Friday, April 26, 2013

Why We'll Never Meet Aliens

If you combine all our current knowledge of statistics and astronomy, 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.

Despite where this article might lead, it isn't really about science - its about thinking big. Big enough to consider that if there are any aliens with the ability to come visit us, they would almost assuredly not care to.

Photo Copyright UncoolBob  - http://www.flickr.com/photos/uncoolbob/
We come in Pea.. actually, we're not coming



Stephen Hawking, the famous physicist, said in an interview that aliens visiting us would be similar to Christopher Columbus first landing on North America (not a good event for native Americans). His idea being that they would come for our resources, not with any particular purpose of friendship.

There are a few problems with that thought however. To introduce the idea, consider most any space movie in existence. Movies are of course, just movies, but they have shaped our thinking about meeting aliens. And small thinking it is indeed.

From what movies tell us, it would seem that scientists from alien races pretty much focused on 3 primary technologies: faster-than-light travel, energy weapons, and artificial gravity. Movies don't highlight artificial gravity much  because given our limited view, we pretty much expect gravity to just work and shooting a movie without it would be an unnecessary pain. So, screw it, all movie alien races invented artificial gravity.

There's a lot of implied technology thereafter (i.e. movie aliens don't often get sick and seem to not worry about eating) but that's not the fun stuff to think about. Lasers, phasers, and pew-pew-energy-blasters however, are fun to think about.

Did you ever wonder though - why these same scientists who made these neato energy weapons never bothered to develop targeting systems? They still rely on crappy biological reflexes to aim them. It's even sillier when alien robot/cyborgs that can outperform humans in every other way somehow still aren't so great at aiming their phaser zapper. They miss just as much as the humans do, and by that I mean - a lot. Of course, Star Wars would have been a short film if every shot stormtroopers made hit Han Solo but it would have made more sense.

Its actually rather ridiculous when you think about it - we (as in current state of human tech) already have automated targeting systems that work well with our doofy bullet-guns. We literally have targeting systems in existence today better than anything you saw in Star Wars.

Truth is, given how far along we already are - by the time humans develop usable energy weapons - we'll have awesome targeting systems to match. We won't miss. It is with fantastically geeky sorrow that I proclaim that there'll never be an energy pistol or rifle I'll get to shoot. Sure, there'll be energy weapons. Sure, they'll shoot. But it won't be me "aiming" them. They'll darn well be perfectly happy aiming themselves. Chances are I'll probably just be running away.

Movies get to ignore whatever they wish. However, reality dictates that science tends to advance in all directions at the same time. Not only because there's some level of constant pressure in all directions, but because advances in one field often accelerate many others (much like the invention of the computer accelerated all other fields of human science).

If Stephen Hawking is right, then he is saying a race of aliens have, at a minimum, perfected faster-than-light travel (or be willing to travel for several thousands of years at sub-light), conquered longterm biological effects of space radiation, and mastered extreme long distance space navigation just to come to earth and steal our water.

Another consideration that I rather enjoy is that if aliens would come here for resources, then that inherently implies an economic model into their decision. By definition, they need and value resources. Consequently, coming here to get them must have been their most economical choice. Getting them somewhere closer to home or manufacturing them must be more "expensive" (in some sense of the word) than the cost of them traveling all the way here, gathering our resources (probably atomizing us in the process), and flying them home.

While not impossible, that seems like an unlikely set of events - both technologically and economically. Again, even we have (expensively) already mastered alchemy. We even have the tech to create matter from energy. Imagine that tech in a hundred years, or two hundred, or whenever it is you think we'll be able to travel several light years for a mining expedition. What would be cheaper and better, forge the plutonium at home or send a galactic warship with thousands or warriors (and miners) to some far off planet?

From where we are now, we're not even close to being able to get to Proxima Centauri (the closest star to us besides the sun) much less a place where we think there's an actual planet. Even the technology required even to get us to Proxima Centauri in less than, say, 1000 years would require tech orders of magnitude from what we have. Propulsion, sustainability, radiation protection, nanotech - you name it.

Comparatively (and no disrespect to NASA) our existing space program involves us putting bombs underneath rocket-ships, blowing them into space with enough air supply for a few weeks, and bringing them back before the astronauts lose too much bone mass and/or the Tang runs out. 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.

The idea that they might come to Earth to colonize hits a similar argument. You could argue that terraforming (or xenoforming for them I suppose) could be a technology more advanced than FTL travel. With that assumption, you could imagine an alien race within the technological sweet spot of knowing how to travel across the universe but not alter planets to suit their biological needs. Coming to colonize Earth (again while likely blasting us into being "no longer chemically active organic matter") could make sense. But this ignores the fact that several other requisite technologies would probably make their need to colonize obsolete.


Before they had FTL travel, they likely spent many decades traveling at less that light speed. Even if not, chances are their ships are quite hospitable to themselves. In fact probably more like sailing biodomes than ships - someplace they could live indefinitely. But a biodome is probably the wrong inference - assuming their bio-scientists were at work while their space-propulsion engineers were perfecting FTL, they would likely have quite minimal external environmental needs. Stuff like air and food has long been technologied away.

The only thing something like Earth could give them is a place to stand on. Xenoforming a planet might be out of their reach, but creating ships to live in is by definition, well within their reach. The home-iness of living on a planet probably is questionable. It won't be as hospitable as their own ships.

So why else might they want to come here? 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. Maybe we'd be able to trade them some local arts and crafts or pottery or something - but other than that, they won't be interested in our childish technology.

Well, maybe they want to study us? Well, maybe. It seems probable that if they were on a mission to study life forms, we would not be the first planet they would have visited. Chances are, they've seen other life forms already. Probably some at least similar to us. Statistically speaking, we might be interesting but not all that interesting.

Oh yeah - and statistically speaking - what about statistics? Remember, my thesis is that all fields of science tend to advance simultaneously. That includes math and statistics. In order to make FTL ships, pew-pew-lasers and artificial gravity you're going to need math (and computers) that are light years ahead of ours.

Let's say they could use their super-advanced Hubble telescope, and see our solar system (at some point in the past). They'd see earth in the goldilocks zone for life. They'd know its land and atmospheric composition. They'd see it's oceans and know the planet's temperature variations. They'd see Jupiter acting as a bodyguard soaking up dangerous asteroids.

Even today, if we saw such a solar system, we'd have a pretty good idea that life could be there. If our math, statistics and knowledge of other life forms was 1000 times more advanced, how accurately could we predict that the life forms there would have 2 nostrils? How close could we come to guessing exactly what those life forms would be like?

And if we couldn't get exact - how close would we care to? Does it really matter? In other words, with enough data and statistics (the foundation of what humans like to call "machine learning" or "artificial intelligence") they already know we're here. Just like we know there was water on Mars or high temperatures on Venus.

Even with that however, we're still thinking too small. It's not just their science and tech that's advanced - you need to expect that they have too.

Twenty years ago if I asked you how many feet were in a mile (and you didn't know) you could go to a library and look it up. Ten years ago, you could go to a computer and google it. Today, you can literally ask your phone.

It's not a stretch at all with the advent of wearable computing that coming soon - I can ask you that question and you'll instantly answer. The interesting part of that is that I won't know if you knew the answer or not - and more importantly, it won't matter. If information is reliably fed directly to you from an external source, there'll be no advantage to remembering anything.

How many years before we have a brain interface to Google? You'd know everything. And its not crazy to think that soon after we'd find ourselves limited by how slow our brains process information. The obvious next step being to augment our brains, our thinking, and in the process - augment who we are. That's what our scientists will be working on then (and of course, are actually already working on).

How would you change if you had instant brain-level access to all information. How would you change if you were twice as smart as you are now. How about ten times as smart? (Don't answer, truth is, you're not smart enough to know).

Now, let's leap ahead and think about what that looks like in 100 years. Or 1000. Or whenever it is you'll think we'd have the technology to travel to another solar system. We'd be a scant remnant of what a human looks like today. Movies like to show aliens with over-sized heads and that may well be the case, but not because of biological evolution. Technological evolution will have long surpassed the snail-pass of biological evolution by then (read most any Ray Kurzweil book to hear this a lot).

The question of why aliens might "want to come here" is probably fundamentally flawed because we are forming that question from our current (tiny) viewpoint. The word "want" might not apply at all to someone 1000 times smarter than us.

If we discovered a fish-like creature on Europa today it would be fascinating for us to study it. If however, we were 1000 times smarter and had spent the last 1000 years finding fish-like creatures across the galaxy, and could with 99.99% accuracy predict the exact existence of such creatures from light-years away, it probably wouldn't be all that interesting to go study another one.

The bottom line is that if an alien race is capable of getting here, all the other technology they've requisitely developed in the meantime would make the trip unnecessary at best - and more than likely, simply meaningless.

We're just not as advanced or as important as we like to think. In the end, there's no compelling reason to think they'd be interested in meeting us - we simply think too small.

198 comments:

Miltron3030 said...

I've been arguing this line of logic for a while, t'was very refreshing to have read it written by someone else :)

Anonymous said...

chocolate. they'll want our chocolate.

Anonymous said...

Nice post, well written, logical. I'll need a bit more thinking about it for another comment. Maybe I'll google it...

Anonymous said...

Any other fun dreams of mine you want to smash today?

Next up on Paul's blog:

"Why we'll never have jetpacks."

inDigiNeous said...

We have already met aliens. They are already here. Not through the physical plane only either, but through different dimensions. Thinks of "Interdimensional Travel". If these beings you talk about are so highly developed, surely their spiritual side of things also must be much more highly developed than our basic 3D/4D point of view.

If a being is able to witness life from a 5D viewpoint, which can be very difficult for us humans to understand, they can relatively easily travel to our Planets vicinity in this different dimension.

What is difficult is them to lower their operating frequency to match the 3D, and us to adjust our operating frequency to match theirs.

You have some good points, but you are missing a lot of perspective. Think outside the box. Not only would a species develop technolocigally, but also spiritually to such high levels that they are able to manipulate and warp time and space in very different methods that we are using.

Also, there is so much documentation in the favor of people communicating with these aliens already, that it is hard to dismiss. Look around and you will find these reports everywhere, from every part of the world. Many indigenous tribes and races also believe that life was brought here by "serpent gods from the skies" or other godly creatures.

And just to clarify: I am one of those who have communicated with these ETs. They are very real, and we can communicate with them also if we open our third eye, or our spiritual side.

You are free to disagree with this, as I can believe it can be difficult to understand if one has not experienced it.

Anonymous said...

Great minds think alike.

Jake Radakovich said...

Great post. Very well thought out and thought-provoking!

Anonymous said...

Looking at this from a human perspective, we would want to study nearby systems simply because we haven't already. It seems very likely that we would do this with probes before sending anything biological; however, it is possible that, by the time we have the tech to send a probe to another star, there will be no biology to send.

Therefore, if there are enough intelligent civilizations in the same stage of development as us, sooner or later we might bump into their equivalent of the Mars rover. Sample statistics still require samples.

Of course, their "Mars rover" may in fact be *them*, or a machine copy of them (if there is a distinction). And, as you point out, such an artifact may be entirely uninterested in our civilization and instead may be focused on some obscure but unusual corner of our solar system.

Tim Sikovich said...

tldr... but yeah, there are no aliens. life itself is pretty much impossible already and to think that it could have happened again in a different solar system is absolutely absurd. besides there is no purpose or meaning for existence so any attempt to rationalize a reason for ET to visit us is futile.

Ray Williams said...

Great post and awesome logic!

However, given what you've outlined we wouldn't be smart enough to think about a reason why they would desire to visit Earth - but one could exist.

It would probably sound like something out of Hollywood (bringing us full circle in your post!).

Theodore Seeber said...

"Truth is, given how far along we already are - by the time humans develop usable energy weapons - we'll have awesome targeting systems to match. We won't miss. It is with fantastically geeky sorrow that I proclaim that there'll never be an energy pistol or rifle I'll get to shoot. Sure, there'll be energy weapons. Sure, they'll shoot. But it won't be me "aiming" them. They'll darn well be perfectly happy aiming themselves. Chances are I'll probably just be running away."

I don't know how you are so far behind current tech. We have energy weapons *right now*. There is a company in Hong Kong that sells them:
http://www.wickedlasers.com.hk/

But the number one reason not to deploy automated targeting right now is that friend-foe expert systems are somewhat flawed, at least for now. That won't be so forever, so I tend to agree at least somewhat.

Anonymous said...

They will come because they can, and if they can they wil want to know. At the end all is driven by curiosity. (and sex :))

Jozz Hart said...

sex tourism

Anonymous said...

Metaphorically, the aliens would want to go see the predicted new exotic fish for two reasons:

1) they enjoyed fishing (i.e., the challenge of personal contact/combat)

2) they collected exotic fish in aquariums (i.e. they wanted to add to the variety of their friends/pets)

Anonymous said...

I find your viewpoint interesting, but let's go back to the Columbus analogy. What drove him to sail an inhospitable ocean to accidentally find the New World?
While the history books say it was to find a route to China free of brigands and enemies of Christianity, the fundamental reason was probably a bit more prosaic -- he sought adventure, or said less dramatically, he was BORED. And living in a time and place where those without land or title had very little to lose.
Same could be said for Cortes and Pizarro. A modern-day analogy would be a hard-core motorcycle gang.
So they sailed the ocean blue and took what they wanted.

Granted, crossing the stars is a little more involved than crossing an ocean but if one's lifespan is long enough, it could be managed.

But to attack your main argument -- that is, the technology to develop workable star-travel would make acquiring resources or colonization by star-travel obsolete. That may be true, but it wouldn't necessarily eliminate alien-human conflict.

After all, sometimes humans do bad things to other humans for obviously gratuitous reasons, and thousands of years of collective experience hasn't made much progress in that area.

All that said, I think the chances of alien-human contact of any form besides archaeological is very very slim because:

1) Interstellar distances are vast and relativity still rules.

2) Creatures with human-scale lifespans will probably make up the vast majority of technological civilizations.

3) Given the likely steps needed to achieve star travel, civilizations are will probably wipe themselves out before reaching another interstellar civilization (Spock's 50-year rule.)

Anonymous said...

they'll bring the jetpacks some day

Richard Day said...

Maybe they need a warp bypass?
Assuming none of the millions of species out there would ever have any interest in us would be hard to prove. We'll make great pets.

Anonymous said...

Why do people still climb Mount Everest? Because it's there.

Anonymous said...

Great article. A few points, we know what is at the top of mount everest yet still people go there despite the difficulties. Many people make pilgrimages to answer in-answerable questions. Some people buy and display knick-knacks. Much of what humans do as individuals or as groups can't be explained logically, so I don't think you can logically postulate anything about a group or individual from a completely foreign culture =)

Anonymous said...

I buy most of your arguments, but it is quite possible that some alien civilization could have the tech for long term space travel, but not enough for saving their planet from destruction by their dying sun. The pack their ship and head for the closest planet in a habitable zone around a star. The limited resources aboard their ship could provide for hundreds to thousands of years of mere existence, but perhaps not enough to further advance their civilization in any way. Within those confines they might stagnate and regress or the whole nature of their society might change. A boring version of Independence Day.

Marisol Ferreira Simões said...

Thank you for sharing such a thought provoking post.

ze said...

Or maybe you're still not thinking big enough...
Maybe it'll be vestigal cells that evolved in the context of their ships, after the original aliens themselves died of their boredom from a billion years of already knowing it all, who grow up to sentience with a rather shakey grasp on the technology they've inherited and have bizarre reasons we couldn't guess at to motivate their visit. Or maybe there's populations who've regressed severely for a percieved lack of anything more fun to do.
There's also pretty universal likelihoods over the long-haul as regression to the mean, divergence (do you really expect interstellar/intergalactic cultures to be homogenous?!), and general "Stuff" Happens, along with any possible degree of variability in fundamental motives and perspective.
With such vast numbers as you've mentioned, as well as of time, there's no telling what's eventually gone right or wrong for who or how and what the consequences will ultimately be over the untold eons, and we may indeed ever be surprised at what we find (or what finds us).
The real conclusion to draw from your arguments, I'd say, is simply that we cannot guess whether anyone would be interested in us or why. Not to say there's likely to be much room for "hollywood" style encounters, but given the full range of possibilities across the sheer vast numbers, who can say?

Anonymous said...

"The bottom line is that if an alien race is capable of getting here, all the other technology they've requisitely developed in the meantime would make the trip unnecessary at best "

Unnecessary for them. But your premise includes an assumption that if such technology is available that the creators would never ever share it with the 1000 lesser species they've come across to make them so bored with exploration.

That assumption strikes me as dubious. I posit a general hypothesis that technology spreads virally and will eventually "infect" more and more species - some of which will be interested (for whatever reason, not as evolved as the sages who came up with it, possibly just insatiably curious) in physically moving from place to place. There still ARE some scientists studying fish that thousands of other scientists have studied, even if as a species we're generally bored of them.

Thanks for getting me so fired up.

Niall Young said...

So the universe is ours?, I hope not because the next 13 billion years is going to be reeeeeeealy boring. I'll pop back after hitting a few others in the multiverse

Anonymous said...

In our infinite ignorance (as compared to other hypothetical civilization) how can we know what would compel aliens to go through all the trouble (or no trouble at all) to visit us.

Motives for such an endeavor could be so far from our comprehension that ruling out all reasons for such a visit would be as stupid as considering it an inevitability.

Anonymous said...

Not sure anyone would really want to come visit us from far away, but I predict that the first non-human intelligent species we meet is already on this planet...just as soon as we develop the technology to raise the intelligence of an existing species. The question is: Who will we do it to first? Dolphins? Dogs? Chimpanzees? Mice?

Anonymous said...

They want to share their "one, and only true way" to god. Like the Ori in the Stargate series.

Julien Duchesneau-Pinard said...

Very interesting however, you gave the best argument that invalidate, or at least suggest that it might be wrong.

"Truth is, you're not smart enough to know"

About Me said...

just blew me away!! one of the best and thoughtful articles i read in a while. Great!

Donny said...

What if we are the advanced aliens? Someone has to be the first one. Why not us?

Ben said...

I've kind of been thinking along these lines for a while. People often say about the Roswell crash "Would aliens who are advanced enough to travel across the galaxy really come all the way here to crash in the desert?" But imagine if crossing the galaxy were an incredibly trivial thing to do? So trivial, and so reliant on technology that they are clueless when it goes wrong. A five year old on a laptop can do some incredibly complex things, things that programmers could only dream of thirty years ago. But its still a five year old, a five year old who would have no idea what to do if it went wrong. Thanks for the good read.

truthspew said...

You make a few assumptions and then dismiss them. Computing power is ever evolving. There are now clusters of computers that model things like the oceans of Earth, or the solar system.

But technology is going the path of getting better and less expensive over time. A lot of carry devices in our pockets that are tens or hundreds of orders of magnitude better than the first primitive electronic computer, ENIAC and it's analogues.

And thinking about it, would someone like Alexander Graham Bell recognize a modern smartphone? Sure, it does what his original device did but has some key differences.

Among them, the lack of a wire. Plus the ability to surf the web, facebook, sms, Echolink, and reference tools out the wazoo.

And NASA isn't resting on it's laurels. They are playing with alternative technologies - in fact there are at least two spacecraft out there RIGHT now that use ion drive. Imagine constant acceleration.

The way I see it, we won't necessarily visit, but we'll be the one doing the visiting. Ever watch Independence Day? Yeah, we'll be the alien scum.

Because right now we can sort of see those planets orbiting distant stars. And the way it goes is first we can see something, then we go and touch it.

Anonymous said...

The issue with this viewpoint, is that it still makes assumptions about factors that we cannot possibly begin to comprehend.
There could be 1,000,000 reasons why they would or would not come here.

Resources being what they are, Water seems to be in short supply, and intelligence seems a bit scarce as well.

If they somehow, at 1000x smarter than us, maintain a level of curiosity that drives exploration I would still expect to see them here someday. If for nothing else, than to study us and our progression as a species. The information would be invaluable to their scientists, and some of it could not be obtained from afar.

Its very likely that they would still have a multitude of reasons to visit the earth, even if we weren't on it...

Curious Reader said...

How about us being some future threat to other alien races? Would they not want to come and remove that threat given the exponential rate of technological development we seem to be experiencing?

Of course, by the time they get here, we may have passed through some sort of technological singularity, in which case, they'd arrive far too late.

George Aristy said...

I'm not convinced that the day we meet several members of an alien race that they'll be representative of them as a whole. By the same token, I'm not convinced either that humans will one day unite under a single government (forcibly or peacefully) and stay under it forever.

It could easily be the case that competition among different factions of an alien race might drive one or several of them to seek us out for whatever gains such advanced races (yet presumably still subject to biological needs and wants) would deem us or anything else in our local neighborhood worthy of. The Columbus example you brought up is one such case.

Adam Manning said...

Great article. Science and technology has moved on since all the alien contact films were made and so have our expectations.

Anonymous said...

Tourism. Tourism is why they would come to see us. The choice to do tourism is not about the resources and it is not economical (it is often really expensive!).
Tourism has not logic, except to brag about it when you come home (I went to Earth. The flight is expensive, but when you are there, everything is cheap, and people are so nice!).
For some people, tourism is not about going at the best place. This is to go where none of their friends have went before. And this is here!

Unknown said...

A flaw in the flaw you point out: The aliens themselves may not want to or, more likely, *be able* to come.

Forget FTL. That will likely remain a pipe dream for us and most of the rest of the universe. Think robots and drones. *They* will be able to patiently travel through space, survive radiation and other hazards, and switch themselves on at relatively low-value destinations to poke around. Send a ship every 5 years in each direction you choose, set up millenia-long convoys of these ships communicating and interacting with each other and with the home planet, and you will eventually have a physical chain connecting your home planet with some distant habitable world. The "think outside of the box" part involves the creation, implementation, and consistent support of a 5000 year engineering project.

Catherine Thatch said...

If they're similar to *us brain/mind-wise, they may 'want' just to say hi, like we might. They may have that same primal wish to not be alone as we do, and get a kick out of a functioning connection, like we might.

*"us" meaning cetaceans, humans, elephants & other sentient, social, curious creatures who love not only pattern-seeking but making connections & standing rapt with fascination in the face of something new to learn.

Anonymous said...

UFOHQ is intrigued by this very well written article!
Reality - it keeps us grounded!

Anonymous said...

They might want to visit our planet just so they can be the first nation on their planet to have done so. There does not need to be an efficient or practical reason. If we are going to apply human reasoning, we must also apply human irrationality.

Anonymous said...

They'll come for the same reason pandas are still around. We're cute and worth the trip.

Alien: "I just got an earthling.. it's so cute with it's furry head and pointy nose. It even knows how to use the fieuthst when it needs to go pee. I found out about them from the statistics engine and saw them on the asdf eisng but nothing beats having one for the kids..."

Anonymous said...

I'm sure there is something unique on Earth that would draw the curious or their machines. I'm sure there are unique organisms or even cultures on this planet.

Rode Richards said...

Can't argue with your logic (well stated). Perhaps being a 1000 times smarter may still leave room for personal curiosity? Or doesn't imply not being bored? Perhaps traveling great distances at high expense to see the local primitive culture and wildlife may be a viable leisure activity in alien cultures (no matter how advanced) as well.

Anonymous said...

I think you jumped the shark towards the end about them being able to "know" we were here and what we are like based on advanced statistics. For them to have enough data, they would have had to travel quite a bit. considering the very small percentage of tool using bipeds on this planet, we may be statistically anomalous.

Steve Baker said...

We are close to being able to take the contents of our skulls and dump it into a computer. At that point, we can transport our intellect to far distant places on a radio wave. So the future scenario is that you'd send a very tiny spacecraft to the destination planet. Use nanotech robots to make a computer and robot body suitable for a human's intellect to inhabit and operate.

Now you can beam your intellect across any distance to one of these probes - zero time would elapse for you en-route. You could vacation on the new world, then beam your newly enhanced memories back to earth in zero time...of course lots of years will have flown by while we were out there.

If something horrible happens and your robotic body is destroyed, you simply restore your intellect from a backup copy - and it's as if you never went on the trip.

So - why do aliens come here? Tourism.

Unknown said...

They'll want coffee!

Anonymous said...

In any case, one could not rule out aliens visiting (more or less) just because they can.

Anonymous said...

Not only the reason you cite, but if they did come 'here' for resources, there are generally much better places than Earth.

The asteroids are loaded with gold, silver, platinum, iron, nickel, and likely all manner of other metals. Europa is a giant ball of water. Titan is a sea of hydrocarbons. Many locations seem to have much more resources than Earth and there is absolutely nothing we would -or- could do to stop a race from taking them.

Whereas here on Earth, we might get a bit testy with the nukes - if aliens showed up and sucked Titan dry of methane, about the worst we could do would be snap a few pics with Cassini.

Assuming they don't have viable androids, they would find humans are pretty lousy slave labor - even we replace ourselves with robots.

Anonymous said...

If you were Microbial life on Mars, why would a highly advanced species, travel a great distance just to scoop you out of the dirt and look at you?

Erik Wilgenhof Plante said...

This post reminds me of the quote "we'll never need more than 640 Kb RAM". Why would scientific progress mean that you would lose scientific curiosity? The chance that aliens would want to visit us to steal our resources or enslave us may be small but that doesn't mean that they would not be curious about us. If Earth biologists would now for certain that there is a new race of monkeys living in a remote part of Papua New Guinea, would that mean that they wouldn't want to go and find out for themselves? Anyway, predicting that aliens would not be interested in visiting Earth is thinking from an Earth inhabitant's perspective. Who knows what motivates an alien?

Anonymous said...

Damm straight

Dan Tao said...

I sympathize with your point that alien intelligence and curiosity would potentially be beyond our comprehension, making it silly for us to assume that our resources, the chance to study us, etc. would motivate them. But then what makes you so sure they would NOT be interested in visiting us? Aren't you projecting your own human rationality onto these hypothetical aliens' minds, i.e. making the very same mistake you identify in this post?

To me the most sensible position of all seems to be that we are very unlikely to understand what drives aliens advanced enough to visit us; and so predicting whether or not they would seems rather futile.

Rotaluclac said...

They may not want to visit us, because the word "want" does not apply. Okay, I got that point.

However, they do have a reason to prevent us from ever visiting them. Even if we're just a lowly, irritating pest to them, we would still be a nuisance - and possibly we could even do damage.

The only logical way to prevent us from bothering them or even damaging them is to destroy us.

Simply destroy any life form upon first detection. It's simple, it's efficient, it's safe. There's no reason to not do it.

Christian Jensen said...

Unless of course we are all nothing but a simulation and we are placed here without anything actually being out there - like the Truman Show.

Anonymous said...

What if life was pretty rare in the galaxy. What if intelligent life is even rarer. What if non-hive mind intelligence is so rare, that finding individual intelligence was worth a multi thousands light year trip.

We don't know enough to even speculate on why a theoretical alien race would want to visit.

Anonymous said...

What if life was pretty rare in the galaxy. What if intelligent life is even rarer. What if non-hive mind intelligence is so rare, that finding individual intelligence was worth a multi thousands light year trip.

We don't know enough to even speculate on why a theoretical alien race would want to visit.

Anonymous said...

One problem with your targeting logic: target avoidance technology would likely develop just as fast, no? We see that race today too, although maybe it's true that targeting is outpacing target avoidance.

Anonymous said...

A very well thought out and written. I have two things to say in response. First, even when we have our brains connected to Google, and we thus have essentially limitless memory capacity, we'll still be limited by the limits of our ability to gather knowledge. Each of us will know everything mankind has learned. That is still a limitation, isn't it? We wouldn't, as a race, be x times more intelligent, it's just that what is known will be instantly accessible (no small accomplishment,to be sure.) My second thought is that, using your logic, we are too narrow minded to actually be able to figure out why aliens would want to come into contact with us. Doesn't that follow your reasoning?

disposable said...

I am still more inclined to go with "stephen hawking/independence day" type of scenario. if another civilisation somehow manages to survive its technological progress, they will eventually want spread the risk of their demise by colonisation (and resource scavenging). stephen hawking (and independence day script writers) never claimed they'd be taking our resources back to the polluted used up planet they used to call home.

Havard said...

Why would anyone climb to the top of Mount Everest? With the technology available today, it's totally pointless. With optics available 100 years ago, it was pointless.

I imagine boredom would pop up from time to time and someone in that highly advanced alien society would go off and muck with less-developed societies. In fact, I imagine it would sound an awful lot like current abduction stories.

Anonymous said...

Be careful when you conflate access to information with intelligence. We all have access to the latest and greatest physics papers on the pre-print archive online. It doesn't mean that we're all smarter because of it.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the premise and suggest an even more fundamental reason:

Would a creature smarter than a human really let itself be pushed around by its own desires for gratification, traipsing around the universe in search of happiness? Or would it take control of its own mind and spontaneously realize that there's no reason to continue seeking?

Darren said...

Won't the aliens just send a robot? Even if their interest goes down, they should find it very easy and cheap to send a robot to visit us in order to minimize their time invested.

Decisions are made based on the cost/benefit ratio and both numerator and denominator decrease as their technology advances.

92GTA said...

I strongly disagree on the resources things. That preposterous and comical lol. They can get water and ever other element on our planet from almost everywhere in the universe. I can think of nothing we could offer except curiosity.

Chances are if we get visited, it will be by a little alien kids who is bored and wants to pretend he is the representative of some advanced culture lol.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Our nearest alien neighbours may have a different perspective on time to us -
if their civilisation is millions of years older (or even harder to imagine - billions!), they may have explored the galaxy long, long ago in their barely remembered history. Maybe some multi-tentacled equivalent of David Attenborough interested in the wildlife stood on Earth with a tentacle wrapped round a camcorder during the Cretaceous. Wouldn't it be even greater if they still had the dusty camcorder footage in an archive? ;_) Now that would be data worth trading (if we can find something of value to them!). It would explain the lack of visits - maybe they're thinking "we'll leave it another 100 million years, no need to waste gas on frequent trips"

BasilEden said...

I still firmly believe that, given an infinite universe, there is a nearly infinite probability that there is a race of near-humanoid aliens whose females all resemble the finest Barbie dolls, and whose males have all very unfortunately succumbed to a mild form of the flu, and who must therefore travel to our solar system to save their race by interbreeding with the males of our species. I know it may sound far-fetched, but hey, it's a big universe, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

j" How would you change if you were twice as smart as you are now. How about ten times as smart? "

And with that simple question, you also invalid everything else you have written.

Your analysis is excellent, within the constraints of our current thinking. But that same analysis is also constrained by our current thinking.

Arjun Singri said...

Not all of humanity will advance at the same rate. Just like we have lesser forms of life today, we will have lesser forms of humans tomorrow. And those lesser forms may have "wants" and they would want to travel, colonize etc.

Anonymous said...

Great, well written and thought-provoking post!

Brujah said...

Religion.

They may want to spread the word about their Jesus.

Anonymous said...

I disagree. Why do we search the heavens for alien life ? It's really more of a spiritual or existential reason. Are we alone ? Travelling to another world is another story. Probably the most curious of us would do it (if possible). Probably not for economic reasons, at least not at first. Probably the same would apply to any aliens seeking us.

Saetche said...

I like the notion that if aliens were to visit, because of scarcity of resources, that something else must mitigate their ability to produce or gather that resource close to home.
A benign set of beings whose world is now dominated by other evil beings would fit this.
But so is a group of renegade beings with criminal pasts that escaped a very ordered, just system.
I guess we'll find out, when they arrive.

Charles Torvalds said...

Great article except I would say to change the FTL. I look at light speed like the next step after the speed of sound.

The step after light speed is shown in nature by black holes. Space-time is faster than light.

Think of creating and using wormholes (minus all the FTL tech we currently use to define them) to "escape" the space-time that is currently lights boundaries as well.

That beyond FTL limit leads to the idea of escaping the universe created by the Big Bang, which leads to the idea that universes themselves may be as numerous as the stars are within them.

Oh to see the breakthrough!

Anonymous said...

As has been noted in previous posts...

1.) UNLESS they are just plain aggressive - which is as likely as not - and want to eliminate any potential competition up front.

and

2.) UNLESS they've advanced so far in technology (as you've pointed out) that making a trip here is not completely cumbersome, or maybe just worth the effort... especially if intelligent life is relatively rare. If they've got the goods, then maybe they just come here for the need to know.

Having said that, I think your article is brilliant and presents many good points - I think it just might be a little to pegged to our understanding of science and physics.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article. I am saying almost the same thing to other people. There is no reason for aliens to come here and abduct us, while they can sit at their home, and record our thoughts with advanced radio telescope built on technology that precedes advances needed for interstellar ship propulsion technology.

Anonymous said...

Cant help thinking that they may come to experience our arts and music and other things they may think we might have to offer. Bit like traders on the early days of our planet.

Gareth Foo said...

There is something on earth that doesn't exist anywhere else (that we know of, and we have been searching). If they come, it will solely be for this.

Your article needs a rethink once you realise that we have an abundance of protein.

Please wrap your head around that.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I don't know a good english translation for the spanish word "chorrada"... perhaps bullshit.

You think we are simply thinking too small. But the thing is that you are thinking, aliens only can have your (not even humankind's) motivation to do or not to do things.

That not mentioning the contradictory argument "we aren't as advanced... but if they have the tecnology to come...". If they have the tecnology to come, probably distance is meanningless. So if they want soma vacation time in the Sun System, they could do it, even if the reason seems unlikely for you.

¬¬

Anonymous said...

And to add to your comment, I would say that the whole article is attempting to infer alien "thinking" and "development" based on a very human perspective. At this point in our tiny existence, we really have no idea what "intelligent" aliens would even be like. We certainly can't say we know what are conditions for life in this universe, and the fact is we don't even know exactly life started on earth. Even to infer that aliens would develop "science" and "technology" in a manner and in a time line similar to us is difficult. I think where human knowledge is at now, we have no way of knowing whether alien would want or not want to visit or whether they already have visited earth or are already here or otherwise observing us.

lakawak said...

Since when it is a logical progression to having phasers to DEFINITELY having targeting systems?

Anonymous said...

Sad thing when a civilization becomes advanced and has enough knowledge then existing itself no longer makes any sense. It would be a bit of irony if that was the answer to Fermi's paradox.

Anonymous said...

What about the Kanamits? ... great piece.

Neil Newell said...

There's a classic SF story based on the protein argument: See Bordered in black.

However, the "let's sterilise that planet before it becomes a problem" argument seems pretty strong to me. They detect the radio emission, and respond with a blast of radiation.

Champ said...

Truth is - they're already here.

They came for beer, wine and whiskey and can now be found in every subway corner and behind any dumpster in the big cities.

All the technology in the universe didn't prepare them for getting drunk like a skunk and more importantly - their scientists never invented a way to break down alcohol in their bodies.

Frank said...

The argument is based on the false premise that you actually know what this planet is about and what the ET's agenda would be.

What if the ET's consider this planet to be a very rear place where you can actually incarnate and live in experienced separation from the Universe and All-that-is?

What if this is extremely rear throughout the Universe and this planet is considered the "toughest" school there is?

What if having lifetimes here is considered not only brave, but of extreme value to ET civilizations because of how "alien" such a perspective would be to them?

If you check out Bashar that I write about on my blog you will find very good explanations as to why the ET's are here.

You just have to think a little bigger, that's all. Expand the perspective and things that did not make sense before can start to make sense.

Anonymous said...

The thing I've always found it amusing that scifi shows treat artificial gravity as a trivial background item when, in reality, it is a far more advanced (if at all possible) technology than FTL travel or teleportation. I don't mean spinning an object in space to simulate the effects of gravity. I mean actually being able to generate a gravity field without the requisite mass or nullifying an existing gravity field. If any species does develop gravity control, it is game over. That species effectively owns the galaxy.

Anonymous said...

I always read about aliens coming to earth, but what if there are aliens all around us only it's just not possible for them to visit earth because of their size. What if we are like microbes to them and planets are like atoms or molecules? We know universe is big, but what if it's much more bigger? What if the universe we know about is just a grain of sand in the actual universe.

Brandon Schmidt said...

Very interesting read!. The only thing that I want to comment on is that FTL is not necessary to go anywhere in any amount of time you want.
You can theoretically eat breakfast at home, and then dinner somewhere in the Andromeda galaxy at speeds less that light. All that is needed is a speed that approaches light. Due to length contraction and time dilation, a spaceship that moves at say 99.999% the speed of light would measure one light year to be only 0.0045 light years. If that speed gets higher, say 99.999999990% the speed of light, then distances measured from the spaceship point of view would be 5 orders of magnitude closer and thus take little time to traverse. The only problem with this is that upon returning to your original destination means that you will travel far into the future.
Thanks for your blog!

MonEsVil said...

So, what you are saying is that if aliens ever invent FTL tavels they… well, they won't use it at all, beacause it will be unnecesary for them.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps they'll accidentally end up stopping at earth because their vehicle broke down

Anonymous said...

It's obvious why they will still want to come here. They will want to register with Google to serve us online ads for an endless variety of alien consumer crap, which they have made on their equivalent of a China planet. Oh, and they will also friend us on Facebook to do the same thing (spam us with ads), and send constant tweets about their pop culture.

Seriously though, the author makes good points, but if I were one of the aliens, I would still want to visit all the habitable planets in the galaxy, setup monitoing stations like our scientists do for wildlife, and just watch things unfold. Just for kicks. And maybe screw around with up and coming species like Q in star trek TNG.

Nik said...

They would come for the same reason that humans continue to study the life forms of Earth - curiosity.

Anonymous said...

Curiosity! They want to find us because they are curious, not because we are important or possess valuable assets. We don't have to be good to eat or be anything but here for them to be curious and want to learn more.

If, extraterrestrial technology expanded "in all directions", giving them FTL, energy weapons, etc., what they think and what they want must have expanded, too. Why is is that feelings like, curiosity or perhaps loneliness, not just greed, cannot be considered as valid reasons for coming to visit.

Maybe the only reason anyone ever looked up in the night sky and wondered, "What's out there?", is because there are beings all over the universe looking up in to their night skies and wondering the same thing. Maybe curiosity, exploraton and learning are qualities of being, not just qualities of being human.

Stephen Hawking may be doing us all a great disservice by asserting that the only reason anyone would want to come here is for economic advantage. John Maynard Keynes may be proud of that idea, but Sigmund Freud might not. It seem a bit egotistical to think that humans have a lock on qualities like, inquisitive thinking. Is it possible for an advanced race to master the necessary technology to get here without mastering learning first?

Hawking is right when he asserts that it is amazingly illogical when one is asked to consider technologically expanded ET's with advanced thinking who can outwit Albert Einstein and go faster than the speed of light who want to come to Earth for a bag of rocks. The point that he misses is that is not the only reason for doing something.

Occam's Razor applies -- Curiosity is a simpler solution than Economics 101.

Keep your energy weapons in their holsters, folks. There may be hope yet.

Rupesh Charl said...

Profoll!
Thank you for sharing these important information
with us.

SelfAwarePatterns said...

Interesting post. I would point out though that the Earth has been sitting here for 4.54 billions years. We've had a rich biosphere for hundreds of millions of years. The idea that, if there are civilizations throughout the galaxy, that for whatever reason, one or more of them wouldn't have visited us by now and left some evidence of their presence, seems statistically implausible.

Interstellar travel could be impossible. That would explain the lack of evidence for any visits, but not necessarily the lack of communications. It's also hard to believe that we won't eventually be able to come up with some technology that would get us to the stars within a century or two which, given enough time, is all that's needed.

Much more plausible is that civilizations are very rare, that you may have to go millions, or perhaps even billions, of light years before you get to the next one, and that we haven't been visited by relatively nearby civilizations because they aren't there.

noctslackv1 said...

Excellent speculative article! However, you're forgetting one possible motivation for aliens to come here... "just for kicks".

If there are super-intelligent, bored alien teens hanging out on some planet somewhere, you can bet that the odds are pretty good that they'll come up with the idea to do a "drive-by" of Earth just for the fun of terrorizing those backward Earthlings.

It's like when those kids you knew in your youth who just couldn't pass an anthill without kicking up the dirt, or go by a tree with a wasp's nest without knocking it down with a stick. Alien punks would be much the same.

Then you could also speculate about the galactic criminal element. What if there were alien outlaws on the run from galactic justice. They might be looking for just such a hideout as Earth can provide with its primitive lifeforms and abundant food supply (humans?).

Who knows, really. It's all a guessing game. Once I get my Google implant, I'll be able to discuss this in a more erudite fashion.

Regards,

V. T. Eric Layton

l'bastuerd fifi said...

If this civilization could predict with certainty the existence of life throughout the universe at a level of intelligent sentience (enough to have civilization) - they could have reason to come here for economical purposes - because any advanced civilization would have a need economics for it's citizens, and the trend would be that 'attention' evolves in value and has value that relates to a currency. (much like the new economic models of today's digital media, CPM's, etc) i.e. they would come here to tap into our 'attention' resource for their own economic growth or the growth of a universal attention economy.

Patrick Sean Lee said...

Assuming "they" are like us...we have, and always have had, a primal desire to congregate with our own species. I know of New York, London, Rome. I've seen photos, and sat through movies set in these cities. I want to visit them. Talk to the citizens, dip my hand in the Thames, walk inside Notre Dame or The Sistine Chapel.

I want to set foot on Mars.

Hippocritopotamus said...

Interesting, but I've got issues with this line of argument--ironically because the thinking behind it isn't big enough!

Yes, it's likely that the cognitive resources of any alien race capable of interstellar travel MIGHT make the actual trip superfluous. But why assume only the technologies would advance and change, but not the motivations that spur exploration in the first place? Arguably, we can no more envision what would drive aliens to cross the galaxy than we can envision what amazing technology they'll have.

The Trobriand Islanders of the southwest Pacific risk their lives engaging in a symbolic gift exchanges of what we would regard worthless pieces of shell. It makes no sense to us, but it most certainly does to them--and they're of our own species. To suppose we can say anything definitive about the cultures/mores/goals of an truly alien race is maybe the biggest presumption of all.

That said, I agree that there's probably a syndrome of diminishing returns when you catalog your 1000th life-bearing planet, or your 10,000th. But we humans have cataloged literally millions of life forms on THIS planet, and we continue to be interested in finding more. Maybe just entomologists and bacteriologists, to be sure, but some humans still derive value from discovering new species. By that analogy, maybe not every member of every alien race would jump for joy upon the discovery of planet Earth--but SOME alien xenobiologists would probably still be interested.

One last quibble: you deride portrayal of aliens in a lot of popular science fiction. "Star Trek" actually DID portray quite a number of hyper-advanced alien species who had little interest in galactic exploration (the Organians and the Melkotians, for instance). Score one for Gene Roddenberry.

Massimo said...

For love...they'll come for love.
Because they want to meet, not just to know. Because they want to share, not only to own. Because the real knowledge you only have, spawns from different points of view, much alike you'd need 2 eyes to have a 3d visual.
The technology they'll have to defend themselves, so no reason to fear us anyway. No need to kill us though.
So they'll love us...

Tirzha Vive la Vida que Ama said...

Loved it. Mind opening.

Hippocritopotamus said...

Another way to think of it: one of the consistent patterns in scientific exploration is that answering questions always leads to MORE questions. The more we learn, the more curious we get. What questions some hyper-advanced alien civilization would have are impossible to imagine. But they'll have them.

Macan betina said...

how do you know if they would think like human do? and eat like we do? or have political/the economical strategy like we do? and greedy like humans are in nature? if they resemble similarity to human in comparison then they could have definitely conquered all of that already by now, and there would be fat greedy Aliens who eat McDonalds, KFC, Dominos and the rest of it, there for Fat Aliens hasn't been reported world wide has it? so people should stop building your own myth of Alien based on what you have seen on silly movies, because they are there to make a general mockery of it and entertainment till finally get huge bux out of it, instead of creates an open mind perspective in the way of how human should think. So the possibility is not limited, come on!

Macan betina said...

I agree with Ze said :-)

Anonymous said...

Frankly, I think the whole analysis of alien beings based on the human perspective on how life exists is pointless because we have zero evidence on what alien "intelligent" life is and how they exist and think and develop. This creates huge holes in arguments and results in unsupported assumptions. For example, the author of this blog ASSUMES that efficient interstellar space travel is so difficult that it will be considered unnecessary and impractical. But where is the evidence for that? At this point in human civilization, interstellar space travel is simply inconceivable. But two hundred years ago, I'm sure no one would be able to conceive how the world could be dominated by electronics and easy around-the-world travel and instant communications would become trivial. Also the blogger is assuming that alien life have the same needs and frailties as humans. But is this really a reasonable assumption considering we know nothing about the nature of alien life? In short, trying to guess at alien spacefaring capabilities is as pointless as trying to guess at their physical qualities and way of "thinking".

John Jemmott said...

I understand what you are saying, and you make many good points, but I also found it very cynical. As a previous poster said, once they invent FTL travel they won't use it because they won't need to?

You say that we would be boring to such a species, but that would imply that we weren't among the first species they ever met. And how many species do you have to encounter before discovering yet another sentient race becomes hardly worth the effort? I know that every time I encounter a bird or fish I have never seen before, I am excited, even though the bird flies and has feathers like most other birds, and the fish is like every other fish. That doesn't mean I'd stop diving, or bird watching! Why leave our houses and meet new people? Why travel and discover other cultures? We could simply sit in our house and be fed nutritional supplements and contemplate our google-knowledge, or calculate the statistical likelihood of fish on Europa rather than go see them!

Aliens want to come visit us, and if they can find us, and have the means, they will visit us. I know this because I know that the human race would do the same if it could. All the technology, and all the knowledge in the world cannot dampen the adventurous spirit of the sentient mind, and the wonder of new discoveries.

Anonymous said...

I find this article completely sensible in all ways, except for one oversight: They might come here to extinguish potential rivals. And they wouldn't literally "come here" but would probably send the smallest possible probe that could build a doomsday weapon out of local material, and then use it to sterilize the solar system.

If two civilizations begin interstellar colonization in our galaxy, their spheres of expansion are bound to intersect in the future. As they will largely be competing for the same resources (sources of energy differential), some sort of conflict is inevitable. But a conflict at this scale would be so horrible that any reasonable civilization would want to avoid it at all costs. This reasoning makes me think that any suitably advanced, reasonable civilization will be a sterilizer civilization: For the moral purpose of preventing great suffering, they will sterilize any technological civilization before they begin their interstellar colonization. Being rational, they will do this in the most efficient way possible: They will send a robotic probe which will duplicate itself in our solar system, and this autonomous army will wipe out all technological life and monitor our system to make sure that none re-emerges. Since sending even a small payload at great interstellar distances requires great energy, the rational sterilizer civilization will choose a speed for the probe that will bring it to its target safely before their interstellar colonization phase begins, but not much earlier. It is quite possible that such a probe is on its way to us right now, but won’t arrive for another thousand years.

So how should we react if there is a sterilizing probe on its way to get us? We have to begin our interstellar colonization before the probe gets here. I don’t think it makes much sense to try to raise up a defense, because we can’t even guess at the mechanism of such a probe. One thing it might do is to create a tiny black hole and drop it into the sun. (Or perhaps the probe just is a small black hole set to collide with the sun.) At this point, we are still a very vulnerable civilization, and will remain so until we have covered a substantial part of the galaxy. Also, we should be working hard on the technology for an effective sterilizer probe, just in case SETI does eventually reveal an alien civilization. I know it’s “no fun” to kill aliens before we ever meet them, but the ethical costs of not doing so might turn out to be unacceptable.

Anonymous said...

But you are putting down people not properly thinking about aliens when you yourself are doing the same by humanising them. Yes you are thinking logically about why they would not come here - why would an alien be logical? Why do killer whales play with seals? Why do people masturbate? These actions don't even have a logical resourceful reason but they still happen. What's to say that aliens aren't simply a gas cloud that drift over here, no reason, and accidentally absorb the water because of their bodies?

I personally don't believe aliens exist but you do because of your same boxed thinking. You think that because there is so many planets there MUST be a chance of life - how can anyone say that without even knowing what caused life to begin with? Perhaps life could only start from one point and spread out and it is in the early stages of development and we are the first wave. just because there are billions of planets means nothing, just hopeful thinking - roll some dice a billion times, you'll never roll a 7 even with the high amount of samples.

Macan betina said...

who knows why the Aliens coming here for, but I certainly believe that they are not coming here to plant money making corporations anyway and destroy human existence by spreading viral infections and cancers, if they do have that kind of intention then they could've done it by now. Maybe they are making a documentary film about greedy narrow minded arrogant humans who think they are better creature in the universe, in order to minimize those kind of population by taking them away from earth and never come back again, GOD...I wish!

Peter Roscoe said...

Excellent post.
In answer to why advanced races don't use targeting systems with their blasters, it's because it wouldn't be sporting. Even now we don't allow doping in athletes or deer hunting during rut...
If I'm not mistaken, and assuming you could maintain a 2g acceleration the entire time, Centauri B is only about 9 years away. (less on-board-relativity) Of course, how do you bring so much energy with you, or reaction mass? (the mass you eject so that you can accelerate in the opposite direction)
Possibly they would use von Neuman nano-devices which would build whatever they required upon arrival. These nano-devices would be...well, nano, so they could be shot out of an accelerator (a gun) at velocities a significant portion of the speed of light. (How do you stop these guys when they arrive...) Updated instructions might follow them at light speed. Perhaps these instructions might contain disembodied minds...
I was reading recently that NASA has a sweet spot they estimate for the optimum time for long range missions. They take into account the rate of technological advancement and wait until it reaches an apex. (The rate of improvement in maximum velocity of automobiles was very steep between the model T and the modern sport car but has all but flattened out now.) Why send out a mission when, in a few years, you will be able to send out a more advanced mission which will pass up the first mission in flight and arrive first?
As for why they might visit-you can only get sourdough in San Francisco.

Anonymous said...

Your argument seems based on the idea that ones we or an alien are 1000 times smarter, we/they won't have fundamental drives:

Hunger for power. Greed. Dominance. Curiosity. Love. Hate. Lust. Interest. The need to be the first to see us, talk to us, etc.

Ben E said...

So, Stephen Hawking is not as smart as they say. Say it ain't so.

Thanks for putting these thoughts into words.

Anyone consider the possibility that we (our future selves) are here, observing our foolishness? Or, perhaps we're too boring and not worth the effort.

Anonymous said...

But this is where statistics come to play -- it is exceedingly unlikely that WE (and our planet) happens to be one of closest choices, no matter what the heuristics used.

A.K. Ghosh said...

The whole point of the article about us not meeting aliens seems to be centered on Hawking's Colombus analogy of resources. While I agree that if the aliens come they would not probably be coming for resources but resources and technological advancements are not even half of what intelligent species are about. Most of it is about the great creations and discoveries like in Mathematics, art, music and so on. There's one episode is Star Trek TNG (I think it is Traveller) which mentions how aliens who are far far advanced (and apparently have managed to integrate space, time and thought) travel just to encounter works of geniuses like Mozart. If we look at our very short history we have created lots of masterpieces (for example the works of Mozart,Bach in music, great paintings of the renaissance artists and of course brilliant works by a host of genius mathematicians like Euler, Gauss, Riemann etc) in this time even with very limited technological advancement. If we take our past as an example of a less advanced civilization (somewhat like what we're to other advanced species) then even now, we are consistently being challenged by the creations of those 'primitive' race. With all our advancements we still can't get even close to proving a hypothesis on zeta functions formulated about 150 years ago by a genius mathematician to whom we will probably look like highly advanced aliens with our current technology. While there is no way of telling how much "smarter" we can be, we can surely tell that no one can ever be smart enough to be not excited in making new discoveries and appreciate beautiful things (be it mathematical equations or works of art or music) and attempt a interstellar travel to find them, whatever the cost is. Not unless they're dead or are indistinguishable from machines.

Anonymous said...

So after having studied all the other 9999 biospheres containing "life", they'd come here and label us... Mostly Harmless?

Anonymous said...

It could be as simple as making a connection with other life in the Universe....that could be reason enough to visit. Humans make connections/friendships everyday.....imagine doing it with other beings. Not letting this post ruin my dream!! Lol

Anonymous said...

It's not about them visiting. I'm more curious how they'd be energy-efficient enough that none of their broadcasts leak out for our radio telescopes, while not being energy efficient enough to dim a noticeable part of the sky by absorbing enough of a star's energy.

Anonymous said...

Good article.

However, some of the arguments are limited by current thinking. What if there was such a thing as instant teleportation across galaxies? What if time could be bent? What if they are just dying of boredom and feel like a fistfight against another race?

muellermanfred said...

I vote for curiosity. A universe this big will never get boring so travelling and exploring its wonders will neither.

Ashton Chen said...

Thoughtful arguments. In addition to your points, I believe that with that kind of technology advancement, aliens probably have already perfected robotics, brain machine interface, and virtual reality. They can just send robots with high level of intelligent, use surrogate bodies that can feed them sensory through FTL link, or copy and upload their mind to a robot or machine.

My point is, when they reach that kind of technology level, they don't move their biological bodies around because it can possibly have them damaged. They will use machine and robots to do all the work, while they enjoy themselves in virtual reality. They will probably have even lower birthdate and population, since most daily work and be done by robot, most decisions can be may by A.I., and most of their conscious will be inside of virtual reality. Also, with enough data collected, in virtual reality, they can simulate people, family, children, lovers, or even aliens.

Most human in developed country nowadays don't go to wilderness to "experience" animals, they go to zoo. One day they might be able to "see" , " touch", and "feel" animals in virtual reality, instead of going to zoo, cus it's too "troublesome" and it "might be dangerous".

warb said...

Google was founded in 2008, so ten years ago you could not google your answer.

Kenny Chaffin said...

Yep.

Luís Gonçalves said...

Slavery, poaching, traffic or wild animals. What the most scarce resource of the universe? Manpower...

Anonymous said...

I've read through the comments and nobody pointed out this scenario. What if every intelligent being gets so smart they eventually destroy themselves?

If we were 1000 times smarter and there was a single asshole out of billions of people what would keep that person from wiping out everyone? If we have tech now that can wipe out civilization in minutes, if we were 1000 times smarter what destructive tech would there be and how easy would it be to obtain/use? What if there was an accident or mistake with such tech? Maybe physical bodies just become pointless endeavors so it becomes discarded.
If the intelligent being is self serving expect asshole behavior.

Chuck White said...

the only reason for us to be visited that wasn't mentioned in the article would be if intelligent life can not co exist with another intelligent life form. I know that dolphins and whales are considered intelligent, and I agree, but they can hardly be considered any kind of competition for the human race. There where at least 2 other species of humans that co existed with early homo sapiens and now there is just us. I don't know for sure that our ancestors wiped out the competition but I do strongly suspect that is the case judging from past and present behaviors.In short I think Hawkings is right and the only reason to visit would be to destroy us, and that would probably not be done personally but with machines designed to seek out new life forms and terminate with extreme prejudice, before we have the chance to do the same.

Joe Johnston said...

I wholly accept your logic and agree that our frame of reference for thinking about alien life is necessarily limited.

However, I think you accidentally supported Doug Adam's vision of our world being demolished to make way for an ET super highway.

I would expect aliens who could come here to be in the business of re-arranging galaxies (probably for energy). I would also expect these beings to be effectively immortal.

Anonymous said...

If extraterrestrials are so smart, why do they keep wanting to probe our butts? Don't they know the best way to the brain is through an eye hole?

Paraphrasing Homer Simpson: 'Stupid Aliems!'

Anonymous said...

How do we even know what another intelligent species would look like, they could be sea creatures on another planet that probably wouldn't ever venture into space since they would have to venture out of the sea first. Would they have arms or legs, opposing thumbs or other means of manipulating their surroundings.

Maybe they already exist out there somewhere and could be very advanced but have no means to even transmit signals into space. I seriously doubt that a undersea species would be building radio equipment or smartphones. They could exist for eons without ever looking past the surface of their sea.

Anand Surana said...

Enjoyed reading your article. Very good handling of a very complicated topic without really getting too deep into the technical details..

Protostome said...

Great! I completely agree.
Also another important point is that earth was a bacteria (and other single cells) world for the vast majority of its history.
Therefore, I think that most life containing planets are filled with something that resembles our single celled creatures as well.

If (for whatever reason there might be..) an alien race need to mine or xenoform a planet, it would prefer to go to one without any intelligent beings.
(Of course, all that said, we assume that every "intelligent" alien race behaves in a way that we would define as rational, which might not be true on all occasions)

Anonymous said...

I find the blog and comments interesting. Firstly it is right that it is surprising how narrow minded a lot of thinking on these subjects is, and just because you are a well known scientist it doesn't necessarily mean you are knowledgeable in all areas.
We have a diversity of experience on this world that science has not even started to catalog. It is a common assumption that everyone experiences reality in the same way, and that our minds are isolated from it, in fact it seems that reality is very responsive to abstract thoughts and information generated in our minds. Until our science progresses to the point where we can demonstrate this and work on this level we are stuck with what is basically a flawed world view, wrong thinking and strategies. No aliens are going to come here and tell us this, and those here who know it aren't particularly interested in taking on the huge job of enlightening the rest of us.
There are several problems with science, firstly it is largely a doctrine, driven by money which goes to things that are in fashion and not to things that are new or different and could potentially have large payoffs. There is no logical structure to directions of research, nor much of an attempt to develop one, nor to apply it to politics. Mistrust and closed minded reactions are the main obstacles to progress, but arguably part of the problem is in the narrow educational system.
If we assume that advanced civilizations have control over the structure of their bodies, which is not unreasonable, then the defining concepts of family, tribe, species and even "being alien" start to break down. The reason being that biological evolution has been replaced by evolution of information in the mind and computer memory, which can then be translated to physical structure. There are probably many different levels in this process and this existence of levels seems more likely if we assume that the advanced groups don't always share their knowledge, for the simple reason of wanting to preserve a diverse universe. So what defines a culture is probably going to be shared access to advanced knowledge of the physical world and knowledge of the internal mental world. The latter is something that we have here, at least in isolated individuals, and the connection between genetics and spiritual ability is probably something that many groups of aliens might want to study.
Probably, internal mental processes are actually in the long run much more important than scientific knowledge of the physical world, but it might be reasonable to propose these as two axes for measuring different civilizations.
Is it a reasonable assumption that there is a lot more structure to the physical world and the implied ongoing contact with advanced cultures?
The physical forces seem to get more complex on the smaller scales, one gravitational charge, two electromagnetic charges, three quark charges. We observe a world where there is a history of magical claims and these imply abstract information having direct action on matter. Quantum theory tends to back this up with second quantization and no explanation for the nature of the classical world. Superconductivity seems to back up these ideas too. Our science has only been going for a short time.
There is a lot of good evidence for alien contact, for example the video "Out of the blue". How about physical evidence? Is it reasonable to assume that our social structures and organizations would hide this from the public? One can look at the claims in the disclosure project. There do seem to be strong emotions and a wish to preserve the current world view. All the evidence for the behavior of these individuals and groups of people is around us and accesible.

Sandro Santoli said...

Maybe we're also not smart enough to know of a reason why they would want to come here.

Steve Battle said...

I would like to think that no matter how advanced our civilization becomes, we will always retain the capacity to be interested in 'other'. I can imagine, however, that this hypothetical super-civilisation may have had some bad experiences with the culture-shock that simple knowledge of its presence might engender. Just imagine how today's civilisation would react - think of the religious wars; the futility of scientific research; the blame when they don't step in and cure all disease in one sell swoop. No, I suspect that a benevolent super-civilisation would rightfully avoid contact with any pre-singularity world. However, once the singularity hits and culture-shock becomes the norm, we will finally have arrived, and that's going to be our golden ticket.

David Hack 5th dimension Reptilian! said...

Hawkins is an astrophysicist who seems wholly uninterested in present day understanding of neurological development (or maybe my friend is right that he's just a mouthpiece for mainstream cosmology's elitist views). Cognitive development is tightly linked with empathic development. When looking at the evolutionary ladder, the higher up you go, the higher the cognitive skills, and more complex are the social interactions. More complex the social interactions, naturally gives a higher yield for empathic development. It is the quintessential rule of biological self-organization; It always tends towards synergy of elements rather than conflict. Adaptation is resolution of conflict. So chances are, if their brains are more developed, this means they will have passed this immature stage that we are in, where the ego is not inhibited yet enough by empathic development. Meaning they would probably tend to want to help our own development, rather than be looking for resources when odds are that they probably have planets closer to home that have those resources -without- sentient beings who have reached the point of being capable of modifying their own environment (for better or for worse).

Sure, different environment will give different results, and there might be some alien races that develop high cognitive levels without high empathic development, but their chance of survival in evolutionary terms is slim the higher their cognitive skills, as adaptation is meant to -deal- with the environment, to become in equilibrium with it and a lack of empathy reduces the scope of understanding, leading to dysfunction, and in the end, extinction. On the broad racial evolutionary scale, egotism is self-destructive for the race as it hinders synergistic harmony with both their peers and their environment.

As for Kurzweil, he completely disregards so many facts about neurology that I just don't have the time nor the inclination to dissect his views right now, but his theories have huge holes. Singularity won't necessarily mean true artificial intelligence anyway. The one thing I have to say, and it relates to what I've said previously, is that cognitive development is tightly linked to empathic development and that alone is a big stain on Kurzweil's theories, as emotions aren't really calculable, no matter how fast a computer can count. A computer remains a glorified calculator, not a social creature.

Feel free to disagree, although I do agree with most of the conclusions.

Anonymous said...

Nice read. Not worried about it. Not worth worrying about.

Jim Harwood said...

I do believe there is intelligent life on other planets. I'm not as certain there is intelligent life here on Earth.

I believe that because of the vast distances between inhabited planets, and problems with physical space travel, interstellar travel is unlikely. The only exception might be neighboring inhabited solar systems less than a light-year apart. The height of most physical space travel is likely to be limited to within a solar system.

I believe travel between inhabited planets might be fairly common by a different means, an idea I first saw in a long ago episode of The Outer Limits if I recall correctly. Spiritual form rather than in physical form. The idea of soul travel. Soul migration was an idea presented in the the science fiction series Babylon 5. Space traveling souls may carry knowledge for trade rather than physical things for trade between inhabited planets. A space traveling soul may leave a physical body behind on one planet, travel across space, and then be born into a physical body on another planet. That would solve all of the physical problems of differences such as atmosphere and gravity, as well as immunity problems. Then, upon completing a mission, the alien soul returns to its original physical body it left behind on the planet it came from, or it is born into a new physical body. Soul travel might not be limited to the speed of light, vast distances instantly crossed.

Taking this one step further. We use computers to create virtual relaity. I suspect our physical universe is a virtual reality for spiritual beings living on worlds in the spiritual universe, such as perhaps a universe made of supermatter instead of matter. We are them in physical form. We are their avatars. They created us.

Arthur C. Clarke wrote in the novel 2010: Odyssey Two: "All we can imagine is probably not half as crazy as the truth." Of that I have no doubt. Perhaps we have found the aliens, and they are us.

Kevin said...

Great article and I like the various angles that you approached this on why they might not even be very interested in us.

I like to add another few perspective on this. If you know your General Relativity, if any Alien civilization is going to actually do FTL (faster-than-light) travel, they will reach here in say a hundred years (in time-dilated years) but then their friends, families, colleagues, lovers (if they are sexual beings) and everyone else they know back home (or wherever else they started from) would live their lives in "normal" time & thousands or tens of thousands of years would have passed. That is, all the people the Aliens know back home would have died. Their long journey here would have been quite meaningless, unless they are somewhat immortal or have technologies that make them immortal. In the more likely case, their own "home" civilization would have progressed to another different state by the time they reach here or perhaps even died out by then. Thinking of this, would any Aliens really want to volunteer to make the journey here and then "waste" their time & lives?

Now, even we consider that some Alien civilization can create a wormhole and somehow by-pass the time-dilation effects (i.e. their time experienced passing through the worm-hole does not eat up significant "normal" time), then they probably would still have many of their own priorities. For example, we humans are already so busy trying to make money, taking care of children, working on the next project, making time for a holiday or 2, and would scarcely care less about the ant colony in our backyard; unless the ant colony turns out to be a termite nest (for which you will call the pest exterminators to destroy the ant colony); so do you think the vast majority of Aliens would want to come and visit us; if they have reached such an advanced stage? They would probably be more interested in their own busy lives and their own lofty goals and their X-Box version 100000.9999 which gives them unimaginable entertainment, right? :-)

Anonymous said...

I believe it's not about meaningless or not, it's about curiosity, to explore strange new worlds, that's what make a life-form intelligent

Anonymous said...

I disagree. The cambrian explosion when different body plans started evolving produced the most fantastic and interesting creatures. We are just entering the beginning of the evolution of intelligence and the mind, and will produce all kinds of fantastic and interesting minds and intelligences. This is definitely not the same type of fishes over and over again. If you think seeing the cambrian explosion on an alien world would be interesting, then you have just disproved your own argument.

Jim Harwood said...

Paul Tyma: Your article, Why We'll Never Meet Aliens, is the best writing I've so far seen on the subject, except maybe for the outstanding Dr. Michio Kaku at his Big Think website, and you remind me of him. I'm impressed by his YouTube videos about "transition from a Type 0 Civilization to a Type 1 Civilization." Star Trek represents a Type 2 Civilization, and Star Wars.is Type 3.

I've posted links to your article at Google+ and at my WordPress blog.Thanks for accepting my previous comment at your excellent blog and article here. At the risk of wearing out my welcome, I want to mention one more relating subject. I can guess your position on it, but hope you will address it in a future posting, so please consider this to be a respectful request to do so.

One one hand, I believe Earth has never before been visited by aliens from another planet, for the same reasons you covered. On the other hand, there is the "evidence" to consider. Probably any evidence has been made by humans engaged in wishful thinking, or that the evidence has been misinterpreted. On "the gripping hand" [third hand], Moties on Mote Prime might have a different opinion. In that 1993 novel The Gripping Hand by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, sequel to their 1974 novel The Mote in God's Eye, "While investigating economic abnormalities on the Mormon planet Maxroy's Purchase, Renner and Bury encounter widespread use of the phrase on the gripping hand." Moties have 3 arms, so 3 hands resulting in their own odd idiom "on the gripping hand."

I can understand why Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle mentioned the Mormons. Not only are most of them fans of science fiction, I discovered much to my surprise, but also some of them believe "life here began out there." Sound familiar? Glen A. Larson, who created Battlestar Galactica, is a Mormon, and based some of the content of the original 1978 TV series on actual Mormon beliefs. The planet Kobol in the BSG episode "Lost Planet of the Gods" is "Kolob" in Mormon scripture, that "According to the traditional, literal LDS interpretation of the Book of Abraham, Kolob is an actual star or planet..." This might tie in with the "Chariots of the Gods?" book by Erich von Däniken, which "involves the hypothesis that the technologies and religions of many ancient civilizations were given to them by ancient astronauts who were welcomed as gods." This is mentioned in the original introduction of the original BSG series leading into the opening credits and music theme. I had the opportunity and honor of meeting with a couple of Mormon missionaries for 2 months in 2011, and talk with them about this subject. Not all Mormons are in agreement with that part of their scriptures. It proved to be useful to me while writing a science fiction novel about an expedition to Earth 40 thousand years ago, when Neanderthals began to vanish as modern humans showed up. In order to accept the possibility of Type 2 and.or Type 3 Civilizations ever having having visited us in the past, we must consider such means as hyperspace, warp drive, worm holes, etc. The Stargate movie and TV series covered that fairly well, and also fits the subject of ancient aliens. Even if it's not true by not being possible, it is at least fun to consider and makes for great entertainment.

Keep up the good work, Paul Tyma. I'm looking forward to reading more of your blog postings.

Anonymous said...

This offers the best analyses of the flaws of Stephen Hawkings comments...but omits one. While I greatly respect and admire Stephen, and would never play chess with him, when he commented that if or when aliens visit earth we earthlings should avoid them ignores the reality that if "they" are so advanced as to be capable of visiting us then they and not we will control who interacts with whom.

Anonymous said...

Humans study things as boring as rocks. Why wouldn't an advanced alien race want to study us even if we are as boring as rocks. Scientists keep seeking information. There is no limit to curiosity. They may come here to study something other than us. Who knows? We can not know why or why not aliens may or may not come here. The need to something does not have to exist. We do not want to go to mars because we think we need to. We want to go because, like a mountain, Mars is there.

JohnBartram said...

Good piece: thanks, and as with some other commentators, I too have thought along similar lines. My additional thought is this: we are either alone, or not and so far we seem to be alone. If that turns out to be the case (regardless of the universality of life), then I suggest we will be in for a major, cultural shock.

Anonymous said...

Of course it could be that an advanced civilisation is on it's journey to perfecting such statistical methods and they have not yet actually visited any other planets with advanced life forms. We could be their first and only conquest. I do agree with much of your analysis but also believe that interest is an almost universal attribute to advanced life forms and once life's problems have been solved then interest will be the driving force to discover new life forms.

Anonymous said...

I agree completely and have thought so for some time. Why would a technologically advanced super species of aliens need to come to our little planet to mine our resources? Douglas Adams is far closer to the mark than H.G. Wells.

Anonymous said...

Its funny because your argument is well thought out and not flawed anywhere I can see with a fairly quick read, but I should mention that the absolute exact way in which you make this argument can be used to say the exact opposite; That aliens would want to come here. There could be any number of reasons that we can't possibly imagine yet to want to come to see us. We are not interesting to ourselves and we don't think we have anything to offer, but how does anyone really know that? As far as we know we could be a fairly unique species and extraordinarily interesting. The real answer to any question about aliens ever visiting us is, I imagine, a simple shrug. We don't and we can't know if they're even out there let alone whether they would ever come here.

Anonymous said...

I must disagree.

There are an infinite number of reasons that one intelligent race might try to reach another intelligent race outside of capitalism, resource gathering, or conquest. Even using the "google brain" scenario presented here (which is not only likely, its imminent), if we had the technology that allowed us reach another intelligent race in space we would do so just to see what would happen. It's human nature.

Anonymous said...

When astronomers observe the universe they can come up with some very large numbers, but if biologists try to figure out the probability of life forming, and then the probability of a Eukaryote cell forming, and then probability of multicellular life forming. and then the probability of intelligent life forming, and then the probability of a technological civilization forming, the biologists may be able to come up with numbers just as big as the astronomers and maybe even bigger. And if ET does exist and is a hundred or a thousand or a million or a billion years in advance of us then why the hell isn't that fact obvious?

John K Clark

Jim Gleaves said...

I agree with the earlier poster who commented on this being a possible answer to the Fermi paradox. I also find it fascinating that no one else has mentioned the FP seeing as it is one of the dominant issues in serious discussions on extraterrestrial life.

Anonymous said...

" by the time humans develop usable energy weapons - we'll have awesome targeting systems to match"

We've had energy weapons for over ten years, and fairly precisely targeted. They were used in the destruction of seven massive buildings in one 9 hour period, with little collateral damage to the surrounding buildings.

Anonymous said...

You ask whether they might come for resources, and decided a species so advanced would be able to transmute to get whatever they needed. One resource that MIGHT be unique to our planet would by the various DNA sequences contained in the codons of all living things.

There is preliminary data to suggest that aliens have in fact been utilizing or interacting with our DNA. The "Starchild" skull is either evidence of such activity or the biggest, most elaborate hoax ever constructed. Consulting Wikipedia will NOT get you current information about this specimen. This unique skull is said to contain human mitochondrial DNA (DNA that comes only from the mother, since spermatozoa have no mitochondria) and nuclear DNA that contains sequences that do not match sequences from any other earthly species studied to date. It's cranial volume is 1600 cc versus human volume of about 1400 cc, and it's structure is NOT compatible with any recognized human genetic or acquired disorder, including hydrocephalus. Most intriguing.

Chris Heinz said...

Very nice post, thanks.

Why would they come? Chocolate not a bad answer. But, I think the best answer is: The Blues. Plus its children, Rock n Roll and Jazz. Their genesis is unique to human history.

Anonymous said...

What if the alien planet ran out of oxygen by destroying their rainforests and furthermore ruined their atmosphere with CO2? Perhaps then they'd be forced to adopt a new home planet.

james regan said...

this is very good and a smart take on aliens. you are of course applying human-centric thinking and reasoning to the problem, so you may well be wrong but for reasons we are completely unable to fathom

(a bit like that philosopher who said it doesn't matter if a dog could talk as we wouldn't be able to actually have a conversation anyway as their thinking processes are completely different).

Mikel said...

We are of the same potential that they are. As a life form becomes more advanced it loses it's fear as there is very little left unknown for which to fear. Yet the potential for us to disrupt or damage and destroy things we are not aware of still exists. It may motivate something/someone to interact with advancing life forms in order to prevent accidental intrusions into other creatures areas of operations. The advancement of our own technology climbing at a exponential rate will continue to reverberate throughout all of our ecosystem. We have no way at this time to predict our impact on the things we are not even aware of yet. We have effected things we thought impossible in the recent past. Our impact on the surrounding space time continuum or alternate dimensions and other as yet understood environments. They may only intervene in order to guide in certain directions and probably without our knowledge.

Roger said...

We do have a few data points. We know the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, and that it took evolution all of 3.5 billion years to produce intelligent life of a rather pathetic sort, despite extremely favorable conditions throughout. That is, it took 1/4 of the age of the universe to produce humans! With a number that large, it IS conceivable to me that we are the only intelligent life in the universe, if not the only life. Or, possibly the lifespan of intelligent species tends to be very short on geological time scales (perhaps due to their very intelligence). We haven't lasted too long so far. Consider whether we can be certain that humans are even the first intelligent species to have arisen on Earth itself.

On the other hand, given the age of the Earth, we cannot rule out that the planet has not already been visited, and perhaps many times. Whether one believes in a 2001/Space Odyssey scenario, or a simple alien scouting mission circa 650 million years ago, the odds would be pretty good that we simply missed 'em. And any physical remnants would have long since vanished. That would support your basic point, though, that alien life would have little long-term use for the planet and its resources.

shane duffy said...

theyre coming to farm our souls

care said...

Very nice post, thanksThe gist is, is that due to STEM (space, time, energy, matter) compression accelerating, as humans, we'll grow, learn and evolve infinitely more if we delve deeper down into more complex substrates, rather than travel outside

Anonymous said...

They are coming here for coca-cola!

Igor said...

This is the most interesting article I have read in a while.
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I'm more interested in actual statistics. Let's look at it that way. The universe is 13.8 billion years old. The Earth formed approximately 4.5 billion years ago, and life appeared on its surface about 1 billion years later. Now, the biggest problem with alien life (either for us to find it, or for them to find us) for me seems to be time. The matter of 'when to look.' And 'what to look'. Do you assume that they have the technology to scan the entire universe at all times? (Wow, I'd like to use that computer which can process all this data). If that's the case, then sure they may find us. But if they don't have this tech (which is more likely, considering that the universe began at the same time for all of us), they sort of need to know where and when to look. What if they are at the other end of the observable universe? Let's say they are 10 billion light years away. What they are seeing now is ''us'' 10 billion years ago. And since there weren't us, they would see nothing. As far as they are concerned, we don't exist. Only 5.5 billion years in the future they may see something happening here. But it's not intelligent life they would be seeing. That would take another few billion years to notice. That's quite a window.. how can we be sure they didn't miss it? Or they won't miss it?

Further, I'd add another thought. Why do we assume that alien life is materialistic? If you even look at humans, then the white Europeans were the only materialistic society on Earth. They kind of took over the planet. Indians, Native Americans, Aborigines, etc - none of them were interested in materialistic way of living. There are hundreds of thousands of Buddhist monks today - they are not interested in the 'outside world.' What if our Alien-friends are just like that? What if they are like Na'vi people in the movie Avatar? :)

NNN said...

Great article. Very well written. I agree with your point of view that aliens (as we imagine them) wouldn't care to get in touch with us. However your theory is based completely on the premise that aliens are as we imagine them (humanoid,mammaloid, fish-like, etc). All these are based on our understanding that the so called "intelligent" life has to be complex carbon (or similar element) based. That may not be true. What we define as life is from our limited perception and observation of what we sense around with our simple 5 senses. Life could literally be anything. From, say, the perspective of a pebble on the road we could be an ever changing environment where it lives and thrives. The parameters that we use to define "life" like growth, movement and consumption are completely biology centric. For all we know the meteors that fall to earth may be alien life. Its a very dicey matter and our senses have not evolved enough (may not evolve enough) to detect this possibility and even if they do our brains are not equipped to contemplate the sheer shift in thinking.

Cog in the Machine said...

I never believed the model of aggressive, resource hungry aliens. Aggressive species will most likely destroy themselves. We have plenty of resources in the asteroid-belt and the Gas-Giants and have to assume their solar-system would be the same.
The aliens we are most likely to meet are Drones, removing their last 0.01% of uncertainty.

The less said about the Star Wars comments the better. But all I will say is that if we have sophisticated targeting systems, we have to assume (using the arguments put forward in this blog) that counter-measures will also have advanced.

Matt Coalson said...

Darn, I was hoping that the aliens would show up and give us a cheat sheet to the stars. Ah, well, I guess - if we as a race are going to make it - we're going to have to do it the old-fashioned way and get jaded to the vast universe in our own way.

Hmmm, just a thought, what if we pulled off another H.G. Well's War of the Worlds broadcast and just convinced the earth that there were aliens, maybe that could get the masses over the activation energy hump needed to get us 'little thinkers' in to the solar system in a real way.

Anonymous said...

After all is said and done, truth is we just don't know.
Alien life might exist or not, might be abundant or rare.
WE.JUST.DON'T. KNOW.
And the logic in this article is human logic. Who knows what aliens logic is like?
One thing is for sure. If they are not curious enough to explore their surroundings, they might as well annihilate themselves. Maybe already did, that's why we haven't met them :-)

John S James said...

Even with no economic reason, a few creatures might come here as hobbyists, as an extreme sport.

If so they may well try to conceal their presence, perhaps to avoid spoiling the Earth as its own natural environment.

But accidents happen, and sometimes they are seen seen by humans. Yet so far they have left no evidence clear enough to change Earth's mainstream, conventional wisdom.

Anonymous said...

Humanity will probably be extinct within the next 1000 years anyway, by our own doing, so this seems like a lot of pointless speculation. We've got primitive problems we can't even resolve, like energy and water resources, not to mention social fears and religion. Some alien help would be welcome, even if it meant culling the herd.

tomtomjones said...

the only plausible explanation they would want to visit earth would be to create a reality tv show for their own people. watch the south park episode called 'cancelled'. It's the only reason i can think of

Anonymous said...

There is one advanced creature that may very well want to visit us. You didn't discuss the possibility of our future selves coming back to visit via some time-traveling device.

montemalone said...

What else are they gonna do with all those probes?

Anonymous said...

Of course there is probably no one human currently alive who would be able to understand the motivation of a super smart alien race to visit us. However it would be reasonable to assume that if there is one such civilisation there could be millions of them. It may then also be reasonable to assume that some of them might have a curiosity based motivation to study extensively every life form and social structure they can find. It that case they might already be here studying us and other life on earth and we will never realise due to ultra advanced cloaking and nanotechologies. Obviously revealing themeselves would profoundly affect the study. Another obvious motivation would be identifying and mitigating the risk of potential threats - the capacity to destroy whole planets or wipe out species is probably a far lower level tech than Faster than light travel. Therefore at least one alien race may want to keep abreast of threats near and far so it does not get any nasty shocks. Of course this would probably be in the form of a invisible study. The realistic timeframe for when the human cyborgs will meet aliens will be when they either are able to go and find them or when they become a perceived threat to alien race. In the later case they would obviously be any number of bizarre scenarios ranging from extinction to confinement right through to popular sci-fi idea of joining an intergalactic federation.

Steven Spencer said...

One solution to Fermi's Paradox that I've never seen proposed is that aliens are happy. They perhaps live sustainable, sane lives in balance with their environment. Humans lived this way for 200,000 years and have only been civilized for 12k years. And in the last 100 years we've destroyed the world. Perhaps most aliens (and all life forms) haven't taken the suicidal plunge of progress brought by cheap energy (see Yeast Nation). We haven't heard from them because they aren't sick and insane.

Jim Harwood said...

The answer is now clear why no aliens are here. Astronauts repairing the space station during the recent spacewalk found a bottle floating in space, attracted to Earth from some distant place. Cork removed, in it they found, a map of the galaxy. On it they read, the famous ancient interstellar mariners warning to steer clear of planet Earth, marked by the words: HERE BE MONSTERS.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't matter since the universe will be destroyed by a Tralfamadorian test pilot.

So it goes.

Anonymous said...

Quite frankly one of the greatest blog posts (and perhaps even the single greatest) I have ever read on the internet. You are a smart man [I would know I'm a BMath BA(Econ) JD from very prestigious postsecondary schools]. Best answer to the Fermi Paradox bar none.

Anonymous said...

Interesting argument, but I remain unconvinced. Any alien intelligence is unlikely to think like us so in reality it's silly to postulate on what they would or wouldn't do.
Hell, they might come and visit us “just because”. The way that I figure it, if you’ve gotten to that level of tech then perhaps the only reason to do things is because you’re bored and want to see something new.

adams2on said...

Too bad the commenter who talked about multidimensional travel had to screw it up by claiming to have talked with ETs. Now nobody is going to take him/her seriously!

But regarding the earlier points in that comment -- mathematicians and physicists already tell us that there are many dimensions to the universe (was it 11?). And even at our inconceivably primitive level (2!), we already know that.

So here we have these ETs who are super-hyper-smart. They are biologically ultra-taken-care-of. They can probably create their energy out of nothing, as needed. And then transmute it into matter (devices? life-forms?) we couldn't even perceive. Almost miraculous.

well, if they're like that, then why wouldn't they partake in more of those "dimensions" than we have been able to, so far? They would seem like genies to us. After all, if we're only at 2 out of 100, then Arthur C. Clarke's third law clearly applies: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

Anonymous said...

Let's say a highly advanced alian species had the technology to detect our planet exists in the goldilocks zone and is a perfect cradle for life. They may not have any interest in visiting us themselves, however they would probably auction off that information to the highest bidder. This would then create a market for their advanced warp core technologies. In this case the alian spacies that actually visited us would not have to be very advanced. They would just have to be able to read the users manual. And they wouldn't have to understand it all, just the part that allows them to get from point A to point B.
Even we could do that...

Anonymous said...

What if the Aliens are just assholes? Or bored?

...Or bring us the good news about their religion?

nigel o'neill said...

Mostly agreeable.
But Biologically speaking our drive is to spread our genes,always has been.
So it's far more economical and likely that they would send a radiation proof robot spore ship to seed the galaxy as best they could.
The Panspermia theory.
But that ignores natures way of doing things.
Bacteria are eveywhere,without them nothing-absolutely nothing happens and they are very very good at dispersing and living in any enviroment.
Any interested parties should read Fred Hoyles Intelligent Universe which is out of print now.
He raises some very fundamental questions which science ignores.
Although some chapters are dated his thesis about what intelligence is up to is very relevant.
Regards, Nigel.

Marc Rauch said...

Why do humans continue to visit zoos and wild animal parks? And why do humans visit more than one zoo or animal park? Surely we all know what the everyday run-of-the-mill animals look like.

And we have picture books, movies and now the Internet to show us what they look like. We know their eating habits, their breeding habits, their sleeping and social habits backwards and forwards.

Why do bird watchers watch birds? What's the big deal?

And why do humans travel long distances to see these animals? People travel hundreds of miles to visit zoos. They even travel thousands of miles to do so. They spend a lot of money and time doing it. Why do some humans devoted decades of their lives and live in rather inhospitable conditions during those decades to study animals?

Distance and time is not important, because it may just be a case of relative proportions. The medical and scientific community has already acknowledged that individual humans are capable of living for hundreds of years. A little more than 100 years ago it was thought that traveling faster than 60 miles an hour would rupture the time and space continuum (or what passed for an understanding of it). So if a human with a current life span of about 80 would be willing to live a very solitary existence for half of his/her life to study monkeys, it would be reasonable to assume that a human living to 500 or 1000 might do the same.

We wouldn't need an alien civilization to be thousands of years more advanced than us, 50 or 100 could be enough. The aliens might not need our natural resources, and they might not be interested in eating us, they would only have to be just as curious as us.

kishore dumavat said...

MY SIMPLE SOLUTIONS TO FERMI PARADOX:

1.Man has just started the technological achievements by listening radio signals or by looking(space telescopes)..Now the point is simple....space is very vast..and it takes time to reach distances...that too they have to reach in right time. all these 4.6 billions years we were not receptive..i think we will have to wait for some more time,,,may be just to understand the incoming signals or to make a direct contact...so its just the matter of time...we need patience....we just made technologies for the last 150 years...and we r very hurry to make a contact....universe was born some 13.6 billion years...why cant we wait for atleast a 1000 years after we started developing.....i am confident we r going to make contact in coming 1000 years. as we progress in technology..so its just matter of patience from now

2. vast distance and achieving techological levels might be very rare in galaxies
3. there might limitations to technology and physics..that means after certain point we might not develop more than that. like warp drives/worm holes/FLT etc...man had seen some success with science, yet it doesnt mean everything is possible. may be there are limitations to science and might be that at what ever might be the level of intelligence....may be space travel has limitations due to vast distances even intelligent aliens still existing
4. may be they know everything and not interested in anything else,nothing to know more and they live in always in their own enjoyments
5.May be the entire universe is a simulation and strategically controlled by some higher being , and only with his will contacts might be possible..i mean may be controlling everything
6.may be nature is powerful than species...it will always kill the species some how by stellar explosions,,,meterotites..disesease etc...it might be impossible for any species to live more than few million years....
7.existance of extra dimensions...might be true...becoz its impossbile thre are no aliens/no dyson spheres/no newman probes after 13.5 billion years...
8.out of everything its just we need to wait more ....only seems to me more plausible...as we just achieved tech since last 100 years...we need to wait more for atleast 1000 yrs....why the hell we r judging too early...did we really waited long enough..//and did we really achieved enough tech to listen/understand them...my answer is no.....
9..and at last abt stephen hawkings aliens destructing earth..it might be joke of the century..i wonder why some times such genius gives such ideas....why would any alien that has tech to arrive earth,,will only come to steal resources ..he might have enough tech to get those with that same tech..because universe is filled with matter/energy/planets...what not...they might just come for a fun hunt..not for resources..
10..My final solution is ...there is some thing out of this entire universe//speare/globe/GOD...just check "dark flow" in google...which has created us and he knows how fools we are who under estimate nature and the very creator..And thats why he wants us to develop more if not we will be quarantined for ever..

Regards,
Dr.kishore
dumavatkishore@gmail.com

Cristobal said...

Nice article.

However, I have to disagree on the core idea. The way you have put it, it sounds like life has no other meaning than being technological to the max.

Who knows in 100 more years we change our paradigm and become more spiritual and philosophical beings.

I think the reason to feel company is already enough to justify a visit to earth.

Toni said...

Very fun read, Paul. SO many things I never would have considered. When I do think about it, I usually arrive at similar conclusions to Ashton Chen (comments above), which then lead me to think WE are the aliens we dream of. In any case, who would find us more interesting than us. If people are truly meeting up with "extraterrestrials", it seems more likely to me that they are US, are already here, and blipping over from another dimension rather than arriving from off planet. Lots of fun - I like how you think. I will surely be back :)

Toni said...

One more thing to consider: what if the lack of evidence is as simple as not being able to see something that is there, but in another dimension, and therefore not viewable by a 3rd/4th dimensional being? What if the ability for space travel requires evolution into at least the 5th dimension?

Anonymous said...

FOOD!

We just might be a self maintaining food supply, an ancient civilisation seeds the planet and lets it go for a few centuries, waits for max population and comes in for the harvest and starts it over again, Similar to what we do with beef but on a planetary scale and on multiple planets. Take a look at us and imagine a race 500,000 or even a billion years old...(if you could). The universe is what, 11 billion years old? 500K is nothing but technically! man, it would blow your mind what they would be capable of. The human race is peanuts, nothing, nada! go look at the stars at night......

Michael Barnett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Pit stop.. We are hellbent on finding new life why wouldnt another alien race be? We probably have things here that they want whether we know its here or not. For us to assume that they've no interest in us could be turned 180 degrees by saying something as simple as we are the aliens diet. They eat breakfast lunch and dinner just like us. The catch is the distance between there meals is 1.5 billion years to us though its only 5 hours to them. We are signifigant.. It would be closed minded to assume we are a fluke with no purpose. Who knows the real answer? I like the thoughts... Sorry for the typos.. at work typing from my phone.

Jay De kock said...

Great point of pointing out the reason in a technological way why they wouldn't visit us.
However you did miss something. If you take into account us, Humans, desire not only technological advancement,comprising of menatl and physical attributes, we also desire to improve and redifine not only our individual point of view of "why are we here" and "what is our purpose", but as a collected species try to understand the reason for why we do the things we do.

A quick and short answer, we have a burning desire to find out what mysteries lie ahead of us. ie. Spiritual attributes.

This is one field that we barely have a grasp on and people are so determind to say they know what they believe.

True question is do you understand what you are believing to be the truth.

I am not saying you are wrong at all. I belive you just hit the nail square on the head, however there would be that list peice of the 3 cornerd puzzle you missed.

Remeber: Homo Sapian rules for balance is to have a great deal in not only physical and mental states but spiritual states and understanding too.

It could be just a classic case of we being the lesser species and them acting as "a Big Brother" civivlistation. Hidden and out of site but guiding us to something that even we can't see...or manufacturing biological slavery.

Either or, it is still an interesting point you depicted on your post.

Jon Castaneda said...

Once we have connected our neurons to electronic devices and our thinking capabilities have accelerated a million fold, time as we know it will slow down. All who are in this new "cloud" will advance tremendously, sharing new realities which we create within, with new physics, new interdimensional capabilities, perhaps shared personas. Perhaps that is what we are living in at the moment. A shared reality that we created.

Anonymous said...

Artistic expression is a universal interest and an infinitely varied one...

Anonymous said...

Sex drugs and music... nothin better to do than get high bang some humans and listen to our dubstep.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't we be just a crossing point for another location ?

Maybe we think too big :)

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this blog! But it may be missing another perspective. Lets say that aliens, who are much much more advanced, travel the universe regularly. Yes they have seen it all and yes they are probably bored of it all because there are nothing new they have never seen before. Lets relate this to our own nature. In the United States, just because we have seen all the different kinds of humans living on our planet, we have stopped traveling around to all the corners of our planet. Like us, the aliens travel around, not with the intention of war, but the intention of supervising other cultures. We have a world police mentality just like an alien race would have a universe police. You can not enforce a police type action if you do not have support ships near there.

Anonymous said...

It is good to understand why Columbus sailed. It was not curiosity. Educated Europeans already knew the earth was round.

The two major seafaring nations were both Catholic. They realized that they would be in constant conflict, and so asked the catholic pope (Bishop of Rome) to decide territorial claims.

The pope divided the world randomly at 53 degrees longitude. Lands to the east would belong to Portugal, and lands west would belong to Spain. (This is why Brazilians speak Portugese, and other south american nations speak Spanish).

This meant that the eastern oriental kingdoms of China, Japan, Korea, India and the Spice Islands would belong to Portugal, and Spain could not conduct business there.

However, the Spanish crown realized that if they could find an ocean pathway WESTWARD to the orient (China, Japan, Korea, India), they could colonize and trade yet still be in compliance with the pope's decision.

In short, they were trying to find a way around their agreement with the pope... they were cheating.

They were rather surprised that their explorers bumped into an unknown continent on the way to china. This was not their plan nor desire.


In the end, the voyage of Columbus was motivated by money, not science, and definitely not the "need to know".

Ralph said...

"Technological evolution will have long surpassed the snail-pace of biological evolution..."

That already happened a long ago, right here on Earth. Firing humanity's first clay pot moved us millions of years forward in respect to carrying water around with us. Evolving a biological water-pouch somewhere in or on our bodies would certainly take much longer.