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This article is full of misconceptions. Let's address a few of the most egregious ones.

>there are billions of stars and planets in our galaxy and billions of galaxies. Humans are rather bad at fully understanding such large numbers.

There's no obstacle to working with large numbers once you understand powers and logarithms (i.e. pre-calc). Very smart people have looked at the Drake equation and it yields a very wide range of values [1].

>Christopher Columbus first landing on North America (not a good event for native Americans)

The main reason Europeans were able to take over America was disease. The Aztec effort to kick out the Spanish was hampered by smallpox [2], and colonization of North America had to wait for over a century before the native population was sufficiently depleted by disease to stop offering resistance. [3] Needless to say, disease worked unintentionally and because both sides were the same species.

> So, screw it, all movie alien races invented artificial gravity.

Or, you know, maybe they built ships with rotating crew habitats that simulate gravity by centrifugal force. (I belive 2001 does a pretty good job of showing the concept.)

> If getting humans to another star system is a 100 on some "technology ability scale", we're a 2 which is not comparatively far ahead of say, poodles - who are probably at a 1.

First off, poodles are at a zero. Second, if 10% of world GDP was dedicated to building an interstellar, multi-generation ark, we pretty much have the technology to do it right now. The technological problem is to reduce the cost to the point where the political will to do it can be summoned (probably around 0.01% of GDP).

>Maybe they want to trade with us. Well, yeah, right. If you've gotten this far it's obvious we have no tech that would interest them.

[4]

>How many years before we have a brain interface to Google? You'd know everything.

We already have Google in our pockets. But instantly finding any quote by Darwin doesn't mean I understand the theory of evolution.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drake_equation#Range_of_values

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuitl%C3%A1huac

[3] See timeline in http://www.amazon.com/1491-Revelations-Americas-Before-Colum...

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparative_advantage




And this is the top rated comment? None of these "misconceptions" have much to do with the main point OP is making: we think too small, and we pick the wrong analogies and frameworks when we discuss an alien visit.

If anything, your post is yet another manifestation of this. It simply doesn't matter what happened to native americans, when the entire Columbus story does not apply.

And what do your comments about googles in pockets and drake equation have to do with anything? Do you have anything to say about actual point the OP is making?

Ugh...


My biggest quibble with the OP is that you can never say that there are no black swans out there just because you've never seen one. No matter how advanced the aliens might be, they wouldn't be able to predict everything they would find here based on theory alone. What if their theory didn't include something they hadn't yet encountered? They would have to see for themselves by some means that, if quantum limits are what we think, could not all be remotely viewed from light years away.


We're not talking about the lottery here, we're not talking about the probability that you will be hit by a bus or the chance you have of starting a company and making it big.

We are talking about the vastness of an entire GALAXY and a level of technological advancement that comes with consequences that no one can even begin to imagine let alone predict. The entirety of human science fiction doesn't even scratch the surface as to what is possible (and due to our own biases and the need to entertain a television audience/readership is probably far more tame and boring than what is really out there) at those levels.

You're talking about quantum limits but you have to realize, to make the vast majority of science fiction watchable/readable, you have to almost entirely throw out our knowledge of modern physics. For example, every real world attempt at theorizing FTL travel has lead either to needing ridiculous amounts of energy (equivalent to the mass of Jupiter for the original Alcubierre drive which would be about a billion billion billion kilograms each of matter and antimatter) or particles with properties which we have NEVER come close to seeing (and by never, I mean not a shred of experimental evidence or even a suggestion that it exists outside of a theoretical framework). If an alien race has FTL, it's knowledge of the universe is well above ours and any attempts we can make to predict the limits of their technology is useless. For all we know, FTL travel might be as difficult as building your own solar system from scratch.

In order for us to have an alien visit that is even close to any imagined encounter in science fiction, many things that we can't speculate on would have to work out. We're not talking one black swan, we're talking about an unknowable number of factors and events that would have to work out just right.

It's might be possible (we don't even know if FTL is possible), just like it might be possible for wild pigs to evolve to fly without any artificial intervention in a few thousand years, but it's so unlikely that it's worth putting into the "Just not going to happen pile," all the while working to prove yourself wrong :)


this argument - just as that of the OP fails in its assumption that some alien species would need FTL To get here. maybe theyre just a species that lives for millenia in earth years - and can manage without gravity or limited gravity. You just dont know.


> None of these "misconceptions" have much to do with the main point OP is making

Exactly. Few of the points the OP makes have anything to do with his main argument, and most of them are illogical in some way.


>None of these "misconceptions" have much to do with the main point [...] the entire Columbus story does not apply [...] what do your comments about googles in pockets and drake equation have to do with anything?

I don't see how you can make a valid point when your facts and supporting arguments are wrong. The article itself mentions Columbus, Google and (implicitly) the Drake equation. The "main point" that you mention - "we think too small" - is either tautological or self-defeating, depending on interpretation. If this was all there was to the article, it might well have consisted of that single phrase instead.


The author's central thesis - that aliens who are advanced enough to send an invasion to earth but not advanced enough to get the resources they need by other means is highly implausible - doesn't rest on the throwaway points with which you're quibbling.


> throwaway points with which you're quibbling

Throwaway points as to how likely it is for advanced aliens to even exist and whether they might be willing to trade with us? He's attempting to refute all possible motivations that aliens might have to communicate with us.


If you don't understand enough to know that the extremely small probabilities that have been argued for abiogenesis can completely overwhelm the large number of planets in the universe--so much that you dismiss it out of hand--this is a bad sign of the author's competence on this topic.


I don't think anyone is dismissing abiogenesis, just that the likelyhood of life evolving on a planet, then evolving to be intelligent, then developing technology way outside our knowledge of the world (like FTL), then deciding to go out and explore in our small part of the galaxy (and with 400 billion stars in the Milky Way and billions more galaxies, I do mean small as in a cluster a few hundred light years in radius to detect human radio signatures at the very least), and THEN, deciding to come down and meet us/trade with us/invade us/destroy us/take our resources (which are very human things to do. considering how different psychologies of cultures can be on this planet, I don't think these are the only options).

I don't think anyone disputes that any of those things on the list are "possible," just the odds stacking up in our favor.


Jeesh,

Article: Humans are rather bad at fully understanding such large numbers.

Zeteo: There's no obstacle to working with large numbers once you understand powers and logarithms (i.e. pre-calc).

Me: The article said "fully understand" and "humans". Some scientists may indeed easily work with aspects of large number. Many people are lost. I'd say you're wrong but it's a disagreement on arguable, hardly settled points. Calling your disagreement with the author a "misconception" on the author's part is implying a hard factual accuracy on your side - and here you are both wrong and disingenuous.

The rest of your post is about like this.


>Calling your disagreement with the author a "misconception" on the author's part is implying a hard factual accuracy on your side - and here you are both wrong and disingenuous.

The first paragraph of the article is a pretty clear statement that a calculation such as the Drake equation [1] must result in a large number of intelligent alien races and that only lack of understanding for large numbers prevents people from realizing this:

> it's nearly comical to believe we're the only intelligent life in the universe. It's easy to get lost in the numbers thrown around - there are billions of stars and planets in our galaxy and billions of galaxies. Humans are rather bad at fully understanding such large numbers.

To restate my point, this is wrong on two counts:

1. The Drake equation can be understood by anyone with a pre-calc background, which is by no means rare these days.

2. Different scientists have plugged in different numbers, with the most pessimistic estimates being of under one civilization in the observable universe.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drake_equation


You left out the misconception where FTL travel is even possible. That's probably most likely why we'll never meet aliens... the low likelihood of them being able to harness that level of energy reduced even further by the likelihood of a ship happening to stumble across this particular rock.... and then, further still by them even caring if they find us.

Heck, there might be cloud-squid in Jupiter we're not even aware of who make better conversationalists than us. The aliens might even show up after a thousand year trip and ignore the Earth entirely.


We don't need FTL. Our current age limit is becoming more obviously arbitrary every year. Sooner rather than later we'll be able to extend our age limit to several centuries. We could spread out to all the nearby stars in less than one lifetime at even .1c. We could with generation ships anyway, but that's far less desirable. We could populate most of the Galaxy in a million years with no FTL whatsoever, and if FTL never plays out, we probably will. If we meet aliens along the way, then we do.


Your assertion that "our current age limit is becoming more obviously arbitrary every year" is lacking in evidence — it's been somewhere between 120 and 130 years for as long as we can tell, and we have not managed to surpass that even once. That's not arbitrary; it's a scientific fact.

But let's forget that. Let's grant that in the future we'll be able to quadruple the human lifespan to 480 years. For the sake of argument, I'll even grant that manned interstellar flight at 0.1c is achievable. At this rate, it will still take most of our very long lifespans to reach the three nearest systems that are candidates for habitable exoplants. You'll still need a generation ship unless you want a colony of geriatrics. (Also, once you do get there, you're very likely to find that the potentially habitable exoplanets turn out not live up to that potential in much the same way the potentially habitable Venus turned out not to, so you'll spend the rest of your extended lifespan moving on to the next system.)


You don't need FTL to go to nearby stars. If you built something that traveled at 1% c to the star 5 years away, and then took 500 years to develop enough to launch colony ships of its own, the descendants would cover the entire galaxy from any starting point in 20 million years.


If FTL is not possible, this makes for a very good reason to conquer the nearest habitable planets. If they are overcrowded and able to conquer Earth in reasonable (for them) time-frame, I don't see any reason why they wouldn't want to. That of course is only if "habitable" means the same thing to them as to us (liquid water, oxygen etc.).


You can come up with scenarios to justify anything, of course. The blog post seems to be discussing aliens as depicted in science fiction which almost always need some kind of handwaving ftl drive for narrative reasons. I was just suggesting the technological infeasibility of actual interstellar travel to be a more likely reason that we haven't or wouldn't encounter aliens, than their considering us beneath their contempt.

But yeah, that is one possibility.


If poodles are at a zero, we are at a zero too. We can "theoretically" dump massive quantities of cash into building a giant craft but we are nowhere close to making a craft or society that will sustain itself for ~100,000 years until it gets to another star. We cannot even guarantee that we can sustain ourselves with all the earth's resources without wiping out our own society for 100 years.


Where do you get the 100,000 years number to get to another star?


Where do you get any number? It's a back of the envelope, order-of-magnitude thing. We don't have anything close to faster-than-light spacecraft and there's no reason to think we will in the near future, except for pure religious hope.


> It's a back of the envelope, order-of-magnitude thing.

You... need to work on that.

There are plenty of stars within 14 light years. https://www.google.ca/search?client=ubuntu&hs=HNq&ch...

If you took 100,000 years that would be a speed of 0.00014c. That is pretty pessimistic - we have put objects into space that are travelling away from earth faster than that already! (Yada yada accleration :).)

At 0.1c you can go 14 lightyears in 140 years. There are stars closer than this.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nearest_stars#Map_of_ne...


> If you took 100,000 years that would be a speed of 0.00014c. That is pretty pessimistic - we have put objects into space that are travelling away from earth faster than that already!

Citation needed. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voyager_1 travels now at 17 km/s which is cca 6e-5 of c, twice slower than your 1.4e-4. However the bigger the object, the inertia is bigger too, so it is harder to speed up the bigger things, especially anything that would sustain life long enough for more generations. Then don't forget, as much as you speed up something, you have to speed it down too and you need the same amount of energy for that.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helios_(spacecraft)

70 km/s. I personally wouldn't want to take that specific trip, but regardless :)

Inertia is a much smaller problem than subjecting humans to acceleration :) You can't afford to accelerate fast anyway. Thankfully spacecraft speed up and slow down quadratically with respect to acceleration.

To get to a speed of 0.00014c if you were accelerating at 9.8m/s^2 ("Earth gravity") you would need to wait...

https://www.google.ca/search?client=ubuntu&hs=2dC&ch...

1 hour and 15 minutes to reach top speed. (The same to slow down (ignoring relativistic effects.)) This is a drop in the bucket vs. 100,000 years, or a human lifetime :)


>Where do you get any number?

By studying the actual quantities involved?

>It's a back of the envelope, order-of-magnitude thing.

No, that's not how you get "any number". Just some of them, the more sloppy ones.

The nearest star is like 5 light years away. With 1/10 of the speed of light that's like 50 years. Wanna make it 1/100 and 500 years?

In any case much less than the 100,000 years estimation.

>We don't have anything close to faster-than-light spacecraft and there's no reason to think we will in the near future, except for pure religious hope.

First, we don't need "faster than light" to make it to there to less than 100,000 years.

Second, we actually DO have some ideas about that, too:

http://www.space.com/17628-warp-drive-possible-interstellar-...


1 - fair enough, but I dont think the author is arguing what you claim he is, and doesnt seem to be a central point

2 - disease aside, the intent is important, the argument is that when technologically advanced meets less technological society the outcome is as much exploitation as possible

3 - artifical gravity is pretty tangential

4 - poodles being 0 or 1 is not your call to make, you as a 2 have no idea how a society at 100 would slice and dice it, its totally tangential but honestly maybe single cell lifeforms are 0, some kinda social structure ability to learn is 1, and 2 is less than a world wide society




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