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Author Topic: Should we search for extraterrestrial life?  (Read 7137 times)

Offline thedoc

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Should we search for extraterrestrial life?
« on: 20/01/2015 11:12:53 »
If it's highly unlikely that we'll ever be able to detect intelligent
life, should we continue on in our efforts to find ET?
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« Last Edit: 20/01/2015 11:12:53 by _system »


 

Offline PmbPhy

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Re: Should we search for extraterrestrial life?
« Reply #1 on: 30/09/2014 18:17:59 »
Quote from: thedoc
If it's highly unlikely that we'll ever be able to detect intelligent
life, should we continue on in our efforts to find ET?

First off, the title of this thread speaks only about extraterrestrial life whereas the content of the post itself is about intelligent life. Those are two different subjects. May I assume that you're referring to  intelligent life?

If that's the case then no, not in my opinion. If I thought there was even a remote chance of being successful then I'd say yes. I don't see it happening. However that doesn't mean that it won't either. When someone speaks of "remote chance" they're referring to a small probability but it can still happen.
« Last Edit: 30/09/2014 23:28:39 by PmbPhy »
 

Offline binnie

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Re: Should we search for extraterrestrial life?
« Reply #2 on: 30/09/2014 18:41:02 »
Yes. Astrobiologists have found on earth organisms able to live in extreme environments not unlike that on other planets--hot underwater vents, buried Antarctic lakes, sunless caves, etc. That work should help researchers identify hardy microscopic life forms elsewhere as well--and to learn from it.
 

Offline chiralSPO

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Re: Should we search for extraterrestrial life?
« Reply #3 on: 30/09/2014 18:53:14 »
I am inclined to say that we should still continue our search, no matter how likely the outcome may be, if for no other reason than it is in line with scientific inquiry. There are fundamental aspects of biology (and philosophy) that could be addressed if we had another data point. Honestly, I would be thrilled to find simple extraterrestrial life, especially if it can be shown to be independent of our own evolutionary tree. Similarly I think we should continue looking for ways to achieve controlled fusion, artificial intelligence, teleportation, room temperature superconductors and all manner of pursuits of unlikely targets, no matter how small the possibility of "success" might be, we will still learn interesting things on the way.

That said, I do have some reservations about the current approach:

- Radio-based methodology has always struck me as odd. It seems highly improbable to me that other beings would choose the same technology we do to communicate--even if it is by electromagnetic radiation, why not a different frequency range, or a technique other than AM or FM. And even if identical technology were developed somewhere, how long would it actually be used, so what are the chances of us finding that window of opportunity? Not to mention the possibility that other life may not even communicate by sound...

- If we did somehow locate intelligent life somewhere in the universe, unless they have incredible technology that we lack, a two-sided conversation may have to be impractically protracted (anything more than 20 light years away would be extremely difficult)

- Also what are the chances that communication is possible for linguistic/philosophical/psychological/phisiological reasons, even if we are technologically compatible? The potential for misunderstanding would be huge (or maybe we could decode their message to "surrender immediately")
-------

That said, I believe very strongly that following our curiosity is a good thing, and the investment is currently so small, it is not worth quibbling about.
 

Offline PmbPhy

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Re: Should we search for extraterrestrial life?
« Reply #4 on: 30/09/2014 19:24:33 »
Yes. Astrobiologists have found on earth organisms able to live in extreme environments not unlike that on other planets--hot underwater vents, buried Antarctic lakes, sunless caves, etc. That work should help researchers identify hardy microscopic life forms elsewhere as well--and to learn from it.
That's a great point and it made me realize that I was responding to the question of extraterrestrial intelligence, not life. As far as  extraterrestrial life goes it's a good idea to look for it since we have some hope of finding signs of it. Mainly by analyzing the light spectrum from other star systems.

chiralSPO - Bravo! Some wonderful insights there my friend! :)
 

Offline Bill S

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Re: Should we search for extraterrestrial life?
« Reply #5 on: 30/09/2014 19:40:58 »
Quote from: Pete
chiralSPO - Bravo! Some wonderful insights there my friend! :)

Agreed.  There is rarely a simple answer to that sort of question.

Quote from: ChiralSPO
…the investment is currently so small, it is not worth quibbling about.

I suspect that people who are starving and/or watching their children starve, might not agree with that.
 

Offline PmbPhy

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Re: Should we search for extraterrestrial life?
« Reply #6 on: 30/09/2014 19:47:15 »
Quote from: Bill S link
Quote from: ChiralSPO
…the investment is currently so small, it is not worth quibbling about.

I suspect that people who are starving and/or watching their children starve, might not agree with that.
If they do then it's due to a result of ignorance. Gaining knowledge is a very important endeavor for civilization. It helps us better ourselves and our lives and in so doing take better care of the sick and the poor. Although they can't see it now it does happen, even if it akes 100 years or more. For example; it was Einstein's studying of relativity applied to gravitation that allowed us to create the GPS system and that's a very important system which can and has helped save people's lives. This particular kind of research would probably cost one poor person 1 penny a week and to me that's not worth quibbling about.
 

Offline chiralSPO

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Re: Should we search for extraterrestrial life?
« Reply #7 on: 30/09/2014 20:18:16 »
Quote from: Pete
chiralSPO - Bravo! Some wonderful insights there my friend! :)

Agreed.  There is rarely a simple answer to that sort of question.

Quote from: ChiralSPO
…the investment is currently so small, it is not worth quibbling about.

I suspect that people who are starving and/or watching their children starve, might not agree with that.

Thanks guys! It's something I probably spend too much time thinking about anyway.


Regarding the starving children:

A) While I do think there is a need for some sort of safety net to provide for people who are in tough times, I don't think welfare should be any significant portion of government spending. Money invested wisely on research, development or construction isn't "lost," in fact the money is circulated in the economy, potentially being used to employ people whose children would otherwise be starving. Plus you get the benefit of whatever the money was spent on.

B) I am not certain what the starving of children has to do with research programs--it's not really the same pot of money that could be used for either of these two goals. And if the parents of starving children had the right to quibble about investment/expenditures, SETI would still be at the bottom of the list of programs that should be reduced, below subsidies, military spending (unless the whole nation is starving and needs too conquer their neighbors for food.... oh wait) etc. etc.


But! Let's not let this discussion hijack the debate on the search for extra terrestrial life!
 

Offline Bill S

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Re: Should we search for extraterrestrial life?
« Reply #8 on: 30/09/2014 21:19:25 »
Pete and ChiralSPO, I would not argue with your logic, but I still think starving people might not feel the same about the logic.

Quote from: Pete
  If I thought there was even a remote chance of being successful then I'd say yes. However I don't see it happening.

If this is your honest opinion, surely even you must wonder about how money could be prioritised in the direction of such a search.  That is all I was talking about, extrapolating that to research in general seems a bit over sensitive.
 

Offline PmbPhy

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Re: Should we search for extraterrestrial life?
« Reply #9 on: 30/09/2014 21:28:12 »
Quote from: chiralSPO
But! Let's not let this discussion hijack the debate on the search for extra terrestrial life!
Right. So let's just touch on cost for a moment. I looked up how many taxpayers there are in America right now. There are 122 million of them. Suppose we spend 100 million on search for life, intelligent or otherwise, then we'd end up spending 80 cents per year per person per year. I'm sure we find that kind of change laying on the ground as we walk around!! Lol!
 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: Should we search for extraterrestrial life?
« Reply #10 on: 30/09/2014 23:36:41 »
As has been said in another context, it's the kind of thing that makes a nation worth defending. 

I think there are two distinct questions: extraterrestrial life and extrasolar intelligence. The search for selfreplicating mechanisms or the remains of such, is more likely to bear fruit within the solar system, but there's very little likelihood of finding anything we might communicate with. On the other hand it is quite likely that if extraterrestrial life has ever existed in the universe, something outside the solar system may have produced a broadcast signal to that effect. 
 

Offline PmbPhy

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Re: Should we search for extraterrestrial life?
« Reply #11 on: 30/09/2014 23:49:02 »
Quote from: Bill S
Pete and ChiralSPO, I would not argue with your logic, but I still think starving people might not feel the same about the logic.
I disagree. Most of my life I've spent being poor and having a lack of money. Many times going without food too. But never once did I think that we should stop the search for life outside our solar system. Finding such life would mean a great deal to my existence and that would mean a great deal to me. And I know as a fact that I'd be no better off or worse off depending if the did or didn't do that kind of searching. It would change absolutely nothing in my life. If other people who are starving don't think that way then that's there problem because they're living an illusion. Why? you may ask? Because, as I said, there would be absolutely no difference in their life. And just because they're starving it doesn't mean they had access to the same education up to high school that I had. At least for Americans. And just because the US does this research it doesn't mean that every country in the world needs to do it or even should do it.

I've heard this kind of argument all of my life. There's always someone arguing that certain research shouldn't be done because people are starving somewhere when in fact it's never that simple. A lot of the time nothing would be different for the starving people because less money is going into that kind of research. It's not like that direct it into food for starving people.

If you take a look at who it is that's really starving you'll see that its people in countries in Asia and the Pacific, Africa, Latin American and the Caribbean and Developed Countries. See http://www.wfp.org/hunger/who-are

And it's not as if the world doesn't produce enough food for everyone either. There's plenty to go around. http://www.wfp.org/hunger/causes

So I think that it's very naïve to think that we can stop looking for aliens and put that money into food and that would make a noticeable dent in the world hunger problem. And if someone disagrees with me then that's fine. If they want to prove that I'm wrong then it would do them a world of good because it would help them learn about some of the realities that we have to live with in modern society.

I don't mean to be unfeeling. And believe me, if I thought it'd help then my feelings would be radically different.
 

Offline David Cooper

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Re: Should we search for extraterrestrial life?
« Reply #12 on: 05/10/2014 17:19:13 »
It's a tiny amount of money which would be wasted by politicians in some other way if it wasn't spent on this, just like the much larger sums they flush down the toilet on a daily basis. The reason people are starving is actually down to stupidity and selfishness which prevents all the world's resources being shared fairly amongst all the world's people. If we shared it all fairly, and this applies especially to food, we could save enormous costs in dealing with environmental destruction by taking the pressure right off all the endangered habitat which we worry about losing, habitat which is only being destroyed because of unnecessary competition between nations which results in some people having to cut down forest in a desperate attempt to feed their children while other people are stuffing so much food into themselves that they end up with backsides big enough to make an elephant jealous. We need to get rid of nationalism - not cultural nationalism, but economic nationalism.
 

Offline jeffreyH

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Re: Should we search for extraterrestrial life?
« Reply #13 on: 05/10/2014 19:19:45 »
The question is irrelevant because we will search regardless. Ever since H. G. Wells and Jules Verne people have imagined other life elsewhere. It seems to me that often science is driven more by this fiction than any utilitarian principle. We see teleportation on star trek and think hey that's cool let's see if we can invent it and make it real. On the downside Monsanto developed better seed that was disease resistant and hardy to harsh climates but the seeds they sold were patented to prevent reuse. This meant poor people being held hostage to a multi-national. That was not science that was politics
 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: Should we search for extraterrestrial life?
« Reply #14 on: 05/10/2014 21:25:59 »
On the downside Monsanto developed better seed that was disease resistant and hardy to harsh climates but the seeds they sold were patented to prevent reuse. This meant poor people being held hostage to a multi-national. That was not science that was politics

That opens up a much more interesting question. Would you care to move it to a new thread?
 

Offline jeffreyH

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Re: Should we search for extraterrestrial life?
« Reply #15 on: 05/10/2014 21:56:11 »
On the downside Monsanto developed better seed that was disease resistant and hardy to harsh climates but the seeds they sold were patented to prevent reuse. This meant poor people being held hostage to a multi-national. That was not science that was politics

That opens up a much more interesting question. Would you care to move it to a new thread?

Which forum section would it belong in?
 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: Should we search for extraterrestrial life?
« Reply #16 on: 07/10/2014 00:57:52 »
Since it involves international patent law, genetics, agriculture, economics and ethics, I guess "general science".
 

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Re: Should we search for extraterrestrial life?
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