Still Greater

The Great Filter is the most conspicuous absence in the universe (from an anthropic perspective, naturally). The cosmic reality visible to us is characterized by an intense, efficient aversion to the existence of advanced civilizations. The pattern looks consistent across super-galactic scales:

… the galaxy seems to be a very quiet, rather lonely place. […] Now, new results suggest this loneliness may extend out into the universe far beyond our galaxy or, instead, that some of our preconceptions about the behaviors of alien civilizations are deeply flawed. After examining some 100,000 nearby large galaxies a team of researchers lead by The Pennsylvania State University astronomer Jason Wright has concluded that none of them contain any obvious signs of highly advanced technological civilizations. Published in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series, it is by far the largest of study of its kind to date — earlier research had only cursorily investigated about a hundred galaxies. […] Unlike traditional SETI surveys, Wright and his team did not seek messages from the stars. Instead, they looked for the thermodynamic consequences of galactic-scale colonization, based on an idea put forth in 1960 by the physicist Freeman Dyson. …

(Article spoiler: The aliens are out there, but we can’t see them because they’re druids. Cathedralization of the Fermi Paradox into a re-twisted green ideology in sight …)

April 18, 2015admin 22 Comments »


22 Responses to this entry

  • Alrenous Says:

    You’re literally more likely to get the right result by flipping a coin if you can’t audit your new epistemic technique. To audit requires using it on a few situations where you already know the correct answer, and in this case the closest thing would be figuring out how far away we could detect Earth. The answer is in the range of dozens of light years.


    Mai La Dreapta Reply:

    These kinds of studies are predicated on the idea that it’s possible to complete industrial projects at stellar and interstellar scale, so they’re looking for Kardashev II and III civs. My opinion, of course, is that such civilizations are impossible, and the Great Filter is nothing other than the laws of physics themselves.


    R. Reply:

    >>My opinion, of course, is that such civilizations are impossible, and the Great Filter is nothing other than the laws of physics themselves<<

    Why should it not be possible? All it requires is replicators, whether macro or nanoscale.

    IMO, not clear on the concept of why'd anyone require such amounts of energy. What for?


    NRx_N00B Reply:

    Wouldn’t civilization need to hit certain “activation energy” thresholds to advance from one stage to the next? The hydrocarbon age was one of them.

    Which brings up another question—is civilization constrained to being one massive chemical reaction?

    Hegemonizing Swarm Reply:

    > IMO, not clear on the concept of why’d anyone require such amounts of energy. What for?

    Bigger and bigger “cyclotrons” to manipulate time and space at a ever lower levels. For example to create exotic matter for wormholes. Then to eventually perform timing attacks against the Planck-scale substrate of the universe, pierce the hologram and break out of this silly simulation.

    Alrenous Reply:

    Which assumes we know what kinds of physics a type II or III civilization would use, which is absurd and beyond absurd.


    Posted on April 18th, 2015 at 9:41 am Reply | Quote
  • Artxell Knaphni Says:

    Chasin’ the Voodoo

    “I “Stultifera Navis”
    at the end of the Middle Ages, leprosy disappeared from the Western world. In the margins of the community, at the gates of cities, there stretched wastelands which sickness had ceased to haunt but had left sterile and long un-inhabitable. For centuries, these reaches would belong to the non-human. From the fourteenth to the seventeenth century, they would wait, soliciting with strange incantations a new incarnation of disease, another grimace of terror, renewed rites of purification and exclusion…

    Something new appears in the imaginary landscape of the Renaissance; soon it will
    occupy a privileged place there: the Ship of Fools, a strange “drunken boat” that glides
    along the calm rivers of the Rhineland and the Flem-ish canals…

    It is possible that these ships of fools, which haunted the imagination of the entire early Renaissance, were pilgrimage boats, highly symbolic cargoes of madmen in search of their reason…”

    Foucault, M. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. Vintage, 1988.

    After conclusively abandoning STI – ‘intelligence’ was declared a myth as far as the Earth was concerned – the hunt for ‘extraterrestrial’ exemplifications of this myth turned to SETI. But so far, though, ‘intelligence’ has proven elusive. There are those who have suggested that humans are just too stupid to find ‘intelligence’ anywhere at all. Others claimed that ‘intelligent’ aliens are staying away, either because human stupidity has no interest; or they see humans as thieves of ‘intelligence’; or human stupidity is infectious; or humans are evil demons bent on destroying ‘intelligence’; or all of these.

    A Baudrillard cultural observation would say that by looking for ‘extraterrestrial’ exemplifications of an anthropically determined ‘intelligence’, humans can fool themselves that they already possess this ‘intelligence’. Another example of Humanity’s stupid self-deceit.


    Dark Psy-Ops Reply:

    @Artxell Knaphni *misanthropic communist troll alert*


    Posted on April 18th, 2015 at 11:06 am Reply | Quote
  • Still Greater | Reaction Times Says:

    […] Source: Outside In […]

    Posted on April 18th, 2015 at 12:05 pm Reply | Quote
  • Brett Stevens Says:

    I suspect that most people want to find alien life because it allows us to fail, knowing that somewhere else “life will go on…” (cue violins and rainbows).


    Posted on April 18th, 2015 at 12:23 pm Reply | Quote
  • Exfernal Says:

    There might too little time for those advanced alien civilizations to develop yet:


    Exfernal Reply:

    There might be too little time…


    admin Reply:

    [Apologies — but I just lost your last comment, with the link. If you still have it, I’d appreciate a second chance to let it through.]


    Posted on April 18th, 2015 at 12:54 pm Reply | Quote
  • Hawk Spitui Says:

    I’ve noticed one thing that’s always missing in these speculations about intelligent alien life: energy. Humans had the advantage of a cheap, abundant energy source in the form of oil. Almost all of our advanced technologies are reliant on oil and petroleum products. Without it, we would never have been able to get farther than the 18th century in technology. It’s quite possible there are any number of intelligent civilizations, but due to resource constraints their technology has never evolved to the point of space exploration. We may be uniquely positioned to have developed those kinds of technologies.


    Orthodox Reply:

    The Privileged Planet.


    Posted on April 18th, 2015 at 1:11 pm Reply | Quote
  • existoon Says:

    What if all advanced civilizations eventually realize they are living inside false vacuum universe and can’t handle the terrible truth ?

    The possibility that we are living in a false vacuum has never been a cheering one to contemplate. Vacuum decay is the ultimate ecological catastrophe; in the new vacuum there are new constants of nature; after vacuum decay, not only is life as we know it impossible, so is chemistry as we know it. However, one could always draw stoic comfort from the possibility that perhaps in the course of time the new vacuum would sustain, if not life as we know it, at least some structures capable of knowing joy. This possibility has now been eliminated.


    Posted on April 18th, 2015 at 3:33 pm Reply | Quote
  • Erebus Says:

    The study’s full-text is available for free here:

    A few notes:
    -They looked for Kardashev type-III civilizations, solely. In their words: “Galaxy-spanning supercivilizations with energy supplies greater than 85% of the starlight in the galaxy (unless this energy is not primarily expelled as light in the WISE bandpasses).”

    -They have discovered 50 interesting galactic infrared anomalies which are worthy of further study. They didn’t find any K3s, but they didn’t exactly find “nothing”, either. What they’ve found might be indicative of highly advanced civilizations.

    -This paper is the last part of a three-document series. Part I notes that K3 civilizations may expel waste heat at low temperatures, which would make them impossible to detect via those methods currently in use. It further notes that these civilizations may expel waste heat as neutrinos, employ energy-to-mass conversion, etc.
    (…If they can create a galaxy-spanning Dyson sphere, can we really put it past ’em? What they’re looking for might exist, but might be undetectable to our primitive IR scans. I’d imagine that a K3 would try to cloak or camouflage their dyson spheres — and IR camouflage is possible even with today’s tech.)

    -All in all, I think that this is an interesting, and largely positive, result.

    -The argument that there hasn’t been enough time for galaxy-spanning civilizations to develop makes a lot of sense to me. 13.6 billion years sounds like a hell of a long time, but the galaxy we’re in — and the galaxies we’re surveying — shall remain largely intact and capable of supporting life for trillions of years. The universe is in its infancy. Life takes a lot of time to develop, it takes a certain set of conditions, and interstellar travel and engineering takes a level of sophistication which we can only guess at…

    -Of course, we could be living in an ancestor simulation. It’s also possible that all advanced civilizations retreat into simulations instead of performing engineering feats on a galactic scale. (The utter decline of NASA is illustrative of the fact that soft modern-day humans value cellphone apps and Minecraft, but don’t care much for spectacular and demanding feats of real-world engineering. As a society, I’m sure that we’re bound to retreat into VR simulations the minute they get good enough.)


    Jesse Reply:

    “The argument that there hasn’t been enough time for galaxy-spanning civilizations to develop makes a lot of sense to me.”

    But the time for a civilization with self-replicating machinery to colonize the galaxy–and convert much of the planetary matter into Dyson swarms to harvest the energy of stars, if they so choose–would probably be rather short compared to evolutionary timescales. Even if the number of star systems which have been visited and “processed” only doubles once every 100,000 years (which seems like a conservative estimate given the potential for exponential growth of self-replicating matter-harvesting machines in each new system, and the fact that nuclear pulse propulsion like Project Orion is estimated to be capable of reaching the nearest star in under a century), keeping in mind it would take about 39 doublings to reach every star system in our galaxy, the whole galaxy could be colonized in 3.9 million years. That’s peanuts compared to the 500 million years or so that multicellular organisms have been around, and over 3 billion years life has existed on this planet. So it seems extremely unlikely to me that the universe is swarming with other planets that are on course to eventually evolve technology-using organisms whose descendants (probably AI rather than biological) will colonize their own galaxies, but that by a wild coincidence none have reached this stage more than a few million years in advance of us.

    To me, the “Rare Earth” hypothesis (explained in a book by Ward and Brownlee, see for a summary) seems like the most likely answer–the authors identify a bunch of factors which might plausibly be both fairly rare and necessary for a planet to be a stable habitat for multicellular life, and they also make the point that the different probabilities here need to be multiplied to get the total probability, so for example if you have just 8 different necessary factors which each are only present in 1 of 1000 star systems, that leads to a total frequency of 1 in 10^24, which is one estimate for the number of stars in the entire observable universe. Robin Hanson’s original Great Filter paper at also suggests that there may be a bunch of “hard steps” in the evolution of intelligent life which each have a fairly low probability even if the earlier ones are achieved–for example, the evolution of eukaryote-like cells from bacterial prokaryote-like cells only happened once in our evolutionary history. So, you might have some combination of unlikely features of a planetary system and hard steps in evolution even given a suitable system, which would just need to add up to something like 8 with probability 1 in 1000 or less, 12 with probability 1 in 100 or less, etc.


    Posted on April 18th, 2015 at 3:38 pm Reply | Quote
  • SVErshov Says:

    for people, who dont know how science work from inside, impossible to form honest opinion on any current issues in science.


    Posted on April 18th, 2015 at 4:20 pm Reply | Quote
  • NRx_N00B Says:

    If you take anthropic-probabilistic reasoning to the extreme then our perceivable universe would be like a “Goldilocks” zone—our laws of physics would be like local-variables; hence, the multiverse an inevitable and absolute consequence, where the interfaces between universes are the great filter.


    NRx_N00B Reply:

    I guess, even critters existing/evolving within some kind of AI derived nested sequential simulation might never be able to decipher the existence of variables beyond the interface of the simulation and greater reality.


    SanguineEmpiricist Reply:

    Bostrom’s Anthropic Bias book is the best.


    Posted on April 18th, 2015 at 4:45 pm Reply | Quote

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