Why Worry about ET, Stephen Hawking?

Famous astrophysicist, Stephen Hawking, made the news recently when he called for us to stop attempting to contact ET.  No offense to Dr. Hawking and other scientists who have similar points of view, but I find the whole argument about dangerous ET’s, to use a Vulcan phrase, “highly illogical.”

First of all, there is the whole issue around the ability to contact ET.  As I showed in my post “Could Gliesians be Watching Baywatch“, it is virtually impossible to communicate with any extraterrestrial civilization beyond our solar system without significant power and antenna gain.  The world’s most powerful radio astronomy dish at Arecibo has a gain of 60 dB, which means that it could barely detect a 100 kilowatt non-directional signal generated from a planet 20 light years away, such as Gliese 581g, but only if it were pointed right at it.  More to the point, what are the odds that such a civilization would be at the right level of technology to be communicating with us, using a technique that overlaps what we know?

Using the famous Drake equation, N=R*·fp·ne·fl·fi·fc·L, with the following best estimates for parameters: R*= 10/year, fp= .5, ne= 2, fl= .5, fi= .001 (highly speculative), fc= .01, L=50 (duration in years of the radio transmitting period of a civilization), we get .0025 overlapping radio wave civilizations per galaxy.  But if you then factor in the (im)probabilities of reaching those star systems (I used a megawatt of power into an Arecibo-sized radio telescope), the likelihood of another “advanced technology” civilization even developing radio waves, the odds that we happen to be  pointing our radio telescope arrays at each other at the same time, and the odds that we are using the same frequency, we get a probability of 1.25E-22.  For those who don’t like scientific notation, how about .0000000000000000000000125.  (Details will be in a forthcoming paper that I will post on this site.  I’ll replace this text with the link once it is up)

So why is Stephen Hawking worried about us sending a message that gets intercepted by ET?  Didn’t anyone do the math?

But there is a second science/sci-fi meme that I also find highly illogical.  And that is that malevolent ETs may want to mine our dear old earth for some sort of mineral.  Really?  Are we to believe that ET has figured out how to transcend relativity, exceed the speed of light, power a ship across the galaxy using technology far beyond our understanding, but still have an inability to master the control of the elements?  We have been transmuting elements for 70 years.  Even gold was artificially created by bombarding mercury atoms with neutrons as far back as 1941.  Gold could be created in an accelerator or nuclear reactor at any time, although to be practical from an economic standpoint, we may need a few years.  However, if gold, or any particular element, was important enough to be willing to fly across the galaxy and repress another civilization for, then economics should not be an issue.  Simple nuclear technology can create gold far easier than it can power a spaceship at near light speeds through space.

Even if our space traveling friends need something on Earth that can’t possibly be obtained through technology, would they really be likely to be so imperialistic as to invade and steal our resources?  From the viewpoint of human evolution, as technology and knowledge has developed, so have our ethical sensibilities and social behavior.  Of course, there is still “Jersey Shore” and “Jackass,” but by and large we have advanced our ethical values along with our technological advances and there is no reason to think that these wouldn’t also go hand in hand with any other civilization.

So while I get that science fiction needs to have a compelling rationale for ET invasion because it is a good story, I fail to understand the fear that some scientists have that extraterrestrials will actually get all Genghis Khan on us.

 

Rewriting the Past

“I don’t believe in yesterday, by the way.”
-John Lennon

The past is set in stone, right?  Everything we have learned tells us that you can not change the past, 88-MPH DeLoreans notwithstanding.

However, it would probably surprise you to learn that many highly respected scientists, as well as a few out on the fringe, are questioning that assumption, based on real evidence.

For example, leading stem cell scientist, Dr. Robert Lanza, posits that the past does not really exist until properly observed.  His theory of Biocentrism says that the past is just as malleable as the future.

Specific experiments in Quantum Mechanics appear to prove this conjecture.  In the “Delayed Choice Quantum Eraser” experiment, “scientists in France shot photons into an apparatus, and showed that what they did could retroactively change something that had already happened.” (Science 315, 966, 2007)

Paul Davies, renowned physicist from the Australian Centre for Astrobiology at Macquarie University in Sydney, suggests that conscious observers (us) can effectively reach back in history to “exert influence” on early events in the universe, including even the first moments of time.  As a result, the universe would be able to “fine-tune” itself to be suitable for life.

Prefer the Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI) of Quantum Mechanics over the Copenhagen one?  If that theory is correct, physicist Saibal Mitra from the University of Amsterdam has shown how we can change the past by forgetting.  Effectively if the collective observers memory is reset prior to some event, the state of the universe becomes “undetermined” and can follow a different path from before.  Check out my previous post on that one.

Alternatively, you can disregard the complexities of quantum mechanics entirely.  The results of some macro-level experiments twist our perceptions of reality even more.  Studies by Helmut Schmidt, Elmar Gruber, Brenda Dunne, Robert Jahn, and others have shown, for example, that humans are actually able to influence past events (aka retropsychokinesis, or RPK), such as pre-recorded (and previously unobserved) random number sequences

Benjamin Libet, pioneering scientist in the field of human consciousness at  the University of California, San Francisco is well known for his controversial experiments that seem to show reverse causality, or that the brain demonstrates awareness of actions that will occur in the near future.  To put it another way, actions that occur now create electrical brain activity in the past.

And then, of course, there is time travel.  Time travel into the future is a fact, just ask any astronaut, all of whom have traveled nanoseconds into the future as a side effect of high speed travel.  Stephen Hawking predicts much more significant time travel into the future.  In the future.  But what about the past?  Turns out there is nothing in the laws of physics that prevents it.  Theoretical physicist Kip Thorne designed a workable time machine that could send you into the past.  And traveling to the past of course provides an easy mechanism for changing it.  Unfortunately this requires exotic matter and a solution to the Grandfather paradox (MWI to the rescue again here).

None of this is a huge surprise to me, since I question everything about our conventional views of reality.  Consider the following scenario in a massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG) or simulation.  The first time someone plays the game, or participates in the simulation, there is an assumed “past” to the construct of the game.  Components of that past may be found in artifacts (books, buried evidence, etc.) scattered throughout the game.  Let’s say that evidence reports that the Kalimdors and Northrendians were at war during year 1999.  But the evidence has yet to be found by a player.  A game patch could easily change the date to 2000, thereby changing the past and no one would be the wiser.  But, what if someone had found the artifact, thereby setting the past in stone.  That patch could still be applied, but it would only be effective if all players who had knowledge of the artifact were forced to forget.  Science fiction, right?  No longer, thanks to an emerging field of cognitive research.  Two years ago, scientists were able to erase selected memories in mice.  Insertion of false memories is not far behind.  This will eventually perfected, and applied to humans.

At some point in our future (this century), we will be able to snort up a few nanobots, which will archive our memories, download a new batch of memories to the starting state of a simulation, and run the simulation.  When it ends, the nanobots will restore our old memories.

Or maybe this happened at some point in our past and we are really living the simulation.  There is really no way to tell.

No wonder the past seems so flexible.

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