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"Where is Everybody?", or "Why am I so Lonely?": Fermi's Paradox / the Drake Equation, Logocentrism and Gabriel Garcial Marquez | by timtak
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"Where is Everybody?", or "Why am I so Lonely?": Fermi's Paradox / the Drake Equation, Logocentrism and Gabriel Garcial Marquez

The Drake Equation is, supposedly, the mathematical response to Enrico Fermi's question "Where is everybody?" posed with regard to extraterrestrial life.


Apparently Fermi blurted out the question,"Where is everybody? in 1950" One of those many present writes "the result of his question was general laughter because of the strange fact that in spite of Fermi’s question coming from the clear blue, everybody around the table seemed to understand at once that he was talking about extraterrestrial life." Picture if you will, a group of white males sitting in a room after lunch. One of them blurts out "Where is everybody" and they know, the question refers to others that should be there: extra-terrestials. That is the context of the question.


The idea is that considering the vast number of planets even in our own galazy, it seems surprising that there are no UFOs, or at least more channels on the TV or radio, some of them alien. 11 years later another white male, Francis Drake formulated answer to Fermi's question in the following way: The Drake Equation (I am using capitals to denote superscripts)


N = R x Fp x Ne x Fl x Fi x Fc x L



N = the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which radio-communication might be possible (i.e. which are on our current past light cone);


R = the average rate of star formation in our galaxy

Fp = the fraction of those stars that have planets

Ne = the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets

Fl = the fraction of planets that could support life that actually develop life at some point

Fi = the fraction of planets with life that actually go on to develop intelligent life (civilizations)

Fc = the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space

L = the length of time for which such civilizations release detectable signals into space


Before I begin the solution to this equation, it is pertinent to consider holism and its relation to paradoxes in general. Holism is the notion that things seemingly distant, the macroscopic and the microscopic, the universe and a grain of sand, are in fact intimately related. This is no where more true than in the consideration of paradoxes. For example, as mentioned previously, how is that a cosmically insignificant life form, the human species ("an evolutionary blip away from goats," and bananas) should know the speed limit of the universe. This appears to be paradoxical. The solution provided by reframing the question. As argued previously, and by Ersnt Mach, the basic stuff of the universe is that which we can sense. Our fastest sense is that of vision. Hence, the paradox presented by Einstien's observations regarding light - coupled with our radical insignificance - can be rephrased as "Why can't we see anything faster than which we can see?" The paradox disappears.


This s one way of responding to the Fermi paradox: aliens are in the dark matter that has recently been found to make up most of the universe. This answer is not without persuasive power. Perhaps we are blind to all the aliens that swarm around us due to the fact that we are only able to percieve a small part of the manifold universe. The majority of the universe is dark. We may have only a the smallest fraction of a slit eyed view of its muchness. Aliens are in our midst but like bats, we are unable to see them. The realisation that our universe is the unverse of our very limited senses provides a specific theory to explain our seeming solitude.


While this specific theory is fairly persuasive, it invites the question as to why those aliens do not attempt to communicate with us in media that they may be unaware of. Now that we have become aware of dark matter, and dark energy, how long will it be before we attempt to perturb these realms to send out "Where is every body" messages?


It will be argued here that what the Drake equation is really measuring is not the number of 'intelligent life forms', but rather the number of life forms that are obsessed with transmitting and receiving signs. In other words, the Drake Equation expresses the probability of logocentric life forms.


Fi or fraction of planets with life that develop "intelligence" like Fc the proportion of intelligent life forms that form civilisations-transmit-signals, and the final number of theorised hits "N," the number of radio signals that we should be able to hear are all a function of the tendency to transmit and receive signs.


I t can easily be argued that ants, dolphins, swallows, beavers and leopards, and the vast array of 'aliens' which surround us, are intelligent but unlike us they don't have an obsession with transmitting signs. The Drake equation is first and formost an equation about the chances of another sign transmitting life form.


Since it is really an equation about the need to constantly transmit and receive signs) this has implications for the maths. What is it about this tendency to transmit, emit signs, and receive signs, that might make the final product "N" low?


1) Since the Drake equation is about the probability of sign-emitters, this raises media and encoding questions, and the "Humans are not listening properly(My emphasis. This listening is not literal but refers to the receipt and decoding of signs so note that even some of the solutions to Fermi's paradox are phrased in semiotic terms) hypothesis becomes more plausible.


2) "Fi" the number of life forms that are obsessed with transmitting and receiving signs simply is low. We can see that on earth. There is nothing "more evolved" about humans. All the '8.7 million' (BBC) currently present species have adapted to their environment enough to be able to survive here, so there is nothing more or less evolved about any of them. And of the many species, only one, or a subset of one of them -- Westerners -- seems really into transmitting and receiving signs. That makes the number very low. For all we know the universe is teeming with "animals" some which have been around for billions of years, but none have them have caught the signing bug - none have become addicted to the weird practice of sending and receiving signs. Perhaps signing is a really weird thing to be addicted to.


3) It has been postulated that "technological advance" (it is not clear to me what this is) leads to self-annihilation. The persuasive side of this argument is that technology gives rise to power, to the means of self-destruction. But technological power also increases the ability to prevent self-destruction -- that is the reason it evolves or is developed -- so this argument on its own is not convincing. Which leads me to

3a) Does "an obsession with signing' lead to self-annihilation? The obsession that humans have to continually make and receive signs, starting with hearing themselves talk (think), through beaming each other radio and television programs, until finally sending out radio signals in the absence of a listener are all much of a muchness. This tendency to sign may be related to a chronic, radical solitude (enter Marquez). I.e. we talk to ourselves, write novels, beam each other radio and TV, and signals into space because we are so very lonely. "Signing" may thus mean "Signing our loneliness," so the Drake equation may be about the probably of chronically lonely species. Does chronic loneliness tend towards self-annihilation? The possibility that logo-centric life forms do self-annihilate may be argued to be supported by the predictions of "Armageddon" promoted by the logo-centric "book" religions.


4) Another answer is more positive and simple. Life, or lumps of anything, that send signals due to their chronic loneliness are surely those that also formulate Drake equations - which mathematically model the extent to which they are alone if not lonely. If so, then the Drake equation, or the Fermi-paradox may itself be the "Great Filter" since, asking the question it provides the paradoxical, and yet self-defining - we are the lonely ones - stimulus, that causes these lonely signing life forms to examine themselves, realise their loneliness and stop signing, especially in the absence of a listener.


Márquez, G. G. (2003). One hundred years of solitude. Harper Collins. The end (spoiler). “He began to decipher the instant that he was living, deciphering it as he lived it, prophesying himself in the act of deciphering the last page of the parchments, as if he were looking into a speaking mirror...Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that [Macondo] would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment Aureliano . . . would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth."


The above image is copyright Danielle Futselaar, on the drake Equation wikipedia page, seems to me to symbolize the way in which the equation models not 'intelligence,' or 'civilisation' but 'blowing bubbles' - being caught up in a fantasy.

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Uploaded on February 27, 2014