AE 104

Down with the Fermi “Paradox”!

Messages to Aliens, the Drake Equation and the Fermi Paradox

Presented at the BIS Space History Conference, Charterhouse, 25 July 2014

The 70-metre radio telescope at Yevpatoria, Crimea

The 70-metre radio telescope at Yevpatoria, Crimea

Is it a good idea to transmit messages out into the Galaxy to nearby stars in the hope of making first contact with an alien civilisation?

Is it a bad idea to draw attention to ourselves, in case there are dangerous predators out there which have not yet discovered us?

Or is it just a distraction from more urgent concerns, because there’s nobody out there listening anyway?

Read the full post on the Astronautical Evolution website.

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4 thoughts on “AE 104

  1. Well, I think you are a little harsh with Fermi and Drake. Fermi was simply observing that interstellar travel was plausible using nuclear energy, and if you assume ETI is common by a Mediocrity Principle, we should have been visited. It should be called the Fermi Observation, since it is not really a logical paradox. And the Drake Equation itself is not meaningless…it simply says that you must have a star for ETI, then the star must have a planet like Earth, then life must begin, then that life must develop intelligence, which in turn must develop radio for a good period of time, if you are to hear signals. It is a means of discussing the factors that influence the likelihood of detecting ETI.
    But I agree that dogmatic statements of the existence of ETI at this point in time is stupid.

    • Tom, thanks. The trouble is that the Fermi “Paradox” and Drake Equation have become iconic ideas which have to be mentioned every time that ET life is discussed. We need a new way of looking at the problem!

  2. Steve: A though-provoking article. Please ensure Jill Tarter, Seth Shostak and Profs Drake and Davies read it! My four-penneth worth? The ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Romans and others (before the hypothetical marker point of the industrial revolution, and *rapid* technological advances after) were all advanced ancient civilisations in their time on Earth. Yet they would be undetectable to alien astronomers via radio or optical SETI (and I would imagine not have modified their planet’s atmosphere due to industrialisation in the same way the global warming crowd on Earth here would claim). They would also be incapable of launching space probes or ships of their own. Many of the Earth-like exo-planets being discovered now could have similarly advanced civilisations which are – to us at least, and based on our present and near-term technology – completely undetectable. Yet classical SETI enthusiasts seem always to expect a radio or optical signal from a civilisation at least at an equivalent technological level to us on Earth now. Their logic seems to be: “No signals = no civilisation”. How could we ever detect such a civilisation from here on Earth? Until we have evolved direct starflight and can send our own probes to observe Earth-like exo-worlds, we’ll never know…

  3. Malcolm, thanks. I agree that it’s only with interstellar space probes that we can really see what’s going on on other planets. But how long might a pre-industrial civilisation persist? In our own case, it evolved to an industrial one with space technologies pretty quickly, suggesting it would do so elsewhere. But Paul Davies argues the opposite in “The Eerie Silence”, p.72-76: that if medieval European culture had failed, science might never have arisen.

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