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Ever Heard of: The Fermi Paradox

Posted by jase on July 12, 2009

The Fermi paradox is the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and the lack of evidence for, or contact with, such civilizations.

The extreme age of the universe and its vast number of stars suggest that if the Earth is typical, extraterrestrial life should be common. In an informal discussion in 1950, the physicist Enrico Fermi questioned why, if a multitude of advanced extraterrestrial civilizations exist in the Milky Way galaxy, evidence such as spacecraft or probes are not seen. A more detailed examination of the implications of the topic began with a paper by Michael H. Hart in 1975, and it is sometimes referred to as the Fermi-Hart paradox. Another closely related question is the Great Silence—even if travel is hard, if life is common, why don’t we detect their radio transmissions?

There have been attempts to resolve the Fermi Paradox by locating evidence of extraterrestrial civilizations, along with proposals that such life could exist without human knowledge. Counterarguments suggest that intelligent extraterrestrial life does not exist or occurs so rarely that humans will never make contact with it.

Starting with Hart, a great deal of effort has gone into developing scientific theories about, and possible models of, extraterrestrial life, and the Fermi paradox has become a theoretical reference point in much of this work. The problem has spawned numerous scholarly works addressing it directly, while various questions that relate to it have been addressed in fields as diverse as astronomy, biology, ecology, and philosophy. The emerging field of astrobiology has brought an interdisciplinary approach to the Fermi paradox and the question of extraterrestrial life.

Should alien artifacts be discovered, even here on Earth, they may not be recognizable as such. The products of an alien mind and an advanced alien technology might not be perceptible or recognizable as artificial constructs. Exploratory devices in the form of bio-engineered life forms created through synthetic biology would presumably disintegrate after a point, leaving no evidence; an alien information gathering system based on molecular nanotechnology could be all around us at this very moment, completely undetected. Clarke’s third law suggests that an alien civilization well in advance of humanity’s might have means of investigation that are not yet conceivable to human beings.

Certain theoreticians accept that the apparent absence of evidence proves the absence of extraterrestrials and attempt to explain why. Others offer possible frameworks in which the silence may be explained without ruling out the possibility of such life, including assumptions about extraterrestrial behaviour and technology. Each of these hypothesized explanations is essentially an argument for decreasing the value of one or more of the terms in the Drake equation. The arguments are not, in general, mutually exclusive. For example, it could be that both life is rare, and technical civilizations tend to destroy themselves, or many other combinations of the explanations below. 

One explanation is that the human civilization is alone in the galaxy. Several theories along these lines have been proposed, explaining why intelligent life might be either very rare, or very short lived. Implications of these hypotheses are examined as The Great Filter.

Further reading:

The Fermi Paradox

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Posted in Aliens, Astronomy, Earth, Extraterrestrial Life, Paranormal, Science, Space, Ufology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Why Isn’t the Universe Crawling with Intelligent Life?

Posted by jase on July 12, 2009

In his famous lecture on Life in the Universe, Stephen Hawking asks: “What are the chances that we will encounter some alien form of life, as we explore the galaxy?”

If the argument about the time scale for the appearance of life on Earth is correct, Hawking says “there ought to be many other stars, whose planets have life on them. Some of these stellar systems could have formed 5 billion years before the Earth. So why is the galaxy not crawling with self-designing mechanical or biological life forms?” 

Why hasn’t the Earth been visited, and even colonized? Hawking asks. “I discount suggestions that UFO’s contain beings from outer space. I think any visits by aliens, would be much more obvious, and probably also, much more unpleasant.”

Hawking continues: “What is the explanation of why we have not been visited? \One possibility is that the argument, about the appearance of life on Earth, is wrong. Maybe the probability of life spontaneously appearing is so low, that Earth is the only planet in the galaxy, or in the observable universe, in which it happened. Another possibility is that there was a reasonable probability of forming self reproducing systems, like cells, but that most of these forms of life did not evolve intelligence.”

We are used to thinking of intelligent life, as an inevitable consequence of evolution, Hawking emphasized,  but it is more likely that evolution is a random process, with intelligence as only one of a large number of possible outcomes.

Intelligence, Hawking believes contrary to our human-centric existece, may not have any long-term survival value. In comparison the microbial world, will live on, even if all other life on Earth is wiped out by our actions. Hawking’s main insight is that intelligence was an unlikely development for life on Earth, from the chronology of evolution:  “It took a very long time, two and a half billion years, to go from single cells to multi-cell beings, which are a necessary precursor to intelligence. This is a good fraction of the total time available, before the Sun blows up. So it would be consistent with the hypothesis, that the probability for life to develop intelligence, is low. In this case, we might expect to find many other life forms in the galaxy, but we are unlikely to find intelligent life.”

Another possibility is that there is a reasonable probability for life to form, and to evolve to intelligent beings, but at some point in their technological  development “the system becomes unstable, and the intelligent life destroys itself. This would be a very pessimistic conclusion. I very much hope it isn’t true.”

Hawkling prefers another possibility: that there are other forms of intelligent life out there, but that we have been overlooked. If we should pick up signals from alien civilizations, Hawking warns,”we should have be wary of answering back, until we have evolved” a bit further. Meeting a more advanced civilization, at our present stage,’ Hawking says “might be a bit like the original inhabitants of America meeting Columbus. I don’t think they were better off for it.”

Source: Daily Galaxy

Posted in Aliens, Astronomy, Biology, Earth, Extraterrestrial Life, Science, Space, Ufology | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

John Keel: 1930-2009

Posted by jase on July 7, 2009

A Remembrance by Loren Coleman

John Alva Keel, 79, a friend, Fortean, fierce fighter for his theories, professionally a writer and journalist, has died. A fellow admirer of Mothman and the anomalies all around us, such as the “name game,” is gone.

Keel, who lived most of his life in New York City, passed away on Friday, July 3, 2009, at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, after some months in a nursing home near his Upper West Side apartment.

Born Alva John Kiehle in upstate New York on March 25, 1930, John Keel began writing at a young age. Indeed, Keel’s first published story was in a magician’s magazine at the age of 12.

Keel would go on to become a scriptwriter for radio and television, and a stringer for newspapers. He later moved to Greenwich Village and wrote for various men’s and speciality magazines.

Keel’s first published book was Jadoo in 1957, which was quickly serialized in a men’s adventure magazine. The paperback is his account of his journey of discovery to India to investigate the alleged activities of fakirs and holy men who perform the Indian rope trick and who survive being buried alive. In Jadoo, Keel also told of tracking a Yeti, an Abominable Snowman, in the jungles of Asia.

John A. Keel’s non-fiction look at the very real unplanned twists in life were recorded in his 1966 novel, The Fickle Finger of Fate. It is a rare book, and few realize that Keel wrote this book.

Keel was an early admirer of Charles Fort (1874-1932), and while still doing the mainstream writing, began authoring articles for England’s Flying Saucer Review (FSR) and a long series of columns for Saga.

Further influenced by Fortean Ivan T. Sanderson and ufologist Aimé Michel, in early 1966, John Keel commenced a full-time investigation of monster, aerial and paranormal phenomena. Over a four-year period, Keel interviewed thousands of people in over twenty U.S. states, especially in the Ohio River Valley of the United States. More than 2,000 books were reviewed in the course of his investigation, in addition to thousands of magazines, newsletters, and newspapers. Keel also subscribed to several newspaper-clipping services, which often generated up to 150 clippings for a single day during the 1966 and 1967 UFO “wave.” Besides FSR, Keel wrote for several magazines including Saga with one 1967 article “UFO Agents of Terror” referring to the Men in Black. He also wrote one of the first articles on Mothman in FSR, during this same time period.

Like other contemporary 1960s researchers such as J. Allen Hynek and Jacques Vallée, Keel was initially hopeful that he could somehow validate the prevailing nuts-and-bolts, extraterrestrial visitation hypothesis for UFOs. However, a year into his investigations, Keel realized that the extraterrestrial hypothesis was untenable and did not explain, for him, based within his personality and belief systems, all the answers.

Keel’s insights also included his view of cryptozoology.

I grew to know Keel after being introduced to him through mutual friends Brad Steiger and Ivan Sanderson. I worked closely with Keel on contributing as yet-unpublished material of mine for his book, Strange Creatures from Time and Space (1970), which would influence my and Jerome Clark’s first two books The Unidentified (1975) and Creatures from the Outer Edge (1978).

Keel’s impact is far-reaching. Keel’s book, Strange Creatures from Time and Space was the inspiration for Craig Woolheater’s interest in Bigfoot and eventually would stimulate the creation of Cryptomundo.

Love him or hate him, John Keel was popular and one of the most widely read and influential Fortean authors of the late 20th century. Although his own thoughts about aerial, monster, and associated anomalous phenomena gradually evolved during the 1960s, Keel remained one of ufology’s most original and controversial researchers.

It was Keel’s second book, UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse (1970), that alerted the general public that many aspects of contemporary UFO reports, including humanoid encounters, often paralleled certain ancient folklore and religious encounters. Keel also argued that there is a direct relationship between UFOs and elemental phenomena. Keel informed me often that he did not consider himself a “ufologist,” but a “demonologist.”

“Ufology is just another name for demonology,” John Keel told me, a week before the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center, which occurred just a couple of miles from where he lives.

…as noted in Mothman and Other Curious Encounters, page 114, (NY: Paraview, 2002).

As Keel himself wrote, “I abandoned the extraterrestrial hypothesis in 1967 when my own field investigations disclosed an astonishing overlap between psychic phenomena and UFOs… The objects and apparitions do not necessarily originate on another planet and may not even exist as permanent constructions of matter. It is more likely that we see what we want to see and interpret such visions according to our contemporary beliefs.”

In UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse (1970), Keel argued that a non-human or spiritual intelligence source has staged whole events over a long period of time in order to propagate and reinforce certain erroneous belief systems (mirroring Vallée). Keel conjectured that ultimately all anomalies, such as fairies, 1897 mystery airships, 1930s phantom aeroplanes, mystery helicopters, creatures, poltergeists, balls of light, and UFOs, are a cover for the real phenomenon.

It was during this time period that Keel maintained an enormous and active correspondence with other researchers around the world. For example, I, Loren Coleman, was introduced to my now long-time friend Jerry Clark by John Keel, via letters. These exchanges between Keel and his fellow writers and researchers, even as intellectual disagreements and different paths took many of us on varied journeys, cemented 40 years of solid friendships among a small group of dedicated Fortean writers.

In Our Haunted Planet (1971), Keel coined the term “ultraterrestrials” to describe the UFO occupants. He discussed the seldom-considered possibility that the alien “visitors” to Earth are not visitors at all, but an advanced Earth civilization, which may or may not be human. Keel took no position on the ultimate purpose of the phenomenon other than that the UFO intelligence seems to have a long-standing interest in interacting with the human race.

UFO historian Jerome Clark wrote that Keel was “a radical theorist who believes that UFOs are ‘ultraterrestrial’ rather than extraterrrestrial. By that he means they are shape-changing phenomena from another order of existence. These ultraterrestials are basically hostile to, or at least contemptuous of, human beings and manipulate them in various wasy for example by staging ‘miracles’ which inspire unfounded religious beliefs. Ultraterrestrials and their minions may manifest as monsters, space people, ghosts and other paranormal entities.” (The UFO Encyclopedia, Volume 1: UFOs in the 1980s, page 148, NY: Agogee, 1990).

After years of writing parts of the story in various articles and other books, in 1975, Keel published The Mothman Prophecies, an account of his 1966-1967 investigation of sightings of the Mothman, a “winged weirdie” reported in and around Point Pleasant, West Virginia.

Keel corresponded with Ivan T. Sanderson, quietly for months, trying to determine what kind of bird might be involved with the sightings. It was later, as Keel more fully revealed the tale of the sightings and concurrent phenomena, that other elements came into the mix.

The book was contemporarily adapted into a 2002 movie directed by Mark Pellington, starring Richard Gere, Debra Messing, Laura Linney and Alan Bates.

Two parts of Keel’s personality were played by Gere and Bates. Bates’s character was “Leek,” which was “Keel” spelled backwards, and Gere’s character was a newspaperman, “John Klein,” also a play on Keel’s name. Because Keel was ill at the time, Sony/Screen Gems cut back Keel’s schedule of public appearances to only a few televised ones. I assisted Keel by becoming the movie’s publicity spokesperson on 400 radio shows, and appeared with Keel in the David Grabias documentary Search For The Mothman, which is in the Deluxe DVD of The Mothman Prophecies.

At the time of the release of the movie, a rumor circulated that Keel had died. On January 14, 2002, a story rapidly made the rounds via the web that John A. Keel had just died.

I quickly put the rumor to rest by calling Keel, and confirming that Keel was, indeed, still alive, although Keel quipped that everyone should be told, “his funeral is on Saturday and he will be wearing black.” Keel told me that this happened to him at least once before, in 1967.

Keel suffered a heart attack sometime before October 13, 2006. He admitted himself to New York City’s Lenox Hill Hospital on Friday the 13th of October, and underwent successful heart surgery on October 16, 2006. Keel then was moved from the hospital to a rehabilitation center on October 26, 2006, as his close New York friend Doug Skinner told me soon afterward. Skinner became invaluable in assisting Keel, and passing along messages to and from Keel’s old friends.

Keel’s impact cannot be underestimated, especially in terms of his analysis of patterns. His work on “windows” (specific hotspots of combined phenomenal appearances), “waves” (cyclic appearances of the phenomena), and the “Wednesday phenomenon” (the theory that a disproportionate number of UFO events occur on that day of the week) are deeply influential across time and space. Generations of readers of Fortean literature often do not even realize that Keel’s writings may be behind “name game” discussions or authors’ speculations on the fact that a certain location on a ridge might have a high rate of strange events occurring there after the 21st of the month on a Wednesday in a high-frequency month such as April. Keel was there first trying to look at such patterns.

The popular cultural influence of Keel has been enormous. It shall take future academic studies to fully realize his reach among the subculture that respects and are denizens of his ongoing intellectual playground.

On July 6, 2009, as word swept through the Internet, from Phyllis Benjamin at INFO and others, that Keel had passed away last Friday, tributes and sorrow were shared online in overwhelming fashion from his followers, fans, and friends.

John A. Keel will be missed.

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