Communication with Extraterrestrial Life

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  • #26
Nereid
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Innexplicable wrote: According to theory there are at least 10000 planets with semi inttelligent-intelligent beings in our universe, but also according to that theory we will never meet any of them.
Which theory are you referring to? Could you please give us a reference?
 
  • #27
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Originally posted by Innexplicable
. According to theory there are at least 10000 planets with semi inttelligent-intelligent beings in our universe, but also according to that theory we will never meet any of them.


I think this should be our galaxy not the universe for 10,000 possible intelligent life forms. Anyway I believe that each broadcast from a civilisation is like an expanding donut. i.e. from when radio technology is discovered to the eventual destruction of the civilisation which produced it. Or on the more hopeful side the discovery of that civilisation of more efficient ways to comminucate than radiowaves, which we are not capable of detecting yet. This ring may therefore only be approximately 200yrs wide.

The chances of us being in the right bit of the "donut" of any broadcasting inteligence are by consequence slim but not impposible.
 
  • #28
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Originally posted by Innexplicable
... and SETI has been on for the past 50 years. So it's safe to say that no intelligent beings have been broadcasting up to 50 light years away in the past 50 years. .

That's far from a safe assumption. SETI only hears a small fraction of all possible "channels" at any one time and it scans relatively quickly across the sky. Initial scans (e.g., by Drake) just looked at a couple channels for a few stars. More recent scans have a "million channel array" to search through. They're currently working on a "billion channel array" (not sure the status of this offhand). They're also just starting up "optical SETI" to look for laser pulses rather than listening for radio signals. But even all that is not a 100% sampling of all possible signal locations. We may just be missing it. More details about this in Carl Sagan's book Pale Blue Dot. Plenty of info to check on on the internet too.
 
  • #29
Nereid
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Communication with aliens

Is there anything from our experience on Earth that gives us some clues about communication with aliens? Here are some wild ideas:

There are aliens living here on Earth, right alongside us, and in full view (more or less). They can spell, wield tools, count, and show deceit and outright cunning*.

Yet we have not learned to communicate with them. Instead we have eaten them, enslaved them, hunted them, and generally quite misunderstood them. Despite this, they haven't embarked on a resistance campaign, nor sought revenge on homo sap.

All these aliens are sexual beings, and inherit many physical and some behavioural traits through DNA; others through interactions with their environment while young, including social learning from others of their species.

The closest of these aliens are separated from us by mere millions of years of evolution; others perhaps one trip around the galaxy by sol; certainly less than two.

Oh dear, if only they had developed mathematics or weapons!

*orangutans, crows, parrots, dolphins and chimps, respectively.
 
  • #30
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Originally posted by Nereid
Is there anything from our experience on Earth that gives us some clues about communication with aliens?

Thanks Nereid: a very intelligent post.

There are aliens living here on Earth, right alongside us, and in full view (more or less). They can spell, wield tools, count, and show deceit and outright cunning*.

Well, I would like to see them spell antidisestablishmentarianism, build a car, count to 1,296, play chess ... well, you get my drift. These animals are simply not as intelligent as us. The idea that ET communication optimists have is that if the aliens are at least as intelligent as us, then mutual understanding will be possible. And if they're orders of magnitude more intelligent than us, no problem, they'll work it all out, and our job will be as easy as sitting back and listening to your favourite piece of music! Intelligence is viewed by these starry-eyed dreamers as a sort of translation key. Personally, I think the idea is bollocks.

Yet we have not learned to communicate with them. Instead we have eaten them, enslaved them, hunted them, and generally quite misunderstood them./

Good point, but you could make your point just as well, if not better, by using the example of the clash of different cultures, such as that which occurred between the Europeans and the Amerindians. It took a long while for these two cultures to understand each other. Yet, in addition to the fact that they belong to the same species(!), they also share a large number of cultural reference points: love, myth, religion, astrology, war, etc etc. And we expect to be able to communicate with a lifeform from another planet, with a different biology, an intelligence utterly incommensurable to our own, and a culture we wouldn't even recognise as a culture. Ha!

Oh dear, if only they had developed mathematics or weapons!

Another good point. Technology has the possibility to speed up our development. It has the potential to be orders of magnitude faster than natural selection. Even if, pre-technology, or early-technology, aliens and humans might be able to achieve some sort of understanding, technology would ultimately magnify our respective differences. They'd go off in one direction, and we'd go off in another (*), and the day we met would be a muddle of misunderstanding, misinterpretation, misconstruction, misjudgement ... every "mis" under the sun (except maybe misletoe)!

I think people are reading too much of Sagan and not enough of Lem. A good antidote to Contact is His Master's Voice, or alternatively, Fiasco.

(*) This reminds me of the road we took: gossip gadgets and internet porn; and the road we forsook: space colonisation and more leisure time. Cultures can always regress, I suppose.
 
  • #31
Nereid
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Lem?

Thanks for the comments cragwolf.

I didn't talk about the role (and nature) of language in this thread (too many ideas, not enough time), and I see that zoobyshoe made some excellent points that relate to this in a different thread.
cragwolf wrote: Good point, but you could make your point just as well, if not better, by using the example of the clash of different cultures, such as that which occurred between the Europeans and the Amerindians. It took a long while for these two cultures to understand each other. Yet, in addition to the fact that they belong to the same species(!), they also share a large number of cultural reference points: love, myth, religion, astrology, war, etc etc. And we expect to be able to communicate with a lifeform from another planet, with a different biology, an intelligence utterly incommensurable to our own, and a culture we wouldn't even recognise as a culture.
IMHO, this is both too easy and too difficult to explain. Many people seem to believe that such intra-species mis* was a temporary phenomenon, now well on the way to being overcome. Those who take the point may feel irritated that's it's being repeated; those who don't, well, they don't get it. Before we start to speculate too much about what other intelligent life might be like, and how we might communicate with them, I thought it would be interesting to see what communicating with life we *do* know about could teach us.

The 'mathematics and weapons' comment was also partly a metaphor. Much is made of our ability to communicate using maths; many (almost all?) tracts on 'meeting' ET make at least some reference to conflict involving weapons (if only to deny such a thing would even happen). What if ET's mode of communication is something else entirely?

I'm not familiar with Lem - Lem who? (or who Lem?)
 
  • #32
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Originally posted by Nereid
I'm not familiar with Lem - Lem who? (or who Lem?)

Stanislaw Lem, science fiction writer, philosopher. The link below is a very good introduction to his work:

http://www.themodernword.com/scriptorium/lem.html [Broken]
 
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  • #33
Nereid
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First Contact

Sometime within the last century or so, first contact was made between the New Guinea highlands society/culture/set of communities and the West. AFAIK, this is perhaps the best documented 'first contact' between an Industrial Age group (society?) and a 'Stone Age' one, though there may have been others (e.g. remote Amazon Basin tribes, desert Australian Aboriginies). As such it represents about the closest thing we have to data on what happens when two intelligent groups meet for the first time.

Can anyone give a concise summary of what happened?

The value of this event for a discussion about communication and contact with ET is, IMHO, rather limited. Firstly, it would be very difficult to 'normalise' it. Not only is there just one data point, but how do you adjust for 'state of technological and social development'? If 1 million years is an uncomfortably short period of time for considerations of such states, how could we speculate about what first contact between a 'Stone Age' and a 'PJAOFHN' Age society would be like (the latter based on technology first introduced 100,000 years from now)?

On the other hand, looking for factors constant across first contacts throughout recorded history may be interesting. Ditto trends,
 
  • #34
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the drake equation

The Drake equation, yes I do believe that it describes, the probability of earth like planets in a system. I'm too lazy to look it up, just type it in and you should get many hits.

I feel we aren't alone. "They" are coming back. "They" create universes and life (but not souls). And what's more, "they" have left calling cards, for a reason. And no, I cant prove it, which dovetails with the fact that science can't prove its mainstream theories, like the big bang, and many, many others.

I don't, however think this predestiney/determisism gives us the right to use the God excuse to stop searching for TOE, etc. Science will need religion, and religions need science.

The religious element shouldn't be like a well known church that stifled science for 1000 years, or more. And science shouldn't be like the industrial/millitary complex that lies and deceives,and attempts to crush non mainstream Ideas! ( I love the implications of the word Idea)....ahhh well...

bah humbug ....
Merlin.
 
  • #35
Nereid
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Ah what is science? Mentat, where are you?

I feel we aren't alone. "They" are coming back. "They" create universes and life (but not souls). And what's more, "they" have left calling cards, for a reason. And no, I cant prove it,
What data/evidence etc is there which makes you feel this way?
And science shouldn't be like the industrial/millitary complex that lies and deceives,and attempts to crush non mainstream Ideas!
what are non-mainstream ideas if not either ideas which have been shown to be contrary to solid observations/experiments, or ideas that aren't sufficiently well-formed yet that they're not capable of being tested? At least, in physics, astronomy, ... etc.
 
  • #36
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I feel we aren't alone. "They" are coming back. "They" create universes and life (but not souls). And what's more, "they" have left calling cards, for a reason. And no, I can't prove it,

What data/evidence etc is there which makes you feel this way?


quote:And science shouldn't be like the industrial/millitary complex that lies and deceives,and attempts to crush non mainstream Ideas!

what are non-mainstream ideas if not either ideas which have been shown to be contrary to solid observations/experiments, or ideas that aren't sufficiently well-formed yet that they're not capable of being tested? At least, in physics, astronomy, ... etc.

Merlin replys; Scientific method is well and fine.If you allow that this wizard of OZ paradigm only accurate for the time that you happen to be living in! Can you imagine being a "Research scientist" in 3000 BC? You would be there pounding on your bronze ingot, while I was attempting to explain that It's possible to leave earth and fly to the planets and stars without Passing through the underworld of the dead first? Science and religion isn't flawed, its the deliberate misinformation/application of both that's flawed.

Today's paradigm is wrong. Instead of accepting the MAINSTREAM ideas, (which is designed for you to use like a drug), ask questions! The world wide science paradigm is imbedded into to us from an early age, for a reason. But, alas, it is not possible to put into a sound byte. would be happy to send you some information w/o calculations. Please indicate if you want me to send the math also...whew!..now maybe I can brainstorm with the great alchemist Newton and get some feed back on the lead to gold thing...Netwon's so hung up on developing his Law of Universal Gravitation! Why doesnt he forget that insane thing?

MERLIN
 
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  • #37
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The Drake equation

= (stars having planets) * (those stars having habitable conditions on at least one planet) * (those planets on which conditions lasted long enough for life to evolve) * (those planets on which life does evolve) * (those planets on which habitable conditions last long enough for intelligent life to evolve) * (those planets on which intelligent life does evolve) * (those planets on which intelligent life endures)

(taken from Astronomy: The Cosmic Journey (2nd) by Hartmann)

** Sting's note: I've seen other mathematical factors involved with the Drake Equation (the one coming to mind dealing with communication) so I'm not sure if this is just a slight deviance from the Drake Equation I read about in other textbooks and lecture notes.
 
  • #38
Nereid
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good news, bad news

Good news: the first three factors should be constrained, perhaps to an order of magnitude, within the next two or three decades.

Bad news: the fourth, fifth, and sixth factors probably hide a deep confusion or two - what is intelligence? what does it mean for intelligent life to 'endure'?

Of course, as soon as we find some other intelligent life, we'll know that 'the answer' is >= 2
:wink:
 
  • #39
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I think that the sole utility of Drake's equation is to help us to distinguish in our minds between those factors which we are completely uncertain about and those factors which we are "orders-of-magnitude" uncertain about.
 
  • #40
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I think the first and most important consideration in whether aliens exist is the Fermi Paradox (if aliens exist, why aren't they here?), and I haven't seen any explanation better than "life is extremely improbable and therefore there are probably no intelligent aliens in the visible universe". The Drake equation leaves plenty of room for that.
 
  • #41
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Intelligence versus contact.

I don't see any validity to Fermi's Paradox (I guess then it doesn't make it a 'paradox'.

Intelligent ET life can be common. What if there is one billion intelligent E. civilizations in the Universe? The odds would be beyond comprehension if we ever learned of the existence of any of them. There could be a billion advanced intelligences and the odds are that not one of those would know of the existence of another.

A billion ETs means that just one in a hundred galaxies has an ET civilization. That's no ETs within a hundred galaxies of ourselves. And, even per chance we were lucky and that one in a hundred was in our Milky Way...there's one to two hundred billion stars in our galaxy. ETs could be be a hundred billion stars away.

Unless there's some way of 'getting around' Relativity, I just don't see how any contact is probable.

If we make it a thousand billion (trillion) intelligent civilizations..that's still a spacing of billions of stars. A trillion intelligent lifeforms is a lot ...but not a lot in a Universe thought to consist of a hundred billion or so galaxies...vast distances from eachother...with each having an average of a hundred to two hundred billion stars.

Intelligent civilizations may be common. Perhaps a billion, perhaps a trillion or perhaps a hundred trillion. The vast distances of Space and the theory of Relativity almost demands that we'll always 'be alone'.
 
  • #42
Nereid
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Steele,

Extrapolation is always fraught. However, it's taken homo sap. only ~10,000 years to go from agricultural settlements to manned spaceflight. Where will we be in 10,000 years' time?

Suppose we (humanity) do seriously want to go roaming among the stars in person, and suppose we're limited to the physics we know today. Suppose it takes homo sap. in one solar system 10,000 years to establish itself in another. If the average distance between 'colonised' systems is 10 light years, then 'we' will expand in a spherical shell at a rate of ~1 light year per 1,000 years.

In less than one trip of our solar system round the Milky Way, 'we' would have completely settled just about all of the Milky Way, and the two nearest galaxies as well (the Sagittarius Dwarf and recently discovered Canis Major Dwarf).

The Sun has made ~20 trips round the Milky Way since it was formed.

Of course, our understanding of physics will advance a great deal in 10,000 years, so the above back-of-a-small-envelope calculation may well be very conservative.

Suppose we decide to 'stay at home', preferring to watch TV than travel. When will we be able to determine the highly probably existence of Earth-like planets? how far away could we detect them? Assume we set 'an atmosphere with significant free oxygen' as the marker for 'Earth-like life' on an Earth-sized planet.

Within two decades we will be able to say with some confidence whether there are such within ~50 light years (TPF - Terrestrial Planet Finder). If we work for 10,000 years, to what distance could TPF XXXIV detect Earth-like life? And after one trip round the Milky Way?
 
  • #43
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Nereid
"Extrapolation is always fraught. However, it's taken homo sap. only ~10,000 years to go from agricultural settlements to manned spaceflight. Where will we be in 10,000 years' time?"

You are correct in warning of extrapolation.

The question is also one of the physical laws of the Universe. Those early agriculturalists 10,000 years ago were subject to the same physical laws as those societies today that have manned spaceflight ...as are all intelligent civilizations in the Universe that developed technology a billion years ago. I see 'distance' and Relativity as showstoppers when it comes to potential contact with another intelligence.

Having said this, however, I hope I'm wrong. I'm a big supporter of SETI and don't see a down side to searching for life 'out there'. Perhaps life is so common that we're nothing special. Just as humans don't stop and turn over every rock or stop and study every anthill, maybe very advance civiliations couldn't be bothered with us.
 
  • #44
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Steele,

I think you're underestimating just how fast the speed of light is. The Virgo Cluster is only about 50 million light years away. At, say, half the speed of light, it would take a mere 100 million years to get from there to here.

It's possible that life is common enough that there is other intelligent life than us in the visible universe, but sparse enough that we haven't noticed it. That leaves just a few orders of magnitude of room -- it would mean life is very unlikely, but not very very unlikely (or very very very unlikely, and so on).

I'm not convinced by the Ants argument. Aliens would do something we'd have noticed either for utilitarian reasons (take Earth apart for building materials), or for humanitarian reasons (help humanity solve its problems), or even just to remove a potential threat. None of these applies to ant hills, so the analogy isn't very good.

The StarTrekian Prime Directive is not only disadvantageous to those following it; it's callous to leave people involuntarily rotting in primitivity. It's just another variant of the "everything natural is good" meme. (Among the religious, it takes the form of "all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds".)

I like SETI, though, if only just so I can say "see, nothing there".
 
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  • #45
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Ontoplankton,

I have no idea what a Star Trek prime directive is. Western civilization in 2003 has little more insight than an inanimate rock into the motives of an ET civilization. Even the concept is loaded. Humans have changed 'motives' several times in the last couple thousand years as to why we undertake our actions.

It's fun to speculate but we can't judge alien action on the basis of an episode of Star Trek.

Human 'motive' in the last thousand years for visiting an isolated island could be...bringing Christanity to the natives...finding a place to exile mutineers...looking for riches. ....establishing a military base...studying the natural history...establishing a Leper colony...hiding out from hostile enemies...being marooned...answering an S.O.S. signal... stopping for ship maintenance...loading up with water and food...justt some rest and recreation...etc.

An ET civilization is like a big black box into which we can put whatever characteristcs we want. It certainly won't be restrained by the 21st century motives of humans in Western civilization.
 
  • #46
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Originally posted by Steele
I have no idea what a Star Trek prime directive is.

Some weird important law that says you're not allowed to interfere with alien civilizations, something like that. From what I've seen, more of a plot device, really.

Western civilization in 2003 has little more insight than an inanimate rock into the motives of an ET civilization.

Not quite true. There are a few arguments you can make from evolutionary theory, as well as general common sense.

It's fun to speculate but we can't judge alien action on the basis of an episode of Star Trek.

I'm not doing so. That was just an illustration. And even then, I was arguing against the Startrekian scenario.

It certainly won't be restrained by the 21st century motives of humans in Western civilization.

Certainly. But it takes a pretty weird set of motives to want to keep everything exactly as it would have been. Just as examples, altruism, resource gathering and threat elimination all don't seem far-fetched.

Also, remember that you'll have to claim not even a single alien civilization would want to colonize us. It seems possible, but very unlikely.
 
  • #47
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Ontoplankton,

Those are all valid points. Sorry for misinterpreting the Star Wars analogy. I enjoy some science fiction (but not a Star Trek fan)and find it strange how our current morality always wins out at the end of the day.

My overall view of any attempt to understand aliens is to just always remind myself that it's all speculation. It's a bit like early theologians holding a conference to discuss angels. We superimpose ourselves on any discussion of aliens. We're really discussing humans as much as we are aliens. It's difficult enough to imagine human civilization in a hundred thousand years, let alone a complete other form of life that's a million or billion years removed from our technology. This just makes the subject all the more fascinating.
 
  • #48
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Originally posted by Steele
I enjoy some science fiction (but not a Star Trek fan)

(same here, actually)

and find it strange how our current morality always wins out at the end of the day.

It's important not to implicitly assume aliens are like us. But given that they would be much older than us as an intelligent species, they would probably be able to change our surroundings to what they think of as an ideal state at negligible cost. That the planet is in state X stops being an argument for keeping it in state X: the current state becomes just one of an enormous amount of possible states. To let it evolve naturally, they would probably have to consider it intrinsically valuable for nature to run its course. And I think it may be the "everything is better left to the wisdom of nature" way of thinking that's a human quirk.

I should emphasize that I'm not sure of anything, of course. But this is what clearly seems most plausible to me.
 
  • #50
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Technology of an Advanced Alien nation would indeed be very hard for us to understand.

In the 1800's a prize was offered for the first person to communicate with Aliens in the Solar System - it was generally believed then that they existed. However, Mars was excluded in this as it was thought not to be enough of a challenge!!! One of the methods suggested (this is before Radio) was to cut out huge swathes of trees across Northern Russia, spelling out messages with trees and cleared land. The Aliens could then easily read this with a powerful telescope.

Apart from Percival Lovel's mistaken belief that he had seen Canals on Mars, ie proof of Aliens existence, it was widely believed that the planets all had life on them. One of the main reasons for this belief was that "God would not create a planet for no reason, and as Mars, Jupiter etc are there, God must have made them for other life forms"! This is the original form of the argument; we exist, space is enormous, so Aliens must exist.

I read a lot of old Astronomy books from the 1800's and the debate about Aliens hasn't changed, just our belief system, and our comprehension of technology.

Evo's note above about the 'golden Record' on Voyager made me smile - We didn't even send a digital recording!!!
 

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