drake_equation (3)

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The Drake Equation from the SETI institute.


Topics: African Americans, Drake Equation, Existentialism, Extinction, Nanotechnology, Philosophy


N = The number of civilizations in the Milky Way Galaxy whose electromagnetic emissions are detectable.
R* = The rate of formation of stars suitable for the development of intelligent life.
fp = The fraction of those stars with planetary systems.
ne = The number of planets, per solar system, with an environment suitable for life.
fl = The fraction of suitable planets on which life actually appears.
fi = The fraction of life bearing planets on which intelligent life emerges.
fc = The fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space.
L = The length of time such civilizations release detectable signals into space.


Note: This milestone will be one month old Sunday. We shaved 20 seconds.

Closer than ever:
It is 100 seconds to midnight
2020 Doomsday Clock Statement

Science and Security Board
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Editor, John Mecklin

Editor’s note: Founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who had helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock two years later, using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet. The decision to move (or to leave in place) the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made every year by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 13 Nobel laureates. The Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and disruptive technologies in other domains.


To: Leaders and citizens of the world
Re: Closer than ever: It is 100 seconds to midnight
Date: January 23, 2020

Humanity continues to face two simultaneous existential dangers—nuclear war and climate change—that are compounded by a threat multiplier, cyber-enabled information warfare, that undercuts society’s ability to respond. The international security situation is dire, not just because these threats exist, but because world leaders have allowed the international political infrastructure for managing them to erode.

In the nuclear realm, national leaders have ended or undermined several major arms control treaties and negotiations during the last year, creating an environment conducive to a renewed nuclear arms race, to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and to lowered barriers to nuclear war. Political conflicts regarding nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea remain unresolved and are, if anything, worsening. US-Russia cooperation on arms control and disarmament is all but nonexistent.

Public awareness of the climate crisis grew over the course of 2019, largely because of mass protests by young people around the world. Just the same, governmental action on climate change still falls far short of meeting the challenge at hand. At UN climate meetings last year, national delegates made fine speeches but put forward few concrete plans to further limit the carbon dioxide emissions that are disrupting Earth’s climate. This limited political response came during a year when the effects of man-made climate change were manifested by one of the warmest years on record, extensive wildfires, and quicker-than-expected melting of glacial ice.

Continued corruption of the information ecosphere on which democracy and public decision making depend has heightened the nuclear and climate threats. In the last year, many governments used cyber-enabled disinformation campaigns to sow distrust in institutions and among nations, undermining domestic and international efforts to foster peace and protect the planet.

This situation—two major threats to human civilization, amplified by sophisticated, technology-propelled propaganda—would be serious enough if leaders around the world were focused on managing the danger and reducing the risk of catastrophe. Instead, over the last two years, we have seen influential leaders denigrate and discard the most effective methods for addressing complex threats—international agreements with strong verification regimes—in favor of their own narrow interests and domestic political gain. By undermining cooperative, science- and law-based approaches to managing the most urgent threats to humanity, these leaders have helped to create a situation that will, if unaddressed, lead to catastrophe, sooner rather than later.



The full PDF version of the above is here. Facebook has finally released limited data for social scientists to research the effect of their platform on democracy, just as our senate blocks bills meant for protecting the voting franchise. State legislatures in Florida and Georgia make it difficult for ex-felons or people of color to vote - who needs Russians when shortsighted republicans will do? The confluence of avarice and racist hegemony may well spell the epitaph of our republic, species, and life on this planet. The 2020 elections may slow the Doomsday Clock, or speed us seconds closer.

In the Drake Equation, that even Dr. Frank Drake hedges bets against, the L: the length of time such civilizations release detectable signals into space, along with the fraction of planets where intelligent life emerges (I'm dubious about ours) are the most important variables in the equation, from a philosophical point of view.

It means to me: no more Ginai Seabron graduates, no nanoscience, nanoengineering or nanotechnology. No fretting about how to make the discipline inclusive, as surviving cavemen and women have other more pressing concerns. There cannot be advancement on such an aggressive act of mutually-assured destruction (M.A.D.). There are no "winners" or losers following such a destructive path, only un-buried corpses.

It means to me: if we survive our own avarice and hubris, my granddaughter can have a future not decided by "the color of her skin, but by the content of her character," and she could literally reach for the stars. Or, we could all be baited to Armageddon by a tweet. You can apparently get reduced sentences for your friends, despite DOJ guidelines. A Banana Republic in 140 characters. "Stop and frisk"; non-disclosure agreements for sexual harassment from the so-called benign (actual) billionaire candidate doesn't give me much hope. For my granddaughter's future, I'd like to have some.

We would theoretically and literally, then all be equalized to ashes. The universe would be indifferent to which pile of ash was a billionaire or pauper, so-called white, black or other; or a grandfather making his granddaughter laugh with a silly song about "little feet." Our self-induced inequality problems would be solved - for eternity.

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence would be over on our end, as earthbound intelligence, post-Apocalypse would then have been found...bereft.
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Aleph Null or Not...

No, it's not real. Credit: Getty Images


Topics: Astronomy, Drake Equation, Existentialism, SETI

For many people, "UFO" is synonymous with aliens, but it's worth reminding ourselves that it literally stands for "unidentified flying object." An unidentified object could be just about anything, because … well, it's unidentified. One of our mottoes in science is that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." This doesn't mean that crazy-sounding things are never true; it means that we should practice due diligence when thinking about overturning well-understood or well-tested ideas. This motto also suggests we keep an eye on Occam's razor—the idea that the simplest explanation is the most likely to be true.

As enthusiastic as I had been regarding alien visitations (there was a cottage industry in the 1970s that still thrives in Internet circles), one has to ask the question: what would aliens want with Earth? Between here and there whatever their governments are in need of, they can either engineer it or find other options way before engaging warp speed.

Colonization: If history serves as guide, the First Nation/Native Americans encountered colonists that barely survived their first winter. They were repaid like the natives who met Columbus with slaughter.

Africans did trade captured rival tribesmen and women in the budding international slave trade that "made America great." They conferred with Europeans typically with superior weaponry for trade of valuables to compensate their treachery.

Any aliens that can travel parsecs from their home world to Earth doesn't have anything benevolent in mind once arriving, E.T. or Star Trek not withstanding.

Ignoring us: When is the last time you had a conversation with a moth? On the evolutionary scale, you have way more sophistication than something flitting from tree to flower. Aliens if existing and surviving millions of years older than us probably if anything might have the same relationship to us as we have to Lepidoptera.

The sobering possibility: climate change, conventional conflicts, mass shootings pollution and nuclear conflagration - humans are far smarter than the lowly moth, but moths nor butterflies are destroying their own habitat.

We may not see aliens because they may have caused their own extinction before they built starships.


No E.T. Life Yet? That might be a warning, Kelsey Johnson, Scientific American

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The Great Filter...

Image Source: Gizmodo and originally, Wait, But Why


Topics: Astrobiology, Carl Sagan, Climate Change, Drake Equation, Existentialism, Fermi Paradox, Nuclear Power

“The universe is a pretty big place. If it's just us, seems like an awful waste of space.” Carl Sagan

My First Contact scenario doesn't involve Vulcans, warp drive or impossible scenarios: it involves radio transmissions, as communication is a big part of the Drake Equation. Specifically audio, video and digital data (Internet?) of extraterrestrial origin as we would confirm before announcing to the world. Assuming the aliens developed their technology in an oxygen-nitrogen environment, the language we could hear might amount to a lot of "clicking" noises, that mathematicians - specifically specialists in cryptography, and linguists - would dive into deciphering. Eventually after coming up with a Rosetta Stone of syntax, we could translate what would amount to news, drama and sitcoms. Of specific interest might be their political climate and sectarian strife (if any). More particularly, did they successfully translate through their "Great Filter"...

...or, if they did not.


I'm a big fan of Jordon Peele's incarnation of The Twilight Zone, particularly the sixth episode: "Six Degrees of Freedom." It is unfortunate that popular show title describes our current political climate.

I won't give away the intriguing ending, but Peele has mastered the macabre plot twist of Rod Serling's writing style, and (my opinion) his surreal monologue delivery. It's streaming, so you may have to pay less than you would for a single movie ticket per month to view it. I've enjoyed it andother shows so far, and I get no monetary gain for the endorsement.

"The Great Filter, in the context of the Fermi paradox, is whatever prevents dead matter from undergoing abiogenesis, in time, to expanding lasting life as measured by the Kardashev scale.[1][2] The concept originates in Robin Hanson's argument that the failure to find any extraterrestrial civilizations in the observable universe implies the possibility something is wrong with one or more of the arguments from various scientific disciplines that the appearance of advanced intelligent life is probable; this observation is conceptualized in terms of a "Great Filter" which acts to reduce the great number of sites where intelligent life might arise to the tiny number of intelligent species with advanced civilizations actually observed (currently just one: human).[3] This probability threshold, which could lie behind us (in our past) or in front of us (in our future), might work as a barrier to the evolution of intelligent life, or as a high probability of self-destruction.[1][4] The main counter-intuitive conclusion of this observation is that the easier it was for life to evolve to our stage, the bleaker our future chances probably are.

The idea was first proposed in an online essay titled "The Great Filter - Are We Almost Past It?", written by economist Robin Hanson. The first version was written in August 1996 and the article was last updated on September 15, 1998. Since that time, Hanson's formulation has received recognition in several published sources discussing the Fermi paradox and its implications.

Using extinct civilizations such as Easter Island as models, a study conducted in 2018 posited that climate change induced by "energy intensive" civilizations may prevent sustainability within such civilizations, thus explaining the lack of evidence for intelligent extraterrestrial life.[5]" Source: Wikipedia/The Great Filter

The Great Filter is alluded to in science fiction with or without warp drive: Star Trek described global wars on Earth and the fictional Vulcan that involved their respective nuclear holocausts. For the Vulcans, recovery involved a relentless embrace of logic, or as I recall reading in a Trek novel, "reality-truth." For Earth, it essentially involved accepting help from the Vulcans after the human species was discovered warp capable through a singular genius with a funny name post self-induced Apocalypse, a Deus ex Machina plot device used since publicly performed Greek and Roman plays. We don't have warp drive, but we do have thermonuclear devices poised for Armageddon. We don't have Vulcans, but we once did have the Easter Islanders, just as once we had the Dodo.

I've often encapsulated The Great Filter in my own dictum: "intelligence is its own Entropy." I think when Carl Sagan was alive, the regressive forces we see now denying science, climate change; verifiable facts and reality were well engaged in his day of the original COSMOS. Slowly, shows like COSMOS lost their appeal to Game Shows cum Reality Shows, and as a country we reveled in our distractions, added as channels on cable and Internet multiplied like E. coli. and measles resurgence as well as our grasp of what is real and verifiable. In fact, we seek distractions in gadgets and online machinations in the constant need to fill "horror vacui."

In the east, nothing meant something, particularly in clarity of thought: Mu Shin No Shin - "the mind without mind" or more colloquially, "no mind." As translated from the martial battlefield to artists both martial and objective; and Zen philosophers, it offers a certain clarity that can be attained when not focused on minutiae detail, but accepted reality "as-is" after diligent practice. A practice like karate forms that takes years of repetition, dedication and study. That is the key to mastering anything, from martial arts to science to civics.

The stars are silent. Intelligence may be rare. Vulcans if existing may not be benevolent, and in the myopic attention span of the erect species of which I am member - "wise men"...fleeting in longevity.

We hope we're past The Great Filter. I'm not sure we are.


Related links:

The Great Filter Might Be What's Preventing Aliens from Reaching Us,
Joanie Faletto, Curiosity

The Reason We've Never Found Intelligent Life Might be Because We Are Already Going Extinct,
Climate change might be humanity’s "Great Filter." Karla Lant, Futurism

The Great Filter, a possible explanation for the Fermi Paradox – interview with Robin Hanson
Science, Technology, Future

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