize, but I give you a trillion lotto tickets. The odds of any particular ticket winning is incredibly low, "highly improbable" one might say, but with that many tickets you'd likely win about five times. Also, we can't assume that life could only form one way, so there may have been many ways life could have originally formed, but we just ended up with this one (perhaps because it was the "best" beating out others, or perhaps simply because it was the "easiest" to form in that environment.)

Furthermore, while abiogenesis has never been observed, there is a great deal of evidence suggesting that it both can and did occur, from the evidence for a common ancestor to the experiments in replicating Earth's early environment (such as the Miller-Urey experiment). Nobody around today observed George Washington becoming the first president of the United States of America either, but that doesn't give you just cause to dismiss all of the evidence that it's true.

dtaylor said: "Yet we're discussing the search for ET as if it's a given that life is randomly forming all over the universe and has been from the beginning. That's faith my friend."

No, it's a discussion about probability based on objective evidence. That's not the kind of "blind faith" that religion is based upon.

dtaylor said: "We've never observed and have no evidence of information increasing mutations, yet another thing we can't even imagine happening without trashing the laws we observe and test."

Two quick ways of spotting a creationist: 1) they refer to evolution as "Darwinism" or 2) they talk about "increasing information" in genes as though it was a meaningful phrase.

Funny thing, about "increasing information" is that creationists never really define what they mean by "increasing information", nor do they give any examples of what they mean by it that aren't satisfied by some examples they aren't aware of. They just misappropriate terms from information theory and claim it justifies their pseudoscience, much as they do by misinterpreting thermodynamics. (For a more detailed analysis of the problems in creationist use of information theory see here, for example.)

Furthermore, why would all of these scientists for hundreds of years are support a theory that "trash[es] the laws we observe and test"? The answer is that it simply doesn't do that. Evolution and abiogenesis are completely compatible with all known laws of nature. If you disagree, please name some of these laws instead of making vague assertions.

dtaylor said: "Yet the scientific community demands that everyone accept the idea of intelligent life happening by chance as fact."

And thus you demonstrate your fundamental misunderstanding. The process isn't simply random "chance", it too would follow a kind of "evolution" where molecules or groups of molecules that were better able to self-reproduce and survive would be the ones that eventually became life. (We already know of some self-replicating molecules, like prions.)

Furthermore, science doesn't "demand" things, science is a method of discovery. People demand things, and people "demanding" that children be well educated in various areas, including science and important theories that help us understand the world around us, isn't a bad thing. Education is a basic human right that's good for us all.

dtaylor said: "If it's not observable and can't be tested, it doesn't even belong in the realm of scientific discussion, and only the faithful would insist otherwise."

I totally agree. However, the hypothesis of abiogenesis can be tested by looking to see if the evidence resembles what we'd seen now if that was what occurred, and by trying to get an idea of whether it's chemically possible. So far the answers appear to be "yes" and "yes".

On the other hand, creationism is not observable and not testable, therefore it is not science. If one day they came up with a testable hypothesis, and the tests supported the hypothesis, with some scientific peer-review and replication studies, then it might finally count as science.

dtaylor said: "How about anthropogenic global warming? An untestable "fact" based on computer simulations which cannot accurately model the climate observed in the 20th century (and we know all the inputs for that century). But we call it "science" and "fact" and it even passes "peer review"."

Actually, they don't say "fact", they say it's "very likely" to "virtually certain" (meaning 90-99% certain) because the evidence is based on far more than computer simulations, it's based on objective observations, and there is no other explanation for the observed warming trend than the detectable emissions of greenhouse gasses and deforestation caused by humans. For more see here.

dtaylor said: "(It looks as if the next couple solar cycles are going to be very calm. I hope so. It will be quite entertaining to see the faithful try to explain temperatures dropping like rocks.)"

Perhaps you might want to look into "solar forcing" (meaning the amount of influence the sun has on climate change), and you'll find that it has been studied quite thoroughly, and the vast majority of climate scientists think that solar variation has little to do with the roughly 100 year upward trend in global climate. Keep in mind that the principal solar cycle is only 11 years long, and thus cannot explain the far longer trend of global warming.

dtaylor said: "Faith that life randomly forms and then randomly becomes complex and intelligent, and that it does so with such frequency that we're going to meet ET can be easy and pleasing in its own way. Blind belief in the existence of ET may be pleasing, but that doesn't mean he exists."

Saying life "randomly becomes complex and intelligent" is not what evolution states at all. Natural selection is based on those who who are "most fit" tending to pass on their genes, so selection is not "random". Furthermore, evolution neither requires that organisms become more complex nor more intelligent. Simpler and/or stupider organisms can and do flourish over more complex and intelligent organisms. Often simpler, more focused organisms survive better than more complex generalists. Thats why there are so many simple organisms still alive today.

Besides that, we aren't "blindly believing" that ETs exist, we're merely stating that, based on the objectively available evidence, it's probable that they exist. There's a difference.

dtaylor said: "Don't get me started on peer review. The trash bins of science are overflowing with theories once accepted by peer review."

And care to explain why those old theories were thrown out? It's not because of religion. No, science contains a self-correcting mechanism that's meant to weed out errors. Science isn't dogma, it doesn't claim to be perfect, but at least it works to find and correct those errors, and gets better over time. Unlike religion, which still talks about four-legged "flying creeping things" (Leviticus 11:20-23) and the like. And that is why science tends to be right when it comes to describing the universe around us.


HiEv
Posted 10 December 2007 at 05:33 am

Apparently I screwed up the "item #9" link above somehow. Here it is again:
Scientific American: 15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense


Hoekstes
Posted 12 December 2007 at 08:32 am

Radiatidon said: "As far as being first… Our existence on this planet is a mere blink of the Sol system’s eye and Sol is actually a very junior star in a universe that has seen the passage of many stars before Sol was born. No, as slim as the odds may be, they still favor another first before us."

In case you haven't noticed, JamesCCPA was actually first.


Hoekstes
Posted 12 December 2007 at 08:38 am

Radiatidon said: "Well , Sol is Latin for sun. Solar means things relating to the sun. Thus solar system pertains to sun system. Since sun is a generic term referring to a star or stars in a system of planets, then technically would it not be correct to call any star system a sun system or just solar system?"

Uhm, as far as I know there's only one star that's called sun or sol... technically speaking...


Hoekstes
Posted 12 December 2007 at 08:58 am

Btw, where's the real scientists here? The drake equation is bs.

Average number of new stars formed in the Milky Way annually: 6 -> bs
Proportion of stars which have one or more planets (at least 10%, probably more): 50% -> bs
Average number of planets/moons per solar system where basic life could potentially appear: 2 -> are you f*ing kidding me? bs
Percentage of life-compatible planets where life eventually does appear: 33% -> based on a statistical sample size of one? bs
Percentage of planets where intelligent life evolves:1 -> yeah, Earth, i.e. bs
Percentage of civilizations which eventually send signals into space (TV, radio, etc.): 1 -> see above, bs
Average number of years that an advanced civilization will send such signals: 10,000 -> nice round number, what's that, sample size x 10,000? i.e. bs

Geez and I thought ppl's IQ's were on the way up?!


Silverhill
Posted 12 December 2007 at 03:50 pm

Hoekstes said: "Btw, where's the real scientists here?" The drake equation is bs.
Once again, Hoekstes, you assert BS without providing any counter-information. Very poor form. (You'll notice that you still haven't responded to my earlier comment about alleging BS without justification, in the Gimli Glider article.)

Certain apes and monkeys are known for flinging feces to show their displeasure. Do you wish to be known as a member of their company, or do you wish to set a good example instead?

Geez and I thought ppl's IQ's were on the way up?!"
Lead the way, Enlightened One.


HiEv
Posted 12 December 2007 at 04:51 pm

Hoekstes said: "Uhm, as far as I know there's only one star that's called sun or sol… technically speaking…"

Well, there's only one star called Sun or Sol, however there are many suns. A "sun" (lowercase "S") can mean a star at the center of a planetary system, however the "Sun" (uppercase "S") refers only to our own sun.


wh44
Posted 14 December 2007 at 06:42 am

Hoekstes said: "Average number of new stars formed in the Milky Way annually: 6 -> bs"

Best estimate age of the Milky Way: 13.6 billion years
Best estimate of number of stars in Milky Way: 200-400 billion
Source: Wikipedia: Milky Way
Neglecting star deaths and other factors: ca. 15-30 stars per year over the current life-time of the galaxy. So the estimate is on the low side, but within an order of magnitude of what I would guess. The original source may be basing the estimate on currently sighted star births per year, which may be fewer than in the earlier years of the galaxy.

Hoekstes said: "Proportion of stars which have one or more planets (at least 10%, probably more): 50% -> bs"

Of 754 stars surveyed 61 had detectable planets (ref. Innovations Report article, 2003). However this 8% find rate does not mean only 8% have planets: currently, we can only detect very large or massive planets (ref. Wikipedia: Extrasolar planet).
This says to me, the 10% quoted is very conservative, and 50% is a reasonable guess.

Hoekstes said: "Average number of planets/moons per solar system where basic life could potentially appear: 2 -> are you f*ing kidding me? bs"

This is an extremely subjective value, depending on many factors, such as whether you limit it to carbon based life forms (I don't), whether you count over the lifetime of said planets (e.g. Mars and Venus were both much more conducive to life earlier in the life of the Solar System), etc.
Do you have a better value?

We know that many of the values are completely "shot in the dark" and may be off by orders of magnitude - the whole thing is a process of refinement: someone puts up a guess and justifies it as best they can. Eventually somebody shoots it down by providing information for a better guess.

You are attempting to shoot down these guesses without providing anything better. If you cannot add to the discussion, please just go away.


dtaylor
Posted 14 December 2007 at 07:54 pm

"True. However if we do not assume this, then what is the point? Should we just sit in a corner and jibber? The world appears 'real' and responds in a 'real' way, with little that cannot be understood using the principles of science. Should we then reject this apparently useful tool? Are you implying that God, who gave us the tool of reason, would not want us to use it?"

Nope. I'm merely pointing out the hypocrisy of looking down one's nose at faith when science itself rests on presumptions which require faith. (And not to anyone in particular. Just saying...)

"Plain wrong: good science always generates testable hypotheses, and all the theories of abiogenesis always include some testable hypotheses, some testable assertion about how those first biological molecules came together to form something self-replicating. The famous "primordial soup" was one of those tests."

Not plain wrong. Every single test has failed miserably. We have never once observed life forming randomly from non-life. We haven't even been able to cause it to happen with stacked odds and perfect conditions in a lab.

Good science generates testable models. But when those models continue to fail the tests, good science does not proceed to call the models "fact" or "law". Which is how abiogenesis is taught in most high schools and colleges today. Given the consistency of the failure of the tests, once could clearly state and support a law that abiogenesis does not occur. Again, science deals with the observable, testable, provable. Based on all our observations, life just does not happen randomly.

You can believe that it does sometimes, but with a frequency so low that we're unable to detect it. But until it is detected, that is a belief which rests on faith, and it should be taught that way.

"I'm not sure about your "information increasing" mutations, "useful" mutations (for the life form involved) most certainly occur - otherwise we would not now have antibiotic resistant bacteria."

Antiobiotic resistant strains of bacteria existed before the discovery of antibiotics as confirmed by ice core samples. There are viruses which are said to have "improved" through mutation, but the mutations are all information decreasing. The virus is essentially de-evolving, becoming less specific, thereby entering more hosts. That's fine for now, but eventually the genome would de-evolve to the point where it self destructs.

Mutations in higher forms are invariably harmful. Look at the amount of life on this planet. Calculate how many mutations would have to occur for each species. Even with billions of years, positive, information increasing mutations would have to be occuring on a daily basis to produce the variety of life we see. Yet we can't find one.

I don't see any difference between an evolutionist believing that life improves randomly, something he cannot observe, and a creationist saying God made it all, something he did not observe. Both believe on faith.

"You haven't been paying attention in biology class or here: evolution is not random! If there is selective pressure towards more intelligent life, then it should occur through evolution."

No, you are the one who hasn't been paying attention. Don't feel bad, most people completely miss this subtle yet critical point of failure for the general theory of evolution because few teachers bother to put a spotlight on it: for natural selection to have something to select, information increasing mutations must randomly occur in the reproductive cells of a species. (The cells most protected from any mutation at all, I might add.) The source of the improvement is not natural selection. Natural selection merely preserves the improvement once it's there. The source is random mutation.

Without an experiment I can perform in my own lab which produces such a mutation so that I may test and observe, this point of evolution rests on faith. And looking at the odds of just four sequential related mutations occuring, good or bad (1 x 10^28), and much more so the odds of a complete animal as complex as a modern mammal (1 x 10^3,000,000), that's quite a leap of faith.

"The laws of physics didn't accurately match the movement of a ball on an incline until we developed theories regarding air drag, and even now, there is some small variation. Does that mean that we shouldn't have used those earlier models? That we shouldn't use our current models?"

You want to use models proven false? Is that science?

There are models which are true to a certain precision, and usable so long as they are not used to make predictions beyond that precision. Newton's model of gravity versus relativity, for example. But with the climate models it's not a matter of precision. They simply fail to predict what happened in the 20th century or anything close to it. They are falsified and should not be used until they can be made accurate at least to a level of precision sufficient for the predictions being based upon them.

This has been pointed out multiple times, and was analyzed and reported on again just recently. The climate models don't work. Yet the faithful are just positive that CO2 overwhelms every other input into the climate to warm the Earth.

"evolution is not random, only the individual mutations are random - "

Which means the whole process rests on things randomly becoming more complex. That's random :-)

"selective pressure is anything but random."

There is no such thing as selective pressure. Pressure implies feedback into the genome which causes it to improve the next time around. There is no such pathway for a feedback mechanism. Selective preservation is the correct terminology.

"dtaylor said: "I hate to break the news to everyone, but the Drake equation falls into that category."
"I count "Intelligent Design" under that category. The Drake Equation itself seems pretty straight forward to me - however there are some steps in it, in particular abiogenesis, for which we have absolutely no way of making a good estimate."

I agree with you completely that ID is in that category. But so is evolution.


dtaylor
Posted 14 December 2007 at 09:44 pm

"The odds of rolling a 7, with fair dice, are 1 in 6. The odds of rolling a 7, with loaded dice, can be much lower—or much higher.
Atoms and molecules are similar to loaded dice! That is, certain combinations have a tendency to happen, and a system with a tendency is not at all random."

No, they're not. The "certain combinations" you refer to are not any where near a living, reproducing machine. You are orders of magnitude away from such a thing. It's like saying that gasoline has a tendency to burn, so if you throw some gas and some iron into a pit along with a match, you should get a car engine. Or like saying that a fluctuating magnetic field over a disk tends to produce both 1's and 0's, so if you wave a speaker magnet over a hard drive you'll get Windows XP with MS Office.

"Therefore, calculations such as Golay's are meaningless."

Nope. Try again :-) (You respect the man so little that you believe his equations didn't take into account the highest order of building blocks which form naturally?)

"What's relevant is the fact—as far as we can tell, it's a fact—that we are here and that chemistry works in certain observable, reliable ways that often have distinct departures from randomness."

With due respect, you need to spend more time studying cells. A cell actively works in ways which are against the tendencies you refer to.

"Now, which "observed law" do you claim is being violated? Can you support your claim?"

The Second Law of Thermodynamics would appear to be violated by a universe randomly forming planets with complex life. Don't counter with "...but the Earth is not a closed system." It's not, but our universe is. And somebody needs to explain how a big explosion produces life rather than a soup of matter and energy which just tends to become more even over time.

"You appear to mean "mutations that increase the information content of a genome". These are, however, observed to happen. Reversals, transpositions, substitutions, and duplications during DNA copying all cause change in, and some cause increase of, the local genetic information."

You and I have different definitions of increasing information. Let me try to make it clear with an analogy. We both observe a hard disk that is zero-formatted, then has Windows XP installed. A random error of the read write head leaves some stray 1's in the empty portion of the disk. You would say the information increased. I would not.

"Information" is meaningful. Random letters typed on a page by a monkey do not constitute information. Sentences which conform to the grammer of a language and convey rational, coherent ideas are information.

"Most of that new information turns out to be useless or even deleterious,"

Then it's not an increase in functional information, a thing we have yet to observe.

"No, it's not at all like blind religious faith. To claim that is to proclaim ignorance of the basis of the very science you are attempting to dismiss. Too frequently people don't bother to find out or try to understand the reasons for a scientific hypothesis, and instead simply assume there is no objective basis for it, especially when they don't want to believe it. However, if there really is no objective basis for a hypothesis, then it is, by definition, not science. Evolution and abiogenesis are science because they make testable claims and predictions."

First of all, what test can I perform to falsify the idea of abiogenesis? I'll setup the lab and we'll establish right now whether it occurs or not. We'll get the Nobel prize.

Second, how many times must experiments designed to prove it true come back false before we recognize the idea as untenable? Which step in the scientific method says cling to your model even after its predictions have failed you?

Scientists hope that someday somebody demonstrates abiogenesis. That's fine if that's where they want to place their hope. But call it hope! Call it faith! That's what it is. It's not true or a law of science until it is repeatedly observed by many peers.

"No, your pseudoscience creationist websites have mislead you. Abiogenesis does not violate any observed laws, nor is it "mathematically impossible"."

Oh, OK...I'm just "misled". I didn't, maybe, once believe in evolution, do my own research, and change my mind or anything. Nah...I'm just brainwashed :-/

And believing in something that cannot be observed or tested in a lab...is that pseudoscience (creation) or not (abiogenesis)? I'm confused on that one. How do I know when the unobservable is just pseudoscience, and when it's science, because I thought science required observation. Repeatedly. By multiple people through peer review.

1 x 10^450 in this universe might as well be mathematically impossible. Believe what you will, but I call belief in events with those odds the highest level of faith.

"By "violate observed laws" I'm guessing you're referring to the old canard about evolution/abiogenesis violating the second law of thermodynamics, right? For why that law isn't violated, see..."

Been there, seen that, have the T-shirt. Guess what? They missed the point. The entire universe is a closed system which appears to have come into being from an explosion. An explosion yielding life any where in the aftermath would be a violation of SLoT for the entire mess.

"As for "mathematically impossible", we're talking about a process that took place continuously over an area the size of the Earth across hundreds of millions of years. It's like a lotto that has 200 billion to 1 odds of winning each prize, but I give you a trillion lotto tickets."

Do you realize that somebody has computed the upper bound on discrete chemical reactions on potential life bearing planets in a universe the age and size ours is believed to be? With very generous assumptions towards abiogenesis I might add. If you plug their assumptions into the Drake equation, we should be drinking tea with ET!

Do you realize that Golay's odds against the first step are greater by many orders of magnitude than that count?

It's more like having 1 million lotto tickets in a lottery the odds of which are 1 in a sextillion. No, I'm sorry. The difference is too small there.

"Also, we can't assume that life could only form one way, so there may have been many ways life could have originally formed, but we just ended up with this one..."

Life requiers a certain level of complexity. That's the basis of the calculations. There is no simple or easy life form. The simplest cell is more complex than man's most intricate machines. Most people don't realize that because they don't go beyond a certain, very high and very abstract level in studying a single cell. We needed freaking supercomputers just to map the instructions for a human cell. We didn't need any where near that level of computing power to design the Saturn V.

"Furthermore, while abiogenesis has never been observed, there is a great deal of evidence suggesting that it both can and did occur, from the evidence for a common ancestor"

Aside from debate about the evidence for common ancestors and what that means (not necessarily what you think), how the heck is that evidence that life randomly forms from non-life?

"No, it's a discussion about probability based on objective evidence. That's not the kind of "blind faith" that religion is based upon."

You think 1 x 10^450 happened multiple times in this universe? You have more faith than a faith healer my friend.

"Funny thing, about "increasing information" is that creationists never really define what they mean by "increasing information","

Sure they do. They absolutely do! Have you ever read any creationist or ID materials, or are you simply "misled" by your "psuedoscience evolution" sites?

Let's say we have a genome with absolutely no trace of information to form a feather. In N number of generations, all the information necessary to form a feather perfected for flight is present. Show me those kinds of mutations.

"They just misappropriate terms from information theory and claim it justifies their pseudoscience,"

I'm guessing you've never once read a single book on information theory. Perhaps it's time to start?

"Furthermore, why would all of these scientists for hundreds of years are support a theory that "trash[es] the laws we observe and test"?"

Is this a sophisticated form of appeal to authority? Maybe a review of the common fallacies is in order?

"The process isn't simply random "chance", it too would follow a kind of "evolution" where molecules or groups of molecules that were better able to self-reproduce and survive would be the ones that eventually became life. (We already know of some self-replicating molecules, like prions."

See what I posted before about extrapolations of simple chemical reactions into massively complex machines.

"People demand things, and people "demanding" that children be well educated in various areas, including science and important theories that help us understand the world around us, isn't a bad thing."

But people don't demand that. They demand that a certain specific theory is taught as fact when it rests on faith. And they demand that nobody question it.

"I totally agree. However, the hypothesis of abiogenesis can be tested by looking to see if the evidence resembles what we'd seen now if that was what occurred, and by trying to get an idea of whether it's chemically possible. So far the answers appear to be "yes" and "yes"."

No, it doesn't appear to be "yes" and "yes". Apart from Golay and information theory, there are so many barries to it happening chemically that it's not even funny. I don't consider chemically possible, and I don't see how anyone else does quite frankly. A cell would self destruct before it finished falling together by random chance. (Which is sort of like saying a computer controlled gas energy plant that builds copies of itself fell together by random chance.)

"On the other hand, creationism is not observable and not testable, therefore it is not science. "

Well by your definition it would be. We would just have to look for evidence that resembles what we would expect if life was created. Features, behaviors, or relationships which could not have come together by chance. Creationists and ID proponents have produced large lists of such evidences.

But I'm sticking to a strict interpretation of science: if I can't peer review it in a lab, I can't come to any certain scientific conclusion about it. We've strayed to far from real, hard science in society. I'm open to discussing things outside science and trying to apply some scientific evidence, but when something is strictly outside the bounds of science, let's call it as such and understand what that means to the debate.

"Actually, they don't say "fact", they say it's "very likely" to "virtually certain" (meaning 90-99% certain) because the evidence is based on far more than computer simulations,"

How can anyone by 99% certain in a prediction made by a simulation which can't model the century we've observed???

"it's based on objective observations, and there is no other explanation for the observed warming trend than the detectable emissions of greenhouse gasses and deforestation caused by humans."

Earth's climate history reveals larger, natural variations than we've observed in the 20th century. So there are clearly other explanations for the Earth warming and cooling. Further, CO2 and temperature graphs during the industrial age do not match up well at all. (Even if they did, coincidence is not necessarily causation or causation in a specific direction. We know for certain that one of the warmest periods in Earth's history saw CO2 increases after the warming, not before.) Temperatures went down, up, down, and up again on what appear to be 3-4 decade cycles. But CO2 just went up. That means there are factors larger than CO2 at work.

The impact of additional CO2 most likely decreases at a logarithmic rate. CO2 infrared absorption overlaps with water vapor, and for most of the planet most of the time, that band is near or past saturation. This is still being hashed out because one has to consider multiple factors (the gory details of which I won't go into), but some are saying we already know enough to know that further increases in CO2 will have little to no effect. If the models are modified to reflect this, it would dramatically reduce predicted warming. Perhaps this is the flaw that leads to the models over estimating the warming for the 20th century, which they consistently do when tested against what we've observed.

"Perhaps you might want to look into "solar forcing" (meaning the amount of influence the sun has on climate change), and you'll find that it has been studied quite thoroughly, and the vast majority of climate scientists think that solar variation has little to do with the roughly 100 year upward trend in global climate."

Perhaps you might want to look more closely at a graph of temperatures for the 20th century as there is no 100 year upward trend. We entered the 20th century on a down swing which should not have been happening if CO2 is such a strong factor in climate, given the start of the industrial age. Then we saw warming, and when graphs are corrected for the recently discovered flaw in ground set modeling, the 30's were about as warm as today. (Most graphs online are not yet corrected.) Then temperatures dropped again, '40's to late '70's. I might add that this drop occured during a massive ramp up in human CO2 output which started during WWII. And they dropped enough to cause a global cooling/ice age fear. Then they picked back up to their current level.

Solar forcing is debated, like much of what you link to and cite, and I sincerely wish that people like you would recognize and accept debate rather than presenting your side as if it was fact. You can always tell when a person can't prove their side strictly by the scientific method. They start off by saying "The majority of scientists..."

"Keep in mind that the principal solar cycle is only 11 years long, and thus cannot explain the far longer trend of global warming."

Yeah, I'm sure the sun isn't more complex or anything, and doesn't present additional, longer variations and cycles. All of Eath's past "long trends" of warming and cooling must have also been due to man :-/


wh44
Posted 15 December 2007 at 05:28 pm

dtaylor said: many, many lines of text

Please try to keep things short. I know it's hard, but please try. :-)
I will try to keep my response to your response as short as I can.

dtaylor said: "Nope. I'm merely pointing out the hypocrisy of looking down one's nose at faith when science itself rests on presumptions which require faith. (And not to anyone in particular. Just saying...)"

Firstly: I do not "look down my nose at faith". I believe in God and have defended that position here before.
Secondly: Faith in God requires we believe things that cannot be tested or arrived at by pure reason. Science is reasoning and testing.

dtaylor said: "Every single test has failed miserably."

No properly designed experiment can fail. Whatever the outcome, your understanding afterwards is improved.

dtaylor said: "We have never once observed life forming randomly from non-life."

That wasn't the primary point of the "primordial soup" experiment.

dtaylor said: "But until it [abiogenesis] is detected, that is a belief which rests on faith, and it should be taught that way."

No, we observe there is life, therefore either it was here forever, or abiogenesis occurred. You believe that God caused abiogenesis directly. I believe there is more to it than that. God moves in mysterious ways. :-)

dtaylor said: "Antiobiotic resistant strains of bacteria existed before the discovery of antibiotics as confirmed by ice core samples."

Never heard it, and I don't believe it: it makes no sense that bacteria would be resistant to something that didn't exist at the time. Please cite your source.

dtaylor said: "The virus is essentially de-evolving, becoming less specific, thereby entering more hosts."

Sorry, but no. Being less specific usually makes a virus decidedly less able to enter a host. Ask any biologist.

dtaylor said: "I don't see any difference between an evolutionist believing that life improves randomly, ..."

Once more: evolution is not random! Please do not put words in my mouth.

dtaylor said: "something he cannot observe, and a creationist saying God made it all, something he did not observe."

Need we go through all the evidence for evolution again?!

dtaylor said: "for natural selection to have something to select, information increasing mutations must randomly occur in the reproductive cells of a species. (The cells most protected from any mutation at all, I might add.)

I agree.

dtaylor said: "The source of the improvement is not natural selection. Natural selection merely preserves the improvement once it's there. The source is random mutation."

Yes and no: "preserve" is way too weak a word, over generations a positive gene will spread and individuals without it will usually die out.

dtaylor said: "And looking at the odds of just four sequential related mutations occuring, good or bad (1 x 10^28), ..."

Where do you get your statistics? What do you think birth defects are?
I agree that over 90% of such mutations are negative, with the majority being fatal (still births, spontaneous abortions, failure to implant). However, whatever the percentage of beneficial mutations, natural selection will see that those genes are the ones that get spread.
You talk about the mutations needing to be sequential: they do not need to be sequential, nor even in a direct line of descent. Provided that they are not incompatible, two different beneficial traits will eventually mix in a population (sexual reproduction speeds up evolution a lot).

"The laws of physics didn't accurately match the movement of a ball on an incline until we developed theories regarding air drag, and even now, there is some small variation. Does that mean that we shouldn't have used those earlier models? That we shouldn't use our current models?"

You want to use models proven false? Is that science?


Are you deliberately misinterpreting my point? You come across as dense here.

dtaylor said: stuff against prevailing global warming theory

The problems with prediction trouble me too. Do you have a more accurate theory?

"evolution is not random, only the individual mutations are random - "

Which means the whole process rests on things randomly becoming more complex. That's random :-)


You are really trying my patience: that extra step of natural selection is both crucial and not random.
Would you say that steam coming out of the spout of a teapot (as opposed to the side) is random? The primary cause is the random movement of molecules (i.e. heat).

dtaylor said: "There is no such thing as selective pressure. Pressure implies feedback into the genome which causes it to improve the next time around. There is no such pathway for a feedback mechanism. Selective preservation is the correct terminology."

I disagree: there is feedback into the genome. That bunny which can run faster will more likely have kids, and might just have those kids with that other bunny with the ears that can hear the fox better. Those kids with both will have even more kids. Those kids that don't have the genes will be the foxes lunch. I call that pressure.

dtaylor said this in response to Silverhill: "The Second Law of Thermodynamics would appear to be violated by a universe randomly forming planets with complex life. Don't counter with "...but the Earth is not a closed system." It's not, but our universe is. And somebody needs to explain how a big explosion produces life rather than a soup of matter and energy which just tends to become more even over time."

The mechanics of how the Universe got this way from the Big Bang are pretty well understood - at least after the first second or so. It is also very clear, that there is a great deal of energy pouring into this planet in the form of light and other radiation. That light is the major source of life. Where exactly in this chain are you claiming the Second Law was broken?

dtaylor said: "I agree with you completely that ID is in that category [not science]. But so is evolution."

No. Among scientists the theory of evolution is about as well founded and accepted as the theory of gravity. Ever hear of Project Steve? ID proponents have a list of roughly 100 scientists of any stripe who support it. Project Steve currently has 854 doctorates named Steve (or variant thereof) who have signed a statement supporting evolution and denouncing ID. Note that people named a variant of "Steve" are roughly 1% of the population.


HiEv
Posted 16 December 2007 at 01:06 am

Hoo, boy. Where do I start? (Apologies in advance to the people who don't care. They can feel free to skip this.)

dtaylor said: "Nope. I'm merely pointing out the hypocrisy of looking down one's nose at faith when science itself rests on presumptions which require faith. (And not to anyone in particular. Just saying...)"

There's nothing "hypocritical" at looking down upon a system that insists that some claims are true, despite having no evidence or even opposing evidence. Especially when that system tries to suppress evidence to the contrary. Blind faith in religion told people that the Sun revolved around the Earth. Fortunately, after centuries of repression by the church, the truth won out. But that hasn't stopped the church from trying to deny other well supported scientific claims. Why shouldn't we look down on something that tries to preserve its own dogma at the cost of the truth? Religion has tried to keep us ignorant of certain facts, was successful for centuries, and continues to this today, and to me, that is reprehensible.

dtaylor said: "Not plain wrong. Every single test has failed miserably. We have never once observed life forming randomly from non-life. We haven't even been able to cause it to happen with stacked odds and perfect conditions in a lab."

You don't need to travel at the speed of light to understand what would happen. Much like the low-speed tests of relativity, where a simple test supports the broader theory, the "primordial soup" tests showed that amino acids needed to for life would form. Furthermore, the odds were not stacked in favor of life forming in such a test, nor was it expected to. Remember, it took hundreds of millions of years for life to form in a "beaker" the size of the Earth. Combined with the genetic and fossil evidence, the support for abiogenesis is overwhelming.

If you demand to see life formed by abiogenesis before you'll believe it, then I must ask why you hold science to such an absurdly high standard, when you hold your religion to no such standard. That is hypocrisy.

dtaylor said: "There are viruses which are said to have "improved" through mutation, but the mutations are all information decreasing. The virus is essentially de-evolving, becoming less specific, thereby entering more hosts. That's fine for now, but eventually the genome would de-evolve to the point where it self destructs."

LOL. What creationist website did you copy that nonsense from?

Seriously, show me one scientific study that backs any of that up and I'll eat my hat.

dtaylor said: "Mutations in higher forms are invariably harmful."

What a lie. "Invariably" means "always", and that simply isn't true. We can look at our genome and those of our closest relatives, and see what mutations have occurred in our evolution, and obviously some have been quite beneficial.

Furthermore, a mutation that is "harmful" in one environment may be "beneficial" in another. Take for example, the sickle cell gene. While it may be a harmful mutation if you have two copies of the gene, in the case of an environment with malaria, it ends up being an overall beneficial mutation, since it confers a resistance to malaria even with one copy of the gene.

For the record, the sickle-cell mutation is a point mutation of a single nucleotide, which appears to have occurred at least four different times in human evolution. For more see here. So, would this make this an "information increasing mutation" or not? And why? (Watch him ignore or weasel out of answering those questions.)

dtaylor said: "Look at the amount of life on this planet. Calculate how many mutations would have to occur for each species. Even with billions of years, positive, information increasing mutations would have to be occuring on a daily basis to produce the variety of life we see. Yet we can't find one."

Please don't use terms you can't define. Part of the reason nobody can find an "information increasing mutation" is because nobody defines that term in a useful or consistent way. Whenever you hear mentioned it in relation to genetics you can be fairly certain you've entered pseudoscience land.

Furthermore, what you are asking for would probably require completely sequencing the genome for many members of one species over several generations. Right now it takes months to years to even sequence one individual. Even then, it would require knowing exactly what the relevant gene does, and we only know that kind of stuff about a handfull of genes so far.

As with your other arguments, the problem is that you disregard the overwhelming existing evidence because you set the bar ridiculously high for science, despite having such a low bar for your own beliefs. Evolution and abiogenesis are the most probable scientific explanations for the evidence we have. If you think you have a better one, let's hear it, but even if you were somehow able to overthrow known science, that doesn't make your alternative any more true.

dtaylor said: "I don't see any difference between an evolutionist believing that life improves randomly, something he cannot observe, and a creationist saying God made it all, something he did not observe. Both believe on faith."

You fail to see the difference for several reasons.

1) You clearly don't understand evolution (you keep referring to it as "random", you think it favors "complexity" instead of survival, you blindly insist mutations are always harmful in "higher forms", you think "information increasing mutations" is a meaningful term, and other fatuous nonsense).
2) You think if science doesn't meet your ridiculously high standards for proof then there is no evidence at all.
3) You ignore the difference between a probable explanation based on objective evidence and blind faith.
4) You think that objective evidence that supports and is explained by a hypothesis doesn't count as "observing" something.
5) And you ignore the fact that, unlike evolution, the evidence actually contradicts most of the claims of those who say "goddidit".

Letting the evidence lead you to a probable conclusion is reasonable, ignoring the evidence in favor of personal beliefs is "blind faith" and quite the opposite of accepting objective scientific evidence. Hopefully now you can see the (rather glaring) differences between these two things.

dtaylor said: "Don't feel bad, most people completely miss this subtle yet critical point of failure for the general theory of evolution because few teachers bother to put a spotlight on it: for natural selection to have something to select, information increasing mutations must randomly occur in the reproductive cells of a species. (The cells most protected from any mutation at all, I might add.) The source of the improvement is not natural selection. Natural selection merely preserves the improvement once it's there. The source is random mutation."

Putting aside the "information increasing mutations" pseudoscience. Mutations affect individuals, but to improve an entire species requires natural selection. That's the "subtle but critical point" you have missed.

dtaylor said: "Without an experiment I can perform in my own lab which produces such a mutation so that I may test and observe, this point of evolution rests on faith. And looking at the odds of just four sequential related mutations occuring, good or bad (1 x 10^28), and much more so the odds of a complete animal as complex as a modern mammal (1 x 10^3,000,000), that's quite a leap of faith."

Believing you requires a rather large leap of faith. Funny how when you pull numbers out of your ass, they agree with you, huh? ;-)

Actual science says that there are about 175 mutations per generation out of around 6 billion base pairs of DNA in humans (source). Mutations can include all sorts of things too, such as point mutations, duplications, insertions, deletions, inversions, shifting of genes, or other such changes. Using "four sequential related mutations" was pretty arbitrary too. If those same mutations were stretched out over a thousand generations, the end result could be exactly the same. That's often how evolution actually works too.

dtaylor said: ""evolution is not random, only the individual mutations are random - "

Which means the whole process rests on things randomly becoming more complex. That's random :-)"


Except that it doesn't and isn't. But other than that, you're completely right. :-P

Evolution favors survival and reproduction, not complexity. Evolution doesn't care about complexity at all, and it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of evolution that you think it's relevant. An evolutionary change made by natural selection may make an organism more complex or simpler, because what really affects evolution is the survival of the species, not its complexity. Furthermore, whether the mutation becomes common in the species as a whole, thus causing evolution, is based on natural selection, thus is not random.

Yes, there is some randomness involved, especially at the beginning and especially for mutations that have little impact, but once the ball gets rolling, as the gene becomes species-wide the process becomes mostly driven by natural selection, not random events. And in the long term, evolution is really about species-wide events.

dtaylor said: "I agree with you completely that ID is in that category. But so is evolution."

Only if you ignore the mountains of objective evidence for evolution.

Seriously, wake up and smell the coffee, dude. Evolution has successfully made so many predictions that have turned out to be true, from fossils to genetics, that you'd have to be pretty freaking ignorant of the facts to think it's wrong. Evolution completely explains the relevant evidence before us, it's testable and falsifiable, and that's exactly what makes good science. There's no way it's in the same category as the blind faith claims of creationists.


HiEv
Posted 16 December 2007 at 09:14 am

dtaylor said: ""Atoms and molecules are similar to loaded dice! That is, certain combinations have a tendency to happen, and a system with a tendency is not at all random."

No, they're not. The "certain combinations" you refer to are not any where near a living, reproducing machine."


I'd say, "Time for you to go back to chemistry class," but I don't think you've ever been to one. Of course atoms and molecules prefer certain combinations. That is the basis of chemistry and much of biology and atomic physics as well! And as in the "primordial soup" experiments, we can see that chemistry favored organic compounds, like amino acids, sugars, lipids, and nucleic acids. Those are most of the parts you need to form organic life. (Or more like, life uses those compounds because they're so easy to form.) Studies of the most well preserved genes across all species found that those genes tended to be based more heavily on the kinds of materials produced in these experiments as well! (source)

They're all the parts you need for a "living, reproducing machine", and yet you still deny that they're anywhere near that. Why would you say that?

dtaylor said: "The Second Law of Thermodynamics would appear to be violated by a universe randomly forming planets with complex life. Don't counter with "…but the Earth is not a closed system." It's not, but our universe is."

(yawn) So I guess you totally ignored the numerous links on this fallacy I gave you earlier. If you are defining the Universe as your "closed system" then you'd only need to show that there is an overall entropy increase in the universe, and if you think evolution is going to put a dent in that, then you're out of your ever-lovin' mind. The second law of thermodynamics does not prevent local pockets of decreasing entropy, it just talks about the system as a whole.

In short, the argument is BS based on misrepresenting and/or misunderstanding science. As usual.

dtaylor said: "And somebody needs to explain how a big explosion produces life rather than a soup of matter and energy which just tends to become more even over time."

LOL. Where do you come up with these things? It's like you just said, "Somebody needs to explain how digging up rocks and setting them on fire makes cars." There's just so much wrong with the assumptions and bias in the question that I don't even know where to start correcting them.

dtaylor said: "You and I have different definitions of increasing information. Let me try to make it clear with an analogy. We both observe a hard disk that is zero-formatted, then has Windows XP installed. A random error of the read write head leaves some stray 1's in the empty portion of the disk. You would say the information increased. I would not."

But if you're talking about information theory, then yes, information has increased. It takes more information to describe the state of the hard disk with those stray 1's than it does to describe the all zeros disk.

dtaylor said: ""Information" is meaningful. Random letters typed on a page by a monkey do not constitute information. Sentences which conform to the grammer of a language and convey rational, coherent ideas are information."

I'm sorry, but if that's your definition then what counts as information is completely arbitrary. What is meaningful to you may be "random letters" to someone else, and vice versa. With such a definition there is no objective way to determine what is or is not information. Thus, your definition is not only arbitrary, but useless.

I think you might want to come up with a better definition than that.

dtaylor said: ""Evolution and abiogenesis are science because they make testable claims and predictions."

First of all, what test can I perform to falsify the idea of abiogenesis? I'll setup the lab and we'll establish right now whether it occurs or not. We'll get the Nobel prize."


Well, you look for evidence that life appeared fully formed. Or that all life doesn't have one common ancestor. Or that the environment where abiogenesis would have occurred couldn't have supported it.

Of course, you'd fail because all of those things have been tested, and all of the evidence found supports abiogenesis, instead of disproving it.

dtaylor said: "Second, how many times must experiments designed to prove it true come back false before we recognize the idea as untenable?"

Actually, in science you're supposed to test the null hypothesis, meaning design the test to prove the hypothesis false. Anyways, the answer varies depending on how clear your results are, how good your study was, and how much evidence contradicting your results there is. If the results are definitive enough though, the answer can be one.

dtaylor said: "Which step in the scientific method says cling to your model even after its predictions have failed you?"

There is no such step, but there has been no such failure in evolution or abiogenesis either.

dtaylor said: "Scientists hope that someday somebody demonstrates abiogenesis. That's fine if that's where they want to place their hope. But call it hope! Call it faith! That's what it is. It's not true or a law of science until it is repeatedly observed by many peers."

Pfft! Of course scientists would love to reproduce the events of our abiogenesis in a lab, but you're nuts if you think that's the only possible evidence that can support the theory. A "hypothesis" is an explanation for facts. A "theory" is a hypothesis that is well supported by the evidence, makes useful predictions, and has stood the test of time. A "law" is an apparently universal explanation of observations. Considering abiogenesis is a one-time event on Earth, it can never be defined as a "law", nor does it need to be to be science.

Furthermore, there's nothing "faith" related about it. I don't know why you insist in forcing "faith" on everyone. It seems almost pathological in you. Not everybody has or needs "blind faith", despite what you'd like to believe.

dtaylor said: ""No, your pseudoscience creationist websites have mislead you. Abiogenesis does not violate any observed laws, nor is it "mathematically impossible"."

Oh, OK…I'm just "misled". I didn't, maybe, once believe in evolution, do my own research, and change my mind or anything. Nah…I'm just brainwashed :-/"


LOL. I love how you turn "misled" into "brainwashed". Any other words you'd like to twist?

BTW, where did you do your "own research"? Creationist websites? Creationist pamphlets? Creationist books? I'm sorry, but your misuse of information theory in genetics is clearly based in misleading creationist disinformation campaigns, like the ones from "Answers in Genesis" and "The Discovery Institute" and their ilk. Look up the Wedge Strategy sometime, and you'll see that it's not about an objective search for the truth, it's a public relations smear campaign against science based in fear, ignorance, and blind religious faith. That's why I say you've been misled.

dtaylor said: "And believing in something that cannot be observed or tested in a lab…is that pseudoscience (creation) or not (abiogenesis)? I'm confused on that one. How do I know when the unobservable is just pseudoscience, and when it's science, because I thought science required observation. Repeatedly. By multiple people through peer review."

The problem is that you think "observation" only means direct observation, and that no indirect relevant observations count. Sorry, bub, but all relevant objective information counts in science. For example, the "primordial-soup" experiments are observations of the molecules produced by the early Earth's environment, and they have been repeated by multiple people and subject to peer review. They support the theory of abiogenesis, even without forming new life, because they show that the necessary building blocks were there.

Creationism research, on the other hand, has not done any such tests. See the difference yet?

It's like you see the car wrapped around the light pole, the skid marks leading up to the car, and the blood on the broken windshield, but you refuse to believe there was a car accident because nobody saw it happen. How much more evidence do you need, short of seeing it happen yourself?

dtaylor said: "The entire universe is a closed system which appears to have come into being from an explosion."

Incorrect. "An explosion" assumes that matter/energy was exploding into something else. With the Universe there is nothing else. It's not an "explosion", it's an "expansion". The term "the Big Bang" was meant to mock the theory, but the name stuck. Don't confuse the name for what the theory actually says.

dtaylor said: "An explosion yielding life any where in the aftermath would be a violation of SLoT for the entire mess."

So you didn't bother reading those sites, because they specifically pointed out what's wrong with this argument (as I explained in my previous post.)

dtaylor said: "Do you realize that Golay's odds against the first step are greater by many orders of magnitude than that count?"

Good grief. Could you be more vague in your references? They're a pain in the arse to track down when you don't cite anything.

You're referring to an outdated 1961 paper by Marcel J. E. Golay, who was not a chemist, and the 10^450 "odds" that you tout so highly were him talking about the odds of his robot making a copy of itself totally at random. Those odds have nothing to do with the formation of life on Earth! His robot did not use DNA, RNA, or any other kind of molecule that's able to self-replicate. So, I'm guessing your "independent research" includes reading creationist Henry Morris. He's fond of spreading that error. For more on what's wrong with that number see here.

So, you've not only taken his out of date comment out of context, but you've misapplied it to an irrelevant situation. This kind of misinformation is a common creationist tactic.

dtaylor said: ""Also, we can't assume that life could only form one way, so there may have been many ways life could have originally formed, but we just ended up with this one…"

Life requiers a certain level of complexity. That's the basis of the calculations. There is no simple or easy life form."


Argument by lack of imagination? I'm sorry, but there most certainly
are "easy" life forms as I used the term. I said that life may have originated the way it did "because it was the "easiest" to form in that environment". And by that I mean that there may have been better ways to begin life, but they were more difficult because of that particular environment. Perhaps the necessary molecules were too scarce or the planet was too hot/cold. It's a rather basic fact that it's easier to build a straw hut than a brick hut if you have plenty of straw but not enough materials to make bricks. The result may not be be the best, but you have to work with what you've got.

And just because life requires a certain amount of complexity, doesn't mean that there aren't multiple ways of reaching that level of complexity. If you assume life can only form one way, you're not only making a bad assumption, but you're falsely increasing the difficulty for life to form.

dtaylor said: "The simplest cell is more complex than man's most intricate machines."

I guess you only accepted the parts of Golay's paper that you wanted to accept. It points out that about 1,500 bits appears to be the lower limit necessary for self-replicating protiens. He's wrong of course, prions are much simpler, but even if you accept that outdated statistic, it shows that your above claim is baseless BS. The space shuttle, for example, is far more complex, with more than 2.5 million parts.

dtaylor said: "Most people don't realize that because they don't go beyond a certain, very high and very abstract level in studying a single cell. We needed freaking supercomputers just to map the instructions for a human cell. We didn't need any where near that level of computing power to design the Saturn V."

You're comparing apples to atoms there. The difference in scale changes the level of detail necessary for the simulation. When they designed the Saturn V they didn't have to map every atom, but that's essentially what you have to do when simulating a cell in detail. Do the same level of detail on both, and you'd discover that simulating the cell is easier because it contains fewer atoms. Fortunately a "very high and very abstract level" works just fine for most cases.

dtaylor said: "Aside from debate about the evidence for common ancestors and what that means (not necessarily what you think), how the heck is that evidence that life randomly forms from non-life?"

I wish you'd stop rewriting my points to suit you, and then ask me to defend your twisted version of my point. I didn't say it happens totally randomly, and honestly, I think the whole "life vs. non-life" distinction is fairly arbitrary. The definition of "life" is rather vague. For example, are viruses or prions alive? I think it's not like a switch is thrown and "click!" suddenly there's life, but rather more like turning up a dimmer, with shades of gray between living and non-living.

Your irrelevant insertions and hinting about my ignorance aside, if abiogenesis occurred then we'd likely find that all life sprang from a single common ancestor for all life. Since that, indeed, is what we seem to have found, then that supports the hypothesis. It's pretty straightforward.

dtaylor said: ""No, it's a discussion about probability based on objective evidence. That's not the kind of "blind faith" that religion is based upon."

You think 1 x 10^450 happened multiple times in this universe? You have more faith than a faith healer my friend."


No, I think your statistic is crap, and the evidence backs me up. I trust the mounds of scientific evidence over your bogus statistics any day. Seriously, if you rely on craptastic information like that, you shouldn't be surprised when people say you've been misled.

dtaylor said: ""Funny thing, about "increasing information" is that creationists never really define what they mean by "increasing information","

Sure they do. They absolutely do! Have you ever read any creationist or ID materials, or are you simply "misled" by your "psuedoscience evolution" sites?"


I've looked in quite a few places and asked other creationists, but all the definitions I've seen have been vague, arbitrary, and/or used other undefined terms. Perhaps I'm wrong, but you aren't really changing my impression here.

dtaylor said: "Let's say we have a genome with absolutely no trace of information to form a feather. In N number of generations, all the information necessary to form a feather perfected for flight is present. Show me those kinds of mutations."

Wow. What a BS example. "Absolutely no trace of information"? What does that even mean? There are only four base pairs, so does that count as a "trace"? There are only 21 amino acids produced through gene expression, does that count as a "trace"? Feathers apparently formed from scales, so does that mean genes for scales count as a "trace"? Since you don't define what you mean by "information" in an objectively determinable manner, your question is unanswerable.

Even if I could answer your question, there's no way I could communicate that answer to you in a way you would understand and believe. Seriously, try a more realistic question with better defined terms.

dtaylor said: ""Furthermore, why would all of these scientists for hundreds of years are support a theory that "trash[es] the laws we observe and test"?"

Is this a sophisticated form of appeal to authority? Maybe a review of the common fallacies is in order?"


No, it's an earnest attempt to point out to you that you've made a fundamental error. If you say a house is clearly burning down, and I point out all of the firemen around it, examining the structure, passing right through it, and saying it's safe, I think I'd be justified in asking you why you think the house is burning down while the firemen looking at it don't. Perhaps the problem isn't with all of those firemen or the house, it's with you.

dtaylor said: ""People demand things, and people "demanding" that children be well educated in various areas, including science and important theories that help us understand the world around us, isn't a bad thing."

But people don't demand that. They demand that a certain specific theory is taught as fact when it rests on faith. And they demand that nobody question it."


Oh baloney. They demand that evolution be taught as scientific theory, the same as any other important scientific theory. It doesn't rest on faith, it rests on mountains of evidence. And science is all about questioning.

But you aren't talking about questioning, you're talking about religious-based denial, because you're denying all of that evidence simply because we can't reach the ridiculous bar for evidence that you've set because you want to pretend science and religion are on even footing here. Your denial is based in trying to keep people from questioning religion, so your objection to teaching evolution is rather ironic as well. Sorry, but science doesn't use your self-interested denial as a basis for what is and isn't evidence.

Have you got some objectively testable explanation that better explains the evidence? If so, we're all ears. But you don't. So you just try to punch holes in evolution using out of date information, misappropriated terms, fake numbers, and other pseudoscience along with the sledgehammer-in-a-silk-sleeve of religion. Well, gotta tell ya', it ain't working. Blind faith won't change science.

dtaylor said: ""I totally agree. However, the hypothesis of abiogenesis can be tested by looking to see if the evidence resembles what we'd seen now if that was what occurred, and by trying to get an idea of whether it's chemically possible. So far the answers appear to be "yes" and "yes"."

No, it doesn't appear to be "yes" and "yes". Apart from Golay and information theory, there are so many barries to it happening chemically that it's not even funny. I don't consider chemically possible, and I don't see how anyone else does quite frankly."


Well, most people would realize that this means that there is probably a reason why other people get it and you don't. Golay was wrong about his numbers, wrong about how life forms, and taken out of context, so that argument is a dry well. "Information theory" applied to genetics as you and the other creationists have done is pseudoscience. And as we've seen, you're no chemist. So, all in all it's no wonder you don't get it.

That aside, we're also talking about really big numbers here, which a lot of people have problems with anyways. However, once you multiply the vast spans of time (around half a billion years) by the volume of space involved (the entire liquid surface of the Earth down to an unknown depth, plus some land area) by the number of chemical interactions that take place per second on average in a cubic foot of that volume per second, you end up with a truly mindbogglingly huge number. Factor in chemistry's tendencies, because things weren't entirely random (many useful molecules are favored by chemistry), plus a form of natural selection among the molecules, and the end result makes improbable events probable. Who knows, the Earth could have just been one out of, say, a million other planets going through the same thing at the time, which increases the odds that one of them would form life by another six powers of ten.

Even if you continue to ignore all of that, incredibly improbable events happen all the time. That's just how probability works. Unlikely events aren't impossible, just improbable.

dtaylor said: "A cell would self destruct before it finished falling together by random chance."

Well, good thing it wasn't random chance or even a cell then, eh? Seriously, drop the "random chance" thing. You sound like a broken record, and it's such a minor part of what anyone is saying compared to natural selection and such.

Anyways, if you think abiogenesis made a modern cell pop into existence, no wonder you're so confused. The reality is that it probably simply started out as a simple replicating protein, much like a prion, and then slight changes (mutations) and natural selection (evolution) favored versions that were better able to survive and reproduce, until it began to look more like the earliest bacteria, probably similar to archaea. Like I said, you're looking for a sudden "click!" from chemicals to life, and the science says it's more of a slow transition.

dtaylor said: ""On the other hand, creationism is not observable and not testable, therefore it is not science. "

Well by your definition it would be. We would just have to look for evidence that resembles what we would expect if life was created. Features, behaviors, or relationships which could not have come together by chance. Creationists and ID proponents have produced large lists of such evidences."


Uh, no, they haven't. There can be no such evidence, because any evidence fits their claim. Your supposed "God" could create however He wanted, so there is no way to falsify a creationist universe. Without a falsifiable claim, there's nothing to test.

What you're talking about when you say things that couldn't have happened by "chance" (again with the straw man argument) are attempts to disprove evolution, not creationism. And in doing so, you are presenting a false dichotomy, where you think disproving evolution proves creationism, ignoring any other alternatives. (And you had the nerve to tell me that I was the one who needed a "review of the common fallacies"?)

Furthermore, creationists have repeatedly failed to disprove evolution. All they've come up with are arguments from a failure of imagination, where they can't figure out how something could have evolved, therefore evolution is wrong and "goddidit". Of course, what happens next is what happens every time you apply the god-of-the-gaps argument, saying God did whatever it is we can't currently figure out: we figure out how it could have happened naturally. Behe's bacterial flagellum and arguments about the animal immune system are only believed by creationists, as science has long since given many explanations regarding their origins. And so, the god-of-the-gaps gets smaller and smaller.

One wonders why some people keep trying to avoid finding real answers, and using God instead, "explaining" one mystery with an even bigger one, when it only makes God smaller every time we eventually find a natural explanation.

dtaylor said: "But I'm sticking to a strict interpretation of science: if I can't peer review it in a lab, I can't come to any certain scientific conclusion about it."

"Peer review it in a lab"? Good grief, man. You really don't know what you're talking about, do you? Peer review means examining the paper, the study, and the data it's based on. There's no lab work in peer review. The lab is for replicating experiments. If you're going to stick to science, you might want to understand it first.

dtaylor said: "We've strayed to far from real, hard science in society."

I can somewhat agree upon this in some areas, but in this area you're dead wrong. In other areas, like homeopathic medicine, prayer, psychics, etc... yeah, there is a lot of misinformation out there, and scammers who are willing to take advantage of people with it. People are selling hundred dollar speaker cables out there (for home use) to gullible people because people don't understand science.

dtaylor said: "I'm open to discussing things outside science and trying to apply some scientific evidence, but when something is strictly outside the bounds of science, let's call it as such and understand what that means to the debate."

But you've redefined science by introducing your own ridiculous standards of evidence. I, and the rest of the scientific community, simply don't agree with your definition of what counts as science.

Now, switching to global warming...

dtaylor said: "How can anyone by 99% certain in a prediction made by a simulation which can't model the century we've observed???"

None of what you just said is true. It's not based on a prediction made by a simulation, it's based on observed evidence. Also, we do have simulations which can model the century we have observed. I even pointed that first part out in the very next thing you quoted.

dtaylor said: ""it's based on objective observations, and there is no other explanation for the observed warming trend than the detectable emissions of greenhouse gasses and deforestation caused by humans."

Earth's climate history reveals larger, natural variations than we've observed in the 20th century."


But A) not in such a short time period and B) not without some sort of reason that isn't applicable today.

dtaylor said: "Perhaps you might want to look more closely at a graph of temperatures for the 20th century as there is no 100 year upward trend."

I already have, and it's pretty clearly there. Perhaps you might want to look yourself here, it's the first graph on the page. See again here and here. I have to wonder how bad your eyesight is if you can't see that. Note that in the latter graph it shows how current temperatures are way higher than they've been in over 2,000 years.

dtaylor said: "We entered the 20th century on a down swing which should not have been happening if CO2 is such a strong factor in climate, given the start of the industrial age."

Ah, if only CO2 were the only factor and the start of the industrial age held a candle to later production rates you might have a point, but neither is the case. See the inset graph here and you can see that CO2 levels had gone from around a fairly steady 275 ppmv to about 290 ppmv at the end of the 19th century. A little over a 5% increase. By the end of the 20th century it was at around 370 ppmv, a nearly 35% increase from the earlier number. Furthermore, earlier pollution included a lot higher ratio of particulates into the atmosphere, which increased reflection in the atmosphere, creating some global cooling, countering the effect of the increased CO2. Furthermore, these effects are not instantaneous. They take time to appear, and time to go away. Even if the world completely stopped polluting right now, average temperatures would still continue to rise as much as another half a degree before beginning to reverse.

dtaylor said: "Then we saw warming, and when graphs are corrected for the recently discovered flaw in ground set modeling, the 30's were about as warm as today. (Most graphs online are not yet corrected.)"

Man, where to you get this BS from? Are you talking about the "urban heat island" effect? If so, despite some early concerns, the evidence shows that it does not significantly affect the global historical temperature record. Furthermore, temperatures also went up over water and in isolated areas which would not be affected by the urban heat island effect.

dtaylor said: "Then temperatures dropped again, '40's to late '70's."

And this drop is strongly correlated with the use of sulfate aerosols, which caused cooling by reflecting back more sunlight and causing water to condense and rain. Unfortunately this was also one of the causes of "acid rain". As their use dropped, and greenhouse gasses continued to rise, their effect diminished. (see here)

dtaylor said: ""Keep in mind that the principal solar cycle is only 11 years long, and thus cannot explain the far longer trend of global warming."

Yeah, I'm sure the sun isn't more complex or anything, and doesn't present additional, longer variations and cycles. All of Eath's past "long trends" of warming and cooling must have also been due to man :-/"


(eyeroll) None of Earth's other warming trends compare to today, and it's blind faith, not science, to assume that the causes of the previous changes are the same causes as today, when most of the evidence is to the contrary. And it's not like the sun's other cycles correspond with the warming trend either. Heck, you can look back in time over half a million years and not see anything like this in the global temperature record. You have to look back about 3 million years to find when Earth was last this warm, and that was a much different Earth. If that doesn't tell you something, I don't know what will.

I don't get it when people think that because it's "man vs. all of nature" that somehow nothing we do can significantly affect the environment. One has to only open their eyes and look around, and they can see that we can cause some pretty huge effects on the environment.

Anyways, if I leave you with only one thing, it's to stop saying "random" and/or "chance" when talking about evolution. It shows that you either don't understand the true basis of evolution or you're willingly spreading misleading information. In either case it just makes you look bad.


Silverhill
Posted 17 December 2007 at 08:08 pm

Here are a few more points for you, dtaylor. Offline circumstances prevented me from responding earlier, and in the meantime our esteemed colleagues wh44 and HiEv have said much of what I would have, but I'll chip in a few bytes.
First, please make your responses more readable by the judicious use of this site's Quote function. Choose the pieces of text that you wish to quote and bracket each of them with the Begin-Quote and End-Quote tags. This sets them off from your text both physically and chromatically, making it much easier for your readers to follow you. (You can even nest the Quote tags to show who said what, and in what order.)

dtaylor said: "Every single test [of the "primordial soup" idea] has failed miserably. We have never once observed life forming randomly from non-life. We haven't even been able to cause it to happen with stacked odds and perfect conditions in a lab.
Wrong. As has been noted, we haven't been trying to achieve "life from non-life"...at least, not yet. Not yet, because we don't know enough about the processes. Yet. We have not "stacked the odds"---not any more than the early Earth's environment did. What we have done is estimate the likely chemical and energic components of that early environment; we have never had "perfect" conditions in the lab. We have seen that certain biologic precursor molecules are fairly easy to form in such an environment---and even in environments much less suitable-seeming. Various interesting organic molecules are observed in the cold, dispersed, near-vacuum environments of interstellar molecular clouds, for instance.

good science does not proceed to call the models "fact" or "law". Which is how abiogenesis is taught in most high schools and colleges today.
If it is taught carelessly, it may be called "law". If it is taught properly---and you are strongly encouraged to give your support to, say, your local schools in this---it is called "the best fit, so far, to the evidence gathered, so far". You note "the consistency of the failure of the tests"---please show us even one test of creationist notions that has proven anything!

Antiobiotic resistant strains of bacteria existed before the discovery of antibiotics as confirmed by ice core samples.
I suppose that you mean that ancient bacteria have been found that had the ability to resist modern antibiotics. So what? It would have been fairly easy for some of such bacteria to encounter, say, an ancient Penicillium mold or one of the tetracycline-producing fungi. It doesn't have to have happened only once. And, do these ice-core bacteria have the ability to resist nearly all modern antibiotics, as (disturbingly) certain Staphylococci, and certain Tuberculosis bacteria, do? These multiply-resistant strains definitely did not exist (in significant numbers, at least) 100 years ago. But now that there are various antibiotics in use, some of the bacteria end up resistant to them. Where did all this "new information" come from, then?

There are viruses which are said to have "improved" through mutation, but the mutations are all information decreasing.
Categoric statements such as this are essentially useless without supporting information. Back up your claims or abandon them.
(Besides, isn't a mutation that allows a virus to attack a previously immune host an "improvement" from the point of view of the virus?)

The virus is essentially de-evolving, becoming less specific, thereby entering more hosts. That's fine for now, but eventually the genome would de-evolve to the point where it self destructs.
And you know this---how? You are sure that some degree of simplification will necessarily lead to increasing simplification, proceeding inexorably to ruin? You are invited to prove it. ("Put up or shut up", as the saying goes.)

Mutations in higher forms are invariably harmful.
Wrong. See above, and consider, say, mosquitoes that acquired resistance to DDT. (I consider metazoans, including mosquitoes, to be "higher life forms"---definitely "higher" than protozoa and the like.)

No, you are the one who hasn't been paying attention. Don't feel bad, most people completely miss this subtle yet critical point
We're not feeling bad. We would advise you, however, to avoid condescension in your replies. (If you really want to turn an audience against you, insult them.)

You want to use models proven false? Is that science?
No, we don't want to use models proven false. (Don't be disingenuous, either.) When models are proven inadequate (or just plain wrong), they are abandoned by (proper) scientists. Other models are then put in their place, and subjected to the same kind of skeptical testing to see if they're any better.

Silverhill said: ""The odds of rolling a 7, with fair dice, are 1 in 6. The odds of rolling a 7, with loaded dice, can be much lower---or much higher.
Atoms and molecules are similar to loaded dice! That is, certain combinations have a tendency to happen, and a system with a tendency is not at all random."
dtaylor said: "No, they're not. The "certain combinations" you refer to are not any where near a living, reproducing machine. You are orders of magnitude away from such a thing.
And so what? You have to start at the bottom, here. And at the bottom you find molecules with a tendency to combine.

It's like saying that gasoline has a tendency to burn, so if you throw some gas and some iron into a pit along with a match, you should get a car engine. Or like saying that a fluctuating magnetic field over a disk tends to produce both 1's and 0's, so if you wave a speaker magnet over a hard drive you'll get Windows XP with MS Office.
No, it's not like saying those things, because saying those things is stupid. It's actually like saying that if you throw together some gasoline, some iron, some brass, various plastics, some sulfuric acid, some lead, some lead oxide, some copper, some latex, some sulfur, some carbon black, some aluminum, various hydraulic fluids, some water, various oils and greases, some tools, some people trained in the derivation and application of these objects and substances, various kinds of energy, et-freakin'-cetera, you'll get a car. Simplifying it the way you did is disingenuous at best, inexcusably ignorant at worst.

(You respect [Golay] so little that you believe his equations didn't take into account the highest order of building blocks which form naturally?)
You respect Golay so much that you didn't take into account the fact that he didn't know what he was doing (as shown above by HiEv)?

you need to spend more time studying cells. A cell actively works in ways which are against the tendencies you refer to.
Au contraire, mon ami. Cells are strongly contra-entropic in their activities, using those tendencies to assist them in creating order out of chaos.

Oh, OK…I'm just "misled".
Definitely! But there's help for that. Bring an open mind with you; you'll need it.

A cell would self destruct before it finished falling together by random chance.
Perhaps so. It's a good thing that random chance was not nearly so much involved as you want to think.

We would just have to look for evidence that resembles what we would expect if life was created. Features, behaviors, or relationships which could not have come together by chance.
And by what criteria, exactly, would you be able to judge this? Do you have some independent experience as a creator-of-life, so that you would be a qualified judge? Or, failing that, do you have some unimpeachable authority upon whose judgment you could rely? (Don't bring in a god, here. Not when there is so much uncertainty involved with the alleged information about, or from, such an entity.)

But I'm sticking to a strict interpretation of science:
Alas, you are doing no such thing, and neither are some of your sources.


Silverhill
Posted 17 December 2007 at 08:16 pm

Here are a few more points for you, dtaylor. Offline circumstances prevented me from responding earlier, and in the meantime our esteemed colleagues wh44 and HiEv have said much of what I would have, but I'll chip in a few bytes.
First, please make your responses more readable by the judicious use of this site's Quote function. Choose the pieces of text that you wish to quote and bracket each of them with the Begin-Quote and End-Quote tags. This sets them off from your text both physically and chromatically, making it much easier for your readers to follow you. (You can even nest the Quote tags to show who said what, and in what order.)

dtaylor said: "Every single test [of the "primordial soup" idea] has failed miserably. We have never once observed life forming randomly from non-life. We haven't even been able to cause it to happen with stacked odds and perfect conditions in a lab.
Wrong. As has been noted, we haven't been trying to achieve "life from non-life"...at least, not yet. Not yet, because we don't know enough about the processes. Yet. We have not "stacked the odds"---not any more than the early Earth's environment did. What we have done is estimate the likely chemical and energic components of that early environment; we have never had "perfect" conditions in the lab. We have seen that certain biologic precursor molecules are fairly easy to form in such an environment---and even in environments much less suitable-seeming. Various interesting organic molecules are observed in the cold, dispersed, near-vacuum environments of interstellar molecular clouds, for instance.

good science does not proceed to call the models "fact" or "law". Which is how abiogenesis is taught in most high schools and colleges today.
If it is taught carelessly, it may be called "law". If it is taught properly---and you are strongly encouraged to give your support to, say, your local schools in this---it is called "the best fit, so far, to the evidence gathered, so far". You note "the consistency of the failure of the tests"---please show us even one test of creationist notions that has proven anything!

Antiobiotic resistant strains of bacteria existed before the discovery of antibiotics as confirmed by ice core samples.
I suppose that you mean that ancient bacteria have been found that had the ability to resist modern antibiotics. So what? It would have been fairly easy for some of such bacteria to encounter, say, an ancient Penicillium mold or one of the tetracycline-producing fungi. It doesn't have to have happened only once. And, do these ice-core bacteria have the ability to resist nearly all modern antibiotics, as (disturbingly) certain Staphylococci, and certain Tuberculosis bacteria, do? These multiply-resistant strains definitely did not exist (in significant numbers, at least) 100 years ago. But now that there are various antibiotics in use, some of the bacteria end up resistant to them. Where did all this "new information" come from, then?

There are viruses which are said to have "improved" through mutation, but the mutations are all information decreasing.
Categoric statements such as this are essentially useless without supporting information. Back up your claims or abandon them.
(Besides, isn't a mutation that allows a virus to attack a previously immune host an "improvement" from the point of view of the virus?)

The virus is essentially de-evolving, becoming less specific, thereby entering more hosts. That's fine for now, but eventually the genome would de-evolve to the point where it self destructs.
And you know this---how? You are sure that some degree of simplification will necessarily lead to increasing simplification, proceeding inexorably to ruin? You are invited to prove it. ("Put up pr shut up", as the saying goes.)

Mutations in higher forms are invariably harmful.
Wrong. See above, and consider, say, mosquitoes that acquired resistance to DDT. (I consider metazoans, including mosquitoes, to be "higher life forms"---definitely "higher" than protozoa and the like.)

No, you are the one who hasn't been paying attention. Don't feel bad, most people completely miss this subtle yet critical point
We're not feeling bad. We would advise you, however, to avoid condescension in your replies. (If you really want to turn an audience against you, insult them.)

You want to use models proven false? Is that science?
No, we don't want to use models proven false. (Don't be disingenuous, either.) When models are proven inadequate (or just plain wrong), they are abandoned by (proper) scientists. Other models are then put in their place, and subjected to the same kind of skeptical testing to see if they're any better.

Silverhill said: ""The odds of rolling a 7, with fair dice, are 1 in 6. The odds of rolling a 7, with loaded dice, can be much lower---or much higher.
Atoms and molecules are similar to loaded dice! That is, certain combinations have a tendency to happen, and a system with a tendency is not at all random."
dtaylor said: "No, they're not. The "certain combinations" you refer to are not any where near a living, reproducing machine. You are orders of magnitude away from such a thing.
And so what? You have to start at the bottom, here. And at the bottom you find molecules with a tendency to combine.

It's like saying that gasoline has a tendency to burn, so if you throw some gas and some iron into a pit along with a match, you should get a car engine.
No, it's not like saying such a thing, because saying such a thing is stupid. It's actually like saying that if you throw together some gasoline, some iron, some brass, various plastics, some sulfuric acid, some lead, some lead oxide, some copper, some latex, some sulfur, some carbon black, some aluminum, various hydraulic fluids, some water, various oils and greases, some tools, some people trained in the derivation and application of these objects and substances, various kinds of energy, et-freakin'-cetera, you'll get a car. Simplifying it the way you did is disingenuous at best, inexcusably ignorant at worst.

(You respect [Golay] so little that you believe his equations didn't take into account the highest order of building blocks which form naturally?)
You respect Golay so much that you didn't take into account the fact that he didn't know what he was doing (as shown above by HiEv)?

you need to spend more time studying cells. A cell actively works in ways which are against the tendencies you refer to.
Au contraire, mon ami. Cells are strongly contra-entropic in their activities, using those tendencies to assist them in creating order out of chaos.
Speaking of creating order, consider also a crystal. Just a plain, inert, very highly ordered structure that can easily arise from a highly disordered state (a solution)...with the application of the right amount of energy, in the right way. Please notice the parallel here.

Oh, OK...I'm just "misled".
Definitely! But there's help for that. Bring an open mind with you; you'll need it.

A cell would self destruct before it finished falling together by random chance.
Perhaps so. It's a good thing that random chance was not nearly so much involved as you want to think.

We would just have to look for evidence that resembles what we would expect if life was created. Features, behaviors, or relationships which could not have come together by chance.
And by what criteria, exactly, would you be able to judge this? Do you have some independent experience as a creator-of-life, so that you would be a qualified judge? Or, failing that, do you have some unimpeachable authority upon whose judgment you could rely? (Don't bring in a god, here. Not when there is so much uncertainty involved with the alleged information about, or from, such an entity.)

But I'm sticking to a strict interpretation of science:
Alas, you are doing no such thing, and neither are some of your sources.


Silverhill
Posted 17 December 2007 at 08:18 pm

(oops--double-posted. Please ignore first post; I added a few bits that only showed up in the second one, such as the note about crystals.)


Silverhill
Posted 17 December 2007 at 11:32 pm

dtaylor said: "...the reproductive cells of a species. (The cells most protected from any mutation at all, I might add.)"
Evidently you are not a (land-going) male mammal.


Stead311
Posted 23 December 2007 at 05:14 pm

I love the debate here. Not such a fan of the mud-slinging though.

I like that there is a difference in opinion, however, a lot of what was said has nothing to do with the article. Can we keep it slightly more relevant? I am waiting for Alan to impose a Character Limit on these posts.

Yet if you still feel so inclined to argue, may I suggest a duel to the death? Or perhaps First Blood drawn from the torso?


neepster
Posted 14 January 2008 at 05:39 pm

When you say 114 LY of Earth, I assume you mean a 114 LY DIAMETER sphere around Earth since we haven't had powerful radio transmitters for 114 years...


mikespot
Posted 15 January 2009 at 10:24 am

One other dynamic in considering the probability of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe is it occurring simultaneous to us. Consider the lifespan of the universe from its inception until now as being the distance from the tee to the hole on a par five golf hole (350 yards) Consider now the length of time life will inhabit the earth along that course as being about one inch of its length. Intelligent life with the potential to communicate has existed for about the width of one blade of grass. And during that blade of grass width time period we have had radio technology and combustion engines for about one thin vein on that blade of grass.

If their are tens of millions of planets that will produce intelligent life at some point in their existence add to that great odds against prospect the fact that that this intelligent life time line would have to exist simultaneously to earths intelligent life existence. The little veins on that blade of grass on that massive golf fairway would have to match up exactly with that of another.


Dromo
Posted 21 February 2009 at 04:37 am

ABove all that other STuff...intelligent creatures on earth for approx 1-2million Years.. Time of evolved cultures.. approx 40,000 years (Neanderthal to City's) So even on earth, intelligence doesn't necessarily lead to Rockets, Etc. Incidentally why wouldn't the extremophiles be extreme mutations of existing life, rather than showing Life can begin in such Harsh conditions? Heat, Salt, Pressure??


erikmartin
Posted 10 September 2009 at 10:20 pm

There are two different technological concepts the author is confusing here.

The first is the telescope. The purpose of a telescope is to create a two-dimensional image by lensing radiated energy onto a two-dimensional map of the arrangement of the sources of energy. "Very Long Baseline Interferometry" (VLBI) is a mechanism for creating a telescope without the need to have a physical object the size of the lens. VLBI is often used with "radio telescopes", to map two-dimensional images from space in the radio-frequency range. It is used because with TELESCOPES, there is a minimum required diameter of the lens to be able to map a certain RESOLUTION image. With optical telescopes one of the big advantages of a large lens is that you capture more signal (more light). A VLBI isn't for capturing more signal. It does not capture signal in proportion to the area of the virtual lens. Its only size advantage is in the resolution it can provide.

The second is a parabolic dish antenna. A parabolic dish antenna does not map spatially spread out energy sources. Rather, its geometry is based on the assumption of a point energy source. Rather than focus the energy onto a 2-map, a parabolic dish antenna focuses the energy onto a hypothetical single point, where the electric field strength of that point can be measured. There is no spatial resolution involved -- instead of a 2-dimensional spatial map, it generates a 1-dimensional time-varying signal -- so there is no minimum theoretical size for any given application for parabolic dish antennas. There are two things the parabolic dish antenna does: 1) It provides directionality of reception -- which is one technique of separating signal from noise, and 2) It provides amplification proportional to its surface area. However, neither of these functions require a dish at all. They are only one means of doing this, that are generally combined with other means, including electronic and digital processing. As a case in point, a GPS signal is about 50 watts. A GPS receiver picks up that signal from 15,000 miles away with an antenna with more than a couple square centimeters of area. According to the article, no such thing should be possible. It should also be pointed out that the very weak GPS signal is buried in noise many orders of magnitude more powerful than the signal, yet the signal is retrieved -- and with very small and inexpensive equipment. Of course it is more difficult to lock on to a signal if you don't know what you're looking for, but one thing that is absolutely NOT required is a planet sized dish. All a large dish would accomplish is amplification, which is just as easily done electronically.

Some of the confusion no doubt arrises from the fact that large parabolic dish antennas are regularly referred to as "radio telescopes". This probably arose from the fact that these antennas are used in arrays to form VLBI radio telescopes, which actually are telescopes. However, they are telescopes constructed from an array of dish antennas. They are not really -- as the wikipedia page says for example -- "telescopes constructed from an array of smaller telescopes".

SUMMARY: Dish antennas and telescopes -- both round things used to look up in the sky, but totally different in purpose. Telescopes have required theoretical sizes for resolving small things far away. Dish antenna size determines its amplification, but there is no theoretical minimum for a given signal strength; amplification not done by the dish can be done by the electronics.


inlove
Posted 22 October 2010 at 11:29 pm

In the case of Very Long Baseline Interferometry, assuming we go to the moon again, would that be a place to have another radio telescope with one already on earth, thereby making a HUGE "dish?". Would this even be possible or useful? Non-scientific mind asking here. New to, and loving, DI by the way.


Gary
Posted 21 March 2013 at 06:28 am

I personally believe we're in a far off, dusty and distant corner of the Universe (re Douglas Adams) we're not as important or as intelligent as we feel we are...

As for hostile Aliens, i don't believe that, everything they could ever need is just floating around in Space, if they have the tech to get here then they have the tech to gain any resource they need... they see us, they just don't want to be near us... and who could blame them?


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