Walt Mankowski on 2 Mar 2017 13:08:57 -0800

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Re: [PLUG] "Nearby"

This is getting more and more off-topic, but I'd be remiss if I didn't
recommend a wonderful short story by Charlie Jane Anders called "The
Fermi Paradox Is Our Business Model". It's darkly funny and
thought-provoking, and you can read it for free at


On Thu, Mar 02, 2017 at 03:49:18PM -0500, 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: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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?
> ---rsk
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