Interstellar Isolation

From :

For years scientists have wrestled with a puzzling fact: The universe appears to be remarkably suited for life. Its physical properties are finely tuned to permit our existence. Stars, planets and the kind of sticky chemistry that produces fish, ferns and folks wouldn’t be possible if some of the cosmic constants were only slightly different.

Well, there’s another property of the universe that’s equally noteworthy: It’s set up in a way that keeps everyone isolated.

We learned this relatively recently. The big discovery took place in 1838, when Friedrich Bessel beat out his telescope-wielding buddies to first measure the distance to a star other than the sun. 61 Cygni, a binary star in our own back yard, turned out to be about 11 light-years away. For those who, like Billy Joel, are fond of models, think of it this way: If you shrank the sun to a ping-pong ball and set it down in New York’s Central Park, 61 Cygni would be a slightly smaller ball near Denver.

The distances between adjacent stars are measured in tens of trillions of miles. The distances between adjacent civilizations, even assuming that there are lots of them out there, are measured in thousands of trillions of miles – hundreds of light-years, to use a more tractable unit. Note that this number doesn’t change much no matter how many planets you believe are studded with sentients – the separation distance is pretty much the same whether you think there are ten thousand galactic societies or a million.

Interstellar distances are big. Had the physics of the universe been different – if the gravitational constant were smaller – maybe suns would have been sprinkled far closer together, and a trip to your starry neighbors would have been no more than a boring rocket ride, kind of like cruising to Sydney. As it is, no matter what your level of technology, traveling between the stars is a tough assignment.

This has been an old argument against ET intelligence and interstellar travel for over 150 years. While the author concedes the possibility of other civilizations in the Galaxy, he uses the old saw, “Distances between stars are just too great and energy requirements are too astronomical” to mount credible interstellar missions. And those are the reasons that, “ETs haven’t contacted us yet.”

I find his hypothesis flawed, highly anthropic and totally discounts the possibility of a Technological Singularity, or any other significant discoveries or inventions. I agree that distances between stars are great and we are only starting to grasp the immensity of the galaxy and the Universe at large. But what I cannot understand is the author thinks that humanity will always age and die the same way we have for millenia and that we’ll always use chemical rockets to launch probes and explore the cosmos (at the moment he’s right about that). And if mankind is stuck in that technological rut, so will other civilizations. Said civilizations will forever be separated from contacting each other except by radio.

And this could also be an explanation for the Fermi Paradox he posits.

I’m not even going to offer up the UFO side against this for the fact that I don’t need to. There are plenty of plausible methods of interstellar travel and communication without going that route. One only needs to visit Paul Gilster’s site, Centauri Dreams to get the low-down on credible methods of star-flight.

It just goes to show that ossified reasoning lasts a real, long time like a Tootsie-Pop. Sometimes one just has to take a “bite” out of it!

Original Article


15 responses

  1. The Fermi Paradox is a conundrum that just refuses to go away and die. I think that it in some small part plays into UFO mythology and feeds it because because of the immense size of the Universe, there has to be a “them”. People logically can’t hold to the belief that mankind is unique and alone.

    Unique yes. Alone no. And like all laws, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is made to be broken. 😎

  2. I get ridiculed all the time for my simplistic views on reality, and my willingness to consign the weightier concerns of managing the universe to superior life forms (deity) are considered “weak” and loony.

    Really, what is the difference if God is an advanced inter-dimensional being or an entity that has always existed? For all intents and purposes, we are dust mites in comparison. The universe, by both schools, went on long before we came on the scene, and managed quite well. I suspect it’s order will not be disturbed by our presence here, or by our leaving it.

    Man needs to stop worshipping himself as the centre for all, and then, perhaps, he’ll attain the most basic tenet of divinity… tolerance and forbearance.

    He needs to learn to live cooperatively with his own, before aspiring to impart any universal knowledge to the “ET’s”.

  3. I don’t think most people believe that we’re able to impart knowledge on the ETs, in fact quite the opposite. I’m sure there’s old-school types in the upper ranks of the universities and other industries who think that way, but most want to learn from ETs if there are any to be had.

    If the theory of evolution is correct, there shouldn’t be any other humans in the Universe, because each planet’s ecology is different and the laws of chance come into play.

    But if the anthropic principle is valid, just the existence of human beings has a direct influence on the Universe and our act of observation even more so.

    Does this mean there are other humans in the Universe? Most UFO people believe so. And most liberal theologies believe that too, only that these human beings are more advanced and are angels, demi-gods or perfect sinless creatures.

    The writer of this article holds the belief that there will never be any contact between any solar civilization because the distances between stars are too great and energy requirements even more so.

    I disagree with his dissertation.

  4. With billions of stars in the galaxy and planets orbiting those stars, from a purely numerically point of reference, there has to be life on some percentage of those planets.

    I find it exciting to imagine what may await our discovery one day.

    I also find it appallingly arrogant when people reject even the possibility of life beyond earth. But, they’re the usual suspects, with their noses in the Bible and Fox Noise on the television.

    What are you going to do? I just laugh. 🙂

  5. NASA has a protoype engine ready that could take people to Mars in a little more than a week, within 30 years. A laser-plasma-pulse engine. Since technology and science are advancing fast maybe we’re seeing a much better engine ready in 20 years.

    Changes are hard to grasp. My grandparents saw the most incredible worldchanging stuff in their lifetimes. I’ve had my share already, only in the past 30 years. From my first TI hand calculator -it was magic- upto the internet on my mobile. Changes have occurred but changes are going faster and faster.

  6. I would love to get this UFO stuff settled once and for all.

    But the world governments have clouded the issue so bad with lies, half-truths and other forms of disinformation, one can’t get through the haze.

    The sheer size of the Universe alone dictates that advanced cultures exist. And the chances of we lowly humans being studied is pretty good too. Take nanotechnology for instance. If human beings can make microscopic machines to do useful work, other cultures in the Universe certainly would have this technology perfected to the point where we couldn’t distinguish it from magic. Psycho-active “utility fog” would react to the inhabitants brain waves, essentially “mind reading” them to form that particular person’s fears, loves, visions and demons, aliens, demons, UFOs and gods. The being(s) under scrutiny would be none the wiser.

  7. “But, they’re the usual suspects, with their noses in the Bible and Fox Noise on the television.”

    I don’t think I want to know where your nose has been, lately, boy!

    Dad… there has to be a UFO out there, somewhere. Chris has one flagged to take him away for the ultimate sexual perversion… alien instrumental insertions of the third kind! LOL!

    Gotta beat that GW tsunami before it arrives. It had to stop off in Oslo, to pick up Al Gore’s Nobel Prize and 100 G’s for him, but it’ll be along.

    Better get those water wings inflated! I know where there’s a good supply of hot air…


  8. Stay on topic kids, no more religion/anti-religion shit, k?

  9. Sorry, Dad. It’s so much fun punching the village idiot around, I forgot myself. Now, by there not being humans, do you mean humans or humanoids?

    I’m sure that Chris, after his UFO buddies pick him up, will be glad to tell us what’s out there upon his return, unless they add him to their interstellar freak show and he’s unable to return, or he deems them unworthy of life, and has them all killed by his neo-Nazi husbands in Germany.

    Getting back to your question: I believe we are unique as humans, but as for us being the only humanoids, that could be debatable. Contact has been made, and before our resident ‘tortured soul’ makes one of his infamous and numerous appearances to mock, I’ll say that there are many ways to look at the same scenario. Of course, in the ‘mind’ of the politically-correct, if it doesn’t initiate and support an emotional orgasm of self-appeasement, it can’t be a legitimate premise.

    I’ll add that the Von Daniken experience was a crucial element in my ‘evolution’ towards Christianity. It took a non-Christian to show me the way. Whereas, with certain others, the only way that I’d be shown would be through back alleys in Stuttgart, lingering at various daycare and schoolyard fences, along the way.

    Morons think Christians can’t accept extraterrestrial life. They not only can, but must. It’s biblical, unlike certain lifestyles.


  10. Sorry, Dad… that one slipped by.

    I’ll be nice.


  11. Of humans, there could be none, except here on Earth.

    The humanoid form, well that’s another matter and open to debate. People purporting to witness humanoid aliens in military underground bunkers and Hoagland’s humanoid “Face On Mars” are the biggest perveyors of the mythos, i.e., Tall Nordic humanoids, tall greys, short greys and even the repliloids are humanoid with arms, legs, a torso, neck and head.

    This all flies in the face of logic and the rules of biological evolution if it’s valid.

    A mystery within a conundrum wrapped in an enigma.

    And not enema either wise-guy! 😎

  12. Speaking of enigma, there is good reason to believe that there is no Fermi paradox, because the Goldilocks Enigma makes a specific prediction that life elsewhere in the habitable zone will be at approximately the same level of technological development as we are.

  13. Hi dad2059…

    I thought I’d supply the Wiki link to the Drake equation and also the Fermi Paradox which contests the conclusions of the Drake equation. I think that Nsube, of the Drake equation of 2 is too high; ie., the number of planets that will develop life within a given planetary system of two planets as being too high. So far we have not yet discovered life in our solar system beyond that found on earth.

    I realize there’s hope beyond all hope that we’ll find life on Mars, even if it’s fossilized or possibly the moons of Jupiter, Saturn etc., which to me is even more remote unless the heat source for this life is supplied by vulcanism, since their distance from the sun is far too remote to support life via sunlight. The discovery of fossilized lifeforms on Mars will validate the Drake equation, but until that is done, to me it’s imply “unity”; ie., Earth for our system and Drake’s equation. These discovered lifeforms could possibly be similar to life found near deep ocean vents with creatures living in total darkness, devoid of sunlight but are quite prolific and supported by the heat of subduction activities.

    Drake’s equation proposes 10 civilizations in our galaxy are in a communicative state, but the equation does not figure in the possibility of any civilization developing interstellar drive systems to allow them to travel between the stars which is a great leap from simply developing radio, TV, or whatever equivalent communications mediums an alien civilization might devise. We haven’t even colonized the moon with our chemical based rockets as yet. Colonization in airless, hostile environments is costly and questionable when there’s so many grave issues to address on earth. Lowering Nsube to 1; ie., planets having life within a given system lowers the civilization count to 5 for the Drake solution which is possibly still too high.

    Unlike most folks, I’m not too thrilled with the idea of having contact with an alien civilization along with the complexities associated with such contact. At this point in our specie specific history we aren’t doing all that well. If we analogized the major nations on earth as distant star systems with their inhabitants, we find that our interstellar relations totally lacking for the most part, so if we extend this thought experiment to meeting travelers from distant star systems, it would do nothing to benefit earth people, unless these beings planned on sharing technology, giving us a great leap forward. I don’t see that happening though and a highly intelligent species capable of developing interstellar travel would not necessarily be creatures with simply good will in their heart/s or whatever biological scheme drives them. Just as earthmen are plagued by criminal thoughts so too could be this advanced civilization. They just might decide to break our their can of “RAID” and exterminate us as if we were nothing but cockroaches, ants, or whatever lifeforms are considered nuisances to earthmen. Too much romantic b.s. has been cranked out by film studios over the years, and the reality of such contact could become our worst, possibly terminal nightmare. Our most advanced weaponry would be nothing to such advanced civilizations that had solved the complexities of interstellar travel without the use of primitive chemical propulsion systems etc. Their propulsion techniques would be only the tip of the iceberg in their bag of technolgoical tricks so-to-speak. So contact enthusiasts “BEWARE”…!

    Carl Nemo **==

  14. What can I say, Dad?

    Bitchslapping Highway Sham is like kicking a drunk after he’s passed out on the street.

    Marginally fun but I don’t want to dirty my shoes. They really know how to mint idiots up there in Canadaland. All the cold weather must damage the sperm before it reaches the egg.

  15. island: The Goldilocks Enigma could be valid and on the surface it makes sense. My problem with it is that astronomers are discovering that Earth-type planets in the “habitable zone” could’ve formed a billion or more years before ours; “I sometimes ponder, as we look at systems in their infancy, whether some ancient civilization once looked on as our own Solar System formed. Some theorists, Charles Lineweaver prominent among them, have looked at how far back Earth-like planets might have formed, indicating the possibility of planets like ours fully nine billion years old, with peak planet formation about 1.8 billion years before our Sun came on the scene. So the possibility is there that we were once under infrared study from a distant world before Sol’s planets had even formed.” (Source: So our area could’ve been under scrutiny long ago.

    Carl: I agree with your take on the can of “Raid” Carl. Many prominent people voiced their opinion on this too, sci-fi author David Brin for one. He is against beaming an intentional radio signal to wherever proclaiming our position in space. His worry is that a possible predatory civilization (much like ours would be if we survived a million years) would intercept the signal and follow it home. That’s where your can of Raid would come in. I’m not so sure you or him are wrong about that.

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