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A New Take On the Fermi Paradox

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the drake's-game-of-life dept.

Space 388

TravisTR points out some new research that aims to update and supplement the Fermi paradox — the idea that if intelligent life was as common as we expect, we should have detected it by now. The academic paper (PDF) from scientists at the National Technical University of Ukraine is based on the idea that civilizations can't expand forever on their own. The authors make the assumption that an isolated civilization will eventually die out or go dark through some other means, which leads to some interesting models of intergalactic colonization. "In certain circumstances, however, when civilizations are close enough together in time and space, they can come into contact and when this happens the cross-fertilization of ideas and cultures allows them both to flourish in a way that increases their combined lifespan. ... Bezsudnov and Snarskii say that for certain values of these parameters, the universe undergoes a phase change from one in which civilizations tend not to meet and spread into one in which the entire universe tends to become civilized as different groups meet and spread. Bezsudnov and Snarskii even derive an inequality that a universe must satisfy to become civilized. This, they say, is analogous to the famous Drake equation which attempts to quantify the number of other contactable civilizations in the universe right now."

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My take (4, Interesting)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 4 years ago | (#33037556)

Them that advertise get eaten.

Re:My take (1)

interval1066 (668936) | more than 4 years ago | (#33037594)

"Them that advertise get eaten."

Indeed. Stephen Hawking [timesonline.co.uk] would agree with you.

Re:My take (1, Interesting)

Planesdragon (210349) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038028)

Hawking's a moron.

If your society travels between the stars, you can get all that want from ANY star. Solar power, fission, and raw materials are all at least as easy to find just floating in space (or on a random planet) as they are on an inhabited planet -- and anyone who's ever done ANYTHING with their hands knows that it's better to grab the raw materials that don't have random organic gunk all over them.

Unless, of course, Star Trek is right, and all aliens are essentially just like us. But I think that backs up my previous statement.

Re:My take (1)

thesandtiger (819476) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038174)

Unless you think those random bits of organic gunk might grow up to be a threat to you someday. Best to destroy or co-opt them while it's still trivial to do, rather than wait for a potential rival to grow strong feisty.

Just because human beings think so short term that we imagine there's "plenty of room for everybody" doesn't mean that every other species, especially one advanced enough that an individual member (if they have individual members) could conceive realistically of being alive 5, 10 or 20 billion years from now.

Personally, I think Hawking is being paranoid, but to say he's a moron outright dismisses the #1 certainty about alien life - that it will be alien. That means it may not behave in a way that we think is sensible.

Re:My take (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33038394)

Hawking is not a moron but him being an authority doesn't automatically make him an authority on psychology of alien forms, if they do exist. For that matter no human being, however accomplished, in any branch of science or any knowledge known to man can say definitively how aliens might behave.

Re:My take (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33037828)

So let me just see if I've got this straight. You realize that faster-than-light travel will never be possible. You realize that even for a civilization millions of years more advanced than us, travel between stars will be enormously costly and difficult - so much so that interstellar colonization will mostly likely be done by seed ships (taking not living creatures, but the genetic codes to make them). The implication is that even if the nearest star to us was populated by The Tasty Bacon Pizza People, it will never ever make economic sense to ship them to us to eat - that it would make much better sense to just grow them here.

In spite of all that, you still think "them that advertise get eaten"

Fascinating.

Their take (1)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038048)

If one can send seed ships to populate, one can send seed ships to devastate.

Re:Their take (1)

Fluffeh (1273756) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038222)

If one can send seed ships to populate, one can send seed ships to devastate.

Better yet, send three sets of ships.

1) Devastation ships. Wipe them scum off the face of the planet/rock/thing they are on.
2) Colonization ships. Now that you have a lovely empty rock, populate it with your own.
3) Cargo ships. Your colony better have goodies waiting to be picked up by your ships and taken home. If not, return to step 1 and repeat.

Re:My take (3, Funny)

nitehawk214 (222219) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038292)

In spite of all that, you still think "them that advertise get eaten"

Fascinating.

No no, he is saying we will send advertising executives to the alien overlords as sacrifices.

Re:My take (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33038158)

Also, they who advertise early release with a wooden screw sample will get beaten by the press.

Re:My take (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038302)

Them that advertise also get laid more often. You pays your money and you takes your chances.

Maybe it's as simple (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33037568)

As the speed it would take to get nearby stars in a short period of time is just not physically possible no matter how advanced you are and no civilization has yet wanted to spend 500 years getting here.

Re: Maybe it's as simple (2, Insightful)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 4 years ago | (#33037598)

and no civilization has yet wanted to spend 500 years getting here.

One of the arguments offered regarding the Fermi Paradox is that "if each colony established two more colonies, the exponential growth would fill up the galaxy relatively quickly". However, that presumes that the members of the colonizing species would be willing to live their whole lives just to accomplish someone's Grand Plan. Intelligent colonists would (I presume) be more interested in making their own colony sustainable and life there comfortable.

Re: Maybe it's as simple (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#33037658)

However, that presumes that the members of the colonizing species would be willing to live their whole lives just to accomplish someone's Grand Plan.

No it doesn't. It merely assumes that a majority of them would eventually become wealthy enough to afford to create a colony or two and would do so just as their parent did. You can give each colony a thousand years to mature and still fill the galaxy pretty damn quickly.

Re: Maybe it's as simple (5, Insightful)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038150)

No it doesn't. It merely assumes that a majority of them would eventually become wealthy enough to afford to create a colony or two and would do so just as their parent did. You can give each colony a thousand years to mature and still fill the galaxy pretty damn quickly.

Right but the very fact that they are wealthy and advanced enough to create multi-generational colony ships makes me wonder why they would want to. The only obvious one is population growth exceeding the capacity of their world, but look at our world (as we naturally must for all such predictions): The richest portions of the world are the ones with the lowest population growth, including negative. People traditionally had many children because of 1) lack of birth control 2) needing extra labor for their farms 3) high mortality rate among children from illness etc. That only leaves culture as a reason to reproduce beyond replacement rate, so sure maybe the Space Catholics will have population issues but otherwise it seems plausible that wealthy and advanced civilizations will stabilize not grow unbounded.

Then what? Resources? To even make the colony ship work I'm going to assume they have a Mr. Fusion, and once you have that you can do a hell of a lot with the resources of just one system (especially given a bounded population) and every energy-intensive recycling technique is suddenly much more feasible. Sending a small fraction of the population off in expensive colony ships is only going to exacerbate a resource problem anyway. Exploration, sense of adventure? Explorers are people who want to explore, not people who want to maybe enable their great-great-grandchild to explore.

I'm not saying it isn't possible. I'm saying that the answer to the Fermi "Paradox" could be as simple as: Maybe the assumption that civilizations will engage in exponential galactic colonization endeavors is wrong.

Re: Maybe it's as simple (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038392)

I'm not saying it isn't possible. I'm saying that the answer to the Fermi "Paradox" could be as simple as: Maybe the assumption that civilizations will engage in exponential galactic colonization endeavors is wrong.

The paradox only requires the assumption that at least one does. Your answer requires than none do.

Re: Maybe it's as simple (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#33039022)

The paradox only requires the assumption that at least one does.

It requires that they do want to, and that they do have the resources to do it, and that they do succeed (what could possibly go wrong?!), and that they maintain their desire to repeat this procedure for countless generations.

Let's add those factors to the Drake Equation and call it the Fermi Equation, which is the number of civilizations which successfully expand exponentially across the galaxy. For very plausible numbers, N < 1. So where's the paradox?

Your answer requires than none do.

Nope. Mine only requires that few enough do that the rest of the probabilities involved end up making perfect sense as to why aliens aren't already known to exist.

Which there are about a million other explanations for anyway, up to and including that aliens have exponentially colonized the universe, are in fact occupying every nearby star system, and our instruments are still too primitive to tell. Seriously. "If aliens exist why haven't they already swooped down and said 'hi'?" is the silliest paradox ever.

Re: Maybe it's as simple (1)

Narpak (961733) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038706)

The only obvious one is population growth exceeding the capacity of their world

Or possibly that their world/sun/system is about to undergo changes that will make their world uninhabitable for their type of life. And that they have enough time to construct and launch a ship before this takes place.

Re: Maybe it's as simple (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038902)

Or possibly that their world/sun/system is about to undergo changes that will make their world uninhabitable for their type of life. And that they have enough time to construct and launch a ship before this takes place.

A very reasonable possibility, one would presume nearly all civilizations would be motivated to emigrate under those conditions if they could. If we take that to be the only circumstance under which they do so, that changes the time constant to possibly hundreds of millions to billions of years, in which case even an actual exponentially expanding race would not have crossed the galaxy.

That's assuming they even decide to split -- reasonable for the sake of 'redundancy', but if they had all this time to prepare maybe they picked the one system that gave them the best chance. Who would want to be on the "B" ship in that case? All the telephone cleaners?

Re: Maybe it's as simple (2, Interesting)

Curunir_wolf (588405) | more than 4 years ago | (#33039126)

but look at our world (as we naturally must for all such predictions): The richest portions of the world are the ones with the lowest population growth, including negative. People traditionally had many children because of 1) lack of birth control 2) needing extra labor for their farms 3) high mortality rate among children from illness etc. That only leaves culture as a reason to reproduce beyond replacement rate

No, there are other reasons as well. In fact this analysis is very subjective - there are no other examples of life forms that slow their own reproductive rate for any reason other than lack of resources.

You raise an interesting point, though. One that was examined in "The Mote in God's Eye" by Niven and Pournelle. The sentient species in question spoiler alert - if you haven't read the book was unable to slow its reproductive rate, due to the way they had evolved their reproduction. So they colonized their own solar system (extensively), but were unable to advance far enough to travel elsewhere. The conflicts of resources was dramatic, so they basically ended up blowing themselves back to the stone age over and over again, only to rise again, mine resources, re-colonize the solar system, escalate their resource battles, and destroy themselves again.

Seems a bit of a stretch, but maybe we're better at birth control that most...

Re: Maybe it's as simple (1)

The Phantom Mensch (52436) | more than 4 years ago | (#33039256)

What about Von Neumann Probes http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-replicating_spacecraft [wikipedia.org] ? Why haven't we even seen any of them? They would hypothetically proliferate much faster than giant colony ships and should also be here by now.

establishing colonies (1)

CdBee (742846) | more than 4 years ago | (#33037934)

I think that travel between star systems is technically plausible, if at a cost of unbelievable commitment in turning over the efforts of a planetary civilisation to building and testing suitable spacecraft.

Providing the sort of transport capacity to move a viable population over that sort of distance is a step further - think of all the trades required to support our lives and manufacturing (raw materials, energy, transport, food supply, health). i think any society that wants extra-solar colonies needs to get molecular fabrication sorted first, and do it ultra-reliably in case they'll be operating 10 light years from tech.support.

Re: Maybe it's as simple (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038268)

Our civilization is almost ready to colonize the next star system (4 light years away) at around 8000 years old. Assuming it takes on average 10,000 years to cross each 4 light year distance (and I hope you would agree that seems an unlikely slow pace after the first success), the time to cross (and presumably fill) the galaxy (about 100,000 light year across) is no worse than 353,553,390 years, and that would certainly allow a lot of time for the colonists to make their situation very comfortable. That's only 353 million years! The galaxy has been around for at least 13 billion years, planets capable of supporting life seem likely to have existed for 9+ billion years.

This is why people suspect there is a non-obvious filter happening to prevent this scenario. Perhaps it takes a million years to cross each four light years for some reason, but there's no obvious reason that it should, the methods for moving along faster than that seem pretty obviously within reach of our current technology.

Re: Maybe it's as simple (1)

HBoar (1642149) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038950)

Interesting. But apart from our own system, surely we can't rule out the presence (past or present) of aliens in any other system just because we haven't seen any sign of them. Maybe there are aliens living all around the place, but it so happens that civilisations advanced enough to colonise distant star systems use a form of communication that we cannot detect?

Also, surely even once a civilisation has crossed the entire galaxy, it is likely that there will be large patches that remain empty -- after all, there are around 200 Billion stars to choose from. And we are, after all, located at the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm -- surely among the last places an intelligent species would want to live.

Re: Maybe it's as simple (4, Interesting)

thesandtiger (819476) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038332)

Even if you posited a 10000 year development time before a colony could successfully send out just 1 other colonizer, and another 10000 year development time before it could send out another, you still wind up filling up the galaxy REALLY fast. Even if 9/10 of those colonies fail to sprout (so let's call it, effectively, 100k years per new colony), in just over 5 million years (a cosmic blink of an eye) you have over 10^15 colonies. Even if it was 1 in 100 colonies that succeeded, you're still just talking about 50 million years.

Look at human history over the last 5000 years - we've gone from pre-technological to being on the verge of being able to break out of our solar system (relatively speaking, assuming we survive, we should be able to get out of town within the next 100000 years if we aren't dead). A colony on a future world would have all that technology and knowledge already developed - I'm going to say that, if we do get to another world, it'll take us WAY less time to fill it up and move on than it will take us to do this.

Individuals, not civilizations (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 4 years ago | (#33037654)

no civilization has yet wanted to spend 500 years getting here

Have you wondered why our own civilization worries so much about "terrorism" these days?

It's not like our civilization wants to succumb to religious fanaticism. Only a few individuals belonging to one of the many religions present in our civilization believe in ritual self-immolation. However this suicide bomber meme has come to dominate the media.

Now, imagine a civilization a hundred years or so more advanced than ours. Surely, not many people will want to invest five hundred years to go to a neighboring star system. But it takes only one fanatic to dominate the media as, unfortunately, we learned in 2001-09-11.

I think that if we survive and evolve as a civilization a hundred years more we will, inevitably, reach the stars.

Human nature can work for both good and evil. There will be billions who sit at home and watch TV but a few people will not be satisfied until they visit every star system in the galaxy.

Re:Individuals, not civilizations (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#33037684)

Have you wondered why our own civilization worries so much about "terrorism" these days?

No. I know why. It's currently the most effective bogeyman.

Re:Individuals, not civilizations (1)

Target Practice (79470) | more than 4 years ago | (#33037766)

"Have you wondered why our own civilization worries so much about "terrorism" these days?"

In my day, we called it 'communism'.

"...a few people will not be satisfied until they visit every star system in the galaxy."

If it's after my life time, here's hoping they develop the head/brain regeneration bit from Futurama. I'd love to be there...

Re:Individuals, not civilizations (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33038382)

How else will the heathen space aliens hear the Good News concerning Jesus Christ?

Re:Maybe it's as simple (1)

Tryle (1159503) | more than 4 years ago | (#33037842)

I don't think "time to destination" is as important as the expectation after achieving said destination. Once you can justify going somewhere (colonize, genocide, exploit resources, etc.) then it probably wouldn't really matter how long it takes to get somewhere.

Remember, not all civilizations in the universe will have an earthly lifespan of just 80 years. Perhaps lifetimes of other worlds are in the 10s of thousands of years and such 500 year journeys aren't that big of a deal.

Re:Maybe it's as simple (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038336)

I think it likely that aging will be eliminated within a hundred years or so. That means bigger changes than just everyone living about 500 years, though. There is a fundamental difference between "You have a 50% chance of living a total of X years" and "You have a 50% chance of living another X years". In the former case you have a less than 50% chance of surviving a journey of X years and very little chance of living long enough to do much if you do arrive. In the latter you have a 50% chance of surviving the journey and a 50% chance of living X years once you arrive. It's a matter of horizons. People who are always thinking "I'm likely to be here in X years. I might be here in 2X years" are going to have different attitudes than those who are always thinking "I'm likely to be gone in (X-age) years. I'll surely be gone in 2X years." Someone who knows he is likely to live another 500 years no matter how long he has already lived may be quite willing to undertake a century-long voyage.

Re:Maybe it's as simple (2, Interesting)

painandgreed (692585) | more than 4 years ago | (#33037848)

As the speed it would take to get nearby stars in a short period of time is just not physically possible no matter how advanced you are and no civilization has yet wanted to spend 500 years getting here.

That makes some big assumptions on not only the culture of alien races but also their life span. While it might be true of humans, we have no idea what the life span of an alien might be, what their interests are, or what their civilizations value. If we were dealing with a race that usually exists in solitude with a thousand year life span living on an overpopulated world, being on a ship by yourself for the next 500 years might seem like not only a blessing but very doable. Of course, the same race might not have any interest in contacting another race. On the other end, if human life span is on the long side of things, it may make it even less likely they'll try and leave on a great trip.

Re:Maybe it's as simple (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33038418)

As the speed it would take to get nearby stars in a short period of time is just not physically possible no matter how advanced you are and no civilization has yet wanted to spend 500 years getting here.

You think as an Earthling. If you have a virtually unlimited lifespan, 500 years isn't that much, especially when most of the trip is spent in some form of hibernation (and/or some form of Matrix-like shared virtual reality to spend the time and interact with the other crew members).

Uh, steal ideas much? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33037586)

Gene Roddenberry called, and he wants his Star Trek TV show idea back.

Oh, but if you rip-off Earth: Final Conflict, you can keep it.

Population of universe is zero. (1, Funny)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 4 years ago | (#33037592)

Quoting The Guide [wikiquote.org] :

It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in. However, not every one of them is inhabited. Therefore, there must be a finite number of inhabited worlds. Any finite number divided by infinity is as near to nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the Universe can be said to be zero. From this it follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely the products of a deranged imagination.

Take *that* Fermi.

Re:Population of universe is zero. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33037744)

Therefore, there must be a finite number of inhabited worlds.

The logical deduction breaks down here. If there are an infinite amount of worlds, and you take away a few that don't have life, you're still left with infinity. (Warning: The maddening concept that the infinity of all planets is larger than the infinity of planets with life may harm your brain. Viewer's Discretion is Advised).

Even if you said "half", "a quarter", "1%", "0.0000000001% of those planets have life", the number you're left with is still infinite. The only way you could say that the limit of the number of inhabited planets in the universe as the number of planets approaches infinity is if you have a finite number of planets with life to begin with. Right now we can say that though, as we only know of one, Earth, but it still relies on the assumption that there are an infinite number of planets, which would mean the universe has infinite mass, which doesn't really make much sense.

Re:Population of universe is zero. (1)

HiThere (15173) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038068)

Actually, there's nothing wrong with the idea that the universe has an infinite amount of mass...but most of it would need to be outside of our light cone.

OTOH, this does mean that you need an alternative to the big bang. Branes would probably work.

Re:Population of universe is zero. (2, Informative)

Brucelet (1857158) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038702)

(Warning: The maddening concept that the infinity of all planets is larger than the infinity of planets with life may harm your brain. Viewer's Discretion is Advised)

A slight correction: these two infinities (assuming they even are infinite) could be the same size even when the set of inhabited planets is a subset of all planets. Infinities are really weird.

Or maybe we are living in a simulation... (1)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | more than 4 years ago | (#33037634)

With just one seeded civilization: http://www.simulation-argument.com/ [simulation-argument.com]

Re:Or maybe we are living in a simulation... (1)

Vahokif (1292866) | more than 4 years ago | (#33037760)

Prove it.

Re:Or maybe we are living in a simulation... (1)

ducomputergeek (595742) | more than 4 years ago | (#33037798)

Should have taken the blue pill.

Re:Or maybe we are living in a simulation... (2, Interesting)

Surt (22457) | more than 4 years ago | (#33037852)

Does anyone who has ever rubbed their eyes still doubt that we are living in a simulation? I mean, why else would you wind up with an input error grid?

Re:Or maybe we are living in a simulation... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33038374)

Does anyone who has ever rubbed their eyes still doubt that we are living in a simulation? I mean, why else would you wind up with an input error grid?

Dude, pass the bong. That must be some good shit.

Re:Or maybe we are living in a simulation... (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038502)

What do you see if you close your eyes and rub hard?

Re:Or maybe we are living in a simulation... (1)

mrbobjoe (830606) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038872)

Direct stimulation (by the pressure you're putting on the retina) of the various edge and pattern detection nets that connect the photoreceptors to the optic nerve. At least that's been my interpretation.

Re:Or maybe we are living in a simulation... (2, Interesting)

Nethead (1563) | more than 4 years ago | (#33039166)

I can't tell you but I know it's mine.

Re:Or maybe we are living in a simulation... (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#33039240)

Does anyone who has ever rubbed their eyes still doubt that we are living in a simulation? I mean, why else would you wind up with an input error grid?

I see shit just by closing my eyes. Sparks, flashes, spirals, floating and spinning Rubik's Cubes and kaleidoscope-like shapes, and if I really pay attention under it all is a very organic-looking "grid" of red, blue, and green "pixels".

And no, LSD is not to blame. :)

Re:Or maybe we are living in a simulation... (1)

JumperCable (673155) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038744)

So you are proposing that maybe the creationists are correct.

I have a better paradox (4, Insightful)

blair1q (305137) | more than 4 years ago | (#33037642)

If they are as intelligent as we think they are, won't they take one look at us and pretend they're not home?

Re:I have a better paradox (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33037716)

Why is it that human civilization always has to suck so much? Has anyone considered the fact that we're just TOTALLY AWESOME? Considering the small sample size (one), the margin of error in any assessment of humanity is 100%! Therefore, it's entirely possible that we're ABOVE the curve in all areas. Culture: Awesome. Intellect: Awesome. Peace, Love, altruism, and overall benevolence: Awesome.

So quit assuming we're all a bunch of dangerous barbarians... come on over to my side where everything is awesome.

Re:I have a better paradox (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 4 years ago | (#33037978)

We are rendered awesome because we came up with the Fish Slapping Dance [youtube.com] .

We are restored to mundanity because we see it as farce rather than satire.

Re:I have a better paradox (1)

RobertLTux (260313) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038358)

well doing a twist on the Shamus Harper theory of Humanity

We may on the whole be a brutal and savage race of ingenious freaks but then

WHY IS THAT A BAD THING AS SUCH???

Re:I have a better paradox (1)

HBoar (1642149) | more than 4 years ago | (#33039004)

T-Rex, is that you?

Re:I have a better paradox (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33038630)

Or maybe they're only as intelligent as the Masters of the Universe in Wall St?

Basic assumptions (5, Insightful)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#33037668)

The bit quoted as "Eventually die out and go dark" apparently comes from this quote in the second link:

Their approach is to imagine that civilisations form at a certain rate, grow to fill a certain volume of space and then collapse and die. They even go as far as to suggest that civilisations have a characteristic life time, which limits how big they can become.

However, this deals only with civilizations and not intelligent beings. The Civilization may collapse, after expanding to multiple worlds, but that does not mean that everyone on these planets dies. The would live on to create new civilizations.

Using an admittedly imperfect Earth analogy, the collapse of the Roman or Mayan empires din not lead to the extinction of humans, merely a pause in the development of civilization among that species, (us).

So EVEN if the basic assumption is correct, you would still expect to see many inhabited worlds, populated with remnant people having "arrival myths".

They may have once held knowledge of how to build ships, but deciding instead simply to sit tight, and not draw attention to themselves for a long enough period for any ship building knowledge or desire to wane. But new civilizations and technology would sooner or later arrive on these worlds.

When you start with a flawed and pessimistic assumption, it seems natural that you might arrive at a dismal conclusion.

No start of time in the Drake equation (2, Insightful)

grimJester (890090) | more than 4 years ago | (#33037922)

The time needed for our solar system to develop life was more than a third of the age of the universe so far. Extending the Drake equation to replace communication time before extinction with odds of spreading to the next star before extinction and replacing probabilities with average time taken would make far more sense than the original one.

We're probably just the first advanced civilization in our galaxy. No Fermi paradox, no odd extinction events, no improbably rare Earth. Why would it be impossible for civilizations to travel to another star and why would the typical time to interstellar travel be short enough that current formation rate of generation I stars is a more limiting factor than amount formed since the Big Bang?

Re:No start of time in the Drake equation (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038324)

We're probably just the first advanced civilization in our galaxy. No Fermi paradox, no odd extinction events, no improbably rare Earth.

Perhaps, but what basis is there for that assumption?

If you assume on-planet origination of life is the norm, than most civilizations in any given galaxy will be of approximately the same age.

This is not a planet where any given species of animal has totally different mechanisms used for encoding genetics. (AFAIK). Everything seems to use DNA. This suggests local origin, and we are stuck with the geological record to determine timelines.

But for civilizations expanding off-world to other planets this might not be the case.

A re-emerging species of a collapsed civilization might find themselves wondering why their genetic encoding mechanism was so radically different than the animals around them, and, after religious explanations are dealt with over the ages, come to the conclusion they originated elsewhere.

Re:No start of time in the Drake equation (1)

grimJester (890090) | more than 4 years ago | (#33039016)

We're probably just the first advanced civilization in our galaxy. No Fermi paradox, no odd extinction events, no improbably rare Earth.

Perhaps, but what basis is there for that assumption?

If you assume on-planet origination of life is the norm, than most civilizations in any given galaxy will be of approximately the same age.

We see no others. Regardless of whether you call it a paradox or not, it's obviously true. We don't know the odds of there being others before us or the current rate per galaxy, but no one has colonized our planet or left any visible signs so far.

Re:No start of time in the Drake equation (1)

HBoar (1642149) | more than 4 years ago | (#33039064)

We're probably just the first advanced civilization in our galaxy. No Fermi paradox, no odd extinction events, no improbably rare Earth.

Perhaps, but what basis is there for that assumption?

Surely the fact that, from what we currently know, we should see more aliens around than we do would be one reason to postulate that we are the first, or at least among the first. While we can't give up the whole question and just assume we seem to be alone because we are the first technologically advanced species, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that it is always a possibility. Someone has to come first....

Re:Basic assumptions (3, Insightful)

HiThere (15173) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038182)

But by the time the civilization collapses it's used up all of the readily available hydrocarbon deposits and metal deposits. (Civilization may require readily available copper deposits to be jump-started.)

So unless you can read the old CDs...or whatever storage medium replaces them...you can't learn enough to make a technological civilization out of what's left. You can probably go quite far with ceramics, glasses, etc., but none of those lead to electronics. And if you can't get to electronics you can't extract specialized materials out of low-value ores. (Well, possibly you could fractionally distill them...but just try doing that to extract iron. Zinc [zinc oxide?] you could get that way, though. Even if you get them that way, you get compounds, not metals. You need electricity to extract most metals from their compounds.)

I'm not sure you get a second chance at a technical civilization.

Re:Basic assumptions (4, Insightful)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038452)

But again, you assume collapse due to material exhaustion, which, even for a very OLD civilization would not universally be the case, especially one that migrated to other planets.

Why would a planet be colonized in the first place if there were insufficient materials for self support?

By the way: There is no exhaustion of copper or metals, as any gaze into a junk yard will reveal. In fact we make mining significantly easier for future generations by concentrating all of our waste materials. And any civilization capable of interplanetary migration would be been off hydro-carbons as a primary energy source for eons.

Hyperspace Bypass (4, Funny)

schmidt349 (690948) | more than 4 years ago | (#33037682)

What do you mean, you've never been to Alpha Centauri? For heavens' sakes, mankind, it's only five light-years away. Look, I'm sorry, but if you can't be bothered to take an interest in local politics that's your own lookout. Energize the demolition beams.

Apathetic bloody planet... I've no sympathy at all.

With the likes of... (1)

Amy2AE (1862224) | more than 4 years ago | (#33037698)

The reason why no one has found us is that i) With the likes of Simon Cowell, Spice Girls & other media hungry airheads on TV then any other civilisation will probably be thinking...What the F*** should we go there for? ii) Compared to other species we're about as ugly as they come and we scare other civilisations off. Or iii) We've got so much junk around our planet that no other space vehicle could get near us without having something crash into them.

Communicate first? (3, Insightful)

CdBee (742846) | more than 4 years ago | (#33037988)

I'd have thought, however risky we are to meet, any civilisation that's aware of us and monitoring would probably start with a generic 'hey guys, want to chat? Check where this signal is coming from if you want to know who we are'

it might not only be human society that thinks turning up unannounced is poor form.

Re:Communicate first? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33038532)

Yep our first alien contact will be with "sexbots" saying "hey I am Chrissy, I am blond, 18, 35DD-23-35 and I am home alone. Do you wanna see me on my webcam?"

initial conditions. (1, Interesting)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 4 years ago | (#33037788)

Sounds like they came up with the outcome they desired and worked backwards to derive the initial conditions they needed. Which might be valid in some circumstances, but to me it always seems like a newspaper article whose headline reads.

We have no need of Oil

Scientists announced today that, counter to everyone else on this planet, we do not need oil. The researchers stated that with an initial assumption that water will become combustible tomorrow at 5 pm, we will no longer need to use gasoline, diesel or any other oil products ever again. They are expected to receive tenure, and a substantial research grant to further develop their ideas into production. The added, that their plan may also require Indian to redefine the value of Pi to an integer, but pointed out no politician would want to be the one that freed us from relying on foreign countries for our energy needs.

Re:initial conditions. (1)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 4 years ago | (#33037830)

For the record, Slashdot kept returning a 503 every time I tried to preview this. So I tried submit ....

Alternative Interpretation (4, Interesting)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#33037790)

Here's an alternative: Perhaps we are the First. Perhaps humanity is the first culture to rise to the point of being able to leave their home planet, even for a short while.

Re:Alternative Interpretation (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 4 years ago | (#33037952)

That idea bothers the statisticians. There's no particular reason to believe we would be first, and in fact, there are many reasons to think that should not be the case (as one example, earth is orbiting a relatively young star ... why didn't any of the tens of billions of older stars in this galaxy get lucky?)

Re:Alternative Interpretation (1)

sconeu (64226) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038162)

why didn't any of the tens of billions of older stars in this galaxy get lucky?

Many of them did, according to their bios. I mean, come on... Harrison Ford got Calista Flockhart.

Oops! Wrong kind of "older star"

Re:Alternative Interpretation (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038284)

Wrong kind of got lucky too ... have you SEEN Calista Flockhart?

Re:Alternative Interpretation (1)

SickLittleMonkey (135315) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038932)

That idea also bothers cosmologists - we should assume there is nothing special about our place in the universe (except for the Anthropic Principle).
In fact, given the recent Kepler data there are 100 million reasons why we're likely not special, and probably not the first space-faring civilization.

Re:Alternative Interpretation (1)

HBoar (1642149) | more than 4 years ago | (#33039142)

Maybe planets that give rise to technologically advanced civilisations only come from n-th generation stars? Wouldn't the abundance of metal deposits increase with each generation of star? (

Re:Alternative Interpretation (1)

leoaloha (90485) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038142)

You know, there is the idea out there that mankind is only 6000 years old and is the only humanoid out there

Re:Alternative Interpretation (1)

houghi (78078) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038304)

Or we are the last and all the rest already left.

Re:Alternative Interpretation (1)

RCC42 (1457439) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038484)

Here's an alternative: Perhaps we are the First. Perhaps humanity is the first culture to rise to the point of being able to leave their home planet, even for a short while.

Well as I understand it earth has gone through a number of catastrophic die-offs that killed most of the life on the planet like... 7 times? According to what I read, life on earth accelerated it's evolution and development after each cataclysm and progressed faster and faster. I never see THIS being taken into account for these sorts of calculations. We assume that the time it took for life on earth to go from primordial goo to space-flight capable humans is roughly the norm. What if our evolution is slightly or massively accelerated because of these die-offs and rebirths? What if some other planet had only 5 die-offs and is lagging behind us? We may not be the first (though we could be because of the aforementioned) but we could possibly be one of the early birds despite the youth of our star.

I suppose it's interesting philosophy (1)

medcalf (68293) | more than 4 years ago | (#33037812)

But that's all it is. Anything that you cannot measure, cannot falsify, cannot independently reproduce is not science, even if done by scientists. (I'm with Feynman on that one.) Dressing up their superstitions as science, just as the Drake equation did (and they explicitly compare their work to that) does not make it science, any more than the same is true for either Intelligent Design or Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming. That does not mean that they are not correct, as science is not the only way to know things, and there are enough unknowns that in fact we might find them to be correct in the end, but this is philosophy rather than science at this point. (Ever wonder why we remember Einstein and not Woldemar Voigt as the discoverer of Relativity? It's because even though he got it right, Voigt was guessing; he couldn't demonstrate that his equations worked.)

Re:I suppose it's interesting philosophy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33038894)

Further reading on the Drake Equation "Religion" [freerepublic.com] .

Maybe (2, Interesting)

rossdee (243626) | more than 4 years ago | (#33037918)

Democracy is more common than we thought, and the aliems governments cut their funding too.

Its simple (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33037926)

Assuming an interstellar civ exists it would have people who live... 50-250k years or more. Anything less then that and you dont get much spread.

  Thus anyone capable of getting close enough to us to see us would concider a century to be like a month or even in extreme cases like just a few hours. So even if they saw us in 1700 it might take them 500 years just to get set up to say hi.

  As far as why we cant hear anyone.. because they arnt talking to us. Anyone old enough to send a signal powerful for us to hear wouldnt be sending signals we can hear.

Some more thoughts on the subject (3, Interesting)

erichill (583191) | more than 4 years ago | (#33037950)

There's been a lot of argument that "close in space *and time*" is precisely the problem. In the cosmically vanishingly small time of a million years ago, we weren't very interesting. If we're still around in a million years, we probably wouldn't want to detectably approach anyone at the level that we're at now. There's also evidence that we're heading towards "going dark" as a result of using more efficient communications so there will be an inner surface to our radio sphere of influence. There may be other things to look for, like the gamma ray signature of antimatter powered interstellar vehicles. We wouldn't see anybody on a ballistic trajectory. I'm rather taken by arguments that suggest that really advanced cultures won't want to be very spread out because of communications latency. See, for instance, this [arxiv.org] by Cirkovic and Bradbury.

As already mentioned, there is the possibility that we're the first [in our light cone].

Re:Some more thoughts on the subject (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038362)

We weren't interesting a million years ago?!? Hell, we're not even that interesting NOW! We don't become interesting until we are capable of communicating with them without requiring a substantial layout of energy on their behalf. You see, extraterrestrial intelligence subscribes to the same "Street Vendor Theorem" espoused by American tourists: if they want to sell me shell necklaces, they damn well better learn to speak my language first!

My guess is... (1)

mindwanderer (1169521) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038024)

any and all civilizations advanced enough to spy on us have done so eons ago and reckoned that by the time any life form could possibly get to their own technological level, they would again be far too ahead to care. So they stopped looking in on us. Meaning that we will only contact other intelligent life when we ourselves obtain the technology to do so ourselves, or another civilization does so a little before us.

BS-model? (1)

Covalent (1001277) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038062)

That is actually what the authors call their idea. 'nuff said.

according to a recent documentary (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038134)

According to a recent documentary [youtube.com] the Xel Naga that created us have merely gone away for the time being. They are returning soon it seems, although it's not clear if their aim is to save or to destroy.

Seriously, there are dozens of potential responses to the Fermi Paradox. What's the point?

Are we even looking for the right signs of life we (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038186)

Are we even looking for the right signs of life we may be basing to much on what earth is like vs what other life forms needs to live / can live on. Maybe even mars as life but it's under ground and we can't see it that easy.

What about all the UFO cover ups? maybe stuff is h (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038214)

What about all the UFO cover ups? maybe stuff is being hidden?

Why are we assuming E/M transmission? (3, Interesting)

sconeu (64226) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038220)

Perhaps advanced civilizations are not using EM transmission (radio/light), but some other form of communication that we are unable to detect.

Yes, Trek is fictional, but to use it as an example: We wouldn't detect Starfleet because they use "Subspace communications" instead of radio.

In other words.... (1)

Burnhard (1031106) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038228)

This, they say, is analogous to the famous Drake equation

You mean a set of 7 variables all multiplied together where all of them are unknowns? Remind me how to solve that will you...

It's time and distance as much as anything else (3, Insightful)

Todd Knarr (15451) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038232)

We generated our first real radio signals sometime around 1894, give or take. That means that we are completely and utterly invisible in the radio spectrum to any civilizations more than about 116 light-years away from Sol. Our radio signals simply haven't had time to reach them yet. And the same thing applies in reverse: if an alien civilization began transmitting radio signals 200 years ago but they're more than 200 light-years away from us, we won't be able to see them because their signals haven't had time to reach us yet.

That defines the outer edge of the visibility shell. There's also an inner edge. As a civilization develops, it eventually stops transmitting radio signals as it first gets more efficient at transmitting radio (moving from pure broadcast to directed transmissions and then refining their ability to direct the transmission into tighter and tighter beams) and then starts using things other than radio. If you start listening after the last of their detectable broadcasts has passed you, again you can't see them.

So when you're asking "If there are as many civilizations out there as the equations predict, why can't we detect them?" you also have to take into account the fact you're likely only physically able to detect a fraction of the civilizations that may exist. The rest are either too far away for their signals to have reached you, or they've been around long enough that you weren't listening when the last of their detectable transmissions passed your planet.

radio signals also brake up over distance as well (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038298)

radio signals also brake up over distance as well so they may to broken up when they get hear for them not to be seen as just junk data.

So much bullshit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33038236)

We can not even set up an economic model for the Earth that would allow decent way of living for each person... how could we set up flurishing co-operation with other civilizations?

What the paradox doesn't take into consideration (2, Interesting)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038280)

Life is common, but so are cataclysmic events. Very few life forms evolve higher intelligence. After a point intelligence isn't very useful for survival; we evolved intelligence far beyond that needed for mere survival because we used it for social competition since smarter people had more chance of breeding (hard as that is to believe today).

Of the few life forms that evolved higher intelligence, very few of them would have won the race to establish viable self-sufficient colonies off-planet before a cataclysmic event wiped out their planet, solar system, or galaxy.

And finally, of course, the obvious -- any really intelligent being wouldn't go around hanging up neon "I'm here!" signs to broadcast their location to potential predators.

Finally, it may be that really advanced civilizations discover a "party line" that enables faster than light communication, which would enable most of the benefits of interacting without other species without the expense of physically traveling to them or the risk of giving away one's own location. In which case, they are merely keeping a low profile while waiting for us to also discover this communications method.

Bandwidth efficient communication looks like noise (4, Insightful)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038562)

My own take on the Fermi paradox comes from the observation that modern radio communication systems - spread spectrum and ODFM - approach the Shannon limit of the bandwidth's information carrying capacity. As they do that, they approach the appearance of pure noise.

Earlier transmission systems, such as AM, FM, and analog broadcast's AM/FM hybrid, involve massive inherent reundancy and low bandwidth utilization. This makes their existence detectable (even if not fully decodable) at interstellar distances and at the resulting far worse signal-to-noise ratio than their intended receivers experience. Spread-spectrum and OFDM systems (and no doubt others yet to be invented) fill their assigned bandwidth with a close approximation to white noise, with only a small amount of redundancy to allow the receiver to detect the existence of the signal and synchronize with it. (Even the redundancy from the forward error correction is sufficiently complex that at appears as noise if the particular scheme is not being looked for.) This is why, when the signal-to-noise ratio of a digital signal becomes excessive, the reception drops out completely rather than becoming noisy.

Bandwidth is limited by physice, but the potential valuable uses of it are limited only by imagination and cost. So other radio-using civilizations seem likely to follow a similar path of squeezing as much information as technology allows into their signals.

If this is the case, the L term in the Drake equation ("the length of time such civilizations release detectable signals into space") becomes a measure, not of the lifetime of the civilization after it begins to use broadcast radio, but of the time from such use to the time it is supplanted by highly-efficient but not-readily-detectable shannon-limit-approaching signals.

When estimating the number of intelligences in this galaxy using the Drake equation, L was ballparked at 10,000 years. But consider broadcast TV here on Earth (the main telltale, emitting far more power per station than audio radio): Excluding early experiments the first regularly scheduled TV broadcasts started in 1930 - and the Analog Cutoff (where most high-power analog TV stations were shut down to free the bandwidth for other purposes) is in progress now, with the US terminating all full-power analog TV broadcast in 2009, just 80 years after the first signals from that first broadcast-service station.

So I have no feeling of loneliness just because we haven't happened to hear any civilizations in the narrow time slot when they might send DETECTABLE broadcasts.

My Own Theory to explain the Fermi Paradox (2, Insightful)

Curunir_wolf (588405) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038840)

I have a different theory.

I think that in many cases, civilizations reach a point where a small group can convince the mass of population that they have to alter their lifestyles to prevent their own advancement from destroying their environment. Thus cowed, the rulers, without any motivation for advancing the species, and living in luxury by the labor of a vast cadre of dependent and ignorant masses, push the rest of the civilization into more primitive lifestyles.

Preserving this stable lifestyle becomes and end itself, all ambitions of extra-planetary exploration forgotten. Eventually, the civilization runs out of local resources, too late to escape their own gravity well, and die off never having attained their potential.

What do you think? I call it the Enviro-Gorbama effect.

Space is big (1)

feidaykin (158035) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038904)

The nearest star to the sun is 4 light years, or 25 trillion miles away. Perhaps the nearest intelligent life is simply too far away to detect? And with no guarantee that alien civilizations will use radio, there's no reason to assume we could detect them with programs like SETI. But how else do we expect detect an intelligent civilization trillions of miles away? We're just barely able to detect Earth-sized extrasolar planets. Maybe we need to get better at looking before we complain about not being able to find anything.

wikipedia=fail (1)

NemoinSpace (1118137) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038944)

any "academic paper" that cites wikipedia as a reference somehow fails to inspire me. Not that I don't like Wiki... it just tends to suggest the paper lacks enough independent research.

p.s I may be biased since I believe the drake equation is total bullshit anyway.

More likely they are ignoring us (1)

pkinetics (549289) | more than 4 years ago | (#33039124)

Would you want to visit a planet that broadcasts MTV and CSPN and monster movies? How much more confusing it must be for them when Godzilla attacks and the languages varies for each nation... They must think our planet is overrun by dinosaurs.

Or, not a new take (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33039180)

"Rama Revealed". Not the best book, but same idea there.

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