Intelligent life in the universe? Phone home, dammit!

Intelligent life in the universe? Phone home, dammit!
Who wouldn’t want to hang with this guy? Credit: JD Hancock, CC BY

We've been conditioned by television and movies to accept the likelihood of intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe. "Of course there's intelligent life out there; I saw it last week on Star Trek." We've seen it all, from the cute and cuddly ET to the fanged monstrosity of Alien.

But is it likely that we're not alone in the universe? And if is out there, why haven't they contacted us yet?

The first person to address this question in a systematic way was Frank Drake, who invented the Drake equation to predict the number of extraterrestrial civilizations in the Galaxy. His equation is rather complicated, but here's a simple version of his argument.

First, let's count how many stars are in the galaxy. To quote one of my predecessors, "Billions upon billions!" And how many of those stars have ? Until recently, we really didn't know. But over the past 20 years, astronomers have made remarkable progress in discovering planets around other stars. We now know that many stars have planets orbiting them.

Could creatures actually live on any of those planets? Many of them are just giant balls of gas, or else too hot or too cold to contain liquid water, which is the basis of all life on Earth. But a few of them do seem to be at the right temperature. These are the Goldilocks planets: not too hot, and not too cold for . (And that's without even considering the possibility that exotic forms of life could survive without water).

Now we enter murkier territory. How likely is it that life will develop on a potentially habitable planet? We don't know the answer, but life on Earth got going very shortly after the formation of our solar system, and it has wedged itself into every available niche, no matter how hostile.

Colonies of bizarre creatures flourish in perpetual darkness near deep ocean vents, where superheated sulfur-rich water spews from under the ground. Radiation-resistant bacteria bask happily in levels of radioactivity that would instantly kill a human being. And then there's the tardigrade, which looks like a microscopic eight-legged teddy bear, that can thrive in liquid nitrogen or boiling alcohol. So the probability of life developing on habitable worlds seems very high.

Intelligent life in the universe? Phone home, dammit!
Not cute and cuddly. Credit: Artur, CC BY-SA

And how likely is it that this life will develop intelligence? This remains an open question (which is scientist-speak for "we haven't got a clue"). But many scientists consider intelligent life almost inevitable, in which case the galaxy should be teaming with .

If the galaxy is crawling with aliens, where are they? Interstellar travel is limited by the speed of light, so maybe it's no surprise that no one has visited us. But we should at least be able to detect alien radio signals, either from attempts to contact us directly, or in the form of alien TV reruns. Why haven't our alien friends contacted us? This question was famously asked by the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, so it's called the Fermi paradox: all of our arguments suggest that alien civilizations should be common, yet we've seen no sign of them.

One possibility is that intelligent life really is rare. My own personal opinion (and it's just an opinion) is that life is common, but intelligent life is rare (something many of us suspect based on our own experience). While life developed in the relative blink of an eye after the birth of the solar system, it took billions of years before we smarties showed up on the scene. And remember that "survival of the fittest" doesn't always mean "survival of the smartest." While intelligence is certainly a useful survival trait, it seems far from inevitable. If not for an errant asteroid, the dinosaurs might still rule the world.

Another possibility is that intelligent life inevitably destroys itself. Until recently, our options for total self-destruction were limited to nuclear weapons. But we are on the edge of expanding our armada to include genetically-engineered viruses (think: Ebola meets the common cold!).

And consider the dangers posed by nanomachines, tiny self-replicating robots programmed to convert matter into more robots. Imagine a tiny robot, no bigger than the width of a human hair, designed to provide some useful function, programmed to build a copy of itself, using materials from its environment. Now you have two machines, and both can create duplicates, giving us four machines. But what if this process got out of control? The nanomachines could rapidly consume the entire Earth, converting it, along with everyone on the planet, into "grey goo." British astronomer Martin Rees discusses these and other catastrophic possibilities in his book, Our Final Hour. Have all our potential alien visitors succumbed to self-destruction?

Or is it possible that the galaxy really does contain other forms of intelligent life, but something prevents contact with us? Here we enter the realm of more speculative ideas. (Translation: when a scientist says "speculative," it really means "a very interesting idea that's only one step removed from complete nonsense.")

Intelligent life in the universe? Phone home, dammit!
Looking for a planet that’s juuuuust right. Arthur Mee and Holland Thompson, eds. Credit: The Book of Knowledge

Among the more speculative possibilities, maybe the galaxy is a dangerous place, full of robotic probes sent out by hostile aliens to wipe out any competition, so everyone else is in hiding. Perhaps we really shouldn't have put a detailed description of the location of our on our own space probes. It's a bad idea to reach out and try to touch ET when we might get a call from the Alien instead.

An even more bizarre suggestion is that superior civilizations have decided to avoid contact with lesser beings such as ourselves, so that we live in a kind of cosmic zoo, complete with a "Do not talk to the animals" sign.

Some have even suggested that we live in a gigantic computer simulation, a la The Matrix.

Intelligent life in the universe? Phone home, dammit!
The tardigrade – microscopically cute and cuddly. Credit: Willow Gabriel and Bob Goldstein, CC BY-SA

A longer list of possibilities (along with a skeptical discussion) has been compiled by astronomer Milan Ćirković.

Without more data, the Fermi paradox will remain, for now, unresolved, and many of the proposed solutions will have to be classified as "speculative." And now you know exactly what that means.

Explore further

Self-replicating alien probes could already be here

This story is published courtesy of The Conversation (under Creative Commons-Attribution/No derivatives).
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Jun 15, 2015
We wouldn't necessarily recognize advanced communication even if we saw it because it is likely compressed and encrypted.

Telepathic aliens may have no need of radio. I don't know what the carrier signal for telepathic communication might be, but it apparently exists.

The aliens have been here. Every major religion claims that beings came from the "heavens" and spoke to humans. Just because the authors weren't aware that these "spirits" were space aliens doesn't remove the possibility that they were.

I didn't believe in space aliens, even up until a few years ago that is, until I saw one.

They communicate telepathically with pictures and with words. Touch may or may not be required to make the words work telepathically, but like I said yesterday, there's no actual way to verify they are in the room with you, if they are communicating telepathically. They could only require line of sight or maybe they can be anywhere. Whatever the case, the "aliens" do exist.

Jun 15, 2015
You might wonder why the aliens don't go to our leaders, or appear publicly and give a speech, but it's not so strange when you think about it. Humans studying animals don't go around looking necessarily for the alpha to study.

You don't go study something intelligent and just appear to it in groups, because of mob behavior. The aliens are smart enough to know they couldn't just appear in central park and deliver a speech, because people would go nuts, and even they might be overwhelmed by sheer numbers, or people might stampede out of fear or curiosity and hurt one another. So the well-meaning ones don't do that kind of stupidity.

I think religious history indicates there are two groups of aliens interacting with humanity. One group seems to be the "Police", which we call "angels" in the Bible, and another group seems to be some inter-stellar/inter-dimensional criminals, the "demons" who are performing genetic experiments on humans.

Jun 15, 2015
SETI got it wrong. They got the massage in front of their eyes and still they are blind, or their living depends desperately on funding. They have received over last 40 years one big intelligent signal from the universe. The aliens are so intelligent that they do not want to have anything to do with us bruts so their blocked us predicting immediate self destruction of humans. That's super-intelligence.

Jun 15, 2015
It is one of the oldest things written down, and in more than one religion in more than one region that the "Sons of God" descended and interbred with the human women, and this group of beings was said to be punished and thrown into a bottomless pit "chained" forever. However, other passages indicate that this experimentation has happened on more than one occasion; There are at least two occasions mentioned in the Book of Genesis alone.

Comic books can't make this stuff up. They borrow from the Bible and Norse legends for their material, because somebody already wrote something more compelling thousands of years ago.

There was a "don't feed the animals" sign posted, and the "demons" (fallen angels, etc) disobeyed it anyway.

Jun 15, 2015
Looking for a hidden code in DNA maybe?

Think about so-called "Vestigial Organs", the atheists big argument against creation.

Well, if there were a secret code hidden in DNA, if it contains unique information, one of the problems that might produce is the hidden communication would actually be "biological junk" in that it would produce organs with no apparent function when the cells grow and divide. However, that doesn't mean it's "junk". It is like the ink on a piece of paper changes the properties of the paper, but that can't be helped if you want to record a message on the paper.

We shouldn't assume communications are written to be easily understood. They may be encrypted in such a way as to only be understood when humanity is ready to understand. We use a Phoenician alphabet, but other cultures have used hieroglyphs throughout much of the history of writing; converting their computer language to a spoken language might not be as easy as going from English to Japanese, etc.

Jun 15, 2015
They communicate in pictograms (see religious prophetic texts) and metaphor, because language alone can be misunderstood anyway.

It so happens that is how I reasoned we'd need to communicate with aliens anyway, we'd need to develop an easily reverse-engineered image formatting to send alongside our text messages so that we can see a picture of an apple beside every major Earth language word for "apple", etc. If you want to talk about more than prime numbers and sequences, you need something more than just pure mathematics. You need pictures and language.

The "greys" seem to be associated with kidnapping and genetic experimentation, but the alien I saw did not have as exaggerated of a head or eyes as the classic conspiracy grey. The eyes were larger than human, but not "bug-eyed". The head was larger than human, but not completely disproportionate. It had tentacles in addition to arms.

Maybe the "greys" are all stupid or something compared to the other ones.

Jun 15, 2015

So? The Bible plagiarizes the Epic of Gilgamesh and Sumerian/Mesopotamian culture in the OT. Most specifically the Noah's ark myth. No surprise seeing as the original Hebrews came from that region.

To be fair, I don't believe the "torah" that exists today was the original Jewish testament. I think it was reconstructed from a combination of Jewish writings and other writings from the region. As evidence of this, all you need to do is read the books of Kings and Chronicles and you'll find evidence that the entire original Torah was lost to history on at least one occasion, and then mysteriously "rediscovered" in a hidden place in the temple, probably re-written from a patch-work of memory and other sources.

You will also find several books mentioned as references in 1 and 2 kings and 1 and 2 chronicles which are lost to history, and the epistle from Jude quotes from the original Book of Enoch, which there are no known surviving copies.

Jun 15, 2015
It is my belief that the original texts were destroyed in some war or another, possibly during the first diaspora or a civil war, and the surviving OT texts are essentially "remakes". There were several versions of the Book of Daniel which did not make it into the Bible we have today, and from what I've seen of them they seem to be no more or less preposterous.

There is no mistaking the fact that there was some sort of borrowing and merging of religions around the time of Daniel, because part of the book claims to have been authored by Nebuchadnezzar and he claims to have converted to worshiping the Hebrew God, though he is obviously unskilled and unrefined in his knowledge of monotheism, even at the time the portion allegedly written by him was done. Example, the mistake of pluralising "gods" when referring to a monotheistic God. However, this may not be a mistake, it may be a misunderstanding of how God was addressed in ancient cultures, because even in Monotheism, cont

Jun 15, 2015
in monotheism the Christian notion of God still involves concepts which seem to pluralize God's existence even though God is viewed as a singular "Being". He is said to appear as three distinct persons or personalities in the Trinity, and also as not one or three, but seven spirits in Revelation.

So, You are partially right. The Bible itself claims some cross cultural exchange between the Jews and Babylonians on more than one occasion. The Jews also fell into Sun worship, and it is entirely possible that Solomon, or whoever the story is based on, who build the first Temple also build the "Temple of the Sun" because the two structures used the exact same technology, a saw, for cutting stone, and you could only make the Temple of the Sun if you had a large saw capable of making beveled cuts in stone, and we know that Lebanon and Jerusalem had a massive labor and materials trade during the construction of these complexes, because it's intricately recorded.

Jun 15, 2015
The name "Lilith" appears one time in the modern Bible, even though the story behind this name would seem to be extremely important to the backstory of the Bible. If you read this text you would have no idea that Lilith was supposedly the first wife of the first man.

I had heard the name Lilith associated with this snake woman apparition, but did not know the story behind it was associated with the first woman. I suppose the story of Lilith isn't very "PC" since she supposedly got punished for not wanting the same sex positions as the first man. I think this was also found in Babylonian and Sumerian lore.

the point is there are evidences in the Bible that the ancient Jews actually held some of the same beliefs, and even though the monotheistic religion is what ultimately survived, the Jews were never actually monotheistic historically. They are constantly being chastised for worshiping everything from ephods to rocks to wood, and every star-god, etc.

Jun 15, 2015
Like for example you find all these stone solar calendar monuments which also have observatories to look for alignments, but you have to remember these aren't just calendars. They are like horoscopes. These ancients worshiped certain stars, for whatever reason, and the Jews did too, in spite of being told repeatedly that they were not deities.

As for how an alien would get here, I don't know. I've figured out how we could reach the Proxima Centauri, if we could sustain fusion, by converting one of the ice moons or a dwarf planet into a world ship, but I also figured that if all hydrogen on the dwarf planet or ice moon were burned up as fuel you'd still not be able to get above about 10% of C, and most likely may as well stay around 1% of C, because there isn't really any benefit in going 10% C; you just waste your water supply faster. I assume antimatter is too unstable to be safe to use as a fuel supply, and there is no evidence of any progress in storing it.

Jun 15, 2015
I mentioned this yesterday.

It wasn't hostile, all it did was give me the cryptic message "aliens are destroying your people", apparently referring to a different group of aliens.

It touched me and spoke to me telepathically.

It seems consistent with the notion that one group is experimenting on us and another group is trying to undo the damage, as it were.

While this alien did nothing to harm me, the experience leads me to believe that some stories about abductions may be true, even though I have no way of understanding how that could be possible, because I am convinced anti-matter is too unstable to be used as a fuel supply. The aliens, if they are here and that wasn't just a dream, have obviously figured out some other way of travelling.

Jun 15, 2015
If I am a being that is able to travel light-years to another intelligent civilization and make positive contact with them in their own languages to warn them of other beings that are trying to destroy them, I'd be damn sure that the message isn't as cryptic. It is devoid of any context, or any real actionable information.

Also, I wouldn't choose anyone that has no connections, resources or otherwise to do anything about it.

Hey, you asked. All I know is it happened.

Anyway, they have already apparently contacted people of every type and status in modern times. There have been presidents who claimed to have seen UFOs or aliens, and there are scientists and former military and pilots too.

I think what is unique about my experience is that it was one alien warning me about others, which is something I've certainly never seen in any modern reported sighting by anyone else.

Jun 15, 2015
Anyway, it's written in all the ancient religious texts that someone came from the sky and tinkered around with human beings, so the warning has already been given to everyone.

Jun 15, 2015
It would be interesting if they'd give us something useful, like a design for a super-advanced telescope, or an inter-stellar engine.

If the alien wants to talk to me it's welcome to visit me again, as long as it's not hostile in any way.

I am interested in understanding what's really going on here with the aliens, and also how they got here, as that kind of energy technology must have practical uses here on Earth.

I wonder if there's some sort of law forbidding them giving us higher technology?

Jun 16, 2015
It's a difficult question when we might be talking about life as we DON'T know it! The other point is that at least on the Earth's surface there are more places hospitable to life (as we KNOW it) evolving. Would a planet with a harsh environment allow certain species to evolve? We don't have to look far, could there be mcroscopic life on, say, Jupiter? If that were in the positive then microscopic life on exoplanets becomes more likely. Advanced life might then have started from a much earlier epoch but because of that be much further away than just our local galaxies. Anyone read about the entity with 'twin pupils' in each eye ...that's something else!

Jun 16, 2015
What if we're just the first intelligent life? I tend to subscribe to this theory. There had to have been a first at some point. What if it's us?

There was an old episode of STTNG that dealt with that - where all the main races in the show were evolutions of one main beginning race.

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