Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Lonely Cosmos

Today's musing is a bit off-topic for this blog, but I've been thinking about it, so there.

Now that we're finding rocky planets in the habitable zone of stars by the dozens, meaning there are no doubt billions of them in this galaxy, the presumption is stronger than ever that there is also extraterrestrial life. But, we still have no evidence of technological civilizations other than our own. Many people account for this by supposing that such a phenomenon is very unlikely, or that when civilizations do arise, they don't last very long.

Since we may be on the verge of doing ourselves in, the latter could be so, but on the other hand, a species that managed to steal wisdom from the Gods along with the fire of intelligence might be able to last for billions of years. Why not? But . . .

We have only been dumping radio signals into the deep for a century or so, and pretty soon we may stop. We're no longer communicating by broadcast, but by satellites, which point down, and radio cells which produce very weak signals. I Love Lucy reruns may soon cease to head toward Antares. That is likely the technological evolution of any civilization.

Furthermore, if there are two or more technological civilizations out there that have discovered each other, if they are communicating, it will be by laser, which means we wouldn't see it. Anyway, once they've caught up on any differential knowledge of science and technology, they wouldn't actually have much to talk about. Their esthetics and art would be mutually unintelligible, and they wouldn't have any particular interest in each other's current events and gossip. And no, there's no reason why they would form a galactic federation or anything like that. Under any imaginable technology, it would take centuries to travel between stars; there's no trade, and no tourism.

So yes, they might be out there but no, it's unlikely we'll ever know it.

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