October 13, 1998
I want to thank you for letting me post your article about gravity shielding that appeared in the March 98 WIRED magazine. Your comments on my article about lightning sprites and the blue-green flash are also appreciated. In light of our on-going exchange of ideas, I thought you might be interested in some articles I wrote for my WEB forum on bleeding edge science that I hosted awhile back. Some of these ideas and articles date back to the mid-90’s, so some of the references are a little dated and some of the software that I use now is generally available as a major improvement over what I had then.
What I was involved with then can be characterized by the books and magazines I read, a combination of Skeptical Enquirer, Scientific American, Discovery and Nature. I enjoyed the challenge of debunking some space cadet that had made yet another perpetual motion machine or yet another 250 mile-per-gallon carburetor – both claiming that the government or big business was trying to suppress their inventions. Several of my articles were printed on the bulletin board that pre-dated the publication of the Skeptical Enquirer.
I particularly liked all the far-out inventions attributed to one of my heroes – Nikola Tesla. To hear some of those fringe groups, youd think he had to be an alien implant working on an intergalactic defense system. I got more than one space cadet upset with me by citing real science to shoot down his gospel of zero-point energy forces and free energy.
Perhaps the most fun is taking some wing ding that has some crazy idea and bouncing that against what we know about in hard science. Most often than not, they make use of fancy science terms and word that they do not really understand to try to add credibility to their ravings. I have done this so often, in fact, that I thought Id take on a challenge and try to play the other side for once. Ill be the wing nut and spin a yarn about some off the wall idea but Ill do it in such a way that Ill try to really convince you that it is true. To that, Im going to use every thing I know about science. You be the judge if this sounds like a space cadet or not.
Are They Really There? Life is Easy to Make:
Since 1953, with the Stanley Miller experiment, we have, or should have discarded the theory that we are unique in the universe. Production of organic life and even DNA and RNA have been shown to occur in simple mixtures of hydrogen, ammonia, methane and water when exposed to an electrical discharge (lightning). The existence of most of these components has been frequently verified by spectral analysis in distant stars but, of course, until recently, we can’t see the star’s planets. Based on the most accepted star and planet formation theories, most star systems would have a significant number of planets with these elements and conditions.
Quantifying the SETI
A radio astronomer, Frank Drake developed some equations that were the first serious attempt to quantify the number of technical civilizations in our galaxy. Unfortunately, his factors were very ambiguous and various scientists have produced numbers ranging from 1 to 10 billion technical civilizations in just our galaxy. This condition of a formula is referred to as unstable or ill‑conditioned systems. There are mathematical techniques to reduce the instability of such equations. I attempted to do so to quantify the probability of the existence of intelligent life.
I approached the process a little different. Rather than come up with a single number for the whole galaxy, I decided to relate the probability to distance from Earth. Later I added directionality.
Using the basic formulas Drake used to start, I added a finite stochastic process using conditional probability. This produces a tree of event outcomes for each computed conditional probability. (The conditions being quantified were those in his basic formula: rate of star formation; number of planets in each system with conditions favorable to life; fraction of planets with on which life develops; fraction of planets that develop intelligent life; fraction of planets that develop intelligent life that evolve technical civilizations capable of interstellar communications and the lifetime of such a civilization).
I then layered one more parameter onto this by increasing the probability of a particular tree path inversely to the relation of one over the square of the distance. This added a conservative estimate for the increasing probability of intelligent life as the distance from Earth increases and more stars and planets are included in the sample size.
I Love Simulation Models
I used standard values used by Gamow and Hawking in their computations, however, I ignored Riemannian geometry and assumed a purely Euclidean universe. Initially, I assumed the standard cosmological principles of homogeneity and isotropic distributions. (I changed that later) Of course this produced 1000’s of probable outcomes but by using a Monte Carlo simulation of the probability distribution and the initial computation factors of Drake’s formula (within reasonable limits), I was able to derive a graph of probability of technical civilizations as a function of distance.
But I Knew That
As was predictable before I started, the graph is a rising, non‑linear curve, converging on if you go out in distance far enough 100%. Even though the outcome was intuitive, what I gained was a range of distances with a range of corresponding probabilities of technical civilizations. Obviously, the graph converges to 100% at infinite distances but what was really surprising is that it is above 99% before leaving the Milky Way Galaxy. We don’t even have to go to Andromeda to have a very good chance of there being intelligent life in space. Of course, that is not so unusual since our galaxy may have about 200 billion stars and some unknown multiple of planets.
Then I made It Directional
I toyed with one other computation. The homogeneous and isotropic universe used by Einstein and Hawking is a mathematical convenience to allow them to relate the structure of the universe to their theories of space‑time. These mathematical fudge‑factors are not consistent with observation in small orders of magnitude in distance from earth ‑ out to the limits of what we can observe ‑ about 15 billion light years. We know that there is inhomogeneous or lumps in the stellar density at these relatively close distances. The closest lump is called the Local Group with 22 galaxies but it is on the edge of a super cluster of 2500 galaxies. There is an even larger group called the Great Attractor that may contain tens of thousands of galaxies.
By altering my formula, I took into account the equatorial system direction (ascension & declination) of the inhomogeneous clustering. Predictably, this just gave me a probability of intelligent life based on a vector rather than a scalar measure. It did however, move the distance for any given probability much closer ‑ in the direction of clusters and super clusters. So much so that at about 351 million light years, the probability is virtually 100%. At only about 3 million light years, the probability is over 99%. That is well within the Local Group of galaxies.
When you consider that there are tens of billions of stars and galaxies within detection range by Earth and some unknown quantity beyond detection – it is estimated that there are galaxies numbering as many as a 1 followed by 21 zeros – that is more than all the grains of sand in all the oceans, beaches and deserts in the entire world. And in each of those galaxies, there are billions of stars! Now you can begin to see that the formula to quantify the number of technical civilizations in space results in virtually 100% no matter how conservative you make the input values. It can do no less than prove that life is out there.