Monday, April 11, 2011

Are ET aliens shy?

The Physics arXiv Blog has been intrigued by an extraterrestrial paper by Adrian Kent:
Too Damned Quiet?
Science rejected the paper in 2005 but it's fun, so why wouldn't he submit it to the arXiv in 2011? ;-)

There are three typical answers to Fermi's question - Where are they? - and Kent has added another, bold one:
  1. Life is rare and we're the first ones or only ones
  2. Others have quickly exterminated themselves
  3. The extraterrestrial beasts don't want to interrupt our sensitive culture
  4. Natural evolution at the cosmic level has trained ETs to be shy
Kent is aware of the fact that such speculations about the moral values and lifestyle of the extraterrestrial civilizations are not justified by any empirically rooted evidence. However, he claims that we can learn a lot from the evolution of life on Earth. Unfortunately, his way of learning means to deny what the history is actually telling us.

Well, are animals and plants trying to be invisible?

It depends. At the very end, life - and the economy - depends on some services that other animals, companies, or objects in the Universe are doing for us. To allow them to do so, we have to be visible by them. Then we may also have enemies and we may try to be invisible in front of them.

But in general, the contexts in which life forms try to be visible prevail - because a defining feature of life is the interaction with the world around the life form. There may also be negative contributions to our life but the positive ones have to dominate in the big perspective.

So plants and animals can't be invisible. Flowers and butterflies that try to be beautiful because of their contrived ways to reproduce are among the best witnesses.

Now, Kent doesn't really acknowledge that objects have to be visible at least for someone. Instead, he says that the extraterrestrial civilizations will fight for resources which will make it important for them to be invisible, in order not to be killed.

He even mentions a Nobel prize winner who protested against NASA's (or other people's) decision to send some signals from us to our extraterrestrial friends. The Nobel prize winner argued that it is a suicidal act because the extraterrestrial comrades are evil and we just allow them to kill us more easily. ;-)

Many things may happen but I think that the genre of these speculations is comedy. In particular, I find it very unlikely that at the cosmic scale, the life forms are "fighting for resources". What would the resources be? Dark matter? Radiation? Hydrogen? Helium? Other elements? Complicated organic compounds?

Whatever answer you choose, there are obvious problems with that. The Universe is so big that there's simply so many resources for everyone - most of it looks manifestly unused by any life form, at least in the vicinity of the Solar System where we have looked - that the market price of any of the "resources" I mentioned is zero and only a complete idiot, and not a member of an advanced extraterrestrial civilization, would be fighting for a few tons of any of these things.

And the production of the complicated things depends on the intelligence and technology so fight is not the right way to proceed: research is the right way. Moreover, it's pretty unlikely to steal research of a vastly more advanced civilization because if a civilization is much more technologically advanced than another one, chances are that the more advanced one will win the confrontations, too.

So I think that the modifications that Kent made when he switched from the terrestrial natural selection to the natural selection at the cosmic level were totally wrong - they went in the opposite direction. As you go from small habitats to the galaxies and the big cosmos, the resources are surely getting less valuable and important. Their amount goes up and the percentage of the used ones goes down.

I think that Kent's thinking still reflects the degenerated left-wing logical fallacies such as the "tragedy of the commons" and similar stuff. Those things don't really play any significant role even here in Earth - but if we switch to vast regions of the Universe where most of the volume and matter is unused and interactions are rare, it's clear that the relative importance of "wars for resources" become less important.

The anonymous owner of the physics arXiv blog has demonstrated how deeply the idiotic "environmentalist" thinking has penetrated among ordinary people. He or she explains one of the classical scenarios - in which the aliens quickly exterminate themselves - and writes:
...but end up destroying themselves or their habitat with their own technology, such as with nuclear weapons or fossil fuel burning.
Holy cow, how can an advanced civilization end up destroying themselves by an activity that is as mundane and harmless as "fossil fuel burning"?

I am amazed by the complete disappearance of rational thinking of those people when it comes to topics that touch their religion. The fear of "fossil fuel burning" is a painful fad that has affected lots of brainwashed and gullible people especially between 2005 and 2009. There is no intellectual value in this kind of idiotic fearmongering whatsoever - and indeed, this fad is already several times weaker than it was 5 years ago.

It's a short-lived fad believed by people who are surely not among the brightest ones or the independently thinking ones. Still, those people think that they may take this fad - whose lifetime is a few years - and extrapolate it to learn lessons about the behavior of advanced extraterrestrial civilizations over billions of years. This is so spectacularly preposterous that even the fanatical champions of the millenniums-old religions are usually avoiding idiocies of this magnitude.

By the way, when it comes to biodiversity, I would guess that most of the hypothetical powerful extraterrestrial civilizations wouldn't give a damn, either. Some civilizations could try to treat the less advanced ones "sensitively" but others would not - and the latter group wouldn't disappear.

The latter group may look evil but there would also be lots of meritocratic, rational, neutral civilizations that would not be evil and that would still fail to care about the preservation of life of us etc. They would know that the treasure of "biodiversity" is fully encoded in the DNA codes that can be digitized and stored on their hard disks.

So the sophisticated aliens could think that we're amusing creatures but they wouldn't become religiously obsessed with us because they would understand that we're just physical objects participating in a system that they may easily understand. If they needed to sacrifice us, they would.

On the other hand, they wouldn't really have a reason unless they would be extremely similar to us. What would they gain if they were evil to us? What would an Earth without life offer them? Gold? Other elements? There's lots of it at other places in the Universe, too.

I would personally prefer to stick with Newton's "hypotheses non fingo" - and I mean hypotheses about unusual moral behavior of the aliens. What we see is that the density of extraterrestrial life that hugely modifies the cosmos around it is very low. Trying to hand-wave those observations away by some conspiracy theories about the extraterrestrial aliens' moral values - extrapolated from some provincial and short-lived fads on Earth, and extrapolated in a wrong direction - means to deny the evidence.

Also, I think that all those "intergalactic life exists" people vastly underestimate how difficult it is to make nontrivial events at the cosmic scale. Even on Earth whose radius is just 6,378 km, the evolution only occurred after hundreds of millions years in which animales were constantly eating each other, even though they only had to move by a few kilometers.

But if you take a cosmic structure as "small" as a galaxy, its diameter is 100,000 light years. Even by the speed of light, you would need 100,000 years to get from one end to the other. And realistically, the intragalactic transportation is probably not dominated by near-speed-of-light motion because they can't constantly produce E=mc^2 worth of energy for all the things they want to transfer etc.

If the typical speed of "big life forms" in a galaxy is 1% of the speed of light, they need 10 million years to get from one end to the other end. Those 10 million years play a role of a period, a "day of the galactic tigers". There have been just 1,000 such "days" from the Big Bang. Do you really believe that this is a sufficient number to produce and evolve extraterrestrial civilizations and train them that they should better be shy because otherwise they could be attacked?

I don't think so.

There may be bacteria or even multicellular animals elsewhere in the Universe but much "bigger" civilizations are hard to get. This conclusion may be disappointing because people may prefer the idea that there's lots of huge extraterrestrial life to discover; but this preferred idea is likely to be false. If we want to have a huge extraterrestrial life, we will have to work on it ourselves.

Liquidation of environmentalism that wants to reduce our energy production even below the modest early 21st century figures - from the beginning of the Earth's civilization - could be one of the early necessary steps to get further.

And that's the memo.


  1. The idea is so laughable why would you even bother to refute it?

  2. One of my favorite quotes from Science Fiction (The First Lensman, by EE Smith):

    Ignore and be ignored, as you must already know, is the Prime Tenent.

    the Twelfth Pilinipsi, a Palainain living on Pluto

  3. A Palainin living on Pluto?

    How about a Palin living in Alaska?

    "I believe there's room for all of Alaska's animals ... right next to the mashed potatoes."

    Lubos, I have it on good authority the aliens were set to make contact with us circa 1995. But ...

    They tried to get a parking space in the lot next to Hill Center on Busch Campus at Rutgers in PIScataway, NJ, withOUT getting a parking ticket, and failed utterly.

    They then concluded we're too tough a species to handle, so we're under strict quarantine to protect the rest of the galaxy from us. You can do a lot in this Universe, but defeat The Rutgers Parking Authority? No gots.

  4. I wonder why nobody ever discusses the most obvious possible reason why we don't see aliens, namely that it's physically impossible either to travel between stars or generate a strong enough signal to be seen. People, and laymen especially, seem to take for granted that star travel will become a reality, but I see no reason to believe that. Indeed, to me the absence of aliens is very strong evidence that we'll never travel to the stars.

  5. There are some options missing:-

    That we don't detect any optical or radio signals because those methods of communication aren't used for very long in the average civilisation's history (maybe just a couple of centuries), and everybody else in range is either too primitive or too advanced.

    That we do detect the presence of extraterrestrial intelligence occasionally but nobody takes the witnesses seriously even when they saw what they claimed to have seen.

    I am not assigning probabilities to either option or implying that the odds of either are high, but they should be present for completeness.

  6. So plants and animals can't be ?

    plants with flowers are a recent event coevolutive processes work in some environments

    Many unrelated xerophytes, however, evolved adaptations similar to rocks or peebles

    not invisible but not visible
    similar adaptation to the substract occur in algae

    to be always visible is a problem

  7. for one that believes in the STRING...

    no string's in mexican alien's i s'pose
    only in brazilian girls