Wednesday, April 04, 2012

D is For Dolphin (A To Z Challenge/100-day etc. Star Wars Blogathon)

Oh, good: A science pun.  Those are always such huge draws.

Continuing on what is obviously going to be a very loosely-connected-to-alien-alphabets A To Z challenge, today's letter is D, which in this case stands for

Drake's Equation.

GOTCHA!  The old switcheroo.

Last night, I was reading an article on IO9 about how measurements of ancient sound waves "proved" the existence of dark energy because the measurements of the sound waves matched what theories about universal expansion rates say about such measurements, provided that dark energy is in the mix.  (Dark energy, of course, is nothing more than Einstein's refuted cosmological constant, a placeholder put into the equations to make them work and then claimed to be descriptive of something.  Dark energy and dark matter, interchangeably, are said to make up anywhere from 73% to 90% of the universe (a quick google search finds that one site says 96%, one has 23% dark matter and 72% dark energy, while one site sticks around 73% but claims that dark energy doesn't expand like other energy or matter, while Io9 itself further muddies the water by conflating energy and mass together.)

Of course, what IO9 and "scientists" ought to have said, since they cannot confirm the existence of something that they say is unmeasurable and untestable -- that's exactly like confirming the existence of Heaven or a ghost -- is that the tests they ran recently match up to their experimental predictions of what should  have happened, and that they still cannot explain why those experiments work.  But those "scientists" (and IO9) did not do that because "hey, our equations still work" isn't as exciting as "hey, a random percentage of the universe is made up of midichlorians".

That, and scientists desperately want to believe they understand all this, which is why Einstein got so ticked off over quantum mechanics.  So rather than say "it works, we don't know why, but we're working on it," "scientists" invent things like "dark matter" the way they invented velociraptors and brontosauri, and we all fall for it, except for me because I don't buy it.

Scientists in many ways would be better off if they accepted what mathematicians have come to grudgingly realize: some things we can't understand yet and may never be able to prove.  That's what happened to mathematics, after all, when Godel proved that any developed form of mathematics able to do equations would contain, as workable concepts, completely unprovable claims.

(The irony of Godel proving that things can be unprovable is wonderful.)

Godel's theory of incompleteness is best shown by this riddle, which I love and have been waiting to use and will now use it to make fun of Drake and his Equation.  Here's the riddle:

The barber shaves everyone in town who doesn't shave himself.

Who shaves the barber?

I love that riddle and couldn't stop thinking all week that there must be a way to solve it, which makes me kind of like Dark Energy adherents and Drake and his Equation except that I didn't just make up a bunch of drivel and claim it was solved and then tell people not to look behind the curtain.

Drake's Equation is:

 And it's used to "estimate" how many detectable alien civilizations might be in the Milky Way galaxy.

Let's take a closer look at that equation.  We know, more or less, how quickly stars form.  We're starting to get a good handle on how many planets are in the "inhabitable" zone...

... but stop there: Our definition of inhabitable is based on what we know about biology.  Since Drake formulated his equation, though, we have found life forming in areas we previously believed incapable of supporting life.  Has anyone gone back and revised those numbers?

I don't know.

The remainder of those factors -- f's and L's, are pure guesses of an even higher, more speculative order.  Many scientists believe, for example, that our so-far failure to find other lifeforms (not counting Chilbolton, I guess) means that most civilizations fail quickly -- basing that on nothing at all.  Depending on how you define civilization, ours has been going for a long long time, and we are not (in my view) any closer to destroying humanity completely than we ever were.  Population pressures have caused us to figure out how to suck nitrogen out of the air to fertilize plants and feed people, among other advances.

So the Drake Equation which is just the Drake Guesses is heavily biased in favor of what scientists want to happen, but it is not presented as a hypothesis, which would be fair enough; scientists are supposed to be dispassionate and not favor one outcome or another but that's malarkey -- scientists can and should want something to happen... just not so much that they shape their research to favor their biases.

Drake's Equation isn't.  I could achieve the same thing with Pagel's Equation Of How Much Money I Will Make:


Where N equals the number of people who hypothetically might view this blog and then go buy one of my books and GI equals the number of Great Ideas I haveand TALAMOSBRTHH equals The Number Of Times Andrew Leon Accuses Me Of Slanting Blogathon Rules To Hurt Him.

Since there are approximately 7,000,000,000 people alive as I type this, and I have had at least three great ideas already today, and Andrew Leon has only accused me twice of slanting the rules, then

7,000,000,000 x 3 = $21,000,000,000/2 = $10,500,000,000.

Which means I can now quit my job, according to Drake/"science" as it's come to exist.

Instead of presenting his equation as something it's not, Drake could have said "we don't know," and set out to figure out how to figure out those things.  But he didn't.  He and some other people started up "SETI," The Search For Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, an organization that is still searching for intelligent life even as we speak.

I'm not knocking that process:  science is today's Christopher Columbus expeditions.  What I'm knocking is the sloppy thinking that underlies it.  I have not read up on SETI in any detail to see what procedures they are using to search for intelligent life. Here's their summary, though, from their site:

By the late-1970s, SETI programs had been established at NASA's Ames Research Center and at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. These groups arrived at a dual-mode strategy for a large-scale SETI project. Ames would examine 1,000 Sun-like stars in a Targeted Search, capable of detecting weak or sporadic signals. JPL would systematically sweep all directions in a Sky Survey. 

In 1988, after a decade of study and preliminary design, NASA Headquarters formally adopted this strategy, and funded the program. Four years later, on the 500th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the New World, the observations began. Within a year, Congress terminated funding. ... 

Project Phoenix concentrated efforts on that component of the NASA SETI project known as the Targeted Search. Its strategy was to carefully examine the regions around 1,000 nearby Sun-like stars. The world's largest antennas were used, committing observing time for SETI.

So they're searching for intelligent life using theories they developed on the spur of the moment based on unproven assumptions, all of which are about 60 years old right now.  The SETI site still cites the Drake Equation, without mentioning the unprovable assumptions it makes.

Assumptions are dangerous, and limiting.  SETI says that

Within the limits of our existing technology, any practical search for distant intelligent life must necessarily be a search for some manifestation of a distant technology.
 And that is a belief not founded on any provable fact but on sheer adherence to the mystical religion of the Drake "Equation."  Drake based his assumptions on technological societies that would adhere to (unprovable) beliefs about how long they would exist and (now outdated) assumptions about where life could survive, and for 51 years we've been searching for technological civilizations...

...and not, apparently, trying to figure out if there are other ways of determining whether life exists: could we detect signs of civilization? Could we detect living things? Could we measure atmospheres that we suspect should be mostly Composition A and determine that they are instead Composition B and that indicates the existence of civilization?

(I just came up with that off the top of my head, but consider this: scientists (and I) believe that we are going through a period of global warming because our civilization pumps so much extra carbon into the atmosphere.  So if we would expect THIS amount of carbon but we have THAT amount, then excess carbon in the atmosphere is one indication of an advanced civilization.)

Keep in mind that the signals SETI is searching for can travel no faster than the speed of light -- so any signals sent out might not lead to advanced civilizations anymore.

The point I'm making is that much of "science" as it's presented to people today is done in the form of "proof" that is anything but -- and that "proof" is starting to get in the way of science.  Drake's Stupid NonEquation has limited our search for intelligent life to a very narrow way of searching based on some beliefs a bunch of old guys had in the 1950s -- and as a result, we have made zero advances in our ability to search for intelligent life.

Think of other areas of technology that have not advanced at all in 51 years.  There's not many, are there? Phones are far more advanced.  Computers are. Televisions are.  Cars are.  You know what technology has changed not at all since the 1950s?

Rockets, and the way we look for ETs.

We're still doing our entire space program more or less as it existed in 1961.  Why is that?


Maybe it's related to the fact that "scientists" in those fields aren't doing "science" at all. 

A rigid belief system which endures for years and years and years based on unprovable assumptions that then guide every facet of one's life is not "science."

It's religion.

I can hold in my hand a computer with more power than any computer Drake could have used in 1961 to formulate in his equation.  Technology has jumped forward like Atlas striding across continents everywhere except space exploration, where old, tired white-haired men mired in their hokey religions use ancient weapons to scan the skies.


Oh, and the "Dolphin?" Those oh-so-clever "scientists" called themselves the "Order Of The Dolphin" because dolphins are cetaceans.

On to today's question, worth 20 points:

What was the name of the band playing in the Mos Eisley cantina where Obi Wan hired Han Solo?

Commenter 2 gets the 10 points, if he/she isn't commenter 1.

Official rules of the current biweekly haiku challenge here.

Official Rules of the 100-day, 100-question Star Wars Blogathon here. 

The standings are here. PT Dilloway got the Sandra Ulbrich Almazan bounty.  A new one will be coming -- but haikus first!


PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

Figrin D'an and the Modal Nodes.

Stephen Hayes said...

Is Godel's theory of incompleteness really so difficult. Anyone could shave the barber, except grown clean-shaven men. Any of the women in the town could shave the barber, especially in an era where women didn't shave their legs.

It can't be this easy; what am I missing?

PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

Can't the barber shave himself? I shave myself.

In "Where You Belong" Frost's roommate goes on at one point about why he doesn't believe in UFO sightings. The gist was that for a civilization to contact us in real time they'd have to have evolved life and technology at a rate much faster than we have, including finding a way to locate us and then build a FTL spacecraft that could arrive here.

And then to borrow a little from Roger Ebert here, if they did all that, why would they come here just to probe someone in the butt or make a few ambiguous crop circles?

Anyway, I'm sure somewhere out there in the vast universe is other intelligent life, but we're just too far separated to ever meet.

Rusty Webb said...

I can't respond to this with my phone. Like a few other of your posts - I agree with something like 90% of what you say - but that 10% that remains leads you down a logical path that I can't follow.

Damn phone. I hate that it can't just read my thoughts and put them here for you to see.

And I thought the band was Dave and the Wookie Brigade.

PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

A Wookie band would have been a lot more interesting to listen to.

Briane P said...

Rusty, you always disagree with me on science. Or, as it should be called, "religion."

PT: Are you saying I READ YOUR BOOK? (It's on my Kindle, awaitin' its turn.)


If the barber shaves himself, then he doesn't shave himself -- because the barber only shaves those people who don't shave themselves.

In other words, there are two types of people in town:

People who shave themselves,

And people who are shaved by the barber.

The barber only shaves people who don't shave themself.

PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

So the barber doesn't shave and just has a ZZ Top beard? Or else he's as hairy all over as a Wookie.

Lara Schiffbauer said...

I feel a headache coming on...

Andrew Leon said...

The barber goes out of town to get shaved. His brother is also a barber and lives in a neighboring town, and that's where he goes.

And I only said that about you slanting the rules against me because -you- said it, first! :P

Much of science is religion. The "theory" about the way dinosaurs became extinct was completely fabricated in a brainstorming session. Some guy said, "what if a giant asteroid hit the Earth?" That was also in the 60s, and, for some reasons, we're still going with that one even though it makes absolutely no sense.

Evolution is the same way. It's based on speculation. At best evolution, according to the scientific method, is an hypothesis. It has not been tested, and it has not been tested with repeatable results, so it can't be called, even, a theory, yet most treat it as a Law.

Dark matter is like "i" in math. I always loved (hated) "i." I mean, why do we can't to make some variable to make a problem work when it wouldn't otherwise work. Why am I not allowed to make variables? And why, then, isn't 0/0=1?

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

In an episode of Big Bang Theory, Howard used the Drakes equation to determine the number of women within a certain radius that might sleep with the "crew" if they went out looking for them (in a single night). I thought that was quite funny.

Do you like Neil deGrasse Tyson? He's one of my favorite astrophysicists and I love watching his lectures on YouTube. I'm going to buy his book but haven't gotten around to it yet.

Rusty Webb said...

Okay, I'm home after a long day at the office and don't have the energy to type out this long rebuttal I thought about most of the afternoon. So, just consider yourself put in your place, your arguments refuted and your points invalidated.

I'm glad I was able to straighten things out.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

After reading all of the desperate pleas for points…
Andrew, reviewing my book next month is a good bribe – but if you don’t like it, then that becomes a threat.
Lara, well she just tugged at my heartstrings. Not fair.
Rusty at first offered to give up his right to any points and then came back with a plea that he is at work while others score points before he has a chance.
Lara again sounded sad although touched by Rusty’s offer. Damn.
So to be fair, I shall divide up the points according to the number of times pleas were left on my blog:
Andrew – 100
Lara – 200
Rusty – 200
And too bad these A to Z posts are so long...

Andrew Leon said...

I just want you to notice, Briane, that Rusty didn't try to refute any of -my- points even though they were all agreeing with you.

@Alex: Thank you very much! I heartily appreciate it!
And I'm sure I'll like your book.

Rusty Webb said...

@Andrew - um, you too. So there.

Lara Schiffbauer said...

@Alex - thanks for 200 points! Every little bit helps, and you are kind!

Now if I just don't ever whammy again... Of course, that statement probably just sealed my fate.

Kayla said...

Visiting from the A to Z Challenge! Very interesting post!

Andrew Leon said...

But my points are flawless! You can't butt them! Or rebutt them! Or anything like that!

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