Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Terrestrials, Extraterrestrials, Extra-extraterrestrials, ID and Evolution

Ironically, we'd probably only be able to detect the existence of extraterrestrials by ID. (Let alone any extracosmsosials.)

An interesting note:
...it is not only their radio signals we would expect to detect. The American theoretical physicist, Freeman Dyson, of the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton, has raised the interesting point that if there were indeed highly developed technological civilizations extant in the universe we should expect to find other signs of their existence. It is worth quoting some of Dyson’s arguments at length:
My argument begins with the following idea. If it is true, as many chemists and biologists believe, that there are millions of places in the universe where technology might develop, then we are not interested in guessing what an average technological society might look like. We have to think instead of what the most conspicuous out of a million technologies might look like. The technology which we have a chance to detect is by definition one which has grown to the greatest possible extent. So the first rule of my game is: think of the biggest possible artificial activities, within limits set only by the laws of physics and engineering, and look for those. I do not need to discuss questions of motivation, who would want to do these things or why. Why does the human species explode hydrogen bombs or send rockets to the moon? It is difficult to say exactly why. My rule is, there is nothing so big nor so crazy that one out of a million technological societies may not feel itself driven to do, provided it is physically possible.There are two more rules of my game which I shall state explicitly. Others may like to choose different rules, but I think mine are reason able and I shall defend them if anybody objects to them. Second rule: I assume that all engineering projects are carried out with technology which the human species of the year 1965 A.D. can understand. This assumption is totally unrealistic. I make it because I cannot sensibly discuss any technology which the human species does not yet understand. Obviously a technology which has existed for a million years will be likely to operate in ways which are quite different from our present ideas. However, I think this rule of allowing only technology which we already understand does not really weaken my argument. I am presenting an existence proof for certain technological possibilities. I describe crude and clumsy methods which would be adequate for doing various things. If there are other more elegant methods for doing the same things, my conclusions will still be generally valid. My third rule is to ignore questions of economic cost.
Dyson goes on to argue that some civilizations, either in their quest for energy or for purposes obscure to us, would inevitably create artifacts or change their planetary systems on such a colossal scale that they would be visible across hundreds of millions of light years. Given time, there is no reason why even the energy of stars might not be utilized and the structure of whole galaxies drastically changed. But the heavens are curiously empty of any artifact-like phenomena and Dyson concludes:
At the end of all these delightful speculations, we come back to the hard question, why do we not see in our galaxy any evidence of large-scale technology at work? In principle there might be two answers to this question. Either we do not see technology because none exists, or we do not see it because we have not looked hard enough. After thinking about this problem for a longtime, I have come reluctantly to the conclusion that the first answer is the more probable one. I have the feeling that if an expanding technology had ever really got loose in our galaxy, the effects of it would be glaringly obvious. Starlight instead of wastefully shining all over the galaxy would be carefully damned and regulated. Stars instead of moving at random would be grouped and organized. In fact, to search for evidence of technological activity in the galaxy might be like searching for evidence of technological activity on Manhattan Island. Nothing like a complete technological takeover has occurred in our galaxy. And yet the logic of my argument convinces me that, if there were a large number of technological societies in existence, one of them would probably have carried out such a take-over.

So in the end I am very skeptical about the existence of any extra terrestrial technology. Maybe the evolution of life is a much less probable event than the molecular biologists would have us believe.
(Evolution: A Theory In Crisis
By Michael Denton :258-260)

The argument is along the lines of Hawking's argument about time travelling, i.e. we know that we never invent it because we've never met anyone from the future. That seems a valid argument to me, knowing the nature of humanity. One explanation for a lack of time travellers could be that they invent it yet make a rule against using it to travel to the past for the sake of their own existence. That would make sense, yet even if humans tried to adhere to a rule about time travel it would be broken by someone soon enough, just like every other rule we make.

Related posts:
Martians, ID and Evolution

C.S. Lewis commenting on such matters in his day:
I look forward with horror to contact with the other inhabited planets, if there are such. We would only transport to them all of our sin and our acquisitiveness, and establish a new colonialism. I can’t bear to think of it. But if we on earth were to get right with God, of course, all would be changed. Once we find ourselves spiritually awakened, we can go to outer space and take the good things with us. That is quite a different matter.
(The Timeless Writings of C.S. Lewis: God in the Dock :482)

It seems that Lewis always did that, beginning with things of spiritual significance first and then being all reasonable about it. If you begin with a rationale for rationality, then being rational is a good thing to attempt.

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