Saturday, March 14, 2009

Fermi Paradox revisited and ‘planned of the apes’

Welcome! "Alien Life" tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. You may notice that this and future entries are shorter than usual; career, family and book deal commitments have forced me to cut back some of my projects. Now, here's today's news:
g Abodes - Hunting for a planet that can support life? There's more to it than looking for Earth's distant twin. See article.
g Intelligence - Think people are the only ones who can plan for the future? You may change your mind when you hear the story of Santino the chimpanzee, whose premeditated attacks on zoo visitors are described in Current Biology. See article.
g Message - If intelligent life is out there, why haven’t we heard from it yet? So the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi asked in 1950 – over lunch, as legend has it, with Edward Teller, one of the fathers of the hydrogen bomb. It’s an innocent enough question, but history knows it by a grand title: the Fermi Paradox, a theoretical battlefield where for years intuitions have clashed and no clear victor emerges. See article.
g Cosmicus - A 5-inch piece of an old rocket engine recently came within striking distance of the International Space Station (ISS). See article.

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Search4XtraLife said...

Most humans see themselves as very advanced and smarter than all of the creatures on Earth. But as demonstrated by the chimps, animals are much more intelligent than we think. We only consider ourselves smarter than animals because we can alter our environment more than other animals. But HOW MANY species have tools, or make huge structures? Ants, termites, chimpanzees, spiders, octopi.............

Rob Bignell said...

Yes, there appears to several types of intelligences, just as there are various senses (dolphins possessing echolocation, insects' ability to pick up certain pheremones independent of smell). Question: What intelligences might an alien species possess that would differ from ours and send them to the stars?

Anonymous said...

There is more to being smarter than the other animals than altering the environment. That planning is not uniquely human is no surprise considering new research on how all neural networks work (it would be far more complex to trap it in the present!) but our ancestors had evolved virtually modern human brains before becoming ecologically dominant, and there is still a small number of human tribes who are not ecologically dominant alive. Modern research on the limitations of ape intelligence suggests that it is the apes having too low level of curiosity to bother revealing explanations (which affects the understanding of reality and also may be a part contributor to the limitation below by not having sufficient brain capacity for discussion), and also being too machiavellian to cooperate and communicate properly (they are too suspicious and selfish).

Rob Bignell said...

Good point, Anonymous. Being the dominant species involves more than just being able to alter the environment. Humans do have the capacity to imagine such alterations and to reflect upon them. This implies a capacity for symbolic thought - which other species do possess thought apparently not to the same degre as we do. Is it this ability to think symbolically that serves as the basis for our curiosity and ethics? It's probably more complicated than that and liek asking "What came first, the chicken or the egg?"

So, could ETI develop space travel and radio telescopes without the capacity for symbolic thought ... or will they have art and music and alongside math and science, just as we do?