RE: Fermi and LOGI

From: Mark Walker (
Date: Tue Apr 30 2002 - 08:47:13 MDT

Damien wrote:

"Smart sheep would gang up on baby lions. The fact that the sky is not and
has not always been full of ships (or uber-dust) is evidence of certain
absences; the fact that we're still here unmolested is another kind. Maybe
they're on their way, but why should they have waited? Crush them when
they're grubs.

Damien Broderick"

For those that don't know the Journal of Evolution and Technology is having
a symposium on "Practical Cosmology" in June in case anyone would like to
write a paper. The paper I am writing (or should be writing) has to do
with the idea that part of the explanation for the Fermi paradox might lie
in the idea of a "missing science". The idea is that the history of the
universe has seen emergent entities and associated sciences: chemical
phenomena emerge from physical phenomena, biological phenomena from
chemical, psychological from biological. Has this process stopped or is it
continuing? Might a new level of organization X emerge from the
psychological level with a corresponding science X? I am thinking of course
of something like the singularity. Think of it this way. Suppose a group of
scientists arrived in a space ship just as our solar system was forming. The
physicists would be gainfully employed but there would not be much for the
other scientists to do. Eventually the chemists would have something to
investigate and, after the earth had been in existence for about a billion
years (give or take) biologists would have a subject matter to investigate.
Of course it would be a long time before the psychologists, sociologists,
economists etc. had something to study. Will the singularity mean the
formation of a new level of organization akin to the emergence of biological
or chemical phenomena from a physical basis? If so, then the explanation of
the Fermi paradox may well lie at this level of organization and be
uncognizable by us. Of course this is just a conjecture. The way to test it
is to initiate the singularity. On a practical level this means that the
best means to make progress on the Fermi paradox may lie in spending dollars
on singularity research as opposed to any other means. Imagine, for example,
if the resources that went into launching and maintaining the Hubble
telescope were directed instead to singularity research! If the
'transcendental science' conjecture is correct then all our attempts to
solve the Fermi paradox might be in vain. It may be that the most effective
(and safest) way to investigate the nature and limits of our universe is to
first investigate the nature and limits of our minds.

Relatedly, while writing this I realized that a small but illuminating paper
might be
written on the idea of a "Fermi Equation". The idea of course is an equation
like the "Drake Equation" but with a difference. Here is a very rough stab
at it:

The Fermi Equation

N = N* fp ne fl fi fm fd

N: The number of civilizations that launch spaceships (or probes) that reach
Earth by
April 2002.

N*: Number of stars that our within traveling distance of the earth. (See

 fp: represents the fraction of stars that have planets around them.

ne: represents the number of planets per star that are capable of sustaining

fl is the fraction of planets in ne where life evolves

fi is the fraction of fl where intelligent life evolves

fm is the fraction of fi that have the technical means to launch spaceships
capable of reaching earth.

fd is fraction of fm that have the desire to launch spaceships to reach

Where are the colonizers, the explorers, and the solarformers? An answer to
this must invoke a bottleneck explanation. Somewhere in the evolution of
inorganic matter to a technologically advanced civilization there is at
least one bottleneck that is not immediately obvious, for if it were obvious
there would be no Fermi Paradox. (See Brin's "The Great Silence" and R.
Hanson's "The Great Filter"). Bottlenecks can be broken down into one of
the parameters of the Fermi Equation. The bottleneck then will be
attributable to an associated science. For convenience sake we will use
three divisions: The natural sciences (physics, chemistry, and cosmology,),
the biological sciences (botany, zoology, genetics, etc.) and the social
sciences (economics, psychology, sociology). Let us then look at each of the

N = 0 We have not been visited by aliens.

N* = Number of stars that our within traveling distance of the earth. (See

fp Clearly a bottleneck could be attributable to a lack of planets available
for life to develop on. The discovery of a number of large planets has
assuaged fears that solar systems with planets might be a rarity.

Ne: It is obviously possible that a significant bottleneck may be discovered
here at some point, for example, many of the planets that have been
discovered thus far are large and in close orbits to their suns suggesting
that it might be difficult for earth-sized e planets to establish themselves
in the appropriate orbital radius. However, nothing so far says that we
should expect that fp is zero, indeed, quite the opposite.

fl: the process of getting life started is very difficult (blame it on

fi: the process of getting intelligence started is very difficult. (blame
it on psychology)

fm: the technical means to master space travel is much harder than it looks,
or there is a Galactic club that forbids travel to undeveloped planets like
earth. (Blame it on sociology).

fd: Perhaps many species have the means to travel to earth but none have the
desire. (Economics? Sociology? Psychology?)

Re: N* Originally thinking of just
Tipler in his paper on the Fermi paradox to get the numbers for N* but I
realized that Tipler made a huge
assumption in limiting N* the stars of this galaxy, about 200 billion.
Tipler calculates very
conservatively that it would take 300 million years to colonize the entire
galaxy. But what is to say that there cannot be intergalactic travel? If we
figure that older civilizations might have had say a five billion year head
start then N* must be "astronomical" (as it were) in size. To figure it out
we would
need an estimate of a reasonable maximum speed that a spaceship (or one of
Tipler's Von Neumann probes) could travel. Whatever N* turns out to be it
will be huge, which means that
at least one of the other variables in the Fermi equation must be pretty
small indeed. The problem of course is the "just one problem". It would take
only a single civilization to pass through the bottle neck and colonize the
universe (given enough time). I think that our universe is still a "buyers
market" should seem as perplexing as if one discovered life on a planet
(like ours) confined to a single continent.


Mark Walker
Research Associate (Philosophy), Trinity College, University of Toronto,
Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Evolution and Technology
Editor-in-Chief, Transhumanity (
Home Page:

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Wed Jul 17 2013 - 04:00:38 MDT