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Is There Intelligent Life in the Universe?

Updated on April 27, 2013
Planetary Nebula NGC 2818 as photographed by the Hubble Telescope
Planetary Nebula NGC 2818 as photographed by the Hubble Telescope | Source

Is there intelligent life elsewhere in the universe? While there is no definite scientific proof, the numbers suggest that it is likely. There are, as noted astronomer Carl Sagan was fond of saying “billions upon billions of stars”. If each of those stars had a few planets orbiting them, it is possible that intelligent life exists on at least a few planets. And if you factor in the fact that the age of the universe is between 12 and 14 billion years old, thousands of intelligent races may have come and gone in the past.


In polls taken over the last few years, Americans overwhelmingly believe that intelligent life exists elsewhere. In fact I would guess that many people wish it were true. The existence of intelligent alien life is a very popular staple in our pop culture. From the earliest alien characters in science fiction literature through the cheesy characters in 1950s and 1960s TV shows and movies to the highly detailed CG animation of today, intelligent aliens remain very popular. Of course the way they have been depicted would lead us to believe that they are very much like us. In the early days of TV, aliens were often depicted as humanoid characters with strange costumes and large heads who were always evil. Later characters like Spock (Star Trek) came along and told us that aliens can actually be our allies while Star Wars told us that they could be exactly like us. E.T. and Alf showed us they could be cute and lovable. Independence Day and the Men in Black trilogy depicted them as hideous, lizard like monsters. If we ever were to come in contact with them (the chances of this are slim, I‘ll talk about that later in this Hub) we might find that they are not at all what we thought we thought they would be.


What Would They be Like?

Of course this is all speculation, but in my research, I have seen 2 schools of thought. First, it is believed that biology is similar all through the universe. So intelligent creatures may be similar to us in many ways. They may have 2 or 4 legs (any more would be too much) and they would evolve just like we did. Because they would evolve in a different world, with different challenges than human’s had on earth, they would be much different from us. But we would recognize them as a carbon based life form.

The second opinion is that life may not be “carbon based”. So we may not recognize it as life at all. Of course the universe is vast and these two forms may exist as well as others.


Alien from ET
Alien from ET | Source

Would They Be Hostile or Friendly?

A common early pop culture depiction of aliens was they would only come to earth to conquer or kill us. Movies like War of the Worlds and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers depicts aliens as evil beings bent on our destruction. The aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ET are depicted as friendly. I believe they would be friendly. In order to have the ability to come to earth, they would have to develop the technology. They must have the ambition to explore and have grown out of the instinct for destruction. The question may not be “Would They Be Hostile or Friendly?”, but “Would we react to their presence with acceptance or violence?”


Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan | Source

Have They Ever Visited Earth?

Our pop culture suggests that extra terrestrial beings have been visiting us since ancient times and they have continued to come to earth through the present day. Flying saucer and alien abduction stories abound today. And Swiss author Erik Von Danikan has written about aliens who came to earth several thousands of years ago.. He cites large construction projects in the ancient world and believes humans lacked the technology to build them. He believes the “ancient astronauts” helped.

The purpose of this Hub is not to debate the pseudoscience that suggests that aliens have been in constant contact with us. But there is no real proof of flying saucers and von Danikan’s theories have been debunked by many including Carl Sagan who called the author’s thinking “careless” and “an object lesson in sloppy thinking”. Sagan also said he “knew of no current book [Chariots of the Gods?] so riddled with logical and factual errors”

I don’t believe they have ever come to earth. There is one simple reason: In the vastness of space, how would they find us? There would have to be some kind of a signal sent out announcing our presence. Over the last 40 or so years, scientists have been sending out radio waves and monitoring incoming signals for any sign of communications with extraterrestrials beings. There has been no definitive contact. In addition for the last 90 or so years, man has been broadcasting, first by radio then by TV. These waves have been escaping earth constantly over that period and now the oldest of them are about 90 light years away from us. It is conceivable aliens could lock on to an old broadcast of Leave it to Beaver or Milton Berle in a dress and visit us. But when would they get here? Unless they had solved the problem of fast interstellar travel, they might arrive well after we are gone. In addition 90 light years only covers a small corner of the universe. It’s possible these signals haven’t been picked up. It’s also conceivable these signals would pass unnoticed by a intelligent society that has not yet developed the technology to pick up these signals.


"The Sounds of Earth" record on the Voyager Probes. Notice the hieroglyphic  playing instructions.
"The Sounds of Earth" record on the Voyager Probes. Notice the hieroglyphic playing instructions. | Source

As I said above, for the last 40 or so years we have been attempting to contact extra terrestrials by sending radio waves out into space. We have not gotten anything back that tells us that we have made contact. But we are still trying and if contact is made, I believe this is the way it will be.


In 1977 Voyager 1 and 2 were launched. The purpose of these probes were to examine the planets in our solar system. However they had a secondary purpose. As of June 2012, Voyager 1 completed it’s examination of the planets and became the first man made object to leave our solar system. On the 2 probes is a phonograph record that has many of earth’s sounds on it. On the outside, are pictures on how to play it. In addition, other probes have been launched that contain messages from us to a future society. The chances of these probes being discovered by aliens are infinitely slim. It’s like throwing a message in a bottle into an ocean several trillion times bigger than any on earth.


If they ever contacted us and came to earth to visit, I believe mankind would be forever changed. There would be a huge upheaval in religious thought. Also, would we come together as a species? And how would we react to them. Would we welcome them or respond to them with violence? Would they physically affect us? When Europeans first came to the new world, they exposed the natives North Americans to germs they had never been exposed to. Many became sick and died. Would we be exposed to some kind of a space plague? Luckily, since extraterrestrial contact is unlikely, these questions are moot.


*******

The idea of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe is fascinating and makes for very good fiction. But I afraid that although numbers suggest that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe, the chances of past or future physical contact with aliens is slim. While we may be able to communicate with them, the idea of being able to meet them is slim.


What is your opinion on intelligent, extraterrestrial life

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    • billd01603 profile image
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      billd01603 2 years ago from Worcester

      You make a lot of good points, but what does that have to do with intelligent life on other planets?

    • profile image

      Andiz 2 years ago

      I am a liberal, but, I also didn't dump my banris in the sink. Enough is enough There's something about this whole illegal immigration debate that is absolutely insane. Why is it okay for someone who is NOT supposed to be here allowed to stay and to assume citizenship rights just because they ARE here??? That logic is soooo weak. And, oddly enough, it seems that most American citizens aren't sufficiently outraged about it. It's like someone, unbeknownst to you, living in your basement. Sure, they may take out your trash, but, does that justify them homesteading in your basement without your permission?If I decided to visit Japan and to melt into that community after my tourist visa expired and the Japanese government caught me, slammed my butt on a plane and sent me back to America, why should I argue? Of course, if I were crazy enough to do that, I would also attempt to get pregnant in Japan so that my off-spring would then be Japanese nationals and I could get a better foot in the door with the Japanese government.. Later, as my loitering continued in Japan, my sons and daughters could over-turn the Japanese government and set up a situation whereby scofflaws likemyself (who breed like rabbits) would benefit. This is exactly what these Hispanics are doing in America. I do not feel sorry for these people not in the least. If they want citizenship, they can apply for it legally and come in the right way like everyone else. This is not about what suits THEM. Why do they think they are so special that they can just stroll (or run) over here and start working at Taco Bell or digging ditches and everything should be cool? Meanwhile, prospective immigrants from around the world have taken the TOEFFL repeatedly and have participated in GreenCard raffles repeatedly over YEARS for a chance to come here. Many of them with Master's degrees in math and science.And what about American corporations that bring illegals into this country (like poor, bamboozled children) for menial work by the truck loads?? I, for one, think that infantilizing the Hispanic people is demeaning and racist and I claim that if they are smart enough to get here by stealth, then they are smart enough to know that they are doing something WRONG. Some Hispanics may not be completely responsible for getting here (because of some capitalist scoundrel who wants to exploit them), but, they are, never-the-less, responsible for themselves leaving. Walmart was caught I got no more job. How do I go back to Mexico? Or I stay here? You stay here amiga you got the rights. You have babies si? Okay! How long I stay? Til they catch you! El Presidente Bush es bueno amigo Okay! I actually read an article about one illegal Hispanic construction worker who had positioned himself into a nice slice of the American Pie enjoying a nice income, a nice truck, a nice house in the burbs, and a nice business He was furious because the US Immigration and Naturalization Service got around to catching him and was in the process of deporting him. He issued this haughty line : This country is so ungrateful. What the hell The sheer nerve of this type of person is truly incredible. If I plant a nice garden in someone else's backyard, is that MY garden?? Of course not. Illegals have no claims or rights to America, period. End of story. Some say that these illegals pay taxes and contribute greatly to the American GNP. I find this claim dubious, at best. If I am on the run , trying to fly under the INS radar ( not having been issued a proper social security card by the US government), I don't think I would be waiving a red flag to the IRS stating, It is I, Maria! The illegal that crept into your country two years ago who now wants to pay taxes! Most likely, these illegals are accepting their income from under the table. And, instead of paying money into the American welfare system with their taxes, they are, in fact, the major strains upon it by unfairly accessing health services, schools, and other tax payer supported resources. Meanwhile, their misfit population booms (with mostly out-of-wedlock births). And don't get me started with the gangs, the drugs, and the other nasties associated with illegals. And if I hear another illegal whine about how racist conscientious American citizens are being because someone complains that these illegals have fifteen adults shacked up in a two bedroom house, I will vomit. Whether they find themselves in North Dakota or Southern California, they need to get the hell out of this country and come back in the right way if they wish to earn the regard of law abiding citizens. This is not about racism or Hispanic bashing This is about the existing laws of the US government which were created by the consensus OF law-abiding American citizens. This country must stand by it's Constitution or it will fall for absolutely anything!

    • billd01603 profile image
      Author

      billd01603 4 years ago from Worcester

      Thanks for writing Jimmy

    • profile image

      Jimmy 4 years ago

      Gun control makes pro gun people who don't own them buy them. Guns flowing off the shelf. The government is smart enough to know what an anti-gun push will do. Black triangles being seen everywhere. We are spending our money like it just doesnt matter, well after we are invaded, cash money will be worthless, we will be trading in food, ammo, and chicklets.

      Gaming industry shifting from COD to alien battling to train the young gamers. No country could go get here by boat without getting totally blown up. Our military rocks.

      Who are they preparing us to fight again? Not Marshall law. They would have to get our guns, not get us to have more guns. New York having strictest gun control is strategy, scare everyone who will survive the initial attack. New York is the capital of the world, the terrorists struck here first, the aliens will too!

      Global warming making the planet liveable for possibly only 100 years or less, time for the great alien race to farm this world for all it's worth, since it is now a limited resource.

      I'm downloading Earth Defense Force 2017 for my playstation vita as we speak. And filling everything I can with water. I'm ready. Are you? Why would the powers to be remaster a crappy Videogame and port it to the playstation vita unless it was to save us ALL!?!?!?!

    • billd01603 profile image
      Author

      billd01603 4 years ago from Worcester

      ib radmasters good point.

      tsadjatko Thanks for reading

    • tsadjatko profile image

      TSAD 4 years ago from maybe (the guy or girl) next door

      But of course Aliens can't be much smarter than us, after all we thought them up.

      http://ancientaliensdebunked.com/#

    • tsadjatko profile image

      TSAD 4 years ago from maybe (the guy or girl) next door

      Ah, but what makes you think we are intelligent compared to alien beings? - compared to them, in intelligence, we might be as ants are to us. I mean if we are going to put our faith in total figments of the imagination like "aliens" why not make them so superior that we are meaningless and helpless in their sight? Or is there some mysterious governor on the theory of evolution that forbids it?

      Alien life forms? What a batch of crapola.

    • ib radmasters profile image

      ib radmasters 4 years ago from Southern California

      Bill

      The problem is that we can't get along with the Intelligent people on Earth so why would we do any better with aliens?

      We would either be subservient to them, try to kill them, or try to master them. That is called human nature.

      Thanks

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

      Ha HA HA!! Very good comeback.

    • Cognosium profile image

      Cognosium 4 years ago

      But, ShiningIrishEyes, Monty Python beat you to it:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buqtdpuZxvk

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

      A truly interesting and absorbing hub. I believe there must be intelligent life out there as I have yet to meet very many on my planet. LOL

      Just couldn't resist

    • Cognosium profile image

      Cognosium 4 years ago

      In terms of a kind of "cosmic censorship" by the non-biological cognitive entity which is on track to supersede humankind.

      There is a serious problem with the most popular way of trying to establish the probability, the Drake equation . That is simply the inadequacy of reliable input. Even one incorrectly guessed input variable rendering the output meaningless.

      We must always remember the IT mantra of GIGO : garbage in – garbage out.

      However, with regard to the wider issue, a very good case can be made for the presumption that, whatever the time-scale, humankind will never encounter extra-terrestrial "intelligent" (I prefer the neologism "Imaginatory" ) life.

      Simply because, should we manage to escape (or at least postpone) extinction, the next, non-biological, phase of "life" could well prohibit contacts of this kind between more primitive organisms such as we..

      This kind of cosmic censorship provides one possible explanation for the Fermi paradox.

      And it is consistent with the pattern of autonomous evolution of technology that is so evident today.

      Very real evidence indicates the rather imminent implementation of the next, (non-biological) phase of the on-going evolutionary “life” process from what we at present call the Internet.It is effectively evolving by a process of self-assembly. You may have noticed that we are increasingly, in a sense, “enslaved” by our PCs, mobile phones, their apps and many other trappings of the increasingly cloudy net.

      We are already largely dependent upon it for our commerce and industry and there is no turning back. What we perceive as a tool is well on its way to becoming an agent.

      Consider this:

      There are at present an estimated 2 Billion Internet users. There are an estimated 13 Billion neurons in the human brain. On this basis for approximation the Internet is even now only one order of magnitude below the human brain and its growth is exponential.

      That is a simplification, of course. For example: Not all users have their own computer. So perhaps we could reduce that, say, tenfold. The number of switching units, transistors, if you wish, contained by all the computers connecting to the Internet and which are more analogous to individual neurons is many orders of magnitude greater than 2 Billion. Then again, this is compensated for to some extent by the fact that neurons do not appear to be binary switching devices but can adopt multiple states.

      Without even crunching the numbers, we see that we must take seriously the possibility that even the present Internet may well be comparable to a human brain in processing power.

      And, of course, the degree of interconnection and cross-linking of networks within networks is also growing rapidly.The culmination of this exponential growth corresponds to the event that transhumanists inappropriately call “The Singularity” but is more properly regarded as a phase transition of the on-going “life” process.

      The emergence of a new and predominant cognitive entity that is a logical consequence of the evolutionary continuum that can be traced back at least as far as the formation of the chemical elements in stars.

      The broad evolutionary model that supports this contention is outlined very informally in “The Goldilocks Effect: What Has Serendipity Ever Done For Us?”, a free download in e-book formats from the “Unusual Perspectives” website.

    • tsadjatko profile image

      TSAD 4 years ago from maybe (the guy or girl) next door

      You should point out that quote by Carl Sagan you begin with is stated with the belief that intelligent life was not created by an intelligent creator but evolved spontaneously basically from random chance chemical reactions. If one believes that is possible then naturally one might conclude that given enough chances throughout time and the universe it could happen again, by chance, even though probability calculations demonstrate it to be impossible.

      If intelligent life on earth was created by an intelligent being like, for example, humans created automobiles then there is no probability that it could occur anywhere else unless the creator chose to do so. Would anyone think they could find a 2012 Cadillac on some planet somewhere in the universe? That is not to say that an intelligent creator could not create life elsewhere or for that matter of different sorts, however that fact would not have anything to do with the length of time or size of the universe, now would it.

      It strikes me that people like Carl Sagan simply can't accept or even comprehend of an intelligent creator with infinite intelligence and ability to create something so vast as the universe so in their self-aggrandizement of their own (feeble in comparison) intellect have the audacity to propose theories that are actually more incomprehensible than the truth is to them.

    • billd01603 profile image
      Author

      billd01603 4 years ago from Worcester

      Good points melpor. Thanks for reading

    • melpor profile image

      Melvin Porter 4 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Billd01603, this is a well written and very factual hub on the possibility of intelligent life elsewhere universe. I agree with every statement in your hub. If there is intelligent life out there in the universe I believe they are no more intelligent or no more advance than we are because the universe was two violent for life in the first 10 billion years or so. Therefore, if there is any form of life in the universe besides us they probably have been around only about 4 billion years also which is the same length of time it took us to develop the intelligence we now have today. They simply would not be any more intelligent than we are and probably would be at the same technological level as we are. That is one of the reasons why we have not received any signal from space that signifies intelligence. They most likely would be communicating using the electromagnetic spectrum (light) since this is the fastest form of communication over vast distances.

      Also you mentioned the idea that many people believe we already have been visited by aliens in ancient times. I do not believe this at all and I agree that we probably would have been wiped out from exposure to extraterrestrial germs. That is what happened in the original "War the Worlds" movie except it was in reverse, the aliens died instead of us because they were exposed to our germs.

      Voted up and interesting.