'Deep Thought' -Top Responses to the Weekend Poll Question: "Does a 1.5 GigaYear ET Civilization Exist?"
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October 18, 2010

'Deep Thought' -Top Responses to the Weekend Poll Question: "Does a 1.5 GigaYear ET Civilization Exist?"

6a00d8341bf7f753ef01348843373a970c-800wi Our 4.5 billion-year old Solar System exits in a universe that is estimated to be between 13.5 and 14 billion years old. Experts believe that there could be advanced civilizations out there that have existed for 1.8 gigayears (one gigayear = one billion years). What do you think? What would it look like? Do you think we we be able to detect it if it exists?

Here are our editors' top picks from your comments:

Rogers George:

Alas, I don't think we have that kind of company in the universe. Seems to me that a planet just plain doesn't have enough stuff in/on it to support the development of a technology that would get them to the stars, or even comfortably off their planet. Maybe a planet with lots of rare earths, and intelligent inhabitants who had a unified vision of stellar expansion early on, and carefully stewarded all their non-renewables to that end--maybe the inhabitants of that place could get off planet and fulfill our sci-fi dreams. It looks to me like we won't make it unless we figure out a way to do it all with renewables. And learn to get along better.


Dare I say a civilzation may be a trillion years in age... or is anyone's thought still limited by the (failing) big bang THEORY.


They almost certainly exist. If we assume a limit to development then they are waiting for us (and others)to reach that limit and join them. If there is no limit then every civilization is on a separate trajectory and interaction is futile.


The evolution of science has been as random and an outcome of pure luck as much as nature's evolution. It took a great deal of luck to evolve as a species, it took a great deal of luck to form an advanced civilization. Not every gigayear intelligent ET life we meet has to be more advanced than us. Mind you, there are still tribes in Australia (and elsewhere) that still live like it's 10,000 BC

Allan W Janssen:

Without a doubt! I don't think any reassonably advanced civilization would still be using flesh and blood bodies, but other than that, anything is possible with pure conciousness the best answer.


I think it is likely that many ancient civilizations exist in our universe of billions of stars in billions of galaxies. Whether they have left their place of existence or not will depend on their understanding of their ultimate demise. Since it's likely that every one of those civilizations would eventually face total destruction from natural causes such as their sun going nova then it's likely many would look to leaving their planet to survive. A civilization would need to be advanced enough to overcome the harsh environment of space and be able to travel vast distances to escape harm. They would need to either recycle the materials essential for their life or have the means to seek out and process those materials. If survival gets to the point of being no big deal anymore then what they do with their spare time is anyones guess. They could be benign, benevolent or destructive to any other life they encounter. It's anyones guess as to what they would look like and I think that we would only see them if they wanted us to see them... or if they slipped up and did something dumb like crashing in a desert.

Oscar Blyth:

As for why they do not interfere - we would never know whether they are interfering or not. All they would need to do is somehow prevent us from destroying ourselves. Their interest would to ensure the progression of human technological advancement. The Raymond Kurzweil sympathisers among us presume that the rate at which we could catch up to their technological advancement is rapidly accelerating. There's no need for them to interfere with us beyond ensuring our survival - and this is what many accounts of recent UFO involvement have confirmed: that the significant increase in sightings coincided with the dawn of the nuclear age. Extraterrestrials need only wait another 20-50 years before our technology becomes so advanced that we could potentially meet them on their level, and I'm sure they're willing to wait.

Jack Butler:

Most of the debate seems to be framed by Treder's three options, so I will begin by taking them in order. A) We are the only intelligent species? Looking at the density and prevalence of life on Earth--it can thrive almost anywhere--the intuitive answer to this is "not bloody likely." However, so far we have only one planet to study, and so cannot draw definite conclusions. In other words, this hypothesis strikes me as unlikely, but more importantly, it is a useless and circular hypothesis since we have no way to know. B) The "aliens" are there but have advanced far beyond our means of detection? This hypothesis certainly is attractive, especially when we project "technological" development in exponential terms. (Linear projection is exponential, but the exponent is 1.) Again, no way to assess the truth of this hypothesis. C) There's a species-killing cosmic block, possibly inherent self-destructiveness or nearby supernovas? This hypothesis strikes me as a sort of veiled hubris. It requires the supposition that the universe, for whatever reason, does not permit the survival of intelligence. No statistical process is likely to obliterate ALL intelligent life in such a vast domain as the universe, however large a fraction of that life it may destroy. Statistically, there should be survivors. Leaving all that aside, this hypothesis is, once again, undemonstrable. So what we are basically doing is guessing, and if we argue, we are arguing over things we cannot know. I would like to suggest a few possibilities not included in Treder's three. These too are guesses, but not common, and they do not require circular logic or hubris. 1) It's common to assume that "technological" advances (within a very narrow notion of what "technology" is) must inevitably result in FTL travel. What if that is not so? We have absolutely no evidence that it is possible to exceed the speed of light. What if C is indeed a physical limit? Then the the period of time required for signals from other intelligent species to reach our attention, assuming we could perceive them, would depend directly on the distance of those species. 2) What's the lifetime of a species? May we not safely assume that no species lives forever? This notion overlaps with 1), in that if the distance is too great, the species will likely die out before it can make contact, or we will die out before we can be visited. (When I say "die out," I include the notion of a species changing so much that it is no longer the same species, as dinosaurs are supposed to have given rise to birds.) Clearly, differentiation within our species has already begun and must continue, and eventually, even if we have descendants, those descendants will not be recognizable as humans. If I could live to 300, I would probably be able to visit the moon. But I can't live that long. How does the life of a species, on the whole, compare to the life of an individual? Is it greater or less than the ratio of the moon's distance to the distance of even the nearest stars? 3) (Related to both 1) and 2)) The known universe is inconceivably vast. I walk in the woods several times a week. The forest burgeons with life. But I am aware of only the tiniest portion of that life. I certainly do not visit every anthill in the forest, every clutch of bluejay eggs. Even when I hear signals from nearby creatures, like those same bluejays squawking, I take the signals as part of the (delightful) background of life. I do not, on the whole, investigate them. True, a few ornithologists and bird-watchers do. But of all the birds existing in one little forest on one little planet, how many do even the professionals study? And how much larger is the planet than just that forest, the solar system than the planet, the galaxy than the solar system, the observable universe than the galaxy? What are the odds we WOULD have visitors? Almost incalculably against.

J.C. de Haan:

Of course they exist. The only matter in this to consider is, that they do not exist in our dimension, but in another and higher dimension. They are, and have always been with us. They are us, and we are them. We are One. Look beyond your beliefs and you just know, they are here.


If such a civilization(s) exist, they would exist in forms that would defy any technological notions or understanding... Such beings must have managed to fuse themselves with their technology which enables them to integrate with the physics of our universe. Kryptonian-like.

Maj Brit:

It would be able to manipulate whatever it wanted. Space/time - Genetics - Organic technology. It could take any form and mimic any kind of life it would like to encounter and study without intruding. It will be able to map billions of galaxies in precise detail. It will be able to forecast their maps millions of years ahead with great accuracy.


I just had a thought when reading these - if a civilization that age DID have the capability to reach us, they would have classified Earth as an ideal planet for hosting life. In that case, they could have seeded life on Earth.

The main problem, if intelligent life does exist elsewhere, is the collossal distances involved. Taking Gliese 581c as an example, any form of signal from that planet would take at least 20 years to travel to Earth. If we sent a signal now, putting aside the cost, it would be at least 40 years before we receive a reply. Using the fastest rocket we have at the moment, the Saturn V, it would take over 600,000 years to reach the planet. The alleged civilisation would have to be far more advanced than ourselves to be able to traverse this distance in a reasonable timeframe. And as Hawking says, would we really want to meet any civilisation that advanced?

Yes it is true one cannot travel past the spead of light, but thats where the concept of warping comes into play. There is no reason to believe that this would be impossible. Actually, to the contrary, there is proof out there in different forms proving that it is very possible.

Unfortunately I do not think it likely. First, no planet is able to provide sufficient resources to permit travel over huge distances -- necessary to escape life-destroying supernovas that would become a real issue with such timeframes. Second, is we are observing with our own planet, any species that has evolved in a given planet will be preprogrammed to ultimately consume the resources of that planet and destroy its biosphere. I think that we are only hundreds of years way from discovering that there is, indeed, a cosmic limit to intelligent life.

Perhaps what science needs is to borrow a concept from those that seem to be at odds with it. I’m talking about faith. Science attempts to draw huge paint strokes of the universe being one way or another, but perhaps it’s faith we need – not religious faith – but faith that other civilizations are out there and we will find them or vice versa when the time is right.
Faith that we will overcome our problems and will persist and move forward our future as a race.

Have we even figured out whether or not intelligent life exists on Earth?

Maybe one aspect of Star Trek The Next Generation is actually factual-Aliens might reach a developmental level equivalent to the Q Continuum,although hopefully without the character played by John de Lancie.

It is possible that the civilization we are talking about have been here before and we have mistaken them for god or gods. There is equally no evidence of a diety as there is for extra-terrestrials.

Many of you don't think out of the box. I can tell who is mind set for global warming and non-renewable resources. What I'll call a greenie. Advanced civilizations are out there. Yes, some could be at least a billion years ahead of us depending on location in our local galaxy. (or beyond)and(assuming no GRB's (Gamma Ray Burst)or other mega disasters have befallen them. Also based on the time of formation of their planet. So with that said, we have planets and moons,, not to mention asteroids and comets that can be "mined" for every thing we need to survive and move on to the stars. There are a Trillion, trillion tons of water, minerals and metals just in the asteroids and comets alone. Enough for them or us to use for millions of years and beyond. Many of you are too ground based to think "out there" so you think of Earthly resourses only. Folks the sky is full of everything we need and what it does not have we can grow here, aboard spaceships or on other planets. NASA is working on this now, if it has not been cut by the Government.

Liam (Bradey) its a theory that one cannot travel faster than the speed of light, not a fact, all of Ienstiens(spell checker not working) theories are just that, theories, and more and more scientists are doubting his theories.

Triffid: That is just what I was thinking.Limitless resources await a civilization who can harvest it.

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