Dolphins, aliens, and the search for intelligent life

Aug 30, 2011 by Keith Cooper
Radio telescopes are a hallmark of an intelligent civilization, but can a species be considered intelligent without possessing technology? Image Credit: NAIC-Arecibo Observatory, a facility of the NSF

How do we define intelligence? SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, clearly equates intelligence with technology (or, more precisely, the building of radio or laser beacons). Some, such as the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, suggested that intelligence wasn’t just the acquisition of technology, but the ability to develop and improve it, integrating it into our society.

By that definition, a dolphin, lacking limbs to create and manipulate complex tools, cannot possibly be described as intelligent. It’s easy to see why such definitions prove popular; we are clearly the smartest creatures on the planet, and the only species with technology. It may be human hubris, or some kind of anthropocentric bias that we find difficult to escape from, but our adherence to this definition narrows the phase space in which we’re willing to search for intelligent life.

Technology is certainly linked to intelligence – you need to be smart to build a computer or an aircraft or a radio telescope – but technology does not define intelligence. It is just a manifestation of it, perhaps one of many.

Astrobiologists see intelligence a little differently. The dictionary defines intelligence as the ability to learn, while others see it as the capacity to reason, to empathize, to solve problems and consider complex ideas, and to interact socially.

If we take these characteristics to be a broad working definition of intelligence, our view of intelligent life in the Universe suddenly looks very different. No longer are we confined to considering only life that has technology. To be fair to SETI, at this moment in time it cannot search for anything other than beacons – the vast distances across the cosmos coupled with our own baby steps into the Universe mean that we don’t have the capability to search for any other form of intelligent life other than those that can deliberately signal their presence. However, what a wider definition of intelligence tells us is that we are not alone, not even on our own planet Earth.

Professor Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist from the University of Oxford, was one of the first to put forward the theory that the evolution of intelligence is driven by social factors, allowing animals to survive, interact and prosper in large and complex social groupings. These include notions of reciprocal altruism (I scratch your back, you scratch mine), politics (forming sub-groups and coalitions within the larger group) and understanding the emotions of others (empathy, which in turn relies on theory of mind, the ability to be aware of one’s self and others). Looking at it that way, modern social networking on media such as Facebook may just be a symptom of what helped drive us to become intelligent in the first place, many tens of thousands of years ago.

Here’s the trick – to be social, you must be communicative. Staying quiet is anti-social. Personal interactions require communication, of some form, and the more complex the interaction, the more complex the communication. So if intelligence and social behavior is linked – and many people agree that it is – then the best place to start looking for intelligence is in animals that like to chat with one another. And that brings us to dolphins.

Ever since the 1960s, when John Lilly popularized the notion that dolphins may be cleverer than your average animal, dolphin intelligence has courted controversy, tempted us with tantalizing but thin evidence, and remained elusive. We know they are able to communicate by a variety of means, from whistles and barks to echo location, and researchers working with captive dolphins have discovered that they understand syntax, i.e. the difference between a statement and a question, or past and future tense. As Carl Sagan once famously said, “It is of interest to note that while some dolphins are reported to have learned English – up to 50 words used in correct context – no human being has been reported to have learned dolphinese.”

“Carl Sagan was right!” says Lori Marino, a biopsychologist from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. “We still don’t understand the natural language system of dolphins and whales. We know a little bit more now, and there have been investigators working on this for decades, but we haven’t really cracked the code.”

In that case, how can we be sure they even have a language? Justin Gregg, a researcher at the Dolphin Communication Project in Connecticut, is skeptical. “Most scientists, especially cognitive scientists, don’t think that dolphins have what linguists would define as language,” he says. “They have referential signaling, which a lot of animals do – squirrels and chickens can actually do that, and monkeys – and they have names for each other. But you can’t then say they have a language because human words can do so much more.”

Analysis of dolphin communication with Information Theory has shown it to be surprisingly intricate and possibly second only to human communication in terms of complexity on Earth. Image Credit: Wild Dolphin Project

Nevertheless, some scientists continue to fight in the dolphins’ corner. Referential signaling involves tagging things with names, such as having a specific whistle to identify sharks, or fishing boats, or food. “That sounds like a good definition of language to me,” says Laurance Doyle, a scientist at the SETI Institute in California. “Put it this way: the first premise that I think everyone agrees on is that all animals communicate, so once you buy that the next question is, how complex is each communication system?”

It is this question that has prompted Doyle to reappraise what we define as intelligent complex communication, and what types of signals we should be looking for with SETI. He applies a statistical analysis technique called information theory to languages in order to determine their complexity. It turns out that, according to information theory, dolphin communication is highly complex with many similarities with human languages, even if we don’t understand the words they are saying to one another.

Information theory was developed in the 1940s by the mathematician and cryptologist Claude Shannon, mainly to be applied to the then-burgeoning technology of telecommunications. It operates on the knowledge that all information can be broken down into ‘bits’ of data that can be rearranged in myriad ways. George Zipf, a linguist at Harvard, realized that language is just the conveyance of information, and therefore could be broken down too.

Think of all the different sounds human beings make as they speak to each other, the different letters and pronunciations. Some, such as the letters ‘e’ and ‘t’ or words such as ‘and’ or ‘the’ will occur far more frequently than ‘q’ or ‘z’ or longer words such as ‘astrobiology’. Plot these on a graph, in order of the most frequently occurring letters or sounds, and the points form a slope with a –1 gradient. A toddler learning to speak will have a steeper slope – as they experiment with words they use fewer sounds but say them more often. At the most extreme a baby’s babble is completely random, and so any slope will be nearly level with all sounds occurring fairly evenly. It doesn’t matter which human language is put through the information theory test – be it English, Russian, Arabic or Mandarin – the same result follows.

What is remarkable is that putting dolphin whistles through the information theory blender renders exactly the same result: a –1 slope, with a steeper slope for younger dolphins still being taught how to communicate by their mothers, and a horizontal slope for baby dolphins babbling. This tells us that dolphins have structure to how they communicate.

Meanwhile, another feature of information theory, called Shannon entropy, can tell us how complex that communication is.

Doyle makes the analogy to marching soldiers. Imagine one hundred soldiers on parade, walking in all different directions across a field. Then they are called to attention, and form ten neat rows of ten. Prior to the call to attention, when they are marching randomly, they have maximum entropy, maximum disorder, maximum complexity. Once they are lined up structure is imposed on them; their entropy decreases as does their complexity when coupled with a corresponding increase in structure.

Language is the same. Write down one hundred words on one hundred pieces of paper and throw them into the air and they can be arranged in myriad ways. Impose rules on them, such as sentence structure, and your choices automatically narrow. It is a bit like playing hangman; you have a five-letter word where the first letter is ‘q’, so the rule structure of English necessitates that the second letter is ‘u’. From thereon there is a limited number of letters that can follow ‘qu’ and so you may have ‘que’ or ‘qui’ or ‘qua’ and you can predict that the word is ‘quest’ or ‘quick’ or ‘quack’. Shannon entropy is defined as this application of order over data and the resulting predictability of that order.

“It turns out that humans go up to about ninth order Shannon entropy,” says Doyle. “What that means is, if you are missing more than nine words then there is no longer a conditional relationship between them – they become random and pretty much any word will do.” In other words, there are conditional probabilities, imposed by the rule structures of human languages, up to nine words away.

Doyle has analyzed many forms of communication with information theory, from the chemical signals of plants to the rapid-fire radio transmissions of air traffic control. How do dolphins fare? “They have a conditional probability between signals that goes up to fourth order and probably higher, although we need more data,” says Doyle.

The problem with studying dolphin communication is being able to study them for any great length of time out in the wild, which requires patience and money. This is where Denise Herzing comes in. She is based at the Wild Dolphin Project in Florida, and has spent much of her time working with the same pod of wild dolphins for the past 27 years, documenting the complexity of their communication, acoustic signals and behavior over that time period.

Amino acids and more recently nucleobases have been found in meteorites. If these materials seed other worlds, and if similar processes of evolution act upon them, could intelligence arise elsewhere in the Universe, and would we recognize it as such? Image Credit: NASA/JPL

“We know them individually, we know their personalities, we know their communication signals and we already do things together that seem to be of interest [to them],” she says. “What we’re now trying to do is develop an interface that takes advantage of those small windows where we have their attention and they want to interact with us.”

This interface, developed with the assistance of artificial intelligence specialist Thad Starner at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and marine cognitive scientists Adam Pack of the University of Hawaii and Fabienne Delfour at the University of Paris, is known as CHAT, the Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry device. It’s a smart phone-sized gizmo that can I.D a dolphin whistle in real time. It’s worn around the neck of a diver and connected up to a pair of hydrophones and a one-handed keyboard called a ‘twiddler’. By agreeing with the dolphins on a common artificial language, neatly side-stepping the problem of translation, it is hoped that CHAT will enable humans and dolphins to talk in real time. For instance, dolphins will be able to request toys such as a ball or a hoop from humans, and vice versa. Although it won’t be the most meaningful conversation in the world, it will be conversation and that in itself will be revolutionary.

Still at the prototype stage, Herzing sees CHAT as an extension of all the work done in communication studies with captive dolphins over the past few decades. “To have high-powered, real-time computer technology to help us recognize specific signals that the animals make could empower us to bridge that gap and allow humans into their acoustic world,” she says. The plan is to test the device this year, before getting it out into the wild in 2012.

How complex dolphin communication really is remains to be seen. We must be careful not to anthropomorphize. We know their communication has nuances that are incredibly complex, but so do other species of animal, from bees to plants. Do dolphins have language with the scope and breadth to converse about anything like we can with human language, or is it more basic? Justin Gregg would argue the latter case.

“Essentially they do behave in complex and interesting ways, but there are no great mysteries in what they do that can only be answered with language,” he says.

Herzing and Doyle are more optimistic. “Dolphins have exquisite sound and they have a lot of places they could potentially encode information – we just haven’t looked adequately yet,” says Herzing. She has worked with Lori Marino and the SETI Institute’s Douglas Vakoch on how we can recognize intelligence other than human intelligence.

Meanwhile, Doyle has suggested that SETI should search for signals with information content that has a –1 slope. We may find that an alien signal displays complexity up to ten, fifteen, of twentieth order Shannon entropy. What would such a language be like?

To explain, Doyle highlights the example of Koko, a captive gorilla that has learned sign language and can understand concepts like “tomorrow” or “yesterday”. But combine time tenses, and Koko doesn’t understand.

“If you say to her, ‘by this time tomorrow I’ll have finished eating’, Koko doesn’t understand the two time jumps, that at some point in the future there will be a point in the past,” says Doyle. “Now imagine an alien comes with more complex abilities. They may say, ‘I will have to be have been there’. Now there’s nothing wrong with that per se, but humans can’t handle three time jumps or more. An alien could just think in a more complex way.” So instead of double entendres, they might have triple or quadruple entendres.

What all this tells us is that intelligence is manifest in communication just as much as it is in technology and, if intelligence is truly derived from social behavior, then it may be far more prevalent than technology. If intelligence is defined as the ability to learn, then intelligence brings with it culture, which means something that is learned. We see baby dolphins learning from their mothers so, in the crudest sense, we might say that dolphins have culture and intelligence.

By escaping the assumption that intelligence must equal technology, we see that there are many other intelligences on Earth – ask Lori Marino, and she’ll tell you that even the simplest multi-cellular life could be considered intelligent to a degree, thanks to its nervous system.

But it also poses a problem for SETI – if the Universe is full of intelligent, social, communicative but non-technological dolphins and the like, then there will be no radio beacons to transmit signals. The Universe could be full of life, of , and we would never know it.

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Squirrel
3.3 / 5 (3) Aug 30, 2011
The importance of intelligence to SETI is that intelligence that can create technology would allow life to jump from solar system to solar system and so raises Fermi's paradox the question why are they not (apparently) here. Human-like--but not dolphin-like--intelligence could in several million years cross the galaxy. It is therefore the intelligence we need to think most about.
antialias_physorg
3.9 / 5 (7) Aug 30, 2011
Fermi's paradox the question why are they not (apparently) here.

This isn't a paradox. Fermi makes assumptions that don't hold any water.

Some counterarguments off the top of my head:

a) Life adapts to a specific, original environment. It is unlikely that any planet outside the original one will be hospitable enough to support life from anywhere else (without a suit). If you need a suit then you can go live on an asteroid - no need to go live on an already inhabitd planet.

b) If you go into space why live on planets at all? Especially once you move your intelligence from a biological to a technological substrate. After that planetbound living makes absolutely no sense.

c) If there are a lot of space-going civilizations then they probably have some sort of contact with each other. Presumably they agree to leave fledgling civilizations alone.

d) There's no point in making contact with an inferior species. There is no benefit whatsoever for them. They just go elsewhere.
LariAnn
2.4 / 5 (5) Aug 30, 2011
There may very well be forms of intelligence present on Earth of which we are still completely unaware. I can think of a few but won't go into it to avoid getting flamed. Nonetheless, until we expand our horizons to include not only truly alien intelligences but also novel corporeal forms and environments, we'll probably miss most of the "life" out there even when we can stand right in front of it, face to face, as it were.
eachus
5 / 5 (2) Aug 30, 2011
This isn't a paradox. Fermi makes assumptions that don't hold any water.

Enrico Fermi did not make any assumptions. He used to teach Physics seminars where he would ask the group questions which depended for answers on information that the group didn't realize they had--mostly from real life experience.

One of those questions, which is still being debated today, was how many civilizations there were in the galaxy. The usual formula for making a guess is called the Drake Equation. The current "best guess" values inserted into the equation result in about 10,000 civilizations capable of communicating with each other. If you don't like scientist current guesses try your own here: http://www.pbs.or...ion.html

The Fermi Paradox, "Where are they?" results from large values from the Drake Equation. You can use the Paradox to argue for changes in the assumed values, or to argue for alternatives.

I tend towards, "Someone has to be first."
lengould100
4 / 5 (1) Aug 30, 2011
Agreed. Octopii come to mind as an immediate example. Crows. Pigs (believe it or not).
lengould100
4.5 / 5 (2) Aug 30, 2011
The Drake Equation. 10,000 concurrently in this galaxy is far too high a number. Something missing there, else they'd be here long ago.
lengould100
4 / 5 (1) Aug 30, 2011
I ran my own calculation and came up with 100, which I think might be more realistic. Still even then, where are they?
RhabbKnotte
2.5 / 5 (2) Aug 30, 2011
I happen to like "reciprocal altruism". Now there's an oxymoron with Teeth! An LariAnn, I have to ask... are we thinking about Clouds; Or what other intelligences? Sorry, I had to do that! I think most forms of higher life shows forms of intelligence. But even the smartest of us are bigoted beyond belief. We have to produce arguments that make us superior; its the only way we feel justified. Squirrel, I agree that Seti should focus on technological intelligence, or we are wasting tons o' money. I, for one, would love to one day have a conversation with another species beyond Fetch and Roll Over.
TehDog
not rated yet Aug 30, 2011
If anyone's interested in cetacean intelligence, this is well worth a watch.
http://www.bbc.co...b013wpxz
omatumr
1.3 / 5 (10) Aug 30, 2011
There may very well be forms of intelligence present on Earth of which we are still completely unaware. Nonetheless, until we expand our horizons to include not only truly alien intelligences but also novel corporeal forms and environments, we'll probably miss most of the "life" out there even when we can stand right in front of it, face to face, as it were.


Life arose naturally as a non-equilibrium thermodynamic process to dissipate the photon potential generated by the energetic pulsar at the solar core and cold outer space, and intelligence is a property of life.

I will try to find the link for this paper, published in The Journal of Modern Physics, later today.

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Former NASA Principal
Investigator for Apollo
azaria1
1 / 5 (2) Aug 30, 2011
The assumption that there are far less than the estimated 10,000 civilizations in our galaxy is faulty logic and shows a lack of knowledge as far as cosmology is concerned. Based on the panspermia theory, and the current findings of the component molucles of DNA within meteorites, we can postulate that the galaxy is actually teeming with these materials. With an estimated 200 billion stars in the Milky Way it is probably a far greater number of worlds than the 10,000 number that the Drake equation currently gives us.
lengould100
5 / 5 (3) Aug 30, 2011
azuria: 1) The Drake Eqn settings which give the 10,000 figure presume EVERY STAR has 2 PLANETS in the goldilocks zone. Even those stars at which we've looked have broken that assumption. 2) It's reasonable IMHO to assume that near the centre of the galaxy, there's too much detrimental stuff going on for long-term life to take hold. Hard radiation from the surrounds of the core black hole, too-frequent supernovae.... 3) There's a lot of stars counted as "stars in the galaxy" which are immediately identifiable as likely not now or ever in their history supporting planets suitable for life. White dwarfs, supermassives, brown dwarfs.
Scottingham
4 / 5 (1) Aug 30, 2011
I think the reason for not seeing any other intelligent life in the galaxy becomes more apparent if you accept the fact that the speed of light is the intergalactic speed limit.

However, the theory of relativity proves that as you approach the speed of light time appears to slow down if you are on the ship relative to those not on the ship. IE, if you go 99% the speed of light for what appears to be minutes for the the ship, years have gone by for those left on earth.

We can then assume societies that have not yet been able to reach relativistic speeds rise and fall in the blink of an eye compared to those traveling much faster. They would only be able to communicate with other societies capable of going those speeds as well.

At that point, it isn't a matter of where to meet them in space, but also when. Ship A must go 70% speed of light while ship B must go 95% in order to meet at the same space/time.
pubwvj
5 / 5 (3) Aug 30, 2011
We have a pack of livestock herding and guardian dogs working on our farm. They have extensive language - both between themselves and with us. I know some of their language, a few dozen words. The oldest and brightest of them know about three hundred of our words. We use hand signs, words and whistles. Some of them use hand signs back to communicate things to us. This is not part of either of our languages but rather an intermediate language we've developed that works for both of us. Communication is happening. It has been happening with farmers and shepherds for millennia.
aroc91
1 / 5 (3) Aug 30, 2011
There may very well be forms of intelligence present on Earth of which we are still completely unaware. I can think of a few but won't go into it to avoid getting flamed. Nonetheless, until we expand our horizons to include not only truly alien intelligences but also novel corporeal forms and environments, we'll probably miss most of the "life" out there even when we can stand right in front of it, face to face, as it were.


Explain. I noticed you used the word "corporeal." Is this hinting that your other proposed intelligent life forms are ethereal? I'm going to assume you're talking about your deity of choice, in which case, you're an impressionable moron.
Isaacsname
4.5 / 5 (2) Aug 30, 2011
There's a great deal of communication that is not so much spoken as it is performed, at least in the animal kingdom. Body language is extremely important, especially between species, so why we tend to only define intelligent species by looking for a spoken/uttered language is beyond me. A phrase or communication could consist of combinations of sound and movement for example. We are still trying to define " their " languages in our terms.

Remember the Farside cartoon with the aliens that had heads that looked like human hands, and the human greeting the alien was shaking the alien by it's head by mistake ?

That's probably close to how it will really go down.

6th one down

http://stephhicks...y-Larson
an_p
5 / 5 (3) Aug 30, 2011
dear earthlings, your planet really looks beautiful from far away. unfortunately we are not interested in talking to dolphins, birds or monkeys. so enjoy your short lives and dont worry to much. see you later
xznofile
5 / 5 (1) Aug 30, 2011
I'd like to talk to them too but I just realized that though many creatures relate to us, the only ones we recognize are the ones that do what we want (except for cats). They just don't communicate on our terms. My dog knows me better than I know him, and maybe the aliens do too. People have an internal dialog that we expect others to reciprocate, and that might be our blind spot.
jsa09
5 / 5 (2) Aug 30, 2011
thanks to eachus for providing that link to play with your own values in the Drake equation.

I got about 5 for my answer after i bumped up the average lifespan of an "intelligent" planet to 50,000 years. I feel that may be an overestimate. the true figure could well be 0.0001 or even less.

Imagine if neanderthal man was still here and not displaced, would they have developed technology? Who is to say, they well have been happy hunting and gathering for eternity. The Australian Aborigine may well have been doing the same thing they were doing for 50,000 years for another 50,000 years and never developed laser technology.
The development of technology comes with both the desire and the resources to do that. If you don't have both then it wont happen.
Decimatus
5 / 5 (1) Aug 30, 2011
Even if there were 10,000 civilizations in the milky way, each capable of interstellar travel, they would all have 10-20 million "empty" star systems to explore. What are the chances that one of those stars contains Earth?

If lightspeed really is the speed limit for baryonic matter, then it is very, very improbable that we ever meet an extraterrestrial civilization.

Also, what are the chances that radio or laser communications even make it across the interestellar reaches without being hopelessly scrambled? We may be flooded with ET communications, but it could all be completely garbled.

Alternatively, there is a good chance that civilizations only spend 100-200 years of their lifespan using detectable EM communications. If Quantum communications works out, it is unlikely anyone will hear from us either.

Then you have to factor in, do these civilizations want to be heard?

We won't know if we don't try, but the odds are against us on this bet.
hard2grep
5 / 5 (1) Aug 30, 2011
We cannot see or hear fast enough to navigate much space at a time. I imagine that once we bump into an alien, more will follow. that's because the limits of space travel requires infrastructure. logistics would leave distant maiden voyages impractical for the run-of-the-mill alien. Even an advanced and all-powerful civilization needs logistics.
Sonhouse
5 / 5 (1) Aug 31, 2011
The Drake Equation. 10,000 concurrently in this galaxy is far too high a number. Something missing there, else they'd be here long ago.

Think about it: our galaxy is about 100,000 ly across and maybe 5000 ly deep, or about 500 quadrillion cubic ly of volume. Assuming civilizations are more or less equally spread out, that leaves about 5 billion cubic ly per civilization, separated by more than 1000 light years average, roughly speaking. 1000 ly is close enough we can detect or own signals but think about the age of the galaxy, 10 billion odd years, and those 10,000 may not be together in time, they could live their entire lifespan as a civilization before a signal could cross the distance to the next one, dead and gone before the next one can hear them. Photons have a wavefront and if you assume a civilization living for say 10,000 years, that means a wavefront 10,000 ly deep so ten of them can exist in the galaxy and nobody would know about the others in that case.
Sonhouse
5 / 5 (1) Aug 31, 2011
Signal generating civilizations could be just like ships passing in the night, not seeing the other is there, we could be 50,000 years too early or too late to even detect a signal, a signal we could have seen if we were around 50,000 years ago or that far ahead in time with the right telescopes, but now, wrong place, wrong time.
Ensa
5 / 5 (1) Aug 31, 2011
The time-jumps limit seems to be more a result of the language chosen than species concept ability.
I can say, in English,
"I am thinking about having lunch next week.
This time tomorrow, yesterday I was thinking about having lunch next week" - which is two time jumps, in language but conceptually three.
This is a bit like trying to draw a cube or a tesseract on paper; a representation is possible but it will always be 2d, and will require the co-operation of the viewer to look at it and 'translate' in imagination what is represented into the right number of dimensions.
I can draw a square, visualise a cube, and concieve of a tesseract, but for an observer to assume from my inability to draw a tesseract that I can not conceive of one would be more an indication that he has not got my representation than anything else.
In mathematics, another language, we can talk about any number of 'time-jumps', or equivalent, although some people are better than others at actually concieving them...
Magnette
5 / 5 (2) Aug 31, 2011
It would seem that Douglas Adams was right about the Dolphins after all....
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Aug 31, 2011
The usual formula for making a guess is called the Drake Equation.

We had this elsewhere: The Drake equation was an agenda written for a conference (in the fom of an equation since it was a conference for scientists).
It was a list of things to spark thought - in no way, shape or form was it meant to be a serious formula (as publicly admitted by its author). It is not a scientific thing - don't be fooled by the form of an equation.

Fermi (and Drake) argue based on planetbound life and the need/will to colonize. I argue that this isn't a given and that it's actually not sensible to think that life will even WANT to return to a planet once it can go into space - because there's really no reason to.

Drake argues for detectability based on information transmission using omnidirectional EM waves (which in itself is stupid because even we don't do that anymore - why would aliens?)
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Aug 31, 2011
Signal generating civilizations could be just like ships passing in the night,

They will be. It's not like you don't know where you want to broadcast a signal to over large distances (solar systems don't jump about). The more you narrow your beam the less energy you need. Unless someone is specifically targetting Earth out there (and why would they?) the universe could be chock full of transmission and we'd never intercept a single one.

Besides: what would be the point of sending signals over interstellar distances using radio waves? Any information you send is severly outdated by the time it gets anywhere.
Jabberwocky
5 / 5 (1) Aug 31, 2011
While intelligent, we are far from ignorant. Only through evolution and necessity have we acquired our tool using skills - "but technology does not define intelligence". Looking on a social level it could be argued dolphins, and other animals, are easily our equals if not far greater adapted for a sustainable social strata. It has long been acknowledged we are outliving our means and until we learn to bring that under control and stop abusing power over others we are unquestionably an infantile species.

As for the search for extra-terrestrial life, what's to say there hasn't been contact already? A debatable and uncheckable source but not one which should be ignored is in religious texts - frequent references in various scriptures that refer to alien beings. Any idea that we may match their intelligence or universal understanding is again arrogant. It would be understandable that such beings would avoid contact until we learn to stop living in such a sinisterly self destructive manner
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Aug 31, 2011
1000 ly is close enough we can detect or own signals but think about the age of the galaxy, 10 billion odd years, and those 10,000 may not be together in time,

Add to that the fact radiowaves decrease in power with the square of the distance. Anything that is sent out by humans isn't detectable with even theoretically optimal amplifiers further than 2 light years out (which is less than half the distance to our nearest neighbor star.)

Every solar system in the universe could be inhabited and busily broadcasting their TV shows into space and no one would ever notice.
Isaacsname
5 / 5 (1) Aug 31, 2011
So do you guys think humans are common in the universe ?

I do. I also think that were another human civilization able to travel by FTL or other methods, they would have a unique opportunity if they found other intelligent life.

They would have a chance to peer into a history that may mirror their own, making as few contacts as possible would be of utmost importance to an interstellar astrobiologist from another intelligent race.

Of course, giving a lessor race access to their advanced technology would be asking for trouble too, like giving a 5 year old a loaded M16.

If we were able to find and travel to other races, we'd likely limit our contact with them as well, like I said, it's a window into a history that may be more common than we think.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Aug 31, 2011
So do you guys think humans are common in the universe ?

No. Humans are specifically adapted to a very narrow gravity-, radiation-, temperature-, atmospheric pressure-, gas-concentration-, pH- , ... -range.

Anything even slightly off in any ONE of those areas (or the addition of one of a million toxic compounds in the atmosphere/water/ground) and humans are dead.

Humans are pretty much guaranteed to be unique - whether (intelligent) life exists out there or not.
Isaacsname
4 / 5 (1) Aug 31, 2011
So do you guys think humans are common in the universe ?

No. Humans are specifically adapted to a very narrow gravity-, radiation-, temperature-, atmospheric pressure-, gas-concentration-, pH- , ... -range.

Anything even slightly off in any ONE of those areas (or the addition of one of a million toxic compounds in the atmosphere/water/ground) and humans are dead.

Humans are pretty much guaranteed to be unique - whether (intelligent) life exists out there or not.


What other shape than humanoid would you suggest ? I couldn't see anything much different evolving in a similar " goldilocks "zone, especially if natural laws hold true throughout space. I could see something like humans evolving, than radically changing their evolution with technology, but wouldn't they have to have 10 fingers, two eyes, etc to even get to the tool-building stage ?
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Aug 31, 2011
What other shape than humanoid would you suggest ?

That depends on the environment. We don't really know what types of environments can produce life (and specifically intelligent life).

The goldilocks zone can house radically different climates/conditions (just take a look at Venus). Non-goldilocks zone objects can hold liquid water oceans.
(in our solar system possibly: Europa, IO , Ganymede ... where the source of energy is other than the sun - e.g. internal radiation and/or tidal forces from nearby planets). All you need is an energy source - doesn't matte rwhere exactly that is.

but wouldn't they have to have 10 fingers, two eyes, etc to even get to the tool-building stage ?

Many species have been shown to use tools. Some have beaks, some have tentacles. For all we know there could be intelligent microbial colonies out there (or something a bit more differentiated like a jellyfish). Stuff could float in dense atmospheres or live in rocks deep down. Who knows?
Isaacsname
5 / 5 (1) Aug 31, 2011
Well, Idk, there's a big difference between using a twig to fish ants, and sharpening one end to spear fish, ie, using one tool to fashion another, which imo, would be a sign of accelerating evolution in a species. I'm not saying we wouldn't find intelligent life, I'm saying in order for them to travel to us, they'd have to be something similar, or would have have to follow a similar evolutionary pattern to develop things like space travel. It doesn't matter how smart a dolphin is, it will never build a spaceship without hands.

I guess really what I am trying to say is that I think we are more likely to run into something that bears similarity to what we are already familiar with here on Earth, given it's quite a wide range undiscovered life as of yet. If they come to us at all, they are more than likely at least humanoid and not 3 legged spacecats or what have you.
trekgeek1
5 / 5 (1) Aug 31, 2011
Prime directive. Aliens exist but realize that we require and deserve a chance of our own to progress. They will not interact with us until we can practically travel vast distances. At this time they will present us with a "rules and regulations" of the universe so that we can coexist with other sentient species. This is of course my theory.
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (1) Sep 01, 2011
Well, Idk, there's a big difference between using a twig to fish ants, and sharpening one end to spear fish, ie, using one tool to fashion another, which imo, would be a sign of accelerating evolution in a species.

You mean like this:

"Research in 2007 shows that chimpanzees in the Fongoli savanna sharpen sticks to use as spears when hunting, considered the first evidence of systematic use of weapons in a species other than humans."

Taken from this link:
http://en.wikiped..._animals

it will never build a spaceship without hands.

I'm not so sure about that. There's many ways dolphins can evolve in the future.

I guess really what I am trying to say is that I think we are more likely to run into something that bears similarity to what we are already familiar with here on Earth
Making a prediction on one data point has no merit.
aroc91
3 / 5 (1) Sep 01, 2011
Of course, giving a lessor race access to their advanced technology would be asking for trouble too, like giving a 5 year old a loaded M16.


Fail analogy. Granting a lesser species the tools to play catch up is hardly comparable to giving a child a weapon.
Isaacsname
not rated yet Sep 04, 2011
Okie dokie, let's look at it like this:

If you are a believer in evolution, as am I, look at all the forms explored thoughout our current collection of evolutionary taxonomies, complete with truncations and dead-ends.

Can you suggest some forms that HAVEN'T been explored by nature as of yet ?

If physiological evolution is based on simple environmental feedback, and natural laws are the same throughout space, than evolution is going to be the same no matter where you go.

If you have solid land, you will find legs, if there is gas in a liquid phase ( like water ), you will find things swimming, etc.

Also, given the complexity already explored evolutionarily on Earth, you cannot suggest something radically different due to sheer numbers, ie: evolution is exhaustive. If it is radically different, you got some 'splainin to do..

@aroc91, it depends whether they are intent on using the tool like a weapon or not, you think humans wouldn't ? I don't.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Sep 04, 2011
Can you suggest some forms that HAVEN'T been explored by nature as of yet ?

The wheel.

Also, given the complexity already explored evolutionarily on Earth, you cannot suggest something radically different due to sheer numbers

A high gravity environment (or one with extremely low gravity) might require a different build. As might one with frequent storms, or high temperatures, or...

We really don't know if life can only be carbon based and/or requires water. All we do know is that life seems to require that here.

Go to different elements and to different circumstances and all bets are off as to what life would look like.
omatumr
1 / 5 (2) Sep 04, 2011
Life arose naturally as a non-equilibrium thermodynamic process to dissipate the photon potential generated by the energetic pulsar at the solar core and cold outer space, and intelligence is a property of life.

I will try to find the link for this paper, published in The Journal of Modern Physics, later today.

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Former NASA Principal
Investigator for Apollo


"Origin and Evolution of Life Constraints on the Solar Model"

Journal of Modern Physics (2011) volume 2, 587-594

http://dl.dropbox...5079.pdf
Isaacsname
not rated yet Sep 04, 2011
Can you suggest some forms that HAVEN'T been explored by nature as of yet ?

The wheel.



http://en.wikiped...10_film)

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