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  • Stephanie wrote a new post, We Must Trust Science or Die Like E.T. 3 years, 7 months ago

    In June 2016, astrophysicist Adam Frank wrote in the New York Times, “Yes, There Have Been Aliens.” His story follows the discoveries of one frontier of astronomy, exoplanet research, which seeks to find and des […]

    • His conclusion? While we see no evidence for intelligent life
      anywhere, it’s virtually certain that it has been there, somewhere, in
      the past. But why is there no evidence?

      This doesn’t sound like science, but more like personal opinion. If there is little to no evidence, then it can’t be “virtually certain” that intelligent life has been there. It’s just as reasonable to suppose that it never occurred anywhere else, simply because it was far too improbable to occur more than once in the time elapsed so far.

      On our own planet, the number of species that have achieved civilization-level intelligence is one – possibly two or three if you include our extinct hominid cousins, like the Neanderthals – whereas the number of species that haven’t can be counted in millions. Compare that with, say, the number of species that have evolved eusociality, which is in the thousands, or the number that have evolved eyes, which is in the millions.

      And that’s only the current living species: the sheer number of extinct ones reduces Homo sapiens to an anomaly. That suggests there are formidable barriers to evolving civilization-level intelligence, such as an energy-inefficient high-power brain, a difficulty and lack of incentive in managing multiple social relationships, and an excessive dependence on esoteric external resources like fire, mined metals, and unusually intensive agriculture.

      While I concede it’s opinion rather than evidenced fact, I think it more parsimonious to conclude from this case study that civilization-level intelligence is rare not because it is self-destructive, but because it is nigh-impossible to evolve in the first place. Evolution is simply not interested in us.

    • If intelligent life snuffs itself out quickly, its still doesn’t answer the question. I believe the universe is crowded with life on its way to exterminating itself or arising. Organic matter is abundant and there is no reason why we should believe otherwise.
      I’m not sure how to define “intelligent” lately either.

    • Expertise is most certainly under threat from a global society newly and intensely crosswired for emotional consilience. The “like” button (which I just clicked above) and its little delivery of dopamine to its subject (though quite deserved in this case) may lie at the root of a catastrophic uptick in topical emotional howl-round.

      The new primacy of feelings especially in societies where wish thinking has yet to be reasonably restrained like the new proto-theocracy of the USA gets an important sequence entirely reversed.

      My feelings, therefore, my opinion, therefore, my acceptable facts and, thus, my science.

      Thought…

      Aspies, so long as they understood the wide variety of facts about other people’s feelings (which would help guard against them becoming libertarians) can help here.

    • Good grief, what has happened to this site since last I was here? The interface is clumsier than I remember. And what happened to all my old comments and posts?

    • Zeuglodon #1
      Dec 20, 2016 at 6:28 am

      Good to see you back!

      His conclusion? While we see no evidence for intelligent life
      anywhere, it’s virtually certain that it has been there, somewhere, in
      the past. But why is there no evidence?

      This doesn’t sound like science, but more like personal opinion. If there is little to no evidence, then it can’t be “virtually certain” that intelligent life has been there. It’s just as reasonable to suppose that it never occurred anywhere else, simply because it was far too improbable to occur more than once in the time elapsed so far.

      It certainly sounds like wishful thinking – which actively undermines the credibility of the argument which follows!

      On our own planet, the number of species that have achieved civilization-level intelligence is one – possibly two or three if you include our extinct hominid cousins, like the Neanderthals – whereas the number of species that haven’t can be counted in millions. Compare that with, say, the number of species that have evolved eusociality, which is in the thousands, or the number that have evolved eyes, which is in the millions.

      . . . . and that is before we even look at the rarity of the Earth-Moon System with its conditions maintained over millions of years for evolving life!
      A much more credible argument for looking after planet Earth, is the absence on any suitable back-up planets nearby!

    • Trump has promised to make the world uninhabitable with a nuclear war. For insurance, he is blocking all climate change abatement, and maximally burning fossil fuels. We are going from primitive space exploration to extinction is less than a century. Humans always do what they can do technologically whether or not it increases the risk of extinction. Why would any other intelligent species be different? To succeed, they would have to evolve intelligence much more slowly than we did.

    • Roedy #6
      Dec 22, 2016 at 6:13 am

      To succeed, they would have to evolve intelligence much more slowly than we did.

      I think anyone would struggle to find organisms which evolve intelligence slower than Trump’s team! 🙂

    • Wasn’t it Paul Krugman (the conscience of a liberal) who said we’d be better off economically if we had an alien invasion?

      Yeah, but they’d have to agree to do our gardens and clean the pool.

      Trump’s clearly missing a trick here.

      Seriously, cohering existential threats?… We gott’em.

      Recognising the enemy/threats, whilst profiting from them is possible by the rich, is our actual problem. Calm, now the parasites soothe and the emotionally panicked scream all the more and are held up to ridicule.

    • What’s truly at stake here is the universe’s chance to inquire its own nature. Humanity does not occupy any particularly special place in the cosmos, but we are special in one respect. Because of our lacking of a sagittal crest on our head, we have the most developed brain in the entire animal kingdom. With this, we can discover worlds and processes millions of light years away and billions of years ago. If we destroy ourselves, we may be destroying the most beautiful thing about a self-inquiring reality.

    • @BenLucas #10

      Never mind, there’ll be another one along somewhere else, some other time. It might get to be sufficiently smarter than us not to self-destruct.

      Not sure about the crest.

    • If the universe is going to compress itself soon, then we may have limited time. But you’re most likely right, there is probably more intelligent life out there, somewhere.

    • If I had to pick the most evidenced, coherent and persuasive comment on this topic or any other topic on the RDF site, it would fall to Zeuglodon at #1. Great insights marvelously expressed.

    • There is too much fat to chew on in this article. As a thought experiment, I wonder how people would rank their individual concern for human survival on on a future time scale. Most of us sympathize with concern for the welfare of “my children and grandchildren,” but what happens to the intensity of that concern for children born 500 years, 5,000 years, 50,000 years from now. How is it rational to worry about the survival or extinction of “my” species or any other species at such a removal in cosmic time from our current life expectancy and that of our immediate successors.

      By way of pet Peeve, I wish people would stop talking about Trump starting a nuclear war. As unbalanced as he is, talking about his pushing the button is plain crazy.