If ETs are travelling the stars by means beyond our knowledge of physics, they are likely violating time and space to the point where they get from one-star system to the next within a span where intelligences at that level can interact. I think that it’s the wrong point of view not only to go by the SETI model of contacting ET, but Propulsion travelling mentality is even worse.
As long as our scientific orthodoxy evaluate highly intelligent ET beings based on our limited knowledge of physics, we will assume that they cannot get here because we’re still stuck on very physical means of space exploration based on propulsion based science. It is almost as though we keep thinking that riding horses is the only way to cross wide expanses. What’s boggling my mind is that the conservative scientific status quo refuses to imagine outside the box and project reality as such. If we accept the idea that there are thousands of civilizations in our galaxy that’s at least five hundred thousand years more advanced than us, then we must entertain the idea that some have figured out how to manipulate space-time and roam the stars.
Life on Earth began as chemical reactions between proteins and enzymes which are highly abundant in the universe that formed the first DNA and cells. Meteorites have been recovered containing some of these chemicals. Life on Earth is also dependent on carbon and composed mainly of hydrogen and oxygen (water H2O), some of the most abundant reactive elements in the universe. This suggests a possibility that DNA-based life on aquatic-terrestrial planets could be more abundant than commonly thought.
Early life on Earth came in all kinds of wacky shapes and forms. Weird worm things with no apparent back or front, animals with no symmetry etc. These forms mostly gave away and aside from the cnidarians (jellyfish and hydras) and the echinoderms (sponges and starfish) most animal genera possess certain common traits, such as bilateral symmetry (mouth and anus on opposite ends, an equal number of limbs on each side of the body if limbs present). These traits have won out, particularly among land-dwelling animals, because they possess certain evolutionary benefits. Having the food receptacle placed as far away as possible from the waste disposal is good for reducing the danger of infection. Having equal numbers of limbs reduces necessary brain power devoted to balance and coordination. Also, having the sensory organs located as close as possible to the brain reduces reaction times and increases reflexes as signals have less distance travel, thus leading to the evolution of heads. These are a few examples, I’m sure evolutionary biologists would have more.
This is not to say that aliens are likely to look like humans with prosthetics stuck on their noses but I think it’s entirely implausible that there would be worm-like aliens or reptile-like aliens or mammal-like aliens out in the universe. We will see unique expressions of life, not ones we are familiar with. The biggest most obvious difference might be the size (scale). Slightly larger terrestrial planets with higher gravity would favour smaller organisms to reduce the energy and structural requirements of resisting gravity. Vice versa on smaller worlds. Planets with more oxygen-rich atmospheres would also favour larger animals that respire via gas exchange, so animals with exoskeletons could grow larger, like how arthropods on Earth used to be much larger when there was more atmospheric oxygen then shrank when it reduced.
Of course, there could also be aliens whose evolution and biology is nothing like ours and whose entire consciousness, if they even have one, is totally alien to ours. In this case, in my opinion, sci-fi writers are perfectly reasonable in creating any kind of aliens they want and having them be equally plausible as long as they obey the laws of physics and chemistry.
We have all heard that we inhabit an average planet, orbiting an average star, in an average place in an average galaxy … nope.
Most galaxies are either “red” or “blue.” A “blue” galaxy is actively forming stars. This means it is forming a lot of really big stars. These stars outshine the great majority of smaller, dimmer stars, and since their characteristic colours tend toward the blue end of the spectrum they are called “blue” galaxies. What seems to drive star formation in these galaxies is that they have active giant black holes in their centres, that emit jets of material and radiation that roil the tenuous gas within the galaxy into concentrated areas that then produce stars.
A “blue” galaxy has a lot of heavy elements because these big stars become supernovas that “seed” the galaxy with heavy elements. But all these supernovas mean these galaxies are awash with radiation; which will effectively keep complex life from developing.
A “red” galaxy has stopped star formation because its central supermassive black hole is quiet. It’s “blue” stars have exploded, and all that is left are red dwarfs (which last for hundreds of billions of years). These galaxies do not have enough heavy elements to form much in the way of rocky planets. No significant planets, no significant life.
There are a few “green” galaxies. These are galaxies where the supermassive black hole at the centre periodically turns “on” and “off.” There are enough supernovas to “seed” heavy elements, but not so many that they sterilize all the higher life.
The Milky Way is one of those very few “green” galaxies.
Only a really massive galaxy can form supernovas densely enough to have enough heavy elements to create large rocky planets. The Milky Way is the most massive galaxy in our Local Group of galaxies. (The Andromeda Galaxy is half again larger, but has slightly less mass.) There are galaxies far larger than the Milky Way or Andromeda, but they are rare; the Milky Way is one of the largest, most massive galaxies in the known universe.
The bigger a star, the bigger its zone where liquid water can exist. But a star that is too big will die before intelligent life can evolve. Our sun is unusually large (95th percentile), but still small enough to last long enough.
Most solar systems are binary or trinary; planets can form around such stars but usually, the orbits are unstable. Even with a stable orbit, the extreme variations in heating make most such worlds uninhabitable. But our solar system has only one star.
Most single-star systems have a gas giant that migrates into a position very close to its star. On its way, it usually expels other planets (or at least puts them into wildly elliptical orbits). Jupiter was on its way to doing that but ended up in a resonance orbit with Saturn that stabilized it. Thus Earth, Mars, and Theia were spared.
Earth and Theia were too close to the sun for life to develop; too much ultraviolet radiation for the precursor molecules to stick together. But Mars was far enough away that life could develop. It was also smaller, so it cooled faster, allowing simple life to develop while Earth was still molten.
Theia crashed into Earth in such a way that most of the material of Theia was absorbed by the (molten) earth, but some of Theia ended up in orbit and ultimately coalesced into our very unusual moon. It was very close to Earth and raised huge tides. Tidal forces sent the moon spiralling out while slowing Earth’s day from 6 to the current 24 hours.
Meteor impacts on Mars ejected Mars rocks, some with primitive life “aboard.” Freeze-dried in space, a very few of these unintentional space travellers reached Earth. A subset unfroze and was viable; thus seeding Earth with life. (Meanwhile, Mars cooled and froze.)
The high tides caused by our (relatively) huge moon resulted in tidepools, which accelerated early evolution.
Most rocky planets are bigger than Earth, and if they are in the right place and have the right conditions they no doubt have complex life. However, being large they are still in their prime. Earth’s prime was the age of dinosaurs; not a time when intelligent life is going to evolve. Earth has passed its prime and is dying. (On a galactic timescale.) This led to conditions where intelligence was a survival characteristic since it allowed for instant adaptation in the face of rapidly changing conditions. (Again, “rapidly” in galactic timescales.) Ultimately the Pleistocene with its ice ages produced … us.
The point of all of the above is that the preconditions for intelligent life are quite rare. It is hard and slow to make an intelligent life form
Getting to other galaxies will be a challenge but not impossible. Especially if a usable “faster-than-light” drive works out. The point of all this is, if there were aliens, they would already be here. Intelligent life by nature inhibits the development of other intelligent life. So if there were aliens, they would already be here, and they would be us. So while some of us are, unfortunately, we’re not collectively ready for this new paradigm of Alien contact. If they are here and have nearly always been here we can infer a few interesting things. For something to be allegedly so pervasive and be still subject to debate after all this time, it has to be elusive and invisible.
Bacteria are entirely incapable of comprehending us. In fact, they are not capable of being aware of us at all. They inhabit the same space we do, even living inside our bodies as symbionts, but they are entirely incapable of being aware of us. Consider ants, which are far more complex than bacteria and are separated from us by only 500 million years of evolutionary development. They too inhabit the same space. They can be affected by our actions. They can see us, eat the food we drop on the ground, crawl all over our picnic tables, but they aren’t really aware of us. They are entirely incapable of understanding any message we might try to send to them. We have come to understand the chemical signals ants use to communicate with each other, and we can lay down trails for them to follow etc., so basically we humans are able to speak an ant’s language, but still we cannot convey to them any concept of what we are because ants lack the brains to comprehend what we are.
So, assuming the pace of evolutionary development is roughly constant, aliens out there would likely be so much more advanced that we would be incapable of comprehending them even if we were living right in front of them on their picnic table. They could even learn to speak our language, as we have with ants, and it wouldn’t do much good. That in itself could explain why it seems that no alien intelligence has contacted us. But really, the difference is even more extreme than the rate biological evolutionary development would suggest.
With the advent of technology, the rate of development has increased enormously, such that the complexity gap will be even bigger over the coming few billion years
About 40,000 years ago, humans began to develop Technology. Unlike evolutionary development, which advances by a process of random mutation, technological development advances through directed and systematic procedures. As a result, the pace of development has accelerated enormously.
Most people are probably familiar with cargo cults. For those who are not: cargo cults exist on some remote islands in the Pacific. During WW2, the American and Japanese militaries established bases on some remote islands that had little to no previous contact with developed civilizations. When the war ended, the bases were abandoned. The natives on the islands had seen technologies that they did not understand. The lights and flying machines appeared to them as magic. Now, some of the people on these islands have adopted rituals that mimic the movements of air traffic controllers and radio operators, hoping that they can call down cargo from the sky.
These people are separated from us by only 8,000 years of development (the time it took from the establishment of the first agricultural civilizations until the present day) and yet they couldn’t understand what they saw, and they worship our technology in a religious manner.
8,000 years is far less than an eye-blink on the billions-of-years timescale of the head start that some planets had on ours. It took 8,000 years for us to appear as gods to other humans – how much longer would it take before we would recede from their ability to understand altogether? Maybe 100x that amount of time? But consider also that the rate at which technology is developing is increasing exponentially. Most of the developments that separate us from hunter-gatherers were made in the last 200 years.
So, with technological development beginning 3.4 billion years ahead of ours, the gap between us and an alien race would not be just the gap between bacteria and us, but conceivably exponentially greater.
Now consider again the ants. They can’t conceive of what we are. All they know are that there are lots of crumbs that tend to show up in a certain area near their anthill. For the ants, this is just a fact of life–“there are lots of crumbs over there usually” is just part of the nature of reality as they perceive it. Similarly, the evidence of alien life is probably all around us, but they are so much more advanced than we are, that the evidence of their existence appears to simply be woven into the nature of reality as we perceive it.
We must somehow prepare ourselves for alien contact of such obfuscation and occultation that makes our brains boil. Such an event to our monkey brain physiology is going to be traumatic. Perceptual filters will paradox. Extruded through the looking glass. Curiouser and curiouser. You knew who you were when you got up in the morning, but, you think it has been changed several times since then. You’re not the same as you were before. You are much more… muchier… you’ve lost your muchness. Everything’s got a moral if only you can find it. Can we find the moral, the meaning from such an advanced creature as is hypothesized here?
No matter what happens perspective must be preserved. The perspective is that what we think it might mean is almost assuredly wrong and incomplete. We will be nothing but spectators in this exchange. Frantically grappling at meaning from the mix of infinity. Maybe just knowing they exist in its own way is enough? Just a flicker of comprehension. Proof of concept. More questions than answers.
The slice of extraterrestrial life is not going to be like anything envisioned in any entertainment media. It will be stranger than imagined, it will be stranger than we can imagine.
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