Re: Skeptics and extropians

From: Robert J. Bradbury (
Date: Mon Jan 21 2002 - 00:18:40 MST

On Sun, 20 Jan 2002, J. R. Molloy wrote:

> The probability that it exists millions and millions of light years
> from Earth has been established mathematically.

Huh? Facts not in evidence.

If you are talking about "Probability One", I've read it and
while I would agree that it makes a strong argument, for the
argument to be completely valid, one has to believe the universe
has an infinite number of planets and I doubt most scientists
would accept that.

In fact arguments like "Rare Earth" and the recent article by
Dar & DeRujala re: Gamma-Ray Bursts point out how difficult
long term survival in the universe may really be. If those
were taken into account in books like "Probability One", its
arguments would be *much* weaker.

> But it's contact that counts as disruptive, it's contact that Shermer
> mentions, and it's contact that would shock science more than it would shock
> religionism, because contact with ETI would disrupt the rigorous reason that
> the laws of physical science are based upon.

I'm sorry J.R. but that is utter ca-ca. Very serious scientists,
both biologists, astrobiologists, chemists, physicists, etc. now know
that the molecular basis for "life" is abundant in the gas and
dust clouds of our galaxy. The material in these clouds condenses
into stars and planets. It would not be "disruptive" to "rigorous reason"
or the "laws of physical science" to discover that "life" similar to that
on the Earth had evolved from the conditions currently known to exist.
"Contact with ETI" is a natural result of the evolution (and survival(!))
of life and intelligence and would hardly be "disruptive" for science.
It would be more disruptive for those religions that believe the
myth that the entire point of "creation" is "humanity" as its
central focus.

> In a nutshell: If ETI is smart enough to be able to visit Earth,
> then it's smart enough to initiate a technological phase transition,
> which would in turn render it an extra-terrestrial super-intelligence (ETSI),
> thus explaining the absence of any (human-detectable) contact with it.

I'll agree with this. ETSIs are undetectable using our current technologies.
They may be on the Earth, on the moon, in the solar system or far far
away. In all cases we have not sufficiently searched the physical space
with sufficiently robust technologies to reduce the probability of their
existence in those spaces to zero.

> Religionists could simply equate ETI to "angels" or "spirits."

Why? I doubt anyone of the "religionist" perspective, upon meeting
and having a serious conversation with a "Vulcan" or a "Klingon"
would believe them to be either "angels" or "spirits". Instead
a substantial readjustment of an Earth-/antropo-/centric perspective
of "God's interests" or "the purpose of creation" would most likely

> Scientists, whose rationalism has no recourse to such inanities,
> would be at a loss to explain ETI contact (which ain't gonna
> happen, so don't worry about it).

More ca-ca. As a very serious individual, I discount the
probability of "contact" because there is no point to it.
The "Star Trek" paradigm is a nice story if faster-than-light
travel is possible. It doesn't currently appear to be, so it
should be heavily discounted. I do however believe that "detection"
may be feasible. As our technological abilities increase (approaching
the limits allowed by physical laws) we develop greater and greater
abilities to state with certainty that we know life does
exist "here" and does not exist "there". Witness "A hydrogen-based
subsurface microbial community dominated by methanogens",
Nature 415:312-315 (2002) some 200 m underground. This is
*not* someplace that scientists would have expected to find
"life" 20-30 years ago. But as science becomes more aware
of the power of evolution it expands its perspectives of
where life may survive and intelligence may develop.
I doubt you would find many serious scientists who would
argue that it is "impossible" for *intelligence* to evolve
within a microbial community. We just don't know enough
about intelligence to claim that.

So science would not be surprised or wounded by "contact"
with ETI. Some religions on the other hand might need
a serious adjustment of perspective.


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