Dispelling The Hype Over Alien Life

He starts the discussion with a discussion of “life” on other planets, with his argument of fl, which is part of the equation for “living worlds.”

He then abruptly shifts to “intelligent life” when he gets to the Early Start argument. Because that argument is pretty strongly against his fl = 10^-50 idea.

Also, we don’t have “no data” - we are pretty sure that fl isn’t 1.0, but for some reason he doesn’t want to mention that. Maybe because we don’t actually know if there was event life on Venus or Mars? I’m not sure.

How do you do “proper maths” on this with a sample size of 1? It’s impossible. We simply don’t know for sure, but I’m fairly certain there is at least microbial life out there. And the number of exoplanets is not meaningless at all, it’s an important factor in estimating the chances of alien life existing and its frequency, even if we know little about the other variables.

Fair enough, but that’s about the only thing we know about it.

I thought that the argument he was making with that part about intelligent life is that it is a counterargument against the “life on earth started early, so it’s easy for life to start”.

After all, if it takes at least about 3.5 billion years for intelligent life to evolve out of primitive life, this ‘early start’ is another sign for survivorship bias: if life had started any later, we wouldn’t have had the time to evolve and observe it.

Just like his other survivorship bias argument, that means we cannot draw any conclusions about how likely it is for life to start quick from the fact that life started quick on earth - simply because this early start could have been necessary for us to observe that fact.

I think this guy could have made a very strong, convincing case that intelligent life could be very rare simply because life may run out of runway before it gets to “intelligent life.” If he had stuck with that approach I probably would have been pretty impressed with him.

But he took a bridge too far. The idea that you could have the entire universe devoid of any form of life is preposterous just based on thermodynamics/chemistry. Life is not THAT complicated.

There was something about him saying “we don’t have any data so 10^-11 is just as valid a guess as 10^-50” that struck me as clownish and absurd. Something only an astronomer would come up with.

That’s not his conclusion though.

I entered the video thinking the same thing (based on the title, I guess), but he makes it very clear that, unlike some others who claim that ‘life must exist based on numbers that we don’t know’, he simply does not know whether life exists. Agnostic, until we have evidence in either direction, like a scientist should be.

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The problem about searching for “alien life” is that we’re only looking for life as we know it. What if life on other planets can breathe Radon and drink Elerium-115? They may even have acid in their veins (or other similar feature). To be able to accurately say life doesn’t exist on other planets requires broadening the spectrum of what we consider “life.” Personally I believe life is out there. And they’re telepathetic.


After all, if it takes at least about 3.5 billion years for intelligent life to evolve out of primitive life, this ‘early start’ is another sign for survivorship bias: if life had started any later, we wouldn’t have had the time to evolve and observe it.

I think this might be mixing up two different things: The key isn’t that life appeared on Earth 3.5 billion years ago and that was the time it took to evolve into us. The key is that life appeared relatively quickly after the Earth became hospitable to it. If the Earth was 7 bil years old assuming stable conditions, and life only appeared 3.5 bil years ago, it would change nothing about the time it took us to get here but would change everything about the “life might be easy to kickstart” argument. Hope I’m explaining myself clearly here.

Life is fundamentally chemistry and not all elements combine in ways that give the stability, variety and elasticity necessary to sustain life. Astrobiologists do consider alternate forms of life, based on e.g. silicon. This is a complex topic and very speculative but I think some things, like using rare, very unstable, radioactive gases for energy generation, we can safely rule out as extremely unlikely.

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His argument is mathematically totally correct, though. It is absurd being impressed with the huge number of stars and planets, when we really don’t know if the odds against life is an even larger number.

He’s arguing against people like Brian Cox and Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and Elon Musk…all of whom only take into account the huge number of stars and who make an appeal to 'surely with so many stars there must be other life '. But that appeal is fallacious, because we simply don’t know how easily life forms. It may be such a freak occurrence that it outweighs the number of stars in the entire universe. Nobody knows…and so nobody can justifiably say there ‘must’ be other life out there.

Kipping’s counter is that the ‘early life’ argument is anthropic, because given the length of time it takes for intelligent life to develop…we would not be here to discuss the issue if life had not started early. Thus by definition, around out sort of star, beings pondering their existence would find life developed early…because if life started any later the star would have gotten too hot and there would not be any beings to ponder the issue.

Oh it is. It is mind bogglingly complex at the cellular level. The technical wizardry that allows proteins to be moved around the inside of a cell is a masterpiece of engineering whose evolution still cannot be properly explained. The mechanism literally walks along nanotubes in the cell on two tiny legs. The mechanism for reading DNA is another wonder of engineering, as is how instructions even get coded into the DNA. To this day, nobody can really explain how this complex nano-engineering came about…Darwinian evolution works fine once you get to cells, but explaining the complexity of cells themselves is a lot harder.

Uh huh. Sure.

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To assume that there isn’t alien life in the Universe is the same thing as saying that gravity didn’t cause the apple to hit Newton on the head.

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Strangely, they could even spend half of their life reproducing biologically, as daily activity, we dont know how that works in aliens. They may do that and nothing much else, as robots would do the rest.

Just like in Fantastic Planet!

I tried to watch it, but nope can’t handle listening to such nonsense :slight_smile:

It is extremely simple.

What is more probable, that in whole vast universe there is only singular planet with life, or that there are more? It already happened once - on our planet. Thus it is guaranteed it happened elsewhere or will happen.

Also, the mathematicians are only couting with probabily to form the carbon-based life, but is it as much likely that there is life out there based on different component.

If we are talking here about life, meaning microorganisms, plants, animals then it is total nonsense to think there isn’t any. He must be out of his mind and is doing this only to cause controversy and look cool. If we are talking about intelligent life forms, then the chance is much smaller if we are talking about right-now. It is just as well possible that they were there, but millions years before and then they perished or that they will be there in future. There is also the Dark Forest theory.

I mean, simply the existence of water is a solid proof of likely having microorganism life. And there used to be water on other planets/moons even in our solar system.

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Did it work? His unbuttoned shirt is pretty cool.

Of course there are other beings in the universe, oherwise it would be an awful waste of space.


This is precisely the fallacious thinking he’s arguing against. Humans are overly impressed by the huge number of stars in the universe. It’s absurdly large, so it seems sensible that it is so large that surely there ‘must’ be other life out there. But it is fallacious because the odds against life may be an even larger number. Life may be such an incredible fluke of combination of just the right sequence of atoms that it occurred just once in the entire universe.

The point he’s making is that we just don’t know. We cannot form any conclusion at all from a sample of one. The universe could be teeming with life…or we could be totally alone. Without knowing the odds for life forming, we really have no idea at all.

We know a lot about physics. We can make some estimates about random formations of atoms into complex molecules. I don’t think it is reasonable to use his argument to claim that single-celled organisms may have only come into existence one time in the universe.

His arguments make a lot more sense when we look at the timelines for the advent of multicelular organisms and the subsequent development of big-brained thought-thinkers. Multicellular life was a remarkable breakthrough. Metabolic cycles, cell membranes, and self-replication are a lot simpler and should be reasonably common. More common than 10^-50, anyway.