Search for Intelligent Life

Discussion in 'Politics, Religion, Social Issues' started by guzhogi, Feb 10, 2011.

  1. guzhogi macrumors 68030

    guzhogi

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    #1
    I was just thinking about how people look for intelligent life out in space (no particular reason, just thinking). It made me wonder how these people define "intelligent"? Does "intelligent" just mean the alien life thinks like we do, inventing things like medicines, computers, radios, etc.? Or are they looking for any & all kinds of intelligence?

    I ask this because there may be life out there that is intelligent, but live as we do. Think of it this way: when Europeans first came to the Americas and found Native Americans, the Europeans thought that Native Americans were unintelligent for the most part (or at least that's what I've been taught in school anyways). Why was that? Because the Native Americans didn't try to build cities & try to dominate their world? I find this a lack of need to do these things, not a lack of ability.

    I also think about animals. Many people think that animals are unintelligent since they don't talk or make what we feel is advanced technology. I've seen many animals use tools, learn basic sign language, learn skills.

    Do people consider animals unintelligent because we have self-awareness and they don't? What's self-awareness? How do we know we have it and the animals don't? Maybe animals just manifest self-awareness differently. That's one thing I don't like about people saying they're looking for "intelligent" life. What kind of intelligence? Human style intelligence, or any kind of intelligence?

    I'm not trying to troll anybody or make anyone come to my perspective. I'm just trying to understand this. If I offended you, I apologize.
     
  2. iStudentUK macrumors 65816

    iStudentUK

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    #2
    Interesting question, got me thinking!

    I'd say any life in outer space would be very exciting, but I personally would classify intelligent life as any that is conscious.

    I'd point out that plenty of animals are self-aware, I'm not quite sure where you got the impression that there is much debate over that. There is pretty concrete evidence that many animals have consciousness, I think all primates do, as well as many other animals like dogs, cats, dolphins etc. Now there is debate about to what extent lower animals are self-aware. Fish? Big difference between a minnow and a shark! Amphibians? A small frog probably not, but the giant ones around at the time of the dinosaurs probably yes. Insects? No, almost certainly not.
     
  3. Gelfin macrumors 68020

    Gelfin

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    #3
    You're looking for intelligent life and you came into PRSI? ;)

    Seriously, there is little agreement even about how to define "intelligence" among humans. Lacking a comprehensive definition of intelligence, it is difficult to model the range of possibilities. Building cities and societies and hoarding recorded knowledge is a trait of our species, and we only really have the one example.

    We look for signs that others in the neighborhood communicate as we do not because we are certain they will, but because that's what we know. It has proven fruitless so far, and may actually be futile. I recall an article from a couple of years ago saying physicists have now determined that even very powerful radio signals will degrade into incoherence within a light year or two. Even our own day-to-day transmissions are more subtle now by far than thirty years ago. There is no practical hope of an alien civilization of any level of sophistication figuring out how to decode an HDTV signal unassisted.

    We would be doing well to find life at all, honestly. It's a seeming step backwards from looking for someone to talk to, but it's more grounded in reality. Checking Mars' wet spots for traces of life, looking on Europa and Titan, and refining exoplanet survey techniques to get an idea how common are worlds that could support the chemistry of life roughly as we understand it are a more realistic starting point.
     
  4. iBlue macrumors Core

    iBlue

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    #4
    ^ :D Good post.


    *nod* Indeed. I got to witness my own parrot (a moluccan cockatoo) being self-aware in a mirror. At first he raised his crest and "hissed" and lunged forward, tapping his beak to the mirror, presumably he thought it was another bird, but he started swaying back and forth, playing and seemed to know exactly what the deal was. To test it out I took him out of there, put a tiny bit of peanut butter on his beak when I was cuddling him (so he didn't realize it) and put him back in front of the mirror. He immediately looked and started trying to get the "non-him" peanut butter off with his feet, then rubbing it on his side. It didn't fully come off and he freaked out until I got it off of him. My own little study anyway. Clever bird.

    </slight diversion>



    I actually don't particularly want us to find "intelligent life", at least nothing similar to us. I think human nature can be very cruel and destructive and it's not a big leap to think that finding "aliens" may be something we'd regret.
     
  5. guzhogi, Feb 10, 2011
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2011

    guzhogi thread starter macrumors 68030

    guzhogi

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    #5
    Very interesting. Why do say things like insects don't? Maybe they do have consciousness, but it's just different than our form of consciousness.

    With something like communication, other species communicate differently. For example, don't bees communicate by how they move? So that got me thinking: what if aliens communicate in a way we don't understand? Maybe they use telepathy or something? I just feel that aliens (or any life form for that matter) may have many of our qualities, but just go about displaying them in different ways.

    In a way, I don't want to find aliens, either. Considering how many humans out there don't like that which is different, I could see serious problems arising. Look at all the racism, sexism, and all the other -isms we have. I'm so afraid we'd find another race and go to war with them just because they're "different". Even if they're totally benevolent. I've heard a saying a while ago that goes something along the lines of "If everyone wakes up one day the same race, creed, religion, political party, etc., we'd find a new reason to hate each other by noon." Kinda scary, but I feel it's true.

    Plus, there are all those deeply religious people who feel that we're the only life in the universe and God created us and only us. So many people would get so upset by the existence of alien life, I'd be afraid to see what would happen.
     
  6. iStudentUK, Feb 10, 2011
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2011

    iStudentUK macrumors 65816

    iStudentUK

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    #6
    Did you think of that yourself? If you did I'm impressed! That is one of the actual procedures people use to test for self-awareness. There are different verions, but one involves putting a small red sticker on an animal's forehead (many animals would smell peanut butter). It is far from a perfect test as some animals may not care that they can see themselves or that there is a red dot on their forehead and so don't react, and you can also know you exist without recognising yourself, but it is better than nothing! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror_test

    Consciousness may not have a strict definition, but it always involves an awareness of your own existence. Insects do not appear to have the cognitive power to achieve this, the current consensus being that their movements and reactions are governed by instinct.
     
  7. guzhogi thread starter macrumors 68030

    guzhogi

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    #7
    Something that I just thought of: what about a hive mind/collective intelligence kind of thing? Could there be a kind of life form where one specific item of that life form may not be "intelligent" but it somehow communicates with others of its type and the group has an intelligence. An example would be like the swarms in the book Prey by Michael Crichton, or the Borg in Star Trek. Or maybe individual brain cells. One may not mean much, but when you look at the whole, they're very intelligent.
     
  8. Sydde macrumors 68020

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    #8
    What has just now occurred to me is: why would intelligent ETs advertise? I mean, it would seem that the natural behavior for intelligent species would probably be curiosity; because, in order to reach a high level of techology you have to have a certain level of curiosity and desire to learn and explore. So, if "they" want to learn about us, you would think they would hide in the bushes rather than standing out in the open (the lions will behave differently when they are aware that you are there — kind of like the Heisenberg thing).

    One could imagine that "they" would do every thing possible to hide from us, whilst at the same time, we would probably be doing the same. Even to the point of disguising the home planet ("Oh, look! Klingons! Let's go say hi!"). Actually finding an extant alien civilization might prove to be exceedingly difficult because most of them would not want to be found.

    And then, if "they" are advertising, should we not be at least a little wary? ("We just want to serve man.")
     
  9. Stella macrumors 604

    Stella

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    #9
    They wouldn't need to advertise - all our radio, TV transmissions etc go out into space. If they are advanced enough perhaps they've found a better method of communcations in which case we wouldn't pick it up via SETI.


     
  10. emw macrumors G4

    emw

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    #10
    So I'm assuming, then, that you're contending that we're not intelligent because we're advertising our presence? ;)

    I think it's impossible to attempt to pinpoint the characteristics of an "intelligent" alien civilization simply because there are essentially infinite possibilities. Just look at the immense variety of life and "intelligence" here on Earth and try to extrapolate that variety to the vast number of potentially life-supporting planets that exist in the universe; it's mind-boggling.

    Would I like to meet aliens? I suppose that depends on if they're here to eat my brains or not. But I do imagine that communication would be exceedingly difficult unless they take the time to observe us long enough to learn our languages. At which point they may very well determine that getting to know us may not be all that wonderful.
     
  11. Zerozal macrumors 6502

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    #11
    This. Plus, it reminded me of this:
    xkcd: The Search

    You know we have the beginnings of a good thread when there's a relavant xkcd comic! :)
     
  12. guzhogi thread starter macrumors 68030

    guzhogi

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    #12
    I've seen that before. Pretty good. Thanks for sharing!
     
  13. Sydde macrumors 68020

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    #13
    Even our strongest radar signals would be undetectable much outside the solar system. The most coherent beam, a pinpoint laser, still spreads out 3" over a mile. This means that at the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, that laser beam, how ever powerful it might be, is 1.14 billion miles across. Can you make a signal that is powerful enough to be visible at that level of dispersion, after traveling through the interstellar dust without using every gram of available energy on earth?

    No, I would say we are not even barely advertising.
     
  14. Ja Di ksw macrumors 65816

    Ja Di ksw

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    #14
    The search for intelligent life is the search for life with a central nervous system. ie, a fish would qualify. Or an ant. It's stuff like bacteria that they aren't looking for.

    Though that's just the "search for intelligent life." Most of the people actually searching would love if there was bacteria that they could find.
     
  15. emw macrumors G4

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    #15
    Yet somehow you found us from Frogstar World B?

    :p
     
  16. Sydde macrumors 68020

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    #16
    That was Ford Prefect's fault, he was using his sub-etha thumb and we picked up the signal. I have been arguing with him as to whether the "mostly" should stay or go (I think it gives humanity too much credit).
     
  17. iBlue macrumors Core

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    #17
    Absolutely! Sometimes I think talking is overrated. When I think of how even tiny insects manage to work together with seemingly little effort I begin to question how bright we humans really are. :p

    I think and would worry the same things. In addition I would be more concerned with a species that lives for so much longer, travels vast distances and as such has a very different perspective on lives and the importance of them. In the scale of time we are SO very, very fleeting it's ridiculous how self-important we are, yet amazing at the same time. An alien species may see people as nothing more than a minor inconvenience before obliterating us to mine a planetary resource. Doesn't take James Cameron to think that predicament up. No matter how smart we think we are, little fleshy humans seem rather vulnerable, increasingly so with our reliance on technology, which has a weak spot a geomagnetic storm would effortlessly disable. Uh oh!

    There are all kinds of doomsday scenarios one can easily think up. Though I don't stay up at night worrying about that, sometimes I enjoy thinking "sci-fi". :D

    I have certainly heard of it since then but I can't recall at the time if it was an original thought or not. Probably not. I had endless amounts of fun with that bird though and his cleverness inspired me to think creatively, if only to entertain him. Woo, parrot planet! It would be a noisy, messy place!
     

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