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Chances of E.T. Living Subsurface Ocean of Enceladus Given Major Boost (newsweek.com)
149 points by yawz on Nov 13, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 97 comments

If alien life were discovered within our solar system, I wonder what the implications for the Drake Equation would be. Assuming panspermia is ruled out, the fact that abiogenesis occured twice within a seemingly ordinary system would imply life is incredibly common.

Nick Bostrom says it's one of the worst discoveries we could make. Especially if the life is complex like animal life. That would greatly increase the probability that the great filter is ahead of us instead of behind us.

Unless we find out that for some reason all life develops at more or less the same rate from the beginning of the universe. In which case our future could be very crowded.

That, or the window of technological development that we can detect and are capable of recognizing as intelligent is very small. It's possible that superintelligence is all over the place, but we're unable to perceive or comprehend it, in the same way that a nematode is completely oblivious to human society. Once a society creates superintelligence, they might even "clean up" after themselves, so that traces of previous stages of their civilization aren't available for us to observe.

>all life develops at more or less the same rate

I don't think that's likely. Earth is billions of years old but we have just been around for a few thousand. If we an alien world had evolved just a few thousand years earlier, it could have colonized the galaxy by now. We can't possibly be synced that perfectly. All sorts of random events, like asteroid collisions, had a huge impact on the timing of our evolution.

>we're unable to perceive or comprehend it

That doesn't seem likely either. An advanced civilization could easily build many kinds of megastructures that would be detectable to us, like dyson spheres. I also think it's very unlikely they wouldn't interact with us. Either to help us if they were moral, or to exterminate us if they were not.

Life and human intelligence hasn't only been around for a few thousand though... it's been a few billion for all life and 40-50k yrs for modern humans.

The fact the circumstances for intelligent beings took so long may have been random circumstance. There's no guarantee it would take that long on other planets to go from general life -> intelligent beings. The environments could easily be more welcoming to it, they may have had fewer extinction events restarting growth, etc, etc.

Do you often care about what an innocuous population of nematodes are up to in the soil of your backyard? I think given the sheer differing scales of life it's more likely that superintelligence just really wouldn't care about any particular population of significantly less developed life for anything other than research purposes.

So a cycle every 50,000 years or so?

Yeah like in Mass effect

I really think the great filter is us destroying ourselves from by inventing something that goes out of control or just by war itself.

The great filter can't just be something that wipes out most civilizations, it has to be something that wipes out essentially every civilization, and in such a way that doesn't propagate. I don't think war is enough by itself. Maybe war with the weapons of tomorrow.

If it's as easy to make a nuclear-class weapon as it is to make a microwave, for example. That would probably be the end of us.

A sufficiently large scale nuclear war could easily set humanity back to preindustrial levels of development. And it's not certain to me that we would ever get back to where we were. The first industrial revolution was bootstrapped by easy to get to minerals and fossil fuels. Many of those have been used up.

The speed of bootstrapping would be greatly increased by the knowledge we have. Even a very serious nuclear war would leave significant caches of scientific and technological knowledge. Galactic timescales are so large that we could easily afford to spend thousands of years rebooting, even do so many times. Of course if there's some technology that is even more damaging (and easier to make) than nuclear weapons, we might have a good great filter candidate.

I personally believe the Great Filter will be psychological. Our will to achieve things and propagate is in our brains. Future generations are likely to ask "Why do we have to move around a lot of matter and energy to achieve very minuscule electrical changes in a bunch of neurons, when we can short circuit the whole process and do those changes directly?"

We're already kind of doing this with drugs and digital simulations...

While it's less interesting immediately, it's probably better for us in the long term if we're first.

Well one factor would go up (planets with life 1>2) and another would go down (planets with life developing intelligence 1>0.5), resulting in a wash. It does move towards giving additional degrees of freedom on those terms though, making the equation as a whole slightly less pseudo-science.

It would only be a wash if you currently believe the chance of developing intelligence is > 50%. To me, the fact that intelligence is rare on earth makes me think the odds of developing intelligence elsewhere is rare too.

Depends on what you mean by Intelligence. We see tool use in many species, yet none of them are sending space ships. Maybe we should include an "industrialization" or "super-organization" to the criteria of aliens we'd want to trade with.

Makes a lot of assumptions that multiple technological societies can survive the early competitive period too ( the one we're pretty obviously still in)

How do you conclude that intelligence is rare on earth?

Depends on their intelligence if we find them, right? They might be intelligent and tool-using, but hampered by their aquatic origins.

Basically. Dinosaurs ruled the earth for 150 million years. If the asteroid had never hit the Earth, maybe they still would. The earth is probably only inhabitable for another billion years or so and has been inhabitable for 4 billion years, so we're 80% of the way through the Earth's habitable life.

Maybe it's not atypical that life-bearing planets don't end up producing a technologically advanced one. The Earth is an example of how a planet can have complex animal life for hundreds of millions of years without any of them being able to invent cake, and habitability is relatively temporary.

Is is intriguing to me to consider the limitations of space travel if you were an aquatic organism. Simply moving that much of any fluid versus empty "air" space would make leaving your planet that much more difficult. That's not to mention the inherent issues of electricity and developing circuits underwater.

Underwater technological civilization isn’t possible, tool making is very limited, no fire, no complex chemistry, no real evolutionary path to a technological advance society without uplifting.

While possibly there aren’t that many restrictions on where life can evolve and even where can different levels of intelligence can evolve there are likely quite a bit of restrictions on where and how technological intelligence can evolve.

Which puts some restrictions or bias towards both biological/evolutionary traits and as well as environmental ones.

While I think we’ll find life in very strange places eventually and life that will be very strange any technological species we might encounter would be something much more similar to us than to anything else.

Why are you confident that underwater technical civilization isn't possible?

It would seem to me that techniques like hydraulics would emerge quickly, and large pressure and temperature differentials over small distances are considerably more common and easier to harness underwater than above. Fabrication is certainly harder, but not impossibly so. Some weapons like thrusting spears might be easier to make and more advantageous in the water than on land, and those developed pretty early for us.

Because show me an evolutionary path into fine tool making and complex chemistry.

Chemistry is virtually impossible underwater, were not talking about an octopus using a stick even some birds use tools that's not exactly what we would call a technological intelligence.

No fire, no smelting no metalworking, no complex materials.

If you can’t do an experiment in your own environment, you improvise. Humans have done experiments in space that couldn’t be done on earth, so an advanced aquatic species could do experiments above the surface, given enough time, intelligence and inclination.

Intelligence might also take different forms, so an ocean-sized equivalent of a termite colony comprised of specialised molluscs that were collectively intelligent and had selectively bred themselves into specialised roles for millennia could achieve a great deal?

We’re talking here about very specific intelligence a technological one.

Humans can do experiments in space because we have the technology to do so, show me an evolutionary path to technology capable of overcoming environmental barriers without fire and chemistry.

You're making three specific claims and have provided zero evidence: that it is impossible to develop fire underwater, that it is impossible to develop chemistry underwater, and that it is impossible to build a technological civilization without these things. I say hogwash; show me the proof for your claims.

Your proposed alternative is to play "what if" until either I come up with an imaginary scenario that strikes your fancy or, more likely, you reject out of hand anything brought to you and claim to be right by default. Well, that's hogwash too. It's certainly no way to advance a scientific claim, let alone three of them.

I'm particularly skeptical of the claim that you could not develop chemistry underwater; it seems equally as implausible as saying that you could not develop chemistry in air for exactly the same reasons.

"I'm particularly skeptical of the claim that you could not develop chemistry underwater; it seems equally as implausible as saying that you could not develop chemistry in air for exactly the same reasons."

what? you think its possible to develop fire under water? chemistry? have you done any chemistry? what about electricity? (a huge but impossible one to do under water)? I am trying really hard not to say something mean

There is literally no reason to believe that developing chemistry is impossible underwater. Interesting and useful chemical reactions happen underwater every second of every day; it is irrational to assume that there is no path by which an intelligent but not technological entity would observe this, utilize those reactions, and refine them.

Electricity is far from impossible either to develop or use underwater, and in fact nature has already done so in the form of the electric eel. More to the point, many aquatic species have specially developed sense organs for electricity, increasing the odds of it being developed for communication.

Similarly, although it doesn't look much like your childhood campfire underwater lava flows can be stable and useful sources of heat great enough for refining ores and similar. Further shaping using hydraulic pressure (equivalent to waterjet cutting or forming) would hardly be unimaginable.

And please feel free to say your mean things-- it certainly can't damage my view of the evidence you've put forth so far.

ok, I'll make things a bit more simple for you. there are two kinds of impossible. as far as we know, its impossible to create energy from nothing. The 2nd kind of impossible is a tornado going through a junk yard and building IMB Watson.

sure, you can play lawyerball and say its possible.

yes, AFTER 40 THOUSAND YEARS, we humans have figured a lot of this stuff out in an easy environment. Sure, we can take the knowledge we have gained over the last 40k years, and do some stuff under water, because we have already figured it out.

i also hate your type of person. your the type of person that says: give me evidence, you are wrong until you give me evidence. but you provide none of your own.

I don't think you intended it this way, but the analogy of a tornado going through a junkyard and building Watson is very apt for the emergence of any intelligence. Any individual path or outcome is itself fantastically unlikely, and you're right to regard it as a low probability event.

But we've already had one such event-- the development of human intelligence. So if the random emergence of sentience from undirected physical processes is your bar for impossible, I'd say you need a new bar.

Regarding human technology, 40 thousand years is not a lot of time in the grand scheme of things. But even having said that, none of the claims I make rest on having human tech: the electric eel is not a human invention, nor are lorenzini organs. Use of a lava flow for heat is natural to many aquatic ecosystems, and requires no more intelligence than the ability to win at "hotter or colder". Many aquatic life forms already make use of simple hydraulic effects to move along the sea floor, anchor themselves into tidepools, or hunt prey. The preponderance of evidence we have for life on Earth suggests that that these skills will develop over time. Proposing that there is some reason that advancement inevitably stops under the sea is a bold and surprising claim, and yes-- requires evidence.

Regarding hating my type of person, that's on you. I think your position is narrow-minded and in error, but I'm pretty sure you're not Hitler.

Thermite or alkaline metals will burn just fine under water. As long as you have an oxidizer, some combustible and a source of energy to kickstart the reaction, it will burn. Also, I don't see why fire is so important. It was important for us to better digest food, that's a concidence, nothing else.

And so does electricity. If the water isn't saline (why would it be), then it is as good as air from an isolation PoV. I did put a motherboard in mineral oil at some point and it did work until the fan died. Other fluids that could make life possible are also good at being non conductive.

Even in salt water, a circuit just has to be bigger or better isolated to work. electricity takes the path of least resistance. Vast distances in salt water vs a good conductor, at some point the good conductor will still win. We have undersea cables since centuries and they work.

Then, about smelting and complex chemistry, hydrothermal vents provides both a source of energy and of complex chemicals.

Salt isn't the only thing that makes water a conductor, is it? It's any ionic compound, and I imagine life isn't going to have a very easy start in pure water...

And how would you refine aluminium for thermite under water or refine highly reactive alkaline metals?

People here come at it from the wrong point of view which is the application of advanced technologies, expertise and knowledge applied to overcome environmental challenges.

You need to look at it from an evolutionary point of view (both biological and technical). Show me a feasible technological evolutionary path to our current level of technology for a life form that is limited to living in a solvent this can be water, ammonia, liquid hydrocarbons or anything else similar.

When I say technological life is likely to be very similar to us is not due to lack of imagination, and this isn't just my own opinion.

Here are several other factors to account for the evolutionary path to a technological society.

Gravity, no direct bounds on lower gravity other than the fact that low mass planets will have trouble holding an atmosphere. Limits on the upper bound are both biological very high gravity would restrict the development of fine appendages which would restrict tool making, and in general when a fall from any relatively small height could kill you it would likely force evolutionary paths that could likely be against the development of complex technical intelligence. This limit can be somewhat mitigated by atmospheric density that would provide buoyancy some what countering some of the direct affects of gravity but that's both limited and can impose limiting factors on it's own.

Gravity also would impose a limit on the feasibility of rockets, chemistry is universal and the rocket equation combined with the available energy in chemical fuels would impose a limit on how massive a planet can be from which you could use rockets to go into space.

Biological attributes, fine motor skills are pretty much a must for fine tool making which is a critical part of technical and biological advancements in intelligence.

Sight is also likely a critical factor, while other types of sight than non light, and non visible light might be present coverage of most of the visible spectrum is likely going to be very common if not mandatory. The amount of information you can gain from the and near visible spectrum is much higher than any other forms of vision such as echo location.

That information is both needed for inference of underlying properties of "things" as well as would serve as a catalyst for development of higher brain functions.

And those are just a few examples, if you start looking at what conditions are either mandatory, beneficial or detrimental to the evolution of a technologically advanced species from both a biological and then technical/societal aspect you would end up with a much more limited spectrum of possible life forms and planets on which a species that can reach our own level of technology can evolve.

Don't get me wrong a super intelligent organism spanning an entire planet that you could debate the meaning of life with until the cold death of the universe is possible, so is any other type of conscious or "philosophical" intelligence, but these types of life forms won't be building rockets or iPhones.

> And how would you refine aluminium for thermite under water or refine highly reactive alkaline metals?

Refining aluminium is either done with the chemical baths process or electrolysis. Electrolysis works equally well in dielectric gas or liquid. Electricity can be generated under water, we do so on earth, it ain't hard. The chemical baths process does not require an atmosphere, so it has no impact if it's executed under water or above it. Remember, we use plenty of gas based chemical processes and we live in a gas. There is no reasons it cannot happen in liquid.

> Gravity: low gravity

Totally unrelated, waterworlds tend to have higher gravity. Buoyancy is also unrelated to cognitive capacity. The average cognitive capacity is marine mammals species is higher than the terrestrial one.

> Gravity: appendages

Octopuses appendages are better suited to manipulate objects while clinging on to hard surfaces than our gravity based limbs. Their body is soft yet capable of some level of rigidity on demand. It is perfectly adapted to low-G interaction.

> Gravity also would impose a limit on the feasibility of rockets

You are trying to force various things into your "technological species". I am limiting my argumentation to species capable of industrial scale civilizations (type 1). But assuming I ignore that and bite your sofism (as I did for fire, which was an equally invalid proposition). For highly horizontal lunches, you need to accelerate to reach the escape velocity delta-v, not fight gravity. It's harder, but not impossible, to do so in thick atmospheres with high gravity and heavy liquid payloads. Also, if the hypothetical planet had a thick molecular oxygen free atmosphere, a direct cycle nuke engines would work very, very well. You could accelerate to ~12km/s in high atmosphere is an ablative shield before starting the chemical rocket (necessary only for the [orbital] plane correction. That's half of what you need to reach Uranus or Neptune escape velocity. So it would reach EV in any waterworlds (higher gravity cause high pressure chiemicals to form instead of water, we know nothing about this type of chemistry beside "diamonds exists", we have no clue if life can develop in >= 1GPa). And before you say 12km/s is impossible, no, it's totally possible if your direct cycle run at a few hundreds thoundsand degrees. We are not crazy enough to try because such radiation kills us. Assuming the organism is better suited to cope with it and the fact that water would shield against most radiation anyway, it becomes a very viable way to reach extreme speeds.

> Biological attributes, fine motor skills are pretty much a must for fine tool making which is a critical part of technical and biological advancements in intelligence.

Yes, they also happen to evolve in any fluid, not just gases. Even Lobsters can be considered to have fine motor skills. Cephalopods have exceptional ones even compared to us.

> Sight

Sight is unrelated to the viscosity of the fluid. Different wavelenghts have different absorption rates when crossing matter. We are transparent to a wide range of the EM spectrum and air is opaque to an equally large one. The "best sight on earth" prize is awarded to some deep water shrimp species. Also, hearing, sight and smell can be combined in a "introspecting close environment without contact" category. We use hundreds of different type of sensors to perform that task, it is not limited to those 3. The animal kingdom evolved about a dozen such senses. Sonars/Lidars/Radars/Masdars and electrical field organs can replace sights and smell respectively.

So all that to prove that the attributes you attach to intelligence have absolutely no relation with either intelligence itself or the viscosity or air.

edit: s/MPa/GPa/

Now show me an evolutionary path towards that that is feasible underwater.

1. Tools made of bone or very hard stone.

2. Different type of oxidation.

3. Work with air bubbles; people fished and dived since time immemorial not being able to survive underwater.

4. No one said the ocean has to be a water ocean, how about ammonia?

5. The first space launches of the hypothetical aquatic species may involve air-breathing animals, or it may be delayed until the automation reached a sufficiently high level.

The technological path is not linear. For example, the Aztecs had advanced societies and infrastructure but no utilitarian wheel: http://www.zoesaadia.com/real-smart-folks-but-no-wheel/.

Again show me an evolutionary path, ammonia is still a solvent, solvents prevent you from doing controlled complex chemistry.

Because you can't conceive of it in 5 minutes, it doesn't exist?

The relevant terms (paraphrased) are: number that can have life, percent of those which do have life, percent of those which have intelligent life, percent of those that release signals into space.

So that would just move the same math down one more step. Twice the number of planets which have life (whether you adjust "can have life" or just the percent of the above which do), but that cancels out with half as many either being intelligent or releasing signals.

Intelligent and releasing within our immediate galactic vicinity.

I don't understand why the aliens would waste power beaming directed and powerful signals into space.

Do you think the BBC bothers broadcasting enough signal for the Martians to listen to their radio? I don't think that's a very profitable business model.

To a fish, we're aliens. It must be terrifying.

I get the comparison, but personally I think it only works if we found tool-using behavior in aquatic species that shows they are actively modifying their environment to improve their survivability, so that they can have some meaningful basis for judging us as like them. Such as dolphins using agriculture. Otherwise we're just part of the freak show up where there is more light and less pressure.

Octopuses have been observed using tools, and we're very quickly determining that they are extremely intelligent. If they had longer lifespans and weren't solitary, who knows what they may have become.

Given that they breed fast, I'm a bit surprised nobody has tried to breed sociable octopuses.

I think there have been a few instances where they found enough octopi clustered that they were shown to be sociable. This article is about the Octopi cities https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/octopus-city-obser...

Not that sociable: http://metazoan.net/55-octlantis-media/

> Octlantis is not in any sense a city. It is not a cooperatively built and maintained structure, designed to allow many individuals to live in close quarters. It is an unusually dense collection of individual dens, most of them dug into a bed of scallop shells.

" actively modifying their environment to improve their survivability"

does a hermit crab count?

No more than bees making a beehive.

The known probabilities will go down, but that evidence is very weak with a sample size of < 1 solar system.

Personally, I've always assumed less than 100% of life-bearing planets will have intelligent life. Earth would have failed less than 1M years ago, and our species may not be around for long.

The interesting question, to me, is how often does life arise? If we find two origins in our solar system... that would change everything.

I suspect that life will occur pretty much everywhere it can. It seemed to have popped up about as early as it could have on our planet, and has adapted to just about every nook and cranny here. And I agree that intelligence is unlikely to be as ubiquitous as life is. It takes an awful lot of resources to grow brains as big as ours, and it's probably just not worth it most of the time.

I can't clearly describe this thought yet, but I believe life depends on an environment with many channels for releasing small amounts of entropy (and protection from destructive high energy levels). That's all we are, self-regulating reproducing entropy machines. Once life exists, it diversifies into every energy niche.

Earth has an incredibly complex entropic ecosystem - sunlight, wind, rain/flowing water, lightning, tectonic plates recycling material, radioactive material, and lots of interesting molecules... it seems inevitable that life would evolve.

The Moon? Solar radiation, and maybe some chemical reactions driven by solar radiation. No life. Mercury? Too much solar radiation, destroys anything depending on small energy deltas. Mars? Above-average entropy channels in the past, but it's pretty dead now

It wouldn't change it much. There's a huge difference between life and intelligent life.

I suspect it may be fairly common for life to occur in the forms of single celled organisms - just like extremophiles are rare but not unheard of on Earth.

OTOH I suspect it's incredibly rare for complex life (insects, small mammals etc) to form.

Aren't we discovering that our solar system isn't very "ordinary" at all after detecting that most of the systems with extra-solar planets are very different from us?

We keep getting less and less extraordinary the more we look. Whereas at the time of Asimov's or Sagan's writings (a few decades ago, the first exoplanet being detected in 1988) we didn't know of a single planet orbiting another sun, nowadays telescopes such as Kepler have pushed the estimate of the number of planets _just_ in the goldilocks zone to several billion inside the milky way. One in five sun-like stars may contain a planet capable of holding water:




How do you figure? Are you thinking of the fact that most discovered planets are gas giants? This is due to the sensitivity of our equipment moreso than an insight about the distribution of planets in the universe.

I think you're right about that.

Do you have references on that? I was under the impression that as our detection improved, the systems we found around stars like ours were starting to look increasingly like ours. (But, at the same time it's looking like smaller, colder stars may have the bulk of inhabitable planets.)

This articles concludes that we are average, but I don't really understand how - we're only average in age, but we differ in just about every other data point (no super earths, low-eccentricity orbits, no close-in planets): http://aasnova.org/2015/09/25/how-normal-is-our-solar-system...

This article says we're definitely weirder, but points out that the detection technology matters, and we may not have the full picture yet: https://planetplanet.net/2016/07/12/exactly-how-unusual-is-o...

Exactly, we're weird only in that we can only detect weird planetary systems right now. The super earths, super Jupiter type systems are so common if only because that is where our light detection is best right now.

Until we start getting probes out to solar systems or have some way to detect orbits of planets that aren't perpendicular to our own we won't have much of an idea how weird we truly are or aren't.

I don’t see how - mathematically - panspermia could ever be ruled out. Unless they’re non-organic life forms.

Referenced paper ...

Powering prolonged hydrothermal activity inside Enceladus


I'm reminded of the argument[0] that conscious beings that evolved on worlds like this will be very freaked by the discovery of stuff above the ice. Seeing planets and stars, we humans have always had some sense that there's more to the Universe than Earth.

0) The Killing Star by George Zebrowski and Charles Pellegrino

Is there any light down there? Would they have eyes?

Stars etc. might be more like totally abstract theoretical concepts like quantum physics is to us, or at least X-rays.

They might not be able to literally look up and see things, having mostly only sonar, hearing, and touch senses; handfuls of surface-explorers wearing special environment suits report the utterly strange sensation that space seems almost totally two-dimensional on the surface and there seems to be total emptiness above. Except that heat sometimes seems to be coming from above in strange repeating patterns.

OTOH they might wonder how a species like us could possibly survive, being unable to see through our own bodies using sonar it must be extremely difficult to develop internal medicine. We would probably just get wiped out by some disease early on.

The sun isn't the only source of radiant energy (visible light, IR, UV, etc) in a planetary system. Chemoluminescence and indeed heat itself (infrared (IR) emission) are other sources. I would think that living in a thermal environment closed off from the sun, creatures would be likely to evolve bioluminescent emitters/receptors or even fully developed IR Eyes in order to gain survival advantage.

1.) https://voices.nationalgeographic.org/2014/03/14/from-night-...

Indeed, deep ocean life is very strange.

I always loved this portion of The Ellimist Chronicles, one of the companion books to the Animorph Series. If I remember correctly, these god-like beings play simulated games where they develop species over eons and during one game, the catalyst the main character needed to advance his civilization was parting the perpetual clouds so his species could witness the stars and for the first time, look up.

I remember that one. The game is that you can make one single change to species/environment, and he parts the clouds. His opponent ups aggression, and his opponent's species wipes his out. They send their game out into space, and another species gets the game, thinks the game is altering real species causing drama.

It is in fact the opening chapter, and the vignette sets the tone of idealism versus pragmatism for the rest of the book, a theme that surely resonates for any beleaguered programmer with a deadline...


I sighed. "What was your move?"

"Oh, a very small one," Inidar said. "I increased their rate of reproduction by a very small percentage. This heightened their natural aggression. And guessed that your move would be to open the Pangaban skies. Population growth pressures, a limited food supply, and the ability to see the Pangaban surface very clearly ... my Gunja Wave wanted to eat your species."

"Yes, and they did," I said. "I call the game."

"You have to learn to avoid naïveté, Ellimist. It's not the good and worthy who prosper. It's just the motivated."


Life, the Universe, and Everything (1982)

Who knows the mind of an alien. I mean maybe some individuals get freaked out, or there's some initial shock. But you'd kind of expect any intelligent or sufficiently advanced species to be able to handle the new and unexpected, it's kind of a pre-requisite. Those that can't tend to go extinct eventually.

I don’t think that’s true since we have only recently figured out what stars really are (last 2 thousand years) .

Whether it be the sun, the moon, or the stars and regardless of what we thought we were seeing, when we looked up in the sky we saw things we could not reach that fueled our imagination and our desire for exploration.

A subsurface dweller would always see and feel physical bounds and would probably assume that's all there was to it.

Yeah, I doubt upon discovering a wider universe most beings are going to follow the path of the Krikket in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Otherwise every discovery would have the potential to discombobulate them under the right circumstances.

Humanity often has periods of instability following major discoveries that unseat orthodox ideals. An argument can be made that much of the cultural instability in the modern US and its animosity to science can be rooted in an "allergic" reaction to the ideas of evolution and a greater understanding of just how old and vast our universe actually is.

Personally, such an argument would be a bit simplistic, but you'd be a fool to ignore how discombobulating evolution has been to much of Evangelical America. People who believe they are the center of universe tend to find it difficult to accept evidence to the contrary. To use another literary reference, there are a lot of warty bliggens in the world.

Well going even beyond that. There's entire populations of people barely living above the stone age, not to mention uncontacted tribes still out there in the world. It provides a fascinating spectrum of experiences.

I guess my point is any large enough group of beings will have a variety of responses ranging from embracing new ideas and information wholeheartedly or rejecting them out of fear and ignorance and every possible combination of response in between. And it can be tricky to figure out which sub-group should represent the whole in these sort of blanket statements about how "they" would "feel" about an arbitrary bit of knowledge that they couldn't have foreseen discovering.

Well, that is rather the idea in The Killing Star. Also The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin.

Also the classic 1941 short story “Nightfall” by Asimov. Aliens live on a world that is part of a complex solar system orbiting multiple stars, so it’s only nighttime once every two thousand years. At that point, the civilizations look up at the dark sky, perceive that there are many other stars, which shocks them with the enormity of the universe and how small and insignificant they are, and...well, it doesn’t go very well.

EDIT: It’s online! http://www.astro.sunysb.edu/fwalter/AST389/TEXTS/Nightfall.h...

Wasn't that an allegory for the spread of Nazism?

It blows my mind that we didn't confirm the existence of other galaxies until the 1920s.

It was less than a century ago that we learned that the universe was a hundred billion times more complex than we thought it was.

Imagine what we don't know now.

Or perhaps below the ice, from their perspective.


It should be "above" due to the gravity imparted by the planet. Unless the species doesn't develop something analogous to our vestibular apparatus and can't actually tell up from down.

Although I'm going to have to read this book it seems like.

Yes, I do recommend it highly. And then the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy by Liu Cixin.

Is there a protocol for looking for life in an environment like Enceladus that would sufficiently guarantee sterility of the probe?

It seems that guaranteeing sterility would be sufficiently impossible to render Enceladus permanently unapproachable.

There's a job at NASA for that. It's called the Planetary Protection Office: https://planetaryprotection.nasa.gov (relevant xkcd what-if: https://what-if.xkcd.com/117/)

I don't think you can guarantee the sterility of an object.

You can make it likely though.

Why do these articles always assume that if we find anything it will just be microbial? There could be anything at all down there.

Most of life's time on earth was single celled (life started ~4.1 Billion years ago, multi-cellular ~1.7 Billion years ago). If the world wasn't filled with O2 or sexual reproduction didn't start life on earth could still be single celled.

Planetary science programs need a significant boost in funding so that they can perform at least two flagship missions per decade. Missions to Europa, Enceladus and Titan to look for life should be a top priority for NASA.

it blows my mind we have landed on Titan and sent back photos

Imagine that there's an intelligent civilization living down there. One day, they develop the technology to drill through the ice, and emerge to discover... an entire universe on the other side.

I'm curious what limitations being an underwater species, especially a subterranean one, would have on the development of intelligence or even an advanced society.

Apparently the ocean on Enceladus is kept warm due to geothermal heat. And that hear is accessible to the water because the ocean’s crust is very porous. Which naturally leads us to ideas like geothermal vents that may have been the source of life on Earth.

Hopefully we won’t bring back Kelvin.

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