Thursday, July 24, 2008

Well, Here's One Answer to the Fermi Paradox

Here's something you don't see every day:

FORMER NASA astronaut and moon-walker Dr Edgar Mitchell - a veteran of the Apollo 14 mission - has stunningly claimed aliens exist.

And he says extra-terrestrials have visited Earth on several occasions - but the alien contact has been repeatedly covered up by governments for six decades.

Dr Mitchell, 77, said during a radio interview that sources at the space agency who had had contact with aliens described the beings as 'little people who look strange to us.'

He said supposedly real-life ET's were similar to the traditional image of a small frame, large eyes and head.

Chillingly, he claimed our technology is "not nearly as sophisticated" as theirs and "had they been hostile", he warned "we would be been gone by now".

Dr Mitchell, along with with Apollo 14 commander Alan Shepard, holds the record for the longest ever moon walk, at nine hours and 17 minutes following their 1971 mission.

"I happen to have been privileged enough to be in on the fact that we've been visited on this planet and the UFO phenomena is real," Dr Mitchell said.

"It's been well covered up by all our governments for the last 60 years or so, but slowly it's leaked out and some of us have been privileged to have been briefed on some of it.
For the record, I'm kinda agnostic on this. I haven't seen a shred of evidence to support UFOs being anything other than, well, unidentified. On the other hand, the ghost of that pesky Mr. Fermi is still whispering, "Where are they?" Certainly, "right here" is a perfectly reasonable, albeit unproven, answer.


MannyJ said...

Think horses not zebras.

Which is more likely, one elderly crank, or a Vast Interstellar Conspiracy? Note that the crank in question doesn't claim he himself has ever seen an alien.

As for Fermi, lotsa possibilities, including:

he miscalculated the odds. I like this one. The evolution of an intelligent, self-aware, gregarious, tool user on a planet with cheap energy sources and abundant land (can't make radio underwater) seems less likely the more we learn about it.;

They all kill themselves off (I hate this one personally, but it looks good intellectually);

You need several generations of supernovas to concentrate enough heavy elements to make a rocky planets, so all the other races evolved in the same stellar generation we did, and random distribution puts them far enough away that there hasn't been time for radio signals to get here yet;

Most intelligent races skip radio and go straight to fiber-optics;

They're hiding behind Dyson Spheres;


TheRadicalModerate said...

Well, I certainly admit the possibility--even probability--of Mitchell being a crank, although Apollo astronauts are not know for being wild and crazy guys. And, as I said, I'm not a UFO believer--just keeping a (slightly) open mind.

As for Fermi getting it wrong, there are plenty of terms in the Drake equation, but everything we learn boosts the odds of something like a Type I civilization higher and higher. The Milky Way has lots of population I stars, the number of recently discovered extrasolar planets (with many hints of rocky extrasolar planets), and everything we're learning about the hardiness of life starts to stack the probabilities in the Drake equation in favor of a fair number of civilizations.

Which is not to say that there aren't vast uncertainties, including (as you pointed out) the "average lifetime of a civilization" parameter, which, when measured using human civilizations, comes out to be less than 200 years.

As for your arguments about the distance of civilizations or their inclination to use something other than radio, you need to look into the "von Neumann probe" hypothesis. If you've got self-replicating machines that can spread from star to star using simple sub-light technology, you can cover the whole galaxy in considerably less than a couple of million years. Also, note that such a technology only requires a couple of advanced civilizations that manage to last for a couple of standard deviations longer than your basic human civilization to get the ball rolling.

So, as Mr. Fermi asked, where are they?

MannyJ said...

If you've got self-replicating machines that can spread from star to star using simple sub-light technology, you can cover the whole galaxy in considerably less than a couple of million years.

Sure, and then what? Maybe there IS a probe on Icarus, capturing all of our radio transmissions and sending them back to HQ. Presuming no ansible, it will get there in a more organized format, but no faster than the original transmissions.

(I assume you're talking about limited probes, not the version where the VNs assimilate all matter into the Collective, which is theoretically possible but does not seem to help the originating intelligence).

TheRadicalModerate said...

I think you're assuming a model where you get von Neumann probes reporting back to the home planet, which then mounts an expedition and--voila--little green men.

That's certainly one model, but there are lots of others:

1) The VN probes construct and educate LGMs on the spot whenever they find someplace promising.

2) The VN probes are in fact LGMs (there's nothing that says that a constructed artifact can't be biological).

3) The VN probes are an end in and of themselves, gathering information and reporting it to other VN probes.

It all depends on what the original designers had in mind, which is of course wildly variable, based on the environment they evolved in. The basic fact of the Fermi paradox remains, though. The fact that we haven't heard from anybody else tells us some very interesting things about the universe.