Soumyashant Nayak on 2 Mar 2017 13:03:58 -0800

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Re: [PLUG] "Nearby"

My apologies for nitpicking. :)

"Not even wrong" is attributed to Wolfgang Pauli.

On 03/02/2017 03:49 PM, Rich Kulawiec wrote:
On Fri, Feb 24, 2017 at 12:56:10PM -0500, Timothy Jones wrote:

An absolutely excellent description of the situation.

Worth mentioning in this context are the Fermi paradox and the Drake
equation.  Enrico Fermi is not only the author of one of my favorite
snarky sayings ("That is not even good enough to be wrong") but he
was a brilliant physicist who wondered why we were not already looking
at proof of intelligent alien life.  His reasoning, roughly speaking,
was that there are so many Sun-like stars in the galaxy, that
many of them have been around for a while, that some of them must
have planets suitable for the evolution of life (including intelligent life),
that intelligent life will inevitably turn its attention to interstellar
travel, and that even at slow speeds, such civilizations would be able
to traverse the galaxy in a few million years.

Thus his question: "where is everybody?"

Many rebuttals to this exist, based both on the premises and on the
chain of logic which connects them.  But despite all that, it's an
interesting question to explore.  (Pro tip: buy a round of beers for
five astrophysicists in a bar and ask them what they think of the Fermi
paradox.  You'll get more than adequate entertainment value in return.)

(How do you find find five astrophysicists in a bar?  That is left as an
exercise for the reader. ;) )

Fermi paradox:

The Drake equation is an attempt to enumerate the probabilistic factors
that go into an estimate of the number of civilizations in our galaxy.
(Let's pause to ask ourselves if the number on this planet is 1 or 0.)
Pressing on, the equation combines guesstimates of the number of stars
with planets, the percentage of planets that develop life, the percentage
of those that develop intelligent life, etc.

Just like the Fermi paradox is good for starting all-night arguments, so is
the Drake equation.  Those focus either on the presence/absence of various
quantities in the equation or on what constitutes a plausible estimate for
those -- and to say that such estimates "vary a bit" is putting it mildly.
The good news there is that you can probably make a credible argument for
estimates remarkably different from anyone else's and get a paper out of it. ;)

That said, it's at least a stick in the ground: that is, it gives us something
to debate and thus to focus our thinking.  It tells us some of the things
that we need to know in order to answer the question, but it doesn't tell
us how to know those things or whether those are all the things we need to know.

Drake equation:

There are variations on the Drake equation that take other factors into
account; the Drake equation's been around for 60+ years and thus revisions
are inevitable.  There's one call the Saeger equation that takes a different
approach: the heck with *intelligent* life, can we detect *any* life?

Having been in a few of those bar arguments with other physicists,
all of whom were much better qualified than I am to be participating,
my fallback position is what I call the Kulawiec hypothesis (hey, it's mine
-- get your own!) which is that our best chance of detecting a *former*
intelligent civilization will be the electromagnetic emissions generated when
they annihilate themselves in a planetary thermonuclear exchange.  This is
the interstellar equivalent of "HELLO OUT THERE!...errr...ummm...goodbye."
Of course if they do themselves in via other means (destroying their
planet's ecosystem, mass drivers, epidemic, Nicki Minaj) then they
may pass without our knowledge.

But it's sobering to think that the culmination of billions of years of
evolution and the slow upward struggle of knowledge, the end product of
an entire civilization, the only thing that the entire rest of the galaxy
will ever know about them, will be a few photons dutifully recorded by
an automated observation system, and filed, unnoticed and unremarked,
in a database filled with other innocuous observations.

So maybe...let's not be them?

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