Don’t talk to aliens, warns Stephen Hawking

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Galactic Monkey
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http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/science/space/article7107207.ece

Don’t talk to aliens, warns Stephen Hawking

Jonathan Leake

THE aliens are out there and Earth had better watch out, at least according to Stephen Hawking. He has suggested that extraterrestrials are almost certain to exist — but that instead of seeking them out, humanity should be doing all it that can to avoid any contact.

The suggestions come in a new documentary series in which Hawking, one of the world’s leading scientists, will set out his latest thinking on some of the universe’s greatest mysteries.

Alien life, he will suggest, is almost certain to exist in many other parts of the universe: not just in planets, but perhaps in the centre of stars or even floating in interplanetary space.

Hawking’s logic on aliens is, for him, unusually simple. The universe, he points out, has 100 billion galaxies, each containing hundreds of millions of stars. In such a big place, Earth is unlikely to be the only planet where life has evolved.

“To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational,” he said. “The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like.”

The answer, he suggests, is that most of it will be the equivalent of microbes or simple animals — the sort of life that has dominated Earth for most of its history.

One scene in his documentary for the Discovery Channel shows herds of two-legged herbivores browsing on an alien cliff-face where they are picked off by flying, yellow lizard-like predators. Another shows glowing fluorescent aquatic animals forming vast shoals in the oceans thought to underlie the thick ice coating Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter.

Such scenes are speculative, but Hawking uses them to lead on to a serious point: that a few life forms could be intelligent and pose a threat. Hawking believes that contact with such a species could be devastating for humanity.

He suggests that aliens might simply raid Earth for its resources and then move on: “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach.”

He concludes that trying to make contact with alien races is “a little too risky”. He said: “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”

The completion of the documentary marks a triumph for Hawking, now 68, who is paralysed by motor neurone disease and has very limited powers of communication. The project took him and his producers three years, during which he insisted on rewriting large chunks of the script and checking the filming.

John Smithson, executive producer for Discovery, said: “He wanted to make a programme that was entertaining for a general audience as well as scientific and that’s a tough job, given the complexity of the ideas involved.”

Hawking has suggested the possibility of alien life before but his views have been clarified by a series of scientific breakthroughs, such as the discovery, since 1995, of more than 450 planets orbiting distant stars, showing that planets are a common phenomenon.

So far, all the new planets found have been far larger than Earth, but only because the telescopes used to detect them are not sensitive enough to detect Earth-sized bodies at such distances.

Another breakthrough is the discovery that life on Earth has proven able to colonise its most extreme environments. If life can survive and evolve there, scientists reason, then perhaps nowhere is out of bounds.

Hawking’s belief in aliens places him in good scientific company. In his recent Wonders of the Solar System BBC series, Professor Brian Cox backed the idea, too, suggesting Mars, Europa and Titan, a moon of Saturn, as likely places to look.

Similarly, Lord Rees, the astronomer royal, warned in a lecture earlier this year that aliens might prove to be beyond human understanding.

“I suspect there could be life and intelligence out there in forms we can’t conceive,” he said. “Just as a chimpanzee can’t understand quantum theory, it could be there are aspects of reality that are beyond the capacity of our brains.”

Stephen Hawking's Universe begins on the Discovery Channel on Sunday May 9 at 9pm
venatrix
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Smart dude.
rollyz
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Someone's been reading the Hitchhikers Guide....
Kratonic
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Not the hitchhikers guide, no, but I'm with Stephen Hawking, and came to this conclusion some time ago. He has just looked at human behaviour and extrapolated reasonably. Interestingly, I believe my anthropologist mates disagree with me - they seem to view current human behaviour as an aberration rather than something that you can reasonably extrapolate from. I consider their science to be pseudo science (well, close to that) they consider my crappy science degree to be irrelevant to the way people behave. I guess we'll find out who is right one day if our race survives long enough.
venatrix
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Anthropology isn't a science, it's a humanities discipline. Science is only relevant to human behaviour on a biological/chemical/physiological level; what can or cannot be proved or disproved. Psychology hangs somewhere in between science and the humanities on a tentative thread.

Hawkings is using mathematical statistics and probability to arrive at a mathematical conclusion. It just happens to be about life.
rollyz
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It's not rocket science, big fish eats the little fish. Though little fish may have a pariste the big fish cant handle.... :twisted:
Kratonic
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venatrix wrote :
Anthropology isn't a science, it's a humanities discipline. Science is only relevant to human behaviour on a biological/chemical/physiological level; what can or cannot be proved or disproved. Psychology hangs somewhere in between science and the humanities on a tentative thread.

Hawkings is using mathematical statistics and probability to arrive at a mathematical conclusion. It just happens to be about life.


Sure. I see it that way. I have a mate doing his PhD in anthropology who sees things a bit differently. Interesting discussions, but it seems very clear to me. If he is right, the continued growth of a species to the more and bigger and better state (such as that humans are currently experiencing) is not natural and we will never meet anyone else anyway, cos they are are wiser and better and would not allow themselves to swallow resources like we do - I think that's how it goes anyway.

Interesting speculation, but I tend to think a natural state for most species is growth regardless of consequence.
venatrix
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Kratonic wrote :
Sure. I see it that way. I have a mate doing his PhD in anthropology who sees things a bit differently. Interesting discussions, but it seems very clear to me. If he is right, the continued growth of a species to the more and bigger and better state (such as that humans are currently experiencing) is not natural and we will never meet anyone else anyway, cos they are are wiser and better and would not allow themselves to swallow resources like we do - I think that's how it goes anyway.

Interesting speculation, but I tend to think a natural state for most species is growth regardless of consequence.


I think a natural state for most species is survival. Growth is possible if the right environmental and biological circumstances allow, but I don't think many species aim to do more than just survive and replicate. But, not being a scientist, I'm just speculating and can't back this up.

Your mate thinks Anthropology is a science o_0 Scary! A Social Science possibly (if you stretch things).
venatrix
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Actually I stand corrected: apparently Anthropology is considered a Social Science (by Anthropologists of course :wink: )
MotherShabubu
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venatrix wrote :
Anthropology isn't a science, it's a humanities discipline. Science is only relevant to human behaviour on a biological/chemical/physiological level; what can or cannot be proved or disproved. Psychology hangs somewhere in between science and the humanities on a tentative thread.

How do you define "science" to justify that? To me this suggests either a flawed conception of science or a fairly limited knowledge of what goes on in psychology and to a lesser extent anthropology.

Psychology is most certainly scientific and focuses very heavily on what can be "proved or disproved" (not that I think that's the best definition of science, being rooted in a certain, somewhat dated, philosophical conception, that of Popper). I think a quick look at any psychology syllabus or psychology research paper clearly shows the scientific nature of the discipline. Clinical/occupational etc psychology is a slightly different matter, being an applied discipline not a science per se. Though it is also based in scientifically verified treatments/practices, chemistry is no less a science because many who study it go on to do applied chemistry not research chemistry.
In fact, for me, psychologists tend to be a lot better than many lower sciences at espousing good, scientific, methodology. This is especially evident in their clear delinieation of what their research actually shows as oppossed to the larger, conceptual issues they are dealing with (partly because you encounter such difficulties less in lower sciences but they do occur there).

I also don't see what restricts scientific investigations of human behaviour to "a biological/chemical/physiological level". You can scientifically investigate human behaviour at many level's above those and there is scientifically valid and useful anthropology out there. In fact at Stanford from 1998 to 2008 anthropology was split into two departments based on a "scientific"/"non-scientific" approach.

Yes, there is a conceptual level involved in psychology and anthropology but I don't think this is a good reason to say it isn't scientific and any such definition of science is flawed in my opinion, whether applied to higher or lower level sciences.
venatrix
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Science is something that can be demonstrated in an experiment to produce replicable results. Anthropology, and psychology, are the study of human behaviour and culture in its environment. You can't replicate the results of anthropological fieldwork just like you can't replicate a counselling session.

Ps most psychologists are fucked in the head :)
itchytriggerniggerfingers
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venatrix wrote :
Ps most psychologists are fucked in the head :)


Is that why they connect with their clients so well :lol:
catalepsy
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Science is about removing subjectivity from observation. It relies on strict definitions and concerns quantifiable (measurable) effects. Psychology is not yet a science though it claims to be. One of the biggest hurdles for psychology is: How to quantify qualitative information? You probably can't.

Neuroscience is a science, cognitive neuroscience is a science and psychology has made great efforts to represent itself as a science but it lacks clear definitions and many of its methods for gathering data are not scientific. A good example is the standard format for psych questionnaires that goes something like this:

Do you think psychology is a science?

1. strongly agree
2. agree
3. neither agree nor disagree
4. disagree
5. strongly disagree

This is the standard method for quantifying qualitative information in psychology. It could be argued that these distinctions are meaningless. What I consider to be 4. disagree, you may consider 5. strong disagreement. This is evident with questions like: Are you a racist?

What I would consider very racist, others may consider mildly racist. Where we perceive ourselves to sit on this scale is largely determined by the attitudes of our peer group i.e. the social attitudes we have been exposed to.

Arbitrary scales like this do not constitute objective scientific measurements.

Anthropology is not a science because it is by nature subjective. It does not use the scientific method and attempts to quantify or explain cultural attitudes from an anthropological viewpoint suffer from the same arbitrary measurement scales as psychology.
Kratonic
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I think where anthropologists see themselves as scientists in some ways is in their attempts to predict the development of societies based on other species. One way of looking at this is to view people purely as just another species and apply reasonable biological/ecological principles. There are arguments along the lines that people are using their resources differently to any known species in history (ie more rapaciously, and over broader geographic spread). I think the logic goes that humans are therefore acting in a way that is inconsistent with the natural state for a species (as evidenced by all other known species) and therefore this is evidence that the growth model we have currently adopted will lead to our downfall. This also proves apparently that increased technology won’t help us and a more spiritual way of life will be much better for everyone. Excuse the poor summary, I don’t really agree with the argument in it’s many manifestations and find it hard to present.

Personally I think that the arguments used tend to cherry pick bits of scientific theory/”fact” to support opinion., ie to arrive at a practical working model. Nothing wrong with that as long as you don’t think that your argument is all scientifically based. It’s no more science than engineering is.

This was just an example BTW and I don't know the fate of the human race either.
catalepsy
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kratonic wrote :
I think the logic goes that humans are therefore acting in a way that is inconsistent with the natural state for a species (as evidenced by all other known species) and therefore this is evidence that the growth model we have currently adopted will lead to our downfall. This also proves apparently that increased technology won’t help us and a more spiritual way of life will be much better for everyone.


I see nothing inconsistent with nature. Species extract resources from the environment at whatever rate their biology can attain. Our biology, namely our massive frontal lobes and the behavioural adaptability this allows us, has developed technology. Tech greatly accelerating our ability to extract resources from the environment. Our population has increased in proportion to the amount of resources we can extract from the system and our population will (soon?) decrease once we have exhausted the carrying capacity of the system. Something like Lotka-Volterra's predator-prey model with shitloads of added complexity as changes in climate alters the dynamics of the system etc.
Technology could help if we limited it's use to aiding survival rather than the production of consumer goods which, in my view, are something like the human equivalent of bright plumage in birds. Indicators for human sexual selection and status in social hierarchies.
I certainly don't see how spirituality would help us this late in the game. I don't even know what spirituality means anymore.

This 'don't talk to aliens' idea has been floating around the science media for a couple of months now. Disappointingly, it only became more widely newsworthy after Stephen Hawking threw his weight behind it. It is definitely not Hawking's idea but it is a good one. We should at least exercise caution and consider the possibility that aliens will be as exploitive of us as we are of each other. "Nature is red in tooth and claw" on earth and i see no reason why it wouldn't be elsewhere in the universe.
Kratonic
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I guess I pretty much agree with you. Also note that tech has increased our range (ie the size of the environment) and hopefully will continue to do so. With respect to technological development though, it is difficult to limit the direction we go in as discovery tends to come from unexpected areas. Weapons research has given us some of the stronger bursts in creative thought in many areas, and although it's hard to imagine a break through in physics occurring from someone trying to develop another kitchen tidy with a voice activated lid, you never know where the next really useful piece of tech will come from. You can probably argue that things like the developments in battery technology since 1970 have been driven by the development of largely useless consumer products (and a few useful ones).
MotherShabubu
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venatrix wrote :
Science is something that can be demonstrated in an experiment to produce replicable results. Anthropology, and psychology, are the study of human behaviour and culture in its environment. You can't replicate the results of anthropological fieldwork just like you can't replicate a counselling session.

Well your examples are rather facetious but you can replicate certain anthroplogical fieldwork and you can replicate results on a treatment technique. You seem to have a fairly limited view of replication and the scientific method and underestimate the complexity of lower level sciences and the ingenuity of scientists in higher level fields.

You have exactly the same problem in physics, you can never perfectly replicate an experiment as you never control all the variables so you carefully document what variables you did control and what the outcome was so others can try and replicate your results under the same conditions or alter conditions to show you did not in fact control all relevant variables. In fact as I said I think psychologists tend to be a lot more aware of this than other lower-level scientists, if only by necessity. And there is some anthropology work that produces replicable empirical results (yes, a lower proportion, this represents a small part of the anthropology discipline but it is there).

You might also like to look at a little thing called statistics, and all the work that has been done to produce techniques to separate individual variablility from significant experimental results.
When you get a group of people to do a task obviously there a going to be little differences related to variables you didn't control that differed among subjects, just like when you do a physics experiment there will be unintended differences between runs. That's why in both cases you use various statistical techniques to see what differences are reliable, statistically significant differences that are not down to uncontrolled individual diffferences between the subjects/runs. And yes, there might be differences down to variables you unknowingly control, maybe people think better in a white room than a cream one, maybe the apparatus in your physics experiment are screwed or certain unintended local conditions affect the outcome, that's why you document what variables you did control and the general setup in as much detail as possible so people can later replicate it with different (purportedly) extraneous conditions. And the number of robust results replicated across a variety of situations suggests psychologists often do overcome the difficulties and arrive at valid results.

You also seem to have little idea of what psychology actually is if you think counselling is the primary focus of psychology. There are plenty of other fields within psychology, many of which relate to human behaviour in very limited, far more easily replicable environments, such as most research in cognitive psychology which now relies on the behaviour of a person sitting in front of a computer pushing a couple of buttons based on what they see on the screen. Psychology also isn't limited to humans, animal psychology is a pretty major component of the discipline and obviously takes place in rather simpler and more controllable environments (and still has widespread impacts on our understanding of human cognition). And then there's the burgeoning field of artificial intelligence and computational cognitive modelling which also feeds into our understanding of human behaviour.

venatrix wrote :
Ps most psychologists are fucked in the head :)

What was your cohort for that? Has it been replicated? How did you control for the fact you seem to have an uncanny ability to attract such people?
tract
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Image

Sometimes you talk Shit-balls Venatrix, pure unadulterated, unwashed shit-balls.

Anthropology is non-empirical, worthless drivel and Stephen Hawking is nothing beyond a very average theoretical physicist who successfully engaged the media.

'nuff said
Kratonic
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Tis a rare and wise man who in this age is capable of ranking theoretical physicists. Hawking's professorship at Cambridge and his Chair at Waterloo were not granted on the basis of being mediocre. It is hard for an academic to venture into popular science without being tarred with the "not as clever as he looks" label, but note that many of Hawking's academic awards were granted long before he became a populist. You may be correct to dis him, but I look at what he has achieved and feel that I certainly am not qualified to criticise.
tract
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Joined: Sat Oct 12, 2002 6:45 pm


Kratonic wrote :
Tis a rare and wise man who in this age is capable of ranking theoretical physicists. Hawking's professorship at Cambridge and his Chair at Waterloo were not granted on the basis of being mediocre. It is hard for an academic to venture into popular science without being tarred with the "not as clever as he looks" label, but note that many of Hawking's academic awards were granted long before he became a populist. You may be correct to dis him, but I look at what he has achieved and feel that I certainly am not qualified to criticise.


He will die soon, then you may heap even more unqualified and undeserved adulations on him. He is cool because he is a dribbling cripple in a wheelchair with a vocoder sans motor skills "but has a brilliant mind". It debases him, it debases the discipline and it debases his achievement. It has however found resonance with a certain popularism and gains currency through this.

There are 10 maybe even 15 theoretical physicists who rock it harder than he does. Last poll I saw, he wasn't even in the running.
Kratonic
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Ok, I'm not sure what you base those conclusions on. You may know more than I do, you may not. If you look at Hawking's honours list, it is real, and it does represent outstanding academic achievement. Many of those awards are issued through a stuffy, ages old process which is not based on sympathy, or political correctness (in some respects the opposite is true - believe me). So, I think you judge the man harshly. He may not be in the top 10 - how am I to judge? And on what are we making this judgement in fact? Original contribution, education (of others), advancement of the science, etc?

As far as the original comment goes, it makes little difference. I find the logic sound and had arrived at that point independently. I hope very much to be proven wrong. In fact, it would be just amazing, and I hope it happens.
kayhat
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tract wrote :
Kratonic wrote :
Tis a rare and wise man who in this age is capable of ranking theoretical physicists. Hawking's professorship at Cambridge and his Chair at Waterloo were not granted on the basis of being mediocre. It is hard for an academic to venture into popular science without being tarred with the "not as clever as he looks" label, but note that many of Hawking's academic awards were granted long before he became a populist. You may be correct to dis him, but I look at what he has achieved and feel that I certainly am not qualified to criticise.


He will die soon, then you may heap even more unqualified and undeserved adulations on him. He is cool because he is a dribbling cripple in a wheelchair with a vocoder sans motor skills "but has a brilliant mind". It debases him, it debases the discipline and it debases his achievement. It has however found resonance with a certain popularism and gains currency through this.

There are 10 maybe even 15 theoretical physicists who rock it harder than he does. Last poll I saw, he wasn't even in the running.


AND he talks funny! :P
itchytriggerniggerfingers
Posts: 2288
Joined: Wed May 17, 2006 9:39 pm


kayhat wrote :
tract wrote :
Kratonic wrote :
Tis a rare and wise man who in this age is capable of ranking theoretical physicists. Hawking's professorship at Cambridge and his Chair at Waterloo were not granted on the basis of being mediocre. It is hard for an academic to venture into popular science without being tarred with the "not as clever as he looks" label, but note that many of Hawking's academic awards were granted long before he became a populist. You may be correct to dis him, but I look at what he has achieved and feel that I certainly am not qualified to criticise.


He will die soon, then you may heap even more unqualified and undeserved adulations on him. He is cool because he is a dribbling cripple in a wheelchair with a vocoder sans motor skills "but has a brilliant mind". It debases him, it debases the discipline and it debases his achievement. It has however found resonance with a certain popularism and gains currency through this.

There are 10 maybe even 15 theoretical physicists who rock it harder than he does. Last poll I saw, he wasn't even in the running.


AND he talks funny! :P



Shutup. At least he can spell and like, enunciate the English language properly. Unlike you for instance.
tract
Posts: 3661
Joined: Sat Oct 12, 2002 6:45 pm


Kratonic wrote :
Ok, I'm not sure what you base those conclusions on. You may know more than I do, you may not. If you look at Hawking's honours list, it is real, and it does represent outstanding academic achievement. Many of those awards are issued through a stuffy, ages old process which is not based on sympathy, or political correctness (in some respects the opposite is true - believe me). So, I think you judge the man harshly. He may not be in the top 10 - how am I to judge? And on what are we making this judgement in fact? Original contribution, education (of others), advancement of the science, etc?

As far as the original comment goes, it makes little difference. I find the logic sound and had arrived at that point independently. I hope very much to be proven wrong. In fact, it would be just amazing, and I hope it happens.


Presumably, we base our judgment on a list of the 10 most influential theoretical physicists that have been judged or 'polled' by 100 or so colleagues in the field; all who enjoy an equally paramount level of academic accreditation. We do not fall into the trap of idolising a man and putting him on a pedestal based on his willingness to reduce incredibly complex concepts into common English and more importantly we do not erroneously and foolishly swallow up and believe the man due to his physical disability. He has been incorrect about so many things, just because his theories have enjoyed a louder or more popular 'voice' it does not make them any more correct than the dozens of other theorists currently working in the field.

He is a scientist, he can (and has often) been proven wrong. Don't put him or any other scientist on a pedestal :)


kayhat wrote :

AND he talks funny!

itchy wrote :
Shutup. At least he can spell and like, enunciate the English language properly. Unlike you for instance.


Pure, undiluted, win 8)
catalepsy
Posts: 77
Joined: Fri Apr 19, 2002 4:15 am


How would his ability as a theoretical physicist qualify him as an authority on alien behaviour?

Full respect for his ability to be a media whore.
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