Life in the universe? Almost certainly. Intelligence? Maybe not

May 12, 2009 By Alvin Powell
Fisher Professor of Natural History Andrew Knoll describes the beginnings of life on Earth. Photograph by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard News Office

(PhysOrg.com) -- We are likely not alone in the universe, though it may feel like it, since life on other planets is probably dominated by microbes or other nonspeaking creatures, according to scientists who gave their take on extraterrestrial life at Harvard recently.

Speakers reviewed how life on Earth arose and the many, sometimes improbable steps it took to create intelligence here. Radio astronomer Gerrit Verschuur said he believes that though there is very likely life out there — perhaps a lot of it — it is very unlikely to be both intelligent and able to communicate with us.

Verschuur presented his take on the Drake equation, formulated by astronomer Francis Drake in 1960, that provides a means for calculating the number of intelligent civilizations that it is possible for humans to make contact with.

The equation relates those chances to the rate of star and habitable planet formation. It includes the rate at which life arises on such planets and develops intelligence, technology, and interplanetary communication skills. Finally, it factors in the lifetime of such a civilization.

Using Drake’s equation, Verschuur calculated there may be just one other technological civilization capable of communicating with humans in the whole group of galaxies that include our Milky Way — a vanishingly small number that may explain why 30 years of scanning the skies for signs of intelligent life has come up empty.

“I’m not very optimistic,” Verschuur said.

Verschuur was a speaker at “Crossroads: The Future of Human Life in the Universe,” a three-day symposium sponsored by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), the Smithsonian Institution, the Harvard Origins of Life Initiative, and the Cambridge Science Festival.

The event kicked off with a showing of a popular science fiction movie, “Colussus: The Forbin Project,” before diving into more serious material. Topics included finding habitable planets, the rise of artificial life, human travel to Mars, and the idea that life might have a self-destructive streak. Speakers included Verschuur, J. Craig Venter, Freeman Dyson, Peter Ward, Andy Knoll, Dimitar Sasselov, Maria Zuber, David Charbonneau, Juan Enriquez, and David Aguilar.

Sasselov, professor of astrophysics at Harvard and director of the Harvard Origins of Life Initiative, agreed with Verschuur that life is probably common in the universe. He said that he believes life is a natural “planetary phenomenon” that occurs easily on planets with the right conditions.

As for intelligent life, give it time, he said. Though it may be hard to think of it this way, at roughly 14 billion years old, the universe is quite young, he said. The heavy elements that make up planets like Earth were not available in the early universe; instead, they are formed by the stars. Enough of these materials were available to begin forming rocky planets like Earth just 7 billion or 8 billion years ago. When one considers that it took nearly 4 billion years for intelligent life to evolve on Earth, it would perhaps not be surprising if intelligence is still rare.

“It takes a long time to do this,” Sasselov said. “It may be that we are the first generation in this galaxy.”

Several speakers hailed the March launch of NASA’s Kepler space telescope, which is dedicated to the search for Earth-like planets orbiting other stars. Several Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics faculty members, including Sasselov, are investigators on the telescope mission.

Sasselov said he expects Kepler to quickly add to the 350 planets already found orbiting other stars. By the end of the summer, he said, it may have found more than a dozen “super Earths” or planets from Earth-size to just over twice Earth’s size that Sasselov expects would have the stability and conditions that would allow life to develop.

If life did develop elsewhere, Andrew Knoll, the Fisher Professor of Natural History, used the lessons of planet Earth to give an idea of what it might take to develop intelligence. Of the three major groupings of life: bacteria, archaea, and eukaryotes, only the eukaryotes developed complex life. And even among the myriad kinds of eukaryotes, complex life arose in just a few places: animals, plants, fungi, and red and brown algae. Knoll said he believes that the rise of mobility, oxygen levels, and predation, together with its need for sophisticated sensory systems, coordinated activity, and a brain, provided the first steps toward intelligence.

It has only been during the past century — a tiny fraction of Earth’s history — that humans have had the technological capacity to communicate off Earth, Knoll said. And, though Kepler may advance the search for Earth-like , it won’t tell us whether there’s life there, or whether there has been there in the past.

Provided by Harvard University (news : web)

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User comments : 65

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Azpod
2.8 / 5 (6) May 12, 2009
Frankly, I hope they're wrong. But... they very well could be right.
bugmenot23
3.4 / 5 (9) May 12, 2009
"Life in the universe? Almost certainly. Intelligence? Maybe not"

Does the autor deny his intelligence or doesn't he have it? ;)
Thadieus
3.6 / 5 (13) May 12, 2009
We are the only "intelligent" life in the universe? HAHAHAHA- The universe is what 20 billion times older than we are and with trillions of stars. We have explored less than .00000000000000000001% of space. Funny.
GrayMouser
3.5 / 5 (14) May 12, 2009
"Life in the universe? Almost certainly. Intelligence? Maybe not"
This is stating faith not science. There is no basis for a decision one way or the other. For one reason, the sample set is far too small.
OregonWind
4.5 / 5 (8) May 12, 2009
His speculations are fruitless (or potentially harmful to some projects) and everything he said is only showing pessimism of his part, not science. Few years ago many astronomers thought that planets were very rare and now... we are cataloging them. Knoll has no clue, nobody has any clue and it is usually safe to be pessimist and that is all.
x646d63
3.6 / 5 (5) May 12, 2009
I wish people would begin making assumptions that humans are not special in the universe. Let's assume the universe is brimming with life, and after we've explored it all we can state our findings.

After all, the chances of intelligent life existing in the universe are 100%. It seems counter-intuitive to me that none exists outside of Earth. We aren't that special.
brant
1.7 / 5 (10) May 12, 2009
Hahahah. He is basing his assumption on his calculations. Like he knows every parameter.

Intelligent life in the universe(besides us). Absolutely!!!!

The universe is trillions of years old.

But guess what. Life existed before the universe of matter existed!!!
komone
4.6 / 5 (11) May 12, 2009
I can categorically state from experience that there is no intelligent life in the Universe at all
John_balls
4 / 5 (10) May 12, 2009
We are the only "intelligent" life in the universe? HAHAHAHA- The universe is what 20 billion times older than we are and with trillions of stars. We have explored less than .00000000000000000001% of space. Funny.
My sentiments exactly!! This article and the scientist stating this absurd opinion is utter nonsense.

We can barely detect planets outside our solar system yet we are going go out on a limb and proclaim life may not be intelligent elsewhere, based on what???

The size of the universe is so vast it's almost incomphrensible where in as already stated in the above quote their seems to be an infinite amount of stars.

In other words, I call bullshit. We cannot reach this conclusion based on the technology and the information we currently have.
wawadave
4.2 / 5 (5) May 12, 2009
I can prove there is intelligent life in outer space!
Have you ever seen an alien?
No?
That proves they are intelligent enough not to come here!!
John_balls
1.3 / 5 (8) May 12, 2009
I can prove there is intelligent life in outer space!
Have you ever seen an alien?
No?
That proves they are intelligent enough not to come here!!








why I am I responding. We are intelligent life, can we leave our solar system ??? See how foolish you sound now? I bet you thought you were being clever.



MikPetter
4.3 / 5 (4) May 12, 2009
He didn't say we are the only intelligent life in the universe he said "Using Drake's equation, Verschuur calculated there may be just one other technological civilization capable of communicating with humans in the whole group of galaxies that include our Milky Way..." which is good news given that even his pessimistic assumptions indicate there could be one other intelligent technological species out there. Given slightly less pessimistic assumptions it could be more..
nkalanaga
3 / 5 (2) May 12, 2009
"Maybe not" is not a statement of fact, but of possibilty. If there "may not" be intelligence elsewhere, that also requires the possibilty that there "may be" such intelligence. I tend to agree with him that it is probably rare, unlike some popular fiction where every planet has a civilization at or near our level.
Damon_Hastings
4 / 5 (5) May 12, 2009
The Drake Equation can produce any desired conclusion based on whatever inputs you feed into it. If Verschuur started with pessimistic inputs, then he would get a pessimistic outcome. Others have used the same exact equation, with different inputs, and concluded that our galaxy is teeming with life. The simple fact is that we haven't the vaguest notion of what the inputs actually are, and thus all conclusions are meaningless.

In particular, I would question how this guy decided what the average "lifetime" of an interstellar civilization is. (Exactly how many interstellar civilizations has he visited?) Okay, if you assume these civilizations last 1000 years each, then, yeah, they're always going to be pretty darn sparse. But if you assume they last a billion years each, then the universe is probably crammed with them. And how could a civilization spanning, say, a million star systems (which is only 0.00025% of our galaxy) ever go completely extinct anyway? It seems like only a war could do that -- but even then, the winners of the war would recolonize the dead zones.
Birger
4.5 / 5 (2) May 12, 2009
Reemember Fermi's paradox. There may be plenty of bacteria and lichen out there, but since we do not detect signs of intelligent aliens already crawling all over the galaxy, the odds are we are in fact the first *intelligent* ones here in the Milky Way. This is on account of the time factor, and the short *geological time needed to spread through the galaxy (less than one per cent of the age of the galaxy). It would be very unlikely that we exist in the brief time after several intelligent species evolve, but before they overrun the galaxy.
Damon_Hastings
3.7 / 5 (6) May 12, 2009
Reemember Fermi's paradox. There may be plenty of bacteria and lichen out there, but since we do not detect signs of intelligent aliens already crawling all over the galaxy, the odds are we are in fact the first *intelligent* ones here in the Milky Way.

...or that we lack the tools to detect other civilizations. If faster-than-light signaling exists, then it is almost certain that interstellar civilizations will use it, which explains why we pick up nothing on the EM bands we're scouring. If you had a brother on Alpha Centauri, would you want to wait 4.37 years for him to pick up the phone every time you call?

This is on account of the time factor, and the short *geological time needed to spread through the galaxy (less than one per cent of the age of the galaxy). It would be very unlikely that we exist in the brief time after several intelligent species evolve, but before they overrun the galaxy.

You are assuming that these aliens would have the same level of moral development as humans. But if their morals are evolved much beyond those of us animals, then they may have set up protections for "nursery planets".

Also, you're assuming that these aliens would *want* to live on planets. Empty space would be much more economical, due to its abundance. And you don't have to deal with the gravity wells that planets are stuck in. After a few million more years of evolution, who's to say whether we humans will have any further use for planets? Or even stars? Perhaps we'll colonize the space between galaxies. Nice and roomy. Of course, we'd need power generation, building materials, etc, but those should be trivial problems for a million-year-old race.
paulthebassguy
3.3 / 5 (3) May 12, 2009
People are right that this article contains very little facts. It is a hypothesis.

I actually think it has some merit though because even if life is reasonably common on planets with the right conditions, evolution of life does not necessarily tend towards intelligence. It tends towards ability to survive.
LuckyBrandon
3.4 / 5 (7) May 12, 2009
the author has to be doing some crazy low numbers...the drake equation itself utilizes a low number of star formation (but a higher number of life development expectency)..as a result, I don't agree with it entirely, but its formulation in its ORIGINAL form (without the suggested add ons such as re-emergence of a species).
i was thinking however that the drake equation is used to find the possible number of civilizations in the milky way alone...this article says his numbers using that same equation account for all the galaxies including the milky way.

*youll have to forgive the expression here, I couldnt paste in what I wanted, and I cant type some of the characters in this textbox...

N = R* x fp x ne x fe x fi x fc x L

Drake equation uses:
N = 10 × 0.5 × 2 × 1 × 0.01 × 0.01 × 10,000 = 10

yes i know its just accepted that 10 stars per year in our galaxy form, but that idea came from the drake equation itself from my understanding. i could find ACTUAL evidence that only that many stars per year form. I tend to think its much higher than that.




brant-its ~3.7 billion years old last I heard...not even approaching a trillion yet

komone-there is intelligent life...theyre called dolphins :D lol



---------

all in all, i agree with most of you in the aspect that intelligent life is probably extremely rare, but without knowing the true numbers, the drake equation, though likely an accurate formulation to determine the true number of intelligent civilizations, is nothing more than a random number generator.
MikeBfromWA
4 / 5 (3) May 12, 2009
Think about it....we've got a fairly long term experiment running right now...

The earth has been around for a long time...it teems with life, but it is only home to a single intelligent species (and only has ever housed the one as far as anyone knows).

Judging from the history of our race, periods where the population was very low, it seems a miracle that we were able to evolve this far.

Why is it so absurd to assume that intelligence is rare? It seems like decent reasoning to me from these points alone.

It reminds me of George R. R. Martin's books that share the same futuristic universe, where humans have colonised the universe so much they have forgotten where they came from...but have never run into anything they can have a conversation with (except a sentient mud rock :P ). Plenty of animals...no intelligence.
John_balls
1 / 5 (3) May 12, 2009
Think about it....we've got a fairly long term experiment running right now...


If their are billions of stars why is intelligence rare??

Are their any other earth like planets in space???

We don't know thats why we cannot assume it's rare.
The earth has been around for a long time...it teems with life, but it is only home to a single intelligent species (and only has ever housed the one as far as anyone knows).



Judging from the history of our race, periods where the population was very low, it seems a miracle that we were able to evolve this far.



Why is it so absurd to assume that intelligence is rare? It seems like decent reasoning to me from these points alone.



It reminds me of George R. R. Martin's books that share the same futuristic universe, where humans have colonised the universe so much they have forgotten where they came from...but have never run into anything they can have a conversation with (except a sentient mud rock :P ). Plenty of animals...no intelligence.

Fazer
3 / 5 (5) May 12, 2009
Maybe I am a gullible simpleton, but I agree with Kurzweil that we are advancing at an accelerating rate. We have only been reasoning beings for, oh I don't know, maybe on the order of thousands of years? Yet so much has happened in the last few hundred years, or the last twenty, what with the internet and all.

A few thousand years hence, and we won't even resemble what we are now. We will have unimaginable powers (if we survive, of course) and we MIGHT move out into the universe, but I think that by then we will consider the universe, that which we see around us right now, to be a very boring place. I think it likely we will have moved on to other dimensions, built other universes, who knows.

I have a lot of respect for our present level of intelligence, but to any species that had the power to reach us, we would be about as interesting as slugs (no offense to slug lovers) or even simple microbes.

We have a long way to go and a bright future, but we may never meet any species at the same level as our own.

Sometimes it seems a lonely existence for mankind, but geez, we've got intelligence right here! When you get right down to it, the guy living next door is an intelligent alien. So make contact.

Heck, I am no environmentalist, but I was blown away the first time I saw a video of an elephant painting. Yeah, I know they were taught what to paint, but you can just tell that they kind of get the general idea and actually seem to enjoy it. We have more in common with elephants, a species that could be considered to be a million years or more behind us in intelligence, than we do with a civilization that is merely a thousand years ahead of us - they would appear as gods to us even if we could see them (cloaking, remember?)
Gemini
5 / 5 (1) May 12, 2009
I would like to turn the assumptions in this article on their head by lookng at it from the other direction. What if our plant is really not a great place for life to evolve ? It seems that it is because we are here and adapted to it, but with all the late stage bombardment, planet-wide ice ages, comet and meteorite strikes, volcanic events and mass extinctions, it is not so much a miracle that intelligent life evolved, it is a concequence of these set-backs and false starts that that it took so long and it is testament to its tenacity and adaptability that life made it through. This bodes well for life being present on other planets and where there is life it will naturally evolve towards complexity and intelligence, and it may happen much quicker on other planets in other environments. As to why we haven't received their radio signals, well, as has been suggested, who is to say that they will be in the tiny span of their evolution where such crude devices are used - imagine Galilaeo looking up at Jupiter saying, there is obviously no intelligent life there because I can't see any semiphore flags.
LuckyBrandon
3 / 5 (4) May 13, 2009
MikeB-we werent the only intelligent species. Our species co-existed with neanderthal for quite some time, and they too made stone tools and weapons just as we did..and now its known there were even 3 distinct subspecies just of neanderthal (that we know of so far anyways)...which also leaves the intriguing possibility of subspecies of homo-sapiens as well at one point in time....
were just the only intelligent species left....

gemini-i think its likely that most planets capable of harboring life as we know it probably go through the same or similar stages in development...and most likely right down to the asteroid/comet impacts and massive supervolcano events....
of course other types of life could exist, but i would expect that if life as we know it were to exist, the same conditions that exist on earth, or at least damn near it, must be present on the other planet.
rwinners
1.3 / 5 (3) May 13, 2009
"Life in the universe? Almost certainly. Intelligence? Maybe not"

This is stating faith not science. There is no basis for a decision one way or the other. For one reason, the sample set is far too small.

"Life in the universe? Almost certainly. Intelligence? Maybe not"

This is stating faith not science. There is no basis for a decision one way or the other. For one reason, the sample set is far too small.


Yes. These people are being extremely parochial. Are we the 'exception'? How human centric! And, certainly we are self-destructive, but, again, why should that be the rule?
Oh well, we will probably not get an answer in our lifetimes. I do hope...
MikeBfromWA
5 / 5 (2) May 13, 2009
Ahh, good point LuckyBrandon. I hadn't considered neanderthals or even any other of our past relatives.

The odds still don't look good though (from my pessimistic outlook :P )
Mercury_01
4.2 / 5 (5) May 13, 2009
boobies.
Scire
3.3 / 5 (3) May 13, 2009
If you consider Neanderthals shared probably 99.99% of our genetic code then the intelligent species of Earth is still narrowed down to one branch of the hominid family.

Even looking on Earth, where we know at least one intelligence to have evolved, some estimates have put bacteria as 50% of all biomass on the planet. So yes, the vast amount of life is bacterial, even here. Now consider life existing in the harsher regions of the galaxy will be bacteria, such as extremophiles, and have no chance of ever evolving to higher lifeforms unless conditions improve.

Quite frankly the arbitrary number of intelligent species quoted in the article is irrelevant, whether it's one or ten or ten-thousand, the amount of bacterial life out there will still be several orders of magnitude greater.

I cannot help but agree with the article; radio intelligence (and if you're arguing lots of advanced intelligence exists, lots of intermediary intelligence will also exist) is observably rare and unless you're going to claim there is no extraterrestrial life, period, this explanation is a pretty good one.
la7dfa
2 / 5 (1) May 13, 2009
Everytime we have visited moons or planets there has been exiting surprises. We only know fragments about the universe. The only sure ting is we can observe a very high number of galaxies...

Hell, even on earth the volcanic smokers teeming with life surprised all of us.

Claiming advanced life is not very likely, is a proof of Gerrit Verschuur's bad guesswork more than anything else.
cybrbeast
5 / 5 (3) May 13, 2009
I don't see Fermi's Paradox as a problem for multiple reasons. The SETI program is very ambitious, but can only look for signals in very small bandwidth, areas and sensitivity. With SETI's power you couldn't even detect our unfocused radio signals from the next star system. So the aliens would have to be purposely sending towards us. Why would aliens be doing this? If they physically surveyed earth a few million years ago they couldn't be sure that the apes would evolve significant intelligence. If they only surveyed the Earth through telescopes they couldn't have seen any signs of civilization further than a few thousand years ago. So only aliens within close range would see that we are now technologically advanced.
It's silly to assume that aliens use radio to communicate. Just look at us, most of our communications now go through fiber optic cables or are narrowly transmitted. In the future communication seems much more likely to be done with lasers which can contain more information and focus it.

I also don't see why evolved civilization would have huge empires. Again looking at us we see that the more we develop the less children we have. In western europe there are already countries with declining populations due to people not wanting more than 2 children. So even if we expand to other planets who will be making all these children, and why?
fcnotpdaaj
1 / 5 (7) May 13, 2009
Given that Obama got elected, I agree that there is no sign of intelligent life in the universe
John_balls
1.8 / 5 (5) May 13, 2009
Given that Obama got elected, I agree that there is no sign of intelligent life in the universe


Yea, that Bushie guys was so much better. He could even tie his shoes and chew gum at the same time
John_balls
2.3 / 5 (6) May 13, 2009
I'm sorry but people making guesses about intelligent life being rare is equal to saying that people that lived in some remote island thousands of years ago thinking they were the only human inhabitants on the earth.
HeloMenelo
2.3 / 5 (6) May 13, 2009
"Given that Obama got elected, I agree that there is no sign of intelligent life in the universe"

"Yea, that Bushie guys was so much better. He could even tie his shoes and chew gum at the same time"

lol, i'm falling off my chair.
Au-Pu
1 / 5 (4) May 13, 2009
I am amazed at the incredible arrogance of the scientists and most of the respondents.
It would appear that their views are more theologically based than scientifically based.
Out of our monumental ignorance (and in this I am referring to our brightest minds) we assume that we are somehow special and unique and we also assume that all life must be like us.
We do this when we do not fully understand ourselves and our planet let alone other planets.
I would expect that life is the norm for the entire universe.
I would not be surprised if some life forms were chemically different to all that we know, so different that our hospitable environment would be toxic to them. But as we have no experience of such life systems we have no way of knowing one way or another if this is possible.
So how can we possibly presume to declare that we and we alone are the sole intelligent life form.
Because we have no direct evidence of other intelligences we should not close our mind to the possibility that there are such life forms.
As far as Drakes equation is concerned it does not constitute even a good guess let alone a reliable formula.
We need to enormously increase our intelligence, do a lot more research and be far more patient because at the present stage of our intellectual development we find our best theory for the present state of the observable universe is 80% short of the matter it needs to support the theory.
That strongly suggests that as a species our ignorance far outweighs our intelligence.
mr_o
5 / 5 (1) May 13, 2009
I Believe Life on Earth and particularly Intelligent Life on Earth is "Rare" or "Special". Given that the Universe has an estimated 10 to the 80-82 power atoms. This is, indeed, a large number. But If you look at the unique circumstances that the Earth and its Solar System possesses, It looks to be an extremely rare gem. The size,location are critical as well as the stability of the orbit. The Moon (ideal in size) has help to stabilize our rotation. The Earth's magnetic field & atmosphere helps to shield us from the deadly solar radiation that would kill most life. We also are in a good location in the Milky Way, not too close to black holes, supernovas and other phenomenon that could produce deadly gamma ray bursts that would kill Earth's life pretty quickly. We also had have about the right number of collisions with other planetoids,asteroids and comets to help spur life's development and not kill it all off here. There are also a myriad or other circumstances I haven't mentioned that are necessary for Life, its survival and its development. So while given the tremendous number of potential planets, stars and other known and unknown conditions out there, The factors having to be just right lead me to take a skeptical "I believe it when I see" attitude. I venture that no extraterrestrial intelligent life will be found in my lifetime or in the lifetime of anyone currently living.
retro
5 / 5 (1) May 13, 2009
Microbes are the dominant form of life on earth, by some measures. They occupy more niches, are more numerous, and have more of an impact on the planet than any other life forms. With no warp drives allowed the galaxy could still be "colonized" within a few hundred million years. But what would the colonizers looks like? This would be technology so advanced it would appear magical. If the solar system has been visited the evidence would probably be in the outer planets. Saturn's rings would be a good place to look. Small rocky planets would be uninteresting. I'd assume that long before the migration began, the putative super-civilization would have discovered by other means just how prevalent intelligent life is in the galaxy. They'd have no interest in communicating, as such. The most important information they could impart would be their own presence, discoverable in due time. There's nothing we could say to them that would be of any interest.
Archivis
not rated yet May 13, 2009
@Cybrbeast - While it may be true that certain areas show recent decline in population, that isn't indicitive of the whole planet. Some areas, China & Japan come to mind, are increasing. I don't see lack of repoduction being a problem anytime in the next serveral milenia.

@Luckybrandon - Bravo! I knew I could count on you to take up the slack while I was gone :)

@Everyone else - First off, whenever this topic comes up, there is one phrase thrown around that makes me giggle. "Life as we know it". Why do we assume that only carbon based life can exist? If there is one undisputable fact we HAVE learned, it's that life will find a way. Extremophiles are a prime example of this. While yes they are carbon based, they definately were not life as we knew it then. Which brings up another point. Life as we know it is in a constant state of change and revision. Just because something worked on this planet ina certain way, doesn't mean it would work on ANY other planet out there. That being said, and knowing that life will find a way, there are likely thousands of ways some form of sentient life could evolve.

We are limited to only what we have seen and studied, and honestly, we haven't even gotten that right yet.

Even if intellegent life is limited to 2-10 species per galaxy, there would still be billions of other races out there. Some more advanced, some less, and some right in the middle.

Any less advanced you can pretty much write off. Same with those around the same level as our own. If we can not leave our own solar system, it's quite probable that they couldn't either.

That leaves us with those that would be more advanced. Now you can see even here on our own planet what happens when a more advanced group gets involved with a less advanced group. I personally couldn't see a more advanced race making contact with us while we can't even manage to get along with the races we have on our own planet, unless of course they were coming in to take over. In that case sure, go ahead and fight each other, makes the invader's job easier! lol.

Couple that with how insanely huge space is, and you also have to stop and think, gee, maybe they just haven't found us yet.

With our current level of advancement, we are still mostly dependent on another race initiating contact. An advanced civiliation doesn't get to be advanced by being short sighted and stupid. If they are aware of us, it is likely contact would only be made once we have managed to get our proverbial shit together as a species. Untill then? Yeah it is kinda lonely here.
JudgeX
2 / 5 (1) May 13, 2009
1) We cannot call it pessimistic to think that life is rare in the universe. The rarity of life is neither good nor bad, scientifically.

2) The understanding is pretty simple... if in a billion stars, only a few hundred million can support life, and of said life supporting planets, each supplies hundreds of millions of species, but, as per our example, only one of hundreds of millions of species achieves sentience...

It's very easily quite possible that the universe would have to be orders of magnitudes larger in order to support a second sentient lifeform, statistically.

http://www.judgex.com/

John_balls
1 / 5 (2) May 13, 2009
I am amazed at the incredible arrogance of the scientists and most of the respondents.

It would appear that their views are more theologically based than scientifically based.

Out of our monumental ignorance (and in this I am referring to our brightest minds) we assume that we are somehow special and unique and we also assume that all life must be like us.

We do this when we do not fully understand ourselves and our planet let alone other planets.

I would expect that life is the norm for the entire universe.

I would not be surprised if some life forms were chemically different to all that we know, so different that our hospitable environment would be toxic to them. But as we have no experience of such life systems we have no way of knowing one way or another if this is possible.

So how can we possibly presume to declare that we and we alone are the sole intelligent life form.

Because we have no direct evidence of other intelligences we should not close our mind to the possibility that there are such life forms.

As far as Drakes equation is concerned it does not constitute even a good guess let alone a reliable formula.

We need to enormously increase our intelligence, do a lot more research and be far more patient because at the present stage of our intellectual development we find our best theory for the present state of the observable universe is 80% short of the matter it needs to support the theory.

That strongly suggests that as a species our ignorance far outweighs our intelligence.



Bravo, good post.
DoktorSerendipitous
not rated yet May 13, 2009
The reality is, we shouldn't have happened, but we are here; so why shouldn't others, that likewise shouldn't have happened? To say that we are somehow alone seems to give the claim a metaphysical significance that goes beyond the realm of physical science. I'm sure the attendees at the Harvard get-together did not want to go there, but to say that we are it on the basis of some pretty mathematics alone seems awfully close to being there.

As for coming up empty-handed in the search for other intelligent beings in the universe, perhaps those beings have advanced beyond the use of such low-tech, low-speed means as electromagnetic radiations for communications. Besides, why would they want to talk to us; after all, the vast majority of humans still delight in being carnivores, devouring billions of their unfortunate fellow creatures annually. Sign of true intelligence?--hardly.

In their star map to our galaxy, the Earth is most likely labeled with a warning marker--the dominant species: carnivorous with rudimentary intelligence; the most dangerous kind of life to be avoided.
LuckyBrandon
1 / 5 (1) May 13, 2009
john balls- id almost bet money there was some people on an island who thought they were the only ones in the world. hell, it would certainly help explain why different religions (or as i like to call them, delusional states) were formed in different regions.


Au-pu-
it depends on the type of life your speaking of. as humans, most just initially think of and speak about lifeforms that would be from environments like ours. In that context, it is likely right that there are very very few intelligent species that are like us (breathe comparable and same toxic gas levels as we do). i agree, there are likely other intelligent lifeforms out there based off of other chemicals than we are...thats probably the first ones wed go to war with though, as wed both literally be toxic to each other....

mro-
i agree with you whole heartedly, but only in the aspect of intelligent life like that found on earth. there may very well be other types of entirely different life out there..id be amazed if there wasnt. however, microbes like those on earth are likely quite quite common. I wouldnt be surprised at all if they found space dwelling microbed inside of gas clouds with the right ingredients for that matter.
bourgoinr
not rated yet May 13, 2009
If there is life elsewhere in the Universe, I wonder if it gazes at the stars.
timeonhishands
not rated yet May 13, 2009
The argument here seems to me to boil down to us either underestimating or overestimating ourselves i.e. the human race being too insignificant to be of scientific interest to a more advanced civilisation, as if ants weren't of interest to entomologists, or conversely, that the human race is in itself 'uniquely' intelligent, as if we could ignore the evidence for higher level reasoning and tool manipulation in other animals gathered in recent decades.

Given that to probe the universe for intelligence of whatever variety (truly sentient or not) would require at the very least a basic form of artificial life, able to self-replicate and spread itself throughout the galaxy (surely soon within our technological grasp), it is indeed a mystery as to why we haven't been contacted by other civilisations, should they exist. The Drake equation is statistical probability (with all of its inherent weakness) for wont of evidence. A concerted effort to explore Mars or the moons of Jupiter for microbial evidence, be it in the fossil record or living, would greatly aid in the effort of providing proper and qualitative input to the Drake equation; and answer once-and-for-all, the question (and greatest of assumptions) of whether life is indeed commonplace in this universe. It will not however, answer the inherent mystery of us being alone.

Perhaps in the face of this we must ask ourselves a new set of questions?

dbren
not rated yet May 13, 2009
If there are no other planets with intelligent life, and I was the Pope, I'd ask for a raise.
Scire
1 / 5 (2) May 13, 2009
Assuming that there are kinds of life unlike ours is a leap of faith.
physpuppy
not rated yet May 13, 2009
If there is life elsewhere in the Universe, I wonder if it gazes at the stars.


Perhaps only once in 2049 years...

http://en.wikiped...t_story)

Nightfall by Isaac Asimov - short story, good read.

cybrbeast
5 / 5 (1) May 13, 2009
@Cybrbeast - While it may be true that certain areas show recent decline in population, that isn't indicitive of the whole planet. Some areas, China & Japan come to mind, are increasing. I don't see lack of repoduction being a problem anytime in the next serveral milenia.

Japan isn't increasing that much. Furthermore I point you to the UN which has recently predicted Earth's population to level off at around 9 billion due to development of countries. The estimation used to be around 12 billion, but this has been decreased steadily due to increased development.
LuckyBrandon
3 / 5 (4) May 13, 2009
Assuming that there are kinds of life unlike ours is a leap of faith.




extremophiles...

not like us...



nuff said :D
designmemetic
5 / 5 (1) May 13, 2009
I think this is a successful attempt to reconcile the drake equation with the fermi paradox. He may have some of the variables poorly estimated, but they likely closer than the estimates we used to have. This should be obvious since the old variable estimates predicted we would have much evidence of intelligent life other than ours.
N=1 ==> manifest destiny?
LuckyBrandon
1 / 5 (2) May 14, 2009
when I plugged my suspect numbers in, i got something like 3.74etcetcetc

I personally want to meet the .74 of a species :) i bet they're cut ups...lol
Thecis
4.5 / 5 (2) May 15, 2009
Its just like the average family. 2.4 childeren..., one boy, one girl and a dog/photocamera....
So if we are unlucky, all those alien species are like the Japanese and take all their cameras with them ;-)

No animals (or Japanese people) were hurt during the making of this comment.
Scire
1 / 5 (2) May 16, 2009
Extremophiles are still carbon based; I also doubt extremophiles are capable of building a radio transmitter.
LuckyBrandon
1.8 / 5 (4) May 16, 2009
Scire-I'll give you that....carbon based they are...but capable of surviving in temperatures of multiple thousands of degrees above 0, or many many degress below 0. They could theoretically exist even in a ring of dust around a star providing it had the right chemical mix. These are likely to be far more abundant in the universe than truly complex life...I'd bet money they are everywhere. Also, I think its pretty safe to assume that any star that is the same type as ours will generate approximately the same chemical compositions, making carbon based extremophiles that much more likely to be common (at least around stars like ours).

I would definitely agree about the radio transmitter being built by extremophiles = not gonna happen...BUT, thats not to say there isnt some form of intelligent life out there that isnt much bigger than an extremophile that could build one.



For the record though, I highly doubt any intelligent species out there is gonna be at radio transmitter technology level unless they are at a further out edge of the "blast wave" from the big bang...and since they would be moving away from us at a phenominal rate, we'll never get their signal anyways.
droid001
not rated yet May 16, 2009
You are too optimistic. We found anything "live" for now. No single bacteria outside Earth. We even don't know who we are and why we are conscious.
SMLinDC
not rated yet May 17, 2009
Verschuur's comment, "may explain why 30 years of scanning the skies for signs of intelligent life has come up empty" really pissed me off with its arrogance. Thirty freakin' years and we already are drawing conclusions? We're not sophisticated enough yet to even PERCEIVE other life, unless it looks exactly like us, of course.
Sean_W
3 / 5 (4) May 17, 2009
boobies.

I concur.
E_L_Earnhardt
2.5 / 5 (2) May 17, 2009
Continue to define "LIFE" as dependant on the unique chemicals of this particular planet and, of course, you are unlikely to find it elsewhere! The failure is due to that requirement! The SPIRITUAL definition is not so restrictive!
DonR
5 / 5 (2) May 17, 2009
I'm almost certain we'll find life elsewhere in the unvierse. I think we'll find intelligent life, but not for some time (maybe millions of years).

I'm completely 100% certian that at least half the posters here haven't even read the article. Be the change you want to see, people.

DesmondMurse
5 / 5 (1) May 17, 2009
Im wasting time.
DrRobMiller
not rated yet May 19, 2009
"Sasselov, professor of astrophysics at Harvard and director of the Harvard Origins of Life Initiative, agreed with Verschuur that life is probably common in the universe. He said that he believes life is a natural %u201Cplanetary phenomenon%u201D that occurs easily on planets with the right conditions."

IS THIS BASED ON THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD OR BELIEF ON DR. SASSELOV'S PART?
------>>>"...occurs easily on planets with the right conditions."

Has Dr. Sasselov observed life originating easily on any planet? Or, is this statement based on his existing evolutionary beliefs?

Ask some of your colleagues (if you work in academia) to see if they can help answer! Oh, wait a minute. They may fire you for even questioning the particles-to-people evolutionary religion...
LuckyBrandon
1 / 5 (2) May 19, 2009
Ahh, good point LuckyBrandon. I hadn't considered neanderthals or even any other of our past relatives.

actually mike, i think the fact that were the only surviving intelligent species left more serves as evidence of your thoughts more than speaking against them. if 1 of who knows how many homo-X subspecies were the only to adapt and survive kind of says that if there is or was intelligent life out there, it may very well be long dead and gone...or on the flip side, still at the microbial stage...

The odds still don't look good though (from my pessimistic outlook :P )

LuckyBrandon
1 / 5 (2) May 19, 2009
droid-the finding of the most complex organic molecules ever seen, and them being out in space, is quite leading to the possibility of extensive life in the universe, however complex and whatever form it did or may take....after all, if you have an almost empty bowl of cheerios, does your milk not tell you "OOOOOOOOO"
lol

resinoth
5 / 5 (1) May 26, 2009
The distinction between intelligent life and unintelligent life is extremely antropocentric. The brain/body mass ratio puts a couple terrestrial species ahead of humans. If we can believe that, given a million more years of evolution, species like chimpanzee or dolphin or elephant might develop culture, language, etc, get caught up in the whirlwind advancement that comes with mass interaction (starting with language), then the question becomes: when can life of eukaryotic equivalence evolve on other planets?
The drake equation will become more and more useful over time, as our inputs become more and more informed. It is, however, very easy to get any result you want from it, so surprising outputs should only be given credence if the inputs are reasonable. I didn't see any of the inputs listed in this article, which I found startling!
vit
not rated yet Jun 24, 2009
Looks like the Drake equation only takes into account planet formation, not moons like Europa. I name that a potential flaw when deciding how much intelligent life there is in the universe.
LuckyBrandon
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 24, 2009
vit-the drake equation doesn't count just planets i think. it counts planetary bodies that could harbor life per solar system (in which the drake equation assumes 2, which is likely too high for an average honestly since our only known example is, well, 1 per solar system).

But with it being planetary bodies, one could assume it means just planets, however, I have always taken it to mean any "planetoid" capable of life, meaning planets, moons, and even possibly large asteroids in a close enough orbit to the host star.





fazer-going back to your earlier comment...we have been reasoning beings for more more than a few thousand years. I would be willing to bet 125,000 yrs. Take music as an example, I think, and to use your words, it would take a "reasoning" being/form of life to create any arts such as music, or cave art even.....you have to be able to reason to go beyond your natural survival only instincts that lower class animals have....I believe the article posted up just today stated a flute that is 35,000 years old has been found (how do ya like that "the world is only 10,000 yrs old" thumpers??).
If you reaaallly think about though, even chimps reason "what with" being able to pick out the proper color on a screen to get a banana and all :)