Class Warfare Blog

February 26, 2016

Aliens and Creationists

I am beginning to believe that the ability of ordinary people to think is vanishingly small and probably smaller if you are a creationist or IDer. And, no I am not talking about the candidacy of Donald Trump. I am talking about the creationists’ obsession with aliens. Apparently their god didn’t create any. How they could know this is quite beyond me.

One aspect of their blather is the so-called Fermi Paradox which is neither Fermi’s nor a paradox. The FP goes like this: if aliens exist, some must be very advanced and have noticed us by now; where are they? It sounds reasonable, but the obvious answer (They don’t exist!) is unwarranted.

Just put on your thinking cap for second. We have been producing radio waves and other electromagnetic signals for a bit over 100 years. So, lets be very conservative and say that there is a bubble 500 light-years in radius that our presence can be detected. (500 years of travel at the speed of light in a vacuum is a reasonable maximum supposition). The universe as a whole is 14+ billion light years in radius, so what percent of the entire universe does our “close enough to notice the humans” bubble consist? Since the volume of such spaces is proportional to a cube of the radius, the percent is (5003/14,000,000,0003) x 100. I will do the math for you .. uh … essentially zero (It is 0.00000000000000000000000455%.) This is also the probability that any aliens would fly through our bubble and notice our presence. This assumes that the aliens had sufficient technology to fly around faster than the speed of light and other apparently impossible abilities.

Now, those are the spatial odds. Regarding time, our 500 years is a very small fraction of the time the universe has existed (14+ billion years). Let me be generous and assume that the first 4+ billion years were needed for alien life to evolve (the creationists creator need not be so limited) so with regard to time, we have been signally for (500/10,000,000,000) x 100 = 0.000005% of the time period since life began in this universe (approximately). So, the aliens would have to be alive and looking during our time period to find us, no? So, the probability that aliens would find us is the product of these two probabilities, the spatial and the temporal probabilities, which is 0.000005% of basically zero.

So, for all you creationists who are asking “Where are these aliens?” Shut the fuck up and sit down. Besides, we really do not want them to find us. History shows us that when more “advanced” technological societies meet less advanced, it doesn’t go well for the less advanced.

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32 Comments »

  1. Have you read the Spin books? Interesting theme. The galaxy (let alone the universe) is so large the only meaningful way to explore it is by launching self-replicating robots (which feed on ice and stuff and collect information). Long story short, humans do this, things look good, then all their little marvels disappear… absorbed into another species of robots launched a long, long, long time before by whom, no one knows.

    Comment by john zande — February 26, 2016 @ 10:19 am | Reply

    • So a machine, moving at less than the speed of light would need to exist for how many years to cover a sizable distance? Even if the machines evolved, self-replicated, self-repaired, all of that would take a great deal of energy, so unless “zero point energy” or some other such currently impossible source were available, the machines would falter asfter a couple of hundred years or so. How old is Voyager?

      On Fri, Feb 26, 2016 at 10:19 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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      Comment by Steve Ruis — February 26, 2016 @ 10:27 am | Reply

      • Yes, they do evolve… that’s the whole point of the story. And human’s only attempt it because the earth has been put in a type of time-freeze where something like 1-earth hour = thousands of years cosmic time. We’re on slow time. I don’t, however, want to give away the story. That said, we terraform Mars all in the matter of 2 months earth time, complete with a new human civilisation tens of thousands of years old.

        Comment by john zande — February 26, 2016 @ 10:36 am | Reply

        • Alright, mate, put down that pint and step away! Either you’ve had too many or that stuff is just too strong for the likes of you.

          ;o)

          On Fri, Feb 26, 2016 at 10:36 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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          Comment by Steve Ruis — February 26, 2016 @ 10:39 am | Reply

          • Heathen, open your mind 😉

            Comment by john zande — February 26, 2016 @ 10:41 am | Reply

            • No, He’s found me … argh!

              On Fri, Feb 26, 2016 at 10:41 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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              Comment by Steve Ruis — February 26, 2016 @ 10:43 am | Reply

  2. You’ve slightly misstated Fermi’s Paradox. It’s not about them having not detected us, it’s about us not having detected them. Let’s assume that the universe’s first intelligent civilizations started appearing about five billion years ago. Assuming those civilizations actually survived, and assuming that their attitudes are anything like our own, we ought to see evidence of their large-scale technological achievements certainly in our own galaxy, and even in nearby galaxies. That’s why there was so much excitement recently about the star with the odd pattern of occultations: could this be the first such evidence that we’ve found? (The debate seems to be tending toward the negative, but no one’s saying anything hard-and-fast just yet.)

    So in that sense there’s nothing wrong with the creationists’ argument. The problem is that the “paradox” itself has flaws. We don’t know if aliens would have any interest in large-scale technology or interstellar travel; we don’t know if intelligence is a useful survival factor (bacteria are far more successful than we are, and they’re hardly the brightest bulbs in the chandelier); we don’t know if technological civilizations can last more than a few hundred years (if our own is anything to go by, the answer is probably no); we don’t know if the technology of an older civilization would be so far advanced past our own that we simply wouldn’t recognize it as technology. And so on, and on.

    Of course, if the aliens hit on the idea of exploring the universe not in person but through the use of self-replicating AI probes — and it’d seem a pretty obvious solution if there really isn’t a way of bypassing the lightspeed barrier — then the Fermi Paradox comes into force with a vengeance. Given a five-billion-year start on us, you’d expect there to be a bunch of such probes in our solar system by now, observing us and observable by us. Of course, it could be that they’re programmed to hide from our attentions, but . . .

    Comment by realthog — February 26, 2016 @ 10:22 am | Reply

    • Ha! While I’ve been typing my screed, John Zande has gotten in ahead of me with the self-replicating robots.

      Comment by realthog — February 26, 2016 @ 10:24 am | Reply

      • Drat Zande. I suspect he might even be a robot, so swift is he! Certainly he is in league with the Owner of All Infernal Names.

        On Fri, Feb 26, 2016 at 10:24 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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        Comment by Steve Ruis — February 26, 2016 @ 10:38 am | Reply

      • I like your explanation 🙂

        Have you read the Spin books?

        Comment by john zande — February 26, 2016 @ 10:38 am | Reply

        • I do not think so.

          On Fri, Feb 26, 2016 at 10:38 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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          Comment by Steve Ruis — February 26, 2016 @ 10:39 am | Reply

        • I read the first a few years ago, and picked up the second just the other day. Wilson is one of those writers whose books I deliberately space out a bit, lest I read the whole lot in one massive splurge and waste them, as it were.

          Comment by realthog — February 26, 2016 @ 10:55 am | Reply

          • I’m on the last right now. Not as good as Reed and his Great Ship books, but not too bad.

            Comment by john zande — February 26, 2016 @ 12:00 pm | Reply

            • I don’t know the Reed books at all. I don’t read much sf these days . . . Wilson’s an exception.

              Comment by realthog — February 26, 2016 @ 12:03 pm | Reply

    • The Fermi Paradox was named after a snippet of conversation made by Enrico Fermi ca 1950:

      “According to these eyewitnesses, they were chatting about a cartoon in *The New Yorker* showing cheerful aliens emerging from a flying saucer carrying trash cans stolen from the streets of New York City, and Fermi asked “Where is everybody?” Everyone realized he was referring to the fact that we haven’t seen any alien spaceships, and the conversation turned to the feasibility of interstellar travel.” (Sciam) “Where is everybody?” could be interpreted as us looking for them, but the point is they would have to find us, not the reverse, as we do not have the ability to travel in such a manner, so the argument is much the same. You can rephrase it along the lines of how long have they been looking? Were they looking in the right parts of the EM spectrum? etc. but the temporal factor still applies. If they were looking intensely a billion years ago … ? The time probability also hits the machine-based search in that how many years can such machines be expected to last? And, if they are supposed to be immortal (many a science fiction story has been written about machines wandering around after their makers had died out) we are again asking for technologies that seem very, very unlikely. Self-repair or self-reproduction requires a great deal of energy. So, travel between starts would have to be from star to star (which would be fuel stations, as it were) which would severely reduce the ability to travel anywhere.

      On Fri, Feb 26, 2016 at 10:23 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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      Comment by Steve Ruis — February 26, 2016 @ 10:37 am | Reply

      • (a) But we’re not actually talking about a personal encounter. We’re talking about evidence of their technological activity that should be visible across a span of many thousands of lightyears. Remember, they’ve got a five-billion-year head start on us. Where are they? It’s a reasonable question, although I’ve listed a bunch of its flaws.

        (b) “how many years can such machines be expected to last?”

        You only need any individual machine to last long enough to get to a nearby star, grab itself a chunk of asteroid for use as raw materials, do any repairs to itself that are necessary, build copies of itself to send off to nearby solar systems, and settle down to watch for whatever might happen nearby.

        (c) “So, travel between stars would have to be from star to star (which would be fuel stations, as it were) which would severely reduce the ability to travel anywhere.”

        Even if it took a good while for the probes to get from one star to the next, with a head start of five billion years — or even a lot less than that — they’d have had plenty of time to populate the entire galaxy by now. And that’s for just one source civilization.

        Comment by realthog — February 26, 2016 @ 10:52 am | Reply

        • So, we haven’t seen a culture last for even a thousand years and you expect that some of these folks, in a chaotic universe, would be around for millions or even billions of years? Again, I suspect “not.”

          Apparently most of the past extinctions were caused by massive volcanic activity, of which we are still vulnerable (until we can get up and git). Life on a planet without plate tectonics seems unlikely as a molten core seems necessary for the existence of a magnetosphere to protect inhabitants from cosmic rays. I suspect like is evanescent, more like bacterial growth than not (colonies spring up, colonies die away and other colonies spring up–no colony is around for all that long).

          On Fri, Feb 26, 2016 at 10:52 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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          Comment by Steve Ruis — February 26, 2016 @ 11:32 am | Reply

          • Again, I suspect “not.”

            As I said earlier, I likewise suspect not. It’s one of the flaws in the assumptions behind the Fermi Paradox. On the other hand, we’re both making a further unwarranted assumption: that the aliens think like we do. They may have got their civilization under control before it became self-destructive.

            Of course, civilizations being relatively shortlived doesn’t discount the probe scenario.

            Comment by realthog — February 26, 2016 @ 12:01 pm | Reply

            • Oh but it does. Consider the thinking of having a project of society-wide implications that could continue long after that society is kaput. The inheritor societies might not like their ancestors making such decisions for them. It might be a hard sell to the larger community. Basically we design absolutely nothing to last for a very long time as as knowledge expands too many things become obsolete after a comparatively short time (a 500-year buggy whip guarantee, for instance).

              On Fri, Feb 26, 2016 at 12:01 PM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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              Comment by Steve Ruis — February 26, 2016 @ 3:20 pm | Reply

              • (a) But you’re thinking like a human being, not an alien. We don’t know how aliens would regard this.

                (b) The investment’s tiny — certainly far less than building a starship. You need just the one probe to get the project started. (Half a dozen, if you want some fail-safe.) The cheapness is one of the attractions of the scheme.

                (c) Civilizations (human ones) tend to assume they’re immortal rather than short-lived — it’s the Ozymandias syndrome. We see an example at the moment in our inaction on climate change.

                There are various books about the probes option where the implications and logistics are all worked out in far more detail than I’m going to manage in a hasty blog comment. The one I know best (because I published it, way back in the 1970s) is Chris Boyce’s Alien Encounter, but it’s kind of an odd book and I’m not sure I’d recommend it as a starting point.

                Comment by realthog — February 26, 2016 @ 5:47 pm | Reply

                • It is easier to say than do. To replicate itself it would need to find the raw materials, render them useful, and fashion what constitutes a mini-star ship out of them. So, its functionality … is it an explorer or a manufacturer. So, if you make a factory of machines to make the probes, the probes all start in the same location, there is no production network as it were. They all would start their journeys from the factory. Then each probe would still have to be self-repairing and … In science fiction we suspend disbelief, but in science we cannot. And wjile we are still in our scientific infancy there are immense barriers to any such scheme, barriers of fundamental laws of nature and barriers of time and space.

                  On Fri, Feb 26, 2016 at 5:47 PM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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                  Comment by Steve Ruis — February 26, 2016 @ 9:18 pm | Reply

                  • Please, go read some of the writings on the subject by better minds than mine. You seem here to be objecting to wheels that have already been invented, no?

                    Comment by realthog — February 26, 2016 @ 9:29 pm | Reply

                    • Only in the speculations of science fiction writers and futurists. Currently the speed of light is a real limit. Currently the lifetimes of machines is relatively short.

                      On Fri, Feb 26, 2016 at 9:29 PM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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                      Comment by Steve Ruis — February 27, 2016 @ 9:34 am

  3. I think a 500 light year bubble is too generous. We haven’t been outputting signals stronger than the natural noise until maybe a few decades ago, and even those are likely to dissipate over longer distances and mix with the rest of the noise. Only a directed signal could probably get detected by the aliens outside of the solar system.
    So just to convert numbers into images, the chance of aliens finding us in the universe is basically the same as finding a 1mm-sized jellyfish in the all of Earth’s oceans – at night.

    Comment by List of X — February 26, 2016 @ 10:55 am | Reply

    • I was trying to be generous, to show that the odss, even with generous parameters were oh, so slight.

      Yep, odds are a mite poor and of the order you suggest.

      On Fri, Feb 26, 2016 at 10:55 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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      Comment by Steve Ruis — February 26, 2016 @ 11:34 am | Reply

  4. I think given the unimaginable vastness of the universe, and the nearly infinite galaxies dispersed within. Each with an enormous multitude of stars, each capable of a solar system of multiple planets, the likelihood of other life out there somewhere is so high as to be probable.

    However given the vastness of space, the need for light speed travel, as well as all of the other issues already discussed, it is highly improbable we will confirm it before our own star devours us. That is assuming we don’t destroy ourselves first.

    Comment by shelldigger — February 27, 2016 @ 11:44 am | Reply

    • I agree, of course, but I don’t think we will have to wait until our sun expands to burn us all acinder. That is some billions of years of time in the future. Between now and not very far into the future we will have some sort of mass extinction even (happens every 60-100 million years or so. Well before then I think we will have diminished ourselves to insignificance through resource destruction, disease, or some other such foolishness. And that shouldn’t take more than a few centuries.

      On Sat, Feb 27, 2016 at 11:44 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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      Comment by Steve Ruis — February 27, 2016 @ 10:15 pm | Reply

      • I really don’t think we will be around to see our sun go red giant either. That was a best case scenario.

        I agree our destructive nature or a MEE will get us first.

        I Googled MEE’s a week or two back when they found evidence of Planet 9, because I was curious if such an entity could have been a cause of MEE’s for our home planet. What I found was MEE’s tend to happen every 20-30 M years. But they are mostly the result of changing climes/resource availability/and such. I have read that some think we are seeing one now. I know you mean the catastrophic type (asteroid/comet impact) though 🙂 MEE’s are classified as major, the ones you refer to, and minor, as the ones I am relating to. I wasn’t expecting that when I got my search results.

        Either way…we are doomed. If ever I have seen evidence of that, it is the candidates for the R party.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extinction_event

        Comment by shelldigger — February 28, 2016 @ 7:18 am | Reply

        • We gotta find a way to get offa this planet and on to others. Adapt or die!

          On Sun, Feb 28, 2016 at 7:18 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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          Comment by Steve Ruis — February 28, 2016 @ 8:22 am | Reply

          • On board with that! All we have to is convince all the troglodytes to get along so we can focus on long term survival.

            Yep a MEE will get us first…

            Comment by shelldigger — February 28, 2016 @ 11:13 am | Reply

  5. No sooner did I read your piece here Steve than I swear I saw a hovering space ship outside. And I’ll prove it as soon as one creationist can prove their god’s existence.

    Oh wait, that was plastic bag trash getting caught up by the wind. OR WAS IT? 😉

    Comment by lbwoodgate — February 28, 2016 @ 8:18 am | Reply

    • I can’t prove it wasn’t so it must be true! Whenever I hear someone making the Kalam argument, I gush “So you believe in super-powerful aliens?” Of course, they do not, but what could a creator god be other than a superpowerful being from another place, a super-powerful alien.

      On Sun, Feb 28, 2016 at 8:18 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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      Comment by Steve Ruis — February 28, 2016 @ 8:24 am | Reply


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