Is There Someone Out There Staring Back At Me?

Via Insta, a very interesting article from someone who really hopes we don’t find evidence of life on Mars.

What could be more fascinating than discovering life that had evolved entirely independently of life here on Earth? Many people would also find it heartening to learn that we are not entirely alone in this vast, cold cosmos.
But I hope that our Mars probes discover nothing. It would be good news if we find Mars to be sterile. Dead rocks and lifeless sands would lift my spirit.
Conversely, if we discovered traces of some simple, extinct life-form–some bacteria, some algae–it would be bad news. If we found fossils of something more advanced, perhaps something that looked like the remnants of a trilobite or even the skeleton of a small mammal, it would be very bad news. The more complex the life-form we found, the more depressing the news would be. I would find it interesting, certainly–but a bad omen for the future of the human race.

Neat stuff, and I guess I can agree with his general theory about the “Great Filter.” I find it an intriguing idea, but I’m not so sure that I’d be so tied as he is in thinking there’s a specific Great Filter event. Rather, I think that given how rare life may be it seems to me more likely that there are in fact many potential Great Filter moments that could prevent life in any one given place from evolving to the point where interstellar travel/colonization becomes feasible and survival “assured.”

26 Responses to “Is There Someone Out There Staring Back At Me?”

  1. Skyler says:

    Yes, very interesting. It contains a few fallacies, but it’s very thought provoking.
    He didn’t address the theory that life on Earth might be martian generated. That is, we have some meteors that are believed to have come from Mars (I’m still baffled at how this is concluded, the evidence seems pretty speculative). If there were life on Mars at one time, perhaps life started there before migrating here.
    But the really important point that I got out of this is finally a hint at why we are looking for extraterrestrial life. So many NASA programs are justified as being devoted to determining if life is on Mars or wherever else without explaining why this is important. They state this reason as being self-evidently important, which it most certainly is not.
    But now I see at least a supportable reason why we should care. Not that it’s necessarily a conclusive reason, but it is a reason that shows how finding life in other places can have an impact on our lives here. If there is some “filter” then by definition of intelligence we can seek to overcome this filter by avoiding it.
    That is, I don’t buy the idea that there is a filter that is permanently and unchangingly capable of limiting us. If we can develop technology or knowlege sufficiently, we should be able to avoid any threat to our existence. The bigger the threat the more knowlege we’ll require, so long as this threat is predictable.
    This is why I was so horrified by implications of the String theory and the scenario that existence is on different branes. The big bang in one version of the theory is simply a random collision of two branes, creating multi-dimensional chaos of the most fundamental kind. Such an event, if truly random, would doom us and all that we’ve created to date instantaneously and without warning. If that’s the case we should simply sit back, drink our beer and await the inevitable end.
    But I think even what we might today regard as random must in the end not be entirely random, and given the right tools and knowlege should be predictable. Once something is predictable, there is a chance to counter its affects, somehow. The only question is whether we will win the race or not.
    So, what might be seen as a great filter, I see as a great challenge. That’s what gets me out of bed every morning, knowing that in some small way I am contributing to the advancement of human knowlege that will someday be critical to our survival as a species. Or so I hope.

  2. “In the long run, we’re all dead.”
    I haven’t had a chance to finish it, but most of what I saw in the first part was largely foolish, or at best incomplete. I’ll try to finish it later and post some thoughts on it.
    Skyler, I thought String Theory had been chucked out? Did it make a comeback?
    As for the “seeded from Mars” or other place, uh maybe, but without actual evidence that has always struck me as useless speculation. And I also don’t know how they identify those meteorites as coming from Mars – I understand how they might have gotten here from Mars, just not how anybody could muster evidence that they actually did.

  3. Skyler says:

    I’m not a physicist and a lot of the explanations of time/space and light speed go right over my head. Every explanation I’ve seen doesn’t explain it so much as it gives a conclusion without explaining how the conclusion is reached. That is, they describe how two people floating in space perceive time but never really explain why. So, I haven’t heard that String theory is discredited, but I am certainly not in the know on the subject.

  4. Mr. Bingley says:

    The Mars theory always struck me as somewhat fanciful; it seemed that the planets would really have to line up for that one…literally.
    I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, Ken. I’m somewhat removed from my astrophysicist-wannabe stage so I’m not quite as up on the theories as I would like to be. It seemed to me he outlined things in a reasonable manner, at least to a first reading.

  5. Actually, it’s not much astrophysics and not much theory, just some things he either misses or gets wrong. At least that’s how it looks to me.

  6. The_Real_JeffS says:

    The “life from Mars” theory is not a theory; it’s more like a hypothesis, and a speculative one at that. They can identify meteorites as such, but can’t conclusively prove that one might have came from Mars (i.e., we have no comparative samples from Mars). And the bacterial evidence, IIRC, is suggestive, not conclusive.
    I’ll have to read the article tonight (busy day at work, God bless lunch time), but it strikes me that the quest for knowledge itself ought to be motivation enough to search for other life. Finding the resources for that search is a another matter, of course, so other motivations do apply. On this subject, I am an idealist. ;-P
    But I wouldn’t find it too depressing to find that life had flourished and died on other planets, even unto building civilizations. And I would be depressed that I missed meeting a potential friend, not that they had died (if they were a potential enemy is a different, but related, matter). Death is part of life here on Earth, and it’s not a stretch to think the same of the rest of the universe.

  7. But I wouldn’t find it too depressing to find that life had flourished and died on other planets, even unto building civilizations.
    Exactly. That part of the article struck me as almost neurotically overboard, like how Bertrand Russell (I think it was) fell into a depression after realizing the long term implications of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

  8. Skyler says:

    The counter to the second law is intelligence. Intelligence is the opposite of entropy. It is not necessarily absolute that entropy will win in the long run.

  9. Yeah it will. Intelligence may be an “ordering” but requires input of energy.

  10. Skyler says:

    Yeah, until we figure out a better way of ordering! 🙂 Intelligence can win!
    Maybe if intelligence had better cheerleaders . . .

  11. nightfly says:

    That’s actually one of the reasons underpinning my faith in God, Skyler.
    As for the article, it strikes me as mostly guesswork, at best. For example: “…if extraterrestrials do exist in any numbers, at least one species would have already expanded throughout the galaxy, or beyond. Yet we have met no one.” Why? How is this possibly a certainty, even mathematically? “Any numbers” could mean “six” or “sixty” or even “nine hundred,” and there may be any number of reasons why there’s no contact – some of which the author has already forwarded. Maybe we happen to be first in our galactic neighborhood, and everyone else is lagging; maybe they have the theoretical knowledge but not the resources, nor the inclination; maybe Laurence Krauss is right and it’s simply impossible to make interstellar travel practical; maybe we’re under quarantine since we’re such incorrigible bastards towards each other that the other civilized races avoid us. Maybe, a la Men in Black, there are quotas and some aliens are simply hanging out incognito, enjoying the sights and drinking caipirhana (which are unavailable offworld).
    It could be almost anything, and science fiction stories have been thoroughly exploring all these (and more) for a century at least. Even the whole “posthuman experience” idea is old hat to the story tellers.
    So we have this whole “filter” idea… but “filter” by definition means something that permits some things to pass and not others, rather than an impenetrable barrier. I’m with Skyler – I don’t see any reason to fear some future hurdle looming in mankind’s path. We’ve cleared a lot of the smaller challenges up until now, at least as far as stuff is concerned. If anything, the challenge that keeps tripping us up is in improving ourselves rather than our surroundings.

  12. ricki says:

    To go back to Ken’s earlier question: Yes, I think string theory has kind of been “chucked out.”
    Which is sort of too bad because I found the idea that there might be infinite possible alternative dimensions sort of comforting…that maybe, somewhere, in some alternative dimension, the alternative-dimension-version of me was the ruler of the world.
    (And of course, things would be MUCH better there than they are here…)
    I read some of this stuff but don’t really understand it on a deep level; I just think it’s really cool.
    And nightfly: “maybe we’re under quarantine since we’re such incorrigible bastards towards each other that the other civilized races avoid us” is actually not a bad hypothesis at all. At least not given how I feel at the end of some days.

  13. Skyler says:

    When did it get dropped? Just a year ago it was going quite strong, wikipedia makes no mention of it being abandoned.
    I thought that only dimensions were envisioned in most versions.

  14. Skyler says:

    Er, that’s supposed to say “eleven dimensions.”

  15. The_Real_JeffS says:

    Maybe if intelligence had better cheerleaders . . .
    If Intelligence had any cheerleaders, they’d be reassigned by Operations. ;-P

  16. Skyler, it’s possible somebody brought back an improved version? I had it buried somewhere in my enfeebled brain that it had been abandoned, but that may not have been quite right. It may have just taken a short nap before being revived (like “Inflationary Universe” models have also come and gone in varying versions).
    There was also the “super string” theory. I don’t have anything more than the fuzziest idea of either one, and don’t know the difference (if any) between them.

  17. Skyler says:

    Super String is a collection of various string theories, including M-theory. Wiki says, “String theories which include fermionic vibrations are now known as superstring theories; several different kinds have been described, but all are now thought to be different limits of M-theory.”
    So, in reality I should have said “M-theory” instead of string theory, but most people don’t know the difference (if even I do, and I likely don’t) and string theory is a more popular name.

  18. String theories which include fermionic vibrations are now known as superstring theories
    Well that helps a lot 😉
    I think I need to get out more.

  19. nightfly says:

    This thread is the best Star Trek episode EVER.

  20. That’s the tribble with it, Diptera ~ NO pictures.


  22. Mr. Bingley says:

    It’s a new phaser something like that we’re going through.

  23. nightfly says:

    [picard] Thank you, Mr. Bingley. [/picard]

  24. ricki says:

    I think I’m going to propose the Silly String Theory for the origin of the universe: everything that exists was squirted out of a REALLY BIG CAN.

  25. I’ll bet that left Klingons, ricki.

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