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Thread: Should we give up the search for intelligent life in the universe?

  1. #1 Should we give up the search for intelligent life in the universe? 
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    Since taking an interest in astronomy and cosmology, and all science for that matter, I have harbored a desire for our beautiful blue planet to be only one of many which contain intelligent life.

    However, the deeper I delve in to my new found passion, the more discouraged I am about this ever becoming a reality.Even if we were to discover intelligent life elsewhere, there are a number of obstacles preventing us from making and maintaining contact. For example, if we were communicating in any form other than face to face, without advances in technology, we would be at the mercy of our distance from our new galactic neighbors.

    A planet several lightyears away would take such time to receive our messages, and us theirs, that communication would be rendered essentially pointless (beyond the fact we were finallly able to do so).This is but one of a number of problems with the search for intelligent life, and I'm sure I don't need to list them all to get my point across.

    So what I'd like to ask is whether you think our search for intelligent life outside of our solar system is at all worthwhile? Although I dream of the day we discover life outside our own planet, I feel our time and resources are better spent elsewhere. For example, working towards establishing a human presence in other areas of our solar system!What are your thoughts? Facts and scientific evidence is preferable, though open debate is not discouraged (within reason).


    Last edited by DavidT; February 2nd, 2012 at 07:46 AM.
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    First I will question one of your underlying assumptions: A planet several lightyears away would take such time to receive our messages, and us theirs, that communication would be rendered essentially pointless.

    If this were true then there would be no point in reading the works of Newton, or Aristotle, or Darwin. There would be no point in reading a newspaper, or watching the television news. Equally we should take all the text books and mash them down to pulp for burning in power stations. All of these are examples of one-way communication, yet we value each of those.

    Secondly, does it not make sense to try to discover if there are hostile entities in our vicinity? That, of course, would argue against any communication from us. But identifying that 'they' were out there could be vital to our survival.


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    If the aliens use digital modulation tech to encode many channels of information into one broadband stream like we are starting to do.
    An advanced versions used by aliens could be very hard to distinguish from white noise.

    This makes our best hope for contact a simple AM or FM modulated signal deliberately aimed at us.
    So lets hope that there is someone out there that wants other people to know they exist.
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    @John Galt: Thanks for your input. I am not doubting that any communication with intelligent life other than ourselves would be valuable, I'm sure there's plenty we could learn even from a single 'message' we were able to receive from them. I'm simple curious as to whether you think the benefits of this communication, if it is ever achieved, outweigh the potential for not ever succeeding in this venture?

    A good analogy I've heard for sending and receiving messages to other intelligent life, is throwing a baseball to another person in a baseball stadium, without knowing where they're situated. The shear size of the stadium (our universe) severely decreases our chances of it being received. The next problem is with our technology, and theirs. If they aren't as technologically advanced as we are, it would be like throwing the ball to a baby... If we aren't as technologically advanced as they are, we would be sending signals they had long since given up searching for, so in the analogy, it would be as if the other person in the stadium had left without us knowing it. We would still be throwing the ball, unaware we had no chance of it ever being caught!

    @PetTastic: Thanks for your response. As mentioned above, I believe we face a great number of problems with the sending and receiving of different signals. I do hope however, that we are able to overcome these.
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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidT View Post
    Since taking an interest in astronomy and cosmology, and all science for that matter, I have harbored a desire for our beautiful blue planet to be only one of many which contain intelligent life.
    Your thread title and first sentence are non-sequiters. Even if we could not directly communicate, your expressed desire would be fulfilled if we found intelligent life out there. So by your own definition, the answer to the thread title question is no.
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    @MetorWayne: What I was hoping to achieve from this thread was a discussion as to the pros and cons of continuing the search for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. A mix of personal opinion and scientific fact that could be both enjoyable and informative. Can you offer any insight as to your feelings on the topic? Thank you for your input so far, I appreciate it.
    It is said that anticipation evokes happiness, so I say: look forward to every tomorrow.
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    I think we should continue to listen for ET, but not try to talk to him, at least until we determine danger level. This should not be a huge investment, but it is worth some resources simply because of the importance if we do identify one or more civilisations.
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    I always am in favor of any investigations of anything in the Universe. That's how we learn and understand more.
    That;s really all I have a need to say on the subject
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Galt View Post
    I think we should continue to listen for ET, but not try to talk to him, at least until we determine danger level. This should not be a huge investment, but it is worth some resources simply because of the importance if we do identify one or more civilisations.
    I completely agree with John. The question as to whether there is other intelligent life out there is abviously of huge importance to us on many levels. On the other hand it might not be such a good idea to actually attempt contact ( remotely or otherwise ) unless we know what the implications are. Perhaps silent eavesdropping would be in order, for a little while anyway until we know exactly what or who we are dealing with.
    One mustn't forget though that Earth has been unintentionally broadcasting radio transmissions for the last half century or so; in fact we have been as noisy as anyone can really be in terms of radio broadcasts. In essence, therefore, this decision has already been made long ago. Let's just hope it's not going to come back to haunt us...
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    Personally, I think that looking for strong infrared emitters would be a good start, might be the signature of a Dyson sphere built around a nice stable dwarf star. Most sensible way to accommodate a large population.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Markus Hanke View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by John Galt View Post
    I think we should continue to listen for ET, but not try to talk to him, at least until we determine danger level. This should not be a huge investment, but it is worth some resources simply because of the importance if we do identify one or more civilisations.
    I completely agree with John. The question as to whether there is other intelligent life out there is abviously of huge importance to us on many levels. On the other hand it might not be such a good idea to actually attempt contact ( remotely or otherwise ) unless we know what the implications are. Perhaps silent eavesdropping would be in order, for a little while anyway until we know exactly what or who we are dealing with.
    One mustn't forget though that Earth has been unintentionally broadcasting radio transmissions for the last half century or so; in fact we have been as noisy as anyone can really be in terms of radio broadcasts. In essence, therefore, this decision has already been made long ago. Let's just hope it's not going to come back to haunt us...
    Signal to noise ratio dictates that such transmissions are insignificant a few light years out, is what I was told.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arthur Angler View Post
    Signal to noise ratio dictates that such transmissions are insignificant a few light years out, is what I was told.
    Interesting point. Not my area of expertise though - anyone has further info about this ?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Markus Hanke View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by John Galt View Post
    I think we should continue to listen for ET, but not try to talk to him, at least until we determine danger level. This should not be a huge investment, but it is worth some resources simply because of the importance if we do identify one or more civilisations.
    I completely agree with John. The question as to whether there is other intelligent life out there is abviously of huge importance to us on many levels. On the other hand it might not be such a good idea to actually attempt contact ( remotely or otherwise ) unless we know what the implications are. Perhaps silent eavesdropping would be in order, for a little while anyway until we know exactly what or who we are dealing with.
    One mustn't forget though that Earth has been unintentionally broadcasting radio transmissions for the last half century or so; in fact we have been as noisy as anyone can really be in terms of radio broadcasts. In essence, therefore, this decision has already been made long ago. Let's just hope it's not going to come back to haunt us...
    Actually, our omnidirectional terrestrial broadcasts fade below the background noise level well before reaching 4.3 LY. Some higher energy directed beams may be detectable to 10 LY or so, but since they are nonrepeating (for any given sky locations) it is unlikely they would be detected.

    Edit, man I'm getting slow...I see AA already beat me to the point!
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    But you are more definite and specific, greatly to your credit. It is gratifying to have such confirmation.
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    I think you fellows have been watching too many sci fi movies.

    To me, it doesn't matter if we are alone in the universe. Considering the distances involved, we essentially are, for the reasons stated in the OP.

    I feel quite comfortably safe from any bands of marauding extraterrestrials.
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    But that's not my point (nor was it of the thread title). It questioned whether we should give up looking. To that I say resoundingly, no. Finding life "out there" would have profound implications for our understanding of the Universe. After all, we have irrefutable evidence of life in exactly on place in the whole cosmos, earth.

    While I expect life is common, or at least not uncommon elsewhere, getting proof of same would expand our knowledge greatly.

    Whether there is a thread should be a whole seperate discussion.
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    There is no question that such life exists, as Dr. Aczel's book below proves. If it is a threat to us, nothing can be done, as a missile approaching us at relativistic velocity is impossible to detect, much less avoid. So the most prudent course of action is to lay low and keep a lookout.

    Amazon.com: Probability 1 (9780156010801): Amir D. Aczel: Books
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    No, it proves nothing, and I don't care what he wrote. When we find life elsewhere, or detect a signal from an intelligent species, then and only then will we have proof. Probability is not proof, it is suggestive of likelyhood. I agree it's likely. But we have no proof.

    Which is why I believe the search for exo-life is essential.
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    Actually, our omnidirectional terrestrial broadcasts fade below the background noise level well before reaching 4.3 LY. Some higher energy directed beams may be detectable to 10 LY or so, but since they are nonrepeating (for any given sky locations) it is unlikely they would be detected.
    Again, I'm not an expert on the matter, but would that not hold true for the aliens' signals as well ? In essence, even if they are there, how likely is it really that projects like SETI will ever actually pick up one of their signals ??
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    Quote Originally Posted by MeteorWayne View Post
    No, it proves nothing, and I don't care what he wrote. When we find life elsewhere, or detect a signal from an intelligent species, then and only then will we have proof. Probability is not proof, it is suggestive of likelyhood. I agree it's likely. But we have no proof.

    Which is why I believe the search for exo-life is essential.
    I don't think it's even that simple in all cases. Are we really sure we would even be able to recognize an alien signal as originating from an intelligent species ? What makes us certain that we have the ability ?
    Also, one would need to catch the aliens at just the right moment in their evolution - too early, and you might have the equivalent of cavemen. Too late, and a very advanced species will probably have figured out more effective ways of communicating then EM wave transmissions. Just their being out there isn't enough.

    I still agree with MeteorWayne that we need to keep looking, though.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Markus Hanke View Post
    Actually, our omnidirectional terrestrial broadcasts fade below the background noise level well before reaching 4.3 LY. Some higher energy directed beams may be detectable to 10 LY or so, but since they are nonrepeating (for any given sky locations) it is unlikely they would be detected.
    Again, I'm not an expert on the matter, but would that not hold true for the aliens' signals as well ? In essence, even if they are there, how likely is it really that projects like SETI will ever actually pick up one of their signals ??
    Infrared emissions from a Dyson sphere are not "broadcasts", per se, but they ARE inevitable. Maybe we are as far off base as early telescopic explorers of Mars were, looking for gaslights and vast diagrams of the Pythagorean theorem laid out in cultivated Martian fields. If the aliens have any brains at all they will be laying low and keeping a lookout, too.
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    Infrared emissions from a Dyson sphere are not "broadcasts", per se, but they ARE inevitable. Maybe we are as far off base as early telescopic explorers of Mars were, looking for gaslights and vast diagrams of the Pythagorean theorem laid out in cultivated Martian fields. If the aliens have any brains at all they will be laying low and keeping a lookout, too.
    Wow, you are aiming high ! Do you have any comprehension what amount of resources would be required to construct a Dyson sphere ? Such a civilization would have to be much older and much more advanced than ourselves. It stands to reason how likely the existence of such a construct actually is.
    And even just briefly thinking about this, there would be engineering challenges of almost incomprehensible magnitude involved in actually pulling this off. I think the more logic alternative would be something more along the lines of the ringworld in Halo. Much easier to construct and hold together
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    Quote Originally Posted by Markus Hanke View Post
    Infrared emissions from a Dyson sphere are not "broadcasts", per se, but they ARE inevitable. Maybe we are as far off base as early telescopic explorers of Mars were, looking for gaslights and vast diagrams of the Pythagorean theorem laid out in cultivated Martian fields. If the aliens have any brains at all they will be laying low and keeping a lookout, too.
    Wow, you are aiming high ! Do you have any comprehension what amount of resources would be required to construct a Dyson sphere ? Such a civilization would have to be much older and much more advanced than ourselves. It stands to reason how likely the existence of such a construct actually is.
    And even just briefly thinking about this, there would be engineering challenges of almost incomprehensible magnitude involved in actually pulling this off. I think the more logic alternative would be something more along the lines of the ringworld in Halo. Much easier to construct and hold together
    Ringworld expanded big enough is Dyson sphere, maybe nest a few of slightly different radius, boom, there you go. A particularly nice scheme for systems accommodating multiple inhabited worlds, which is not impossible. All of these would radiate waste heat in infrared region unavoidably. Best use of local resources and more practical than schlepping off to other stars.
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    Best use of local resources and more practical than schlepping off to other stars.
    Undoubtedly so
    I'm just not certain whether even all the resources of a given planetary system combined would be sufficient to construct such a sphere.
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    Doesn't have to be a solid shell 2 AU diameter- I am thinking closer in where radiation is more concentrated and construct habitats to order. Maybe you have a planet similar to Mercury, you build some settlements at L4 and L5 of "Mercury" orbit, use them as anchor points for your first ring.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arthur Angler View Post
    Infrared emissions from a Dyson sphere are not "broadcasts", per se, but they ARE inevitable.
    Sigh.. again Arthur, you have stated as inevitible (or fact) something for which there is no proof, merely a probablily. And from my seat, a much lower probability than there being some kind of life somewhere else out there in the Universe.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Markus Hanke View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by MeteorWayne View Post
    No, it proves nothing, and I don't care what he wrote. When we find life elsewhere, or detect a signal from an intelligent species, then and only then will we have proof. Probability is not proof, it is suggestive of likelyhood. I agree it's likely. But we have no proof.

    Which is why I believe the search for exo-life is essential.
    I don't think it's even that simple in all cases. Are we really sure we would even be able to recognize an alien signal as originating from an intelligent species ? What makes us certain that we have the ability ?
    Also, one would need to catch the aliens at just the right moment in their evolution - too early, and you might have the equivalent of cavemen. Too late, and a very advanced species will probably have figured out more effective ways of communicating then EM wave transmissions. Just their being out there isn't enough.
    I'm not saying we could, my position is simply that we should keep looking. Again, that was my reply to the thread title.
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    Does not thermodynamics imply this much? Brake shoes on my car produce heat, infrared radiation. So does digestion of food, beating stuff with hammer, operation of all electrical machinery, etc. Radiation of waste heat is a big concern in space.

    Accordingly, it makes sense to look for heat sources. Energetic ones.
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    Thanks everyone for the detailed and informative responses! I agree that our best cause of action would be to silently listen, using our time and resources to search for any attempt at contacting us.

    However there is always the dilemma that perhaps life elsewhere in the universe may also be afraid of hostiles, and may themselves simply sit and listen. Contact is unlikely to be made, among other reasons, if all intelligent life is afraid of being discovered by the 'wrong people'.
    It is said that anticipation evokes happiness, so I say: look forward to every tomorrow.
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    I'm imagining a dozen civilizations listening in our neighboorhood and one in our own solar system all pensive and xenophoblic about finding others just in case they are hostile.

    I think we should be sending signals and continuing to look--on our own, still mostly unexplored planet, in our solar system, and for signs from the solar systems near us.
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    I'm imagining some scientists at NASA or a university science department trying to figure out a way to get funding. Taking advantage of the public's fascination for space aliens, they propose a Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, either as a pseudoscientific SETI research project to fund their department, or as a cover for some actual science research that they want to do.
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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidT View Post
    life elsewhere in the universe may also be afraid of hostiles
    That makes sense. One might include "plans self-preservation" to a universal definition of intelligence.

    Our problem now is one which those in our position typically deny: we appear hostile. We radiate hostility unconsciously: consider your mouse pointer - the shape called "arrow". This is a barbed implement of warfare; we wave this weapon to indicate things. Nice, huh?

    However we attempt to communicate, will say great deal more than we know.
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    The reason for finding intelligent life elsewhere is that they may be more advanced than we are and they can help us to survive. If terrorists had smashed four space liners into the Earth at 10% of the speed of light, then we would all be dead. The most intelligent members of an advanced species may invent technology that the most foolish members of their species use to cause their extinction.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold14370 View Post
    I think you fellows have been watching too many sci fi movies.

    To me, it doesn't matter if we are alone in the universe. Considering the distances involved, we essentially are, for the reasons stated in the OP.

    I feel quite comfortably safe from any bands of marauding extraterrestrials.
    Just think of the Settlement of the Americas, and think how that might play out in space. A group of alien people who really aren't faring very well in their own society, living on the poor side of town, manage to get together just enough money to get themselves and their families onto a fast space ship with cryogenic freezing (or some kind of stasis) looking for a new world to settle.

    1) - They don't care how long the trip takes because they've no interest in going back.

    2) - We're just savages occupying land that is meant (in their minds) to go to their children.

    3) - They've got superior technology, so the only obstacle we're capable of offering them is the threat we might decide to nuke "their children's" lands.

    I'd say if aliens exist, then we'd better cross our fingers that some kind of FTL travel is possible, and further hope that the aliens have some kind of government that puts restrictions on the abuse they're allowed to inflict on developing worlds. If FTL isn't possible, then it wouldn't matter what the rules are, because their government would never find out about their own people's crimes until it was a long time too late to intervene anyway.

    Quote Originally Posted by Markus Hanke View Post
    Infrared emissions from a Dyson sphere are not "broadcasts", per se, but they ARE inevitable. Maybe we are as far off base as early telescopic explorers of Mars were, looking for gaslights and vast diagrams of the Pythagorean theorem laid out in cultivated Martian fields. If the aliens have any brains at all they will be laying low and keeping a lookout, too.
    Wow, you are aiming high ! Do you have any comprehension what amount of resources would be required to construct a Dyson sphere ? Such a civilization would have to be much older and much more advanced than ourselves. It stands to reason how likely the existence of such a construct actually is.
    And even just briefly thinking about this, there would be engineering challenges of almost incomprehensible magnitude involved in actually pulling this off. I think the more logic alternative would be something more along the lines of the ringworld in Halo. Much easier to construct and hold together
    I have a feeling that, once a culture is freely operating in space, and gets enough automating infrastructure in place, the Dyson Sphere would basically build itself. It's all about economy of scale with automation. The bigger the scale, the more efficient it is to build it (usually).
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    I never knew a considerable amount of effort was being put into discovering intelligent life, so much as a considerable amount of effort was being put into understanding the universe.

    For instance, discovering those two planets that are in the 'goldilocks' zone about 16 light years away is undoubtedly interesting in terms of it has any life whatsoever, but the more interesting items referring to these planets is what they look like, and whether or not WE could inhabit it. Though, clearly, getting there or getting a clear enough image of the planet is an issue.

    In remarks to the OP, if we could look into inhabiting other regions of our solar system - while it still being economical, wouldn't it make more sense to use an equivalent budget to understand how we can physically reach other solar systems? If we break that tough nut, looking at establishing human presences elsewhere in our solar system becomes a given.
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    I refer you to arguments in the late medieval period and early renaissance on the Plurality of Worlds. It has all been said before.
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    This question is best answered through studying the only known example of intelligent life in the universe.

    Although the entire story is not known, the appearance of Homo Sapiens is the result of such a random set of events in Earth history that it is [ in my opinion ] unlikely to ever be repeated. I find it interesting that when discussing this subject, it can become quite emotive and people say things like "the universe is so big - we can't possibly be alone" This is more emotional assumption than a subjective scientific view.

    After several years of trying, SETI and other projects have failed to detect anything other than natural 'beeps and bleeps' from deep space. At some point in time, we need to accept the view that If it looks like we are alone in the universe, and sounds like we are alone in the universe, we must therefore be alone in the universe. There has been no evidence to the contrary.

    Having said that, I would like to give a qualified answer to the question posed. I don't think there should be funding poured into disctrete projects searching for E.T but I don't see why sweeping certain frequencies can't be added to the schedules of radio telescopes involved in astronomical research.

    If we were to find evidence of life [however simple] on somewhere like Mars for example, this would serve to raise interest in widening the search however, I note that Mr Obama has pulled the funding from NASA for Martan exploration.

    So as when the US scrapped the SSC, they gave up the possibility of finding the Higgs, the credit for finding life elsewhwere in this solar system may now fall to one of the countries new to space exploration i.e.China - I don't think Mr obama would like that but as they say about any race - you have to be in it to win it!
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  39. #38  
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    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    Location
    New Jersey, USA
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    Actually there is no government funded search. All is done through private donations, and we can spend it how we please, since we donated it.
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