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The Fermi Paradox

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#151 GJJim

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Posted 06 July 2014 - 10:29 AM

Depends on who you talk to. Steven Pinker thinks we're heading in that direction. I'm less sanguine, but there's always hope.

The nightly news is probably not the best source for long-term perspective, though.


Sociopathy is alive and well in our species, and as in the past, the poster children for this disorder tend to achieve prominent roles as leaders and administrators in bureaucracies. I do agree there is a trend where physical violence has been reduced -- and replaced by its economic equivalent. The visceral thrill of blood letting activities is now accomplished with lawless banking (the new word is macroprudential), creative accounting, and theft of assets (NIRP etc.). Warfare still exists, but it is carefully constrained to vague, undefined enemies that are never vanquished. A compliant/complicit Press manage expectations and minimize information that might lead the general populace to understand what is happening day-day. Widespread use of psychotropic and narcotic drugs (legal and illegal) in Western cultures has mollified the public mood to apathetic compliance.

Pop a few more pills, and we'll all be starring in a real-life Star Trek episode! /sarc

#152 ColoHank

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Posted 06 July 2014 - 10:50 AM


Quote:


Quote:

Well one species doesn't necessarily need a large evolutionary advantage over a competing species to achieve dominance and ultimately completely displace the competitor. Even a one percent advantage is going to lead to the fairly rapid (in geological terms) extinction of the loser.





Examples?




As with so many other things, it depends. A small survival advantage of one genetic variant within a single population CAN rapidly displace other variants. First it has to reach critical mass within that population, which is less assured.
I previously posted this equation from Motoo Kimura, where the probability p of a gene mutation fixing in a population is given by:

p = (1-e^-2s)/(1-e^-4Ns)


That's all fine and good, but the modification has to be so profound as to render competing members of the population vulnerable to extinction. It's hard to imagine a scenario like that affecting our species, given the current rate of genetic mixing and lack of isolation necessary for a new and improved variant to develop independently. It seems to me that most change would just be swallowed up by the gene pool at large and all members would benefit or suffer rather equally. Further, many deficiencies and vulnerabilities which might have spelled doom in the early history of our species can now be remedied artificially, so their disadvantages don't weigh so heavily on affected individuals as they once might have.

As regards competition among species, what advantage does a wildebeest have over a zebra or vice versa? Both species (along with multiple others) utilize and compete for the same forage on the same range, and both (all) appear to be thriving. The principal fly in their ointment is the human presence, which has long demonstrated an ability to interfere, but in the process often disrupt things so thoroughly that it unwittingly destroys its own web of interdependence. The capacity to dominate can be self-defeating.

And there may be a virus lurking out there...

#153 Mister T

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Posted 06 July 2014 - 11:05 AM

Personally I think that our capability to cooperate and live and advance as a society is the major advantage we have had in our evolutionary rise.

Most predatory species, while having adapted into magnificent hunters have also fallen into niches that are ever narrowing, while social species have been able to increase the footholds on the evolutionary ladder.

I'm sure there are a few notable contradictions to this

Also, it seems that while the solitary predator types may evolve more rapidly, they also get to more evolutionary "dead ends" and die out at a faster pace.

with social species there is the advantage of large numbers and slow and steady evolution that gives more opportunity to diverge down more paths thus increasing the likelihood of success and minimizing the effects "rushing down' a short term beneficial path that ultimately does not pan out.

#154 Qwickdraw

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Posted 06 July 2014 - 12:30 PM

Have we seen any tendency toward such a Nirvana here on Earth -- even baby steps in that direction? I don't think so. As our technological prowess has improved, so too have our ability and willingness to kill each other more effectively and efficiently. At least that's the sense I get from the newspaper and nightly news.


Sure our technology has improved. That in no way means we are not going to at some point have a meltdown of society. Interstellar travel is probably at least 100 years away still, maybe a lot more. Plenty of time for humans to war our selves into oblivion.

#155 llanitedave

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Posted 06 July 2014 - 03:03 PM

That's all fine and good, but the modification has to be so profound as to render competing members of the population vulnerable to extinction. It's hard to imagine a scenario like that affecting our species, given the current rate of genetic mixing and lack of isolation necessary for a new and improved variant to develop independently. It seems to me that most change would just be swallowed up by the gene pool at large and all members would benefit or suffer rather equally. Further, many deficiencies and vulnerabilities which might have spelled doom in the early history of our species can now be remedied artificially, so their disadvantages don't weigh so heavily on affected individuals as they once might have.


At the moment, that's completely true. It wasn't always the case, though. The current dominance and huge population numbers of homo Sapiens have come about in the evolutionary blink of an eye, and is not only threatening huge numbers of other species, but many subgroups of our own, while many more have already gone by the wayside. The danger, of course, is that the sudden exponential rise of humanity is but a bubble, and like all bubbles, is subject to bursting. Then the numbers will drop more quickly than they rose, and the vaunted "success" of humanity will be fodder for dark comedy by the few who remain.

As regards competition among species, what advantage does a wildebeest have over a zebra or vice versa? Both species (along with multiple others) utilize and compete for the same forage on the same range, and both (all) appear to be thriving. The principal fly in their ointment is the human presence, which has long demonstrated an ability to interfere, but in the process often disrupt things so thoroughly that it unwittingly destroys its own web of interdependence. The capacity to dominate can be self-defeating.

And there may be a virus lurking out there...


What keeps Wildebeest and Zebras from competing? Maybe they do. But their habitats are not identical -- they just have significant overlap. Their digestive systems are different, and they can concentrate on somewhat different parts of the grazing landscape. And in many ways they are commensualists. The presence of one species benefits the other, in that they are both on the lookout for the same predators. (They have a similar relationship with baboons) If there were no predators, chances are their respective populations would increase to the point where they would be in direct competition, and then we'd see which one had the real advantage. But as long as their numbers stay below the carrying capacity of the range, then any minimal competition between them is overcome by their mutual benefit.

But yeah, I agree that dominance can be self-defeating, and we may very well be headed in that direction. A successful civilization must be vigilant, and not just for foreign enemies. Our success is not guaranteed.

#156 MikeBOKC

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Posted 06 July 2014 - 04:06 PM

Examples? I would say the ultimate emergence of Homo sapiens is a good one, given that there were a dozen or more precursor species that dead-ended.

As to the happy fairy tale of benevolent and kindly aliens, I disagree. We should probably assume that something like Darwinian evolution would drive the development of life elsewhere, which would mean that any spacefaring species would very probably have a lot of the same evolutionary baggage we do, like territoriality, aggression, etc.

I suspect at best we would find them to be semi=benevolent despots, at worst oppressors and or exploiters.

#157 Andy Taylor

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Posted 06 July 2014 - 04:41 PM

We learned how to harm from a distance...

No other animal does this.

Throwing rocks, then spears, then setting traps and then tellingly - bows and arrows / blowpipes etc. Our brains were ready to innovate.

Was this evolution in action?

#158 ColoHank

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Posted 07 July 2014 - 12:09 AM

Examples? I would say the ultimate emergence of Homo sapiens is a good one, given that there were a dozen or more precursor species that dead-ended.



There's no doubt that some ancient species of hominid were dead ends. But were all of those species direct ancestors of Homo sapiens or did they occupy other closely related branches on the family tree? And, in either case, can anyone say with certainty that their extinctions were caused by competition with other hominids, or did any number of other factors contribute to their demises?

#159 Starlon

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Posted 07 July 2014 - 01:17 AM

As Fermi asked during his 1950 luncheon: 'Where's everybody'.. well, it seems to me that the criteria for all long lived civilizations that exist across the universe, is that they must be entirely science based. Science and logic based. No other way can persist for very long.

We cannot begin to understand how a truly civilized extraterrestrial society works. We are not even on the right trajectory to attain that level. Quite the opposite. Diametrically opposed, in fact.

#160 Qwickdraw

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Posted 07 July 2014 - 07:21 AM

it seems to me that the criteria for all long lived civilizations that exist across the universe, is that they must be entirely science based.


Who is to say, we don't have a sample of this. We do have examples of primitive societies in Africa, Australia, etc. who may have lasted for millennia without scientific advancement. Unfortunately, they were influenced by Europeans and the west at some point.

#161 wirenut

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Posted 07 July 2014 - 07:42 AM

Examples? I would say the ultimate emergence of Homo sapiens is a good one, given that there were a dozen or more precursor species that dead-ended.


There's no doubt that some ancient species of hominid were dead ends. But were all of those species direct ancestors of Homo sapiens or did they occupy other closely related branches on the family tree? And, in either case, can anyone say with certainty that their extinctions were caused by competition with other hominids, or did any number of other factors contribute to their demises?


How many dead ends were really dead ends? European's Have Neadertal DNA, people of india and westward have Denisovan DNA. These aren't just idle gene sequences either, it's said to be the reason why Sherpa's can live/work at higher elevations then normal. they didn't just die out but bred into us too. if they gave us useful traits is that a dead end?

#162 Starlon

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Posted 08 July 2014 - 01:16 AM

it seems to me that the criteria for all long lived civilizations that exist across the universe, is that they must be entirely science based.


Who is to say, we don't have a sample of this. We do have examples of primitive societies in Africa, Australia, etc. who may have lasted for millennia without scientific advancement. Unfortunately, they were influenced by Europeans and the west at some point.


We do have examples of primitive societies in Africa, Australia, etc. who may have lasted for millennia without scientific advancement. Unfortunately, they were influenced by Europeans and the west at some point.


A primitive society is not a civilization. Most particularly a space faring civilization - one that lasted for millions of years. And certainly not one that Fermi and his colleagues were talking about. We can't even detect intelligent data emanating from interstellar sources. As I said "We cannot begin to understand how a truly civilized extraterrestrial society works. We are not even on the right trajectory to attain that level. Quite the opposite. Diametrically opposed, in fact." So, how do we know what to look for? We are using our logic and reasoning to find beings that we cannot imagine nor think like.

#163 GJJim

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Posted 08 July 2014 - 07:27 AM

We are using our logic and reasoning to find beings that we cannot imagine nor think like.


The Fermi Paradox is not about us understanding or communicating with them, it asks why Earth hasn't been visited and occupied hundreds of times by spacefaring beings. Stuart Smalley was a barely humorous TV character (gosh darn it - he made it to the Senate), but is "we're not worthy" a useful paradigm for explaining our pecking order in the cosmos?

#164 Pess

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Posted 08 July 2014 - 08:41 AM

..... but is "we're not worthy" a useful paradigm for explaining our pecking order in the cosmos?



I would point out that our present civilization has a 'no contact' law with several primitive tribes right here on Earth. It could just be that we are not advanced enough to bother with and advanced space-faring cultures find it too energy intensive to wander down local gravity holes just to talk with the primitives. In fact, just entering the 'Goldilocks Zone' of a star is a huge commitment in terms of energy expenditure especially when there is no need as all resources are available way out in the oort cloud. Despite the popularity of Warp Drive, we are likely to see Star ships that are the effective permanent homes of star-faring cultures who have forsaken the hardships of planetary dwelling. We may just find a ton of 'squatters' vacuuming up our oort cloud resources when we finally wander out for a look.

A primitive society is not a civilization. Most particularly a space faring civilization - one that lasted for millions of years. And certainly not one that Fermi and his colleagues were talking about. We can't even detect intelligent data emanating from interstellar sources. As I said "We cannot begin to understand how a truly civilized extraterrestrial society works. We are not even on the right trajectory to attain that level. Quite the opposite. Diametrically opposed, in fact." So, how do we know what to look for? We are using our logic and reasoning to find beings that we cannot imagine nor think like.


Excellent point. I use these examples when I talk to kids about physics: Suppose we go back just a few hundred years. You stand on a Spanish shoreline and Stare out over a vast sea and wonder what's out there. You can't see anything and your loudest drums broadcast receive no reply. You send HUGE smoke signals into the bright sky but, strain as you might, you can't see a return signal. You sail your ships to the edge of their limits and still see nothing. Does that mean no one is out there?

Even today radio emanations from Earth are dying down and we are rapidly becoming radio quiet as broadcasts are replaced by underground cables.

So we were pretty loud in the radio spectrum for what? 80 or so years? That is a pretty short interval to catch a civilization within!

As our technology grows perhaps we will learn something 'better' than radio to talk over vast interstellar distances and will look back and equate radio contact of ET with our forefathers 'Smoke Signals'....the tech just wasn't up to the challenge and nobody a few years advanced from us technologically is broadcasting in radio for us to hear.

Pesse (I was abducted by a Frying Saucer once--their AC was broke) Mist

#165 GJJim

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Posted 08 July 2014 - 09:15 AM

Interesting rationalizations, but I'll point it out again, the Fermi Paradox isn't about us, our level of civilization, our technology, or our net worth as a species. Fermi's simple calculation suggested that given the age of the universe, our galaxy should be swarming with spacefaring beings, even without warp drives, subspace radios, and all the other sci-fi gizmos we create in the theater of the mind.

#166 Pess

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Posted 08 July 2014 - 09:31 AM

Interesting rationalizations, but I'll point it out again, the Fermi Paradox isn't about us, our level of civilization, our technology, or our net worth as a species. Fermi's simple calculation suggested that given the age of the universe, our galaxy should be swarming with spacefaring beings, even without warp drives, subspace radios, and all the other sci-fi gizmos we create in the theater of the mind.


I know that is the popular notion but it doesn't really say that. It gives a formula where you can insert our 'opinion' on what the value of the variables are.

Since these values are no more than a guess, we can't say the formula tells us anything.

Let me give you this thought experiment (just put it under the 'Math is Fun' heading):

Rabbits start giving birth about 6 months of age. Usually can produce one litter a month with an average 3 females per litter.

One momma & one pappa rabbit get together. Now consider the result after 7 years:

That's about 94.8 BILLION (with a 'B') Bunnies

Add back in all the male Bunnies born in those litters and the total comes to 184+ billion bunnies....

Obviously the world does not have 184 billion Bug's Bunny's running around, but the math is still impeccable. What is not taken into account are the 'unknowns' that limit population explosion.

Pesse (What's up Doc?) Mist

#167 GJJim

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Posted 08 July 2014 - 10:01 AM

Yes, math is fun, and your napkin calculation of the rabbit population, 184 billion, is not at all unreasonable (+/-) because that's only 1200 per square kilometer, one Bugs Bunny every 833 square meters - if they all survived to adulthood. I live in a desert area and see rabbits regularly, it would not surprise me if the population was over a hundred per square kilometer.

The math for ETs (even when its tortured) indicates a paradox;
After 60 years, SETI has turned up nothing, bupkis;

There is nothing wrong with continued research, scientists do have to eat (feed them rabbit?), but please don't use Bugs Bunny to lump Fermi's honest question in the category of crackpot blather. :grin:

#168 Qwickdraw

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Posted 08 July 2014 - 10:54 AM

I know that is the popular notion but it doesn't really say that. It gives a formula where you can insert our 'opinion' on what the value of the variables are.


Pesse (What's up Doc?) Mist


I don't believe there is even a "formula" per se as in the "Drake equation". I think it is exactly what it is titled, a paradox, not precisely defined and you can add your own arguments into the fold.

#169 Pess

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Posted 08 July 2014 - 11:22 AM




I don't believe there is even a "formula" per se as in the "Drake equation". I think it is exactly what it is titled, a paradox, not precisely defined and you can add your own arguments into the fold.


I stand corrected. There is the Fermi Paradox which is just a basic math attestation that even with 100 year star travel we should see visitors as opposed to the Drake equation that (when you plug in values for the variables) tells you how many intelligent civilizations should be out there.

These two concepts are separate but entwined.

And, of course, this leads into 'The Big Filter' theory: What is filtering out intelligent civilizations to the point they are not zipping around in our friendly skies?

I dunno. Maybe Wormholes exist that are associated with 'most' star systems compatible with life. Travel through these wormholes from one system to another is pretty standard. But since our system is an orphan without its own wormhole we are isolated and alone since it is impractical to make the interstellar journey by regular travel.

Pesse (Shrugs) Mist

#170 ColoHank

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Posted 08 July 2014 - 12:04 PM

Interesting rationalizations, but I'll point it out again, the Fermi Paradox isn't about us, our level of civilization, our technology, or our net worth as a species. Fermi's simple calculation suggested that given the age of the universe, our galaxy should be swarming with spacefaring beings, even without warp drives, subspace radios, and all the other sci-fi gizmos we create in the theater of the mind.



The universe may be swarming with beings who are smart enough to mask their routines, when in our neighborhood, so we can't detect them, at least most of the time. Sometimes, though, they may goof up and give us a peek. If that's true, then there may be some substance to Bubbas's occasional claim that he saw a saucer fly by one night or was abducted or whatever.

I've never had such an experience, but I like a good story, and it's always fun to speculate whether there's a grain of truth in any of those tales.

What would really float my boat would be news that a thoroughly reputable and learned geologist was poking around an unnamed arroyo in some remote badlands and discovered the intact remains of a ship weathering out of an exposure of otherwise undisturbed Eocene mudstone. That would just about lock it up, wouldn't it?

#171 GJJim

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Posted 08 July 2014 - 01:56 PM


What would really float my boat would be news that a thoroughly reputable and learned geologist was poking around an unnamed arroyo in some remote badlands and discovered the intact remains of a ship weathering out of an exposure of otherwise undisturbed Eocene mudstone. That would just about lock it up, wouldn't it?


That would be a news story! The Nazca geoglyphs of Peru (and similar in Chile) have always fascinated me. Their scale indicates a level of planning and layout accuracy that is hard to explain. One theory posits the use of tethered, hot air balloons (made from?) to supervise the construction.

#172 Pess

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Posted 08 July 2014 - 02:49 PM

Their scale indicates a level of planning and layout accuracy that is hard to explain. One theory posits the use of tethered, hot air balloons (made from?) to supervise the construction.


Keep in mind that the builders were every bit as smart as present day engineers.

Today we could even build the pyramids with tools available at the time they were built.

In fact, I would bet engineers at the time had a better understanding of how to use balance and leverage to accomplish stuff than are present day horsepower dependent engineers...after-all, that's all they had.

Still, it would be nice to find a little Martian runabout in some cave somewhere.

Pesse (Government would likely classify it, you know--for our own good) Mist

#173 Andy Taylor

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Posted 08 July 2014 - 04:44 PM

Maybe Wormholes exist that are associated with 'most' star systems compatible with life. Travel through these wormholes from one system to another is pretty standard. But since our system is an orphan without its own wormhole we are isolated and alone since it is impractical to make the interstellar journey by regular travel.


Sounds very like Larry Niven's "The mote in God's eye" novel...

Are we doomed to cycles in the rise and fall of civilisations?

The "Moties" were trapped in their system too...

#174 shawnhar

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Posted 08 July 2014 - 08:46 PM

Well, we do live in the boonies! Maybe that's why we never see anyone. If you travel to another town do you drive around on the dinky one lane back roads or go downtown where the attractions are?
If we could travel would we hang around the Orion spur or head towards the center, maybe a globular or nebula, planetary or otherwise? I don't think a random yellow star makes a good target for a visit when the Orion Nebula is so close.

#175 llanitedave

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Posted 09 July 2014 - 08:47 AM

Isolated, middle-aged, high-metallicity yellow and orange stars in the boonies would make the best places to look for other life forms. Places like the Orion nebula or the galactic core are great for studying star formation, but they would not be very stable environments for life.






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