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Thread: What do you think is the most likely explanation for the Fermi paradox?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    Alternatively, perhaps small closed ecosystems are simply too unstable to make long range colonization efforts worth while.* You'd need a whole world to replenish your habitat from. A permanent link to the home planet or a terraformed one, would definitely hobble the rapid expansion of one's progeny throughout space.

    * I hate this idea with a passion, of course. But I have to acknowledge it as at least a realistic possibility.
    To me this seems simpler than other resolutions of the Fermi paradox, and the most realistic of the possibilities.

    I don't blame you for hating the idea that our species won't be able to expand rapidly throughout space.

    On the other hand, the more difficult long range colonisation is, the less danger that humans on Earth will some day be troubled by ETs coming here to colonise.

    Perhaps humans in space will need an umbilical cord to the old mudball for centuries, until we establish enough variety of ecologies and methods of survival offworld that stations can support each other entirely.
    It could be much more than centuries...

    Since we humans developed ways of leaving Earth's atmosphere and flying through space, it is easy to suppose that we can be independent of "the old mudball", and very soon will be.

    But maybe that is an illusion.

    Flying fish can leave the ocean and glide through the air for almost a minute, but this doesn't make them independent of the ocean.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Robinson View Post

    It could be much more than centuries...

    Since we humans developed ways of leaving Earth's atmosphere and flying through space, it is easy to suppose that we can be independent of "the old mudball", and very soon will be.

    But maybe that is an illusion.

    Flying fish can leave the ocean and glide through the air for almost a minute, but this doesn't make them independent of the ocean.
    I believe it's a solvable problem. The development of environmental science will continue to advance just as all our sciences do, as we gain and incorporate new knowledge. IOW science knowledge is cumulative. It may take longer than I'd like but we will someday leave the nest and build metastable artificial worlds.

    And certainly we have plenty of good reasons here on Earth to actively improve human skill at managing ecosystems! If we can't, the size and scope of Earth's biosphere will only buffer and protect us from our own destructive nature temporarily. Remember, Earth is a spaceship too.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    I believe it's a solvable problem. The development of environmental science will continue to advance just as all our sciences do, as we gain and incorporate new knowledge. IOW science knowledge is cumulative. It may take longer than I'd like but we will someday leave the nest and build metastable artificial worlds.

    And certainly we have plenty of good reasons here on Earth to actively improve human skill at managing ecosystems! If we can't, the size and scope of Earth's biosphere will only buffer and protect us from our own destructive nature temporarily. Remember, Earth is a spaceship too.
    Provided there is not a limit to advancement (my bold)

    It may turn out that it's just not practically feasible to venture beyond our own solar system, and maybe there are advanced technologies out there that have reached a road block. I really can't imagine how a biological species (based on life here on Earth) could sustain interstellar travel. Unless we somehow managed to actually develop some sort of warp drive and avoid collisions and radiation and all the other obstacles then the only way I can imagine interstellar travel is by machine, robots or A.I. etc... at which point the likely hood is that A.I capable of interstellar colonization would become the dominant "life form"

    I recently watched a documentary talking about the scale of the observable universe. Its uncomprehend-ably large, even our own Milkyway galaxy is so massive its hard to imagine humans ever being able to visit any of it. My favourite answer to the Fermi paradox is that there is no paradox. Its just that space and time are so vast, the odds of any technological life existing simultaneously at a relatively close distance, and able to contact each other is going to be extremely low.

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    Quote Originally Posted by cosmocrazy View Post
    Provided there is not a limit to advancement (my bold)
    I've often heard people say this, but we have never yet found such a limit to any scientific discipline, theoretical or applied. I seriously doubt we'll ever run out of things to discover or invent.

    It may turn out that it's just not practically feasible to venture beyond our own solar system, and maybe there are advanced technologies out there that have reached a road block. I really can't imagine how a biological species (based on life here on Earth) could sustain interstellar travel. Unless we somehow managed to actually develop some sort of warp drive and avoid collisions and radiation and all the other obstacles then the only way I can imagine interstellar travel is by machine, robots or A.I. etc... at which point the likely hood is that A.I capable of interstellar colonization would become the dominant "life form"
    I think in-person star travel is extremely hard, but possible and do-able. We can already conceive of plausible methods for existing humans to reach at least relatively close stars, without "warp drives" or other fantastic alterations of known physics. Colonization would take far longer to achieve. But a long time and never are two different things.

    I recently watched a documentary talking about the scale of the observable universe. Its uncomprehend-ably large, even our own Milkyway galaxy is so massive its hard to imagine humans ever being able to visit any of it. My favourite answer to the Fermi paradox is that there is no paradox. Its just that space and time are so vast, the odds of any technological life existing simultaneously at a relatively close distance, and able to contact each other is going to be extremely low.
    Now that, I strongly agree with. The "paradox" is nothing but the human inability to understand large measurements in intuitive terms. Adding zeroes to a number does not convey the true scope of space or time.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    I've often heard people say this, but we have never yet found such a limit to any scientific discipline, theoretical or applied. I seriously doubt we'll ever run out of things to discover or invent.



    I think in-person star travel is extremely hard, but possible and do-able. We can already conceive of plausible methods for existing humans to reach at least relatively close stars, without "warp drives" or other fantastic alterations of known physics. Colonization would take far longer to achieve. But a long time and never are two different things.
    I'm thinking more towards the limits of the known physical laws restricting technological advancement. So for example - warp drives, they may well be conceivable but not attainable. There are also many conceivable ideas that are currently sci -fi, plausible but unattainable; wormholes, time travel... etc

    I agree, a long time and never are not the same thing, but in terms of the size of even a galaxy and the current life span of a human being they may as well be. Even to visit the nearest planetary systems we need to achieve extremely high speeds and able to manoeuvre/navigate at these speeds to make it practically possible. This is without dealing with all the expected physical & mental issues of long distance space travel. Even with an artificial gravity "generation" ship, going further afield than say 100 light years, is going to be very difficult and maybe not practically feasible.

    I really can't see (maybe I'm too pessimistic) that unless we can achieve near on light speeds, or some sort of warping of space-time, or anti gravity system... then long distance space travel is a fanciful notion.

    The sensible and most economical solution would be to send machines/A.I, far less romantic, but far more feasible I think.

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    Quote Originally Posted by cosmocrazy View Post
    I'm thinking more towards the limits of the known physical laws restricting technological advancement. So for example - warp drives, they may well be conceivable but not attainable. There are also many conceivable ideas that are currently sci -fi, plausible but unattainable; wormholes, time travel... etc

    I agree, a long time and never are not the same thing, but in terms of the size of even a galaxy and the current life span of a human being they may as well be. Even to visit the nearest planetary systems we need to achieve extremely high speeds and able to manoeuvre/navigate at these speeds to make it practically possible. This is without dealing with all the expected physical & mental issues of long distance space travel. Even with an artificial gravity "generation" ship, going further afield than say 100 light years, is going to be very difficult and maybe not practically feasible.

    I really can't see (maybe I'm too pessimistic) that unless we can achieve near on light speeds, or some sort of warping of space-time, or anti gravity system... then long distance space travel is a fanciful notion.

    The sensible and most economical solution would be to send machines/A.I, far less romantic, but far more feasible I think.
    Specific paths of technology may be dead ends, that's no bar to a problem with many potential solutions. Progress is not linear, it's open-ended webs. If one line of development stalls, go around it. We fly without anti-gravity, we build and manufacture without nano-technology, we can travel without warp drives.

    It will be hard in the extreme to go in-person across interstellar distances, with massive problems to overcome that we probably cannot foresee today. But not out of our reach given a long enough time frame of offworld resource use and open-ended development of relevant engineering. It won't be a first step, either, but the culmination of long evolution of space-based industry and closed-cycle habitat management. Plus of course, the human factor: learning to live with each other in a small, stable society that lasts long enough to reach its destination and build a new home there.

    Our current human lifespans are a current problem. I can see either biological life extension or suspended animation as achievable possibilities someday (research on both has already begun), and barring that there's always generation ships.

    But you're right that we probably won't get to the whole Galaxy, nor would we want to. It's a Spherical Cow goal, an idealized logic argument that no practical actor would sink resources into. A Galaxy is far too big to set such goalposts. It's like saying you want to build a sandcastle out of all the beach sand in the world.

    We may no longer be human when we get to another star. But that's not a requirement in my book. Post-humans are welcome to space too.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    I believe it's a solvable problem. The development of environmental science will continue to advance just as all our sciences do, as we gain and incorporate new knowledge. IOW science knowledge is cumulative. It may take longer than I'd like but we will someday leave the nest and build metastable artificial worlds.

    And certainly we have plenty of good reasons here on Earth to actively improve human skill at managing ecosystems! If we can't, the size and scope of Earth's biosphere will only buffer and protect us from our own destructive nature temporarily. Remember, Earth is a spaceship too.
    Certainly Earth is a spaceship too.

    And that brings to mind another comparatively simple solution to the Fermi paradox — one more radical and pessimistic than mere non-feasibility of space colonisation...

    Maybe, whenever a species comparable to ours — an extremely versatile tool-user — arises, it changes its home ecosystem in a way that throws the ecosystem out of balance.

    In this way, the species dooms itself to a massive population crash.

    When the crash comes, the species can no longer gain and incorporate new scientific knowledge. Instead it loses nearly all of the knowledge it once had...

    Maybe a versatile tool-using species is a like a fire — the faster it develops, the sooner it burns itself out.
    Last edited by Colin Robinson; 2021-Apr-12 at 10:27 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Robinson View Post
    Certainly Earth is a spaceship too.

    And that brings to mind another comparatively simple solution to the Fermi paradox — one more radical and pessimistic than mere non-feasibility of space colonisation...

    Maybe, whenever a species comparable to ours — an extremely versatile tool-user — arises, it changes its home ecosystem in a way that throws the ecosystem out of balance.

    In this way, the species dooms itself to a massive population crash.

    When the crash comes, the species can no longer gain and incorporate new scientific knowledge. Instead it loses nearly all of the knowledge it once had...
    Only total extinction would, in my opinion, end human potential for advancement on Earth. Human nature is to adapt and learn. We independently invented civilization (farming, cities, written records, mathematics, engineering) in many places and times throughout human history. If there are any humans left at all, I don't doubt we'd repopulate the world; new civilizations would again rise and grow, and potentially someday reinvent science and eventually return to space.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    Only total extinction would, in my opinion, end human potential for advancement on Earth. Human nature is to adapt and learn. We independently invented civilization (farming, cities, written records, mathematics, engineering) in many places and times throughout human history. If there are any humans left at all, I don't doubt we'd repopulate the world; new civilizations would again rise and grow, and potentially someday reinvent science and eventually return to space.
    You think every fall of a civilisation will be followed by rise of a new one? Maybe. But what I'm suggesting (as a hypothesis) is that every rise of a civilisation is followed by a fall. Also, that the more developed a civilisation is — in terms of expanding consumption — the more drastic its fall is going to be.

    Please note... I'm not saying this is certainly true.

    Just that it could be true, and that it's a possible resolution of the Fermi thing...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Robinson View Post
    Just that it could be true, and that it's a possible resolution of the Fermi thing...
    The Fermi thing doesn't need any resolution. No offense to Enrico Fermi, but the paradox is based on a flawed premise to begin with.

    As we discover more about our own past and about exoplanets, we find that worlds that might plausibly support complex multicellular organisms are seemingly uncommon, requiring a multitude of "just right" factors. We won the cosmic lottery and yet think we are typical, when observations show that's not so.

    And we have no way of knowing how often life happens, how often it evolves animal-analogs, or how often those types of life give rise to intelligence of the sort that builds starships or even imagines them. Even if life is common, there's an infinite number of pathways life might evolve, many will not produce brains or thoughts.

    There's probably something out there that thinks. It's a big Universe, there's room for anything to happen. By the same token, it's a BIG Universe, anything out there is probably too far away to affect us or reach us.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    The Fermi thing doesn't need any resolution.
    For something that "doesn't need any resolution", Fermi's question has attracted a remarkable amount of discussion and debate...

    Even if life is common, there's an infinite number of pathways life might evolve, many will not produce brains or thoughts.
    You speak of "an infinite number of pathways" before brains and thoughts...

    Yet, (judging by your previous messages) you think that after brains, thoughts, and technology emerge, this diversity of pathways get phase-changed into a single great path leading to space travel, space colonisation and expansion through the galaxy?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Robinson View Post
    For something that "doesn't need any resolution", Fermi's question has attracted a remarkable amount of discussion and debate...
    Fermi's paradox is more of a question than a paradox, and probably one of, if not the most intriguing questions we want the answer to - where is everyone else? So its not so much the "paradox" but more so "are we alone" that gains interest and speculation.

    My personal opinion - probably not,... but because of the vast distances and time, we are, and possibly will remain, lonely.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Robinson View Post
    For something that "doesn't need any resolution", Fermi's question has attracted a remarkable amount of discussion and debate...
    Which speaks more to the nature of human imagination and our penchant for logical fallacy than any innate merits of the paradox.


    You speak of "an infinite number of pathways" before brains and thoughts...

    Yet, (judging by your previous messages) you think that after brains, thoughts, and technology emerge, this diversity of pathways get phase-changed into a single great path leading to space travel, space colonisation and expansion through the galaxy?
    Not at all. You have misjudged.

    I meant only that such brainpower is a necessary ingredient for space travel and interstellar colonization. Remember, I said even we already-sentient humans potentially could return to space after being bombed back to the stone age. It happened once, it could happen again, but nothing is guaranteed, ever. There might be multiple technological paths that lead to space, even, we don't know.

    Certainly empires like China and the Arab world historically developed technology, engineering, mathematics, etc faster than Western Europe, before imported Eastern knowledge led Europe to the Renaissance. I say this to point out that even here on Earth, things are not linear. Tech trees are like Banyan trees, with multiple roots, branches and trunks all blending into each other. How much more so would it be among lifeforms with different brains and environments?

    Infinite diversity in infinite combinations.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    Which speaks more to the nature of human imagination and our penchant for logical fallacy than any innate merits of the paradox.
    That's an interesting point, about the logical fallacies that prompt us (meaning us, collectively, as in all people interested in this topic, not just on this board). to continue this discussion. I'm not sure what logical fallacies I made that encourage me to continue thinking about this. Do you have an idea of the logical fallacies you have that encourage you to participate in it?
    As above, so below

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    That's an interesting point, about the logical fallacies that prompt us (meaning us, collectively, as in all people interested in this topic, not just on this board). to continue this discussion. I'm not sure what logical fallacies I made that encourage me to continue thinking about this. Do you have an idea of the logical fallacies you have that encourage you to participate in it?
    I'm saying the paradox itself is a based on logical fallacy; I'm not ascribing personal motives to anyone.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    I'm saying the paradox itself is a based on logical fallacy; I'm not ascribing personal motives to anyone.
    Right, but I guess I meant to say, why are you and I and others continuing to discuss this if it is based on a logical fallacy? I guess "because we're all dumb" is one possible answer.
    As above, so below

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    Right, but I guess I meant to say, why are you and I and others continuing to discuss this if it is based on a logical fallacy? I guess "because we're all dumb" is one possible answer.
    I dunno. I'm not going to try to guess at what's going on in other people's heads.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    I dunno. I'm not going to try to guess at what's going on in other people's heads.
    But there's still what's going on in your own head.

    In my case, I find it an interesting issue, and am personally interested in why we do seem to be alone. My own view (as I think I've said before) is that the enormous expanse of space and the difficulty of traveling across it is surely one of the factors. But I am interested in what others think.

    I guess the question is more why you are interested in it if you think it's based on a logical fallacy.
    As above, so below

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    But there's still what's going on in your own head.

    In my case, I find it an interesting issue, and am personally interested in why we do seem to be alone. My own view (as I think I've said before) is that the enormous expanse of space and the difficulty of traveling across it is surely one of the factors. But I am interested in what others think.

    I guess the question is more why you are interested in it if you think it's based on a logical fallacy.
    I'm interested, that's all.
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    Quote Originally Posted by cosmocrazy View Post
    Fermi's paradox is more of a question than a paradox, and probably one of, if not the most intriguing questions we want the answer to - where is everyone else? So its not so much the "paradox" but more so "are we alone" that gains interest and speculation.
    I agree. There's a lot to unpack under the umbrella of one seemingly simple question.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    I agree. There's a lot to unpack under the umbrella of one seemingly simple question.
    Yes, and its the content of possibilities that keeps me interested during these discussions. Its not that I'm looking for any particular answer, we just don't have all the information we need to make even an educated guess on one possibility over another. It's the uncountable factors that may determine an answer that keeps discussions like these alive.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Robinson View Post
    You think every fall of a civilisation will be followed by rise of a new one? Maybe.
    Individual civilizations can and do die off. But the constant independent invention of civilizations has happened repeatedly in history, so as a recurring element it is clearly not one that dies off altogether. Every time we humans develop effective enough agriculture to support a population large enough, we organize into that pattern.

    But what I'm suggesting (as a hypothesis) is that every rise of a civilisation is followed by a fall. Also, that the more developed a civilisation is — in terms of expanding consumption — the more drastic its fall is going to be.
    Total extinction is possible, sure. Surviving a fall is also possible. Either/or.

    I posit that as long as there are a viable breeding pool of survivors, they will once again develop a civilization or series of civilizations with at least the potential to become industrialized. Who knows what, say, the Mayans could have achieved on their own if the Europeans hadn't come in and taken over? We don't know. The Americas were slower to advance technologically because of the lack of common riding animals, but they did advance sure enough. Given enough time a society with writing and mathematics and engineering and astronomy could have gone much further, I believe.

    The main impediment of a collapse of our human civilization is that we've already picked the low hanging fruit as far as mining and fossil fuels. So any resulting industrialization will be much slower to reach a spacefaring level. The good news is that they'll have to learn more efficient energy use and less wasteful resource cycling from the get-go, which is good for both the planet, and a good lesson for any potential space based communities.

    The same may hold true for aliens with a similar capability of developing technology. We cannot of course say how their societies would be organized or how they reached the level of nuclear/biological/nanotech etc destructive capacity. However if they were able to build a technological base strong enough to nuke themselves or whatnot once, then I don't doubt they'd have the capacity to recover and rebuild.

    They'd also possibly have the example of the previous civilization to work from, possibly with recorded knowledge if they have something analogous to a writing system (I cannot see how a society without a means of recording information would become advanced enough to wipe themselves out.) So they would not be simply starting off from scratch. In human terms, the Roman Empire fell, but much of its knowledge was preserved by various later cultures.
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    I prefer this one "life originating somewhere in the Universe almost immediately perishes due to the rapid cooling or heating of the planets, without having time to reach a high degree of its development."

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    Quote Originally Posted by cannongray View Post
    I prefer this one "life originating somewhere in the Universe almost immediately perishes due to the rapid cooling or heating of the planets, without having time to reach a high degree of its development."
    Why would that happen?
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    Quote Originally Posted by cannongray View Post
    I prefer this one "life originating somewhere in the Universe almost immediately perishes due to the rapid cooling or heating of the planets, without having time to reach a high degree of its development."
    Are you thinking of Mars and Venus? Both those planets seem to have been more Earth-like a few billion years ago...

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    Quote Originally Posted by cannongray View Post
    I prefer this one "life originating somewhere in the Universe almost immediately perishes due to the rapid cooling or heating of the planets, without having time to reach a high degree of its development."
    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    Why would that happen?
    I can see an argument for a slightly watered-down version, along the lines of

    "Life originating somewhere in the Universe typically perishes within 2 or 3 billion years due to cooling of heating of its planet, and that is too short a time for multicellular life to emerge."

    Here on Earth, the first living things seems to have appeared about 4 billion years ago, but the first multicellular life emerged around 3 billion years later. It was made possible by slow build-up of O2, due to photosynthesis by single-celled organisms.

    Planets do get hotter or colder over time due to changes in their star's energy output, as well as gradual changes to their atmospheres. Mars seems to be colder and dryer than it was 4 billion years, while Venus has become hotter due to the runaway greenhouse effect. Earth's temperature has changed over geological time as well, with ice ages possibly extreme enough to be called "Snowball Earth", and much warmer periods like the Mesozoic.

    Perhaps our lineage of ancestors were unusually lucky that for the past 4 billion years Earth's temperature changes haven't been extreme enough to wipe the lineage out...

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    If Hadean Earth had not cooled quickly, conditions would have remained unsuitable for life, for a longer time. Perhaps there's a window in which proper conditions for abiogenesis occur, and beyond that, the chemistry or climate isn't right. We know the Universe is teeming with prebiotic organic molecules, but getting them to react in just the right configuration for life relies on the environment they're working in.
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    It is possible that intelligent life operates on a shorter timescale toward self extinction than non intelligent life that is forced to fit in with many other species. Intelligent life overcomes negative feedback mechanisms and thus does more damage ensuring a final collapse. The history of Easter Island is a miniature example. When clever people navigated there it was covered in palm trees with millions of birds. The clever people cut down the trees, made clever giant statues, killed all the birds, and trapped themselves, unable to make the kind of boats their ancestors arrived in. They expanded, used up all resources and died off. In other words, the very attributes that confer success are likely to lead to total exploitation. Not a new argument, I admit. Malthus.
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    Quote Originally Posted by profloater View Post
    It is possible that intelligent life operates on a shorter timescale toward self extinction than non intelligent life that is forced to fit in with many other species. Intelligent life overcomes negative feedback mechanisms and thus does more damage ensuring a final collapse. The history of Easter Island is a miniature example. When clever people navigated there it was covered in palm trees with millions of birds. The clever people cut down the trees, made clever giant statues, killed all the birds, and trapped themselves, unable to make the kind of boats their ancestors arrived in. They expanded, used up all resources and died off. In other words, the very attributes that confer success are likely to lead to total exploitation. Not a new argument, I admit. Malthus.
    Doesn't sound all that clever to me to lose vital resources.

    As they started to run out of trees, did they have "treeless deniers" who claimed there were still plenty of trees, there had never been that many trees anyway, and besides we can probably live without trees?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    Doesn't sound all that clever to me to lose vital resources.

    As they started to run out of trees, did they have "treeless deniers" who claimed there were still plenty of trees, there had never been that many trees anyway, and besides we can probably live without trees?
    We are in the realm of hypothesis, but the farmers probably cleared the trees. The boat builders lost out. Not enough fish. The evidence points to a final cannibal stage. You probably are right about deniers and that fits my suggestion about Easter Island as a microcosm. It is isolated but could easily have been sustainable with the benefit of hindsight, by an appropriate population of humans with the wisdom to extrapolate and plan. That is the problem, predicting hindsight at the time of plenty. It means that if we ever get a signal, we can bet that the people who sent it are extinct, but , of course, interesting.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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