Is life on Mars a good sign for us?
May 12, 2008 8:11 AM   Subscribe

The "Great Filter" is a hypothetical barrier to explain why civilisations are so unlikely to progress to the point of inter-stellar colonisation that we have not encountered any in 40 years of looking. Maybe humanity has already negotiated the filter - as some massive evolutionary improbability - or perhaps it lies in our future as an almost-certain threat to our existence? We should hold our breath as we look for evidence of life on Mars.
posted by rongorongo (85 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
This is to explain why we haven't encountered colonies? Isn't simple distance (cubed!) enough? It's really hard to colonize.
posted by DU at 8:19 AM on May 12, 2008

Wow, that "Great Filter" article is chock-full of pseudo-scientific generalizations about the role of evolution in history. Not to mention the whitewashing of European colonization as "settling virgin territory," a myth that has wonderfully helped to legitimize the genocide of indigenous Americans.
posted by nasreddin at 8:22 AM on May 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

Metafilter's own Charlie Stross has written about the economic challenge of space colonization
posted by adamrice at 8:28 AM on May 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

that we have not encountered any in 40 years of looking

Yeah, I mean, we've been looking for like forever. We might as well give up now, if we've found no intelligent life within that time frame, it's obviously not going to happen.
posted by splice at 8:30 AM on May 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Slow self-sufficient interstellar boats would be nearly feasible now, if we were rich enough to construct them.

Amazingly-out-of-touch-with-reality filter?
posted by odinsdream at 8:32 AM on May 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Extraterrestrial life is like love. It is only when you have stopped looking for it that it will find you and then conquer you and take all your natural resources and enslave you and everyone you know in its vast Venusian salt mines.
posted by ND¢ at 8:35 AM on May 12, 2008 [37 favorites]

First words of this article from 1998:

Humanity seems to have a bright future

Yes, I also remember the mid-to-late nineties.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:40 AM on May 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

Anyone actually read the article? The article is basically a much better explanation of what is required to achieve a civilization capable of interstellar travel, and provides a much more reasonable measure of the number of intelligent potentially space-faring civilizations than what is given by the Drake equation.

In other words, the author is suggesting that among the list of things required for life to form into a civilization that colonizes other planets, at least one of them must be incredibly improbable, and he spends the remainder of the article trying to ascertain what that improbable factor is.

But he does make the important point that the more improbable it is for us to colonize other planets, the more emphasis (resources, technology) we should apply to avoiding or mitigating disasters that would prematurely end our civilization, including ecological and economic ones.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:42 AM on May 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

Also, Mars isn't really that germane to the discussion. Mars and Earth are close enough that one of them could have "colonized" (or even colonized with no scare quotes, if you like Erich von Daniken) each other. Life on Mars doesn't prove that life is common, is my point.
posted by DU at 8:42 AM on May 12, 2008

Can anyone save us from the Great Pomposity?

Actually, that sounds like a guy I'd like to have entertaining the kids at my funeral.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:45 AM on May 12, 2008

Top 10 Greatest Greats in the Universe!
Celebrating 13.7 billion years of Golden Galactic Greatness!
Brought to you by the Universe Appreciation Society.
It's Your Universe - Appreciate It!

10. Red spot.
9. Attractor.
8. Silence.
7. Filter.
6. Bear.
5. Wall, CfA2.
4. Wall, Sloan.
3. Britain trying to land a probe on Mars made out of pipe cleaners and tinfoil.
2. Lakes Association of Astronomy Clubs (GLAAC)'s 11th Annual "Astronomy at the Beach!" event, September 2007, at which I made out for the first time with Jenny Galloway behind the toilet block.
1. Big size of the fucking thing.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 8:45 AM on May 12, 2008 [7 favorites]

Considering our shining success with colonization here on Earth, I'm not sure colonizing the stars is something we should do, anyway.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:08 AM on May 12, 2008

Wouldn't the "Great Filter" simply be that faster than light travel isn't possible? Or even travel at anywhere close to it? Perhaps lots of civilizations have colonized their solar systems and then reached a steady state. The article asserts that spaceship speed is "not a factor", but the article is wrong.
posted by Spacelegoman at 9:09 AM on May 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by grateful at 9:10 AM on May 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

some of the assumptions are a little strange to me

first, the assumption that it's all or nothing - why would a interstellar civilization be compelled to fill up the entire galaxy? - what would be the point of creating a bunch of unmanned self-replicating machines to spread throughout the entire known universe?

it could be that interstellar civilizations get to a certain point and then decide to not go any further - if the birth rate was to level off, why would they feel compelled? - the fact that life on this planet tends to expand until it can't means nothing - after all, intelligent life forms can supposedly choose

the article assumes that an interstellar civilization might travel as fast as 1% of the speed of light - but it might be much slower than that for technological reasons

perhaps the great filter is the resourceless and relatively energyless expanses of interstellar space - perhaps it's not enough to keep a civilization from going to another star system, but it's enough to delay a civilization from going to several more without adequate reason - right now, we don't know if it's really worth our while to go to alpha centauri because we haven't done it - once we have done it, we may conclude that a trip like that is too much to bother with unless we're really running out of room - and i can consider that it might take us thousands of years to creep out that far
posted by pyramid termite at 9:15 AM on May 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

See The Physics of Extraterrestrial Civilizations by Dr. Michio Kaku.

Specifically, we can rank civilizations by their energy consumption, using the following principles:
1) The laws of thermodynamics.
2) The laws of stable matter.
3) The laws of planetary evolution.

posted by Sailormom at 9:21 AM on May 12, 2008

I dont know why accepting that life is simply extremely rare is so unsatisfying. Its just as likely as any other conclusion and so far the little evidence we have points towards it.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:22 AM on May 12, 2008

While I'm complaining I'll comment on this from TFA:
The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has been going for nearly half a century, employing increasingly powerful telescopes and data-­mining techniques; so far, it has consistently corroborated the null hypothesis.
That's pretty meaningless. SETI is a galactic crapshoot. A civizilation just like ours with our exact SETI program would not be able to detect us. Essentially, SETI not only depends on a high technological society but one that uses radio to communicate (unencrypted btw because then it would just look like random noise), and they want to be found via a SETI-like program somewhere in the universe.

Those computers could probably be better off doing protein folding or a more realistic and practical use of all the coal we are burning to run these things.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:27 AM on May 12, 2008

In the universe, extremely rare is very numerous.
posted by DU at 9:27 AM on May 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I argue the "Great Filter" is The Total Resource Suck, a.k.a. we basically eat/burn ourselves into extinction, before we get off this rock in self-perpetuating numbers. The tragedy of the Commons writ large (e.g. on a planetary scale). If a species is aggressive enough to colonize, it may be aggressive enough to perish once it runs out of places to colonize. So, no, we ain't through it yet.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:28 AM on May 12, 2008 [4 favorites]

The notion that, given a reasonable scattering of life in the galaxy, someone out there is likely to decide to saturate the whole galaxy with self-replicating probes just to see what's out there, is not crazy.

If we assume we're not Totally Wrong about the light-speed barrier, saturating the whole Milky Way with rather speedy probes might take, say, a million years.

But the Milky Way is several billion years old.

So, unless civilisation after civilisation is spitting out these probes, it would seem statistically unlikely that we would be able to see any of them. There may have been several Probe Periods in the history of the galaxy, but unless one is happening right now, it seems probable that the last one was millions of years ago, and all of the probes have long since worn out, along with the civilisation that sent them (which may still exist in the form of uploads or some incomprehensible Singularitied godhead, which would not necessarily be detectable by us).

If our present day is not lucky enough to coincide with a Probe Period, the only way we'd be able to detect probes from a previous Period would be if the probes both
(a) produce emanations that're detectable by humans at all (which they won't, if there are a few of them hanging around in our Solar System's cometary halo or somewhere right now but they're sending tight-beam transmissions to other probes, not in towards us - never mind if they're using some communication system we can't detect at all) and
(b) are durable enough to survive for a very long time indeed.

The probe designers might plausibly have considered that sort of durability to be a bad idea even if it were technically possible, given the possibility that they might then end up turning all of the cold matter in the galaxy into a zillion useless probes.
posted by dansdata at 9:31 AM on May 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

I dont know why accepting that life is simply extremely rare is so unsatisfying.
Sure, you might just as well tell me that almost every episode of Star Trek was a lie.
posted by Floydd at 9:31 AM on May 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

To me, Evolutionary Biology is the Great Filter. If you think about it, our technology (radios, SETI, computers, probes, etc.) is almost totally a product of our unique evolutionary pathway. Our eyes, brains and, perhaps above all, our fingers have evolved in such a way that luckily allows us to manipulate the electromagnetic spectrum and build probes to explore the universe with.

Would it be possible to build a radio or a probe with nothing but hooves? Or, not just build a radio, but to build the entire industrial infrastructure needed to make a single radio without opposable thumbs?

It may be that our galaxy is teeming with life: unicellular, multicellular, dumb, intelligent, god-like, sexy, whatever -- but that they have simply evolved in a way which makes it impossible or impractical for them to access the EM spectrum or build robotic probes like we have.
posted by Avenger at 9:49 AM on May 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also, previously.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 9:52 AM on May 12, 2008

Did they ever consider the whole bottom-of-a-gravity-well thing? It costs several hundred to thousands of dollars per kilo to put stuff in orbit. The camping supplies I take for a weekend out would cost the equivalent of my annual salary to put into orbit. And in return I get... I get a guy in orbit. SO maybe it has to do with not wanting to burn money pointlessly and less to do with endless masturbation.
posted by GuyZero at 9:56 AM on May 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nobody here, nor the author of the article consider the very likely possibility that we are just too ignorant (as of today) to find interstellar life. What if they are all communicating on some intergalactic shortwave radio that we haven't come up with yet?

Interstellar travel/colonization based on our current conception of physics and technology would seem either a big waste of time, or impossible (see above comments and article about giant filters). So we are faced with two possibilities:
1) We just aren't smart enough yet to figure it out, which means we aren't smart enough yet for anyone to care about us, or talk us using our smoke signal technology.
2) Nobody has done it yet -- either because it is too hard, or because it's pointless.

It seems to me that given our current rate of technological advancement, it might be a bit premature to settle on #2.
posted by spaceviking at 10:22 AM on May 12, 2008

that we have not encountered any in 40 years of looking.

1. Are you sure?
2. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:27 AM on May 12, 2008

Did they ever consider the whole bottom-of-a-gravity-well thing? It costs several hundred to thousands of dollars per kilo to put stuff in orbit. The camping supplies I take for a weekend out would cost the equivalent of my annual salary to put into orbit. And in return I get... I get a guy in orbit. SO maybe it has to do with not wanting to burn money pointlessly and less to do with endless masturbation.

There are already a number of ideas people have had that would drastically reduce that cost, such as the Space Elevator, which is pretty close to technically feasible at this point, and estimates suggest that it would reduce the cost-to-orbit by about two orders of magnitude (from $20k per kilo to about $220 per kilo). And that cost could go down even further as the technology matures and more elevators are constructed.
posted by evilangela at 10:31 AM on May 12, 2008

One seems to need a special social theory, however, to explain a "common zoo" hypothesis, that most all matter visible to us has been set aside as nature preserve.

Well that, at least, was not something I had considered before. We can't see the Galactic Federation because we're inside the Monkey House.
posted by steef at 10:41 AM on May 12, 2008

....but that they have simply evolved in a way which makes it impossible or impractical for them to access the EM spectrum....

AFAIK, there are zero species on Earth, animal or vegetable, that don't "access the EM spectrum" in at least some way. Eyes, photosynthesis, radiated warmth--something. It's just so darn handy. Granted, there could always be some crazy starting point that created a biochemistry that somehow ruled it out, but in general I don't think this is going to be ignored.

If anything, I would say that access to EM would be one of the top things guaranteed to be there. Life on a planet will usually have a local sun from which it receives its energy....
posted by DU at 10:44 AM on May 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

The spice must flow.
posted by oncogenesis at 10:48 AM on May 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nobody here, nor the author of the article consider the very likely possibility that we are just too ignorant (as of today) to find interstellar life. What if they are all communicating on some intergalactic shortwave radio that we haven't come up with yet?

That's been my opinion for some time. There might be signals everywhere, but we can't detect them in the same way that cavemen couldn't receive a radio signal.

I personally don't think we've been around long enough as an intelligent species to even have a statistical chance in hell of being discovered by another race. We may spend the rest of our time here trying to find someone else, but it beats the hell out of giving up.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:15 AM on May 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nobody said we should give up -- we just need to invent the radio -- whatever that is. Discovering how gravity works would be a good start... =)
posted by spaceviking at 11:20 AM on May 12, 2008

I believe in Australians. I'm 100% sure they exist but I can't see any from here and when I call for them, none come.

Where are all the Australians?
posted by popcassady at 11:22 AM on May 12, 2008

GuyZero That's assuming you are dealing with rockets. There's other ways to get stuff into orbit that are likely to be vastly less expensive. If its cargo that can withstand high acceleration you can go the catapult route, we could build a catapult to put stuff in to low Earth orbit using off the shelf components. A space elevator is another possibility. And then there's the entire wide field of "stuff we haven't throught of yet".

Moreover, go the Von Newman route and you only have to do it *once*. Build one self replicating robot exploration ship and you can explore the entire universe for the price of the prototype. Who cares if it only travels at 1% of c? It'll get there eventually, set up shop, build more of its kind, and send them out. If I was designing it, I'd have the original stay in its destination star system and act as a communication relay and continuing observation post. A few thousand years later you'll have hundreds of star systems seeded with your bots.

That said, I agree with a lot of people here that the author seems to be working on several flawed assumptions, chief among them that anyone doing interstellar exploration would feel compelled to pull a Columbus and massively disrupt local life, and that seems unlikely. A species that was simply curious might very well build its Von Newmans to make a minimal impact where they go simply so they can observe the locals without being noticed. Maybe there's a few in our system right now [cue Twilight Zone music].

I very much agree that 40 years of ill funded searching isn't enough basis to declare that we're the only sentient life in our light cone.
posted by sotonohito at 11:27 AM on May 12, 2008

(Warning: somewhat tired woolgathering post).

It's a fascinating question. I'm reminded of an Ian M. Banks novel (I forget which one) in which a civilization that has successfully inhabited several planets in its system for hundreds, if not thousands of years is so unbearably ancient, layers encrusted on layers, as they are in a remote cluster, in which the nearest star system is thousands of light-years away. There's simply no point in trying to communicate with anything.

I also recall an article recently that alien civilizations might experience an "Inward Turning". If you think about it, our own communication technologies have tended to become quieter, more stealthy, over time: from radio transmitters to satellite to fibre-optic cable. I'd be interested to see if there was graph of mankind's radio frequency output over time, measured from a distance of a light-year or so - I'd guess that the output would peak in the 70's and decline steadily since then.

I'd expect that trend to continue - there's little trace of quantum communication at interstellar distances. Perhaps a civilization that survives a technological Singularity to become brains-on-a-chip would turn endlessly on itself, contemplating its own cybernetic navel, invisible to, and uninterested in, the outside world.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 11:41 AM on May 12, 2008

Who to believe: the director of the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford, or an internet forum?
posted by BeerFilter at 11:45 AM on May 12, 2008

I think about this all the time. One hypothesis that blows my mind is the possibility that Earth is the most advanced technological civilization in the universe. That would be cool in some ways and totally suck in other ways.
posted by autodidact at 11:46 AM on May 12, 2008

This is slightly off topic, but not so much.

One of my students is currently writing his final paper about faster than light travel. I'll say this quickly:

Faster than light travel implies time travel. Faster than light communication implies talking with the past. Both are impossible. (see the No-communication Theorem for instance - this means no transmission of information faster than the speed of light.)

For theoretically possible methods that do not violate general relativity, you need very strong censorship principles with worm holes to do this. And to build any sort of physically, not even realistic, but acceptable under the working laws of the universe, you need exotic matter with negative mass. Good luck with that.

Reading Charles Stross's essay, made me consider something else- assume for a moment that you can get people to the nearest inhabitable system. We'll go with his generous guess of it being 20 light years away. There is no economic motivation to go there. By helping to send someone out there, you are simply pouring money into a pit. By the time they're there, you're dead. What company would finance that sort of long term thinking? What government?

I think the only possible way to do this is from a biotech point of view. Make it so that we can create "humans" that can survive in the vacuum of space. Create something so that their food sources can also somehow survive off of, say, alpha particles. Or even better, allow them to obtain their requisite energy from a nuclear source. You won't be getting anything for solar power out there. (I owe a debt for this idea to John Scalzi's Old Man's War trilogy.)

But once again, profit motive strikes, and also, people like that, are they still human? We have enough trouble if a person has the wrong bits on their body, the wrong skin, or happens to love the wrong people. What happens if they look completely different from anything we've seen before?

We're stuck here. And you can forget that radio. It doesn't exist.

On a hopefully more optimistic point, does anybody have any sort of figures on how much it would cost to terraform Mars? Ignore getting stuff off the earth there, more, just what materials would be needed, how long it would take, etc.
posted by Hactar at 11:49 AM on May 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

That said, I agree with a lot of people here that the author seems to be working on several flawed assumptions, chief among them that anyone doing interstellar exploration would feel compelled to pull a Columbus and massively disrupt local life, and that seems unlikely. A species that was simply curious might very well build its Von Newmans to make a minimal impact where they go simply so they can observe the locals without being noticed.

It doesn't take every civilization that matures to feel that way for it to become an issue. It only takes one.

Heck, a paranoid civilization could develop that's so worried about someone else destroying them they create a Von Neumann machine for the purpose of finding other live in the galaxy... and destroying it. I have seen some scientists suggest that all the radio transmissions we're sending out may well be making us a target for anything out there in the galaxy that operates under that principle.

It's always possible that the "filter" is a fleet of such probes that hunt down and destroy a civilization as soon as they announce their presence, before they can get to the point they could protect themselves.
posted by evilangela at 11:52 AM on May 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

A fundamental misconception is that there has to be just one Filter. If you have many low probability requirements, that's just as good as having one super-low probability requirement. He identified what I consider several perfectly good filters.
-suitable planets (the apparent commonness of destructive giants makes Earths less likely)
-abiogenesis (just because we have so little knowledge of it)
-complex cells (2 BY to happen!)
-multicellular life (1 BY)
-land life + advanced brain + culture-promoting-lifecycle + hands + good luck to get started (1 BY)

Sufficiently powerful extinction events probably occur with the right frequency to keep many of these from getting to the next step. Now that we're here we have to get through

-appropriate population levels, renewable energy, space travel
-no self-induced environmental catastrophe

He points out that a civilization collapse doesn't mean the end of things, but with the easy to get at natural resources (energy, ores, biodiversity) virtually depleted, a civilization collapse at this point might make recovery impossible by placing the rebuilding time on the same scale as the collapse time. It's very reasonable that an aggressive species burns itself out, like ours is doing right now.

Finally, yeah, they could be orbiting around Jupiter (or in L4) and watching, since we have an obviously interesting planet. It's only been 100 years of radio.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 12:28 PM on May 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space.
The Drake equation just says there's likely to be somebody out there; it doesn't require that they're anywhere near by.
posted by jenkinsEar at 12:41 PM on May 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Bora Horza Gobuchu: I'm reminded of an Ian M. Banks novel (I forget which one) in which a civilization that has successfully inhabited several planets in its system for hundreds, if not thousands of years is so unbearably ancient, layers encrusted on layers, as they are in a remote cluster, in which the nearest star system is thousands of light-years away.

That'd be Against a Dark Background: a planet called Golter, which, with its sun Thrial, lies a million light years from any other star. Lazy Gun > Reason.
posted by Freaky at 1:37 PM on May 12, 2008

There is no economic motivation to go there. By helping to send someone out there, you are simply pouring money into a pit. By the time they're there, you're dead.

Do you have any kids? Looking at birthrates around the world, I'm forced to conclude that a primary motivating factor for people to have children is "I'll need someone to take care of me in my old age", which probably isn't a concern for anyone posting on Metafilter, but there seem to be a few people left who just take a personal interest in and want to have a more direct influence on what happens to humanity even after they themselves die.
posted by roystgnr at 2:13 PM on May 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Perhaps there are entire planets that exist as intelligent life. They orbit their intelligent stars, and the entire orbit and gravitational holding on, and resistance of entropy is an intelligent form.

The hypothesis that life has to be mindlessly aggressive, and overreaching seems somewhat egocentric. There are places that remain in balance for a long time, and where change comes slowly.

I think that the chemistry of life as we know it, would be the nano-technology that spreads throughout our galaxy. It has been described by some scientists that those chunks of space ice that strike our atmosphere, might teem with microscopic life.

Life is not like a slot machine, that will either never pay, or will pay outrageously.

Lastly, who is to say that "they" are not our ancestors? Who is to say "they" have never been here? Look up the Sego Canyon Fremont Pictograph panel, in Thompson Springs Utah. Standing in front of it, it sure looks like visitors to me. Even the Loch Ness monster, peeks up from the bottom of the panel. It is thought to be more than 2000 years old. The area is full of Uranium, and other sites that have these "visitor type" pictographs, are in areas rich in Uranium.

I don't think it is OK for the powers that be on this planet, to attempt to broadcast our location, or assume responsibility for making contact. We aren't nearly peaceable enough, to spread our civilization, nor are we strong enough to defend what we have.

We are drooling over Mars. Mars, deserves its own evolutionary path, and perhaps it has already been a part of ours. We have no business influencing even touching any other planet in this system. They belong to themselves.

There is not another Earth, why don't we figure out how to do well with the one we have?

File this under typical crotchety rant.
posted by Oyéah at 2:30 PM on May 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hactar I've got one question and one disagreement.

The question first since your academic area appears to be physics of some sort. Given what you said about FTL communication, how does that work with entangled photons? I recall reading, not too long back, that they'd successfully communicated across a couple of kilometers using entangled photons and didn't see many problems increasing that distance indefinately; that appears, to my layman's eyes, to be a form of FTL communication. Can you point me to a reource that might help me understand?

I do disagree that there is no benefit to interstellar travel. It would appear to be a good safety measure to avoid our species going extinct if something really nasty happened in our solar system. Admittedly that's a *very* long term type investment, and would give no actual economic benefit, but it would seem to be the sort of thing an incredibly wealthy government might be interested in funding.

And ideology seems to be a good enough reason for interplanetary colonization, if not interstellar. Yes, as Stross points out with Sterling's quote the Gobi Desert is vastly more friendly to humans than Luna or Mars, but if I wanted to colonize the Gobi Desert I'd have to deal with the PRC. I wouldn't be surprised to see some groups colonizing space simply so they can found their own government. And, once you get a sizeable population in space at all I think we might see a snowball effect. Much like the internet, there's no point in doing it unless there are lots of other people doing it.
posted by sotonohito at 3:23 PM on May 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've come to the conclusion that when humanity started, everyone else in the Milky Way said "There goes the neighbourhood," and buggered off in advance of the inevitable decline in property value.
posted by never used baby shoes at 3:23 PM on May 12, 2008

The Drake equation just says there's likely to be somebody out there

the drake 'equation' doesn't say anything. it's just a bunch of unknowns multiplied together.
posted by bhnyc at 3:47 PM on May 12, 2008

XKCD's take on the Drake Equation seems to be the best take I've seen on it.
posted by sotonohito at 3:51 PM on May 12, 2008

I've never understood why it's so improbable that a) the "Great Filter" is ahead of us, b) we can't overcome it and c) we can't be one of the early civilizations that do it. Why do we assume that if intelligent life is out there, we are their version of Neanderthals?

In other words, in the future, why can't there be a giant pan-galactic space empire and that Earth is the home planet?

and if there is, why can't I have a lightsaber now?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:56 PM on May 12, 2008

If there is intelligent life out there, you have to look at the statistics. Let's just pick a random vaguely-Earthlike species - carbon-based, water, heavy metals, the kinds of things you'd find in a typical second generation or later star system.

Now, given a Universe that is maybe 13.5 billion years old (plus or minus a billion), the idea that we'd be the first on the scene is kind of odd, given that ours is probably a third-generation solar system. We would be running up against civilizations from the second-generation of stars, which would be billions of years older. Unless there's some evolutionary process that favors third-generation stars, in which case, there's still probably a few stars a billion years or so ahead of Sol.

On top of that, it's taken us maybe four thousand years to get from fairly primitive workings to modern civilization, and then lots of noisy, easily-noticed radio communications just in the last hundred. The only way we'd be the older kids on the block is if civilizations simply died out very quickly, such that their period from radio to self-annihilation was on the order of decades. (Take that as you will) We'd be talking to the folks who just invented radio.

Oh, and as to entanglement, you still have to perform a light-or-slower comparison to get information out of your entangled channel. Let's imagine a box wherein you have either a red ball or a green ball, but you don't know yet which one you have because you haven't opened it. The second you open it and find the red ball, someone else's wave function collapses (it's been a while, so forgive the handwaving) and you know they have the green ball. Or your partner opened the box and found the green ball, and collapsed the probability for your box to down to just having the red ball. Either way, you, personally, do not have any information transmitted, but the universe's secret data channels (it's like a private IP space over fiber while you've still got a pitiful modem on public space) push data around. Thus far, there have been a number of schemes wiggling around to get out of it, none of which I understand, but I have yet to see a successful one with a published abstract that didn't get torn to bits shortly thereafter.

Personally, I have nothing against FTL or the logically equivalent time travel, so long as someone comes up with something better than "Well, maybe there's some kind of cosmic censor that stops paradoxes from happening!" Give me a paradox-free explanation that doesn't sound like the Hand of Fate trying to stop you from whacking your great-grandfather with your laser pistol and I might have some interest.
posted by adipocere at 4:49 PM on May 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hactar, your point about the profit motive raises interesting questions. An energy-consumption "profit motive" is close to a law of biology (in that an organism that requires more energy to survive than it can gather from food dies), but there are ways around that, and so long as the species itself survives, it doesn't matter what happens to any given individual. It doesn't matter if laying a clutch of eggs kills a moth, if the eggs survive to do the same.

Extending that to our species--or our pan-species "kind of life", for we would probably bring other Earthlings with us--on an astronomical scale, it wouldn't matter if we destroyed the whole Earth to get into space, presuming we successfully got into space thereby. We would have become a space-faring species. (Don't mistake that for advocacy, I find the idea horrible!) If we got to at least one other planet, and were able to do it again, we would have achieved "metabolism"; if we were able to get to at least two other planets, and were able to do it again on each, we would have achieved "reproduction".

It seems reasonable to expect that those lifeforms that achieve "reproduction" in the space-operatic sense at lower cost (eg, don't destroy their planets in the process) will be more successful in the long term. However those that reproduce at greater speed, regardless of their destructiveness, will out-compete more frugal species, at least until the inability to back-track starts to matter.

My point is, the "profit motive" on the scale you're talking about, ie individual/corporation/government, matters as much in the long term as the "profit motive" for a red blood cell matters in the survival of a mammal. It contributes a tiny amount to an vast aggregation.

If some method, any method, of achieving interstellar travel is developed, no matter how costly it is to Earth, "we" (the Earthlings, not any of us as people) get our ticket out, into the universe. Same goes for any other life-forms. The fact that we haven't seen any within our mere hundred light-year radius of detection in a mere thousand years (I'll put the limit of sight at "taking a serious and rational interest in astronomy" rather than "inventing radio") doesn't even mean that they are rare. It doesn't mean anything at all, IMO, in terms of the statistical frequency and behavior of intelligent civilizations.

On a hopefully more optimistic point, does anybody have any sort of figures on how much it would cost to terraform Mars? Ignore getting stuff off the earth there, more, just what materials would be needed, how long it would take, etc.
Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars series is "hard" SF about that exact thing, and is probably as good as any purely-factual estimate.

Here's a purely factual estimate: Technological Requirements for Terraforming Mars

How about we terraform Australia, Africa, northeastern Asia, Greenland and Antartica first? :)
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:28 PM on May 12, 2008

I wondered if this was going to make it to the blue.

Terrible, terrible, completely awful article.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:58 PM on May 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

We are the horrible thing happening in our solar system. All of the scheming of chemicals, the wash of solar forces, the evolution, the selection, the desire, the drive, the pondering, and we are the product. We are of this world, made to exact specifics. Any other place, places us in a room, to protect us from that other place. Meanwhile on Mars, "life" is working to become, and the end product should be of Mars, Martian. The Martian life should be wedded to its exact world, as we are wed to ours. We have no rights to form Mars, or to interfere with the life that is there, was there, or will be there. The life that comes will match the planet vibration for vibration, in exact tune with Mar's relationship to the Sun.

Yo, future strip mall builder, how dare you discuss trashing this world, for the chance to take your semen, to some other. And then, in some semantic twist, imagine a bitter victory of misplaced DNA, over the incredible diversity, and beauty that is this world.

We are the great, dumb filter that will end our future as a species. We have barely survived this world, or our own stupidity before. The Human Genome project learned that our species was down to a population of 2,500 at some point in the last 50,000 years. This is a drop in the bucket as far as space time goes, but represents an unavoidable image of our fragility, in the face of the Universe.

Out of that 2,500 came all of us, and apparently we do mess around. I think that mobile, land creatures as we are, are perhaps, not the cream of the crop as far as life forms go.
posted by Oyéah at 7:22 PM on May 12, 2008

Oyéah So... It was OK for the 2,000 year old astronauts you believe in to come to Earth and colonize, but it isn't OK for us to do the same because we're a "horrible thing"? This makes sense how?

I'll be the first to concede that our current meta-culture sucks donkey balls, but that doesn't indicate that there is something inherently wrong with H. Sap as a species. We've changed meta-cultures in the past, and I'm convinced that our current meta-culture can't last more than another hundred years or so.

You've obviously got a low opinion of humans, and of course you've got a right to that opinion, but I, for one, completely reject the idea that we should limit ourselves as a species just becuase you've got some metaphysial ramblings that say we're supposed to stay on Earth.

“The Earth is the cradle of mankind, but one cannot remain in the cradle forever.” - Konstantin Tsiolkovsky
posted by sotonohito at 7:45 PM on May 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

Right now we have an almost perfect world. We have the ability to travel between any two points on the planet within a day or so if we want to, and communicate between those points in seconds. We have food and shelter in abundance. We have the ability to create, experience, and reproduce virtually any work of art trivially. We have nearly everything we want here. We are almost "done" on Earth, we've almost "won".

We just have a few problems. The first, most immediate one is that even those members of our species who receive all of those above benefits die far sooner than they'd like, sooner than they're personally ready to. Whether people would ever be "ready" to die from a life of comfort if they didn't have to would be a reasonable question, but its safe to say that almost all people who die right now die before they feel they're ready to. The second, larger, problem is that most of the members of our species actually don't receive all of the above benefits. The third, biggest problem, related to the second, is that we probably don't have enough resources to maintain our global civilization's above capabilities at current rates of consumption, much less the ability to extend them to everyone.

Now, none of these problems seem inherently unsolvable. So if we could solve them, possibly through extreme population control and technological breakthroughs in medicine, ecology, and energy production and use, I think we will have truly "won" existence as we understand it.

Why am I blabbing on like this? Well, I'm addressing those who claim we'd never colonize other stars because there would be no "point" economically or otherwise. If we can win the game of existence it will raise the question of what do we do next? I think there are two interrelated obvious answers: First, capture as much energy from our sun as possible to put to our own use to expand our civilization's size and longevity within our solar system. Second, expand to other stars for the practical purpose of providing a "backup" of humanity in the event of a disaster in our solar system, or to avoid the distant but eventual catastrophe of the demise of the Sun, but also just for the purpose of having a purpose. To create a second civilization to communicate with, to exchange notes with, and just to experience kinship with, even if no individual members could travel directly between them or even hold up a direct conversation given the communications times involved.

This set of events seems fairly obvious to me. Maybe I'm crazy, but I think if we can solve our more immediate social and environmental problems, our long term destiny is slower than light colonization of the galaxy. The "Great Filter" is scary in that it suggests that, if its still in our future, either our social and environmental problems may be unsolvable, or even slower than light colonization is, for some unknown reason, impossible.
posted by Reverend John at 7:57 PM on May 12, 2008

I actually think that we should stay here, until things are so utterly peaceful, and balanced, that we are dying a death of boredom. When the children are fed, when the land is in good stead, when no one lacks because our world's resources are diverted to interplanetary gamesmanship, then we might find the way to travel in an entirely different fashion, than by heavy machinery. Maybe when we become appealing enough as a life form, in general, across all our populations, the others that do travel will pay us a friendly visit. As we are, we present in such an uncouth and unfriendly fashion, with such imperialistic ideals, we are more likely to meet enemies, than allies.

Scheming to mine or terra form Mars, is offensive, and greedy. We have arisen on a jewel of a planet, an absolutely rare liquid water world, rife with unknowns and potentials, and life we have yet to discover. In our rush for convenience, and to forward our various species goals, we are trashing the cradle of our life. We need to focus all planetary resources on this planet, and undoing what we have wrought.
posted by Oyéah at 7:59 PM on May 12, 2008

That's kind of sweet, Oyéah, but impractical. Advancement comes from adversity. If we're all fed, there's no reason to improve farming. And so on.

In terms of morality and existence, I think you're trying to argue that the human species has a moral responsibility, and/or culpability, that other species lack. We are what we are. We, humans, are "life" too, and that being the case, we have the same "right" to colonize Mars, that your flu viruses have to colonize me when you sneeze next to me in the elevator. It's perverse to condemn us, as a uniquely evil species, when every other living thing, basically engages in the same struggle.

The same question is repeated, large and small, in our history. Was it immoral for our ancestors to kill off (or at least, outbreed) homo neanderthalis? Was it immoral for the ancestors of modern Japanese to kill off/outbreed the ancestors of modern Ainu? Was it immoral for near-modern Europeans to conquer and colonize most of the rest of the world? Conversely, was it moral for near-modern Chinese to not do so? And so on.

And not just us, either. Is it immoral for the cat species to out-breed and out-compete and out-predate native Australian species?

I suspect the question is invalid; it's analogous to asking if it's moral for my heart to fail, leaving my lungs and liver to fend for themselves. Or if it's moral for a tumor to grow inside my brain, crowding out my tissues and denying the rest of me resources.

Morality, as a concept, depends upon free will. (I present that as an axiom. Contrary axioms do exist of course, eg Calvinism or Buddhism.) It's not reasonable to credit your heart, lungs or a tumor with free will; thus sub-individual biology is not subject to morality. It's barely reasonable to credit a society of humans with free will, and therefore supra-individual sociology is barely subject to morality. It's not reasonable at all to suggest that humans, as a species, have free will, and therefore the human species is not subject to morality. Only as individuals can we be moral or not.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 9:15 PM on May 12, 2008

I've never quite understood the desire to stay sedentary, at least as far as exploration/settling is concerned. It just seems so... I dunno, lazy.

Yes, we should work on getting everyone fed, happy, and living until they die of boredom. But I just don't see how that's a purely good thing. Where's the excitement, the adventure?

Waiting until aliens come by and pay is a visit? That seems like a great way to never get visited, since by not advancing in spacefaring technology, we're likely to be seen as a novel curiosity at best (thinking of zoos/nature preserves.)
Now, obviously that's fine for some people, but not me. Exploration, even if it has to be the hard kind, is just something that I feel running through my blood. I can only hope that there are enough others out there with the same drive, although history has shown that there generally are.

As far as enemies vs allies, that's a valid point, but I'd personally (in both a purely personal sense and in sense of the human race) rather take my chances.

Anyway, this article (read it last week via slashdot) didn't really make much sense to me. I didn't quite understand why finding life on other planets was a bad thing. I get the bit about the Von Neumann machines or whatever, but that seems way too narrow of a view. And I'm still not sure why finding life on Mars is something that dooms us as a spacefaring civilization. I actually did read the thing, and re-read sections of it, but still couldn't find the connection. The stuff about the "Great Filter" seemed separate from the article's premise that ET Life = Bad for us.

I guess ultimately, I'm a hopeless romantic. After all, I have been signing up to have my name put on every NASA probe that has offered to "send your name to x."
posted by agress at 9:26 PM on May 12, 2008

Who to believe: the director of the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford, or an internet forum?

he has exactly as much hard data on extraterrestrial civilizations as we do - none at all


Meanwhile on Mars, "life" is working to become,

oyeah, do you have some proof of that? - if mars doesn't have life then it's just a huge collection of rocks and rocks don't have rights

and if mars is some kind of big, big critter than i think it can probably take care of itself - or ignore us like it's been doing for millions of years
posted by pyramid termite at 12:42 AM on May 13, 2008

he has exactly as much hard data on extraterrestrial civilizations as we do - none at all
On the balance of probabilities, he has a tiny amount less. We're certain he's not an extraterrestrial. We can't be quite as certain that none of us are.

(It's not me. I'll give ya that one free of charge.)
posted by aeschenkarnos at 12:44 AM on May 13, 2008

We're certain he's not an extraterrestrial.

we are?
posted by pyramid termite at 1:00 AM on May 13, 2008

I woke up this morning heard the birds singing, remembered this thing I had read the day before about a particular species of shrimp that can see twice as much color, across a wider band-width than us and they use this greater perceived spectra to communicate, and thought for a moment about how we live in a Rumsfeldian universe, (to paraphrase) There are known knowns and there are known unknowns but there are also unknown unknowns. And it's this latter category that will always surprise us.

Conclusion, Rumsfeld is an alien in league with particular species of shrimp who are seeking to sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids.

Next problem, puny internet! Sock it to me!
posted by From Bklyn at 3:36 AM on May 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

sotonohito, I can see your point about both long term thinking and extended life spans. I agree about the extinction bit and I hope that if we can survive long enough that the age of the sun starts to become an issue people will think about it. I was thinking about the current state of the world, and honestly, I just can't be that optimistic. But I can see the benefits- I just don't know if others can.

As for sending information- (disclaimer, I am a high school teacher, so while I have an educated layman's knowledge and a fair ability to understand scientific information easily, I may have misunderstood- if there are academics around, please correct me) wikipedia has a fairly good explanation on this. You can send quantum bits of information superluminally, but that this information cannot contain an actual message. Sending "classical" information, that is a signal that contains what we would think of as information cannot be done through quantum means.

A good explanation of the time-travel aspect can be found here. If you're unfamiliar with relativity and Lorentz transformations, read his earlier essays. It's a little bit dense, but he lays it out really nicely. Another site is here, which is a bit easier reading. (And the excerpt from the Baxter novel made my day.)

I hope this helps. As I said before, I'm working with a college education in math/physics here (fairly recent), but not an academician's understanding.
posted by Hactar at 6:46 AM on May 13, 2008

I loved both this article and the discussion that followed.

I grew up reading way too much science fiction in the '70s and assumed that my life would be part of the Great Push To The Stars. After humanities obvious disappointment about the general dreariness of the moon (perhaps disappointment in the local rock is the "Great Filter"), over the last 40 years I've resigned myself to living with my dear old parent planet for the rest of my days. I still believe though, that 'what is out there?' is one of the greatest questions that science has yet to answer, on a par with some of the questions that the ancients wrestled with and in many cases, answered or came close to answering.

Whether or not you agree with the reasoning and the conclusions, that there is someone thinking full time about this question and funded to do so, is very encouraging. Clearly from the responses, there is still much insightful interest.

On another note, I am fed up of hearing that we are but 'grains of sand' in the vastness of the universe. It is refreshing to read a point of view that, after centuries of going out of fashion, opens the door again to the possibility that humanity and indeed life are (possibly) effectively unique and therefore ever so much more precious in the grand scheme of things. Cheers to that thought - long may it not be disproven!
posted by duncan42 at 7:07 AM on May 13, 2008

adipocere, paradoxes are only a concern if you privilege the experienced present as an "absolute present", which means that the future does not exist until it is experienced (and similarly, the past does not exist after it is experienced). If you are willing to concede predetermination, then paradoxes do not exist as they resolve themselves. At any rate, the notion of an absolute present seems more likely to be a quirk of human perception than anything, as relativity very effectively eradicates the possibility (relativity of simultaneity), and has no problem whatsoever with time travel. In fact, the time travel whole can of worms was opened by Gödel as a present for Einstein's birthday, or so the story goes.
posted by mek at 8:32 AM on May 13, 2008

Since we have so much to gain, by Mars colonization, I maintain, that we have an enormous conflict of interest, when it comes to defining "life" on Mars. We haven't the ethical constructs to grant "life" on Mars, the right to exist, undisturbed. We are not going to do that, we don't even do that here, and our lives depend on doing that.

Until we have what it takes ethically to deal with life and the rights of life on other celestial bodies, we shouldn't travel to them. Until we have the intellectual capacity to understand other types of life, and recognize them, we should not trespass on worlds that do not belong to us. We are only beginning to grasp the energy play of sub-atomic particles. What is the first thing we do with it? We create better weaponry. Who funds the Mars exploration, the vested interests. Do the vested interests care if there is life on Mars? They care about the raw materials of Mars. They care about whether or not there is enough water to sustain life on Mars, to use the raw materials. Why would there be any terra forming, on Mars? So the workers don't go crazy without some greenery, or fresh food to eat. The rest of the questions, are just fluff, local whip topping on top of the plans for future profit-taking. This is from the MARTE experiment. Rio Tinto Mining has a big stake in Mars exploration. The buzz is oh, we are looking for life on the planet. We are funding their search for future profit.

Future applications for technology demonstrated on MARTE include Mars resource exploration and utilization. Exploration for Martian resources will require drilling. Deep drilling into the Mars subsurface could gain direct access to liquid water, a key resource for Mars exploration. Liquid water can be used to make rocket propellants, fuel cells, life support consumables, and a myriad of manufactured products."

If we really respected life and the difficulty with which it arises, it is likely that we won't go to "virgin" worlds. In order for a huge web of life to form, that is germane to the raw materials present on a world, it has to start among the things of that world and progress to the "highest" form of life the planet can support. The planet makes its own mind, to my way of thinking.

There are many wonderful wunderkinder in Science, that genuinely hold a holy curiosity about life, the location and nature of life. They want to know if there is life on Mars. That doesn't mean that we won't walk all over it, deem it irrelevant once we find it, or kill it if it rusts our machinery there, or makes our personnel sick, once warmed up. We want to know if there is life on Mars, like it matters, like it is an excuse to fund exploration for wealthy corporate interests. We are lackeys for murderous rogues. The Earth is currently reminding us that our environmental sins are not a matter for forgiveness, but a matter of the restoration of balance, and our survival is not figured in to the Gaia equation.

We already dropped a big nuke on Jupiter, we already set down another on Titan. What would we have said if Titan had just blown to pieces by some magic ignition of that volatile surface? How do we know that there wasn't great harm to Jupiter when we crashed that probe there a few years ago. It just wasn't a problem for us, by the extension of our Earthly thinking, the Solar system is our toilet.

We need to realize that it is The Solar System we live in. It is not "Our Solar System", therefore the other planets are not "Ours" to do with what we please.

Those fancy pants ancestors of mine, left Europe and came and claimed "The New World" from its inhabitants, who were also my ancestors. They called them savages, the Romans called the inhabitants of Northern Europe, barbarians, we will call whatever life we find on Mars to be a wonderful curiosity, now crank up that drill, baby, we have some mining to do on this new planet of ours. We look back at our own history, and know that what happened was reprehensible, and propose to do it again and again.

Can't we please do right by what we have, and create a global agreement regarding our presence in space? Remember that recently it was proposed to place advertisements on the surface of the full moon? Do we really have to go to Mars to mine because humans suffer from hyperactivity, syndromes? Do we have to go to the moon to collect energy because we aren't going to figure out how to live peaceably on this world, and relearn the interface between us, our need to eat and take shelter, and not burn down this world to do it? Do we really have to electronically stimulate our brains to the extent that the natural energies of this world, have no home in us, no recognition, no appeal?
posted by Oyéah at 12:39 PM on May 13, 2008

What if our relationship with the stars it's not common in the universe? We have studied the stars for cultural, practical and political reasons for centuries. But maybe a different civilization might have no reason to do the same.
I mean, I can't even imagine a civilization colonizing space without first inventing science fiction.
posted by darkripper at 1:09 PM on May 13, 2008

Oyéah You appear to have several misunderstandings, and a lack of education about both life and the other planets in this system.

Let me address the misunderstanding first. No one has proposed, seriously or otherwise, visiting Mars with the intent of exporting Martian materials to Earth. Economically it makes no sense at all. Even assuming there was an abundance of valuable materials on Mars, which there doesn't appear to be, the effort of mining, refining, and boosting those materials to Earth just wouldn't show a profit even if we envision space elevators on Mars as well as Earth.

Lack of education comes in, I think, when you discuss life on Mars. We have not yet been able to thoughly explore Mars, but to date all evidence indicates that no life exists there at all, not even at the bacterial or viral scale. Some people still hold out hope that we may find low level life on Mars, but it is appearing to be increasinly unlikely as we look closer. As far as terraforming goes, that's barely at the pipe dream phase, it certainly couldn't even begin until we have a better understanding of areography, and I rather doubt anyone will go ahead with terraforming efforts until we have verified that we won't be squashing any Martian life. Contrary to your belief that humans are evil thugs, those involved in space exploration are quite interested in finding and preserving extraterresteral life.

We have not dropped nukes on any planet but Earth, and your mischaracterization of the exploration of Saturn and Jupiter does little to give support to either your cause, or the idea that you know what you're talking about.

Let's look at the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn first. You appear to be vaguely aware that the Cassini spacecraft is powered by plutonium. However the Huygens probe, the part that actually entered Titan's atmosphere and landed on its surface, is not. It ran off conventional batteries, no plutonium, no "nukes", nothing like that at all. So even by the furthest stretch of the word we did *NOT* "nuke" Titan.

Further, the idea that Titan might "blow to pieces" is the most ignorant thing you said in this thread, and that's saying something. Outside bad Sci-Fi planets do not blow up; not unless you smack them with a humungous asteroid or something similar. Titan's surface is not, actually, volitile because there's no free oxygen in Titan's atmosphere. Yes, methane and amonia make up a large amount of Titan's surface and atmosphere, and yes on Earth those materials are volitile. But that's only because we have an abundance of free oxygen on Earth. No oxygen == no burning and no exploding. Titan is many things, but a volitile place just waiting for a tiny spark to blow to pieces it ain't.

Jupiter. There, at least, you were not operating entirely in ignorance. Yes, the Galileo spacecraft was deliberately crashed into Jupiter, and yes it contained plutonium. However it was not, by any stretch of the imagination a "huge nuke" or indeed a nuke of any sort, in that it was not designed to produce an explosion. It takes a lot to make fissionable materials explode, basically anything that is not built specifically to explode can't. More important the particular isotope of plutonium used in the power cells of the Galileo probe is not useful in making weapons, it won't go boom even with the best engineering humans can bring to bear.

There were 15.6 kilos of plutonium on Galileo, that's around 2.5 times the plutonium that was in the Fat Man bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki. Which sounds like a lot except, remember, its not the right kind of plutonium to make a nuke out of. And remember that Fat Man was tiny by the standards of nukes. Yes, I wouldn't want to be next door if a bomb that size went off, but it isn't "huge".

Then there is the reason why Galileo was steered into Jupiter. Which, apparently, you are completely ignorant of if you're ranting about how evil humanity is because we "nuked" Jupiter. We did it to avoid even possibly contaminating Jupiter's moon Europa with terran micro-organisms, because while it isn't likely it is possible that there is life on Europa and we didn't want to screw it up.

Then of course, there's the small matter that Shoemaker Levy 9 hit Jupiter with enough energy to reduce the Earth to gravel 9 years before we preserved Europa by putting Galileo safely into Jupiter. I figure that one tiny little probe can't possibly be more harmful than a cometary spray powerful enough to completely destroy Earth.
posted by sotonohito at 1:31 PM on May 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

posted by OverlappingElvis at 4:22 PM on May 13, 2008

I didn't say export materials to Earth. I mentioned colonize Mars.

There was a long discussion about the pressures of Jupiter, creating a large explosion when that probe penetrated, and images of a large dark spot that formed, linked in at least one scientist's mind to probability that the explosion under extreme atmospheric pressure, caused a dark spot on Jupiter. There is a lot of official nay-saying about that effect. Okay, but what if?

I am horrifically well educated, and I don't suffer from academic "in the box thinking". Galileo was steered in to Jupiter, to save Europa, so altruistic. Since no one knows what is on Jupiter, I consider the whole thing to be an example of "not thinking", and convenient solution making. Shoemaker-Levy was named by us, but was not us, just witnessed by us, was not our responsibility. Galileo was our responsibility.

In images from Mars there are gigantic "green splashes" in classic organic form. It is suggested that these are Olivine, maybe the spectroscopic analysis says it is Olivine. Scientists on Earth have long suggested that there are fossilized bacterial remains on Martian meteorites. We gage life by life here, just as I suggest those large splashes look organic in pattern. Well, life doesn't have to be even vaguely like us, or anything here. Good luck finding it, with little robots, fantastic little rolling robots, who were lucky enough to be blown free of dust by Martian winds. I look at their images a few times a week. What an amazing and beautiful place, that I could only see, because we are there. But really, couldn't we see it, without being there? The answer to that is yes.

I never made a personal remark in my posts, but I think that the "Science" being directed at Mars, though fascinating, is money not well spent. The money is spent to guarantee a monopoly of resources, for our first extra-planetary colony. All this talk about preserving life on Mars, looking for life on Mars, is a clever lie, to lure the wonder of the public to fund future profit taking schemes, that will not serve whatever life, is, or would have been, on Mars.

The earnest and fabulous scientists working on this, are just shills, but how wonderful it all is. The images from Saturn, the mysterious waves in the crater that Opportunity is poised to enter. The images from Mars reveal a world of "Other Worldly" beauty. Now there are tire tracks. Mars is doing just fine without us. So are all the rest of the planets in "The Solar System", where we live.

I love it when patient fatheads project sound up into their refined nasal cavities, and try to make contemptuous noise using type. I just wish I could actually hear these words, I could wear a pillory, and stand in the village square, I could be pummeled with gyoza, and splashed with three day old squid water. However, all of this still won't make it okay to build colonies on Mars, and roads, and run RV's all over the dunes. Here is a hiaku, for you.

Lone cherry tree blooms
In its glass box, the dunes howl
at the intruder.
posted by Oyéah at 5:44 PM on May 13, 2008

Someone call Shawn Elliot!
posted by autodidact at 7:21 PM on May 13, 2008

Oyéah Pummled with gyoza? Are you trying to take the "if you can't beat 'em, confuse 'em" approach to debate, because if so you're succeeding marvelously. At this point I can honestly say that I have no clue, at all, what your last post was supposed to mean.

I can, I think, grasp that you appear to think that humanity is a) evil, and b) therefore it is bad for us to even *think* about doing stuff off Earth. For reasons that are unknown to me you chose to express this with poetry and mystic claptrap rather than clearly reasoned arguments, and I'm afraid poetry and mystic claptrap just don't make any sense to me. Can you try again using logic, reason, and plain language?
posted by sotonohito at 8:38 PM on May 13, 2008

The nickname sotonohito sounded vaguely Japanese, so I melded a favorite Japanese food, Gyoza, with the concept of pummeling pilloried people, with international cuisine, a melding of cultures. Again.

I enjoy my logic, thank you very much. It is an acquired taste. I enjoy rich, rather than plain language, I never vary from that, since rich language is my pleasure.

I am an out of the box thinker, but my logic holds well. We are not taking good care of the Planet where we reside, therefore we will not do better on a faraway planet, unobserved. The far away planet, Mars, does not need us to make a base there, regardless of how much we would like to spend money that way. I know that money of the magnitude that is being spent on Mars, is not about curiosity. There is a finite and yet unexplained future for our endeavors on Mars. Our endeavors on Mars are not to conserve life on Mars, or even discover if it is there. We are looking for a way to make a Mars colony. There is something on Mars that someone wants. Massive and expensive endeavors of this sort don't just happen so school children can see pictures of strange places.

I enjoy the fruits and poisons of science as well as the next person. I enjoy the wonder, it is great to think about all of the Universe, the Solar System, what is under the next small pebble I kick up, on the road I walk. Here are some questions.

Who will build the first church on Mars?
Who will fire the first weapon on Mars?
Who will pay for the Mars colony?
Who will Mars belong to?
Will Mars be a Christian planet?
Will Mars be a Muslim planet?
Will there be bars on Mars?
Will prostitution be legal on Mars?
Will there be a captive breeding program on Mars?

Here is my warning. I am going to get mystical.

I believe that life terminates its self, because though fully conscious, it forgets that it came from nothing, and it will go back to nothing, if it upsets the very dynamic, and delicate balance that allowed it to come into being in the first place. We take a lot for granted, because it makes us feel safer as a species. Half the humans on this planet have never made a phone call, and go to bed hungry on a daily basis. Other humans have the means to explore the solar system. It doesn't take a mathematician, or a saint to measure the inequity. The same shortsightedness that allows this to happen, also wants to take this show on the road. The base of the pyramid is now starving, it will be more difficult to stabilize the apex, for this reach to the stars. This is the great filter.
posted by Oyéah at 9:48 PM on May 13, 2008

Oyéah wrote "The far away planet, Mars, does not need us to make a base there"

Ummmm. Planets are big balls of rock, water, and other inert materials. They don't have needs, desires, or feelings.

Also, you appear to be veering into conspiricy theory territory with your twin insistances that there must be something extremely valuable on Mars or else no one would be trying to go, and that there's a hidden agenda behind all space exploration. The best data available suggests that there's nothing particularly valuable on Mars, not in the sense of "something that would make a profit for an Earth based corporation".

At this point I'd like to ask you to point to some actual evidence to back your claims that pure science is not the purpose of our space exploration efforts. Who told you that?
posted by sotonohito at 4:46 AM on May 14, 2008

This thread started about an obtuse article, discussing "The Great Filter" that is some phantom event either in our past to yet to be, that will prevent the spread of our organized DNA and accompanying social structures to the Stars.

I maintain that "The Great Filter" is our lack of intellectual, moral and spiritual (if I must) fitness to the task. The strange and possibly unique, series of events that led to our grappling with the desire to roam the universe, do not guarantee anything, except what currently exists, that we can collectively know.

As further evidence of our basic lack of ability and knowledge of delicate balance, for example, we will be Nuking Saturn, on July 07, 2008. Yes, after Cassini, gives us extravagantly elegant images of Saturn's rings, and the sophisticated energies that ripple through them, we will unceremoniously plunge that probe into the polar regions of Saturn, wherer it is known, there will be a large explosion. There is a lot of net hand wringing about that event, and I hold the perpetrators of this nuclear strike in utter contempt.

Ecological considerations should be given to anything we set down on another planet. The Solar System is not our Nuclear Dump.

In regards to the question, how do I know that we are on Mars for future economic gain? Good lord, how did I know that MCA was given the exclusive contract for phone mobile phone service in Iraq? Why did they take the contract? Why do I know that this was for money? Why do I know that defense contractors of every sort, regardless of high sounding their motives, do what they do for money? Currently we are a society ruled by the acquisition of money and all the pleasure, security, and power it can purchase. Why do I know this? What a silly question it is to ask why I think that the science that drives our sortee to Mars, is serving the plans of future profit? I know this because this is how science works, with rare exception. Grants are given to universities, individuals, research centers, in order to either prove worthiness of product for future profit taking, or to create new product for future profit taking. Recent research shows that even in the most fundamental research related to human health, or pharmaceutical usage, the highest bidder buys the outcomes they need to profit.

Scientists try to make their research count, try to do pure science, and there is precious little of it. With the current administrations bent to install religious supervisors into scientific venues even though they are not credentialed academically, science of value is becoming more difficult to participate in.

This whole series of scenarios are yet another baffle added to "The Great Filter", as long as we don't practice science, and instead work for future profit taking, we propose to burn down any new venue in much the same fashion, we are currently burning down the Earth. Why do I know all of this, the information is abundantly available, and Scientists of late, have been more than forth coming about their frustrations serving money, and dogma, before serving humanity as Scientists.

*ahem* Little Bo Peep Diploma *cough*

In this one sense, sub-light speed space exploration, is the ultimate materialism. We have to get our material out, as if our material were so important, that it has to be put, where it doesn't survive, without horrifically costly physical, social, and economic extravagance. There are millions of individuals on this planet who feel they travel at light speed from here, to their next habitation, in yet another form. They feel that they came here to gather energy over a human lifetime, in order to travel onward to a known destination. It is their belief system, but many, many of them hold that to be true, and they spend a lifetime in meditation to achieve release, and travel.

I just think that the physical components of life, are provided by the host planets, in the form that their composition and energies allow, cold, hot, metallic, carbon based, whatever they have to offer life, there is a sort of uprising of life, that is particular to the setting. We are very weak as life forms. We have no exoskeleton, we need gravity of a certain strength, we need a temperature range that is pretty small scale. Our needs are particular to this place and places like it. We have not spotted any Earths yet. Please don't ask me how I know this. This and any other thing I mention, is easily researchable. I am not anyone's research assistant, not for free, anyway.
posted by Oyéah at 9:45 AM on May 14, 2008

The far away planet, Mars, does not need us to make a base there

furthermore, if god had meant us to eat ice cream, he would have given us spoons for hands
posted by pyramid termite at 10:06 AM on May 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

You'll be hearing from the lawyers representing the civil rights of the "spoon hands people". They want to go to space too, they, as a part of their belief systems, feel that there is better ice cream to be had elsewhere. The American public, will be expected to fund this exploration.

I am not religious. Mars, however, belongs to its own, unique future, just as The Earth does. What are you going to do when the time traveling "Monkey On A Stick" farmers, show up with the freezer ships? This is our mentality about everything. Everything is product, or potential for product. We treat each other as product on this world already, this is another part of the Great Filter.
posted by Oyéah at 10:26 AM on May 14, 2008

You'll be hearing from the lawyers representing the civil rights of the "spoon hands people".

they can go fork themselves - or concoct a creature from edgar lee masters' and ray bradbury's dna that will write them an interplanetary future to be proud of

Mars, however, belongs to its own, unique future, just as The Earth does.

the heat death of the universe being somewhat exaggerated and much more local than previously believed

What are you going to do when the time traveling "Monkey On A Stick" farmers, show up with the freezer ships?

call charton heston and tell him i'm sending some friends over who will take care of his problems permanently
posted by pyramid termite at 10:57 AM on May 14, 2008

Diamonds, Mars has diamonds. The Olivine deposits speak of the existence of diamonds. That is an automated payload that might be financially feasible. It is always about product.

If that doesn't excite, there are always the time traveling Oxygen farmers, who will be getting back from lunch at any minute, with the compressor ships. Well, though, they are really more interested in the Helium 3 on the dark side of the moon, where their facilities are located.
posted by Oyéah at 11:14 AM on May 14, 2008

hey, as long as no one starts farming moonbats, right?
posted by pyramid termite at 11:16 AM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Diamonds, Mars has diamonds. The Olivine deposits speak of the existence of diamonds. That is an automated payload that might be financially feasible. It is always about product.

There are more than enough diamonds on Earth, not even counting artificial ones. The high price of diamonds for consumers is due to price manipulation by the De Beers cartel.

(Also: dude, you sound like you've been on acid for the past 45 years.)
posted by nasreddin at 11:44 AM on May 14, 2008

Also: That would be Dude, with a capital D, if Dudism were the case. I have to admit, that the concept, "on acid for the last 45 years", has a certain discrete charm. I would have to be terribly well endowed financially just to survive that state.

Alas neither thing is so. What we value on this world, is likely to have no value elsewhere, except for fuels. Fuels would be for traveling materialists. The concept of intergalactic materialists, is scary, in that you never know what material they would want from a world such as ours, and what they would do to obtain it. I suspect that our magnificent, and malleable DNA would be of value, in creating a physical residence for an entity that didn't have one.

Again, the great filter is firmly in place. I think that intelligent travel as high spectrum light, would be the better choice. Then a form that fits the scene, could slowly over eons be constructed by intent, if the machines for this haven't already been made elsewhere.

That is not so outlandish, when you think that little physical copiers have just been made, that will reproduce anything. At least I read that on te internets yuk, yuk, yuk. Somehow a driver made from portable intelligence, would interface with a mechanism, to create a livable, drivable, personal format. We are busy at this all over the place, mapping the brain, and creating mind interfaces. We will be in the robots on Mars. Mining diamonds, or whatever is decided that we want out of the situation.
posted by Oyéah at 1:22 PM on May 14, 2008

Are we witnessing someone actually losing it in real-time?
posted by odinsdream at 6:47 PM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have to admit, that one guy seemed pretty heated.
posted by Oyéah at 9:03 PM on May 14, 2008

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