February 17, 2016

China is kicking 9,000 villagers out of their homes so it can build a 1,640-foot wide telescope for the purpose of listening for extraterrestrials.

Each dislocated person gets $1,800 in housing compensation.
Forced relocations for infrastructure projects are common across China, and the people being moved by officials often complain both of the eviction from their homes and inadequate compensation. The Three Gorges Dam displaced more than one million people along the Yangtze River, and the middle route of the gargantuan South-North Water Diversion Project has resulted in the relocation of 350,000 people to make way for a series of canals.
If only the telescope, once built, would detect faraway creatures who say don't treat people like that.

95 comments:

Sammy Finkelman said...

Compensation for loss of pproperty is always too little in China. It actually gives the Chinese government a lot of trouble. You'd think maybe in the current economic crisis, they'd make some moves to stop it. Of course, in this case, it's anational project.

One more consequence of China being a absolute dictatorship.

David Begley said...

China needs a Bill of Rights. This telescope might be a public benefit but there is no way that each piece of real estate has the same value. All real estate is unique.

Ken B said...

Kelo.

Original Mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Original Mike said...

They couldn't find a place without homes?

MikeR said...

Forcing them from their house for a project of public interest is regular eminent domain. We do that too, of course. The water system for New York City disappeared entire towns full of people.
Inadequate compensation, I guess that depends on what their housing was actually worth. Of course there will be complaints.
I'm not saying China is right, it depends on the value of the houses etc.
Could be Prof. Althouse doesn't think this science project is all that important?

Ignorance is Bliss said...

The Three Gorges Dam displaced more than one million people along the Yangtze River...

Not nearly as many as will be displaced when it lets go.

Meade said...

"[T]he world’s biggest radio telescope, whose intended purpose is to detect signs of extraterrestrial life."

When in fact their real purpose is to spy on Sarah Palin.

tim maguire said...

Every country does this. (Eminent domain, anyone?) The only thing that's different with China is the scale, but that's too is inevitable when you've got over a billion people under foot.

Henry said...

Bullshit headline.

Being the world��s largest filled-aperture telescope located at an extremely radio quiet site, the FAST science impact on astronomy will be extraordinary, and has the potential to revolutionize other areas of the natural sciences:

Large scale neutral hydrogen survey

Pulsar observations

Leading the international very long baseline interferometry (VLBI) network

Detection of interstellar molecules

Detecting interstellar communication signals

Pulsar timing arrary[sic]


Bob said...

In the 1930s a few thousand (?) people were displaced by the construction of the Quabbin Reservoir in western Massachusetts to provide water for Boston. Three or four whole towns that had existed for over a century were voted out of legal existence, burying grounds were dug up and moved, etc. Hard to imagine anything like that happening today.

Original Mike said...

"If only the telescope, once built, would detect faraway creatures who say don't treat people like that."

Most plot lines would have the creatures wipe out the human race for being so insensitive.

Hagar said...

The CCP is not socialist any more, but remains communist.

coupe said...

Eminent Domain. We stole the idea from the Chinese.

Original Mike said...

Oh, I get it now! The telescope is in a natural bowl like Arecibo.

I approve!

traditionalguy said...

Eminent Domain, like so much in our law, absolutely depends on Jury trials, and good trial lawyers.

Protect that and you will be protected by it

Bobby said...

I guess if it were for a casino parking lot, then it would be okay.

Henry said...

@Bob. Good reference.

Also this: Ashokan Reservoir.

The Ashokan Reservoir was constructed between 1907 and 1915, by the New York City Board of Water Supply, by impounding the Esopus Creek.[2] Thousands of acres of farmland were submerged.[3] The impoundment covered twelve communities located in a valley where farming, logging, and quarrying prevailed. Approximately two thousand residents[2] along with roads, homes, shops, farms, churches, and mills were either moved or abandoned, but most of them were torn down. According to Bob Steuding, a humanities professor at Ulster County Community College in Stone Ridge, the area that became the West Basin of the reservoir contained 504 dwellings, nine blacksmith shops, 35 stores, 10 churches, 10 schools, seven sawmills and a gristmill.[3] Several of these communities were re-established in nearby locations. 12.45 miles (20 km) of a local railroad line (the Ulster and Delaware Railroad) was moved and cemeteries were relocated.

Here's a picture.

I've met long-term residents of Catskills who are still bitter -- not just about the original impoundment, but about the state's continued buying and regulating of land to protect the water supply for the city:

If a property owner wants to develop land in the watershed, the DEP has to sign off on the project to make sure the rules and regulations in its 114-page book are followed. Those include stipulations on building near any stream or waterway, as well as rules on installing septic systems and home heating oil tanks or building impervious surfaces like driveways and rooftops.

China does what we did one hundred years ago. They relocate people. Now, we just suffocate them.

Unknown said...

Ellenton SC, RIP

Roy Jacobsen said...

Isn't this one of the things Thomas Friedman admires about the ChiComs? Their ability to just do stuff without all that tedious mucking about with due process and individual rights and rubbish like that?

Simon said...

Goshdarned Kelo v. New London, man... ;)

Ron Winkleheimer said...

Did some cursory research on the Internet and it seems the average yearly salary for all workers in China is around $5,000.

And the article states the displaced villagers are in a rural area in the poorest province in China.

In which case, $1,800 compensation may not be that bad.

And plenty of people were displace by the TVA.

"The development of the dams displaced more than 15,000 families. This created anti-TVA sentiment in some rural communities."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tennessee_Valley_Authority

Simon said...

traditionalguy said...
"Eminent Domain, like so much in our law, absolutely depends on Jury trials...."

You don't get a jury trial for eminent domain. Never have.

rhhardin said...

They need two telescopes anyway, to rule out local interference as a cause of a detection. See or listen to Ian Morison.

"In project Phoenix, two telescopes were used to make simultaneous observations so that any signals originating within our solar system could be eliminated and there would be an immediate confirmation of any extra-terrestrial signal. Initially pairs of telescopes in Australia and the USA were used, but NASA had helped pay for a major upgrade to worlds largest radio-telescope at Arecibo in Puerto Rico and had ~30 weeks of observing time allocated to use it to carry out SETI observations in Project Phoenix."

Ron Winkleheimer said...

But most of the anti-TVA people changed their minds once they experienced living with electricity and got jobs with the TVA or otherwise benefited from.

And now, their great grand kids can't imagine live without the TVA.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

Displacing 9,000 Chinese villagers away from an intergalactic listening station is perfectly reasonable to anyone who has ever been to a celebration of Chinese New Year.

Char Char Binks said...

That's not nearly as bad as putting it on an uninhabited mountain in Hawaii that the natives claim is sacred just because they could never have come up with the idea of building a telescope.

iqvoice said...

"If only the telescope, once built, would detect faraway creatures who say don't treat people like that."

Apparently they need only aim the telescope at Madison.

J. Farmer said...

It's amazing what kind of big projects you can get done when you don't have to worry about petty annoyances like private property or rule of law.

Curious George said...

The Kelo Five would have no problem with this.

Big Mike said...

If only the telescope, once built, would detect faraway creatures who say don't treat people like that.

Unless, of course, they decide to treat all of humanity like that.

Have you forgotten Rod Serling's warning?

Smilin' Jack said...

If only the telescope, once built, would detect faraway creatures who say don't treat people like that.

Lucky for us such creatures weren't discovered before Columbus discovered America.

averagejoe said...

"If only the telescope, once built, would detect faraway creatures who say don't treat people like that."

Neil deGrasse Tyson, is that you?

Rusty said...

tim maguire said...
Every country does this. (Eminent domain, anyone?) The only thing that's different with China is the scale, but that's too is inevitable when you've got over a billion people under foot.

Yes, Tim. But here you have recourse under the law. There it's 1800 bucks take it or leave it. Here when the state shows up to take your land under eminent domain you hire a lawyer.

AllenS said...

A lot of land east of Star Prairie, WI in the last 20 some years was taken by eminent domain by/for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Waterfowl Production Areas. People who had homes and farms were given a quote what they would get, and you either took it or lost the land.

Michael K said...

"I've met long-term residents of Catskills who are still bitter -- not just about the original impoundment, but about the state's continued buying and regulating of land to protect the water supply for the city:"

Try talking to Owens Valley old timers about Los Angeles. They are still furious.

A century ago, Los Angeles did just that in the Owens Valley, a 75-mile-long, U-shaped cul-de-sac on the east side of the snow-capped Sierra, a place so scenic some called it an American Switzerland.

What happened next – the withering of the valley, the rise of the nation’s second-largest metropolis – has been recounted so often it is a part of western lore, a parable of the promise and peril of water development.

But 100 years after the Owens River was diverted to L.A., the story is not over. Like a stone dropped into a pond, the city’s action set in motion a widening circle of impacts that continue to shape conflicts and challenges.

Water, of course, is at the heart of it. But no longer is the Owens River the focal point. Now much of the controversy is about groundwater pumping that long ago dried up seeps and springs and is blamed now for harming many of the valley’s lush, ecologically important meadows.


But the Delta Smelt is fine.

The tiny fish, known as the delta smelt, has helped touch off some of the most cataclysmic battles in California’s unending water wars. The delta that it inhabits lies in Northern California, at the confluence of mighty snow- and rain-fed rivers that drain into San Francisco Bay before their water heads out to the ocean. The rivers supply water through the delta for about two-thirds of Californians as well as vast tracts of rich farmland. But drought and the pumping of water to users as far away as Los Angeles have depleted the smelts and the delicate ecosystem they inhabit, prompting limits on the amount of water sent to farmers and cities — and sparking political warfare among farmers, cities, environmentalists and fishermen.

In other accounts, it is called "a bait fish."

jr565 said...

Trump would be for it I'm sure.

n.n said...

There are several issues involved, including: shared interest, blighted areas, fair compensation, and, ideally, relocation. Also, that it is not done on the same principle, motives, and consequences as their other pro-choice policies.

Quaestor said...

Oh, I get it now! The telescope is in a natural bowl like Arecibo.

It seems to me that the Chinese are displacing those 9,000 people just to out-Arecibo Arecibo.

While there may be less radio noise in that area of Guizhou than, say, Shanghai, the fact is that the Chinese are building their FAST telescope primarily for the bragging rights of being physically bigger than the Arecibo Observatory. Array telescopes have already proven to be superior in every way to single-dish telescopes. The relatively modest Jansky VLA already possess the resolving power of of a single dish more than 22 miles across, plus it has the advantage of being steerable and expandable. The VLA is the realization of the sky's-the-limit Project Cyclops instrument which was to be composed of over a thousand 100-meter dishes arrayed over 16 square kilometers of Nevada desert. Cyclops never got built because even in 1971 scientists were foreseeing the end of useful Earth-based instruments.

If science was their primary goal the Chinese would have put their money into a massive array, something like a Northern Hemisphere equivalent to Square Kilometer Array project.

Hagar said...

So, Rusty, it is your lawyer versus 1,000 of theirs. If your lawyer is ethical, he will just tell you to write it off to experience and move on.

Freeman Hunt said...

I thought they had already found out that life on other planets is much less likely than we originally thought. If so, why focus on finding it?

Gabriel said...

@DavidBegley:China needs a Bill of Rights

China already has one. The government ignores it whenever it cares to. But Chinese, on paper, have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc.

Article 36. Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief. No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion. The state protects normal religious activities. No one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state. Religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign domination.

Article 37. The freedom of person of citizens of the People's Republic of China is inviolable. No citizen may be arrested except with the approval or by decision of a people's procuratorate or by decision of a people's court, and arrests must be made by a public security organ. Unlawful deprivation or restriction of citizens' freedom of person by detention or other means is prohibited; and unlawful search of the person of citizens is prohibited.

Article 38. The personal dignity of citizens of the People's Republic of China is inviolable. Insult, libel, false charge or frame-up directed against citizens by any means is prohibited.

Article 39. The home of citizens of the People's Republic of China is inviolable. Unlawful search of, or intrusion into, a citizen's home is prohibited.

Article 40. The freedom and privacy of correspondence of citizens of the People's Republic of China are protected by law. No organization or individual may, on any ground, infringe upon the freedom and privacy of citizens' correspondence except in cases where, to meet the needs of state security or of investigation into criminal offences, public security or procuratorial organs are permitted to censor correspondence in accordance with procedures prescribed by law.

Article 41. Citizens of the People's Republic of China have the right to criticize and make suggestions to any state organ or functionary. Citizens have the right to make to relevant state organs complaints and charges against, or exposures of, violation of the law or dereliction of duty by any state organ or functionary; but fabrication or distortion of facts with the intention of libel or frame-up is prohibited. In case of complaints, charges or exposures made by citizens, the state organ concerned must deal with them in a responsible manner after ascertaining the facts. No one may suppress such complaints, charges and exposures, or retaliate against the citizens making them. Citizens who have suffered losses through infringement of their civil rights by any state organ or functionary have the right to compensation in accordance with the law.

Original Mike said...

"I thought they had already found out that life on other planets is much less likely than we originally thought."

What are you referring to, Freeman?

Gabriel said...

@Freeman:I thought they had already found out that life on other planets is much less likely than we originally thought. If so, why focus on finding it?

I don't know who you mean by "they" or how they "found out" how likely it is, or isn't. I can, however, tell you where things stand now:

No one ever had any idea how common life would be because there were too many unknown probabilities which could easily be adjusted to get whatever answer you wanted.

The incidence of Earthlike worlds--right size, right sun, right temperature for liquid water--has now been measured and found to be much higher than anyone expected, so far over 1000.

No one has any idea how probable it is that an Earthlike world would develop life, or how probable it is that life would develop a civilization, or how probable it is that civilized life would develop the desire and ability to do things that would lead to detectable signals. No one ever did have any idea. The sample size continues to be 1.

A lot of things that civilized life might do would be easily and unmistakably detectable, even if they do not want attention. For example, our TV and radio broadcasts aren't detectable very far out, but anyone close enough would know for a fact that Earth was civilized because rock at Earth's temperature doesn't emit significant amounts of radio waves, and those radio waves are not modulated to any degree.

Original Mike said...

@Quaestor - we need to distinguish between resolution, for which the lateral extent of the telescope is the important spec, and sensitivity, for which collecting area dominates. SETI requires sensitivity more than resolution.

JCC said...

"...it can build a 1,640-foot wide telescope for the purpose of listening for extraterrestrials."

That may not be such a great idea...maybe we should just shut up and play dead.

http://waitbutwhy.com/2014/05/fermi-paradox.html

Henry said...

Quaestor wrote: It seems to me that the Chinese are displacing those 9,000 people just to out-Arecibo Arecibo.

It's going to be a hell of a James Bond set.

rhhardin said...

Array telescopes have already proven to be superior in every way to single-dish telescopes.

That's for resolution, not sensitivity.

traditionalguy said...

Jury decides compensation. Secession from
The United States avoids the laws of the United States.

Ergo: a trial lawyer makes owner rich. But secession brings Sherman's Army. We tried that once already.

Paul Snively said...

Communism, belief in intelligent alien life... I mean, once you accept one demonstrated lethal fantasy, it's not surprising that others follow.

Jim S. said...

Holy crap! It's Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu! It's coming true!

Paul Snively said...

Gabriel: No one has any idea how probable it is that an Earthlike world would develop life, or how probable it is that life would develop a civilization, or how probable it is that civilized life would develop the desire and ability to do things that would lead to detectable signals. No one ever did have any idea.

These are all false. There has been, and continues to be, intense cross-disciplinary (physics, chemistry, biology, cosmology, information theory, to name just a few) work to assess the likelihood, on the basis of our best understanding of all of these disciplines and more, of intelligent life other than us. The tl;dr is that the universe must be approximately as old/large as it is for intelligent life to have evolved once, and since it's an extraordinarily improbable event, it has overwhelmingly probably only happened once.

Original Mike said...

"The tl;dr is that the universe must be approximately as old/large as it is for intelligent life to have evolved once, and since it's an extraordinarily improbable event, it has overwhelmingly probably only happened once."

Once in the universe?!?

Static Ping said...

In China, a million people is a rounding error. 9,000 people is a rounding error to a rounding error.

Not to say that this action is most unfortunate and possibly (probably) indefensible, but that's communism for you. The fact that they were displaced rather than slaughtered and disposed is a sign of improvement, sadly.

Gabriel said...

@Paul Snively: The tl;dr is that the universe must be approximately as old/large as it is for intelligent life to have evolved once, and since it's an extraordinarily improbable event, it has overwhelmingly probably only happened once.

Sample size of intelligences: 1
Sample size of universes: 1

tl; dr no one has any idea.

You can make in fill-in-the-blanks estimates, like the Drake equation, but there are too many blanks that cannot now be filled in.

Gabriel said...

@Paul snively: that the universe must be approximately as old/large as it is for intelligent life to have evolved once,

You can't say this because you don't know this. You don't know how many others there are or how long they took to evolve. You only know that one intelligent species evolved about 4.5 billion years in--you have NO data on any others.

since it's an extraordinarily improbable event,

You can't say this because you don't know this. You can't use a sample size of one to estimate it. Doing so is the Laplace sunrise problem. He did that to prove a point; you are apparently doing it because you think it makes sense.

it has overwhelmingly probably only happened once

It has DEFINITELY happened once. That's all you can say.

Freeman Hunt said...

What are you referring to, Freeman?

The Rare Earth hypothesis. I see now that that is just a hypothesis, so I guess we'll see.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

Well, fee, fee, fie, fie, foe, foe, fum.

Look out baby, 'cause here I come!

Gabriel said...

@Freeman:The Rare Earth hypothesis.

There's a thousand-some that we can currently detect, given the tools we have no, so not super-rare.

Original Mike said...

Wouldn't mind a link fleshing out your argument, Paul. In the absence of that, I can see what part of it is:

"The tl;dr is that the universe must be approximately as old/large as it is for intelligent life to have evolved once, ..."

I'm with you until the "once". The universe wasn't conducive to life until several generations of stars had produced sufficient quanties of elements with atomic numbers greater than hydrogen and helium (what astronomers call "metals"). However, the problem with your thesis is that once that age is reached, it's reached everywhere in the universe, not just "here".

Peter said...

And once this radio telescope is operating, the Chinese government will probably forbid the operation of electronic devices within a large radius of it.

So, how much would your home be worth if you could live in it but were forbidden from operating most common electronic devices in or near it?

Original Mike said...

Damn, it sucks that Kepler broke, but yeah, we now now that Earth-like planets are not rare.

Original Mike said...

Not just in China, Peter.

mikee said...

I call shenanigans on the "listening for extraterrestrials" purpose as stated. This device will have a military purpose, or it would not be constructed at government expense.

MikeinAppalachia said...

@Gabriel-
"There's a thousand-some that we can currently detect, given the tools we have no, so not super-rare."
Thousand-some or a dozen?



Updated July 23, 2015 5:53 p.m. ET

Astronomers using NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope announced Thursday the discovery of the most Earth-like planet yet orbiting a distant star like our own sun, bringing to a dozen the number of small worlds potentially suitable for life spotted elsewhere in the galaxy.

Jim S. said...

@Freeman:The Rare Earth hypothesis.

There's a thousand-some that we can currently detect, given the tools we have no, so not super-rare.


The claim is not whether there are other planets but whether there are other planets capable of supporting physical life. It's a young field of study, so the conclusions should be taken as preliminary. There are dozens of conditions (last time I looked it was over 200) that a planet must meet in order to support life: some are commonly met, some are rare, some are interdependent so that if you meet one you automatically meet others. Many are very speculative.

For example, the planet must orbit a particular type of star at a particular phase in its burning cycle. The planet must have a particular axial tilt, surface gravity, must have a moon of a particular mass and distance, and must orbit its star in a narrow "Goldilocks zone". The solar system must have a planet the same mass and distance as Jupiter in order to protect the inner system from asteroid and comet strikes (that one has been contested, but I think it's still accepted), must have an asteroid belt with the same average mass as the Kuiper Belt to stabilize the orbits of the outer planets. The stellar neighborhood has to have a sufficient number of supernovae to provide heavier elements but not recently or there would be too much cosmic radiation. A significant number of these supernovae have to have been white dwarf binaries because that's the only natural source of fluorine. In order to avoid further cosmic radiation, the only place inside a galaxy that can support life is in a spiral arm galaxy in between spiral arms, about two-thirds of the way out from the galaxy's center (another Goldilocks zone). Etc., etc.

Note that these conditions aren't for "life as we know it", they're for any kind of physical life, life composed of atoms ("life" here means a biological engine that processes energy to perform work). You can speculate about a different kind of material other than atoms in a different universe, but at that point you've gone metaphysical. Which is fine, as far as I'm concerned. Or you can speculate about physical objects that aren't biological engines and suggest they might be alive in some other sense, but then it's not what "life" means in this context, and at any rate, it means you've gone metaphysical again.

Yes, I know the universe is really, really big. The estimation is that there are 10^79 atoms in the universe. Taking that into account, the probability of there being a planet that naturally meets all of the criteria -- remembering that many of them are very speculative and may be shown to be much more common -- is effectively zero.

Original Mike said...

"Note that these conditions aren't for "life as we know it", they're for any kind of physical life, "

You need to go back and study whatever it is your getting this from. Those conditions list is ridiculously restrictive.

Hell, I can think of four worlds in our own solar system with a non-absurd potential for life: Earth, Mars, Europa, Enceladus. And just for fun, I'd throw in Titan.

Jim S. said...

Earth, Mars, Europa, Enceladus. And just for fun, I'd throw in Titan.

Those potentially meet the condition of having liquid water. That's one condition. Admittedly it's the one the popular media has focused on, which gives everyone the impression that it's the only condition. But there are still a couple hundred more to go.

I neglected to point out that there is dispute as to whether the conditions are necessary for all life or just advanced life. Some scientists think that single-cellular life may be robust enough that it could be plentiful throughout the universe. And, as I mentioned, many of the probabilities for individual criteria are highly speculative. But that there are numerous "ridiculously restrictive" conditions in order for a planet or moon to be able to support physical life (or advanced physical life) is relatively uncontroversial.

Alex said...

Rule Britannia is out of bounds.

Original Mike said...

"I neglected to point out that there is dispute as to whether the conditions are necessary for all life or just advanced life."

With respect, you said: "Note that these conditions aren't for "life as we know it", they're for any kind of physical life, life composed of atoms.", which made your list ridiculously restrictive.

Original Mike said...

"Those potentially meet the condition of having liquid water."

Titan: Liquid methane

Enceladus: In 2008, the Cassini orbiter was flown through a plume and analyzed the material with its neutral mass spectrometer. The orbiter detected simple organics, including methane (CH4), carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2) nitrogen, and complex organic compounds.[5] Cassini also detected sodium and potassium at a concentration implying a salty liquid ocean.[5]

Jim S. said...

With respect, you said: "Note that these conditions aren't for "life as we know it", they're for any kind of physical life, life composed of atoms.", which made your list ridiculously restrictive.

I apologize for being misleading. Most people who are interested in this are only interested in the "advanced life" aspect. So I can qualify the conditions as those allegedly necessary for any kind of advanced physical life, advanced life composed of atoms.

It's a point of contention whether the restrictive list applies to single-cellular life. Many scientists say that it does. Some say it does not. Some of the criteria are only relevant for advanced life though. And even those who say that single-cellular life might be plentiful in the universe still say there are dozens of criteria that have to be met, just not all of the criteria in the larger set. As I say, it's a young field of study. It started in the 1960s with the attempt to calculate how many advanced civilizations might exist in our galaxy.

n.n said...

The philosophy of science is based on the establishment of frames of reference. There is an implicit acknowledgment that accuracy is inversely proportional to offsets in time and space. The practice of science is intended to test models or hypothesis through observation and replication. The insight acquired allows to test the validity of underlying axioms through identification of internal, external, and mutually consistent outcomes and interpretations.

That said, the problem with modern scientific orthodoxy, is the same as the orthodoxy it hopes to replace, is not necessarily found in individual scientists, but in ulterior motives in pursuit of goals, including social, financial, and egoistic leverage. The liberal departures from established frames of reference and interpretation of signals, and the progressive leaps of faith/axioms (e.g. uniformity, inference, assertions) required to force coherence in models, has been a setback for the worthy cause of separating logical domains, and exploiting science to improve the knowledge, skill, and environment of humanity.

Original Mike said...

"It's a point of contention whether the restrictive list applies to single-cellular life. Many scientists say that it does."

Again with respect, some citations would be appreciated. The number of scientists who would put those kind of restrictions on single-cell life would, by my estimation, be vanishingly small.

"And even those who say that single-cellular life might be plentiful in the universe still say there are dozens of criteria that have to be met,"

Dozens, sure. There are 200 billion stars in the Milky Way alone.

n.n said...

It could be worse, they could be displacing people to establish a refuge for animals and plants, or low-density, disruptive, irregular energy production by solar ovens or windmill gauntlets. Still, the compensation is minimal, and the relocation choices are not forthcoming. It really is a crisis of eminent domain exploited through a minority dominated governing structure.

Gabriel said...

@Jim S:. So I can qualify the conditions as those allegedly necessary for any kind of advanced physical life, advanced life composed of atoms.

How do you know liquid water, and everything else in your laundry list, is a condition for "advanced life"? You don't. Certainly at least some of these, like liquid water, is a condition for ours.

You don't know that exotic chemistries can't support advanced life. Again, sample size of 1.

JCC said...

This far, Kepler has searched about 1% of the Milky Way galaxy, which is about 100,000 light years across. There are about 100 billion other galaxies, other than the Milky Way. Eliminating the possibility of other life forms strikes me as somewhat arrogant (It's all us!), even if the possibility of us discovering other life forms is probably zero. And if we ever were to encounter another life form, the probability that they might consider us something akin to a lower life form seems fairly likely, and perhaps something we might wish to avoid, else we end up like the Aztec or the carrier pigeon. Or maybe like the mosquito that carries the Zika virus.

If suitable and inhabitable planets are really that rare, should we be blabbing all over the place that we have one of those available for rent or sale? Look around and tell me that the leader of an advanced race of aliens is more likely to act like Bernie Sanders or like Jesus Christ? Or maybe they'll want to build a Betelgeuse-Trump Casino here. Green men with comb-overs....and they never shut up.

Quaestor said...

SETI requires sensitivity more than resolution.

Arrays can better in both resolution and sensitivity. For a given amount of money you can build a better array than a single large dish. Read up on the SKA and the Allen Array

You don't know that exotic chemistries can't support advanced life.

True, but exobiologists aren't making bets on exotic chemistry like liquid methane. On Titan a liquid hydrocarbon soup functions like water, at least geologically -- it rains from the clouds, erodes the landscape, and forms rivers and lakes, perhaps seas -- but there no evidence of biology. To be a liquid methane must be very, very cold; on Titan it's -292 degrees. Very cold environments are very low-engergy environments. Advanced life needs to be able to exert an influence on its surroundings. To do that it needs energy.

Some have proposed silicon as a substitute for carbon in biochemistry. So far no one has shown exactly how that could work. Carbon is much more abundant in the Universe than silicon so it has ubiquity in its favor if nothing else, however even on planets where silicon dominates, such as our Earth, it doesn't do much more than make sand. Silicones are more interesting than silicates, but their not really of much interest other than in a plastics. There are hundreds of silicones, but hundreds of thousands of organics.

We may not be alone, but there's absolutely no evidence of anything, even as lowly as bacteria, anywhere but here. The fact that there is a likelihood of at least 10 million Earth-like planets in our galaxy and there has so far been nary a peep of an intelligent signal from any of them suggests we are the lone intelligence in the Milky Way.

Suppose the average distance between the stars is 4 light-years (depending on the statistical model ones uses this may be as much as 6.5ly) and a spacefaring civilization develops the will to colonize. Using conservative physics this civilization builds a colonization ship that can travel 4 light-years in 1000 years -- 432,000 km/hr, fast but not impossible -- and carry a viable population of colonists, as frozen embryos for example. Further suppose that once they reach their destination it takes them another 1000 years to advance their new society to the point that they send out their own colonization ship to another neighboring star, and that that colony takes 1000 years to get were they're going and another 1000 years to dispatch their colonial mission. Et cetera. Under these constraints it takes less than 25 million years to establish a galactic empire, with every suitable planet in the Milky Way visited and colonized. 25 million years seem like a long time to you? Suppose the homeward send out three expeditions to found three colonies in three nearby solar systems, and that each of these sends out three expeditions -- again using 2000 years to travel the distance and send out an new expedition. That means the Empire takes only 5 million years to achieve total galactic dominion. That's peanuts compared to the age of the galaxy. Out of the whole of those likely 10 million Earths only one has to decide to go imperial and K-BALMMO! we've got alien star destroyers orbiting our beautiful blue planet.

And yet we hear only silence.

The Godfather said...

WAY up thread (sorry, I've been busy earning my right to live in retirement) Simon (9:36 am) said there's no right to a jury trial for eminent domain in the US, and that's wrong. Under federal law, there's no constitutional right to a jury trial, but if you demand a jury, you either get a jury trial or a trial by commisioners. Commisioners are supposed to have some special expertise, but they are not supposed to be captives of the State. Under the laws of some states, condemnation cases are decided by special juries, smaller in number than regular criminal or civil juries, but nevertheless juries.

In China, a communist country, I wonder whether the people displaced by a government project even have ownership rights in their homes? Maybe $1,800 is a reasonable relocation allowance to people who aren't being deprived of their property.

Original Mike said...

"We may not be alone, but there's absolutely no evidence of anything, even as lowly as bacteria, anywhere but here. The fact that there is a likelihood of at least 10 million Earth-like planets in our galaxy and there has so far been nary a peep of an intelligent signal from any of them suggests we are the lone intelligence in the Milky Way."

It suggests no such thing. Interstellar travel is a huge undertaking for no gain to the society undertaking it.

Joe said...

SETI is bullshit "science", but it's a way for astronomers to get public money for genuine, but very esoteric, science.

Original Mike said...

"Arrays can better in both resolution and sensitivity. For a given amount of money you can build a better array than a single large dish. Read up on the SKA and the Allen Array"

I'm interested, so I will read up on it. But I'm starting from a position of disbelief. Sensitivity should be proportional to collecting area.

Quaestor said...
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Quaestor said...
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JamesB.BKK said...

There has been one intelligent species so far identified?

Quaestor said...

There has been one intelligent species so far identified?

Why the question mark? An observer will always observe a universe that can make observers.

Quaestor said...

It suggests no such thing. Interstellar travel is a huge undertaking for no gain to the society undertaking it.

Smarter people than you or I disagree with you, Original Mike. The Fermi Paradox has many answers, but one by one they have fallen to our expanding knowledge of stellar evolution and exoplanetary research. They aren't HERE because they aren't THERE is a very distinct likelihood. There are few other answers that hold up. Forty years ago the assumption was most if not all advanced civilizations would be vastly older than ours. However, more recent research suggests that our sun may be one of the oldest stars of its spectral type and metallicity in the galaxy. Since there doesn't appear to have been any other appearance of intelligence in terrestrial biology before genus Homo it may be safe to assume that our kind of smarts doesn't grow on trees. This means that instead of being the new kids on the galactic block Earthlings may be among if not THE first.

The contention that interstellar travel is no benefit is extraordinarily myopic. Such a voyage is no more challenging an undertaking for an advantaged civilization, say one like ours about 300 years hence, than the colonization of the Pacific and Indian Oceans was for the ancestors of the Austronesians 4000 years ago. Perhaps an advanced society might choose to stay put, tying its ultimate destiny to whatever fate their home solar system has in store for them, but would all of them? Hardly. Consider Columbus, who visited every royal and ducal court in Europe that engaged in seaborne commerce with his plan for sailing west to the Indies -- the Venetians, the Pisans, the Milanese, the Portuguese. Spain turned him down twice, too busy with the Moors was the excuse. He even approached the miserly Henry VII, all to no avail. Yet he returned to Spain and got a green light. It only took one society among dozens to choose to be the first to go, and within a century all the powers of Europe were looking for colonies in the New World. This explosion of colonization happened because the benefits turned out to be beyond the wildest dreams of even Columbus himself, who never realized his original goal.

Columbus's first voyage took seventy days to reach San Salvador from Palos de la Frontera. But suppose someone said, "Hey, Chris, why not use the energy equivalent of every productive activity in Spain -- every ox pulling a plough, every step of every horse, mule, and donkey, every breath of wind in every sail, every drop of water turning a millstone, every spark of every fire that cooks a meal or lights a house, every muscular excertion of every Spaniard -- every microjoule that Spain uses in a year and make the crossing in less than one half of one percent of the time?" He'd be another Original Mike. He'd say impossible, nobody would every do such a pointless thing. But that's exactly what we do routinely today. In today's economy the whole of Spain's energy budget for 1492 is worth 812 simoleons with two regrettable meals and and movie you've already seen thrown into the bargain. Similarly your assumptions about the costs and benefits of interstellar travel are mire-stuck in the least imaginative assumptions of the 20th century -- not even our own time.

Quaestor said...

(Continued from the previous comment)

The urge to explore and push out is built into our genome. Even before we were fully human our ancestors colonized Africa and the entire length of Asia from the Near East to Java and at least as far north as Mongolia. In the European colonization of the New World far less than 1% of the population of 16th century Spain made the long perilous voyage to the Americas, nevertheless within 30 years of Columbus they were established everywhere along the coast from the Rio Plate to Florida. I have little doubt that if you were a comfortable Spanish grandee you'd be one of the stay-at-homes (Everyone obeys their genes, whether for good or ill.)

Interstellar travel is both possible and necessary if our species is to survive. It's a crazy proposal for a society based on oxidizing carbon for a living, but for a culture based on fusion the project is quite feasible.

On the matter of large single dish vs arrays...

JamesB.BKK said...

I mean, I've heard of one. It contains individuals and some groups with strong capabilities. Yet, for the most part, it turns over control of its affairs to charlatans and hammerheads, repeatedly.

Original Mike said...

Columbus is a poor analogy. The difference is that the voyage could easily be done within his lifespan. Interstellar travel is multigenerational. Generations to get there and more generations to get back. Individuals can't do it. It must be a societal undertaking. Expenditure of resources that will never be recouped.

"Perhaps an advanced society might choose to stay put, tying its ultimate destiny to whatever fate their home solar system has in store for them, but would all of them? Hardly."

This argument is there must be an irrational society at the tail of the probability distribution. But what if there are only two of us? Or a handful?

Original Mike said...

Columbus is a poor analogy. Interstellar travel is a multigenerational endeavor. Generations to get there and generations to get back. Huge expenditure for a society that will not be recouped. Am I saying that no society would ever undertake it? No. But I am saying that your argument of a "very distinct likelihood" that there is no one else based on the fact that we haven't seen them is not compelling.

Thanks much for the link. Looks like the SKA will have about 5x the collecting area of the Chinese telescope. Cool. Also, the arguments in the article regarding whether we'd have the sensitivity to see another civilization are sobering.

Original Mike said...

Shit. Comment moderation.

Paul Snively said...

Gabriel: @Paul snively: that the universe must be approximately as old/large as it is for intelligent life to have evolved once,

You can't say this because you don't know this.


Actually, we do know this. I highly recommend The Anthropic Cosmological Principle on the subject.

since it's an extraordinarily improbable event,

You can't say this because you don't know this. You can't use a sample size of one to estimate it. Doing so is the Laplace sunrise problem. He did that to prove a point; you are apparently doing it because you think it makes sense.


I can say this because it's true, given a proper understanding of probability and science. At the link you provided, we find:

"Laplace, however, recognised this to be a misapplication of the rule of succession through not taking into account all the prior information available immediately after deriving the result:

'But this number [the probability of the sun coming up tomorrow] is far greater for him who, seeing in the totality of phenomena the principle regulating the days and seasons, realizes that nothing at present moment can arrest the course of it.'

It is noted by Jaynes & Bretthorst (2003) that Laplace's warning had gone unheeded by workers in the field."

The citation is of Probability Theory: The Logic of Science. You're making exactly the error Laplace and Jaynes warn about: not taking all of our prior information into account. "The Anthropic Cosmological Principle" is a sizable compendium of that prior information, culminating in an examination of the question of extraterrestrial intelligent life on that basis. Simply repeating "sample size 1" over and over means nothing, since that's not how probability works.

Paul Snively said...

This review of "Probability Theory: The Logic of Science" nicely breaks down the schools of thought on the subject. NB:

"Bayesians may assign probability 1/2 to the proposition that there was life on Mars a billion years ago; frequentists will not do that because they cannot say that there was life on Mars a billion years ago in precisely half of all cases -- there are no such 'cases'."

It's funny because it's true.

Paul Snively said...

Original Mike: Wouldn't mind a link fleshing out your argument, Paul.

The Anthropic Cosmological Principle.Easily the best book on the history of science yet written. 682 pages with extensive chapter references in addition to the index, "The Space-Travel Argument Against the Existence of ExtraterrestrialIntelligent Life" is chapter 9.

I'm with you until the "once". The universe wasn't conducive to life until several generations of stars had produced sufficient quanties of elements with atomic numbers greater than hydrogen and helium (what astronomers call "metals"). However, the problem with your thesis is that once that age is reached, it's reached everywhere in the universe, not just "here".

It's true that the conditions that are consistent throughout the universe happen everywhere in the universe at once (given our best understanding of how physics works). By the time you get to chapter 9, though, I trust it becomes clear that there are extremely long local causal chains that are themselves extraordinarily improbable even given the necessary universal conditions. We happen to sit at the end of one such causal chain, giving rise to the Weak Anthropic Principle (WAP) that, if memory serves me correctly, you mentioned earlier. This doesn't change the improbability of the causal sequence, so the conclusion is that we are extraordinarily improbable, which puts us in the fascinating position of asking why we haven't heard from our non-existent intelligent brethren.

Counterarguments to this generally stumble for one of two major reasons:

1. The "alien intelligence might be so constituted as to not be able to communicate with us effectively, for reasons of biology, chemistry, or physics." Actually, information is known—by us—to be a quantifiable physical phenomenon. Any race living in our physical universe, no matter how constituted, would have to have discovered the same thing in order to have radio, electronic networking, interstellar travel, etc. and would be able to identify us as intelligent on the same basis. The big names for them wouldn't be Shannon, Kolmogorov, Chaitin, or Solomonoff, but the mathematical physics would be the same.

2. Failure to understand probability. Gabriel, with his repeated "Sample size 1," is exhibit A here. He would do well to internalize E.T. Jaynes' Probability Theory: The Logic of Science.