DOES INTELLIGENT LIFE EXIST OUTSIDE OUR LONELY PLANET?
Yup it does.
I have 100% certainty of this. The reason I can be so certain regardless of the results of the Drake equation is that the universe is so vast (i.e. infinite) that it is almost impossible for some planet not to have replicated virtually every aspect of Earth and evolution of life on earth. However, this is not useful. Is there any intelligent life we can ever be aware of?
Here are the facts as I know them from my research
According to my estimates of the values for the variables the values I calculate are as follows:
In the Milky way galaxy
Ns (number of stars) = 1 trillion
Nrh (number of inhabitable planets) = 93 billion
Nri (number of planets with living things – less than human level) = 417,137
Nrc (number of intelligent species – human 1900AD + level) = 26,071
This is an optimistic number. A pessimistic look at the parameters would yield 0.7 (i.e. us)
The 26,000 we might find if these numbers are accurate is not many considering we live in a small fraction of the galaxy.
5 Light years from Sol (Our Sun)
We have a chance of going to some of these star systems in the next century.
Nrl = 0.01 (that there is any multi-cellular life forms)
We only have a 1/100 chance in the planets within a reasonable traveling distance may have multi-cellular life. We have extremely low probability that these few planets contain alternate intelligent life.
17 lights years from Sol (Our Sun)
Nrl = 0.65 (that there is mega-fauna life form in one of these planets but not intelligent life)
We have extremely low probability that these few planets contain alternate intelligent life.
250 Light years from Sol (Our Sun)
Nrl = 2,285 mega-fauna bearing planets
Nri = 0.11 intelligent species but less than human level
Nrc = 0.01 communicating post 1900AD level intelligent species
Unless for some reason our region of the galaxy is extremely more dense with intelligent life it is likely we will never be able to travel beyond this distance there is only 1/100 chance of finding even other life that has evolved to roughly our level. We have a slightly better chance of finding a monkey level of intelligence say maybe 1 in 10.
Will we ever speak to another intelligent species?
No, almost certainly we will not for the next 100 or more years if ever talk to another independently created intelligent life form in the universe.
I say this with virtually the same level of certainty that I say that other intelligent life exists. I will show below that even in the 250 light years that we could potentially reach and the hundreds of thousands of stars that represents there is virtually zero probability of other intelligent life in this range that will talk to us.
Our only hope on this front is that new physics uncovers a way for us to transcend what appears to be the limits of our ability to reach into space. Even then there are problems that make the likelihood of meeting another independently developed race of intelligence remote.
Does this lonely reality represent some deeper meaning?
For the time being we are alone. We have to assume we are alone. Humanity is going to have to make all the decisions about the future by itself with no help from other civilizations or examples of any type.
I am not sure if humans would be able to work cooperatively or coexist peacefully with another intelligent species in any case. As I said in the first blog in this series humankind has a history of brutal competitive nature that makes us seemingly incapable of dealing with anything that is competitive with us. We will require a truly transcendant change in our species basic operating premises to allow us to do this and maybe ultimately this is why we are alone. Possibly we are evicted from other intelligent life forms because they know we are incapable of coexisting.
What about AI?
Elon Musk and other brilliant scientists talk of a scary future of AI, specifically what is called AGI or ASI which are artificial intelligences that are equal to or greater than our own. Even these brilliant people fear that humans cannot coexist with such creatures. Their concern is that we will be destroyed by other intelligent species. However, by NOT creating such intelligence (if we are able to do that eventually) we are in a sense proving that we cannot coexist with other intelligent creatures.
Drake’s original numbers for his equation led him to conclude there were likely 20 intelligent species in the galaxy who were trying to communicate with us. This doesn’t seem unrealistic. An offhand guess by me produced a number 20,000 intelligent species and an optimistic assessment was offered that suggested 50,000,000 intelligent species. This would make intelligent life commonplace.
Goal 1 – The search for intelligent life through scanning the skies
N (Number of sentient species in the galaxy that we can communicate with):
Drakes Original Estimate: 20
Offhand Guess: 20,000
Optimistic Assessment: 50,000,000
My calculation: 26,000
However, if we limit ourselves to the region of space that is actually something we can ever explore in detail here are the modified probabilities from the new equations:
Nrc (Number of sentient species communicating) in a specific region of sky:
Nrc = 0.01 within 250 light years
Nrc = 0.00 within 17 light years
Nrc = 0.00 within 5 light years
I think the assumption has been that the number of intelligent species was large so that a search would likely turn up a result in a few more years. I am now more skeptical of the search than I was. My problem is less that there are NO intelligent species out there but that any intelligent species is probably using technology that is effectively hidden from us.
One distinct possibility that I have realized. In intelligent species quest to overcome the limitations of our bodies it is inevitable they would seek use of an electronic form of consciousness, i.e. virtual reality and articifial intelligence. In the calculations above I have assumed that intelligent species stay around for millions of years. If they exist but are less physical or use means of communication that don’t reach out we will never be able to communicate. I think this is the most likely way societies may evolve.
I would probably continue to look based on the idea that there is still such high level of uncertainty about all this. We don’t know how flexible life may be to overcome the obstacles.
Conclusion on Goal 1 : continue looking albeit cheaply now assuming the chances of actually achieving the goal is low ( 1%)
Goal 5 – Have a conversation
Given that Goal 1 us looking bad. This goal is even worse. With so few species to communicate with in the entire galaxy the chances one is closeby for us to talk to is nil. I suppose there is some remote chance that something about this region of space is conducive to life and intelligent species so that it is more likely but Nri = 0.00 even for 250 light years so this seems remote.
Conclusion on Goal 5 : No chance to have a conversation likely, not a useful goal.
Goal 2 -Find answers to the variables in Drakes equation
In order to make progress on this goal we need to find places conducive to life or places that have life. This is much more achievable. In fact, life could be prevalent in the galaxy, even if it isn’t intelligent:
Nrl (Number of multi-cellular) life forms
Nrl = 8 billion in the galaxy … WOW a lot of life unfortunately almost all of it not reachable
Nrl = 2300 within 250 light years
Nrl = 1 within 17 light years … OUCH
Nrl = 0 within 5 light years … double OUCH
This again is really depressing. Even if we do find some planets with multi-cellular life forms they are going to be like finding a pin in haystack even if we consider the hundreds of thousands of solar systems within 250 light years of Earth.
Conclusion GOAL 2 : If we don’t do this then we aren’t very curious. We may be wrong. Who knows. We ought to study this as much as we can but we aren’t going to be able to make much progress in exploring such life by travel.
Goal 3 – Find a possible alternate home
Goals 3 and 4 are similar. We are looking for places that will be habitable for humans. The lack of life on planets may mean that it is ripe for us to come in and deposit life including ourselves. Goal 3 requires we humans being able to go there which puts a distance limit.
Nrh (Number of habitable planets)
Nrh = 24,375 within 250 light years
Nrh = 7 within 17 light years
Nrh = 0.14 within 5 light years
This is encouraging for this goal. There appear to be a good number of planets that may support a civilization within traveling distance of Earth.
Conclusion Goal 3: We may by 2100 be able to contemplate sending humans to a habitable planet in an alternate star system close to Earth.
Goal 4 – Find a place to spread our seed if not our physical bodies
Given that there are potentially 24,375 planets within 250 light years of Earth that could become homes to future intelligent species we could distribute our seed to a fraction of these worlds we deem are the most likely to succeed. Given that the time period for gestation to intelligent species was millions of years on earth it is not likely human kind will be around to see our children. We might be able to send them some kind of “message in a bottle.” If future intelligent species did find the “bottle” we could give them information to accelerate their development intellectually as well as physically. We would probably want to give them a complete dump of our knowledge to date to help jumpstart them much faster.
There are ethical and other concerns with this. Would telling them all this “jeapordize” their future? Would it taint their future with our mistakes? Would they advance faster than they could handle? Maybe this is why we haven’t found such a message in a bottle. However, maybe we would wait until they were mature enough to be able to absorb the advanced information.
If some species did perform “panspermia” and purposely distribute materials to earth to jumpstart life then it is likely they did it to planets also close to us. Spreading our “seed” may jeapordize those experiments. We would need to decide if life had started on a planet whether it made sense to drop our seed on partially developed organisms.
Lots of issues to consider.
Conclusion Goal 4: We need to do a lot more research and thinking before we do anything related to Goal 4
Goal 6 – Create alternate intelligent life on earth
In retrospect this seems like by far the most likely achievable goal. According to another blog I wrote here, there is a significant probability this century that we will be able to significantly manipulate genetics to modify or create new life. We may modify ourselves to improve our intelligence greatly or we may modify other existing species to have greater intelligence. None of these things can be ruled out therefore it is likely many of these scenarios will evolve.
Other possibilities exist. We may create alternate AGI (Aritificial Generic Intelligence) and ASI (Artificial Super-Intelligence) which could be considered alternate forms of intelligence.
In this series