Human civilization likely alone

Originally published at:


I am not a whatever, but I find their argument depressingly convincing.


I think that is is important to recognize that we would have picked up and identified signals from a civilization like ours only in the local part of the galaxy. Really only the closest few 1,000 stars.


Another possibility is that intelligence doesn’t last very long, but it is enough that one civilization survives for it to become visible.


Attempts at explaining it by having all intelligences acting in the same way (staying quiet, avoiding contact with us, transcending) fail since they require every individual belonging to every society in every civilization to behave in the same way

Also nonsense.

If these statements are representative of the arguments presented in the study, it can be safely ignored.


I think this is a weak argument. You can construct a model that assumes one large-scale behavior for a civilization, which emerges from a large number of different small-scale behaviors, many of which will cancel each other out.


The headlines make a stronger claim than the story seems to:

We found that even using the guesstimates in the literature (we took them and randomly combined the parameter estimates) one can have a situation where the mean number of civilizations in the galaxy might be fairly high – say a hundred – and yet the probability that we are alone in the galaxy is 30%! The reason is that there is a very skew [sic] distribution of likelihood.

I think a summary like “the possibility that we’re alone isn’t as remote as once thought” would sum up the idea better for me, personally.


Given the abundance of exoplanets, it seems that being alone is less likely than ever. That said, what worries me is that a lot of these potentially habitable planets are big and while there’s no reason to think that intelligence couldn’t develop with a surface gravity of 2 or 3 gees, the limits it imposes on aviation and the rocket equation means that those guys are going to be stuck in that gravity well. And if they don’t much think about climbing up and out, they may be less likely to want to communicate with the rest of the universe.


Frank Drake was a great astrophysicist, but I’m nearly as sick of hearing about his infamous eponymous equation as I am of people recycling old arguments about Enrico Fermi’s “paradox” (the guy asked a question, that’s all) as if they’re breaking news. These poor titans of science furthered our knowledge of the universe in profound concrete ways and instead they’ll be remembered for this broken record. Speculation is not science! /endrant


Drake didn’t write the Drake Equation to say that one could intuit the number of intelligence species in the universe, he did it so people could begin asking the right questions about things like habitable zones and the number of planets and that sort of thing. It merely laid out what were the right questions to ask if you wanted to begin converging on an answer.

Carl Sagan is the one that popularized the Drake Equation as though it were the Galactic-Census Ouija Board. Oh, look boys and girls, there might be 100,000 advanced civilizations or, because I’m sure nuclear destruction is just 'round the corner, it might be 10.


I think another possibility is that the conditions for life have gotten better over time but that means we’re likely the early ones to the party which sucks since it means we gotta plan the whole thing out ourselves. It might seem egotistical to think we’re among the first but remember that gamma ray bursts and their originate supernovas only slowed down in our galaxy around 4-5 billion years ago (ionizing radiation makes life of any kind based on carbon or silicon hard). So it makes the most sense to me. It doesn’t mean there isn’t an older species or civilization far off in some other galaxy or even in the neighboring dwarf galaxies but that our part of the galaxy is definitely pretty unoccupied save for simple organisms and possibly less advanced civilizations (think medieval alien civs).


Thank you science for confirming my loneliness


If this is based on rf detection, ask this question: How much longer do you think we will be wasting energy spewing radio noise? We’ve already moved much of our communication to fiber, and even much satellite comms are tight beams not 360 degree broadcast. If we had Mars colonies, or interstellar ones, we’d talk to them by laser not rf.

When I contemplate what we know of evolution on the very early earth, the number of mass extinctions, and the insane complexity of the human body evolving from unicellular organisms, I conclude life is tenacious and persistent, given any chance and enough time it will prevail.


My thoughts exactly. Note the caveat “in observable space.” Considering the nearly incomprehensible vastness of the universe there are likely many civilizations at least as advanced as ours, but they are so far away that whether they exist or not has no bearing on us.


Human civilization likely alone

Roger That!


Life… uh… finds a way


You might like to read some of Charles Stross’ work - the Laundry series. His contention - repeated in each book - is that the critical mass of intelligence (on Earth) will ultimately attract beings that will eat us. Okay, so silly. But, look at our Civilisation. Look at how old the human race is. If you look closely you will see that “civilisation” has reset a fair number of times - most recently in 1187 BC. And look around at our “civilisation”. Enormous wealth disparity, widespread weapons of mass destruction, and accelerating climate change. I think we may be due to “reset” fairly soon.


The radio bubble we are sending out is only about 100 light years in radius, and regular broadcasting is less than that. That volume only encompasses a few stars, so the likelihood that any of those have intelligent life capable of sending a reply is very small. We also assume other intelligent life would use methods similar to ours to communicate. Any replies could take up to another 100 years to get to us. It is unfortunate that we have not detected intelligent signals (not to say they are not there in some form,) but there are many assumptions made in this article in which only small changes would produce a profound difference in the probability of intelligence being found somewhere in the universe. The Drake equation is only a model, whose results depend entirely on coefficients we can only guess at currently. It doesn’t prove anything, so it can’t be used to make the kind of statements that this article seems to be implying.


Or something is destroying civilizations as fast as they are created and any remainder know this and are hiding.

Does the drake equation include plate tectonics and having a moon in a suitable position? Both very important for complex life to have emerged and survived for so long on this planet.


Great video! What a discovery!

Full text of Terry Bisson’s delightful short story Meat: