I’m beginning to become a bit — irritated with astronomers, and especially with astronomy publications like, well, Astronomy Magazine, Sky & Telescope, the BBC’s Sky at Night. Even with NASA, the space program in general, and a lot of astronomers and astrophysicists in general, who start babbling like little children about stuff when they should really know better. The ‘mainstream’ media is even worse, of course.
It’s this whole life thing. As in life out there, on other planets, other star systems, other galaxies.
Every once in a while some news outlet that really should know better pops up a headline like “Life on Europa!” or “Life in Oceans Under Pluto!” or “Life Floating in Clouds in Venus” or, “Life Discovered at the Republican Convention”. It’s just — just silly. (Especially that last one.).
I’m sorry, but it is. And they really should know better. Even worse, most of them do know better.
The popular press and even otherwise allegedly rational real live scientists with actual degrees from actual universities who have actual jobs doing sciency stuff, have just gotten silly over this whole life thing.
So let’s talk about the Fermi Paradox for a bit. (Wondered when I was going to get around to getting to the point of the title up there at the top, didn’t you? Relax. It takes me a while sometimes but eventually I get to the point. Sometimes. Maybe.)
The Fermi Paradox has been floating around for a long time now. Jump over to Wikipedia and go look it up. I’ll wait. I don’t have anything going on at the moment. I’ll just babble along here until you get back. While you’re at it, look up the Drake Equation over there too…
I’m an amateur astronomer with actual telescopes and everything. I love astronomy. Fun stuff, astronomy. Nothing better than sitting around outside, shivering, your feet gradually turning to ice, wondering if your health insurance covers having your toes amputated because they turned black, chipping the frost off your scope while you try to get a picture of Jupiter that doesn’t have a bloody airplane track across the middle of it. Great fun. Highly educational and all that stuff. Highly recommended. I’m also a science fiction fan. I discovered SF when I was about 9 years old and never looked back. I grew up in a fantasy world filled with starships, exotic aliens, odd characters, bizarre societies, horrific space battles throwing planets at people, time travel, time paradoxes, alternate universes, time travel to alternate universes, time travel for the purposes of, well, weird sex. Have you read Heinlein’s later stuff? Oh my…
So I’ve more or less been living in a universe full of life. I’d love to live in a universe full of that stuff. Well, except when the Fnezeer come to, well, eat us. That I probably wouldn’ like.
The thing is, I know that is fantasy. It isn’t real, all that stuff. The zooming starships, the aliens with tentacles, the time travel incest (what the hell was Heinlein thinking?) the alien races around every corner… They’re made up. They don’t exist. Unfortunately a lot of the news media and, it seems, NASA and real actual astronomers and stuff, haven’t figured that out, or that’s what it looks like if you some of the stuff they’re pushing.
Oh, you’re back. Good!
Let’s get back to the Fermi thing, then now that you got done over at Wikipedia.
The Fermi Paradox basically asks the question, if life is as common as a lot of people think it is, where the hell is it? Why haven’t we found any? And why the hell hasn’t it found us?
Considering the age of the universe, the ginormous (that apparently is a real word, I had no idea) number of galaxies, the even more ginormous number of stars in those galaxies, and the even furtherly more intensely ginormous (now that I found out it’s a real word I’m going to use it a lot, damn it) number of planets, somebody, from somewhere, should have come ringing our doorbell to try to sell us something or try to convert us to worshiping a giant space turtle or talk us into a time share out in the Wompel Galaxy or something.
Only they haven’t. There isn’t even a single sign that there’s anyone out there. Granted, the universe is a really, really big place. But if you run the math, a single, high tech civilization, could colonize an entire galaxy in a surprisingly short amount of time, maybe four, five million years. Sounds like a long time, but species even here on Earth have been around and essentially unchanged for far longer than that.
Of course maybe they’re busy, or just don’t care. Like these alleged life forms might look up and go “meh, the hell with all that noise”, and get on with important things. Like, oh, I don’t know, frelking, let’s say. I have no idea what frelking is, but it’s like really, really important to them and it’s way more important than stars and stuff like that. So they give up on the whole space thing and get with some serious frelking. Probably has something to do with sex, I imagine.
So that’s one theory about why no one has come to try to sell us time shares or convert us or eat us or something. They don’t give a flying fig.
This space travel stuff all assumes that the race in question thinks it’s important. And maybe it is. To us. Well, some of us, anyway. But that’s us. They, if they’re out there, don’t care, maybe. That’s the point. They are going to look different, think different, have different priorities. Like frelking. They don’t care.
The point is that they come up with all these excuses to rationalize why we haven’t seen anything out there. And they do have a valid point. I mean, frelking is really, really fun. Maybe.
But the other thing that no one seems to want to bring up, is that maybe there isn’t anyone out there. Just flat out isn’t.
Yes, I know, statically speaking it is a virtual certainty that there is something alive out there, somewhere. But we have scientists going off the deep end claiming there’s life everywhere almost.
So where is it? We don’t exactly have a good track record finding it, do we. Let’s see, well, there’s Earth, that has life (whether it’s intelligent or not is up for debate) And then there’s… well, that’s about it. One planet out of eight (nine if you’re a Pluto fan).
It’s entirely possible that Earth is just a fluke. For all we know life is an aberration that the universe gets rid of as soon as it can conveniently bash it with a rock.
And let’s talk about the intelligence thing. We want intelligent life, too. Well, come on, let’s face it. Intelligence really isn’t much of a survival trait, now is it? When it comes down to survival as a species, one could argue that intelligence is even a drawback, because the most successful species, the ones that have been around the longest, for tens of millions of years, function almost entirely on instinct, pre-programmed behaviors, not on intelligence.
I understand that it is statistically likely there is life out there. It is statistically likely that some kind of intelligent life is out there. But it seems increasingly likely that you’re not going to find it by just turning over a rock as some scientists are claiming.
But they keep at it. “Inhabitable planet found!” “Conditions on Europa favorable to life” and… It’s just silly. I’m sorry, it is. We know better. They know better.
So why do they do it?
Money, I suspect. Trying to drum up interest to get funding, get grants, convince congress to increase NASA’s budget. They figure we’re too stupid to understand things like pulsars and event horizons and how important the measurements of high energy particles is or why it’s important we understand what the hell happened to Venus to turn it into an acidic furnace from Dante’s Inferno. But, well, hey, they say, that alien movie made a hell of a lot of money. So did that Star Trek Clone Laser thingie that was in the theaters. So people like aliens, right? So, well, okay we can’t make it all up, but we can maybe pretend kind of that there’s something out there so they give us money.
Look, just stop it, all right? Stop with the phony press releases about life on space rocks. Stop with the phony press releases about planets made of diamond and places where it rains iron and all that. It’s hype and you know it. We know it. They know it.
Just tell us what you’re doing. Tell us why you think it’s important. Tell us why we should think it’s important. Stop trying to sell us space unicorns that we all know are b.s. Maybe you’ll be surprised.