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View Diary: Who can own the future? (262 comments)

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  •  It could just be physically impossible (12+ / 0-)

    Between the speed of light limit, the great distances and the dangers of  vacuum, radiation, weightlessness, communication and micrometeoroids it could be much more simple: Interstellar travel can't be done.

    You are making the assumption that any civilization evolves much like ours. However, there are many types of social organisms on the Earth that are radically different from our social structure. To stretch the argument to say that society on other planets would follow the same system as ours is really a stretch. What if the other species was more like ants?

    It's convenient and it feels good to blame the lack of other technically advanced species not being here on the shortcomings we as a species operate under, but there's absolutely no way you can extrapolate our behavior to other species that have evolved on other planets. This is the height of fact-less conjecture that we often blame the right for.

    A much more simple and testable argument is that interstellar travel is simply physically too hard to do.  

    Quotable quote here.

    by beckstei on Sun Jul 14, 2013 at 06:32:45 AM PDT

    •  Maybe interstellar travel is too hard for (11+ / 0-)

      biologicals but this is unlikely to be true of machines. I remember reading that the descendants of a single Von Neumann self-replicating probe could visit every star in the galaxy in a few million years even at speeds far below that of light. We are not that far off from being able to build such a machine.

      The mystery remains. Even terribly conservative assumptions for the Drake equation point to several civilizations extant. In the billions of years available, not one has built a self-replicating interstellar probe?

      Cheers

      I refuse to believe corporations are people until Texas executes one.

      by Athenian on Sun Jul 14, 2013 at 06:41:33 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  here is indeed our problem . . . (7+ / 0-)
      It's convenient and it feels good to blame the lack of other technically advanced species not being here on the shortcomings we as a species operate under, but there's absolutely no way you can extrapolate our behavior to other species that have evolved on other planets. This is the height of fact-less conjecture that we often blame the right for.
      Until and unless we see the space aliens and see how they tick, we can never have anything OTHER THAN fact-less conjecture.  After all, we simply have no facts. The only thing we can do is speculate and extrapolate based on the only example of a space-technology-equipped species we do have---->us.
      •  Actually, we do have one fact. And I'm... (7+ / 0-)

        ...surprised Mark didn't mention it as part of his original thesis:  i.e., "...where the hell are they?... ...Why are the airwaves of SETI projects so completely lacking in ETI?"

        That fact is that communication costs money.

        Once upon a time, our earth was a comparative hotspot in the galaxy - the radio (and other) waves we emitted were powerful and unceasing.  But the kinds of communication we used during most of the 20th century were inefficient - and very expensive, in retrospect.

        We pumped a huge percentage of our wattage output into space, because we didn't really have the technology to beam it directly to consumers.  It was very wasteful.

        Now, we use cables and fiber.  We use two-way, tight-beam satellite communication.  We don't overshoot and we don't radiate that much into space anymore.

        And that's the key:  not radiating into space means we aren't really as detectable from space as we were.  Not anywhere near.

        I will assume that financial reality of some kind has an impact on any extraterrestrial civilization; as it does on our own.  Not radiating stuff into space is just cheaper.

        So it follows that all (at least most, certainly) civilizations that develop technology have a very short window of time where they can be detected.  No?

        Maybe later, when - as Mark points out, there is no scarcity of energy or material - civilizations take the more altruistic tack of trying to put themselves out there.  Maybe.

        It ain't called paranoia - when they're really out to get you. 6 points.

        by Jaime Frontero on Sun Jul 14, 2013 at 08:12:12 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Even if so, where are the radio signals? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      orlbucfan

      I can believe that physical interstellar travel could be effectively impossible, or so difficult and expensive as to be vanishingly rare.

      But sending radio signals across interstellar distances is easy. We've been doing it (unintentionally) since the invention of centimeter-wavelength radar in the 1940's. A civilization with our own modest level of technology would be able to pick up our VHF/UHF/microwave emissions from radars and TV broadcasts across dozens of light years (once they got there, that is). These signals have unmistakable "artificial" signatures that distinguish them from anything created by natural processes.

      Even if ET can't travel to us, even if she/he/it isn't deliberately trying to talk to us, if other tech civilizations were at all common, we should still be picking up their incidental electromagnetic chatter. SETI has certainly looked for it. But it doesn't appear to be there.

      The only conclusion that seems plausible is if other technological civilizations exist at all, they aren't anywhere nearby ("nearby" defined as within several hundred light years.) That seems to imply that they must be very rare - or as Mark hypothesizes, very short-lived.

      •  How long? (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        rodentrancher, bartcopfan

        It comes back to the problem of time...How long are civilizations communicative via radio?  It is quite possible that the radio signals of another civilization swept over earth 200,000 years ago and bathed our planet in radio signals for 65,000 years.  But we couldn't hear them.  135,000 years ago we didn't have radio.  Heck 135 years ago we couldn't have heard them.  

        The probability of us listening while another civilization is transmitting are very small.  Factor in the inverse square law and the chance of hearing a signal and it's very possible that there are 0 civilizations transmitting (that we can hear) while we are listening.  

        Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. George Santayana

        by RAST on Sun Jul 14, 2013 at 10:47:18 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Or there's another answer: a quarantine (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bartcopfan

      There is an archipelago in the Indian Ocean known as the Andaman Islands. On some of these islands dwell people who fall into the category of uncontacted peoples. The experience of the last couple centuries have shown these peoples are unable to resist acculturation, & their descendants suffer from demoralization, alcoholism & other dysfunctional behaviors; thus the last uncontacted peoples on these islands are kept in quarantine from the rest of the world.

      Any extraterrestrial civilization with sufficient history has probably experienced this result many times. Enough times to have decided that until a given species has reached a specific point in their development (technological, social or ethical), they should avoid all contact -- & perhaps mask their existence from said species. And this was not for entirely altruistic reasons: does anyone really want to imagine if a group like the Westboro Baptist Church were to gain access to Buck Rodgers technology? ("The inhabitants of the planet Xenon condone homosexuality, legalize abortion, & consider the Holy Bible as little more than pulp fiction. Set your phasers for righteous smite & go do Gawd's work.")

      Not to say that they're all plaster saints out there; all species show a tendency for malevolent & sociopathic behavior. (I'm writing that based on my experience from living with cats.) But if humanity avoids destroying itself through nuclear holocaust or global warming, in a few thousand years we may discover the clues that prove the existence of these advanced civilizations, & seek to be accepted by them. Which will result in learning new forms of involuntary servitude, sexual & financial exploitation, & other crimes we never imagined existed.

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