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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics


Friday, October 17, 2014

The Bus Driver Who Went to Three Planets: A Science Fiction Story

Floyd Baxter was a Denver bus driver who liked to unwind from the stresses of his job by hiking in the mountains. One day he hiked deep into the mountains, and saw another hiker in the distance. Suddenly Floyd heard a strange scream. The hiker had fallen off a treacherous mountain cliff. Floyd rushed to where the hiker was. He was surprised to see the hiker was wearing some kind of strange helmet looking like the helmet of a space suit.

Floyd looked into the helmet and saw a strange face unlike any he had seen before. The eyes were larger than human eyes, and the nose was a weird kind of triangle slit. The skin was salmon-colored. Floyd thought to himself: what the devil have I stumbled on to? Some kind of weird alien hiker?

It was apparently an alien being, an extraterrestrial from some other planet. The poor creature had apparently died in the fall from the cliff. For some time Floyd just stood in wonder looking at this amazing site. He tried speaking to the alien creature, but got no response. He tried gently shaking its arm, but there was no sign of life.

Floyd noticed that the alien wore a kind of vest-like apparatus or device that was about the size of a life jacket used to keep swimmers afloat. The device fitted over the alien's arms much as a life jacket fits over a man's arms. At the front of this vest-like device there were dozens of small buttons. After great hesitation, Floyd finally decided to remove this vest-like device from the alien's body. He imagined that the vest-like apparatus might be some kind of a supply holder, and that inside it might be something he could use to help save the life of the alien – perhaps some kind of life-saving potion he could pour into the creature's small mouth.

So holding the machine, Floyd pressed one of the buttons on the vest-like apparatus. Suddenly Floyd found himself transported instantly to another planet.

Astonished, Floyd looked around. He could see no sign of the place he had found the alien, and no sign of the alien. He was now at some location he had never before been to. It was apparently some location that was not even on planet Earth.

Looking ahead he could see two mighty glaciers that fed into the waters of a sea. The sea water was bluer than any he had ever seen. In the sea he saw what looked like two large islands. The temperature was very low.


Floyd knew from the moon in the sky that this location was not on Earth. The moon in the sky did not look like any moon he had ever seen.

Floyd asked himself: how could this have happened? Then he had an idea. Perhaps the machine he was holding, the machine he had taken from the alien creature, was some kind of instantaneous transportation device. Perhaps rather than using big spaceships to travel to different planets, the alien was simply using some kind of amazing machine that could instantly transport a person to an entirely different planet.

The temperature was too cold, so Floyd decided that he might as well test his idea immediately. He decided to press another one of the buttons on the machine.

Then instantly Floyd again found himself transported to another planet. This planet was much warmer, and it was nighttime, but a night unlike any Floyd had ever seen. The sky was ablaze with hundreds of stars far brighter than any you could see on planet Earth.


Ahead of Floyd was a building, and Floyd began to walk towards it. But out of the building there came creatures unlike any Floyd had ever seen. They looked like elephants with spider heads. Terrified, Floyd thought to himself: I'm getting the hell out of here. He pressed another button on the machine.

Suddenly again Floyd was instantly transported to another planet. He found himself in a totally different landscape. It was a lovely valley flanked by mountain peaks. Floyd saw some strange-looking houses and a lake ahead. He walked towards them.


Near the lake Floyd encountered the planet's inhabitants. They were beautiful-looking creatures who had whitish-blue skin. One of the creatures seemed to say “Hello” to Floyd, but it was not through language, but through telepathy.

Floyd tried to talk to the creature, but it was useless. But then he tried just thinking his thoughts. It worked! Floyd could talk to the creature purely through telepathy.

Floyd stayed at the planet for two days. He found the creatures on the planet to be loving and trusting. He told them he was from another planet, and they believed him. Floyd found the planet so delightful he was hesitant to leave. But eventually he decided he really should get back to his home planet. So he decided to keep pressing more buttons on the machine. Floyd thought to himself: one of these buttons must be programmed to transport me to Earth.

Floyd pressed another button on the machine. Again, he was instantly transported to another planet. This time, the planet was his home planet. He found himself back on Earth, near the same place he found the dead alien and the alien machine.

Floyd hiked back to his car, and drove home. Floyd then thought: wait until everyone hears about this!

First, Floyd told his friend Charley all about what had happened. Charley refused to believe a single word of his story. Then Floyd called up a newspaper and got a reporter to come over. Floyd spent three hours telling all about what had happened. Two days later the newspaper published the story: Bus Driver Claims to Have Visited Other Planets.

But no one seemed to believe the story. Floyd became an object of ridicule and contempt. The bus riders would come on his bus and whisper: that's him, the crazy bus driver who thinks he went to other planets. Children from Floyd's neighborhood would stand outside his house and make scornful jokes about Floyd. When they saw him come out of his house, they would taunt him by saying things like: Hey, big-shot, have you been to any new planets today?

The bus company called in Floyd and told him that since he was either a huge liar or someone suffering from hallucinations, he could not be trusted to perform his bus-driver job. Floyd was fired. Unable to keep up with his house payments, he received a foreclosure notice from the bank.

Floyd thought to himself: what can I do? Then he remembered something very important. He had brought the alien machine back with him in his car, and had left it in the trunk of his car. He had also remembered which button he could press to return to the planet of the beautiful, trusting telepathic creatures.

Floyd remembered those creatures he had visited for two days. They were so loving, so trustful, and so innocent. They seemed so different from the humans he had recently dealt with.

Floyd opened the trunk of his car, and took out the alien device. Preparing to return to the planet of the telepathic creatures, Floyd thought to himself: as soon as I get back to that planet, I'm throwing away this damn machine.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Discovery of Extraterrestrials May Have Little Short-term Impact on World Religions

We may not be more than a few decades away from discovering proof of extraterrestrial intelligence. Various people have speculated on what the cultural effects will be of such a discovery. A common idea is that if we finally discover some other intelligent life out there in the universe, it will be a shattering event for traditional world religions. The idea is sometimes suggested that the discovery of intelligent extraterrestrials might cause a sudden collapse in confidence in long-standing world religions, causing a large fraction of their followers to abandon their faiths.

But such an idea may be unfounded. Rather surprisingly, the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence may not have all that huge an effect on the world's traditional religions, for several reasons I will now explain.

Reason #1: Ideological Inertia

In physics inertia is the resistance of an object to a change in its state of motion, proportional to the object's speed and mass. We can use the same idea to identify a kind of ideological inertia – the resistance of a person to a change in his beliefs. People all over the world of many different viewpoints have a huge amount of ideological inertia, including both believers and total non-believers. The longer a person has been believing in some particular doctrine, the more ideological inertia he will tend to have. We can visualize ideological inertia as kind of like a great big boulder that is very hard to move unless a gigantic force is applied.

It seems that people will be unlikely to change long-standing beliefs unless something incredibly dramatic happens to them – a “knock you over the head with a 2 by 4” kind of event. If we were to discover some unmistakable signs of extraterrestrial intelligence in some far off solar system, that probably would not be sufficient to cause that much of a belief change in people who have held old-fashioned religious beliefs for decades. It might be that such a discovery should cause people to reassess many of their beliefs, but it probably wouldn't.

Reason #2: People Would “Mentally Minimize” the Discovery

Many old-fashioned believers would not at all want to suddenly leap to a very different new outlook on the universe in which man is a mere minor player in the universe rather than the center of creation. So people would use various mental tricks to minimize whatever discovery was made. One little mind trick people would use is the little trick of “avoiding the implications.”

For example, imagine if we were to discover positive evidence of intelligent life in some distant solar system. Many people would attempt to minimize this discovery in their minds by thinking along these lines:

Before we knew there was one intelligent species, mankind. Now we apparently know that there are two. No big deal – two is not much different than one.

Of course, this type of thinking involves a little mind trick. Given a galaxy of billions of stars, and the existence of billions of galaxies such as ours, the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence should really cause us to conclude that the universe is full of intelligent life, and that there are billions of intelligent species. But through the trick of “mental minimization,” a person can avoid such an implication, and just think thoughts such as “two is not much different than one.”

Old-fashioned believers could use a similar trick to kind of pretend that any extraterrestrial civilization discovered far away is “irrelevant,” because of the difficulty of communicating with it, or the unlikelihood of it visiting our planet.

The Fireworks Galaxy (Credit: NASA)

Reason #3: People Would Explain Away the Discovery or Dismiss It As a Deception

People of all viewpoints (both believers and skeptics) show an almost limitless capacity for explaining away or dismissing things they don't want to believe it. If extraterrestrial intelligence were discovered in a distant solar system, I imagine that the defenders of old-fashioned viewpoints would come out in force, and pull out every argumentative trick in the book to cast doubt on the discovery. They might argue that the discovery was a misinterpretation of the data, or that the discovery was just some story being put forth by astronomers eager to get more funding for their pet projects. The only type of discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence that would prevent such a maneuver would be if giant alien spaceships were to appear in the skies of many of our cities.

If people didn't buy the explanation that the discovery of aliens was a misinterpretation or a plot by fund-seeking scientists, defenders of old-fashioned religions could always use the last resort of arguing that the evidence for extraterrestrials is all just a deception by Satan and his cohorts. Outsiders would cringe and laugh at such an explanation, but within a particular religion such an explanation might seem plausible.

Reason #4: People Would Try to Squeeze-fit the Discovery into Their Own Doctrines or Scriptural Analysis

It also seems that whatever was discovered in terms of extraterrestrial intelligence, old-fashioned believers would try to somehow make it seem compatible with their own religious beliefs or scriptures. It's been said that you can find a Bible verse to support almost any opinion. That may be an exaggeration, but no doubt after the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence, people would scour the Bible looking for some verse that could be cited as a prediction or foreshadowing of such a discovery. Never mind the fact that the Bible makes no mention of extraterrestrial life. Scriptural enthusiasts would probably find some murky passage that they could claim was a prediction or foreshadowing of the discovery.

We can also imagine that old-fashioned believers might try to squeeze the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence into their own traditions by saying that the discovery is a sign of something mentioned in their own traditions. If we discovered signs that stars far away are being manipulated by some higher intelligence, Christians might say, “It's not extraterrestrials doing that – it's angels.” Hindus might say, “It's not extraterrestrials doing that – it's one of our many gods.”

Conclusion

There are all kinds of defense mechanisms that old-fashioned believers could and probably would use to minimize the shock of the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence. So in the short-term (say, 5 or 10 years), such a discovery might have relatively little effect on the world's major religions. But in the much longer term, after people had many years to reflect on the implications of the discovery, the impact might be much greater.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

That Big New “Life After Death” Study in Perspective

This week a scientific paper was published in the journal Resuscitation  announcing results of the long-term AWARE study which was the largest ongoing study on near-death experiences. Let's look at what the study found, and also look at its results in context, putting the study in perspective. The study was co-authored by more than 30 different researchers from more than a dozen colleges and universities.

The AWARE study may well have been motivated by previous accounts of near-death experiences, which first came to public light in the 1970's with the publication of Raymond Moody's book Life After Life. Patching together elements from different accounts, Moody described an archetypal typical near-death experience, while noting that most accounts include only some elements in the described archetype. The archetype NDE included elements such as a sensation of floating out of the body, feelings of peace and joy, a life-review that occurs very quickly or in some altered type of time, a passage through a tunnel, an encounter with a being of light, and seeing deceased relatives.

A previous study on near-death experiences was published in the British medical journal The Lancet in 2001. The study interviewed 344 patients who had a close encounter with death, generally through cardiac arrest. 62 of those reported some kind of near-death experience. 15 reported an out-of-body experience, 19 reported moving through a tunnel, 18 reported observation of a celestial landscape, 20 reported meeting with deceased persons, and 35 reported positive emotions.

near death experience
"Pulled toward the light" -- a typical part of NDE stories

The AWARE in the AWARE study name is an acronym for awareness during resuscitation – the type of resuscitation that takes place when a person has a heart attack (cardiac arrest) and almost dies. The study collected data at 15 different hospitals, and was carried on over the course of four years. The study attempted to gather accounts of people's recollections in hospitals after they had very close encounters with death, typically during a heart attack or cardiac arrest. Over 2000 cardiac arrest cases were studied, and there were only 330 who survived to leave the hospital. Of those 330, only 101 met eligibility requirements, agreed to be interviewed, and also agreed to “stage 2” interviews.

So the study ended up with a group of only 101 persons who had experienced a close encounter with death, generally because of a cardiac arrest. Of this pool of 101 persons, 22% answered “Yes” to the question, “Did you have a feeling of peace or pleasantness?” 13% answered “Yes” to the question, “Did you feel separated from your body?” 13% answered “Yes” to the question, “Were your senses more vivid than usual?” 8% answered “Yes” to the question, “Did you seem to encounter a mystical being or presence, or hear an unidentifiable voice?” 7% answered “Yes” to the question, “Did you seem to enter some other, unearthly world?” Only 3% answered “Yes” to the question, “Did you see deceased or religious spirits?”

These results are corroboration of published accounts of what typically happens in a near-death experience, although the numbers are smaller than those reported in the Lancet study. The AWARE study does quote one respondent who gives an account very much like what has been published in previous books on near-death experiences:

I have comeback from the other side of life. ..God sent (me) back,it was
not (my) time — (I) had many things to do. ..(I traveled) through a tunnel
toward a very strong light, which didn’t dazzle or hurt (my) eyes. ..there
were other people in the tunnel whom (I) did not recognize. When (I)
emerged (I) described a very beautiful crystal city. .. there was a river
that ran through the middle of the city (with) the most crystal clear
waters. There were many people, without faces, who were washing in
the waters. ..the people were very beautiful. .. there was the most
beautiful singing. ..(and I was) moved to tears. (My) next recollection
was looking up at a doctor doing chest compressions.

One very unique feature of the study was its placement of little shelves in various hospital areas where cardiac resuscitation was deemed likely to occur. Each shelf had a unique symbol that could only be identified from someone looking at it from above. The shelves were designed to test previous accounts that patients had floated out of their bodies and looked at their bodies from above – accounts such as the famous Pam Reynolds account I will describe in a moment.

The placement of these shelves was apparently futile. But the study did “hit the jackpot” in regard to one case of a 57-year-old patient who said that he floated out of his body while being revived from his cardiac arrest. The man said that a woman appeared in a high corner of the room, beckoning him to come up to her. He said that despite thinking that was impossible, he found himself up in the high corner of the room, looking down on the medical team trying to revive him. The man described specific details of the revival efforts, including the presence of a bald fat man with a blue hat, a nurse saying, “Dial 444 cardiac arrest,” his blood pressure being taken, a nurse pumping on his chest, a doctor sticking something down his throat, and blood gases and blood sugar levels being taken.

Here is what the scientific paper said in regard to the accuracy of these recollections:

He accurately described people, sounds, and activities from his resuscitation...His medical records corroborated his accounts and specifically supported his descriptions and the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED). Based on current AED algorithms, this likely corresponded with up to 3 minutes of conscious awareness during CA [cardiac arrest] and CPR.

So here is a man who had a heart attack, and should have been unconscious during the medical efforts to revive him. Instead he accurately describes the details of what happened. Moreover, he claims that he observed these details while in a position above his body, in the high corner of the medical room.
What we have here is what seems like a good-as-gold vintage “out of the body experience,” one with details that have been verified. This is an example of what is called a veridical near-death experience – one with observations that were subsequently verified.

This is not at all the first time this happened, but merely the first time such a thing has been documented in a peer-reviewed paper co-authored by more than 30 different researchers from a dozen different colleges and universities. There have been several previous similar incidents that have been reported in the relevant literature. The most significant one was the case of Pam Reynolds, which was reported by physician Michael Sabom in his book Light and Death. Reynolds underwent a very drastic brain operation in which the blood was drained from her body, and her body was super-chilled. In such a state, consciousness should have been completely impossible. But Reynolds reported drifting out of her body, and observing the operation from above. She was able to verify details of what had happened during the operation, and described a very specific medical instrument that was used in her brain surgery.

The Reynolds case is discussed in this Salon.com article, which also discusses the case (reported by social worker Kimberly Clark) of a woman named Maria who claimed to have floated out of her body during her operation. The woman claimed that while drifting around out of her body, she saw a particular type of shoe on a particular ledge of the third floor of the hospital. A subsequent check found just such a shoe at such a location.

Then there is the account below of physician Lloyd Rudy who thought that a patient had died. He found himself discussing in a doorway with another doctor what could have been done differently to save the apparently dead patient. But after a while, the faintest signs of life were emitted from the patient. After further medical efforts, the patient was saved, and eventually gained consciousness. The patient then described how he had floated above his body, and watched the two doctors in the doorway discussing his case, and also described details that he should have been completely unable to have observed, because he had no vital signs at the time or even during the previous minute. 



These cases help put the AWARE study in perspective. The AWARE study has given us further evidence to support the conclusion that the human mind, spirit, or soul (call it whatever you want) can continue to exist outside of the body, and make observations at a time when conscious brain activity should have totally ceased.

That does not prove that there is life after death, but it tends to strongly support such an idea. To conclude (as Bazian does in this article) that “overall this study provides no evidence to support the existence of an afterlife” is to stubbornly engage in knee-jerk denialism. Bazian attempts to explain away the study by saying, “It is perfectly plausible that people would continue to have thoughts and experiences while there is still oxygenated blood flowing to the brain.” But that explains nothing, because when a person has cardiac arrest, there isn't oxygenated blood flowing to the brain – that blood flow stops when the heart stops.

Does the AWARE study prove life after death? No, but scientists also don't prove evolution merely by discovering another skull that is halfway between that of a man and an ape. Such a discovery is merely another piece of evidence belonging to a large body of evidence that points to the reality of evolution. Similarly, the AWARE study by itself does not prove life after death, but it is a substantial additional piece of evidence in a large and diverse body of evidence that suggests life after death. To read about more than ten other such types of evidence, read my recently authored book 50 Hints of Cosmic Purpose, which can be purchased through this link for $1.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The 5 Main Fallacies of Galactic Colonization Arguments

Arguments involving galactic colonization are often made when discussing how much intelligent life exists in our galaxy and our universe. One all-too-common line of reasoning goes like this: if intelligent life had arisen elsewhere in the galaxy, it would have already colonized the entire galaxy, and we would see signs of such intelligent life right now on our planet (or we would never have appeared because Earth would have been colonized first); therefore, man is the only intelligent species in the galaxy. This is a very weak argument that involves multiple fallacies that I will now discuss.

Fallacy #1: The Fallacy of Not Realizing the Implications of Slow Interstellar Travel

According to Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity, nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. So this means travel between stars is going to take a long time. In fact, there are practical engineering reasons for thinking that a spaceship could not travel more than roughly about one fifth of the speed of light. This means that a trip between stars will probably take decades.

This slowness of travel has two main implications. First it means that we should not imagine a galaxy being colonized in less than a period of millions of years. But it also means much more. It means that any unified coherent program of colonization is doubtful. The whole idea of any civilization setting out on a million year project may be entirely dubious. The slowness of interstellar travel also probably means that the galaxy can never really be colonized in the sense of being controlled in a unified way by a single culture.

Imagine if Earth were to create colonies on planets revolving around other stars. The nearest colony would be about 4 light years away. The colonists would know that if they went their own way and declared their independence, it would take 4 years for the news of such an announcement to reach Earth. It would then take at least another 4 years before a spaceship came from Earth to punish them for their disobedience (and probably more like twenty years, because of the near-impossibility of traveling at anything close to the speed of light). Such a colony would therefore not feel that it was under very strong political control by Earth.

Colonies that were farther away from Earth would feel even more free to do whatever they wanted. If an expedition from Earth established a colony on a planet revolving around a star that was fifty light years from Earth, then the inhabitants of that planet would know that they could declare their independence, and it would be at least 100 years before they would suffer any punishment – fifty years for the news to get to Earth, and at least fifty years for a punitive expedition to travel from Earth to the colony (but probably more like hundreds of years).

The farther the colony was from Earth, the more its inhabitants would feel that they could do whatever they wanted without suffering any ill effects. If a colony was established 500 light years from Earth, and then declared its independence, it would have no worries at all about some punishment from Earth that could not arrive in less than 1000 years (500 years for the independence announcement to reach Earth, and more than 500 years – and probably thousands of years – for a punitive expedition to travel from Earth). 


This point is illustrated in the diagram below, in which the yellow dot at the center represents a planet attempting to colonize other stars.  

galactic colonization

It would seem, therefore, that in terms of any type of system whereby one planet controls the galaxy, galactic colonization cannot even occur in a meaningful sense. Because of the slowness of interstellar travel, the zones of control of any planet would be relatively short, extending no more than a few hundred light years at most (only a tiny fraction of the size of the galaxy). Planets would realize that, and this realization would make them less likely to even attempt anything such as a colonization of the entire galaxy.

Fallacy #2: The Fallacy of Ignoring Loss of Colonies and Loss of Interest

The typical argument regarding galactic colonization assumes a scenario like this:
  1. Some planet starts out as the source of galactic colonization, sending a spaceship to colonize a planet around another star.
  2. After that planet has been colonized, and has set up an elaborate technical civilization, the colonized planet then itself sends out a spaceship to colonize another star.
  3. The process continues over and over, until eventually the entire galaxy is colonized.
One great weakness in such an idea is the fallacy of assuming that once each planet was colonized, it would continue to contribute to the overall program of galactic colonization, and also the fallacy of assuming that planets that had been colonized would stay colonized indefinitely. It's kind of like the fallacy of assuming that if you built a house on each continent, that those houses would still be around 1000 years later.

In fact, there are all kinds of reasons why different planets that had been colonized would either “drop out” of a colonization program, or would revert to a non-colonized state because of the failure of colonies or the end of civilizations. One reason might just be an act of political independence. Some planets would just say, “To hell with it, we have no interest in sending out interstellar spaceships.” Then other colonies would simply just simply dissolve for the same reason that civilizations have dissolved or might dissolve – resource issues, wars, runaway technology, and so forth. Some planets might be conquered by neighboring planets. When colonies failed, a few million years of geological activity might be sufficient to remove all traces of them.

The point is that you cannot assume that during the million years or more needed to colonize the entire galaxy, that each previously colonized planet would stay colonized. During that long million years, some fraction of the previously colonized planets would revert to being not colonized as colonies failed, civilizations fell, war took its toll, and so forth. We have no idea of what that fraction would be. It be could 10% or 20% or perhaps 90%. 
 
Fallacy #3: The Fallacy of Assuming That Colonizers Would Colonize All Colonization Targets

The fallacious argument discussed at the beginning of this blog post assumes that some galactic civilization would go throughout the galaxy and colonize all available colonization targets (all planets like our planet). But why make such an assumption? It is contrary to what we know about how humans act.

In fact, every large country declares a significant fraction of the available land in its country to be “off limits” to development. Such land is put in natural reserves. The natural reserves in the United States include the national park system and the national forests, which together make up a significant fraction of United States territory. China has a similar system. So why should we assume that interstellar colonizers would colonize every available planet in the galaxy without declaring some planets and some parts of the galaxy to be “off limits” to colonizers? We shouldn't. This possibility makes the whole “if they existed, they would have colonized us already” argument fall apart like a house of cards. It is entirely possible that our planet is part of a little section of the galaxy that some superior civilization has preserved as a reserve area not to be colonized.

The fallacy discussed here is kind of a “fallacy of assuming unlimited utilization” similar to the fallacy of assuming that if you give a boy some crayons and one of those books with blank white pages, then necessarily if you return a year later all of the pages will have drawings or scribbles on them.

Fallacy #4: The Fallacy of Assuming That Very Distant Robotic Squatters Would Have Some Great Net Value

One version of the argument made at the beginning of this blog post is based on the idea of self-reproducing robotic colonizers. The argument goes like this: any civilization could send out a spaceship filled with robots to the nearest star, and when that spaceship arrived, those robots could use resources at that star system to create more robots, which could then travel to another star in their own expedition. The same thing could happen over and over again, and eventually these self-reproducing robots would “take over the galaxy.” But this hasn't happened, so therefore, the argument goes, we must be alone in the galaxy.

The problem with this argument is the underlying assumption that such a galaxy-wide proliferation would actually be “taking over the galaxy,” or that it would be something that would actually have much of a net value. Because the effective zones of control of any planet would be relatively short (actually extending no more than 100 light years), sending out robots to inhabit planets across the galaxy would not really be “taking over the galaxy,” but really just “sending out squatters to the distant corners of the galaxy.” Having robots 20,000 light years away wouldn't actually give a planet any control over distant corners of the galaxy, because you don't have any real control when it takes 40,000 years to send a round trip message from a planet to those distant corners.

Such robotic squatters proliferating throughout every planet of the galaxy would actually have a very strong negative value. By proliferating all over the place and taking up every planet, they would prevent the natural evolution of diverse species and civilizations across the galaxy, and would thereby be a kind of massive “crime against diversity.”

Fallacy #5: The Fallacy of Ignoring the Possibility of Counter-Colonizers

According to the naïve calculations of some thinkers, we need merely calculate how long it would take colonizers from one planet to spread throughout the galaxy unimpeded. But such calculations ignore the important consideration that the efforts of any one planet to colonize the galaxy would probably be resisted by other planets. If intelligent life arose roughly the same time on hundreds or thousands of planets in the galaxy, we would not expect any one to take over the galaxy, because of opposition from other civilized planets that arose at roughly the same time.

This is true even if one imagines robotic colonizers. One interesting point is that self-replicating counter-colonizers are just as easy to create as self-replicating colonizers. So imagine one civilization sends out an interstellar spaceship filled with self-reproducing robots instructed to build colonies, make more robots, and build more spaceships for more interstellar expeditions. The same technique can be used by some other planet to destroy the colonization efforts of the first planet. The second planet might launch such a “counter-colonization” interstellar spaceship filled with self-reproducing robots instructed to find resources, make more robots, and build more spaceships for more interstellar expeditions – not for the purpose of colonization, but simply for the purpose of destroying the robotic colonies created by the first planet. A planet might launch such a “counter-colonization” program if it noticed that some other planet was putting its robots all over the galaxy, and the first planet thought that such a program was a cancer that must be wiped out. 

galactic colonization

Conclusion

Typical arguments involving galactic colonization are fallacious, and from such arguments we should not draw any conclusions about how common intelligence is in our galaxy. It is entirely plausible that there exist very large numbers of extraterrestrial civilizations in our galaxy, although it is still too early to assume with confidence that intelligent life is abundant in our galaxy.