Sunday, April 27, 2014

Bob Prokop on Skepticism about Extra-Terrestrial Intellgence

If Bob is right, the devotees of SETI can eat their heart out.

Here. 

Bob, if I recall correctly, you have the support of the late great Joe Sheffer on this one. (Appeal to authority, appeal to authority).

This post has nothing to do with religion that I know of.

19 comments:

B. Prokop said...

Victor,

You are correct. It has absolutely nothing to do with religion... but it has gigantic implications for philosophy. After all, "Are we alone?" is one of Mankind's great unanswered questions.

As for my "pessimism" expressed in the link you provided, the situation since those comments were made has actually gotten far worse. The Kepler Space Telescope has discovered literally thousands of "exoplanets" (planets circling other stars), but unfortunately for SETI enthusiasts, these newly-discovered planets have tended to lessen the likelihood of extraterrestrial intelligence. A large proportion of the newly-discovered solar systems are dominated by what astronomers call "Hot Jupiters", that is, enormous gas giants close in to their stars (where Earth and the other rocky planets are in ours), ruling these systems out as stable environments for intelligence to flourish.

All we've basically done in the past decade or so is to add several more limiting variables to the Drake equation. We're already at the point where the most reasonable answer to "How many technological civilizations are there at present in the Milky Way?" is one - that is, us. At this rate, it's amazing that the answer isn't zero. Our very being is looking more and more like a miracle. (I guess that's sorta religion.)

Ilíon said...

"All we've basically done in the past decade or so is to add several more limiting variables to the Drake equation. "

Which has no real relationship to reality even before that.

B. Prokop said...

"Which has no real relationship to reality even before that."

Mostly true - I quite agree. But the Drake Equation remains the most useful tool we have for at least framing the question in intelligible terms. What is important at this point in time is to determine the variables. We're still a long way off from assigning real world values to most of the variables.

Papalinton said...

Bob concludes in his OP: "The fact that they aren't (or weren't), I believe, screams volumes. They aren't there."

Given the hyper-distances between constituent bodies within the cosmos this seems little more than a premature invocation of the 'absence of evidence is evidence for absence' maneuver.

But I tend to agree with Bob, in the sense that SETI has a ring of Pascal's Wager about it. But then, if there is one life form that we know of, and we know of the millions of successful varieties that that life form has taken expression on this planet, and for the fact that there is indeed life on this planet to begin with, it increases the probability of other life forms evolving elsewhere in the cosmos consistent with the conditions in which they could in all likelihood be very different to what we know.

But I can understand why SETI is being undertaken because it is neither complicated nor expensive and one day it might, might just listen in on something. After all, there are those that suggest that either information or intelligence might be the universal ground of existence. And again, given experiencing first-hand the multitude of successful ways replicative life has generated on this single planet, the model suggests that the promulgation, dispersal or actuation of this intelligence or information would unlikely be restricted to a single medium or carrier.

But, of course, all this is lovely speculation. I don't think anyone is in a position to declare one position or the other as definitive.

William said...

http://www.keckobservatory.org/recent/entry/astronomy_talk_the_search_for_other_earths

Papalinton said...

I very much enjoyed the video, William.

Papalinton said...

Bob, have you watched THIS PRESENTATION from the Keck Observatory posted earlier by William? It seems to be at odds with your perspective that earth-like exoplanets within a 'habitable zone' are zero. That is certainly not what the data seems to be suggesting.

B. Prokop said...

"earth-like exoplanets within a 'habitable zone' are zero"

Actually just attended (last Thursday) a lecture by the chief scientist for the Kepler mission, and that was pretty much his conclusion. The popular press unfortunately bandies about the term "Earthlike" way too much when talking about exoplanets. Usually what they mean by that term is that the object in question has a similar diameter and mass. But that is only one of many, many characteristics that would go into making a true Earth analog.

For instance, an "Earthlike" world in the habitable zone of a red dwarf would be so close to its star that it would be tidally locked - that is, one side perpetually in daylight, the other in eternal night. On such a world, any atmosphere or water would rapidly freeze out on the night side, and the daylight hemisphere would resemble our own Moon. And red dwarfs make up 80% of the Milky Way's stars.

In systems dominated by a Hot Jupiter, the orbits of any "Earthlike" world would be highly unstable, making climate change as constant on such worlds as is our weather. Even worse, Jovian-type planets possess absolutely enormous magnetic fields filled with lethal radiation. In our own solar system, were we able to see Jupiter's radiation belts with our naked eye, they would appear many times larger than the full moon in our sky! And by "lethal", I do not use that term lightly. Today, when we send a spacecraft to Jupiter, we have to carefully design flight trajectories to avoid the worst areas of radiation, else the on board electronics would be fried within a matter of hours. For an unshielded human being, to venture anywhere near to Jupiter would mean a quick and rather unpleasant death.

So all of those newly discovered systems with Hot Jupiters (by a wide margin the majority so far), any planets within the habitable zone would be regularly sterilized.

I could continue, but that would take a really long posting. Just a few more requirements, before we can even start talking about "Earthlike":

- presence of a large moon (to stabilize axial tilt, and possibly responsible for plate tectonics)
- now that I've brought it up, plate tectonics (otherwise, we'd look like Venus - not a pleasant prospect). The Earth is the only body in our solar system that demonstrates plate tectonics on a planetary scale over long periods of time.
- a Jupiter-like world just outside the habitable zone (as in our system) to clear the area of debris (thus preventing frequent mass extinctions caused by impacts)
- a star that is not variable, pulsating, and definitely not a Flare Star (which category includes the majority of stars in our galaxy). These stars at irregular intervals will erupt in solar flares which can cover 25% of the surface of the star, spewing enough energy into its surroundings that, were our own sun such a star, the moons of Saturn would repeatedly be melted!

There are many more such requirements before one can legitimately start talking about "Earthlike", but these should suffice for now.

B. Prokop said...

By the way, Linton, there is an enormous difference between the questions, "Does extraterrestrial life exist?" and "Do extraterrestrial technological civilizations, capable of making their presence known across interstellar distances, exist?" And SETI is basically trying to answer the latter question.

I personally am rather an optimist as regards there being life all over the place. I still hold out hope for finding some in some as yet unexplored corner of our own solar system! Perhaps on Ceres (which I observed just last night) or Europa, or deep underground on Mars. But I'll admit to being an extreme "pessimist" as to intelligence. (Sometimes I'm not so sure there's any on this planet!)

This brings us to the last variable in the much-debated Drake Equation, which is "How long do such civilizations last?" I wonder how many people realize that the concept of Nuclear Winter, although originally proposed by scientists in the 1970s, was first brought to public attention by Carl Sagan, who seized upon the idea as a possible explanation for why SETI had been so unsuccessful *. His rather dismal theory was that the overwhelming majority of extraterrestrial civilizations blow themselves up as soon as they appear ("soon", that is, on cosmic time scales - i.e., within a hundred years or so). We see variants of that idea today, where some environmentalists predict that Mankind will alter the climate and poison the Earth to such an extent that we will be the cause of our own extinction.

Hmmm... It seems that, despite Victor's wondering how this topic had any connection to religion, it certainly has come round to one of ethics, that is, "How must we, as a civilization, live in order to preserve the planet for future generations?"

Perhaps the real answer to "Why haven't we detected any extraterrestrial civilizations?" is that the only ones which survive over cosmically significant timescales are those that eschew technology, live in harmony with nature, and are therefore undetectable outside of their immediate neighborhood. (Just as we ourselves would have been undetectable until a hundred years ago or so.)

* See HERE for an interesting chart showing the occurrence of the term "nuclear winter" over the past 100 years.

im-skeptical said...

"Hmmm... It seems that, despite Victor's wondering how this topic had any connection to religion, it certainly has come round to one of ethics, that is, "How must we, as a civilization, live in order to preserve the planet for future generations?""

Perhaps if we didn't have the Michelle Bachman types who insist that all will be made right in the apocalypse, then people would be more concerned about the long-term well-being of our planet.

B. Prokop said...

"Perhaps if we didn't have the Michelle (sic) Bachman (sic) types who insist that all will be made right in the apocalypse, then people would be more concerned about the long-term well-being of our planet."

Whaddaya know, skep? We agree on something!

But Bachmann's problem is that she hasn't taken seriously the countless exhortations in the Bible for Mankind to care for the Earth as its stiȝwearden.

Ilíon said...

B.Proleft: "Whaddaya know, skep? We agree on something!"

Of course you do ... you're leftists

B.Pretruth: "But Bachmann's problem is that she hasn't taken seriously the countless exhortations in the Bible for Mankind to care for the Earth as its stiȝwearden."

... which is to say, you're contractually obligated either to demonize non-leftists or to lie about them ...

B.Preconsistency: "... live in a 5-bedroom, 5-bathroom house on an acre of land all by myself. Once I've unloaded my house, I intend to put what possessions I still have into storage, hop in my car, and head West - Far West. I'll probably be on the road for 90 plus days, and only then will I start thinking about where I want to live for the rest of my life."

... while you hypocritically don't even try to live the way you demand that others be forced to live.

======
What *is* it about leftists? Does intellectualy honesty burn them?

B. Prokop said...

Hey, I'm unloading the house. Isn't that enough?

Seriously though, I do take your criticism to heart. You are justified in raising the issue. It's not right for me to live in and own so much. The house was always full 10 years ago, with a daughter or a house guest in every room, and a dog and three cats underfoot, and life everywhere. But my wife is no longer alive, the girls have their own homes and families now, and the animals are also gone. I have no real excuse for having stayed here as long as I have, other than the hope that one of my daughters would take the house over from me. But neither of them wants to live in suburban Maryland, so its past time to move along.

I have made great strides toward disinvesting myself of possessions. Right now, everything I still own (other than, temporarily, the house itself, and of course my car) could fit into a single room. (It would be a tight fit.) And most of what I still own is books. Everything else is gone. The house is a collection of empty rooms.

I'm not even keeping the money I will make from the sale. I'm splitting it up between my daughters.

Papalinton said...

Thanks, Bob. The one thing I would add to the discussion is that the search for exo-planets is literally at its birthing stage, ten years or there abouts? It is almost a new field in its own right; a sub-discipline at least right at the very beginning of its exploratory journey. I say, keep all options open.

"I personally am rather an optimist as regards there being life all over the place. "
I'm with you there.

"I'm not even keeping the money I will make from the sale. I'm splitting it up between my daughters."
A man after my own heart. One's needs need only be enough to be comfortable.

B. Prokop said...

This addressed to the apologist for Hell's Own Governing Constitution. From the Catechism:

"The right to private property, acquired or received in a just way, does not do away with the original gift of the Earth to the whole of mankind. The universal destination of goods remains primordial, even if the promotion of the common good requires respect for the right to private property and its exercise. In his use of things man should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself. The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all to his family." (CCC, 2403)

Ilíon said...

"This post has nothing to do with religion that I know of."

Tell that to all the "secularists" who think that possessing advanced technology equals living on an advanced moral plane. A very high percentage of the people who will not even attempt to understand what they are rejecting in rejecting Christ and/or Christianity would worship any ETs who managed to show up in our skies. And if those ETs openly announced that they were here to wipe out the human race, a high percentage of those fools would volunteer to help them.

Ilíon said...

hypocritical apologist for leftist slavery (and murder): "Hey, I'm unloading the house. Isn't that enough?"

No. What were you doing with it in the first place? Why are you "selling" it, rather than tearing it down and letting the ground go back to nature?

What are you doing planning to waste precious natural resources hoping in your car and driving Far West?


What is it with you leftist hypocrites? You want to slime non-leftists (in this case, Mrs Bachman) because they don't live they way you think they should, but you never even attempt to live that way yourselves.

B. Prokop said...

I love you too, Ilion.

You are absolutely right about the potential for ET-worship out there. I've talked to many SETI enthusiasts * who get all misty-eyed when they even think about First Contact. Just look at the literature on the subject, from Arthur C. Clarke's novel Childhood's End to the movie Close Encounters to the Jefferson Airplane song Have you seen the Saucers? (with the revealing line "Star children on the road to salvation.").

* By "SETI enthusiasts" I most emphatically do not mean the professionals, but rather the general public that laps this stuff up. The actual SETI researchers I've been privileged to meet have to a person been quite clear-headed on the subject.

Karl Grant said...

Bob,

Personally, if there is other intelligent races out there, I think is much more likely we will encounter the inter-stellar equivalent of Cortés as opposed to an intergalactic equivalent of Buddha.