"Humans May be One of the Early Intelligent Species in the Universe" (Weekend Feature)
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October 06, 2012

"Humans May be One of the Early Intelligent Species in the Universe" (Weekend Feature)





Arthur C Clarke once wrote that a trillion years from now an advanced civilization will look back at us with envy and say "They knew the Universe when it was young."

We may soon discover that intelligent life, indeed, may be in it's "very young" stage in the observable Universe. Its 200 billion galaxies show a clear potential to continue on as we see them today for hundreds of billions of years, if not much longer. Because planets and life are so young in our Universe, says Harvard's Dimitar Sasselov, perhaps "the human species are not late comers to the party. We may be among the early ones."
That may explain why we see no evidence of "them" and may go a long way to explaining the famous Fermi Paradox, which asks if there's advanced intelligent life in the Universe, where are they? Why haven't we discovered any evidence of their existence

The story of the Universe according to Sasselov in is new study, The Life of Super-Earths, looks like this: generations of stars made enough iron and oxygen, silicon and carbon, and all the other elements from the original hydrogen and helium about 13 billion years ago to be able to form the Earth we live on and the planets the Kepler Mission is discovering today.

Stable environments in galaxies that were enriched enough to have planets only became available some nine billion years ago and rocky Earth-like planets and larger super-Earths, only some 7 to 8 billion years ago. And Life had to wait until that time if not later to begin its emergence throughout the Universe. Between 7 and 9 billion years ago, enough heavy elements were available for the complex chemistry needed for life to emerge were in place along with the terrestrial planets with stable environments necessary for chemical concentration.

Enrico Fermi argued that given the old age of the Universe and given the large number of stars and planetary systems and the incredibly short timescale it took humans to develop technology that other origins of life and civilizations in the Milky Way could have had a significant head start and should be significantly more advanced than we are.

Sasselov concludes that the statistical argument for Fermi's Paradox "holds true only if the timescale for the emergence of life is much shorter than the age of the universe, but not so if the two are comparable." The future for life in the Universe looks excellent, says Sasselov.

Planets may be just a tiny fraction of the Universe because of their small size, but there are so many of them that the probability of life grows exponentially. The Universe is passing through the stelliferous era --its peak of star formation--but appears to be still peaking in its formation of planets. There are more stars in the Universe than there are grains of sand on Earth and there are an equal number of planets.

There are 200 billion stars in the Milky Way and 90% are small enough and old enough to have planets in orbit. And only 10% of these stars were formed with enough heavy elements to have Earth-like planets with 2% of these --or 100 million super-Earths and Earths-- will orbit within their star's habitable zone.

Sasselov's argument in The Life of Super-Earths is compelling. One has to wonder, however, that if another planet out there in the Milky Way (and billions of galaxies beyond) is only a billion years older than Earth, how much more advanced and detectable would their technology be?

As Arthur C. Clarke famously wrote, any advanced alien technology would be indistinguishable from magic.

The Daily Galaxy via www.cfa.harvard.edu/



Statistically it is highly improbable that there is not sentient life somewhere else in the Cosmos (remember that term from Carl Sagan?) If they more advanced AND close enough they are most likely smart enough to not advertise their presence. If in fact habitable worlds are few then do we really want 'them' to know where we are?

Fascinating article, love to look at stuff from a different angle...just a couple of things though:
'There are 200 billion stars in the Milky Way and 90% are small enough and old enough to have planets in orbit. And only 10% of these stars were formed with enough heavy elements to have Earth like planets with 2% of these--or 100 million super - earths and earths-- will orbit within their star's habitable zone.' That's 360 million, according to my calculator. But the thing that is really getting to me is that apostrophe in the title. I can't bear it. Please do something!

"Humen." Better?

I have always been puzzled by the anthropomorphism embraced by adherents of Fermi's Paradox. If some distant civilizations have mastered the incredible energies and societal complexities necessary for travel between stars, who are we to guess at their motivations and philosophies, with only our meager experience as a reference?
If such civilizations do exist, then numerous valid reasons -reasons beyond the scope of humanity's paradigms- may also exist that could explain why they have not yet made contact and why we have not perceived evidence of their existence.

1. Where are they? We'll you might be able to ask that with a more informed position if in fact we had surveyed even say 20-25% of the visible universe. How far have we gotten on that front? Not very far at all. We may be the only known advanced civilization in the Milky Way, but what about the other 100 billion galaxies. What about the earliest galaxies in the universe. Surely they have had enough time to develop some form of intelligent life.

2. Is basically the same question as (1) Why haven't we detected them yet? Well that's even easier to answer than (1) Most of our study of the universe has centered around looking for coded radio signals from space. This assumes they would have been broadcasting radio signals like our civilization has. For all we know radio could be the lowest known form of cosmic communication. Yes radio waves travel at the speed of light, but as we all know the speed of light is a cosmic speed limit and therefore is bound by the distances separating us. There must be a quantum way of communicating that bypasses this natural speed limit. Making trans galactic communication possible.

On the surface Fermi's questions make sense, and i see the logic in what he is trying to say. However there are just too many unknown variables to make an educated guess on this subject. It is one of the biggest questions the human race has ever attempted to answer. Second only to how did all of this begin?

None of that explains why I am "me" of all people, why I am stuck inside "this" body and not some other.

Posted by: Alex | October 06, 2012 at 04:22 PM

None of that explains why I am "me" of all people, why I am stuck inside "this" body and not some other.

You're not seeing the whole picture. There is no absence of material on a micro molecular level between you and I or you and anything or anybody. There is no absence of molecules or quarks between us and everything else so I would assert there is no "me" nor "you" but instead a collective soup of "we".

I think you should have also mentioned that adding the time required to travel between galaxies to the time required to develop life would mean that the possibility of us having seen a species from another galaxy insanely low. Unless the other species was to develop a way to travel several orders faster than light speed.

The Andromeda Galaxy is approximately 2.5 megalight-years away. That means it would take at least 2.5 million years to for even a radio signal to each a planet there. Theoretical space ships are looking at speeds of around 10% the speed of light so the journey would take 25 million years. The only beings we could possibly see would be some sort of multi generational nomadic space tribe.

Let's discover unicellular life first, before we even talk about sentient life. We don't know when life got started on Earth. It wasn't until roughly 580 million years ago that free oxygen came to govern our planet's atmospheric chemistry. Most chemically capable life bacteria/archaea, on this world needs two things; a carbon source to replenish its substance and an electron acceptor,for energy.

Life creation alone is the biggest evolutionary enigma and hurdle, forget about ‘Sentient life’ that is the principal impediment. Banal simple 'Life' may exist yes but if that immense hurdle is crossed a sentient life is not a given evolution. Any evidence of any extraterrestrial organisms, even a mere bug or bacteria, would be of huge scientific interest and importance. On planet Earth Prokaryotes did not show up until 3.8 billion years ago. Prokaryotes use a lot of diverse things as electron acceptors. Multicellular life uses oxygen. Oxygen is a enormous option since hanging electrons gets a plenty of oomph. Oxygen building up in the atmosphere took another 3.3 billion years. It was only 580-500 million years ago photosynthetic bacteria's oxygen production finally inundated the capacity of dissolved iron to precipitate as rust in the stripy iron formations. This is when the first complex multicellular life appeared and later coincided with the Cambrian Explosion.

But life that can define why, how, when and where we are heading within 10,000 years of ‘their’ known civilisation is something that I think will be very rare even in trillion upon trillion stars. Drake equation makes a lot of sense as far unicellular and multicellular life is concerned so far we have not discovered any on SETI and Fermi Paradox reigns supreme if they are there where they are?

Life that is not conscious cannot define space, time and event horizon; a life that cannot define time and cannot live with the reality of general theory of relativity will have problems defining the course of our universe. It is not a given fact that an oxygen-dominated atmosphere and water close to its triple point — the minimum necessary criteria for survival on a planetary surface will evolve that way it did on our planet.

The neural connections and ambidexterity associated with bipedalism and ability to speak than grunt all are extraordinary event each one bordering an infinite hurdle in a sequence of actions that may yield a conscious being. These action correspond to a unique set of probability that happens in one in a rare trillion events.

In a strange accumulation of stardust that we are, it is really a jackpot that all our stardust accumulated in a manner that we question our beginning and our end with scientific certainty in no time once we became conscious, this trail of event will only happen in a limited habitable zone of the universe and hence stardust becoming conscious is an enormously low prospect.What we are looking for is the sentient life, that is our hunt.

Every one of unique individual ‘human is finale, zenith and the peak’ of the 14.7 billion years from The Big Bang; let’s not waste unique 'evolution' of our beginning by ignoring pain and misery of man. It is for this, I always keep repeating that let's love beyond religion and dogma everyone.

We are so unique but we are so indifferent to each other, we are indifferent to pain of each other; we think pain has a colour, or a religion or belief; famine and lack of opportunity is our collective failure as a 'unique collection of trillion upon trillion of star dust remnants' that epitomise The Big Bang. Criminal and negligent death through injustice and famine is the ‘death of entire humanity!’ We need to transcend onto the Human level and look upon this earth as an astronaut, borderless and one.

For me that 'universal pain' is important to register, let’s not forget we as a part of 'singularity and remnant of star dust' are part of each other. If one of our part is subject to unfairness we should condemn it instead of looking at it indifferently.

You mean to say; we have the WHOLE universe to ourselves, that we will
never be able to get to? Is God playing a joke on us?

...Once again we humans are boxed in by our nearsightedness. We continue to analyze the universe from our limited knot hole. Using 25 year old technologies in a 15 billion year old universe. Consequently, we persist on thinking that somehow life was made for us and we are the center of attention. We spend way too much time watching Hollywood space villains and monsters instead of venturing out to find the real ones. Its time for us to pull our heads out of the sand and take off the blinders. The known and unknown universes are made up of astounding, beautiful and terrifying realities. We need to push off from earth's shores and plunge into the darkness. Only then will we begin to fear and appreciate our circumstances...

Dre comments:
"I have always been puzzled by the anthropomorphism embraced by adherents of Fermi's Paradox. If some distant civilizations have mastered the incredible energies and societal complexities necessary for travel between stars, who are we to guess at their motivations and philosophies, with only our meager experience as a reference?
If such civilizations do exist, then numerous valid reasons -reasons beyond the scope of humanity's paradigms- may also exist that could explain why they have not yet made contact and why we have not perceived evidence of their existence"

Absolutely! Our anthropocentric conceits still manage to persuade us that humankind represents a pinnacle of development whereas, viewed objectively it is clear that our species (and biology, for that matter) is but a tiny cog in the machinations of nature.

Within decades it is near certain that our present role of predominant cognitive entity on this planet will be assumed by what is at present the Internet.

The basis for this proposition is discussed in the free e-books available from my website.

I think it's arrogant and ignorant to even suppose that we're the most advanced civilization in our own galaxy. We've surveyed so little of our own galaxy; we've only been 'listening' for a fraction of our own existence and even our own radio waves have gone little more than 100 light years. I know scientists have to be purists and go based on 'what is known' but to call yourself a scientist and even put forth the notion that we're the only sentient life in this galaxy or any other makes me want to laugh.

Even if a percent of a percent of a percent of planets in the universe support life and even if only a small percentage of those give rise to intelligent life, it's still a busy universe. Some people take flying spaghetti monsters on faith. I take a universe teeming with intelligent life on faith. It's more realistic.

Skeptics and minimizers of an ET presence in the galaxy lean hard on the Fermi Paradox to back their position but what many folks don't know is the Fermi Paradox developed from a very casual conversation over lunch at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, in 1950 or thereabouts, and the catalyst for the conversation was a recent batch of UFO sightings.


Of course there's life out there.
The only real question is where. Oh and the fact it needs to transmit some sort of information for us to catch. Like radio or light.

Hey. Even if we were able to watch an Earth copy it still would have to be relatively close for us to detect the general radio signals and night light. The signals would have to be pointed directly at us if we should be able to detect if from great distance.

And as we "know".
Neither bunnies or dinosaurs are able to transmit light or radio waves ;) A certain level of both intelligence and technological development stage needs to be achieved.
People 4000 years ago weren't much dumber than today but the technological development and knowledge collection about it wasn't there to make it possible either.

It would be wise for us to reserve comment on the status of conscious beings other than ourselves but to explore that possiblity still ranks of high priority.......

I believe it was Arthur C. Clark who said that if we discover intelliget life or not, both are just as important in their consequences...........

My research of evidence in understanding this subject concludes me to state that simple cell life may be very common in the universe but evolving to intellgence requires so many variables including avoiding and/or recovering from cosmic calamadities that we are fortunate we made it to this point on Earth alone.....

Then again......intelligent life with as little as a 100 year and even up to a billion year head start on our current technologies?

Maybe one of them created this universe as a science project?

Yikes!...........things can get intense when you let the imagination speculate.......

Why life should be carbon based everywhere ? May be the other civilized aliens are not coming here as earth's environment is inhospitable for them ?We need to think out of box!
The entire system evolved on earth due to its own critical variables and probabilistic occurances of favourable events and that need not be partially/fully matched to another planet!We should not try to superimposing each and every phenomenon what occured here.
Look at us alone,how diverseified the end outcome of earth's carbon based life so while looking elsewhere in universe we need to be open minded for more diversity.
For an ending example - Fishes cannot live in air and birds cannot live inside water - air/water is inhospiatble in a way for either of them !
So don't assume the other hospitable planet should have only water or air etc etc !

@Tejo - why is carbon stated as life building blocks? A) becuase its a sound reason based on observation on this planet and b) scientists know very well, all the elements which exist in this universe and what combinations can be made from what...
so, since the universe, its beginning of time, carbon formed from triple -alpha process in stars will be apart of any life found elsewhere, its a mandatory key ingredient required for any further element structure building.
There is no 'outside the box' thinking required. (unless you want to discuss outside this lawful operating universe.

When Fermi came up with his paradox just after the Second World War, was any nation on Earth psychologically / socially prepared enough to greet extraterrestrial intelligence? Even today the majority of humanity might begin worshiping a visiting ET as some sort of gods; the others in humanity might consider the visitors a threat. No, it would be much better for a visiting civilization to hide themselves from the primitives (us) until we are psychologically prepared to meet them. They may even begin preparing us through popular fiction or entertainment ( Star Trek anyone? )

Statically it is highly imporbable that their is much intelligent life in the universe. 1 gamma ray explosion exterminates all life within millions of light years, and they are happening all the time. Also, 98% of the universes heat has dissapated leaving not mych time till it come to a frozen end at absolute zro.

Within 2 minutes of reading this piece I was reading a piece at the Huffington Post in which a major institute's senior scientist and chief astronomer is suggesting that the time has come to investigate seriously the provenance of the hundreds of thousands/millions of sightings of anomalous, apparently intelligently helmed aerial objects. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/06/ufos-should-be-studied-by-science_n_1941157.html

On DG here and now we're considering the sheer unlikelihood of ET and at the very same time in other serious journals we're invited to consider seriously that there's almost daily evidence of prolific visitation.

Jumping back and forth from one paradigm to the other I can't help but feel the immense disconnect between these two positions.

Where or what is this disconnect? I'm quite fascinated by the psychological issues manifested by all these yay/nay scientists. And the nay guys' retreat from commitment to doing their jobs: that is, to scientifically and with integrity investigate what is clearly a planet-wide phenomenon - whether it be an epidemic of poor eyesight or wishful thinking or genuine events involved intelligences not of planet Earth. (It's akin to another branch of science, medicine, where the small but currently dominant faction produces hi-tech chemical concoctions of often dubious efficacy to treat disease whilst the majority of the world still relies on folk remedies which are equally and even more effective - as hi-tech medicine is now quite grudgingly conceding).

These 'scientific' naysayers have a plethora of evidence to investigate, confirm or discount. Yet they remain entrenched in thought experiments that are flawed to begin with and wilfully blind to the fact that hundreds of thousands of people experience or report possible alien craft sightings every year. Good grief! What an amazing opportunity for them to test their Lonely Universe faith!

What's the matter with them?

I'm as sceptical as any scientist. But the fact remains that whilst some of us are still stuck in navel gazing aided by dodgy lunchbreak theorising etc, the rest of us are actually looking at the stars and wondering WTH we just saw....

Actually I agree your point if we consider it for earth or aerth like planet.I think in the universe all the earth like world which gone through identical evolutionary phase should be capabale of containing life that carbon base - more specifically DNA/RNA based.
Historically our thought process is like learn to imagine by observing natural things and invent/discover the way how we can made it artificially - for example aeroplane.
This is okay if we are inside our system of planet earth,rather when we try to make it artificial and missed some of the tuning we create an unrest in the system - that is polution.
But outside of our system this might not be the case,I doubt we need still 250 - 500 years to judge the galaxy. We are so slow now compared to universe as were we once compared to earth when Julse verne famously wrote "Around the world in 80 days".
So our way of imagine things by observing things happening inside this system may not help to judge some system evolved even 1000 light years away.
But okay for a head start we started to search life form like earth as it is simplest way to get close to a higher probability but that does not mean in future we won't face anything that is not like entirely but still living !

there was a UFO sighting above Los Angeles in 1942:

Your misspelling of 'calamities' is so calamitous that I doubt we, as a species, can survive it. Please refrain from posting further, so as to leave at least a small window open for our possible survival.

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