Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby Yakk » Fri Jun 26, 2009 10:42 pm UTC

Sharlos wrote:But the fact that humanity isn't out colonising the galaxy seems to suggest that other life also isn't doing the same.

But we are. Well, we are doing the first steps.

We already have a probe that has left the gravitational pull of our sun. We have set up telescopes to explore nearby stars. With a bit more technique and/or resources, we'll be able to identify targets.

We have explored nearby planets physically (the moon), and remotely (Venus and Mars landers, and orbiters of other planets).

And the energy budget of a solar system allows sending light weight probes to other stars in length of time that aren't ridiculous on civilisation scales.

The main change in my assumption is that the easiest thing to send to another star isn't some kind of von neumann super replicator -- well it is, but it is called life. You send a probe whose purpose is to drop off some life on the target solar system at a likely planet, and hope in 3 - 8 billion years it pumps out a life form who will do the same.

Sure it is a long term project. But I'd donate, if there was a credible chance of it working out.
Life is likely fairly common, intelligent life might be harder to come by. The fact that life on earth didn't produce an intelligent species the first time round back with the dinosaurs suggests its not too easy.

Dinosaurs had small brains. Making something like a brain be not-a-waste of resources is hard: but you can actually see "progress" in how big the peak brain-to-body ratio is.
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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby Diadem » Sat Jun 27, 2009 1:24 am UTC

Bakemaster wrote:
Diadem wrote:exponentional

These are the jokes, people.

I somehow always misspell that word. I actually checked my spelling after you first made that remark, thinking I might have misspelled it. But I found nothing wrong with it. Damn...

MartianInvader wrote:Why is everyone assuming that aliens would want an oxygen-rich atmosphere (or anything else that we have on earth)? For all we know an alien species might breathe gaseous silicon and talk by emitting high-intensity gamma rays. To them the earth would look like a frigid wasteland incapable of supporting life.

Because oxygen is very common and very suitable for its task. Like carbon, there is not really a good replacement for it. You certainly can have life without it, but it seems unlikely.

And even if alien life does not use oxygen, they should be able to detect it. And immidiately recognize that this is something that is not natural. In the same way I'd expect us to be able to detect alien life even if it's not carbon based. It'll be harder, but if your civilization is advanced enough it should not pose a real problem.

i wrote:
Diadem wrote:No serious scientist believes 1. All the laws of nature seem to imply that life should be common. And for nearly a thousand years science has been downgrading humanity, from God's creation at the centre of the universe to just some slightly-more-intelligent ape on some backwater planet somewhere in a corner of a run-of-the-mill galaxy. Suddenly promoting humanity again to a central and unique role in all the 'verse... would be shocking.

You're using a philosophical concept to support a question of science.

Yes. Yes I am. Is that a problem? Ultimately all science needs to be grounded in philosophy. Philosophical arguments are certainly valid in a scientific debate, though they of course never trump solid proof.

Yakk wrote:So what if you need something as complex as a biosphere to build a self-replicating industrial civilisation. And what if it takes ~1-10 billion years to take a rock in a good spot in space, and build up such a biosphere.]
(...)

the curve of the number of seeded planets would be:

K * e^( t / 3 billion * ln 10 )
Assuming this got started ~3 billion years after the universe started at 100 different locations in our galaxy, we'd have:
K e^( ln 10 ) = 100
K = 10

Plugging in 15 billion years, we get:
10 e^(5 ln 10) = 1,000,000 colonies every 'active' (many of which would have died out).

You don't actually have that much time to work with. The universe is about 13.7 billion years old. But the first generation stars were made up of almost purely hydrogen, with a bit of helium and trace amounts of lithium thrown in. You can't make life out of those elements. You need to wait for those first generation of stars to go supernova before you get the necessary ingredients of life in your universe. Then those supernova nebula need enough time to coalesc into stars and planets again. This takes a while. Getting life going on a planet also seems to take a very long time. Billions of years.

I'm not going to pull any numbers out of my hat, but my gut tells me the timefrme we have for alien civilizations to work their magic is more likely in the order of hundreds of millions of years, then billions. And certainly not in the tens of billions.
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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby Diadem » Sat Jun 27, 2009 1:34 am UTC

But to go back to the main topic. I still maintain that Fermi's paradox is valid.

Humanity is currently expanding at a speed of about 0.005% of the speed of light. A speed at which it will take about 1.7 billion years to cross the milky way. That is long. But 0.005% of the speed of light is also very slow. Even with today's technologies we can do a lot better. An alien civilization forming at the time of the dinosaurs that during all its expansion never reaches more than 10 times ours, will still have expanded across nearly the entire galaxy.

There's nothing wrong with the paradox. Exponential growth is not required. Ergo there must be something wrong with the aliens. They fail, either at expanding, or at existing.
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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby sparks » Sat Jun 27, 2009 2:00 am UTC

What I don't get is how the inability to expand exponentially would mean that a civilisation did not exist at some point. Just because it's not on every planet or expanding through the universe, it doesn't mean it's not there -- Earth, for instance. We are not in every other planet, but that doesn't mean we're still not a (sort of) intelligent life form. Anyone care to explain? This is the first time I hear about this (or at least pay this much attention or idk) so.
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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby i » Sat Jun 27, 2009 4:15 am UTC

Diadem wrote:
i wrote:
Diadem wrote:No serious scientist believes 1. All the laws of nature seem to imply that life should be common. And for nearly a thousand years science has been downgrading humanity, from God's creation at the centre of the universe to just some slightly-more-intelligent ape on some backwater planet somewhere in a corner of a run-of-the-mill galaxy. Suddenly promoting humanity again to a central and unique role in all the 'verse... would be shocking.

You're using a philosophical concept to support a question of science.

Yes. Yes I am. Is that a problem? Ultimately all science needs to be grounded in philosophy. Philosophical arguments are certainly valid in a scientific debate, though they of course never trump solid proof.


ha! Not that philosophy.

Science isn't directional and it doesn't care whether the status of humans is upgraded or downgraded or sidegraded. It doesn't even care whether we live in a special time or place. Scientific laws and theories are not grounded in in philosophical notions---they're grounded in evidence.

Besides, the lack of language in animals kind of puts a boot in the assumption, and makes humans a little unique.

Also, a bunch of not serious scientists wrote a book about life not being common called "Rare Earth" (probably on a bet).
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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby gmalivuk » Sat Jun 27, 2009 4:17 am UTC

Bakemaster wrote:These are the jokes, people.

Ah, I didn't even notice the spelling error the first time.
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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby General_Norris » Sun Jun 28, 2009 8:03 pm UTC

I think the driver for colonization is need and not power. Why would you want to spend millions on conquering another planet if there's just 1000 people living on Mars?

And I very much think philosophy and science well done are in the end the same thing.

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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby Yakk » Mon Jun 29, 2009 7:11 pm UTC

Diadem wrote:But to go back to the main topic. I still maintain that Fermi's paradox is valid.

Humanity is currently expanding at a speed of about 0.005% of the speed of light.

Humanity hasn't managed to set up a Von Neumann machine off of Earth.

Over the first ~5 billion years, life on Earth has moved from one point, to covering the Earth. That generates a velocity of 3 * 10^-19 times the speed of light.

If we restrict ourselves to humanity and voyager, we have:
16,360,000,000 km
as our range. We could range this over industrial civilisation, human civilisation or the human race.

Another approach is to use Voyager's velocity itself -- ~17.089 km/s. I suspect that is what you did.

Except the problem is that, as Voyager doesn't self-reproduce, nor would we expect Voyager to be even a close approximation of what it would take to safely carry something self-reproducing, a civilisation emitting Voyagers won't be all that detectable.

Assume the launch a probe that moves 10 times faster than Voyager at a rate of 10 per year. These probes could then be spread over most of the galaxy by now. Over 1 billion years, there would be 40 billion of them.

There are ~1/2 a trillion stars -- which means 1 probe for every 10 stars.

But most of them won't be functional. And they sure won't be able to steer after floating in space for millions of years, nor will they be shiney, emitting, etc.

Assume they are ridiculous, and have a 0.01% chance of actually reaching a star, and can survive floating in interstellar space for 100,000 years (!). Then we have 1 million probes, of which ... 100 are currently at a star, looking around.

If there where 1 million such civilisations in the galaxy, we would fully expect that no such probe every reached or star in the entire history of human life on the planet.

The milky way has a volume of ~3e61 m^3. There are ~5e11 stars. Dividing volume by # of stars we get 6e49 m^3/star, or an average distance between stars of 4e16 m.

At 200 km/second, that is 6000 years between the closest pair of stars, on average. Which means that if our probes are star-hoppers, they are spending 7 months refueling (!) at a star before going onto the next one. Which is pretty ridiculously short period of time to fuel the ship for a 6000 year voyage. So I'm being rather generous with alien Voyager-like technology.

Or, to be brief, Voyager doesn't count.

In essence, in order for us to expect aliens to 'already be here', they need to be able to build a Von Neumann machine over interstellar distances. That means building an industrial civilisation. My theory is simple -- this is possible, but it requires [b]billions of years[b] to build a biosphere to fuel the civilisation, and the practical way to do it is to drop off the seeds of life at a star, and wait for intelligence to evolve.

Remember, not only do we have to build a complete ecology at the destination (be it industrial, or industrial-biological) from some seed, we need to preserve the seeds as they travel over interstellar distances, and then plant them on fertile ground when we get to the other side. Many of these involve engineering challenges of ridiculous magnitude, which may not turn out to be practical.
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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby joshz » Tue Jun 30, 2009 2:43 am UTC

Diadem wrote:And even if alien life does not use oxygen, they should be able to detect it. And immidiately recognize that this is something that is not natural. In the same way I'd expect us to be able to detect alien life even if it's not carbon based. It'll be harder, but if your civilization is advanced enough it should not pose a real problem.
What do you mean "Oxygen is not natural"?
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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Jun 30, 2009 2:58 am UTC

O2 in the atmosphere is very unlikely to come about and remain there by any natural process we're aware of.
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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby joshz » Tue Jun 30, 2009 4:22 am UTC

Really?
I didn't know that.

Then how does it stay in earth's atmosphere?
Or do we not know that?
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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby Sharlos » Tue Jun 30, 2009 4:57 am UTC

All of the plants on Earth keep turning the carbon dioxide into oxygen.
If there were no plants, all of the oxygen would eventually go away, even if we all suddenly stopped breathing.

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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Jun 30, 2009 5:01 am UTC

Yeah, the oxygen on Earth was created by life, and used to be a toxic waste product until newer organisms evolved to tolerate and then to actually use it.
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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby The Reaper » Tue Jun 30, 2009 6:01 am UTC

It tends to be very reactive with things. That's why it doesn't stay for too very long. It tends to form things like iron oxide and such. Bacteria food.

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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby joshz » Wed Jul 01, 2009 2:13 am UTC

Hm. Makes sense.
I guess I haven't taken enough earth science/astronomy yet.
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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby Vellyr » Fri Jul 03, 2009 8:30 pm UTC

Sharlos wrote:But the fact that humanity isn't out colonising the galaxy seems to suggest that other life also isn't doing the same.

Life is likely fairly common, intelligent life might be harder to come by. The fact that life on earth didn't produce an intelligent species the first time round back with the dinosaurs suggests its not too easy.

But hell, alien life could have visited earth already, saw a bunch of roaming dinosaurs and moved on. But making the assumption that life should have already visited us when we, also life, havn't gotten around to leaving earth yet let alone looking for other lifeforms just seems silly.


I haven't seen a good argument against this. Who cares if a civilization is expanding exponentially or not if they didn't start until several million years ago? Is there a good reason to believe that other planets in the galaxy started developing life earlier than we did?

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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Jul 03, 2009 10:09 pm UTC

Vellyr wrote:Is there a good reason to believe that other planets in the galaxy started developing life earlier than we did?

Yes: the galaxy is old. If we ever encounter other intelligent life, it will likely be millions of years ahead of us or behind us in its development. The notion created by Star Trek that multiple independent species would all reach technological maturity within a few centuries of each other is nonsense, and thinking it would happen within a few hundred thousand years of each other is only slightly less so.
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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby frezik » Fri Jul 03, 2009 10:36 pm UTC

If you look at the proposed factors of the Drake Equation, you'll can get values of the number of intelligent civilizations with detectable communication in our galaxy is somewhere between 0.05 and 5000. Drake himself pegged it at 10. Let's just run with that.

But this number is only a statistical average, and it only gets us as far as detectable communication levels, not those civilizations capable of interstellar travel. You'll could easily knock a few off that number for statistical variation, and a few more who never reach interstellar spaceflight due to nuclear war, environmental catastrophe, or whatever other reason. You could easily end up with less than 5 civilizations that could run into each other.

Alternatively, we have a 10% chance of being the first civilization in our galaxy to reach this level of development.

More pointedly, Drake's Equation, which Fermi's Paradox is based on, suffers from a severe lack of data. The number of stars with planets seems to be high, but the number of planets capable of life seems to be low. In any case, the values will suffer from a lack of precision until we can get a better look at exoplanets. Any conclusions are going to be suspect at this point.
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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby IcarusRising » Sun Jul 05, 2009 5:34 pm UTC

frezik wrote:More pointedly, Drake's Equation, which Fermi's Paradox is based on, suffers from a severe lack of data. The number of stars with planets seems to be high, but the number of planets capable of life seems to be low. In any case, the values will suffer from a lack of precision until we can get a better look at exoplanets. Any conclusions are going to be suspect at this point.


There's definitely not much data to go on, but I have to wonder if life-capable planets aren't a bit more common than that. I mean, our baseline so far (assuming the other major bodies in our neighborhood are barren) is still 1 out of 8. That may not be a valid statistic re: sample size, but do we have any reason to assume much lower than that? In a ridiculously awesome and unlikely best case-scenario, we find microbes in the upper Venusian atmosphere, Europan oceans, and mucking about on Titan, and some fossils on Mars while we're at it, and then we've found evidence of life in more than half. But whether or not we do, it's worth noting that such a scenario is at least plausible given present knowledge.

I figure Peter Ward is on to something. We might reasonably expect microbial life to a be a fairly common thing in the universe, without expecting that life to have a particularly good chance of evolving past a certain threshold of complexity. After all, single-celled life popped up on Earth somewhat less than a billion years after its formation- considering how long mommy dearest took to cool down (and the likely conditions during that period), that's pretty amazing. But multicellular life, with it's clever little oxidation processes, are only, what? 800 million years old?

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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby Yakk » Mon Jul 06, 2009 4:18 pm UTC

IcarusRising wrote:
frezik wrote:More pointedly, Drake's Equation, which Fermi's Paradox is based on, suffers from a severe lack of data. The number of stars with planets seems to be high, but the number of planets capable of life seems to be low. In any case, the values will suffer from a lack of precision until we can get a better look at exoplanets. Any conclusions are going to be suspect at this point.


There's definitely not much data to go on, but I have to wonder if life-capable planets aren't a bit more common than that. I mean, our baseline so far (assuming the other major bodies in our neighborhood are barren) is still 1 out of 8. That may not be a valid statistic re: sample size, but do we have any reason to assume much lower than that? In a ridiculously awesome and unlikely best case-scenario, we find microbes in the upper Venusian atmosphere, Europan oceans, and mucking about on Titan, and some fossils on Mars while we're at it, and then we've found evidence of life in more than half. But whether or not we do, it's worth noting that such a scenario is at least plausible given present knowledge.

I figure Peter Ward is on to something. We might reasonably expect microbial life to a be a fairly common thing in the universe, without expecting that life to have a particularly good chance of evolving past a certain threshold of complexity. After all, single-celled life popped up on Earth somewhat less than a billion years after its formation- considering how long mommy dearest took to cool down (and the likely conditions during that period), that's pretty amazing. But multicellular life, with it's clever little oxidation processes, are only, what? 800 million years old?
From the Earth, having seen 7 other barren worlds, is not strong evidence that the odds that a planet has life is 1 in 8. Because the odds that 1 planet we see will have life, as a life form from, a planet, is 100%.

It does give information against there being a good chance of verdant life everywhere.

Pull out Bayes' theorem.

P( A | B ) = P(B | A) * P(A)/P(B)
where A = "there is a 50% chance of life on a planet", and B = "we have seen 1 life bearing planet, our own, out of 8 we have looked at".

P( There is a 50% chance of life on a planet | we have seen 1 life bearing planet out of 8 ) = P( we have seen 1 life bearing planet out of 8 | there is a 50% chance of life on a planet ) * P (there is a 50% chance of life on a planet ) / P( we have seen 1 life bearing planet out of 8 )

As we are from a life-bearing planet, P( we have seen 1 life bearing planet out of 8 | there is a 50% chance of life on a planet ) = P( we see 7 random planets and none have life | 50% chance of life on a planet ) = 2^-7.

Suppose we gave a 10% prior probability to there being life on 50% of planets -- and in particular, we figured 10% of planets had life on them, prior to poking around.

P( we have seen 1 life bearing planet out of 8 ) = 10^-7.
P( there is a 50% chance of life on the planet ) = 10^-1

(2^-7 * 10^-1) / (.9^7) = 0.0016334

Ie, given that simple model, what we have seen lowered changed our belief "there is a 10% chance that half of planets have wide-spread life" down to "there is a 1/6th of 1% chance that half of planets have wide-spread life" (I add wide-spread here, because we don't know if the planets have life -- but we are pretty sure they aren't crawling with life like Earth. Until we poke at them harder, we cannot make the "they don't have life" conclusion.)

In effect, here we factor in the anthropomorphic principle -- if there was no life on Earth, we wouldn't be here to look at Earth, so life on earth isn't surprising, nor strong evidence that life is common.

Find life on a planet, or evidence of such, in any place that isn't directly casually connected to our ability to be here to look at it, and we start gathering hard evidence in favour of life.
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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby SummerGlauFan » Mon Jul 06, 2009 7:51 pm UTC

The thing I find amusing is that we are assuming that an alien civilization, if it exists, would be anything like us. We are assuming that they would have the resources necessary to have technology similar to ours. We assume that they would have a desire to spread beyond their world, and to keep increasing in numbers after that. Heck, we are assuming that alien civilizations did not get wiped out by either natural disasters or their own actions.

Not to mention, they may not even be moving in our direction. Even if they are, they may be doing so very, very slowly. There is no guarantee that an alien race would even have the desire to expand exponentially; they may have a low birthrate, by choice or by nature, and thus a decreased need to spread out. Finally, we are assuming that they have any desire at all to make contact with us.
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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby Belial » Mon Jul 06, 2009 8:04 pm UTC

Yakk wrote:
Life is likely fairly common, intelligent life might be harder to come by. The fact that life on earth didn't produce an intelligent species the first time round back with the dinosaurs suggests its not too easy.

Dinosaurs had small brains. Making something like a brain be not-a-waste of resources is hard: but you can actually see "progress" in how big the peak brain-to-body ratio is.


Also, keep in mind that, like modern birds, dinosaurs (especially saurischid dinosaurs, the branch that actually became birds) had very small cells, and therefore very small neurons, compared to mammals and reptiles. So the size of their braincases can be somewhat deceptive: birds can pack quite a lot more transistors per inch of processor, as it were.
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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon Jul 06, 2009 8:15 pm UTC

Ravens will inherit the galaxy.

Or...

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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby Heisenberg » Mon Jul 06, 2009 8:20 pm UTC

SummerGlauFan wrote:The thing I find amusing is that we are assuming that an alien civilization, if it exists, would be anything like us.

Not really. We're only assuming that several of the billions of alien civilizations on trillions of planets would be expansionist and technologically advanced. The chance that we are the only aggressive expansionists is slimmer than the chance that we are the first aggressive expansionists, which is slim, but finite.

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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby Yakk » Mon Jul 06, 2009 8:37 pm UTC

Belial wrote:
Yakk wrote:
Life is likely fairly common, intelligent life might be harder to come by. The fact that life on earth didn't produce an intelligent species the first time round back with the dinosaurs suggests its not too easy.
Dinosaurs had small brains. Making something like a brain be not-a-waste of resources is hard: but you can actually see "progress" in how big the peak brain-to-body ratio is.
Also, keep in mind that, like modern birds, dinosaurs (especially saurischid dinosaurs, the branch that actually became birds) had very small cells, and therefore very small neurons, compared to mammals and reptiles. So the size of their braincases can be somewhat deceptive: birds can pack quite a lot more transistors per inch of processor, as it were.
Do we have evidence that modern birds are smarter than we'd expect from a critter with that size of brain and body?

I suppose there is the ravens counting thing.
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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby Belial » Mon Jul 06, 2009 8:54 pm UTC

<em>Yakk</em> wrote:Do we have evidence that modern birds are smarter than we'd expect from a critter with that size of brain and body?

I suppose there is the ravens counting thing.


Yeah, crow, raven*, and parrot behaviour** stand out as the big examples, but yeah, birds in general are pretty smart for their size. I mean, look at their heads sometime. And then remember that they probably look a fair bit bigger than they are, because feathers bulk like motherfuckers. Just eyeballing it, a raven's head isn't much bigger compared to its body than a velociraptor or utahraptor's was. Especially once you factor the beak out.

*tool use and improvisation, counting, manipulation of other corvids and other animals (yellowstone ravens learn to intentionally attract the attention of wolves to open new kills), active and conscious deception (ravens, when aware of being observed, will make a show of creating false caches under the understanding that other ravens can't tell the difference if they can't see the food go in. Autistic humans have trouble with this concept).

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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby gmalivuk » Mon Jul 06, 2009 11:10 pm UTC

SummerGlauFan wrote:The thing I find amusing is that we are assuming that an alien civilization, if it exists, would be anything like us. We are assuming that they would have the resources necessary to have technology similar to ours. We assume that they would have a desire to spread beyond their world, and to keep increasing in numbers after that. Heck, we are assuming that alien civilizations did not get wiped out by either natural disasters or their own actions.

Not to mention, they may not even be moving in our direction. Even if they are, they may be doing so very, very slowly. There is no guarantee that an alien race would even have the desire to expand exponentially; they may have a low birthrate, by choice or by nature, and thus a decreased need to spread out. Finally, we are assuming that they have any desire at all to make contact with us.

We are not assuming any of those things about an alien civilization in general. We are assuming those things about any alien civilization we might actually ever encounter. Also, growing exponentially, in the experience of everything on Earth, is not something that happens or doesn't happen based on desire. It's something that happens or doesn't happen based on availability of resources.

The "moving in our direction" part is a logical consequence of any civilization that is spreading out. The galaxy is finite, and so by spreading out a civilization must eventually spread in our direction.

Any birthrate above 1 birth per adult per lifetime (i.e. 2 per female if it reproduces sexually and there are two sexes) leads to exponential growth. Any sustained birthrate less than that eventually leads to population collapse. "A decreased need to spread out", therefore, just means it takes a bit longer for their growth to be stopped by that ultimate speed limit of light.
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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby BlackSails » Tue Jul 07, 2009 12:00 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:Any birthrate above 1 birth per adult per lifetime (i.e. 2 per female if it reproduces sexually and there are two sexes) leads to exponential growth. Any sustained birthrate less than that eventually leads to population collapse. "A decreased need to spread out", therefore, just means it takes a bit longer for their growth to be stopped by that ultimate speed limit of light.


They could also reach equilibrium, where births=deaths and they have no need to expand further.

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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby SummerGlauFan » Tue Jul 07, 2009 1:23 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:We are not assuming any of those things about an alien civilization in general. We are assuming those things about any alien civilization we might actually ever encounter. Also, growing exponentially, in the experience of everything on Earth, is not something that happens or doesn't happen based on desire. It's something that happens or doesn't happen based on availability of resources.


It is actually based on need. I.e., how much a population needs x resource, and how plentiful it is. A space-based civilization is really only going to need two things: energy, and room to live (they are lifeforms, after all). There is PLENTY of both in the galaxy, and it is quite conceivable that a civilization may see no reason to spread beyond x number of worlds/systems. Just because human beings spread like a plague throughout Earth, and would likely (at least initially) do the same in space if given the chance, does not mean another species will.

gmalivuk wrote:The "moving in our direction" part is a logical consequence of any civilization that is spreading out. The galaxy is finite, and so by spreading out a civilization must eventually spread in our direction.


If by "eventually," you mean millions, or tens of millions, of years, then yeah, they would eventually find their way here. But, again, that is under the assumption that a species even has the means to get off their planet to begin with, and that their civilization stays stable over millions of years. There are entire species that don't even exist for that long.

gmalivuk wrote:Any birthrate above 1 birth per adult per lifetime (i.e. 2 per female if it reproduces sexually and there are two sexes) leads to exponential growth. Any sustained birthrate less than that eventually leads to population collapse. "A decreased need to spread out", therefore, just means it takes a bit longer for their growth to be stopped by that ultimate speed limit of light.


There are countries with birthrates in equilibrium, I see no reason why an alien culture can't also do this. It is also likely (of course, assuming a civilization even thinks like we do) that an alien race will know the consequences of overpopulation, and will take steps to prevent that. The simplest way to do that is to curb the birth rate, which should be ridiculously easy for any civilization capable of interstellar travel. Besides, even if their population does grow, it isn't likely to grow very fast (First World nations on Earth generally have low birth rates, compared to less advanced nations), and that could still mean thousands of years at a time where they don't need to spread to other worlds.

Finally, one reason we may not have ever been contacted by alien civilizations is because they just might not want to contact us. I wouldn't blame them.
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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Jul 07, 2009 3:21 am UTC

SummerGlauFan wrote:If by "eventually," you mean millions, or tens of millions, of years, then yeah, they would eventually find their way here.

Well sure. But the Fermi "paradox" works because the galaxy has been around billions of years. Millions or tens of millions is negligible compared to that.
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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby SummerGlauFan » Tue Jul 07, 2009 5:30 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
SummerGlauFan wrote:If by "eventually," you mean millions, or tens of millions, of years, then yeah, they would eventually find their way here.

Well sure. But the Fermi "paradox" works because the galaxy has been around billions of years. Millions or tens of millions is negligible compared to that.

But as I said int he sentence immediately after that, your statement assumes that a civilization could even leave it's planet, and that even if it could, that it would remain stable over millions of years.

The point I am trying to make is that there are any number of factors that could prevent a civilization from reaching us, and even if they did, they may be uninterested in having anything to do with us.
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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby Zamfir » Tue Jul 07, 2009 7:50 am UTC

SUmmerGlauFan wrote:our statement assumes that a civilization could even leave it's planet, and that even if it could, that it would remain stable over millions of years.


Well, but that's interesting knowledge in itself. Fermi' s paradox suggests that either intelligent life vaguely like us is extremely rare, much more so than our limited experience suggests to us, or that indeed interstellar spaceflight is in practice impossible or impossible to maintain for more than say thousands of years.

Of course, the paradox doesn't tell how much it suggests the first and how much the second, but the aggregate is still somewhat useful.
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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby Heisenberg » Tue Jul 07, 2009 3:03 pm UTC

SummerGlauFan wrote:It is also likely (of course, assuming a civilization even thinks like we do) that an alien race will know the consequences of overpopulation, and will take steps to prevent that.

The only "consequence of overpopulation" is simple conservation of energy. If your population grows faster than your resource availability, then there are fewer resources per individual. If a species develops easy access to space, there are no consequences to exponential expansion, because all the resources in the galaxy are at your disposal (including Mars, and Earth). It's important to note that there are no alien cities on Mars reaping its abundant resources (yet).

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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby EdgarJPublius » Wed Jul 08, 2009 7:56 pm UTC

No mention of Metalicity yet? (at least, I didn't see one)

put shortly, stars with planetary systems that are significantly composed of heavy elements (basically, anything heavier than iron) are relatively recent (these heavy elements are only formed in phenomena such as supernovae).
These stars with heavy element rich planetary systems are called Population 1, with population 2 being stars with some heavy elements, and population 3 being hypothetical helium/hydrogen (and some lithium perhaps) stars that formed shortly after the big bang and quickly exhausted their fuel supply and exploded, giving life to population two and subsequently population one stars.

Given that the Sun is a fairly average population 1 star, and that our solar system is assumed to be fairly typical of life-forming solar systems, it seems likely that any extra-terrestrial civilizations are not much older than our own (based in part on the assumption that extinction events are a normal, if not necessary part of the life-cycle of life-bearing planets).

Additionally, our ability to detect the signs of life in other systems is pretty limited, Kepler, which just launched recently, is the first satellite actually capable of detecting earth-like planets in our stellar neighborhood, and iirc, it's not even capable of usefully analyzing those planets atmosphere for life or civilization markers.

Finally, even if we assume that we would be able to see life within our own galaxy, nearby galaxy's are still far enough away that if a civilization had colonized them thousands of years ago, the light of those events would not yet have reached us. the Local Group alone is around ten million light years across, if a galaxy on the other side of the group had been colonized 5 million years ago, we would just now be seeing it.

So, to summarize:

Extra-Terrestrial-Civilizations (ETCs) may not expand as fast as Fermi believed
ETCs are likely not as old as Fermi believed
We may not be able to see ETCs even if they are as old and are able to expand as fast as Fermi believed.
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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby SummerGlauFan » Wed Jul 08, 2009 8:35 pm UTC

EdgarJPublius wrote:Stuff about Metalicity


That was kinda what I was talking about when I mentioned that many alien civs (especially if they existed a long time ago) may have lacked the resources necessary to get off their world. I just didn't know that there was a word for it. :)

A lack of strong, useable metal, and a lack of heavy, radioactive metal for use as a power source, would severely hamper any civilization's ability to leave it's planet.

Zamfir wrote:Well, but that's interesting knowledge in itself. Fermi' s paradox suggests that either intelligent life vaguely like us is extremely rare, much more so than our limited experience suggests to us, or that indeed interstellar spaceflight is in practice impossible or impossible to maintain for more than say thousands of years.

Of course, the paradox doesn't tell how much it suggests the first and how much the second, but the aggregate is still somewhat useful.


Well, if the paradox suggests that civilizations would not remain stable over such long periods of time, then yeah, I could go along with that. I was under the impression that it was leaning much more toward the first, though.

Heisenberg wrote:The only "consequence of overpopulation" is simple conservation of energy. If your population grows faster than your resource availability, then there are fewer resources per individual. If a species develops easy access to space, there are no consequences to exponential expansion, because all the resources in the galaxy are at your disposal (including Mars, and Earth). It's important to note that there are no alien cities on Mars reaping its abundant resources (yet).


Well, you've greatly oversimplified the possible limitations to population. Let's look at two scenarios.

1. No FTL. Population is a much larger issue here. The only easily available places to expand are the planets in the race's star system. Out of necessity, they are going to have to be centered around a life-bearing world, meaning that at least for quite awhile the bulk of their population will live there, with all the likely support structures for that such as transportation, housing, and power generation, and they will likely have several industries based there (agriculture especially). We already know the consequences of overpopulation on a life-bearing world. Even if they do send colonists to other star systems, they will still have to eventually deal with the same restrictions on their populations as those in their home systems.

2. FTL. Overpopulation is not as great a concern, but there are other factors. The primary one being, such a civilization is likely to focus on life-bearing worlds for colonizatization (though probably not LIMITED to such worlds, most of the population would likely live on such worlds). Why bother trying to build on a mars-like planet or the moon of a gas giant when you can just dump colonists onto a world they can live on unassisted? The issue here is, the availability of worlds compatible to their species. While I have no doubt Earth-like worlds (and maybe life-bearing worlds that are nothing like Earth) exist, we have no current way of knowing how common they are. They likely aren't as densely packed as Star Trek portrays them; if they formed like our current science thinks Earth did, they might be fairly rare. The population would then be limited to the number of people that could live on those worlds without significant negative impact to its environment and ecology (which would also depend, of course, on the value a civilization places on the environment and ecology of a world).
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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby Heisenberg » Wed Jul 08, 2009 9:07 pm UTC

EdgarJPublius wrote:We may not be able to see ETCs even if they are as old and are able to expand as fast as Fermi believed.

Seeing other planets is not an issue for Fermi. The question is: Why don't we see ETCs at the pub, having a pint? The idea is that if life is abundant and mobile, chances are good that they'd have stopped in for a drink already.
SummerGlauFan wrote:We already know the consequences of overpopulation on a life-bearing world.

We know that after a while, it gets crowded, and people expand to new frontiers. Easy access to space, which is a technological achievement we're assuming some aliens will develop, opens a new frontier. When they find more planets, they too will get crowded, and colonists will move on. Expanding is what species do.
SummerGlauFan wrote:such a civilization is likely to focus on life-bearing worlds for colonizatization

I think this is an assumption, but even if it's true, it just means that aliens will move faster. Instead of stopping at lame places like the asteroid belt, they'll come straight to Earth! If Earth-like planets are rare, and aliens need them to live, there is no reason why aliens shouldn't be here now.

On the "civilizations can't last that long" justification, it's important to point out that for this to truly limit alien expansion, it would have to be a species-extinction event that happens to all species after a certain amount of time/population. Even if a species were to expand over several systems and have a nuclear war blast them back to the stone age, it only takes a few milennia to reach space again, this time with a new civilization. "Uncontrollable size" is a slowing factor, not a stopping factor.

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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby EdgarJPublius » Wed Jul 08, 2009 9:37 pm UTC

Heisenberg wrote:
EdgarJPublius wrote:We may not be able to see ETCs even if they are as old and are able to expand as fast as Fermi believed.

Seeing other planets is not an issue for Fermi. The question is: Why don't we see ETCs at the pub, having a pint? The idea is that if life is abundant and mobile, chances are good that they'd have stopped in for a drink already.


Some statements of Fermi's paradox for solutions to the Drake Equation where there is only one or fewer ETCs per galaxy only work if we can see a difference between colonized galaxies and non-colonized galaxies.
Other statements indicate ETCs may be currently spreading through the galaxy and just haven't reached our neighborhood yet, or follow some sort of Prime-Directive of non-intervention, likewise, these formulations only hold if we can tell the difference between stars with an ETC colony around them and stars without.
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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby gmalivuk » Wed Jul 08, 2009 11:45 pm UTC

EdgarJPublius wrote:Given that the Sun is a fairly average population 1 star, and that our solar system is assumed to be fairly typical of life-forming solar systems, it seems likely that any extra-terrestrial civilizations are not much older than our own

Right, but this is on an astronomical time scale. Where "not much older" means "only ten to a hundred million years older, rather than 1-10 billion years older"...
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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby EdgarJPublius » Thu Jul 09, 2009 4:23 am UTC

depending on the density of ETC's, that range is plenty small enough to prevent an ETC in our neighborhood from expanding enough to have become detectable.
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Re: Galactic civs limited by inability to grow exponentially

Postby SummerGlauFan » Thu Jul 09, 2009 4:25 am UTC

Eh, my scenarios were in response to the erroneous statement that population is only limited by the conservation of energy. I admit I allowed myself to be sidetracked. I blame the fact that I had just got back from work.

However, if an alien species, capable of civilization, is anything like us biologically, then it stands to reason that their birthrate would not be exceptionally high. As I pointed out earlier, civilization with higher levels of technology tend to have lower birthrates, as evidenced by most First-World nations on Earth compared to other, less-advanced nations. It is not inconceivable that such a society would have a static population.

As to the likelihood of a civilization existing for millions of years at a pop: Most (if any) species don't even last that long at all, let alone a civilization. Any event drastic enough to disrupt a space-based civilization could mean that it would take the survivors tens of thousands of years to just recover to our level of technology (not to mention the fact that they would have all the very nasty problems that low-tech and developing societies have to put up with), let alone regain spaceflight ability if they are even able to.

Anywho, to summarize all my thoughts about this: if the paradox only says that there must be few to no ETC's, I disagree with the train of thought the paradox's inventor used.

If, however, it goes further to say that if civilizations exist, then they are either relatively new, they destabilize over time/are somehow limited in size or expansion ability, or are completely uninterested in contact with us, then I could get behind that.
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