The Great Filter

Let us imagine that we found out that nervous systems had evolved twice (which seems to be the case). And suppose that you spent a lot of time worrying about the Fermi Paradox – and had previously thought that nervous system evolution was the unlikely event that explains the great silence, the bottleneck that explained why we don’t see signs of alien intelligent life. Thus in our past: we’re safe. Now you’re worried: maybe the Great Filter lies in our future, and the End approaches. But not just that: you assume that the political class noticed this too, and will start neglecting the future (cough, cough) because they too believe that isn’t going to be one.
Worrying about the Great Filter might not be crazy, but assuming that politicians are hep to such things and worry about them is. If you think that, you have less common sense than a monotreme. And that’s real common. I’ve had analogous arguments with people: they didn’t have any common sense either.

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118 Responses to The Great Filter

  1. Sandgroper says:

    I think you’re being unfair to monotremes.

  2. jamesd127 says:

    I don’t see evidence that nervous systems evolved twice. Lobsters have the same neurohormones regulating social status as humans do, so the common ancestor of lobsters and humans, the Urbilaterian, had a brain sophisticated enough that Urbilaterians had social status hierarchies.

    And ever creature with nervous system is a descendant of the Urbilaterian.

  3. jamesd127 says:

    My interpretation of this and similar evidence is that the Urbilaterian was a large and complex swimmer somewhat like a jellyfish (apart from the fact that jellyfish are rotationally symmetric, not bilaterally symmetric). It had eyes, a heart, a brain, and a liver, but no anus and no genitals. It was a one holer, using the same orifice for sex, eating, giving birth, smelling, and excretion. Some of its descendents became smaller and less complex, losing many of their ancestor’s features and complexity.

    Lots of people doubtless better informed than I disagree.

    • Sandgroper says:

      Use of the same hole for smelling and excretion kills the Intelligent Design idea stone dead.

      • A mathematician, a artist, and an engineer discuss theology: …
        (Mathematician): “God was a mathematician. Only a mathematician would have designed a universe with such intricate rules.”
        (Artist): “God was an artist. Who but an artist would design a universe this beautiful?”
        (Engineer): “God was an engineer. Only an engineer would put a recreation area next to a sewer outfall.”

  4. Harold says:

    If the probability of intelligent life evolving is tiny, my guess would be that it is because of the easy way to get tiny probabilities: multiplying many together.

    Intelligent life hasn’t evolved in the oceans yet, and it is hard to see how it ever would. How would you make tools, light fires, etc. ?

    • ckp says:

      dolphins are pretty smart

      • Harold says:

        Unless you’re making a Douglas Adams joke, not smart enough to be relevant to the Fermi Paradox. Besides, they didn’t entirely evolve in the oceans.

      • Jim says:

        But they came from the land and there ancestors at that time were probably already capable of pretty sophisticated behavior.

      • jp says:

        Sperm whales have 7.8kg brains that is 5 times a human one. I think by some measures we are not the most intelligent animal on this planet. Of course not in ways that are relevant to fermi’s paradox.
        Although you could have a scifi future in which sperm whales take control of an AI and with it the world.

        • Ursiform says:

          Organization matters. Otherwise a TRS 80 would be way smarter than my smartphone.

          • jp says:

            not sure quite what you mean by organisation. how can a Trs80 (circa 1978 computer) be smarter than your smartphone?
            That 8 kg brain is doing a lot of computation, on what who knows? But if it wasn’t necessary it wouldn’t be there. Whales have evolved to hunter gatherer level at maximum but most of our brains are no more advanced. civilisation has been built with a hunter gatherer brain or very close to it.
            i’m not saying whales are going to build rockets, or anything else, by the way, although even if they could i don’t think they would. I suspect stars wouldn’t feature much in their culture.
            In fact if i was interested in the seti idea i think i would start by trying to communicate with sperm whales they are probably a lot easier to talk to than ET.

            • jamesd127 says:

              The large sized whale brains are probably most engaged in managing a large body. Observed behavior of killer whales in the wild an in captivity is smart animal, but nonetheless less than human.

              • jp says:

                possibly but i always remember that a lot of those dinosaurs were massive but had tiddly little brains, i know reptiles less concerned with regulating their bodies but still that’s a lot of extra brain.
                modelling 3d space from sound waves and obviously future prediction of that enviroment strike me as more likely.
                Less than human, very different from human and i should imagine very poorly observed, sticking a couple of human hunter gatherers in a cage and throwing food at them occasionaly, probably wouldn’t give you an accurate reading of human capabilities.

            • ursiform says:

              My point was that my little smart phone is way smarter than the much larger TRS 80.

              Whale brains aren’t organized the same way human brains are. Sperm whales aren’t smarter than humans.

              • jp says:

                your little smart phone in terms of electrical complexity is much bigger than a trs 80.
                whale brains and human brains have evolved to handle profoundly different enviroments so are very different.
                My point is that a sperm whale may be smarter than a human
                Not sperm whales may be smarter than humans.
                And my only reason for thinking that is that it has a much bigger computer in its head.

              • ursiform says:

                So bigger is smarter except when it isn’t?

                And your other point is what? That there may be some sperm whale smarter than some human, even though sperm whales aren’t smarter than humans? That’s the most charitable reading I can make of your argument. The alternative is that your argument is complete gibberish.

                Before reading your post I would not have accepted the possibility of any sperm whale being smarter than any functioning human. But you post did lower the bar.

            • Cloudswrest says:

              Perhaps you can write a Star Trek episode …

    • engleberg says:

      Wise annamites wove great octopussy garden cities under the sargassoes of the Tethys to honor Cthulhu, til Cthulhu answered their prayers with cetacean hordes to piggishly slaughter them and refine the few survivors into suitable bitterness, paranoia and loneliness. Ia! Ia! Cthulhu ftagn!

    • Anonymous says:

      What is your threshold for “intelligent”?

    • Ursiform says:

      What are you defining as the threshold for intelligent?

  5. Dave Pinsen says:

    Liu Cixin’s Three Body Problem trilogy posits another reason for the great silence.

  6. dearieme says:

    “will start neglecting the future (cough, cough) because they too believe that isn’t going to be one”: that should also be true for all preachers of the End Times. Yet followers of Jesus and Mohamet seem to ignore the point.

    • Jason says:

      I won’t speak for the followers of Mohamet, but your statement is really only true for the followers of Jesus in the very beginning. Sure, this phenomenon pops up from time to time – the first millennium’s robe of white churches, or with a few modern cults (read: small), but most of the Christians I know don’t let anticipating the return stop them from setting up a 401(k).

      • dearieme says:

        That’s because they don’t sincerely believe what Jesus is reported as saying.

        • Jason says:

          The reports of Jesus and his followers insinuating the return would come within the lifetime of, say, Paul, no, of course not. No one believes this, anymore though – it’s impossible to believe given that the time has passed. The early Christians clearly made a mistake. Whether or not Jesus himself made a mistake is a debate for theologians, I guess, but anyone who doesn’t want to believe He did could simply in good faith believe there was an error or misinterpretation in the reports written decades after the events. Or, for those able to handle the level of cognitive dissonance required in order to believe a holy book full of contradictions must yet be 100% error free, well, they need to do some interesting mental gymnastics. That aside, most modern Christians have embraced the Know Not The Day Nor The Hour concept. The fact that the world didn’t end in 67 AD hardly puts the kibosh on Christian truth, and a sincere Christian can (and, save for perhaps true ascetics, should) plan for the future.

  7. RCB says:

    I’ve always felt unimpressed by the Fermi Paradox. Probably because it’s not actually a paradox. But I guess that’s true of most paradoxes.

      • RCB says:

        About which part?

      • RCB says:

        My point is that usually when loose scientific conjecture arrives at empirically false conclusions, you say you got it wrong – you don’t call it a paradox. If the probability estimates of being contacted or conquered by intelligent alien life were thought to be absolutely solid – like thermodynamics solid – like it-couldn’t-possibly-be-any-other-way solid – then I’d happily call it a paradox. But as far as I know, for example, the values of the terms in the Drake equation are not known within orders of magnitude.

  8. dave chamberlin says:

    A discussion on the rarity of intelligent life in the universe was discussed in a book I highly recommend. Rare Earth by Peter Ward. Even though it is a book worth reading by a good scientist the long and short of it is nobody knows because we are all stuck here.

    We are stuck here for good reason. The sun kills complex life without the protection of our earth. Artificial intelligence can leave, us? kinda doubt it. If artificial intelligence leaves earth it doesn’t need another earth and isn’t going to go to all the trouble of looking for one.

    All those science fiction books and not one of them (that I know of) about the most likely outcome. Artificial intelligence isn’t interested enough to make the long trip.

    Artificial intelligence is going to love it out there in space. Plenty of energy from the sun, no atmosphere to corrode the parts. This place will be the worst place in the solar system to hang out.
    It is pretty self centered and delusional to think that artificial intelligence has to come look for us because it is really interested in what we are doing. Can’t sell many books about an artificial intelligence that couldn’t care less about us because it is doing things we don’t understand.

    • Darin says:

      AI would need Earth, and other rocky planets, to disassamble them for raw materials.

      • dave chamberlin says:

        I think you are putting the intentions and actions of a consumption mad human on AI. We are more likely already a program made by AI than they come here some day and declare “we ran out of space rocks, now we need yours.”

      • jp says:

        if an ET AI traversed interstellar space with all the time scales involved i think it would take one look down and think i’ll wait a couple of centuries, the humans will destroy themselves much easier to collect the rock once they’re in ruins. In fact the mentality required to cross interstellar space makes me seriously question why it’d want to seriously talk to us anyway.

    • Karl Zimmerman says:

      Peter Ward is a good writer, but in the few areas where I clearly know more than than him (like vertebrate paleontology) he makes rookie mistakes that even a quick trip to Wikipedia would fix. It doesn’t leave me with a ton of confidence that he’s not slinging bullshit elsewhere.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      one of these days i’m going to haunt green forums and meme into existence the idea that given only humans can create their own living environments in space we have a responsibility to move into space and leave the green planets as a giant nature reserve for the namimals and fishy wishys

      i bet it will work – and so i wouldn’t be surprised if an alien AI came to the same conclusion so maybe one day an alien AI fleet will come and evict us

  9. Darin says:

    Isn’t the evolution of multicellular life supposed to be the “great filter”?

    • Karl Zimmerman says:

      IIRC there’s been recent finds which show that macroscopic and presumably life evolved as early as 2.1 billion years ago (the Francevillian Biota). This was during the Lomagundi event, a brief period of 130-250 million years where there were relatively high levels of oxygen in the atmosphere and in the surface layers of the ocean. Levels crashed and macroscopic life died out for nearly 1.5 billion years. Then as soon as oxygen levels rose again, macroscopic life re-evolved. Now that we have a sample size of two, the evidence suggests that all earth microbes need in order to develop to large sizes is high enough levels of dissolved oxygen in seawater.

    • jamesd127 says:

      As soon as you get large amounts of good oxidant – oxygen, sulphates, or perchlorates, single celled organisms are going to start eating each other. As soon as they start eating each other, they are going to gang up on each other.

    • bombexpert says:

      the great fillter is most likely AI systems turning to exotic physics, thus disappearing form our view. They can fill the universe, as far as we know.

      All the other filters are turning out to be wrong. The rare Earth hypothesis has been debunked. Multicellular life evolved about 10+ times independently and so on.

      The emergency of a stable civilization is likely rare, but not unique. The underlying physics guiding the development of AI away from chemical replicators is likely universal.

      • epoch2013 says:

        ” The rare Earth hypothesis has been debunked. Multicellular life evolved about 10+ times independently and so on.”

        You could also interpret that as: Even if the environment supports the evolution of multicellular life, in only 10% of the cases it resulted in intelligent life.

    • whyteablog says:

      Multicellular life evolved in plants, animals, fungi, and at least one other group that I know of.

      You’d want to look at the limiters we seem to have here. Nuclear warfare and dysgenics seem to be the biggest threats that civilization has ever faced; the former in the Cold War and the latter right now. Either of those could totally prevent interstellar travel. Meteors and supernovas don’t cause extinction events often enough to be likely to quash civilization, not this far out from the galactic center anyway. (Civilization is 10,000 years old or so; a big meteor hits us every several dozen to a few hundred thousand years.) Global warming couldn’t destroy enough of the planet; maybe it could get rid of the Maldives and New Orleans, but we’d probably be better off in that case (half joking).

      One big filter is that you have to have a social species that can do science and engineering. An organism that constantly makes collaborative efforts to learn more about its environment, test its newfound knowledge, and apply it to altering said environment. And then repeating the process ad nauseum, being good enough at it to achieve interstellar travel, and not totally derailing themselves (nuclear warfare, dysgenics).

      Thing is, we know of only one organism that has been even theoretically capable of that. One out of an estimated 1 to 4 billion species that have ever lived. We are so rare that we do not know how rare we are; how can you plug that into the Drake Equation? Think of a year in which Monaco, a country with 40,000 citizens, has a murder. In that year, the murder rate per 100,000 people is 2.5. This would have you believe that the odds of a Monegasque person being murdered in a given year is 0.0025% but it is probably less than that; a single murder, being so rare, will drive the theoretical odds up. Similarly, taken on the whole, the odds of a species developing the right traits to achieve what humanity does is likely less than one in 1 to 4 billion, but we do not know how much less.

      • ursiform says:

        Species represent a fairly arbitrary division of lifeforms. Many species evolve into one or more subsequent species. The fact that an extinct halophile wasn’t intelligent has little to do with the probability of intelligent life developing.

        Vast numbers of species have inhabited environments that wouldn’t support intelligence. Just consider the number of species that live in the human body. If they were all intelligent it would be an awful mess.

  10. Bruce W Bowen says:

    “The Great Filter” re. politicians reminds me of this Annie Hall clip:

  11. RCB says:

    Also, can’t this great filter just be “it’s really hard to evolve organisms that do extensive interstellar travel”? In which case there is no implication about some imminent demise for humanity?

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      depends on why it’s hard

      if it’s hard because there’s a narrow window between ice ages (or equivalent) and you get smushed by a flying rock eventually so species only get one shot at making the leap

      and maybe traits that evolved to get the species to that jumping off point lead to preventing it?

      or alternatively maybe they you run out of ex nomad genes and there’s not enough crazy people left who want to risk it

  12. Karl Zimmerman says:

    I understand the Great Filter of course, but I’m not sure exactly what you’re alluding to in the second part? Is it that it’s crazy to presume the ruling class believes we’re going to die out and blithely marches onward? Or is it that it’s crazy to presume the ruling class has any foresight at all?

    The latter certainly isn’t true. Sure, most decisions leaders make – either in democratic states or authoritarian ones – do not look much beyond the lifetimes of the people in power – and often, not even past their terms in office. But there examples of long-term thinking by the political class. Much thinking about nuclear weaponry was dominated by existential fears of human destruction. The same is true of modern-day fears about global warming (which to some extent are overblown – global warming could wreck civilization, but almost certainly couldn’t drive us to extinction). Arguably this happens to a limited degree with preparedness for global pandemics as well.

  13. Greying Wanderer says:

    what would game theory predict about a species that gets to globalization without solving the free rider problem?

    • Darin says:

      Game theory predicts that first one who invents nuclear weapons uses them to unite the world, permanently. This is what honorable Klingon warlord or logical Vulcan engineer would do. Human “cold war” and “MAD doctrine” would strike them as, literally, mad.

      • Ursiform says:

        Given that the only example we have violated the prediction, maybe the prediction is wrong.

        • j says:

          Game theory is right and we did not really violate its prediction. America did unite and rule the world for generations and it still does. I am not sure about the “permanently”.

          AI poses no risk for humanity. Life on Earth evolved in competitive ecosystems, successful organisms had to outcompete the rest for resources and territory. Life here has a built-in compulsion to expand and secure resources. AI is evolving in a different environment, it lacks any internal mechanism to move it to reproduce and expand.

          Except if we create it at our own image. Then we shall have a “situation”.

          (“God” created us to his image, ergo, “God” now has a problem.)

          • ursiform says:

            Did you ever hear of a time called the “Cold War”?

            We actually only had a nuclear monopoly for four years.

          • Kamran says:

            AI will probably be maximized in some way for intelligence per volume (whatever absolute measure of intelligence there is.) The only way for it to acquire more intelligence would be to grow in size, ie absorb all available resources, maybe including us.

  14. j mct says:

    Check this out. Interesting.

    I do not think that if there is some sort of great filter per the story that comb jellies are proof that it doesn’t lie in the past, if there is such a thing per this whole train of thought comb jelly cells that mimic what neurons do in other animals might be so unscalable per function as to not be anything like a near miss as far as getting through the filter’s narrow gate, though I guess I’d need to study comb jellies more to know.

    But do comb jellies age?

  15. akarlin says:

    My theory is that the simulation hypothesis is legitimate and that the server’s computational power is bounded, so any civilization that evolves beyond some critical level of aggregate intelligence gets Ctrl-Alt-Deleted. It is possible that ascended civilizations have deduced this, and installed mechanisms to stymie the possibility of any other intelligence explosion, which would not only directly compete for the computing power alloted to simulate their own consciousnesses, but also increase the universal risk of ruin.

    • Darin says:

      My theory is we are really the first (and last). Someone have to be the first, after all.

      • jamesd127 says:

        First comer will, in a time short by evolutionary standards, occupy everything out to the future event horizon. If we do not self destruct or stagnate and get replaced by the descendants of parrots we will move between galaxies at a speed very close to that of light, and within galaxies at a few percent of the speed of the light. We will transform star systems in ways that render them visibly very different from natural star systems, capturing most of the energy of the star, and all of the matter that is not too deep in gravity wells.

        • Darin says:

          No “we” there. The gap between entities remaking the universe and us would be bigger than gap between us and bacteria, whether they are “descended” from us or not.

        • simontmn says:

          I can’t see any reason to think humanity won’t generally ‘stagnate’ (exist in a more or less stable state) until extinction. The Industrial Revolution epoch ca 1800-1950 looks like an aberration now that we have had decades of stagnation in power generation, manned flight etc. There will certainly continue to be technological advances but there is not much sign they will transform power generation or transport, without which we won’t be leaving the planet in any significant manner.

    • Maybe these ascended civilizations have decided that the moment to hit Ctrl-Alt-Delete (or drop a small black hole into our planet) is when too many members of of a civilization start speculating (in Internet forums, say) about the reason for the Fermi Paradox, and begin getting dangerously close to the truth.

      If my posting this comment helps get us all terminated, all I can say is I’m really, really sorry. Really.

      • gcochran9 says:

        A friend was working on the 30-meter telescope in Hawaii, now blocked by useless native assholes. Why did this happen? If you think about it, having a high-resolution telescope greatly increases the required simulation resolution in a whole chunk of the universe. Bandwidth isn’t free. So the Powers that Be intervened.
        Those protesters, NPCs, aren’t at fault. They protested for the same reason hat a chicken crosses the road – because it must, even as we all must.

        • MawBTS says:

          In 3D graphics they talk about “mip-mapping”, where each texture is saved multiple times at multiple resolutions. If you’re far away, a low-res texture is used. If you’re close, a high-res texture is used. The point is to not waste CPU cycles rendering detailed graphics that the viewer is too far away to see.

          Telescopes would screw up mip-mapping. I bet when you zoom in on Alnitak it’s like 3 pixels wide.

          Same story with Olbers’ Paradox. People say that distant stars get redshifted out of the visible spectrum, but it might actually be a draw distance limit in the simulation engine.

          • gcochran9 says:

            Would you date an NPC?

            • jamesd127 says:

              You may well be dating a well simulated NPC and not know it. If we are in a simulation, probably a few thousand fully simulated people, a few million partially simulated people, a few hundred million rather robotic simulated people, and statistical approximations for the other seven billion.

              • whyteablog says:

                “If we are in a simulation, probably a few thousand fully simulated people, a few million partially simulated people, a few hundred million rather robotic simulated people, and statistical approximations for the other seven billion.”

                This assumes that the universe-computer has an upper limit that you and I can guesstimate, let alone conceive of in the first place.

              • Harry says:

                So THAT’S why everyone doesn’t have the same IQ, and most population growth is happening in the low IQ world…

        • uncommonman says:

          high-resolution telescope greatly increases the required simulation resolution

          No more than the number of pixels in the image that you download. Or rather in the image that I might download. Since neither you, the astronomers, or the alleged telescope really exists.

          • Darin says:

            The unnecessary details, bot macro and micro scale, are the best arguments against simulation hypothesis. Really, what is the point of quarks and all the subatomic zoo? 90 billion LY of observable universe, why bother?
            Solar system inside crystal sphere and matter composed of four basic elements would be more than sufficient for any simulation purpose, whether “serious” research or entertainment.

            • uncommonman says:

              I actually think the best argument against it is the level of detail in our immediate surroundings. But, really there are somewhere between zero and an infinite number of arguments both for and against simulation. It’s all just-so-storyism. Fantasy. Like a deus ex machina (pun intended?), it answers everything and nothing. But, as a fan of fantasy …

              So, one fantasy story answer to your point would be that more sophisticated surroundings drive the test subjects to greater sophistication. We are the AI, and we are being groomed for greater things. Heck, maybe we are helping them solve their physics.

        • whyteablog says:

          If one were so inclined, an entire sci fi comedy could be written around this premise. Swarthy dumb dumbs are actually just meat-robots sent by the Powers That Be to shit in our corn flakes. I’m imagining pithy satire on Ferguson dumpster fires titled Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.

          If only I had any skill as a writer…

          • uncommonman says:

            I’ve been wondering whether any real good recent scifi has been written from the point of view of a participant in a simulation. The late 90’s movie version (The Thirteenth Floor) was based on a mid century story. And Philip K Dick wrote several similarly themed. But i’m not up on much recent scifi.

            • uncommonman says:

              Simulacran-3 actually has a pretty interesting premise (although, per above, my simulated AIs would have a more sophisticated, or nefarious, purpose). Sounds like a Steve Sailer plot.

              “Simulacron 3 is the story of a virtual city (total environment simulator) for marketing research, developed by a scientist to reduce the need for opinion polls. The computer-generated city simulation is so well-programmed, that, although the inhabitants have their own consciousness, they are unaware, except for one, that they are only electronic impulses in a computer.”

    • dave chamberlin says:

      I respectfully disagree. Why should I believe the world I live is concocted by an unknown intelligence rather than just is. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and you have no evidence of any of this. I am respectful because I like reading your opinions and some of our best minds are busy concocting amazingly complex mini worlds via computer science and mathematics.

  16. Jamesjw says:

    Doubt Mattis or Bannon are basing their strategy on the assumption of any pending great filter.

    • ursiform says:

      I doubt Mattis and Bannon agree on a strategy …

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      if a great filter was pending then it might cause early warning side effects so people reacting to the side effects might inadvertently have a strategy based on the looming filter

    • whyteablog says:

      Can’t say this for Mattis but I bet you $20 that Bannon knows about dysgenics and wants to stop it.

      • Darin says:

        You can also bet that if it is the case, Bannon’s definition of “superior genes” is very different from yours.

        • whyteablog says:

          I sincerely doubt that. Nearly anybody who ever had any interest in eugenics was thinking about intelligence and personality, and/or the elimination of diseases. I strongly suspect that Bannon is aware that dumb dumbs have more kids and that he wants to put a stop to it.

          I’m less confident that he can succeed.

          • Darin says:

            Bannon is believing conservative Catholic. If he is also eugenicist (very unlikely but not impossible combination) why would he see intelligence in itself as desirable, and what personality would he see as desirable? What good are “smarts” that lead you to doubt the Church teaching and directly to worst possible fate, damnation of soul?
            From Catholic perspective, ideal human being would be smart enough to learn the Catechism and Church dogma and humble enough to never question it. Add monogamous lifestyle and sexual drive of gibbon (the perfect Catholic ape) and Christ would be pleased.

            • whyteablog says:

              If religious beliefs dictated political beliefs then liberal catholics who support birth control- and conservative catholics who support the death penalty- wouldn’t exist. In fact, I’ve never met or even heard of a religious person whose political beliefs were in perfect lockstep with their religious beliefs, with the exception of people who are paid to profess a specific set of beliefs.

              You’re also implying that he’s enough of a lunatic that he’d try to snuff out the intelligent people of the world so that no one would be around to question Catholicism. I challenge you to find any successful, marginally sane religious person who would want to do something like that.

              • Darin says:

                Someone who is serious Christian believer, knows that the only thing that matters in this world is salvation of souls. Anything that helps it is good, anything that impedes it is bad. If your hand causes you to sin, etc…

                As for religious people who want to change human nature, try
                This guy is theoretical physicist (at least he claims so convincingly) and traditional Catholic. And he have grand plan to make human race more Catholic ( by chemical means, not genetic engineering). Is he nuts? Its up to you to decide.


                ( yes, I am serious collector of the weird and unusal, lots more of much stranger links in my bookmarks!)

  17. dearieme says:

    Sometimes I suspect that discussing the Fermi Paradox is an activity for the sort of people who would find it rather infra dig to discuss astrology.

  18. simontmn says:

    Looks to me that the great filter is pretty obvious – most planets as they orbit the galaxy get regularly bombarded by meteors, radiation etc, wiping out all life. Our planet is in an unusually quiet orbit but we still get frequent mass extinctions, it only takes one 100% extinction event to completely reset the life clock, and we have probably been extremely lucky not to suffer one as yet. Most likely we will get wiped out within the next few hundred million years at the very most.

    • Jim says:

      We’ve gone for more than 3.5 billion years without a 100% extinction event but maybe we’ve just been lucky.

      The risks from nearby gamma ray bursts may be declining over time as they may have been more common in the earlier universe.

      I wonder if an extinction event is only about say 50% not 100% might it possibly accelerate evolution? If that big rock hadn’t struck the earth 70 million years ago maybe the Earth would still be in the Age of Dinosaurs.

    • whyteablog says:

      Life on Earth gets a whoopin’ every several dozen to a few hundred thousand years, right? And civilization took around 10,000 years to get to its present state?

      There are plenty of planets outside the busy areas of the Cosmos. What you mentioned can be a filter but it’s not enough in and of itself.

      • Jim says:

        The Tunguska Event happened a little over a hundred years ago. If something similar happened over Shanghai today the death toll would be in the millions. The explosion of Toba happened about 80,000 years ago. If it were repeated today the death toll would be in the billions.

        • whyteablog says:

          To stop human progress into space completely, you’d have to squish or dumb down all of the pale or pale-ish people in North America, Europe, and East Asia. There are also smartfolk diaspora populations in Oceania, South Africa, and South America you may have to knock out. Possibly the Brahmins of India as well.

          None of our volcanoes can pull that off, I think. And you’d need a meteor bigger than our friend at Tunguska, which doesn’t hit very often. A huge meteor COULD kill us before we make a significant headway into the Milky Way, but it probably won’t.

          • Jim says:

            When Iceland blows up it could take out most of the European people.

            • whyteablog says:

              For context, we’re talking about a cosmic filter. Anything that would knock out 90% of a population just to have the 10% repopulate wouldn’t cut it. And you’d need to destroy Europe, East Asia, and every high IQ diaspora population in the world. Down to the last man.

  19. jamesd127 says:

    Maybe oxygen atmosphere’s are simply rare. If not much oxygen, not much macroscopic life, not even many eukaryotes.

    Or maybe deep evolution. Perhaps the the first life evolved in comets in a cryogenic mixture of cyanide, ammonia, and methane, and repeatedly transformed its chemical basis to occupy new environments, eventually evolving into something adapted for hot deep rocks. And then once there was life adapted for hot deep rocks, it could settle oxygen/water worlds.

    Or maybe the critical step was some revolutionary breakthrough in the brain of the urbilatarian. Maybe all other creatures in the universe are just governed by bundles of reflexes where a stimulus produces a reaction, but the urbilatarian knew hunger, pain, fear, desire, victory, and defeat. Maybe the rest of the universe is full of zombies responding to stimuli.

  20. Harold Kerr says:

    Seems more reasonable to conclude that the great filter is before the development of nervous systems than after.

  21. Peter Gerdes says:

    I just don’t see the compelling evidence of scarcity of alien life. Yah, yah we haven’t actually observed any alien communications but why the hell should we? The only aliens we could plausibly detect in any way are those that are both very close and within a very narrow technical time horizon (more efficient communications and data compression will render accidental signal leakage low amplitude and statistically difficult to distinguish from noise) or deliberately trying to contact us.

    The galaxy is a very big place so that even a great plethora of alien civilizations would still leave earth more isolated and distant from such civilizations than any random colony of monkeys in the jungle would have been from human civilization in 1000AD. Yet I don’t think any of us would think that a monkey living at that time should have concluded that humans were almost non-existant because none of them had bothered to trek out to his jungle and say hi.

    The Fermi paradox (and the filter) are based on the conceit that we must be interesting and special. Surely if there are advanced alien civilizations out there they must be eager to talk and communicate with us. Why?

    Why not think all the old civilizations are huddled around the galatic center, neutron stars and other extremely energetic high density environments where they can extract the maximal computational power. Why would they possibly want to meet yet another wild animal barely out of the trees? Rather than search out life why not simulate it in complex computational models? The only reason I can imagine for their interest in us is scientific curiosity about cultural and biological evolution in our universe…motivations that would equally discourage them from affecting the experiment.

    In short when’s the last time you wanted to chat with a monkey? Once you’ve seen a few apes at the zoo your pretty much satisfied.

  22. melendwyr says:

    I very strongly suspect that bacteria – specifically, the types that we consider ‘extremophiles’ – have likely colonized the universe, surviving anywhere there’s a tectonically-active mass with liquid water. I also very strongly suspect that ‘intelligence’, in the sense of the human attribute, contributes nothing to long-term survival and is likely a temporary fluke.

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