TED Conversations

Mike Colera

TEDCRED 30+

This conversation is closed.

What would surprise you more.. We are alone in the universe or there are thousands of sentient beings out there.

Carl Sagan championed the idea that there were thousands of worlds out there with intelligent beings. Others have said that its only us... on this nondescript planet in a nondescript solar system in a mediocre galaxy. I would feel more comfortable to know we are not alone.

Share:
  • thumb
    Jul 29 2013: Carl Sagan also observed that we humans have only been able to effectively communicate with other beings for a few hundred years which compared to the life of our planet 3.5 billion years is no time at all. If the same holds true for the aliens the biggest problem is not the distance between us but rather do our time frames match up. For example if the aliens were available (existed) 70 million years ago they would have only reached dinosaurs on earth.
  • Jul 26 2013: I would be shocked if we are alone. We have found bacteria that can live on methane gas at tremendous pressure and high degrees of heat or well below freezing. Life though fragile is far more resilient than we think and can adapt to different environments.
  • thumb
    Jul 26 2013: not an answer, but let me outline a scifi novel/short story idea i've got, with something to learn from. it would be a parallel story, with two POVs.

    POV 1 is us, mankind. in the close future, a scientific experiment is going in, either gravity waves or very low freq EM. we build a giant detector system composed of satellites orbiting the sun. we disturb the waves, and listen to the result, very much like HAARP, but solar system size. and we get reply. reply that looks intelligent, and comes from our immediate vicinity, maybe right in the solar system. we don't understand the message at all, and can't locate the exact source.

    POV2 is the alien being. the being floats in space, surrounding the sun, grazing its surface, harvesting it for energy and materials. there are many such beings, almost every star has one. they can "communicate" with gravity waves / EM. but it is a one sided communication, because it takes years or centuries for the message to arrive. so they kinda "broadcast" their thoughts and discoveries, and also "listen" to other broadcast thoughts, and incorporate knowledge. their intelligence is growing and spreading through the galaxy. our "hero" starts to receive some undecipherable message from the sun it resides around, not from another star. it fails to understand the meaning. it has no concept of a discussion but gradually realizes that it can provoke an immediate answer, and it is exciting.

    finally they manage to exchange some vague concepts about each other, but they fail to find each other. it sounds impossible for such a being to survive that close to the sun, while the being does not see anything around the sun that would resemble what we describe as us.

    at the end, it turns out that by "sun", the being means the heliosphere, and the heliopause is the surface. it resides around the solar system in a 100 au thick layer of interstellar plasma.
  • thumb
    Jul 26 2013: I think life exists pretty much everywhere life can exist. Intelligent life is another matter entirely. The more I read about the origins of man, the more I'm amazed at the string of unlikely flukes from which we arose.

    Given the extreme unlikelihood, I would say that intelligent life occurs only on three to four planets at a time in any one galaxy, but I can't reasonable say only one.
  • thumb
    Aug 1 2013: Of course we don't really know the probabilities of life, sentience, and intelligence emerging under any given conditions (we only have one example), so it's silly to have a definite opinion. But it seems very unlikely that a life form of some kind has only developed once among billions of likely locations. Where life has developed, complex forms seem a natural consequence given enough time. Whether this often results in "intelligence" at the modest level of humans is uncertain, but I'll guess that it's very likely, again given enough time.

    It's important to keep in mind, as we search for other intelligent life, that any signals we might pick up from deep space would have been sent thousands to millions of years ago, and therefore the senders are now necessarily at a much more technologically advanced level than us. They may also be at a more advanced evolutionary level, and would probably treat us as we treat cattle, if there should ever be closer contact. There's cause for caution.
    • thumb
      Aug 1 2013: Paul,
      Point well taken. I have a different point of view. My reading of cosmology seemed to suggest that the universe followed an evolutionary pattern, In that when our solar system was forming, solar systems were forming all over the place.
      Seriously, I think mankind is thousand years away to find a time space warp mechanism or worm holes to get around the distances. We could find beings that are a little farther along the evolutionary scale then we are, but I don't believe that there are sentient beings that have evolved to the nearly pure energy state.
      I see as humanity evolves that in a few hundred years we will be past all this "do unto other before they do it unto you" attitude that is so prevalent today..
      • thumb
        Aug 1 2013: "in a few hundred years we will be past all this "do unto other before they do it unto you" attitude that is so prevalent today.."

        I'm not quite as optimistic, but I'll go with that. It would be nice.
  • Jul 30 2013: I would be surprised if humans were actually considered intelligent by other forms of similar life
    in the universe.
    It does seem that this universe has a large degree of intelligence somewhere in the make-up
    and the making of it and the way that it works, even that it does!
    If it were only carbon, hydrogen, other gases, chemistry, mathematics and
    particles obeying laws created solely by random chance, over time, it would have all been figured
    out by now. Since we use our best minds and now we use powerful computers that are networked,
    we still are not intelligent enough to figure out something more intelligent than ourselves.
    The biggest questions since our kind have been here, have never been answered and most likely never will be.

    If there was any kind of mind or intelligence involved with this universe, then I think it would have been
    a scientific mind and was destroyed in the Big Bang. As it all expanded, the essence of this scientific mind was stretched and fused into everything. So it remains hidden and inaccessible to our feeble brains.
    Arthur Clarke said, "Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the universe or we are not.
    Both are equally terrifying."
  • thumb
    Jul 29 2013: Bernie,
    Hawkins is really a great read. Just looking around at mankind.... I can see that other civilizations bit the dust. When looking at it all, from my fence sitting position, I can see that maybe there is a God and he is trying to keep us from doing the lemming thing... If not. maybe we should just sit on the floor bend forward and kiss our butts goodbye, like they schooled us in the early 50s....
  • thumb
    Jul 29 2013: I would really be surprised if we were the only intelligent being in the cosmos.
  • thumb
    Jul 29 2013: Dude, easy answer. I would be surprised, not more surprised, if we are alone in the universe. I say not MORE surprised, because it wouldn't surprise me that that are thousands of worlds out there with intelligent beings. I happen to know this for a fact. I am, myself, a victim of alien abduction. The Tralfamadorians keep me in a zoo when I'm with them, but when I'm not I'm back here, only I'm all over the place, time-wise. I keep jumping back and forth to different periods in my life. Anyways, there's seating in that zoo for at least a thousand Tralfamadorians so there's your answer right there.
  • thumb
    Jul 29 2013: Great Question Mike. Honestly? Both would surprise me equally. For I do not expect to find out the answer during my lifetime. After-all If you go with Steven Hawking, then it is possible lots of Dead Races exist. In other words all alien civilizations destroy themselves before they can really do anything.
  • thumb
    Jul 29 2013: Some have said that the evolution of the stars and planets seem to follow similar timelines. If that is true, then I would expect that other sentient beings in the universe would be evolved to a comparable level as we have.
    • thumb
      Jul 29 2013: Yeah, and the time it would take to cross such distances with whatever the best technology that has been invented by any of them so far, still hasn't been enough to get them in contact with us. I think there are thousands of worlds with sentient life. What really makes me wonder is if any of them happened to be in the same solar system? Were any of them maybe close enough to answer the question that we are not alone sooner than us? And if so how did it work out? Imagine if they saw a planet with intelligent life, but were unable to communicate with them, because the other planet wasn't evolved enough yet. And the first planet didn't have the technology to send a representative or representatives.
    • Jul 29 2013: For an alien civilization to have evolved along the same lines we have would require a tremendous coincidence. Too many variables can screw things up.

      Anything from the age of the planet, to the stability of its sun, to the basic chemical makeup for life (who says they have to use our DNA system? Or even base around carbon), to the most promising candidate for an intelligent species going extinct (humanity almost went extinct 70,000 years ago for example).
      And that's only on a larger scale.

      However, due to the earth being a young planet, smart money is on any alien life being more advanced than we are.
      Combined with evolution's favoring of ruthlessness, and that's got me worried we'll ever meet them.
      • thumb
        Jul 29 2013: Let's see, some 14 Bil years ago, the story goes a small ball of mass exploded into a huge bang that formed into the universe we barely know today, and you think there would be a coincidence if another civilization could have evolved parallel to mankind.... OK.. I see your point.
  • Jul 27 2013: I think it is very probable that we will never know.

    If there is other intelligent life in the universe, it is very likely that we will never discover it because it is too far away.

    The universe is too big to determine that we are alone.

    I do not think either possibility is at all terrifying.
  • thumb
    Jul 27 2013: Well, people don't actually break things down. If we have space faring species out there then it is logical to conclude that they have already developed a minimal input maximum output power system and a self sustaining life support system or they use A.I that look like little grey men that connects back to the user somewhere. It is highly unlikely that all intelligence is developing on a similar track to ours, i'm opting for two possibles, They have re-engineered themselves or A.I avatars or one that is too fantastical for most to imagine. They have let go of the organic and reside in or control avatars.

    You should see the work going on with perception and avatars. I can't find the link to vr rigs used in experiments but this link might help in seeing how far we have come and have quite a way to go.

    http://www.kurzweilai.net/news

    Edit

    I'm not getting at you Mike but there is a lot of work going on out there that opens up possibilities that can be afforded serious thought to once just youthful imaginings. Edit again. Or from a Christian view, we were never alone and could be the next model until it is our turn to look after and nurture the next in line. I've taken creative license here but the scriptures leave room for possibilities that other religions don't have.
  • thumb
    Jul 27 2013: You can do your bit by participating in the search.
    http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/
  • thumb
    Jul 26 2013: I like to think that if there were other sentient beings out there.... they would be civil at least.

    Space and time are the enemies of this quest to know. I have read that there are those who will address the vulgarities of space and time and if the concept of "if we can imagine it, we can make it real" Maybe there will be a time/space warp engine that will make it possible for us to see just who is out there.

    I know that there are some that say that God only made us so that we are alone. I like to think that God said... Oh hell, I got so much left over, let me spread a few more thinkers around here and there.... I did say thinkers didn't I ???? Sometimes I have trouble with my "S's".

    Edit.
    Seriously, If there are other sentient beings, I would think that they are evolving at about the same rate that we are. They could be looking at leaving their planet to explore their space. We may be at hundreds if not thousands of years before we or them could make contact.
    • thumb
      Jul 27 2013: I don't think they will be civil, I think they won't even bother with communication. They haven't so far and they won't anytime soon even if we have the technology to chase after them. Would you stop and talk to impulse driven creatures that still adhere to leaders? I think it will be far into the future before we have any sort of actual discourse with other sentient beings, i would say after we develop the asteroid fields for resources and have a go at terraforming that's when we might rate actual contact status.

      I think we are only interesting as a scientific study and possibly a galactic zoo exhibit that has a big sign hanging just before the local exit point for warp drive " No contact allowed under galactic law 42 punishable by in system A.I defense/Offense guardian impounding offenders ships and heavy fines issued" with a smaller sign off to the right "Please do not feed the monkeys." Of course this law has been broken several times when youngsters who have just got their first saucer and were out for a good time decided to "Buzz" the monkeys.

      I would fly straight past because we have nothing to offer unless they're out there ripping our asteroid belt out for resources other than that the earth hasn't had any incursion for resource mining so it is rated as a zero resource world. We are an exhibit, it's the only logical explanation. What do you think?

      Edit

      Hell! Do you want to hear something funny? We could be in time out Lol
  • thumb
    Jul 26 2013: That we would be alone.
  • thumb
    Jul 26 2013: Mike,
    It would surprise me a LOT to discover that we are alone. I do not believe that to be true.
    • Jul 26 2013: How exactly can one prove we are alone?
      Outside the realm of pure mathematics, its practically impossible to disprove the existence of anything.

      Personally, I also believe the aliens are out there somewhere. We just haven't met them yet due to the vast distances involved in interstellar travel and communication.
      I would not however, like to meet them. Being wiped out from orbit due to being potential competition is a less than appealing concept.
      • thumb
        Jul 29 2013: Nadav,
        I don't think we CAN prove we are alone, I do not think we are alone, and we do not have proof of being alone, or other "beings" out there somewhere.

        Perhaps we have met them and don't know it! I believe that some "beings" out there may be more intelligent than humans, perhaps know more about interstellar travel and communications, and I wouldn't mind meeting them.....perhaps they are among us and I already HAVE met them! I'm open to possibilities.
  • thumb
    Jul 26 2013: I am astonished life exists on this planet, which is so obviously designed to accept it. If it occurred anywhere else, it would be because God created it there.

    :-)
  • Jul 26 2013: I am more at ease with the idea that we are alone. We are familiar with being alone.
    It would be exciting to find life elsewhere. But for our own good, it would be better if any life we found was less advanced than we are.
  • thumb
    Jul 26 2013: I would be shocked if we were alone. The more we learn about biochemistry the more it seems life is inevitable within certain parameters. Even with our current limits we find more and more planets all the time. It's not that long ago we were looking for life on mars as we didn't know of any extra-solar planets. Now it turns out that extra-solar planets are about as rare as grains of sand on a beach. At the start of 1988 there were zero confirmed extra-solar planets now there are about 1000 plus many thousands of possibles.
  • Jul 25 2013: I would be shocked if there is only us in the galaxy, let alone the universe. A galaxy filled with 100 billion stars and there's been a good 14 billion years for life to develop all over the place with the known fact that the first life to have existed on earth was 3 billion years ago with the entire life of the planet only a meagre 4 billion years. If we say, quite reasonably, that we are a random sample then there have to be a great many sentient beings in the galaxy even if these sentient beings are not a civilisation, e.g. dolphins. If it comes down to civilisations then this is not so simple since some of them could have existed but died out ands many are yet to come into existence. They may also be too primitive to communicate with others in the galaxy, e.g. at the level of the ancients Greeks. Then there are those civilisations advanced enough to be able to travel within the glaxay, these must be few as this is not an easy thing to accomplish both technologically and as a result of being a civilisation which has not wiped itself out and has been stable enough to allow a great deal of time to create the necessary technology and develop the scientific ideas able to do this.
  • thumb
    Jul 25 2013: There's too much circumstantial evidence for those Pesky flying saucers but if we are alone organically then we get to be The Engineers, Exciting!
  • Jul 25 2013: “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”

    ― Arthur C. Clarke

    Despite quoting it, I disagree with the above. The possibility we are not alone is far more terrifying.

    We know only one thing for certain about any other intelligent life, and that is that Darwinian evolution applied to its development as much as it does to everything else. In other words they will likely be hardwired by their evolution for competition over limited resources.
    The most forward way to deal with competition is simple elimination.

    The universe is a lot older than earth, so there is a very real possibility intelligent alien life will be a lot more technologically advanced then we are. If you compare it to whenever two relatively alien groups met on earth with differing technology level, you'll find that things rarely end well for the less advanced party. They're usually subjugated or eliminated, either over resources or to remove a potential future threat.
    Contrary to what you see in Hollywood, any battle between humans at our current technological level to something that can travel across the stars will likely end with humanity wiped out from orbit. We'd never stand a chance.

    I find the concept of intelligent alien life fascinating in the same way I find nuclear weapons fascinating. Interesting to theorize about, but nothing I ever want to examine up close. Or at all.
    • Jul 25 2013: Just because this is the way humans (on earth) think, doesn't means others from other worlds think that way.
      Humans don't even know how to be part of the circle of life on this planet, it's all about greed.
      • Jul 26 2013: I know what I'm saying is not a certainty, it just seems more likely is all. Again, Darwinian evolution is the only thing we'd know for certain applied to an alien as it evolved, and Darwinian evolution favors ruthlessness.

        If we do ever find intelligent life, we better treat it with caution. If they turn out to be friendly, no real harm done. If they're hostile...
        Though again, if they're much more advanced that we are, it won't really help.

        By the way, no one knows how to be part of the so called 'circle of life'. Its just that no one organism has managed to get the same evolutionary lead humanity has. Nature is a cold, uncaring thing, and the default state of nature is eternal competition. There is no real balance; those who are unfit, die off, and that's the end of that.