August 23, 2014

The Secret by Robert Frost


NASA: Humans Will Prove "€˜We Are Not Alone In The Universe"€™ Within 20 Years:

Speaking at NASA’s Washington headquarters on Monday, the space agency outlined a plan to search for alien life using current telescope technology, and announced the launch of the Transiting Exoplanet Surveying Satellite in 2017. The NASA administrators and scientists estimate that humans will be able to locate alien life within the next 20 years. “Just imagine the moment, when we find potential signatures of life. Imagine the moment when the world wakes up and the human race realizes that its long loneliness in time and space may be over — the possibility we’re no longer alone in the universe,” said Matt Mountain, director and Webb telescope scientist at the Space Telescope. Science Institute in Baltimore, which plans to launch the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018. “What we didn’t know five years ago is that perhaps 10 to 20 per cent of stars around us have Earth-size planets in the habitable zone,” added Mountain. “It’s within our grasp to pull off a discovery that will change the world forever.” Describing their own estimates as “conservative,” the NASA planet hunters calculate that 100 million worlds within the Milky Way galaxy are able to sustain complex alien life forms. The estimate accounts for the 17 billion Earth-sized worlds scientists believe to be orbiting the galaxy’s 100 billion stars.

Oh yeah? I call that sort of number-blather not "searching for life" as much as NASA's standard search for the fountain of perpetual funding.

The more we know, the bigger deal the Fermi Paradox becomes.50,000 years is a blink of an eye, evolutionarily speaking. So there is quite a decent chance that we have simply been experiencing the explosive growth of a brand-new species, which is at some relatively soon point going to flat-line -- the species will have reached maturity, and like the chimps and horses, develop no further, achieve nothing greater in its technology. Is that now? Maybe. Maybe not. We could go on for centuries longer, millenia even, and this would still count as our infancy. But it seems very unlikely to me that we will continue our straight-line growth for 500,000 or 1 million years. It also seems likely the growth rate will decline smoothly to zero.
So it is entirely possible that our present capacity for interstellar travel and communication is near or even already at the greatest level we can achieve as a species. It may not change in the next 1,000 years, or even the next 10 million. And if we represent the best intelligence allowed by the structure of the universe, then no other species has or ever will achieve any better technological sophistication either. The reason we don't hear from them is simple: they're no more sophisticated than we are, and never will be.

Posted by gerardvanderleun at August 23, 2014 11:40 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

The NASA announcement didn't mention the inestimable contributions expected from the successful Muslim outreach.

Posted by: russ at August 23, 2014 3:31 PM

...the species will have reached maturity, and like the chimps and horses, develop no further, achieve nothing greater in its technology.

After Twitter, it's all downhill.

Posted by: Rob De Witt at August 23, 2014 3:54 PM

Ah, the wondrous things Mohammedans have accomplished with rocketry.

Posted by: Jewel at August 23, 2014 5:26 PM

The election of Hussein as POTUS proves that we have flat lined.

Posted by: Fat Man at August 23, 2014 6:48 PM

Does it make me a poor Christian to admit that confirmed discovery of intelligent extraterrestrial life would shake my faith? Events described in the Bible, most notably Christ's Second Coming, seem to me to be Earth-centered. I say this as one who sees evolution as fact but devised by a Supreme Being. Thoughts?

Posted by: dhmosquito at August 23, 2014 8:02 PM

dhmosquito — your trust being in God, your faith is well-founded.
I am a born-again washed in the Blood indwelt by the Holy Ghost Christian and I sometimes ponder the scope and scale of God and all His creation.
All in the bible is "Earth-centered" but that does not exclude worlds and life beyond that account. What makes me think that this creation is the first and only one?
We are aware of God's work on a need to know basis. We are seeing only one room in God's house, and it might be a back room with no heat and lousy furniture.
We might exist as the runt of the litter, as one of the worlds and Creations that didn't turn out so well and soon will wind its way down to the nothing from whence it sprang.
In considering the totality of God we cannot quantify. We might well be one grain of sand on a beach on some wonky little planet in one of, oh, ten or twenty universes that God has brought into being. Keep in mind God only took six days on this one. Imagine if He spent a couple weeks on one of the others.

I am at peace with myself and my God. I have all I need to keep me and I have no questions about what's going on next door in God's Omniverse.

Posted by: chasmatic at August 24, 2014 12:50 AM

The NASA engineers and scientists that got us to the Moon have been replaced by political hacks and charlatans. There are no credible people on its staff anymore.

The speed of light cannot be exceeded, and that fact quashes any hope of interstellar travel. It also severely restricts travel in our own solar system.

Only communications with nearby stars is possible, and with time delays of decades people at both ends are likely to lose interest.

Face it. We're stuck with each other.

Posted by: bob sykes at August 24, 2014 3:36 AM

Chas: Thanks. That helps. I'm not a believer in literal interpretation of the Bible. I don't think Earth was created in six 24 hour periods as we know them today. I do think God used evolution as a “tool” to create mankind, with some "perturbations" along the way to guide things as He saw fit. It is comforting to me to believe that He altered the laws of Optical Physics to create a rainbow after the great deluge. That's part of why I see God as a supreme being. Perhaps my beliefs are wrong in some folks' eyes (and likewise I am sure I would be branded as believing something akin to "Intelligent Design" by some agnostic scientists) but I believe that thinking minds can accept Christian Salvation, deductively-reasoned science, and evolution at the same time. I certainly cannot accept that a loving God would provide evidence of evolution to "test one's faith". We were given thinking, reasoning brains for a purpose.

Given what I have read about the Universe, and Cosmology, I frequently wonder if Humans are the only ones in it. I suppose that may be branded as closed-minded by many scientists, but it truly is a miracle that what we have today on this little "Pale Blue Dot", as Carl Sagan put it, has come to be.

With black holes swallowing up galaxies, intense radiation of all sorts, and supernovae, it's hostile out there. Our existence cannot have been a fluke of nature.

cheers chuck

Posted by: dhmosquito at August 24, 2014 6:19 AM

As long as they willingly choose to *squabble like chimps in the dirt* there will be no *dancing with the stars*.

As eluded to above, in a few decades they went from the ground to the moon and in the many decades since they have done little more in that regard.

Yes, space technology is flat lined, due to distractions by misfits and murderers.

Welcome to your future, a life installed in one big day care center run my maniacs.

Posted by: ghostsniper at August 24, 2014 6:55 AM

@dhmosquito — Belief in God or some other Higher Power is an Inside Job. The morals, faith, salvation, in fact all aspects of a person's spirituality are unique and incomparable.
We tend to be anthropomorphic; it makes it easier to admit and relate to God. I put my faith in terms I am comfortable with and live it out.

People of Faith have a logical idea of what Life is all about. Important to me is the ways in which other believers are alike, not the ways in which we differ.

Gerard wrote an essay that I really like, link here:

Posted by: chasmatic at August 24, 2014 7:17 AM

Somehow the idea that life exists only on earth has become conflated with orthodox Christian teaching. That idea has never been part of Christian orthodoxy.

Please stop saying things like, "I am a devout Christian BUT .... [fill in the blank about believing life may exist elsewhere]". No such apology is needed.

The closest the Church ever came to the "earth only" doctrine was 800 years ago. There was a push from the University of Paris in the late 13th century to have the Church make it dogma that there are no worlds other than our own and that life cannot exist elsewhere.

This idea was condemned by Bishop of Paris Etienne Tempier and was condemned by France’s Council of Bishops in 1277. The Church has never held that God has not or could not bring forth life anywhere that God chooses, including other planets.

Some prominent Christians who embraced idea of life on other worlds:
* Giordano Bruno and Nicholas of Cusa (15th century)
* Johannes Kepler (16th century)
* American Puritan Cotton Mather (17th century)
* Yale president/minister Timothy Dwight (18th century)

My view:
Isaiah confirms that God made the universe to be inhabited.
First chapter of John teaches that the universe was created through the agency of the Second Person of the Trinity and that “in him was life.”
The fullness of God’s love and life probably cannot be contained solely on one planet.
We do not know whether God created other beings, but cannot be surprised if he did.

That being said, the summary of the current state of the science of the question (as opposed to the "search for the fountain of perpetual funding") is:
Unicellular life may be common on other worlds, but
Complex life (more than one cell) is most likely extremely rare, if it exists elsewhere at all
The odds of alien beings as intelligent as human beings are so incredibly remote that we may be the only such species in the universe.

See my essay and slide show, "Are we first in the universe?"

Posted by: Donald Sensing at August 24, 2014 3:20 PM

1) If life came to be once in the universe, whether by random happenstance or Divine fiat, then I believe the materials of it could have been widely scattered across the universe in the vastness of time (see "Panspermia"). I believe, therefore, that there are likely other intelligent species in the universe, that they might be chemically similar to us, and that there might be elements of our common chemical make-up that would make those species not too physically dissimilar to us.

2) Whatever the other "Drake Equation" factors that might contribute to the Fermi Paradox (cosmic environmental hazards, warfare, etc.) by extinguishing or repeatedly beating down other intelligent species, I think the likely capstone of the paradox -- the thing that makes it unlikely that we will ever encounter another -- is that intelligence probably has a common feature everywhere of turning inward. I think that intelligence tends to crave security and order even as it may also crave variety and freedom. I believe, therefore, that species more advanced than our own will be very likely to have withdrawn from physical existence into virtual environments of their own creation, having no need to explore or expand thereafter.

For an bonus dorm room head-trip -- I don't consider it impossible that our own species already did that long ago. Cogito, ergo sum, full stop.

Posted by: Umbriel at August 24, 2014 4:05 PM

If there was no first human beings, there was no original sin. If there was no original sin there was no need for a redeeming sacrifice from the death that is due all of us and a resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. - This is what Christians have always believed. This is also regardless of what Carl Sagan and all the heretical modern churches dance to and claim.

As Donald Sensing says; "The odds of alien beings as intelligent as human beings are so incredibly remote that we may be the only such species in the universe."

With all or even most factors considered, the odds against the accidental evolution of human or intelligent life on a accidentally evolved earth are in fact greater than the number of atoms in the entire universe.

Posted by: Denny at August 24, 2014 6:22 PM

Gerard: Did I ever tell you this is an outstanding blog? Thanks for all the input, folks. And a great, well-thought-out slideshow, Donald.

cheers chuck

Posted by: dhmosquito at August 25, 2014 3:12 PM

The paradoxical thing about the Fermi Paradox is how one half of it is a taboo for serious scientists, despite the other half saying it should be entirely normal. That ain't no paradox, that's dogma.

Posted by: Ray Van Dune at August 26, 2014 6:08 AM

Thanks Mr Sensing.

Posted by: rlc2 at August 26, 2014 4:26 PM