Sunday, September 14, 2008

Are We Alone?

The universe is about 14 billion years old, atleast the start of this universe. Maybe there were an infinite amount of big bangs before ours? The cycle could go: big bang --> universe expands until it can't expand anymore --> universe collapses into extremely dense ball --> big bang. Anyway, that's not really what I wanted to talk about, we'll leave that topic for another day. What came into my mind was something that I'm sure everyone has thought about before and probably argued about. Is there intelligent life somewhere out there in the universe?

Odds seem to be undeniably in favor of...yes. In our galaxy there are estimated to be upwards of 250 billion stars. Some scientists say there are more than 100 billion galaxies. So, lets say there are about 2.5 sextillion (2.5 x 10^21 ) stars in the universe
. Then let us assume that the earth is not some kind of anomaly and therefore is somewhat typical, atleast when referring to astronomical odds. With this assumption, we see that there should be billions of habitable planets in the universe. Given that the universe spans 14 billion years, it then should not be unthinkable that life has evolved on these planets, from mere 1 celled prokaryotes to species as smart as humans and some most definitely smarter. Unless you're some kind of god freak that believes we were created as the only intelligent species, reason leads us to believe that there are aliens somewhere, probably in our own galaxy.

Okay, so we've come to the conclusion that life outside of our planet must exist. It has to right? The odds against it are infinitely, impossibly low. Why then is there no evidence? No proof of alien communications? Well maybe there is, maybe the government just hides it (area 51 for example). I don't know what I think about that subject, maybe aliens really did crash on our planet, but we don't know for sure, so we have to assume that they haven't. So back to the question, if there is intelligent life somewhere in the universe then why haven't we found them. I'll mention a couple possibilities.

First, the universe is just too big. The odds of a chance encounter are incredibly slim. The sun alone is 93 million miles from earth. The next closest star is 4.3 light years away, or about 25 million million miles. Travelling as fast as our current technology allows, it would take about 100,000 years to get to Proxima Centauri. And that's when we know where we're going. Even if they could travel close to the speed of light, aliens finding earth would be like finding a needle in a stack of needles.

Next is an idea that ignited the fire for writing this post. What if the amount of technology needed for interstellar travel is beyond the point of survival? Take the LHC for example, this obviously didn't cause the end of the world, but maybe something like it could. What if civilizations just destroy themselves with their technology before they have the chance to leave their planets? I recently read an article about advances in nanotechnology, stating that we are getting closer to producing self replicating nanobots. Some of you have probably heard about this idea before, which some fear might lead to "grey goo," an end of the world scenario. Basically, these nanobots consume materials to replicate themselves, eventually consuming all of the matter on earth.

There's more I'd like to talk about, but I have some studying to do. Feel free to share your own ideas, because I'm sure a lot more could be said about the topic that I didn't touch on.


term said...

I agree that there is intelligent life somewhere in the universe beside Earth. I think that the two reasons you highlight for not finding said life (too far away/technologies are too advanced to reach without self-destruction) are related to each other quite closely. And I agree with both.

Until we make unbelievable advances in medical technology that could increase life expectancy to extreme ages, it would be very hard for us to ever reach intelligent life in another galaxy using light speed travel (assuming this is an achievable technology). The same extreme odds that make it likely for intelligent life to exist elsewhere, also work in the inverse for the proximity of the life to Earth. The sheer size of the universe makes it likely that intelligent life is out there, but also makes the odds that it is around any star close to us extremely low.

The only way to travel the required distances for contact with other intelligent species would likely require a black hole. As discussed before (Event Horizon) and in the OP, these are the types of technological goals that would likely end up in the destruction of mankind.

Interesting note on the nanobots. I've never heard that theory before. If you have a link to the article, could you post it?

nyphon said...

I'm sure there has to be life somewhere else (whether it be parasites or 200 foot elephant people).

If you believe in evolution, you'd have to think the odds of intelligent life is possible, but highly unlikely for there to be "people" similar to us. What I'm getting at is the smallest ripple during the past 2 billion years could change how we look or whatever, so the odds of finding aliens that are in any shape or form like us is unlikely. I know you never said they would be, but I just thought I'd point that out.

Maybe there are worlds that have had civilizations for over a billion years and had the lifespan/proper technology to come to earth, but they are all peaceful monks or something...I'm just rambling, but who knows?

One thing I do not believe is UFO's ever landing on Earth. If they ever did, I don't think the govt could keep it secret and the aliens would have to be so advanced that we probably couldn't hold them back from whatever they want to do in the first place.

Prime said...

I don't really know enough about the technologies to really comment much, but I would have to agree that there are other lifeforms, species whatever out there somewhere. I don't necessarily think it's a definete that there is life out there that is more advanced than us, because if there were Im guessing they would have found us (or destroyed us) by now.

I will have to say tho that I do think that the govt could be covering up information about UFO's etc. I'm not saying that one actually did crash here, but I think that would definetly have been something that could have been covered up back in the early-mid 1900s. Now-a-days tho, I doubt it could be covered up. There is too many psycho media people looking for inside info, and more importantly too many people that would sell out that kind of information to the media to earn a quick retirement.

pex said...

I can't find the article, I read it on Digg a while ago. I first heard about the nanobot theory on some list stating the top 10 ways mankind will destroy itself. About nate's comment saying that there are probably no species similar to humans. I think there are, and when I say similar I mean intelligent species with language and technology. They don't have to look anything like us, but I think there have to be some life forms out there more advanced than animals (parasites and elephants).

About Prime's comment. If there are aliens out there, there would have to be some that are more advanced. If like I said in the OP earth is not special, then there would have to be lots of habitable planets throughout the universe. Just like the saying, there is always someone smarter/better/faster/etc, I highly doubt that humans would be at the top of the curve. Especially since earth is only 4.5 billion years old. That means there are species that could have an almost 10 billion year head start. Some of these aliens could be on the opposite side of the universe, too far for them to travel to us in their lifetime.

Staboski said...

Boski is tied up at work today, wait till tom. morning when I add my 2 cents.

nyphon said...

pex, in my comment i was only referring to physical appearance. movies always depict aliens to have the shape basic shape as humans (arms, legs, 2 eyes, mouth, ears, nose, etc etc etc) but i don't see why. they could be blobs for all we know.

here's 2 questions:
1) do you think it would be good or bad if an alien landed on earth tomorrow (died on the way down, so all that was left was its body and aircraft)? i think overall it would be bad; that's just not something that we need right now. i'm sure we would learn a lot from their technology but i think the world would just go crazy...

Staboski said...

I'll leave part 1 of my rant now. I do believe, like all seem to that there is intelligent life out there. I also agree like Prime stated that there are probably more worlds that have intelligent life but not like that seen on earth. I mean just think millions of years ago this world was dominated by Dinosaurs. Were these animlas intelligent? Well that depends on your definition of intelligence. Lets say you removed people from earth leaving all the current animals and creatures that are existing today. Would you consider that planet to have intelligent life. I'd say yes but obviously not anywhere near the intelligence needed for space exploration. I don't see any dolphins making rockets. But I also think there are planets that support life that is far more intelligent that us. Some have probably figured out space travel abit more than us. Who knows maybe these beings while having only slightly advanced human space tools (more advanced rockets, etc.) but have a life expentancy of 500 years. Maybe some have come up with a way to achive light speed or a way around it. Do I think any have landed on earth...i'm still up in the air. First off from what I've read, and this is a subject I like to read about. Area 51 is not really used for what it once was. Its now a glorified air base where planes that are just on the brink of being revealed to the public are tested. They said there are bases in Colorado that is the new "Area 51". Areas truely in the mountains away from everyone. Could aliens have visited sure. Think about it. If humans sent out a exploration into space we would only send a few people. And what if upon arrival on this planet with intelligent life you get it out and find out the atmosphere can't support your life then you would die. Maybe the same thing happened here. The first craft was sent it "crashed" the peeps popped the hatch and all died. That would explain why these "lights in the sky" continue today, these "abductions"....aliens trying to find out more about our world and how we live in it. Not saying thats my belief but just a theory I have.

pex said...

I think you forgot your 2nd question. Anyway, I don't think it would necessarily be good or bad, unless you bring a lot of other what ifs to the table. Like what if we could learn from their technology (more efficient energy sources or secrets to interstellar travel for example), or what if it was a scout for the rest of the alien star fleet.

What I think is that not much would come of it. So we would know for sure that aliens exist. We'd pretty much be at the same point we are at now, making aimless attempts to contact them b/c we have no idea where they are. Maybe some people would freak out, "its the end of the world, aliens are going to invade!" In the end I think people would just calm down and pretty much not even think about it once nothing actually happens.

Oh yea, about why aliens take human forms in movies. I think that comes down to being able to relate. The only intelligent life we know is ourselves, so its hard to comprehend what smart aliens might look like. It's anybodys guess as to what another aliens species looks like, so why not make them look similar to us.

pex said...

You make some good points bosk. First that there are probably planets out there with only "animals" on them. When I talk about intelligent life thats not what I mean, but that is beside the point. If there are similar or more advanced planets then yes, there must also be less advanced planets, planets not as far along as we are in evolution. I forget if the bacteria or whatever found on mars was actually proven to be a mistake (ie contamination etc), but that just shows that life on other planets is possible. And if simple life such as bacteria is possible on a wasteland of a planet, then life should be possible on other more habitable planets.

The other thing you mentioned about lengthened lives is also a good point. Humans themselves have had their lifespan steadily increasing due to advances in medicine and technology. Who's to say that we wont eventually live to be 200+ years old? Also, a species might evolve in a way where they inherently live long. Not a very good example, but things like trees can already live for hundreds of years. So maybe one of our biggest limitations, lifespan, isn't much of a hurdle for an alien species that lives for hundreds or thousands of years.

Finally, to touch on what term mentioned. I don't think space travel beyond our solar system will ever be practical unless we find completely new methods. Even travelling at the speed of light, our lives are just too short to travel any meaningful distance. Not to mention due to relativity, what may have been a 20 year flight for you will have been hundreds on earth, and who knows what will have happened when you get back. So yea, something like wormholes or some other undiscovered means would have to found before we could really travel to the stars.

pex said...

and the mention of relativity was just a random guess, i have no idea how many years would actually pass on earth if you were to travel 20 years at light speed. and thats if the theory of relativity is even right. there is another theory, string theory maybe, that says that once you get close to the speed of light time actually slows down and possibly becomes irrelevant once you get to or surpass that speed. who knows

nyphon said...

when pex says intelligent life, i think he means the ability to think abstractly...the topic of this blog is a perfect example of "intelligence"...I don't think a dolphin would wonder about aliens in space.

In addition, I think the second part of "intelligent life" would simply mean being able to communicate with humans.

Staboski said...

I agree with Boons post about thinking abstractly when trying to set a limit for "intelligence". I'm not sure if I agree 100% with the communication thing. While dolphins are not thinking about going into space they do communicate with us and themselves. All beit on a very simple matter. Ex. when they are hungry. Intelligent Aliens could also fit into this matter. What if the communicated through telepathy and that way only. They are big blog that has some sort of 6th sense if you will and there is no way for humans to talk to them yet they manipulate their enviroment and communicate through their mind. Yet again another theory.

To touch on Pex's question of if it was proven what would happen on earth. I think it depends on how much interaction we have with them. If the gov't came out and say yes 50 some years ago a crash happened and we found some aliens but have not seen any more than I think the world for the most part stays the same. There will be change, more effort put into finding them, people going crazy, etc....all things you mentioned. But it could also pull the earth together. If we found out that there was something out there smarter and more advanced while maybe being friendly we would all fear it might bring us together. There is nothing more powerful than haveing a common enemy to bring people/groups together. Sort of Independence day theory...mankind gets threatened so all of us come together to "kick E.T.'s ass"

pex said...

I like your idea that we might come together as humans to fight for a common goal....but how long would that last. If we somehow knew that an alien attack was an imminent threat then maybe we could set aside our differences and fight as one. But if a dead alien crashed on our planet and then for 50 years after we had no other contact I don't think we'd keep preparing for armageddon. Eventually everyone would say they're not coming and everything would go back to the way it was.

term said...

I think the time slowing down to nothing when approaching light speed is still relativity, but I definitely could be wrong. I think string theory just supports the idea and ability to create worm holes to travel through space. I agree with all the comments about life expectancy as noted in my original reply.

I don't really have a feeling on what an alien encounter would do for the Earth. I actually tend to lean more with Nathan in that I don't believe people could handle that kind of reality. I think that the amount tension caused by religions trying to explain what it is and how it relates to their respective god could potentially lead to some warfare.

I guess my main point is: if the Earth was filled with logical people like all of us, it would be a wonderful thing. But lets be real here. There are still people who think the world is flat. Still baffles my mind.