Jim Leff wrote:From last week's NY Times
by University of Rochester astobiologist Adam Frank (who recently co-authored this paper
the odds that we are not the first technological civilization are actually high. Specifically, unless the probability for evolving a civilization on a habitable-zone planet is less than one in 10 billion trillion, then we are not the first. To give some context for that figure: In previous discussions of the Drake equation, a probability for civilizations to form of one in 10 billion per planet was considered highly pessimistic. According to our finding, even if you grant that level of pessimism, a trillion civilizations still would have appeared over the course of cosmic history.
Even aside from NY Times' shameful click-bait headline, I'm trying to decide whether his argument is fallacious or banal. I believe it boils down to something like this: Given the staggering number of planets, any low-probability outcome - e.g. intelligent life - must be manifold.
And that's pretty dull-headed.
Yes, I'm unimpressed. Certainly, there might
be many technological civilizations in the Milky Way. Or there might be only a few, or there might be none apart from ourselves. But how do we find out? That sort of speculation proves nothing.
It only pretends to address the REAL question: whether intelligent life exists beyond Earth. If it exists anywhere else, then it's uninteresting to suppose it'd be manifold, given the immense sample size.
Immense sample size is right. Let's assume there are a hundred billion planets in the Milky Way that are inside their suns' habitable zones. Let's say that out of those one hundred billion planets, there are ten that host technological civilizations. How do we go about finding them?
The question is whether it's unique.
I suppose you're asking if our own technological civilization is the only technological civilization in the Milky Way. It might be, it might not.
By assuming it's not, the argument becomes circular.
Yes... our own technological civilization can't be the only technological civilization in the Milky Way, therefore it isn't the only technological civilization in the Milky Way. Circular argument, indeed.
Feeding this kind of circular argument to the general public might send more tax dollars into NASA's budget. That would be a good thing, of course. For myself, I hope for more hard science and less groundless speculation.
Dumbest of all is his coy declination to suggest that other civilizations exist right NOW. By his very same logic, if there've been trillions, it'd be vanishingly unlikely that a bunch don't exist now, too.
Or am I viewing this all wrong?
Is there even a NOW on any exoplanet that is equivalent to our own present time? If there is a technological civilization on a planet a thousand light-years away, can we really say that that civilization exists there right NOW? What do we mean by NOW? Unless there is a wormhole right next door that we can just dive down into and emerge at that other planet in literally no time, I don't see how we can talk about other planets as existing in the same time frame as ourselves and having technological civilizations at the same time as we ourselves exist. If we can't make contact with them in thousands of years, when we ourselves may have changed irrevocably (or become extinct), how can we say that they exist in our own present time?