25 July 2018

Video of the day -- where is the filter?

(You can skip the last minute of the video -- it's basically an ad.)

It seems obvious that the scenarios in which the "great filter" is ahead of us are implausible, because they require some problem that destroys every technological civilization that encounters it (even a few exceptions would imply at least one or two civilizations millions of years old, which we could detect no matter how far away in the galaxy they were).  Ecological disaster, nuclear war or use of some other superweapon, AI that gets out of control and destroys its creators -- any of those things might well destroy some civilizations, but not every single one.  Intelligent species would likely be quite diverse, and it's not plausible that none of them figures out a way to avoid annihilation by such threats.

The scenarios in which the filter is behind us, on the other hand, are very plausible.  The origin of life required a self-replicating molecule to spontaneously be formed from ordinary chemicals.  That does seem like a very low-probability event -- perhaps so low-probability that it would happen only once among trillions of planets.  Once life exists, the transitions to eukaryotic cells and then to multi-cellular organisms also seem anything but inevitable.  It's not even obvious that natural selection everywhere would favor the rise of high intelligence -- its survival value before it reaches the human level doesn't seem to be very great.  Highly intelligent non-human animals such as the great apes have not been spectacularly more successful than less-intelligent mammals, to say the least.

A recent re-assessment of the Drake equation bolsters this view.  It has also been argued that most of the universe is much more hostile to life than we usually imagine it to be.   And as I've previously suggested, the first technological civilization to appear will probably be the only one, because its spread will pre-empt the appearance of others.  If we weren't the first (and only), we wouldn't even be here.


Blogger Ami said...

My husband and I talk about things like this often. I've always been fascinated by the idea that we may not be alone. Sent him the link to the video, too.

I grew up reading science fiction and talking with my dad and his twin about space and stars and interstellar travel.

Devoured Erich von Daniken's book when I was about 12. My first boyfriend and I discussed science, science fiction and 'what's out there'?? while listening to Elton John.

God I'm old.

25 July, 2018 17:54  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ami: That being the case, you may find my conclusions here disappointing. Here's another post you may like better, from the "what if aliens do exist" viewpoint.

I assume you're aware now that von Däniken was a con man? James Randi's chapter on him in Flim-Flam is quite entertaining.

26 July, 2018 06:33  
Blogger Ami said...

Sadly, yes. I was so disappointed. That and Uri Geller, I was really hoping that was real... but I was a kid.
But wow, it was fun imagining.
I don't find any conclusions disappointing except for the type that says we should stop imagining and considering what might be out there. :)

26 July, 2018 17:57  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Frankly I would find it disappointingly dull if aliens had every visited Earth and only done the trivial stuff Von Däniken claims. The reality of science is really much more fascinating than these unimaginative fantasies.

28 July, 2018 17:35  

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