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Are we alone in the universe?


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26 minutes ago, Mandy D said:

As an engineer I understand all too well that RF works and we engineers use that which works. However, scientists are in a different class to engineers and are looking for the unknown.

It’s a good way of putting it @Mandy D. This quote is emblazoned on a wall at our office which you’d appreciate as an engineer 😀

Scientists study the world as it is; engineers create the world that has never been” -Theodore von Karman 

 

Edited by Astro_Dad
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1 hour ago, andrew s said:

Yes and no. Yes it's always legitimate but no it's not science. For it to be science you need to have your hypothesis make predictions which are at least in principle testable. 

Regards Andrew 

It’s a good debate, and of course if you subscribe to Popper’s philosophy of science a hypothesis can never be proven. 

Edited by Astro_Dad
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1 hour ago, Mandy D said:

It is very clear to anyone with a good grounding in physics that much remains to be discovered and that surprises await us. So, why not dream and consider what some of those things may be?

I am a counter example to this assertion.  I belive we have probed the the full energy and size ranges realistically accessible to us. We have to look at astronomical events to go further which bring it's own challenges. 

In my view it is not the lack of ideas,  hypothesis and brain power that is the issue but the lact of new phenomena that can guide the thinking.

Yes we have dark energy and matter but they illustrate the difficulty with astronomical observations alone. If I recall The Sky at Night correctly the total mass of suspected dark matter in the solar system is about the mass if a squirrel.  Difficult to experiment on!

Regards Andrew 

PS I forgot to say I have a PhD in physics so I meet the criteria 😊

PPS In the context of the OPs question I find the "are we alone" question deeply uninteresting.  It's grant bait! But, I am an old cynic. 

Edited by andrew s
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9 minutes ago, andrew s said:

I am a counter example to this assertion.  I belive we have probed the the full energy and size ranges realistically accessible to us. We have to look at astronomical events to go further which bring it's own challenges. 

In my view it is not the lack of ideas,  hypothesis and brain power that is the issue but the lact of new phenomena that can guide the thinking.

Yes we have dark energy and matter but they illustrate the difficulty with astronomical observations alone. If I recall The Sky at Night correctly the total mass of suspected dark matter in the solar system is about the mass if a squirrel.  Difficult to experiment on!

Regards Andrew 

PS I forgot to say I have a PhD in physics so I meet the criteria 😊

CERN appear to disagree with Sky at Night, giving an estimate of 27% for dark matter.

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6 minutes ago, Mandy D said:

CERN appear to disagree with Sky at Night, giving an estimate of 27% for dark matter.

Not sure what you mean? 27% of the mass of the solar system? We would be tripping over it. 

The 27% is the total but it is not uniformly distributed as it lacks the EM interaction it can't accreate in the same way ordinary matter does by frictional heating and radiating away energy .

Regards Andrew 

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13 hours ago, neil phillips said:

Dont talk to Olly about assumption 😬

Assumptions are fine so long as they are falsifiable.  Assumptions are the foundations of science there to be verified with evidence. 

Jim 

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3 hours ago, ollypenrice said:

But we would think that because we are judging our own level of understanding with... ahem... our own level of understanding. 

Olly

 

Not at all Olly, I have judged that against all other known life.  What are you judging it against ;) 

Jim 

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1 hour ago, Mandy D said:

We have to pose questions in order to answer them. A hypothesis which is currently unllasifiable may become falsifiable or, indeed proven correct, tomorrow. Did not the alchemists attempt to turn lead into gold? Can we not now do this, albeit by other means than chemical?

As an engineer I understand all too well that RF works and we engineers use that which works. However, scientists are in a different class to engineers and are looking for the unknown. Sometimes they postulate what might be and set out to search for it. Yes, this is usually founded on what is known and requires adjustment to make it fit with the facts, hence why we currently have a postulate regarding the existence of dark matter and dark energy, yet no-one has found lab samples of either so far. It may end up not existing and in it's place will be found new laws of physics or adjustments to existing ones.

It is very clear to anyone with a good grounding in physics that much remains to be discovered and that surprises await us. So, why not dream and consider what some of those things may be?

I totally agree Mandy, we are free to dream up any fantastical notion we care to but it does not follow that this is compatible with the scientific method. There is also little point in hoping an idea which is presently unfalsifiable at some later date becomes falsifiable for we are unable to proceed further until that date.  We sit here in the 21 centaury with no knowledge nor access to sub space faster than light communications. We can postulate to the cows come home on such a technology but it adds nothing to efforts of the scientific/engineering  community who are presently investigating the cosmos using the electromagnetic spectrum.  The reason they are doing that is because we understand it and we can engineer suitable detectors and have mastery of the physics defining em field behaviour.  There is a lot of pragmatism in science, more so in engineering.   I honestly know of no other way of detecting any signs of communication from space other than via the em spectrum.  If anybody is aware then please get your ideas published. 

Regarding thoughts on dark matter and dark energy.  These two speculative properties are not flights of whimsy rather they emerge from scientific observation.  Both are postulated in response to observations and measurements concerning  the rate of expansion and rotational characteristics of galaxies.  Their names are unfortunate, in that they may not turn out to be matter or energy. The names are simply placeholders for the properties that are causing the effects we measure.  In time we will either confirm their existence or revise our understanding  on expansion and the rotational speed of galaxies. 

Jim 

 

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1 hour ago, Astro_Dad said:

It’s a good way of putting it @Mandy D. This quote is emblazoned on a wall at our office which you’d appreciate as an engineer 😀

Scientists study the world as it is; engineers create the world that has never been” -Theodore von Karman 

 

I like this one :

Engineering - the slower younger brother of Physics   - Sheldon Cooper  (The Big Bang Theory)

Jim 

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5 minutes ago, saac said:

Their names are unfortunate, in that they may not turn out to be matter or energy. The names are simply placeholders for the properties that are causing the effects we measure.  In time we will either confirm their existence or revise our understanding  on expansion and the rotational speed of galaxies. 

Very true but they are in this regard no different from the more familiar terms like atom or electron. We have been able to probe their properties better but nonetheless they are just names for components of our models. What they "mean" depends on the theory. The idea of an atom in classical physics is different from that in old quantum theory and different again to that in QFT. These are again far different the pondering of Democritus. 

Regards Andrew 

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55 minutes ago, saac said:

Not at all Olly, I have judged that against all other known life.  What are you judging it against ;) 

Jim 

But this is a conversation about potentially unknown life, so a scale which tops out at what we know, or can do, is hardly adequate.  I'm not judging our intelligence at all, in this context, since I have no idea what other intelligences might be like. That's why I don't say that I think we're good at understanding things. We are better, it seems, than bivalves but we have no idea what an upper limit might be.

As always, though, I signal clearly that I see no reason to suppose that advanced intelligence will necessarily lead to advanced technology.

Olly

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1 minute ago, ollypenrice said:

But this is a conversation about potentially unknown life, so a scale which tops out at what we know, or can do, is hardly adequate.  I'm not judging our intelligence at all, in this context, since I have no idea what other intelligences might be like. That's why I don't say that I think we're good at understanding things. We are better, it seems, than bivalves but we have no idea what an upper limit might be.

As always, though, I signal clearly that I see no reason to suppose that advanced intelligence will necessarily lead to advanced technology.

Olly

I am having difficulty grasping  what you intend "intelligence " to mean in this context. 

What characteristic would it have in your view? How would you recognise it at all let alone as more or less advanced.

If you can't imagine what it might be like is it not an empty term or a synonym for different? 

Regards Andrew 

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30 minutes ago, andrew s said:

I am having difficulty grasping  what you intend "intelligence " to mean in this context. 

What characteristic would it have in your view? How would you recognise it at all let alone as more or less advanced.

If you can't imagine what it might be like is it not an empty term or a synonym for different? 

Regards Andrew 

I share your uncertainties. How would I recognize it? I might not, which has been behind my repeated urging of caution against anthropomorphic assumptions about intelligence. However, I use 'intelligent' to describe entities, real or hypothetical, who can react to sensory information with the capacity to distinguish themselves from that information. That reaction must include the ability to manipulate the information and to speculate about it. In short, an intelligent entity must be self aware. Now some will argue that the self is illusory but I've never been able to embrace this view. 

If I stick with this definition I can conceive of entities who might accumulate quite different sensory information to that which I collect and who might manipulate it in quite different ways, using quite different media. (By media I mean what we call language. It's beyond me to conceive of the manipulation of information without some kind of medium in which to do it. We do it using words or mathematics, though perhaps we also think 'pictorially' in some ways. Sometimes the medium of our speculation can be impossible to pin down and may be unknown to us. I'm thinking of that moment when, after struggling with some puzzle, you suddenly think 'Got it!' without knowing how you got it.)

So I don't think the term is empty so much as open-ended.

Olly

Edited by ollypenrice
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  • Mr Spock changed the title to Are we alone in the universe?
1 hour ago, ollypenrice said:

But this is a conversation about potentially unknown life, so a scale which tops out at what we know, or can do, is hardly adequate.

Olly

I disagree, profoundly. Science is a human philosophy, it is bound by the human condition. The scale therefore carries our imprint throughout by necessity. I have no difficulty using different scales, playing at "let's imagine what other life may exist" but we can do that within a scientific context or outwith, not both.  There are other human philosophies better equipped to handle those enquiries; I do engage on those but not on this forum  😇

On our achievements, I'm firmly in the group that finds our understanding of nature nothing short of amazing.  Our position is wholly unreasonable.  Yet here we are, measuring 1/10 th the diameter of a proton over 4km to detect the echo of an event that took place over 1.4 billion years ago.  Close to confining a star on Earth to extract energy (cue cries of "always 50 years away"), our machines sailing interstellar space carrying evidence to the stars that we are (were) here.   Not bad at all.

Jim 

 

 

 

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Imagine a water world where evolution has resulted in dextrous communal octopus like lifeforms, capable of conscious thought, able to communicate, use tools and tell jokes about sharks. 

No fire. No industrialization. Superb nuanced conversation, but no radio. 

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1 hour ago, 900SL said:

Imagine a water world where evolution has resulted in dextrous communal octopus like lifeforms, capable of conscious thought, able to communicate, use tools and tell jokes about sharks. 

No fire. No industrialization. Superb nuanced conversation, but no radio. 

It's possible that octopuses are already there - certainly they're capable of using tools, they are impressive problem solvers, so I wouldn't rule out being capable of conscious thought - not sure if they tell jokes though, they are primarily solitary living, so finding an audience may be an issue. 

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Have been thinking (whatever that is) about the range of senses that are used by life on Earth and have come up with..

Visual covering the range from IR to UV.

Sound.

Taste.

Smell.

Magnetic fields.

Electro Magnetism.

To understand these inputs we need a processing unit and memory and a way of recording these for future generations.

So given these senses what would the development of technology require as a minimum and could it be done without sight for example and are there any other senses we don't know about?

Alan

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43 minutes ago, Alien 13 said:

So given these senses what would the development of technology require as a minimum and could it be done without sight for example and are there any other senses we don't know about?

Interesting Alan,  I suppose natural selection may have produced organisms that can sense everything that’s out there as an advantage? But then again I can’t sense magnetic fields like maybe a pigeon can so who knows? 

You didn’t mention sensing temperature but I suppose that is just touch?

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1 minute ago, Andy ES said:

Interesting Alan,  I suppose natural selection may have produced organisms that can sense everything that’s out there as an advantage? But then again I can’t sense magnetic fields like maybe a pigeon can so who knows? 

You didn’t mention sensing temperature but I suppose that is just touch?

Temperature is a valid one and those critters that can detect IR at a distance seem quite common. Another sense is pressure detection.

Alan

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1 hour ago, Alien 13 said:

Have been thinking (whatever that is) about the range of senses that are used by life on Earth and have come up with..

Visual covering the range from IR to UV.

Sound.

Taste.

Smell.

Magnetic fields.

Electro Magnetism.

To understand these inputs we need a processing unit and memory and a way of recording these for future generations.

So given these senses what would the development of technology require as a minimum and could it be done without sight for example and are there any other senses we don't know about?

Alan

Not sure about senses remaining that we don't know about, although my wife always knows when I'm considering another astro related investment :)  

I think we are improving our understanding of how certain senses work. Prof Jim Al-Khalili looked at the role of quantum effects in the sensory perception of Robins (navigation) and insects (smell).  If I remember correctly the Robins were sensing quantum level changes in a certain molecule in their retinas, the quantum state influenced by the Earth's magnetic field.  The insects were sensing the frequency of vibrating molecules (scent carriers)  allowing them to discriminate between scents due to atomic weight of the constituent atoms!  Quite remarkable. So definitely a lot more to understand about how our senses work. 

Jim 

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Are we alone in the universe?

Maybe yes, maybe no. Will we ever find out?  No, I don’t think so. The universe is way too big, we’re way too small (intellectually and physically) and everything’s way too far away.

Well, that’s my honest two penneth.

You can see why any attempt at discussion with me doesn’t get very far.

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7 minutes ago, lukebl said:

The universe is way too big, we’re way too small (intellectually and physically) and everything’s way too far away

Yes, I think we collectively get carried away with our importance in the grand scheme of things.

The best thing we could do is to stop over thinking it and enjoy the journey! :)

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Given that we have learned to use technology to probe regions inaccessible to our senses, would it not be possible, in principle, for beings to evolve so as to do so without the technology and perceive these regions directly? Our technology involves the use of the same atoms and molecules, the same energy sources (ultimately solar) and the same underlying physics.  We know that we are surrounded by an assortment of what physics calls fields and can detect them technologically. It's a small step to think of detecting them directly - provided we stop thinking anthropomorphically.

A step further: the quantum world remains, in many ways, closed to us. We have made remarkable discoveries about the way it will behave given different stimulii but we can't grasp it intellectually in the way we can a billiard table during a game, for instance. If we are still floundering around using metaphors like 'wave' and 'particle,' neither of which has consistent descriptive power, we don't understand it in the way that we understand the macro world. Yet we are made of quantum stuff. Odd!  Does it have to be so?  Might it not be possible to have an intelligence which, by some means, is not separated from the quantum world by this intellectual barrier?

17 hours ago, 900SL said:

Imagine a water world where evolution has resulted in dextrous communal octopus like lifeforms, capable of conscious thought, able to communicate, use tools and tell jokes about sharks. 

No fire. No industrialization. Superb nuanced conversation, but no radio. 

Precisely. I often think that moving onto land may have been a great driver of technology and that, in the water, intelligence might prosper to great sophistication without it.  The sea has little fluctuation in temperature, at least locally. It removes the need to invent flight. 😃 It allows long distance communication (eg whales.) It allows for long distance travel. A lot of inventing has already gone out of the window!

Olly 

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It's life Jim, but not as we know it.

We are still trying to define life and intelligence by our own limited perspective.

Life out there may even be non-corporeal. How could we comprehend such a being? The possibilities for life are unimaginable to us, we are simply too limited in our knowledge and thought processes.

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28 minutes ago, Mr Spock said:

It's life Jim, but not as we know it.

We are still trying to define life and intelligence by our own limited perspective.

Life out there may even be non-corporeal. How could we comprehend such a being? The possibilities for life are unimaginable to us, we are simply too limited in our knowledge and thought processes.

Though I haven't read it, Fred Hoyle wrote a SciFi story about a sentient cloud, I think.

Olly

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