Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Six more radio signals from deep space deepen mystery (sciencealert.com)
178 points by tnorton0310 on Dec 25, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 148 comments



We do know that under the laws of physics evolution of intelligent creatures is possible. We also know that against someone capable of coming here, we're defenseless, conveniently pinned to this beautiful, but small rock and with no way to escape. We also know that space is huge beyond imagination and that the law of large numbers means that after billions of years of unfamiliar evolution across the billions of unfamiliar worlds throughout Milky Way alone almost anything may conceivably come out of it.

At times, I find it weirdly surprising that I don't actually experience fear every time I look up at the sky. Then again the lack of fear is easy to understand: a deadly encounter with an alien race happens only once, so evolution had no chance to tune our responses appropriately.

This reminds me of dodo of Mauritius [1]. It is said that the birds were not fearful of humans (nor presumably of other abstract threats that could conceivably come from across the seas).

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dodo


Worrying about an alien civilization coming to visit and take everything is like a moss cell sitting on a rock in the Himalayas fretting that in the next few days an exotic bacteria nestled in a thermal vent in the Mariana Trench is going to show up and stake a claim.

It's actually significantly less probable than that by many orders of magnitude but it's hard for humans to grasp just how isolated everything in the universe is from everything else.


Well if the moss has the ability to travel from the Trench to the Himalayas then that moss if pretty capable and might be turning over rocks looking for gold or oil.


I thought the Fermi Paradox suggested otherwise. Well, it suggests if life is common then some other civilization should have easily covered then entire milky way in slow self replicating drones long ago.

That fact that we dont find drones suggests one of only a few things

* life is rare

* we're first

* they all kill themselves before they get the drones built


>That fact that we dont find drones suggests one of only a few things

Or, that there is something fundamentally flawed with the concept of self-replicating drones covering the entire galaxy that would make it infeasible in practice, despite it seeming perfectly rational on paper.


Yeah, I really don't buy that premise at all. Just because some individual likes the idea of drones, doesn't make them implicitly virtuous.

The decision to use resources to pollute the wilderness with arbitrary technology is a leadership decision, relying on the personality characteristics of an entity or social chain of command.

This business about "drones" is an anachronistic paraphrasing of the original concept. People didn't speak in terms of the "drone" fad in the 20th century, like we do now. Drones were usually just target practice for the Air Force and Navy.

The original concept just specified range of influence, and a demonstration of presence. It did not impose a manner of activity, be it drone replication or direct colonization with regimented staff, and divisions of duty among personel. [0] The Fermi paradox remained agnostic, simply implying possible speed of travel given geological time scales.

Carl Sagan's Cosmos mentioned unmanned satellites (or unaliened? unoccupied...) as the most likely hypothetical form of first contact. Before we bump into any living thing, will probably notice a few remote control devices fanned out in front of their main corpus of civilization or colonization. That TV show also hypothesized about the possibility of dying civilizations leaving behind self-perpetuating remnants of technology, the likes of which might or might not be sentient. All of it was TV speculation though, not presented as surely factual.

If you read between the lines, the premise of a "dying" civilization hints at the lack of self control present in a runaway factory neglected and left to churn out garbage. That idea does not assume that a collective of entities would always wish to tamper with and contaminate their surrounding domain presumptiously.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fermi_paradox


You're trying to do some sort of pop-psych/pop-social analysis of hypothetical aliens, which I don't think will be a fruitful excercise.

It's pretty clear that the "drones" the GGP is referring to are self-replicating autonomous machines, which could, with a relatively extremely small initial mass-energy investment, visit every solar system in the galaxy in a matter of megayears. It doesn't require leadership or social approval or whatever you're talking about; anyone with technology marginally more advanced than what we have could do it with the equivalent of a few tens of billion dollars of machinery. The more advanced you are, the cheaper it gets. It's very odd that we haven't seen anything like that yet.


The entire Von-Neumann probe scenario makes its own unprovable assumptions about the nature of alien civilizations, and the feasibility of the technological scenario required. By definition, the lack of such probes isn't "odd", as it's the way things appear to be in our universe. It's the height of arrogance to assume that, as steeped in ignorance as we are, the flaw lies in the stars rather than ourselves.

It's like Kurzweil describing the exponential curve of self-replicating AI leading to the Singularity and infinite machine intelligence... it's an elegant, mathematically self-evident solution that just happens not to correlate with reality.


No, it doesn't really make any interesting assumptions at all. We already have the technology to send interstellar probes at several percent of lightspeed via Orion-style nuclear pulse propulsion. It's just politically impossible due to the partial test ban treaty. We're still a ways away from autonomous self-replicators, but not that far.

It has literally nothing to do with the nature of whatever aliens might build these hypothetical machines. The only requirement is that some group with modest resources and marginally better technology than us wants to do it.

> It's like Kurzweil describing the exponential curve of self-replicating AI

A little early to try and refute that, don't you think? We're still on an exponential production trend.


Something that can self-replicate is still not something that can self-replicate over millions of years and through millions of generations in the harsh environment of interstellar space, feeding off of and taking advantage of any arbitrary material it might find for self-replication and reaction mass, while still maintaining a consistent exponential growth curve throughout the galaxy.

That's not "modest resources and marginally better technology than us", that's perilously close to being magic. Not even viruses, the most aggressive and efficient self-replicators we know of, have managed to consume all the biomass on the planet, or could reasonably be expected to do so.


> feeding off of and taking advantage of any arbitrary material it might find for self-replication and reaction mass

This is a false premise. It doesn't have to do anything this fancy.

You can expect that any given asteroid is likely to have a certain amount of iron, carbon, silicon, nickel, etc.

In almost any solar system, you can mine the materials needed for construction very easily. Solar gives you enough energy to do (slow, deliberate) resource extraction from asteroids.

As for propellant and reaction mass, we already know nuclear explosions work excellently. Unfortunately, based on analysis of meteors we don't expect asteroids to have great heavy-metal concentrations; on the order of 10ppb for Uranium. This presents a challenge, but not an insurmountable one; it just means that you'll probably want to get explosive materials closer to the center of the system.

> Not even viruses, the most aggressive and efficient self-replicators we know of, have managed to consume all the biomass on the planet, or could reasonably be expected to do so.

This is true, but 100% irrelevant to the challenges of creating space-based manufacturing capable of reproducing all its own components.


Just because you like the idea, doesn't mean it gets adopted.


Not really sure what you're talking about. What I want has nothing to do with it. Could you expand?


The Fermi Paradox posits the premise of ANY artifact indicative of intelligent origins.

It doesn't have to be "self replicating drones." It could be inert bullets, arrow heads, sharp sticks, carefully arranged electromagnetic retro-reflectors.

Drones are a fad. The paradox doesn't require an alien implementation of drone technology, self replicating, autonomous, or what have you.


> Drones are a fad.

The concept of autonomous machines is a fad?


Yes. A recent one. Prior to 2003, people were less interested in non-sentient autonomous machines. Drones.

As technology advances, autonomous machines may very likely grow beyond the definition/parlance of a "drone" (machinery designed and dedicated only to perform specific tasks) into more powerful forms of intelligence.

At that point, such machinery graduates beyond the definition of an artifact (a possession held in the ownership of higher-order life), and one might speculate whether it represents a form of life unto itself, or where one might draw such a boundary.

Either way, such sentient machinery (read: not drones) might not be bound by geological/astronomical timescales, outlasting its inventors possibly permanently, but still represents a component of the Fermi Paradox. If such things are possible, where are they?


> Prior to 2003, people were less interested in non-sentient autonomous machines.

Yeah, you're just making shit up. The first machine intelligence in pop culture can be found in https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/R.U.R. (the origin of the phrase "robot"). Non-sentient autonomous machines are even older. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golem Sci-fi authors have been talking about modern-looking self-replicating machines for decades.

Maybe you have some weird definition of a drone? Drones in common parlance have come to be associated with any robotic vehicle, and are used in technical parlance to refer to a huge variety of autonomous or semi-autonomous machines.


[dead]


We've banned this account for breaking the HN guidelines and ignoring our request to stop.

Please don't create accounts to break the HN guidelines with.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


This idea is called the "Great Filter."

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

Another option is something like the outcome of the novel Blood Music, where engineering efforts become smaller and smaller and the outside universe is ignored completely in favor of microscopic exploration and engineering efforts.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_Music_(novel)


This topic is beautifully (as usual) covered on http://waitbutwhy.com/2014/05/fermi-paradox.html


Why do the drones have to be physical?

I think we get caught-up in the physical nature of the universe. I mean, anyone who can efficiently traverse the galaxy would have completely understood the laws of the universe and be able to somehow travel as fast/faster than the speed of light, meaning that they would have to somehow violate the physical mass=infinite, length=0, time=0 constraints of the speed of light. There's no way that you would be able to travel efficiently under those physical constraints. It would have to be some dimensional non-physical method of travel. And if they can do that, then physical drones would be unneeded.


i think the drones have a major problem - namely motivating themselves to keep on going. 'wetware' has self preservation instincts, these aren't too rational, but it keeps us going.

might just as well be: they manage to build the drones, but the drones don't go on or the power gets turned off.


* we live in a computer and god is real, but he's the bastard operator from hell and won't let us leave earth


Until a human resort casino development rolls up and dynamites that rock in the Himalayas.

The concern isn't little green men in flying saucers; it's if, for example, someone makes an exponentially replicating terraforming system. It wouldn't take very long to swamp the galaxy.


Even if there is no other life in the Universe, the Universe would still have to be the size that it is, for life on Earth to even exist at all.


"The man who has fed the chicken every day throughout its life at last wrings its neck instead, showing that more refined views as to the uniformity of nature would have been useful to the chicken."

-- Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy


My english is usually ok, but now I feel like it was when I tried to read native Sheakspeare. Can someone please rephrase that?


One man feeds a chicken daily and then kills it (wrigs its neck). From the daily feedings, the chicken learns that the man is not an enemy (he acquires a view that the nature is uniform, and friendly). Considering that the man eventually does kill the bird, that view was incorrect, so it should be refined.


The chicken assumes that the human will always care for it. Nature has not equipped it to deal with an intelligent predator.


The shooter and the farmer (Reference: The Three Body Problem)


There is no reasonable reason why we should fear aliens. There is absolutely nothing present on earth that is not hyper abundant elsewhere and more conveniently harvested from a shallower gravity well. There is just nothing here that is special, especially special enough to travel many light years to get to. It is also hard to image why a species that have that capability would not be able to synthesize what they want from base materials.


There's a line of thought that annihilation of one species is the only possible outcome from two spacefaring species meeting. This stems from the assumption that both are growth-seeking, which makes sense since they wouldn't be likely to meet without being expansionist.

Seeking growth, they will need more and more resources. Direct competition inevitably ensues, leading to conflict and destruction either via warfare or economic means.

That's all pretty theoretical, but just one example of why aliens might not be benign. I don't think it's reasonable to say we have nothing to fear.


Aliens arriving today must be technologically superior to humans by several orders of magnitude. If they are not they would exploit their local resources first before finding need to expand. So the changes of technologically equivalent aliens arriving today is negligible.

The amount of material present in Jupiter is rather large. If a species arrives that is routinely capable of converting gas giants into habitats and is currently in pressing need for housing then yes, we may be bulldozed into extinction - there might be even some poetic justice in that. But why would the Developers choose Jupiter, why not some other system with many more Gas giants or currently coalescing clouds ?

Resource based arguments don't hold much water for me, not at this scale anyway.


A dyson swarm does not require any new technology to develop, only the constant churning out of satellites. They do not need to be technologically superior to us.

In any case, we would still be ants compared to them.


I dunno, a self-replicating swarm would by definition be technological superior to us, for the next few decades at least.


You don't need a "self-replicating swarm" to build more satellites.

You just need to pump out lot of satellites.

There's nothing special about self-replicating "swarm", either.


Automated self replication is pretty special. We don't have anything like that yet. All of our tech requires human intervention when it breaks down.


kiba above doesn't seem to know exponential growth. Self-replication leads to exponential growth. Creating more satellites here locally only gives you linear growth.


An aggressively expansionist species will always be "in need of housing". They will behave like locusts. It's not a given that most species would be like that, but if they come to us, the odds are pretty good they are aggressively expansionist. If they weren't, why would they bother to go to the trouble of space travel in the first place?


Any civilization that can travel between the stars will be able to build space habs more cheaply. There's no good reason to sit in the bottom of a gravity well when you can build something better yourself.

Unless maybe you are losing a war, being chased relentlessly across the stars and need to make a bomb shelter under a thousand miles of rock. You could offer the natives all sorts of technology, or all the precious metals you find in exchange for a few cubic kilometers deep under ground. Whatever deals you make with them don't matter anyway. They'll all be glassed in a few years when your pursuers figure out where you're hiding and begin bombardment.


Or maybe they need warriors, since their race has already collectively modified itself to delete wasteful things like aggressiveness and anger. Queue the intelligent aggressive naked apes. And throw them at your problems!

Or imagine making peace with the aliens, what will they think of our nearly endless collections of movies, video games and stories wherein we're slaughtering, mutilating and murdering or visitors from the sky? I wonder how _that_ is going to look once they understand what they're seeing.


> Or maybe they need warriors, since their race has already collectively modified itself to delete wasteful things like aggressiveness and anger.

Highly doubtful. Any trait that's collectively exhibited was adaptive and such a spefies would value it to some extent, so they wouldn't breed it out entirely. If some new sub-species found a better way and outcompeted those with this trait, then they are already better adapted by definition, and so wouldn't need this trait.


I think you have to assume some kind deep-rooted psychological idiosyncracies for any expansionist species. A rational species probably wouldn't do much - it's all pointless anyways.


> If they weren't [aggressively expansionist], why would they bother to go to the trouble of space travel in the first place?

To study us. Intelligent life, and maybe even complex animal life, may be incredibly rare in the universe even if life is common. It may even be so rare that even an aggressively expansionist species might choose not to colonize our system because of the value that might be associated with a natural experiment such as ourselves.


IF expansionists chose to spare us, they'd just have to come back later. A species with a requirement of endless growth will never have enough living space or resources. That's not the only kind of species imaginable but we have an example of this kind: mankind at the moment.

So assuming expansionism, the question is, can such a species survive long enough to be a threat to us? If their societt is unstable, they may well destroy themselves before getting very far. Stability seems out of the question here - that would imply they are able to maintain a steady-state society within limits, but still have the need or impulse to hunt for new resources and living space.

So maybe we're not likely to meet such a species as it is likely to be self-destructive. One configuration is worrying, though: An expansionist species sufficiently advanced to reliably spread across space without end, but still bound to eventually exhaust any resources they find. (Inevitable for all species given entropy?)

This species will either die out or monopolize all resources it can find. (And then die out.)If it really requires constant growth, it can do nothing else.


what if creating or displacing planets to habitable zones are possible for an intergalactic species. instead of occupying they might farm new planets.


They would do whatever was most efficient, probably.


Depends what the resource is. Maybe there's something rare here that we don't understand yet.


See Dark Forest theory (spoiler warning for Dark Forest by Cixin Liu - second book after Three Body Problem):

http://philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/18127/dark-for...

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/lovesick-cyborg/2015/10/31...

https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-Dark-Forest-Theory-of-the-...

which is basically what you said - every civilization's prime directive is to survive, resources in the universe are limited, and what they call "chains of suspicion"

Resources limited in universe: think about how fast we have used many of the resources on earth. The universe has a finite amount of resources.

He also talks about how fast technology progresses. In just the past 100 years we've made airplane travel common, gone to the moon, launched a probe that is on the edge/outside the solar system, have self driving cars, computers, etc. Who's to say that this is fast or slow? By the time new communcation from an alien race arrives, they/we might have had that technological progress.


Without FTL travel, the notion of a species expanding far into sp ce becomes a little silly IMO. You'd need an enormously stable society, otherwise the best case scenario for viable colonies is that you never hear from them again. If you do hear from them, it's likely to be thousands of years since you sent them out, and they're now your competitors. Perhaps they've even speciated.


There's another line of thought that annihilation of one species is most likely by accident, like for example the demolition of a planet to make way for a hyperspace bypass.

Either way there is reason for fear.


For a more practical example, when a Type 2 suffers an industrial accident like a reactor meltdown, it would be indistinguishable from a supernova. If it happens within 1000 light years of us, we'd be just as dead.

We can only take comfort that such an event would wipe out their own civilization, and they have adequate safeties in place as a result.

Oh, and hopefully there isn't a galactic wide cold-war-esque standoff on the possession and use of supernova-creating bombs.


"This stems from the assumption that both are growth-seeking"

I'm really not sure how anyone can be so certain about the motives of beings that might be radically different from any life we know of.

They could exterminate humans as an experiment, out of curiosity, for enjoyment, because some other species or their god wants them to, randomly, for no reason at all, or for many other reasons we can't even conceive of, because they may not think in any way relatable to us or what we know. There are an infinity of possibilities.


In that sense the hostility of cosmic space is a feature rather than a bug. If resources were plentiful and space travel was easy, we would constantly find ourselves in intergalactic wars and life would have been wiped out over and over again by resource seeking paperclippers and crystalline entities.


On the other hand, since we are confined to earth, we are fighting these wars among the species and even ourselves here :(


war seems to be part of an evolutionary algorithm to select the best species or feature set and prune the legacy code, and then diversify again and prune again at a higher level.


The individuals being selected are only the "best" if you value killing over everything else. If you, for example, value preservation of genetic material then war selects some of the worst people.


What about tacticians, logistical support personal, medical staff, etc?

I think there's a lot of jobs that war would select for that don't involve killing. Early man interested in treating wounds would study the human body and try to repair it, as one example. These valuable and intelligent humans would be promoted just like today's .mil and be more likely to procreate.


I think it's more that aggression and the instinct to protect ourselves are part of all DNA. We only have to look at ants being invaded by a foreign species to see that.

Also, since everything is based on the bell curve, out of 7 billion people, there will be people who are born with the perfect storm of personality traits to start a war, and with the right (or wrong, more accurately) life experiences will start that war. Hitler was a perfect example. Statistically it has to happen.

And we are only aggressive because, socially, we are barely out of the trees. We have the ability to blow the world up many times over, yet are consumed by petty intolerance. Our social intelligence lags our technical intelligence considerably. This is the most dangerous time in any civilisations time.


It's funny how few people want to talk about that.


Well, that's the game, though one can argue if you move beyond it you've won by definition. Just because we came from that system doesn't mean it needs to continue.


The losing end of the great filter no one sees coming: peace.


Are you listening cstross? It is time to write a novel about the evils of peace among the spacefaring. Service guarantees citizenship!


The exact same argument applies to different human cultures. Clashes happened, but we're all still here. Annihilation is not inevitable.


Do you think if humans became space faring and we found other species we'd kill them? I seriously doubt that. We'll definitely study them and try to learn from them. Knowledge will be much more important than physical resources.

Similarly, different races and nations on earth kind of decided that we're not actually going to kill each other and take each other's resources. We gain a lot more by cooperating.


Of course we'd kill other species. Look at our own past, just 400 years ago FFS. What happened to the Native Americans? Then look at the species of animals that we're driving to extinction right now.


"There is no reasonable reason why we should fear aliens."

If you'll allow me to strawman you a bit, I've always found such arguments facile at best. They seem to reason from something akin to this "As mankind has become more advanced, he has grown from being tribalistic and violent to understanding that fear itself is more dangerous than actual external threats"

Yes, but we've never actually reached such nirvana except in our imaginations. Instead, history has shown us all sort of intelligent and evolved populations both being the perpetrators and victims of indiscriminate violence. In addition, looking at how humans develop and what we know of species in general on the planet, there's never any reason to be afraid of anything -- until there is. That's the problem with induction and not knowing enough about the greater universe. Things are always fine and dandy for the turkey until Thanksgiving comes.

It's extremely problematic to speculate about alien beings. I note, however, that we tend to think in terms of aliens having some sort of policy towards humans: they want to eat us, they want to conquer us, and so on.

Assuming we are just a few rungs up the evolutionary ladder from pond scum, it's much more likely that we're not important at all -- and that if there were some terrible interaction with aliens, it would probably be akin to a man accidentally kicking over an anthill on his way to work than some sort of dramatic invasion or intervention. The scariest thing about potential technologically superior alien beings isn't that they are hostile. It's that they're completely apathetic and have better things to do. Which takes care of Fermi's Paradox quite nicely.


It seems plausible, i.e. not impossible with our current understanding of physics, that humans that could accelerate small quantities of mass to significant fractions of the speed of light (0.01-0.4c) thereby building relativistic missiles which could be launched at known planetary bodies in other star systems.

The potential that humans may create and use relativistic missiles combined with the philosophy of safety first suggests that humans might be treated more like fire ants or brown recluse spiders:

1. if you see them you call pest control so they don't sting you when you aren't paying attention,

2. to get rid of the ones you can't find you leave some poison traps out,

3. and you make sure to vacuum regularly ("do you want ants this is how we get ants").


> "As mankind has become more advanced, he has grown from being tribalistic and violent to understanding that fear itself is more dangerous than actual external threats"

Not to mention it's totally debatable that we are any less violent than we used to be, which seems to be the core premise of this 'friendly alien' argument.


> That's the problem with induction and not knowing enough about the greater universe. Things are always fine and dandy for the turkey until Thanksgiving comes.

This is why the spectre of dead civilizations like Rome haunt us to this day.


Imagine that you are an alien. Relativity is strange thing, today you see small tribe with toy nuclear weapons, but then you turn your engines on, and tomorrow it is powerful intergalactic race. It is reasonable to take a cure before a disease makes it hard.


I've had exactly this experience in Civilization 2. Playing at the higher difficulties, the computer cheats and swaps any knowledge it learns to all other computer players. The computer players are all hostile 100% of the time (a feature of the version that I play), so will never help you in that or any other way.

It was quite a surprise after wiping out the most advanced and powerful civilzation other than me (they had 19th century riflemen, I was several tiers ahead of them so had tanks, battleships, and modern artillery) to have the other civilizations "trade up" to the same level of technology as me and have nukes flying at my cities.

The best way to stop computer civilizations from becoming a threat is to capture or raze all of their cities except for a single one, which you will keep as a pet. After all, you're not a monster.


There is something special here, which is the unique combination of biospheres and natural processes that enable life as we know it. Maybe aliens also have the same life form as us, and they are looking for similar habitats? Our search for such habitats so far has not been very successful, which shows that we are a indeed one of a kind in the known universe.

The aliens who can visit us, however, are likely to possess technologies to terraform unsuitable planets. But maybe their technological development was not well rounded and space exploration was pursued way more than other form of technologies. Remember that we went to moon before we had smartphones. Just a simple analogy, but who knows?


Yea, reminds me of "The Road not taken" https://eyeofmidas.com/scifi/Turtledove_RoadNotTaken.pdf


"Have you heard the good news about our lord and savior K'Xthkapatykak?"


Good Dobbs, who hasn't? You can't turn on the TV without seeing K'Xthkapatykak sitting in some comfortably-furnished studio begging/shaming me to call in with my credit card number to set up a recurring donation. And then there are its minions forever banging on my door (often with a sweet- but miserable-looking tadpole in tow) seeking to waste five minutes of my time reading the Tgprglna tablets with them and of course soliciting me to attend, credit card in hand, their next coven. They've got time travel, intergalactic hyperloops, immortality, FRB franchises across the universe, monthly credit-flow in the 8 digits (at least), and who does the IRS think should be tax-exempt, them or me?


> There is just nothing here that is special

Except Us.

How do you know so much about alien psychology?

Trying reason about what motivates aliens, their desires, or how they think, is an error in anthropomorphization.


well, unless aliens are looking for trainable slaves


He, beings capable of interstellar travel would have very little need for "slaves", I mean, even on mean old earth slaves only made sense until 1 coal joule was cheaper than 1 man joule.

If you can travel over light years a joule is going to be extraordinarily cheap, or time is not relevant. Either way, very hard for me to see how human slaves would be of any use to them.


correct on all account but still you're applying a earthling stick to measure usefulness.

maybe they need a creativity core for their warship ai.


Or snu snu


Or pets! ^_^


genetic diversity may be not so common elsewhere and worth mining


Wouldn't that be an argument that an alien race wouldn't annihilate us, rather than they would? I mean, what good is a dead planet for genetic diversity (and, I suspect that if enslavement were the goal, humans would resort to extreme lengths to try to prevent it, up to and including destruction of large swaths of our own planet)?

But, I don't think enslavement or a human zoo is a very likely motivation for a species advanced enough to travel light years to get here.


Which would involve a few abductions and/or some probing...


Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying. -Arthur C. Clarke


Maybe the most plausible third options is that we are theoretically not alone in the universe and complex life is abundant, but the universe is so big that there are no way we can contact with any of the intelligent life forms. We're just underestimating the size of the universe.

It's like living on a Pacific island 5000 years ago. There are definitely other people in the world but there is no way you can contact them.


Distance is not such a great obstacle if you have time. Aliens could conceivably live much longer than humans, making many thousand year journeys feasible. Or they could send effectively immortal machines instead, maybe via something like von Neumann probes. Generation ships are also possible.

These distances only seem long to us because we're thinking mostly in getting to other stars in a single human lifetime, which is a pretty short lifetime even compared to some other organisms on Earth (like trees, not to mention organisms that can go in to stasis indefinitely, like the mushroom spores of Terrence McKenna alien contact hypothesis fame). Once you remove the limit of a single human lifetime, your reach expands greatly.

The many billions of years that the universe has existed should give an advanced civilization plenty of time to visit the entire galaxy, either in person or by proxy, without even having to invoke the possibility of FTL drives or wormholes.


If that's the case then we definitely do not want to face the universe as primitive indiginous people unceremoniously discovered by technologically mature explorers.


How did the settlers get to that island then?


Boats, obviously. But the settlers themselves were dead. Their descendants may have had oral traditions about how their ancestors reached the island but I don't think we have any evidence that they constituted a seafaring civilization. Those weren't really possible until the invention of reliable navigational instruments such as the compass.


The first settlers got there by a boat thrown off-course by a hurricane, the the seafaring skill was lost, so communication became impossible.

Fair enough.


That's not really relevant to the analogy.


Or if the universe is a simulation...

... we are either alone in the simulation or we are not.


That's always been an unsatisfying answer, because 1. Its hard to actually test 2. I think its also an artifact of the explosive growth in computing power and AI potential that our civilization has achieved, and is more reflective of that "fad" more than anything.


To me that's far more terrifying.


Why? What's the difference between dying or the simulation just ending?


> or we are not.

not alone? false dichotomy.


"among all explanations to a weird new observation, the least interesting one is true."

What if "we" are both alone and not alone. We are part of some universal life form whose elements prefer to be disconnected from the others for some periods.


If as many monkeys wrote randomly on as many keyboards as there are atoms in every moon, planet, and star in every solar system in every galaxy in the Universe and they did so for a hundred billion lifetimes of our universe, not one would so much as type approximately half of your first paragraph.

So yes, under the laws of physics evolution and the eventual writings of avc (you) are possible, yet even a tiny sample, just half a paragraph, is unique in the history of this world and untold billions of possible other ones. While a hundred billion galaxies with a hundred billion stars might seem "infinite" - it's not so large at all. We can very easily be totally unique.

Actually infinite monkeys typing truly randomly would bang out your whole comment (not just your first paragraph) within a few minutes. Never confuse a few hundred billion times a few hundred billion with the former. :)


I doubt if life is plentiful that our planet would be rare enough to burden with the distance.


Whatever the truth it's going to be humbling - if not actually humiliating.


I don't worry about those things. I feel that any civilisation that has the capability for interstellar travel would have long since understood the laws of the universe and would have evolved past the need for a deteriorating, inefficient physical form. Think of the movie 'Lucy'.

That's why I think there are no super-intelligent species out there, because either they blow themselves up due to petty issues like racism, nationalism, etc. or they have evolved past the need for physical form and basically just disappear off the face of the universe.


This article makes a number of incorrect statements. First of all, all observed FRBs so far are at cosmological distances, well outside the Milky Way. Second, even before the discovery of a repeating source, neutron star collisions have already been ruled out as being a primary source of FRBs because of their rate. Only a very small fraction of neutron stars collide with another neutron star or black hole in the lifetime of the Universe (of the order of 1 every tens of thousands). On the other hand, the FRB rate inferred from the observations is around several percent of the core-collapse supernova rate, ie, the rate at which neutron stars are formed.

EDIT

Also the energy estimate given in the article are way off. The energy released by FRBs are of the order of what the Sun emits in 1 year not 1 day (assuming that FRB emit energy isotropically and that the distances estimated from the dispersion measurement of FRBs are correct).


The energy released by FRBs are of the order of what the Sun emits in 1 year not 1 day (assuming that FRB emit energy isotropically and that the distances estimated from the dispersion measurement of FRBs are correct).

Each burst lasts only a few milliseconds. What does the energy consumption look like assuming the FRBs emit RF directionally and aim at plausible targets in their sky? That's what an attempt to communicate would probably do.


The energy requirements are proportional to the beaming angle, so if we assume FRBs to be beamed, then the energy required decreases significantly. For example assuming a beam of 10 deg^2, this would give a reduction of a factor 648.


Assume the sender has an antenna at least as good as Arecibo. That antenna has a beam width of 4 minutes of arc.[1] That's 0.066 degrees, or about one ten millionth of the sky. So you get to divide the power requirements by 10^7.

[1] http://egg.astro.cornell.edu/alfalfa/ugrad/backgrnd/intro2ar...




If they are organized like human civilization, they will have a scientific and artist caste, discussing how human civilization should be protected and how tragic its demise is, while a capital caste mines human civilisation for exotic materials and protein. After 99 % of humanity is gone, the survivors are taken to a galactic zoo and are allowed to speak on "Never again" dinner galas.


> they tend to generate so much energy that it could parallel the amount of energy generated by the Sun for a whole day

This is not a good enough reason to think it could be life. So many objects in our universe are orders of magnitude more powerful than our unremarkable sun.

> Repeating Nature an enigma

This is not a good enough reason to think it could be life. Repeating is fundamental to every single branch of physics. So many phenomena emit photons periodically. Charged particles in circular motion, pulsars, quasars, binary stars, solar systems at certain viewing angles, etc.


The amount of energy used actually makes it less likely to be intelligence.


Initially I thought that as well: "why would intelligent life spew tons of energy into random solid angles?". But there may be a reason to do this. I wouldn't be sure if they would go through the effort to not pollute -- just look at humans. We pollute space with our signals. Civilizations that command astronomical amounts of energy as if they were pennies might just do the same thing.


If you scale the way our technology works up to sufficient levels to accomplish the original event, I could see the following still holding:

It is always easier to take advantage of matter/energy existing in the universe than to create it yourself.

Supposing a civilization could communicate across galactic scales using this method, which seems easier? Crushing neutron stars / dropping things in black holes or constructing an appatus to emit an equivalent amount of power?

Just because even we can technologically do something doesn't mean we don't take easier shortcuts. Working smarter, not harder scales.

If it's based on naturally occurring raw material, it's not unreasonable that the source would jump around anyway.


Is the amount of energy per burst based on the assumption that it's radiating in a sphere versus being directional?


If we're talking K2 I think it doesn't matter. Either power requirement outstrips anything otherwise naturally occurring.


The ratio between K1 energy and K2 energy is the ratio between a sun's radiation falling on one planet and the sun's radiation over the entire sphere.

So a directional transmission with the beam angle of a planet from the sun at K1 power should look similar to an isotropic transmission with K2 power.

For earth, that angle is 0.0025 degrees, entirely possible with parabolic antennas.


Shouldn't we try to get outside that arc as soon as possible and set up the means to corroborate this? We might need several satellites it seems like.


It might take something orbiting Pluto to figure out though. I wouldn't know, but with the variables involved that seems possible.


Lets not jump to conclusions, maybe this is being caused by life but there are also lots of other things besides life that can cause radio bursts in regular intervals, like a neutron star.


A signal from deep space, the meaning of which is unclear. Is it a sign of alien life? Is it friendly or hostile?

And thus we have the perfect premise from which so many science fiction stories have sprung. One of the earliest from TV is a BBC sci-fi drama called A for Andromeda broadcast in the early 1960s. The Wikipedia plot summary:

"A group of scientists...detect a radio signal from another galaxy that contains instructions for the design of an advanced computer. When the computer is built, it gives the scientists instructions for the creation of a living organism named Andromeda, but one of the scientists, John Fleming, fears that Andromeda's purpose is to subjugate humanity."

At the risk of derailing this thread, can any one recommend any other sci-fi novels (or comics) in the same vein?


David Brin's Existence is an excellent 300-page novel hiding in a 500-page novel amid a couple of hundred pages of self-indulgent garbage. If you're good at skipping over junk (for starters, ignore the blog-post styled sections), it's a good read. At the end is a beautiful metaphor for the social mechanisms governing the scientific community. And the story revolves around remote aliens transmitting knowledge to humans.

https://www.amazon.com/Existence-David-Brin/dp/0765342626


"His Master's Voice" by Stanislaw Len offers a different perspective on the same setup.


Alastair Reynolds' _Revelation Space_ series.

Greg Bear's _Blood Music_ has similar themes, but it's a different spin on them.


Contact.

Liu, Cixin - Three Body Problem.


> Liu, Cixin - Three Body Problem.

The second book in the series is the best.


I find this quite exciting, not because I hope for a signal from an intelligent civilization, but because it might point to some new phenomenon.

When pulsars were discovered, they dubbed them LGM-1, LGM-2 etc for "little green men", (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PSR_B1919%2B21 ). The radio signals turned out to have a perfectly "normal" source, with exciting new properties.

There's always the off chance this time, it's actually caused by "LGM", but for now we should think of these signals as an observation that needs an explanation, not as caused by an alien civilization.


Is this site for real? Nothing but clickbait titles.


Serious question: how many years old are the signals estimated to be?


It is terse and somewhat dramatic illustration of plato's allegory of the cave (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegory_of_the_Cave)


We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13253629 and marked it off-topic.


How is it remotely related, other than that both scenarios relate to having a partial understanding due to a limited viewpoint?


Parent was attempting to attempting to correlate a classical epistemological exercise with a much more modern epistemological quip about the continuity of modern experience, informed by (among others) neo-Hegelianism, philosophical realism, and proto-pragmatism (similar to James and Spinoza).

In other words, yes, they are the same... in the way a pebble is a mountain.


Am I the only one immediately thinking "war"?

These bursts might be some start detonations in a war between two alien species, which would be really frightening..!


Considering they are coming from "outside our galaxy" and our galaxy is 100,000 light years across, that means two things: (1) This "war" (if it happened) happened long ago, and (2) The victor is very far away.

In any case it's far more likely this is some natural phenomenon.


A space war from a long time ago and a galaxy far away? Where have I heard that before... maybe this is just a Disney marketing ploy...


I think you might mean "fascinating". Imagine how it would be to observe and follow a war between two total strangers across battlefields now many thousand years cold, by nothing more than the fossil light of their weapons discharges.


Any interstellar species could be too easily wiped out if the enemy knew the locations of the home worlds, so they would go to enormous lengths to conceal the locations. It is similar to modern war on Earth.

So the flashes in the sky could be enormous depth charges, thrown blind into the abyss to reduce narrow probability counts or ferret out the hidden home worlds.

Since an attack can be total, and come from anywhere, and you can never know if you fully succeeded, the peoples of Glurk-42 had a nervous disposition.


Have you read Three-Body problem? If you didn't, you'll love that book, for it's depiction of a universe as a "dark forest" full of hunters waiting to someone less cautious to appear is very much like yours.


I have not, it resides mere feet away on my bookshelf and I shall read it this Winter :-)


This might just be a neutron star as said in the last line. But the moment we realise that we are not special, we start to believe the possibility of another life form elsewhere.


The possibility of another life form does not make us any less special. Each of us exists as a single individual; the same goes for each of them. I welcome and cherish any life forms that may yet exist.


> the same goes for each of them

That's a bold claim. What do you base this on? What makes you think there's more than one? And if there is, why wouldn't they have, say, a hive mind?


Humans are already in the process of creating a hive mind (very early stages). Consider the limiting case when every brain has access to the same information. Suppose you get born into such a civilization. Their doctors inject a quantum chip which integrates with your entire nervous system and then open sources all of your data into the common information highway. Your thoughts are known by all as you know them. Data is released, not to be "owned". After all, you're a piece of matter, and your brain represents an unknown to other people who deserve to know the state of the universe just as much as you. Morally, we humans aren't there yet, however, hive minds aren't unreasonable in more advanced and connected societies.

Perhaps someone from 2000 years ago, looking at our society today, might have thought that we had a hive mind (at a first glance). After all, you seem to know your friends' birthdays as they know them. You seem to know their messages to you as they know them.

But our society is still stuck in the "ownership" phase. We have concepts of "corporations" and notions like "privacy" and "secrets", which are in direct contradiction to a pure hive state. Even if we have the technology to do it, we will remain bounded and unable to converge into a hive state. The notion that other societies may be capable of utilizing matter to such an extent doesn't surprise me.


Neat! You've just invented the Borg.


Or Alastair Reynolds' Conjoiners, for a less dystopian vision of a collective mind.


The life on Earth is so wild and varied. I feel it's only logical to assume that life outside this damn blue ball is just as varied in form and function. And if it is a single being, then I don't see the issue with what I said - the same goes for each of them - even if "each" is just one.


This itself presupposes that life is special, instead of just one possibility among a myriad. English is unique to earth, not because English is special, but because it's not special.




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: