Sharp Blue: It’s always the last place you look


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The Orion’s Arm mailing list has been talking about the Fermi paradox (“If life should be common in the universe, why do we see no sign of it elsewhere?”) again. People who’ve known me a while will know that’s one of my favourite things to think and talk about. (And it’s also the subject of some interesting sf novels, including Baxter’s recent Manifold series, Time, Space and Origin, and McLoughlin’s older Toolmaker Koan.) Anyway, for some reason the current discussion reminded me of an idea that’s been floating around in my head for a while: perhaps we’re looking in the wrong places. Current searches have focused on Sol-like stars, because those are presumably where technological civilisations are most likely to arise. However, where we should be looking is wherever technological civilisations are most likely to be found. It seems to me that the most mature and highly developed civilisations will be found in the regions with the highest density of resources for industrial exploitation, and that these regions will not be Sol-like systems. Instead, I think that any civilisation that survives to launch interstellar expeditions (and civilisations that don’t may not be long-lived enough or visible enough to detect) will preferentially colonise protoplanetary discs, because these contain vastly greater exploitable resources than do systems like our own, from which the process of planet formation has ejected most of the primordial material into interstellar space. If this idea is right, we should definitely look for radio or laser messages leaking from such systems. It can’t be less successful than past searches…

Having said that, I think the most likely explanation for the Great Silence is that we really are alone in the universe

So if we off ourselves with nuclear weapons, it's curtains for intelligent life in the universe?

We could certainly bomb ourselves back to the stone age. But how quick would the reascent be thereafter? And if we did manage to exterminate ourselves, how long before the raccoons or the bears discover fire?

I think the strongest influence in my mind, for good or for ill, is that the religious freaks are absolutely convinced that there can be no life elsewhere 'cause they ain't in the bible, man was made in g-d's image, and this backwater trailer park of the universe is the Center of All Creation. I freely admit this makes me think it can't possibly be true (but look what happened in _Nightfall_ 8) ).

You haven't hung much with the Mormons, have you? If you did, you would know that God lives on Planet Kolob, in Cancer, sector 2813...


Oh. You need to look at the URLs:

Interesting idea, looking for where civilisations would go rather than where they would arise.

Although I'm not altogether keen on us announcing ourselves loudly to the rest of the galaxy, it seems too much a refelction of our current Western values and ideals to assume that anyone who hears us will be delighted that we exist. Never mind assuming that we will actually understand them and be able to communicate with them.

Actually, Robbo, there's no reason in Christianity that there can't be life on other planets. Maybe you're relying too much on stereotypes of Christians.

I think that a recovery from being blasted back to the stone age could take centuries or millennia at the quick end or millions of years at the slow end. For all we know, homo erectus could've been capable of developing technology and yet somehow failed to do so; and our post-apocalyptic descendents could fail in the same way. While they're without technology they'll be very vulnerable to total extinction, because populations will be very low - plenty of hominid species and populations have died out over the last few million years. Also, it may be that all the easily accessible sources of metal ores and coal have been mined out and our putative neo-cavemen wouldn't possess the technology to mine less accessible veins. That would make technological development tricky. In any case, it's an interesting problem and one that I'll think about some more.

>> Also, it may be that all the easily accessible sources of metal ores and coal have been mined out and our putative neo-cavemen wouldn't possess the technology to mine less accessible veins. That would make technological development tricky.

Garbage dumps? Rusted cities? There's a *lot* of raw materials in there.

Why, the Statue of Liberty alone could make how many Babylon-class spears?

How useful is that material though? Suppose you're a neolithic hunter-gatherer and you're suddenly confronted by a rusting automobile. What're you going to do with it? You aren't even going to be able to easily cut the metal, let along shape it into many useful implements, if you only have stone tools. I think many of our other relics will be of similarly limited usefulness to our post-apocalyptic descendants. How much copper and other easily worked metals could be scavenged if none remains to be easily mined? Would it be worth the effort? Will plastics be of any use, or concrete? How could technological progress start up again in the forests of New York or the jungles of Singapore?

I'm clearly thinking longer-term than you. It will only take 1000 years--or less?--for the automobile to essentially rust away completely. And then you have some very high-quality iron ore deposits right where the car used to be. Just scoop up the dirt and put it over a hot-enough fire...

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