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Sixty Billion Stars. And No Aliens? What Now?

Are we approaching a crisis of faith in ET?

At Universe Today, Matt Williams asks if it is time to update the Drake Equation, by which you could settle — in your own mind — how likely the aliens are. It began to be developed nearly sixty years ago at a conference at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia. And everyone took for granted that we would be hearing from the aliens soon. That was the basis of Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) — keeping the hope alive.

Rather than being an actual means for quantifying the number of intelligent species in our galaxy, the purpose of the equation was meant to frame the discussion on SETI. In addition to encapsulating the challenges facing scientists, it was intended to stimulate scientific dialogue among those attending the meeting.

Matt Williams, “60 Years Later, is it Time to Update the Drake Equation?” at UniverseToday (May 16, 2021)

And in the wake of the ensuing vast silence…

Whereas some scientists will laud it as one of the most important contributions to scientific inquiry, others have criticized it for its obvious uncertainties and conjectural nature. Such criticisms emphasize that by multiplying uncertain variables, the level of uncertainty grows exponentially, to the point where no firm conclusions are possible.

Matt Williams, “60 Years Later, is it Time to Update the Drake Equation?” at UniverseToday (May 16, 2021)

Would firm conclusions matter? The Drake Equation is iconic in its own right. It’s only natural to keep hope alive.

Recently, former U.S. president Barack Obama implied that UFOs may be real:

“When it comes to aliens, there are some things I just can’t tell you on air,” Obama said. “The truth is that when I came into office I asked ‘Is there a lab somewhere where we’re keeping the alien specimens and spaceships?’ They did a little bit of research and the answer was ‘No.’”

“But what is true is that there is footage and records of objects in the sky that we don’t know exactly what they are. How they move, their trajectory,” Obama continued. “They did not have an easily explainable pattern. So I think that people still take that seriously and try to figure out what that is. But I have nothing to report to you today.”

Matthew Galt, “Obama Says Government Doesn’t Have Alien Specimens, But UFOs Are Real” at Vice

Obama didn’t really say anything. But then again, he didn’t really shut the door either. Perhaps it’s all — as much as anything — a psychological thing.

Some sources, for example, theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder, continue to dump cold water on the airy nothings:

While some people won’t give up hope in superintelligent extraterrestrial civilizations, others have grown tired of the demands of hope without evidence. In that number we can include neurologist Steven Novella, host of the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe podcast. He — we are told — went on an “epic rant” against a 60 Minutes claim regarding “U.S. Navy sightings of supposed Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAPs), the new name for UFOs” :

“At the end of the day, it’s a dot, it’s a blob, it’s a blur. It’s not information,” he said. “You’re making an argument from ignorance. They completely underestimate the potential for misidentification in terms of everything – size, speed, angle…”

Ross Pomeroy, “Scientist Goes on Epic Rant About 60 Minutes’ Gullible Story on UFOs” at RealClearScience (May 28, 2021)

The stark fact is, as noted at Gizmodo, after a recent exhaustive search,

No extraterrestrial intelligences were detected, but the scientists did manage to capture transient events consistent with magnetars, so that will be of interest to astronomers who study this type of neutron star. And again, this is a preliminary report, so we eagerly await further results.

Back in 2019, the same team came up short after analyzing 1,372 nearby stars. We can’t seem to find any evidence of alien life despite our conscientious searches. It’s becoming hard to not be pessimistic about the whole SETI endeavor, but there’s something we have to keep in mind: The search for intelligent alien life has only just begun.

George Dvorsky, “60 Million Stars and Not One Alien Detected” at Gizmodo

Just think: Sixty million stars and no aliens. At this point, the aliens might be doing us a favor if they don’t contact us. There is such a rich sci-fi culture now and they might come along and spoil it all.

Note: Michael Egnor has often clashed with Steven Novella on issues related to the immateriality of the mind.

You may also wish to read: Tales of an invented god

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Sixty Billion Stars. And No Aliens? What Now?