Jan 05 2012

Is Earth Unique? What this “Benchmark Moment” Means for ETs and Our Future

Astronomer John Gribbin (Alone in the Universe; 2011) uses the latest astrophysics to make an impressive scientific case that we are alone in our Galaxy.

This is despite several hundred planets currently known to exist around nearby stars, and despite NASA’s recent discovery of Earth-size planets orbiting Sun-like stars, as well as the potential for billions of such worlds in our Galaxy of almost one trillion stars.

Even Gort and Klaatu (from “The Day the Earth Stood Still“; 1951) could learn a trick or two from the ultra-ETs — suggested by current astrophysics and physics — that might be visiting us today.

Despite this “benchmark moment in the history of science” according to Berkeley astronomer Geoffrey Marcy (Wall Street Journal, 12/21/11), Gribbin traces the origin of human intelligence and civilization from the Big Bang to today, and shows that the odds of our development are so small that we are most likely the first high civilization to arise in the Milky Way.

For example, Gribbin points to the origin of the Moon by an impact with a Mars-size body over 4 billion years ago as a pivotal and yet very dicey event. The impact itself had to avoid destroying Earth’s spin (as apparently happened at Venus) and yet excavate and launch into space enough material to form an unusually large Moon that could gravitationally anchor Earth’s axial tilt. Without such a Moon our rotation axis would wobble chaotically due to tugs by Jupiter, Venus and other bodies, and undermine the long-term climate stability conducive to the development of high intelligence and civilization.

Last summer Howard A. Smith of the Harvard Center for Astrophysics also independently found ETs to be scarce in the Galaxy — in American Scientist (July-August, 2011) — as did I last March: Click HERE. I used an updated, anthropic version of the Drake Equation to show that unless a high-tech civilization lives for at least millions of years (highly unlikely) we are probably alone in the Galaxy.

However, other scientists hold contrary views. For example, as I noted in October, 2010:

Following scientific meetings in 2009 at the Vatican on Extraterrestrials, the prestigious UK Royal Society has had not just one, but 2 scientific meetings in 2010 (in January and just last week) to consider if exterrestrials are here on Earth and how to properly greet them.

This current growth of interest in ETs and Earth-like planets is part of a multi-century trend recognized by 21stCenturyWaves.com. It extends back to at least the 19th century and has presaged and figured prominently in each transformative Maslow Window since that time.

For example, just after the financial Panic of 1893 that ultimately led to “Panama fever” and “pole mania” of the early 20th century Maslow Window, it featured the founding of Lowell Observatory in Arizona to study evidence for a highly intelligent canal-building civilization on Mars. Early in the Apollo Maslow Window, Frank Drake began the radio search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) almost a decade before humans first landed on the Moon in 1969.
For more see: “State of the Wave: ETs Surge to Center Stage.”

If we take Gribbin’s conclusion seriously for a moment, it has a number of intriguing implications for the cosmos, ETs, and our future:

1. If we are the first lofty civilization to develop in our Galaxy then radio SETI should not expect success, and we will never see interstellar Von Neumann machines in our vicinity. But the good news was envisioned by Marshall Savage in The Millennial Project (1992):

The stars are our destiny…Strewn like diamonds…All these treasures are free for the taking. There is no guardian genie. There are no alien owners to be bargained with, no evil empires to be vanquished…The galaxy is free and open now in a way it never will be again.

2. If there are no native ETs in our Galaxy, then UFOs may come from very far away — other galaxies or even other universes — and will require exotic transportation concepts (e.g., wormholes) to arrive here. This is a future that could begin tomorrow or may already be in progress, and was imagined — both the good and bad news — by Deardorff et al. in JBIS (2005):

While the ‘We are alone’ solution to Fermi’s paradox was once a seemingly valid one, this answer is now incompatible with the infinite universe and random self-sampling assumption consistent with inflation theory. We thus find ourselves in the curious position that current cosmological theory predicts that we should be experiencing extraterrestrial visitation…

The huge technological head start of the presumed ETs would still come as a great shock to many … The implication that we would be powerless relative to their presumed capabilities and evolutionary advantage may be most unwelcome … science would have difficulty coming to terms with the situation.

3. If there are no ETs from anywhere, then UFOs may originate from covert, terrestrial sources (e.g., secret military aircraft) and we have arrived in Jacques Vallee’s intriguing world of Messenger’s of Deception (1979):

UFOs may be a control system…there is a genuine technology at work here, causing the effects witnesses are describing. But I am not ready to jump to the conclusion that it is … some kind of “spacemen.”

The social, political, and religious consequences of the (UFO) experience are enormous … over the timespan of a generation… Is the public being deceived and led to false conclusions by someone who is using UFO witnesses to propagate … social conditioning?


4. Gribbin’s conclusion scientifically elevates human civilization to the pinnacle of the Galaxy which has important implications for both space colonization and theology:

My view is that while life itself may be common, the kind of intelligent, technological civilization that has emerged on Earth may be unique, at least in our Milky Way Galaxy…

Whether or not you see the hand of God in any of this, it would mean that we are the most technnologically advanced civilization in the Universe, and the only witnesses with an understanding of the origin and nature of the Universe itself.

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Is Earth Unique? What this “Benchmark Moment” Means for ETs and Our Future”

  1. Raymondon 13 Jan 2012 at 2:17 pm

    This would then mean that we need to get past our problems on earth, ‘grow up’ as it were, (stop over population, extinction/poaching and over fishing of species and deforestations) and realise we are guardians of this planet and of potentially the only sentient intelligence in the milky way and accept our responsibility in maintaining and protecting all life on this and any other planet we see/visit.

    And if there are others out there watching, doing this wouldnt hurt our ‘public image’

    Hi Raymond,
    Thanks for that interesting comment.

    I would put the emphasis a little differently. Assuming for a moment that we are the only high civilization in the Galaxy and truly the stewards of high intelligence, we should identify a strategy that allows humanity to prosper, in every sense of the word. The clear emphasis should be on humans and their civilization, including their potential to optimally utilize the Galaxy.

    It appears that humans are particularly productive, tolerant, and inventive during Maslow Windows, especially in the arenas of huge technology programs like the Panama Canal, and great explorations like Apollo.

    This is a hint that space colonization — human settlement of the solar system and then the Galaxy — is the optimal “plan” for human civilization. There won’t be just one plan for humanity, there will be many plans devised independently by many groups that allow them to display their enormous creativity using galactic resources and learning opportunities to claim their galactic legacy.

    Best regards,

  2. johnon 08 Mar 2012 at 6:43 am

    So, an ‘an impressive scientific case’ proving a negative?

    I don’t think it’s been proven yet. But the case is gaining scientific momentum.


Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply