An astrophysicist explains, astronomer Frank Drake developed the equation for estimating the likelihood of intelligent ET civilizations to accommodate the needs of a 1961 conference by reducing the general question to a number of smaller, more specific ones. It’s been a staple of discussion of extraterrestrial civilizations since then. A great conversation piece—but that about sums it up:
While the Drake equation may have spurred the early scientific discussion of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, it doesn’t have much value beyond that. We can’t use to it further our understanding, and we can’t use it to properly guide our thinking. The huge uncertainties in the parameters, the unknown ways those uncertainties mix, and the absolute lack of any guidance in even choosing those parameters robs it of any predictive power. Prediction is at the heart of science. Prediction is what makes an idea useful. And if an idea isn’t useful, why keep it around?Paul Sutter, “Alien Hunters, Stop Using the Drake Equation” at Space.com
Ah, a question we can answer!
The intuition that They Are Out There is not based on science; it is based on deductive reasoning.
If They are not out there, the elaborate fine-tuning of Earth implies that we are somehow special. And if there is one thing properly raised modern human being knows today, it’s that we are not special. We are just animals who may or may not be more intelligent than other animals (maybe IQ tests are unfair to apes), we are wrecking the planet, and maybe even salad is murder.
On a brighter note, maybe They Are Out There and are greater and wiser than us. Or maybe not but at least we won’t feel both bad and alone.
Take heart, SETI, they will Always Be Out There for you.
See also: Fixing the unfixable Drake Equation (2018)
ET still hasn’t phoned Frank Drake (2016)
Obituary column: By the time we hear from the space aliens,they will be dead
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