Do you believe we are alone in the universe?
  • Poll: Are we alone?

    Do you believe we are alone in the universe?


    Our tabletop RPGs are full of sci-fi universes - Star Wars and Star Trek, to Warhammer 40K and and Starfinder and more. From Drake’s Equation to Fermi’s Paradox, from the sheer number of extrasolar planets to the lack of evidence of other life, what say you? Are we alone? If not why have we seen no convincing evidence of alien life?





    (I’m firmly in the not alone camp, but believe FTL travel will never happen, meaning that most civilisations don’t travel very far behind their own system).
    Comments 403 Comments
    1. monsmord's Avatar
      monsmord -
      The universe is far, far, far too big and ancient a place to reasonably rule out life elsewhere. Even if the galaxy is currently lacking intelligent life other than our own (and I'm not convinced it is - our expectations of what intelligent life should be doing with itself is, obviously, prejudiced toward our own ideals), I don't think it was nor will be. I'm also much more optimistic about FTL.
    1. Umbran's Avatar
      Umbran -
      Given infinite space, and a non-zero chance for life to develop, being the *only* intelligent species is statistically impossible. Heck, it then becomes statistically impossible that there's only one Morrus!

      Being the only intelligent species within signalling distance? That's far more likely. We may well be alone, insofar as there may not be another intelligent species near enough to ever know they exist.
    1. Blue's Avatar
      Blue -
      I do believe that over the life of the universe there will be countless (but finite) sentient races.

      But ones that coexist at this time that we can currently sense, or existed before us and we have not yet found/understood that we have four artifacts and signs of them - that I think is a very small number. On that's increasing at a dramatic rate based on what our technology has done in the at 50 years.

      Also, the Sol system is in a particularly lousy place in the Milky Way for density of potential life-bearing systems.
    1. trappedslider's Avatar
      trappedslider -
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    1. Dannyalcatraz's Avatar
      Dannyalcatraz -
      I’d say humans are not alone, but isolated. It’s kind of like being someone native to a tiny Pacific island: there are other humans out there, but entire cultures on the island could rise and fall- or even be wiped out completely- without ever becoming aware of humanity in another part of the ocean.

      We’re separated by oceans of time AND space from any other planet we know of that could support intelligent life in a form we would expect with our current understanding of biology.

      But as Fox Mulder would say, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”
    1. Tonguez -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dannyalcatraz View Post
      I’d say humans are not alone, but isolated. It’s kind of like being someone native to a tiny Pacific island: there are other humans out there, but entire cultures on the island could rise and fall- or even be wiped out completely- without ever becoming aware of humanity in another part of the ocean.

      We’re separated by oceans of time AND space from any other planet we know of that could support intelligent life in a form we would expect with our current understanding of biology.

      But as Fox Mulder would say, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”
      As a descendant of one of those Pacific Island peoples can I just say that your analogy is a bit patronising and entirely wrong since Pacific people’s had complex inter island trade and communication.

      Secondly I think Humanity is the most advanced species that we are ever going to encounter AND comprehend as intelligent. Of course it’s quite possible that we have been dealing with vast incomprehensible intelligences since our hairy ancestors first contemplated the Storm clouds
      .
    1. Jhaelen -
      Clearly, the question is already wrong. There's no "we". I'm the only real being in existence. Everything else is just fabrications of my mind.
    1. Dannyalcatraz's Avatar
      Dannyalcatraz -
      As a descendant of one of those Pacific Island peoples can I just say that your analogy is a bit patronising and entirely wrong since Pacific people’s had complex inter island trade and communication.
      Apologies. I understand where you’re coming from, but no offense was meant. I specifically avoided naming any particular island to avoid that.

      I was trying to find an area on the earth isolated enough that belief that your local area was everything was conceivable. Land masses don’t give you that kind of isolation very often. Despite the well-known trade in the Pacific, it is so vast that it is possible that an island existed on which the inhabitants eventually lost the knowledge that they came from somewhere else.

      Because, if we’re honest, there probably haven’t been many cultures unaware of “others” since the Paleolithic era. (Though whether or not they regard the others as human or not is a different question.)
    1. delericho's Avatar
      delericho -
      I don't think we're alone. But I doubt whether we'll ever make contact with alien life.

      The vast majority of the life that is out there won't be intelligent life; the vast majority of the intelligent life that's out there will be completely incomprehensible to us; the vast majority of what remains will still be confined to their own planets and/or systems; and the vast majority of the rest will be impossibly far away.

      So there's only a tiny tiny fraction of the life that's out there that we might make contact with. Given that, I think we're more likely to wipe ourselves out than to make that contact... unless and asteroid hit or other disaster does that for us first.
    1. Morrus's Avatar
      Morrus -
      Quote Originally Posted by Umbran View Post
      Given infinite space, and a non-zero chance for life to develop, being the *only* intelligent species is statistically impossible. Heck, it then becomes statistically impossible that there's only one Morrus!
      While in an infinite universe anything possible is certain, I am well known for being quite impossible.
    1. Janx's Avatar
      Janx -
      Every intelligent species has its own version of swedish meatballs.

      Fermi and his paradox is the larger problem. It's not just does Alpha Centauri (or whatever its called this week) have intelligent life, but when. 1000 years ago or now or in the future. right now may be the wrong time to try signalling them.

      Then, how are we going to signal them? It's only 4 LY away. Do we really have a technology to get the job done AND hope they happen to have technology to detect, record and analyze it?

      If we go there and they do exist, they might be easy enough to translate, but our microbes kill them, theirs kill us on first contact. Bummer.

      We may not be the only intelligent life in the universe, but we are functionally alone.
    1. Ryujin's Avatar
      Ryujin -
      Vastness of the universe, probabilities, and all of that. “The universe is a pretty big place. If it's just us, seems like an awful waste of space.” ― Carl Sagan

      What I'm not convinced of is that we've ever been visited, or that we ever will be. What's the life expectancy of an intelligent species? Could they just randomly come across us in the few tens of thousands of years that we've been around? Is there anyone who could have heard us inside of the lousy little less than 250 light year sphere where you could possibly hear us whispering?
    1. Dannyalcatraz's Avatar
      Dannyalcatraz -
      Then, how are we going to signal them? It's only 4 LY away. Do we really have a technology to get the job done AND hope they happen to have technology to detect, record and analyze it?
      With current tech, once we figure out how to understand each other, you’re still talking about the worst text messaging convo EVER.

      Them: “Greetings from what you call Alpha Cofefe“

      4 years later

      Us: “What?”

      4 years later

      Them: “Sorry- Alpha Centauri. Damn you AutoCorrect!”
    1. Nagol's Avatar
      Nagol -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jhaelen View Post
      Clearly, the question is already wrong. There's no "we". I'm the only real being in existence. Everything else is just fabrications of my mind.
      So... You are accepting all blame then? *shakes head* You have a very unpleasant mind.
    1. Aeson's Avatar
      Aeson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dannyalcatraz View Post
      With current tech, once we figure out how to understand each other, you’re still talking about the worst text messaging convo EVER.

      Them: “Greetings from what you call Alpha Cofefe“

      4 years later

      Us: “What?”

      4 years later

      Them: “Sorry- Alpha Centauri. Damn you AutoCorrect!”
      Unlimited texting may have limits. I'd hate to see that bill come due.
    1. Eltab's Avatar
      Eltab -
      At this time, I am the only poll-ee who holds my opinion.

      Granted a sample size of 1 is tough to predict from.

      As we discover more extrasolar planets and extrasolar systems, we keep finding out how unusual Terra / Sol is. For instance, eccentric orbits are more common than near-circular. The zone around Star X where water can stay liquid on an Earth-like planet has gravitational interference from a gas giant. Or is in a gas giant's path. The rocky planets we do find have the wrong atmospheric composition. Or are so close to a dim star that they would be tidally-locked. A 'hot Jupiter', as we understand its formation, wipes out the Earth-like worlds in a system as it moves to where we find it. Warm yellow stars are rare compared to dim cool red dwarves.

      We know of only one biochemistry set that produces intelligent life, so it is hard to estimate what other chemistry sets would (a) function as life; (b) support intelligent life. We can speculate, and we can write off a few proposed biochemistries based on the chemistry or physics.

      The book Rare Earth may have overstated the case, but I think it headed is in the right direction: intelligent life requires some unlikely background events / conditions, which did not happen often. They did happen here in this physically oddball system. We do not yet know how tightly the astronomy constrains the biology.

      In effect we want to roll all 20's on many dice sequentially. Yes it will be cool if it happens, but do not hold your breath for it.
    1. Mad_Jack's Avatar
      Mad_Jack -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jhaelen View Post
      Clearly, the question is already wrong. There's no "we". I'm the only real being in existence. Everything else is just fabrications of my mind.
      And since Jhaelan is just one of the voices in my head, and I'm just a figment of my own imagination...


      Actually, I do believe there is intelligent life out there...

      And that humanity and our planet is actually just some SIMS-type game being played by one of their bored pre-pubescent kids on their parents' cell phone.
    1. Mustrum_Ridcully's Avatar
      Mustrum_Ridcully -
      Given the vast size of the universe, it seems unlikely that there is really only one time life developed, and that only one time "intelligent" life developed.
      However, it might be incredibly far away so we never take notice of each other.
      So even if technically we aren't alone, we might still feel very alone.

      As I grew older, I became more and more skeptical that FTL travel is possible, and I am also becoming more and more skeptical that something like a generation ship that could travel for hundreds or thousands of years becomes possible, or that we could send detectable signals for communication across interstellar distances. So it might be that we'll never get to meet or speak with anyone.

      Quote Originally Posted by Umbran View Post
      Given infinite space, and a non-zero chance for life to develop, being the *only* intelligent species is statistically impossible. Heck, it then becomes statistically impossible that there's only one Morrus!

      Being the only intelligent species within signaling distance? That's far more likely. We may well be alone, insofar as there may not be another intelligent species near enough to ever know they exist.
      But what if space is finite?

      Because I seem to remember that space is finite, but expands over time, and if time is infinite - there isn't anything stopping the expansion, it will never stop expanding. But space will also never be finite.
      And with infinite time but finite space, there is a lot of time frames that life could form and die out again - without it ever happening at the same time. So maybe there will be thousands of Morrus - but they will also be separated in time across trillions of years.

      So maybe there was or there will be life out there. And we'll never notice, because we existed either before or after it. We'd still be alone.
    1. Umbran's Avatar
      Umbran -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mustrum_Ridcully View Post
      Because I seem to remember that space is finite, but expands over time
      It is at best indeterminate. There is exactly zero evidence that the universe is finite. What evidence we do have points to it being infinite. Note that the universe can quite easily be infinite, and expanding.

      The basic way to have a finite universe is to have it be curved back around on itself (what we call "positive curvature") - the basic analogy is that an ant walking on a basketball is walking on a surface of positive curvature. 30+ years ago, this is what we kind of expected to see - a universe that had enough mater in it that its gravitation pulls the universe shut. What we measure across the entire universe that we can see (the "visible universe" is about 90 billion light years across) is not that positive curvature, but is flat as a pancake. flatter than the flattest thing you can imagine. Or possibly a slight negative curvature.

      So, for the basic way to have a finite universe, it must be far, far bigger than the universe that we can see, so that the positive curvature is so amazingly tiny that we cannot detect it. The fact that the universe is not just expanding, but its expansion is accelerating, speaks even more to it not being closed off by mass...

      If you don't have the universe curve around and close in on itself, then it must have a boundary. Boundaries are *very* messy, mathematically speaking.

      There's nothing in current accepted theories that require the universe be finite. Overall, that stacks up to be a bit on the side of being infinite.
    1. jonesy's Avatar
      jonesy -
      I hear that this space thing is large, or something. Like there's multiple places to go to. More than three, at least.

      And we've been here for a couple of hundred thousand years now, and we've only been to the one rock that's already married to ours.

      For longer than I've been alive there's been talk of getting to that rust coloured place over yonder. Still nothing.

      And the radio and television stuff that we've been broadcasting out there, they've reached something like 0.05% of our own galaxy. If that. There's this thing called the inverse square law which suggests that we might not even have enough broadcasting power to reach any significant distance.

      On top of all the incredible vastness the farthest reaches of space expanding away from us faster than the speed of light. So even in an infinite amount of time an infinite human species would not be able to explore everything.

      FTL is the magic acronym which could flip things around. Perhaps. Depending on how F it would be, if it were possible. Lots of if's. Very much space. So many places.
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