Comment of the Day: "The Unknown Unknowns of the Universe"
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December 31, 2012

Comment of the Day: "The Unknown Unknowns of the Universe"

 

 

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"I've long suspected that the rise of spacefaring intelligent life is so unlikely that we will never encounter another within our causal lightcone. In a universe of infinite size (as ours seems to be) the weak anthropic principle has an infinitely powerful ability to explain our existence, no matter how unlikely. As a great man once said, there are the known unknowns, and the unknown unknowns. We know that we don't yet know some basic things, such as how likely habitable planets are (to date we've only found hunks of rock in zones that might conceivably be habitable), how unlikely the eukaryotic mutations were, how unlikely intelligent tool-users are to evolve, how unlikely the development of a scientific Western Civ was (remember, most civs were still Neolithic even a few hundreds years ago), and even how likely free capitalist societies are (what if the Communists or Nazis had won out in this world?). But there are probably even more things we still don't know about the chain of coincidences that led us here. The Drake equation probably ends up with quite a few more variables than is generally appreciated."

TallDave

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Comments

Agree.

The Drake equation aside, one of the biggest unknowns is whether "spacefaring" is possible. If so, then the Drake equation could possibly be resolved. If not, human beings, or any other species, will likely never know the incidence of intelligent life in the universe.

We don't need to have warp drive starships in order to discover whether intelligence exists elsewhere in the universe and neither do they Rocker. There are alternatives such as using probes, potential radio communication, discovery of structures via telescopes, discovery of artifacts in the solar system etc.

" how unlikely the development of a scientific Western Civ was (remember, most civs were still Neolithic even a few hundreds years ago), and even how likely free capitalist societies are (what if the Communists or Nazis had won out in this world?)."

Give me a break, you're assigning social variables that involved the development of science as they pertain to humans to a potential alien race. Ridiculous, scratch these variables and you have an argument, albeit still flawed.

The Drake equation probably ends up with quite a few more variables than is generally appreciated

Life may be the product of being twice-cooked. Say Sol originated in the Magellanic cloud(s) and had an ordinary life when suddenly there was a second life. The LT starbit (black hole) lost pressure, collapsed, and spewed pure gas. The blow out may have caught several suns/planets, etc and brushed out these newly revived bodies with their fragments of former life (galactic winds).
Some of these still wander and some were captured by the neighboring galaxy the MW. Sol, now immensely magnetic, prolifically produced complex molecules intimately connected to life. Viola! Here we are.

I love this site not just for the interesting articles but mostly to see other people's comments and interesting ideas. I wish I could find more sites like this that push peoples thoughts and imagination.

The Drake Equation, if I understand its Wikipedia-reading, seems based on a fundamentally false premise: Life evolved in a “naturally” created Universe. But what if life was deliberately breathed into Earth's Biosphere by a Creator? And what if man arose, not by swirling chance—through environmental conditions, genetic mutations, Natural Selection, and assorted natural forces—but a Maker's shaping Hand? By the element-transforming touch of an Extraterrestrial Intelligence of infinitely superior Mind and Power: who conceived, planned, then made the Cosmos; ordering it in, and framing it by law. And who from vision, purpose-built Earth for life.

Not only that, but may have formed innumerable worlds, orbiting countless stars, strewn through vast arrays of galaxies, networked within expanding time, and swarming through unfolding space Cosmos-Design—to intention of populating those endless habitability-zoned planets with life! Worlds specially made, as originally-wrought; positioned, as originally placed—for LIFE. I wonder how that equation would be written out? Philosophical considerations (Anthropic Principle, e.g.) aside; expressions that do not necessarily equate to demonstrable fact, or observable reality.

- “...to date we've only found hunks of rock in zones that might conceivably be habitable...” Nice to read someone who simply describes the actual Science of what has been discovered so far. Some intelligent people are practically populating the uncovered “habitable-zone”-exoplanets with teeming life (based on the hypothesis of "abiogenesis"), or at least, animating niches thereon with “simple”-cell organisms (creating a whole chain of assumptions to make it possible). Warping their ships of imagination far ahead of known space, going into the unknown, where Science has not yet gone, seeking out alien life. And, as is often discernible, assuming far too much.

- About things we don't know, may one suggest something intellectuals generally do not want to know, or even consider: that the “chain of coincidences", hanging loose from other chains of fortuitous linkage, which are said to have shaped man's destiny, may be wrapped around a huge supposition of philosophical “Theory” that cannot adequately explain what Science has, and is revealing. A world-established “Theory”, said to be proven Science, which, at its supporting trunk (holding-up the entire branch-work, of root concept), may be wrong.

(I can hear the gasps from here.)

Of course, that would leave the primary, aforementioned alternative. And that is just too much to seriously consider, with implications that are too heavy to contemplate.

Rene, keep the religion out of it and focus on the science please.

A closed mind will never see the whole picture.

Actually Rene might be closer to the truth of the matter then you think Zolinski, but rather than thinking of mans destiny being the work of a creator I think it would be better said that it is the necessity of a higher order. For example, all of the minutest living processes within a aphids body at birth work in unison with each other to develop the end product that is a butterfly; like the life cycle of a butterfly, it is likely that the creative ability of man is a necessity for the development of a higher order than ourselves. Does a individual heart, liver, or brain cell understand its systemic purpose as it lives out its life cycle within its environment in relation to the body as a whole? The answer is no but the human intellect does and is beautifully described by Vladimir Vernadsky and his Noosphere as it relates to mans purpose in the biosphere and universe at large.

Travelling in spacecraft to get to earth isnt going to happen, its the 'old fashioned' way. The aliens would be type 3 civ beings who would use wormholes to get here. Yes they probably can generate the energy required for wormholes.

@ 12

"We don't need to have warp drive starships in order to discover whether intelligence exists elsewhere in the universe and neither do they Rocker. There are alternatives such as using probes, potential radio communication, discovery of structures via telescopes, discovery of artifacts in the solar system etc."

I hear you 100% . . . but those would have to be the absolutely ideal conditions without spacefaring capabilities. Counting on radio waves, future telescopes that can resolve discreet objects the size of cities at 20,000+ light years, or hoping that we've been visited isn't a very effective or practical way of comprehensive exploration, let alone interaction. But, that could indeed out best stab.

We all know that nothing in our current understanding of physics categorically precludes FTL or even LS travel, but IMHO, to truly discover or catalog exo-life, we're counting on the fact that something in physics will definitely allow spacefaring travel.

Perhaps, a simpler answer might be worth considering: life, and also intelligence, might arise or have arisen plentifully throughout the cosmos, but all are trapped in their own systems because there's no way to get from A to B or Z in order to truly explore or expand.

Useable FTL, wormholes or "warp drive" are anthropomorphic constructs at this point. We don't know what the future will hold, and although I'd love to believe in space travel, I don't think we can assume the laws of physics are set in place for our convenience.

A very common assumption seems to be that FTL exists and is just waiting for us to discover it. We can hope that's the case, but we're talking about a huge universe here that may not have "cosmic highways" as part of its design.

12 -- "Give me a break, you're assigning social variables that involved the development of science as they pertain to humans to a potential alien race. Ridiculous, scratch these variables and you have an argument, albeit still flawed."

I'm actually asking how likely any set of such variables are to result in a spacefaring civilization. I just only have the one known set to analyze :)

Whatever the physiological/psychological/social similarities or differences an alien race might have, it seems very likely they have to develop something like science to become spacefaring. And that's where the weak anthropic principle makes one wonder -- since we have to be a (science-using) spacefaring race before we can ask if there are others, how unlikely are the variables that led us here?

What's especially interesting about this line of inquiry is that 1) even free inquiry itself, let alone science, seems to have been an anomalous human cultural development, 2) there are certain principles of politico-economic relations that are very likely to apply to any sapient race, see Hayek's "The Uses of Knowledge in Society" as cited in the last post, and 3) even knowing the principles, relatively few human societies have been willing/able to successfully apply them.

For example, all of the minutest living processes within a aphids body at birth work in unison with each other to develop the end product that is a butterfly; like the life cycle of a butterfly, it is likely that the creative ability of man is a necessity for the development of a higher order than ourselves.


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