The Space Princess Equation!

Related to our previous post, and to clear up certain technical matters, here is  a re-reprint of a post from 2011 and from earlier this year, explaining the now-famous Space Princess equation.

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A reader whom I will, for the sake of anonymity, refer to merely as ‘Curmudgeon’ (albeit his real name is Homer Snodgrass of 12 Manitowish Avenue, Mammoth Falls, Wisconsin, 54545, and his social security number is 1205-119-8577, and the PIN number of his bank card is 4560) holds the opinion that too many modern persons of the youthful persuasion (he refers to them as “kids!” or “punks!”) are devoted to science fictional ideas as a thinly disguised substitute for spiritual longings.

‘Curmudgeon’ reads and promotes what he calls the ‘It Ain’t Gunna Happen’ School of science fiction. This school is remarkably similar to the Mundane Movement of Really Boring Self-Righteous Left-Leaning Science Fiction, being mostly a list of things that ain’t gunna happen.

Here is a summary of his manifesto:

(1) There will be no colonization of space, either O’Neil or otherwise, for the same reason no one lives in a submarine at the bottom of a trench in the Arctic sea;
(2) we are never meeting any intelligent extraterrestrial life;
(3) or if we do, they will be incomprehensible, so much so that even the question of whether they are truly ‘intelligent’ or not will be debatable;
(4) there will be no faster than light travel – It is not just a good idea, it’s the Law;
(5) medicine may shift where the top of the bell curve falls, but human beings are not going to live much past 80 or 90;
(6) psionics is just magic wearing a lab coat;
(7) time travel is less possible and less realistic than fairy unicorn sparkly magic;
(8) The Soviets and the Red Chinese and Cubans all promised and vowed to bring about modern, scientifically-run secular humanist utopias very much along the lines of Gene Roddenberry’s ideas. (So… how is that workin’ out for ya’? What is the murder count now for the Utopians? Upwards of 110,000,000? Let’s give the idea one more try!)

Now, for some reason, my friend Curmudgeon thinks I am of his school of science fiction. I am not.

In fact, I am a founding member of the Space Princess school of science fiction writing, which, to date, includes me and a writer named Edward Willet: Albeit we two have retroactively included every big name Willet and I can think of into our movement against their will and over their strong objections, if they ever had any female royalty from outerspace in any story.

Inductees include Edgar Rice Burroughs, who invented Dejah Thoris, and Robert Heinlein, who invented Her Wisdom CCIV aka Star the Sexy-Space Empress, and Michael Moorcock, whose hero, Kane of Old Mars, traveled back into a previous eon of Martian existence to meet his space princess Shizala. In other media, STAR WARS and BUCK ROGERS and FLASH GORDON and TEEN TITANS all include space princesses of one sort or another, including Princess Leia, Princess Ardala, Princess Aura, and Koriand’r of Vega (Starfire to you non-T-heads).

My school of writing contradicts Curmudgeon’s ‘It Ain’t Gunna Happen’ school at nearly every point.

You see, I have made a more advanced study of the latest finding from astronomers and cosmophiloanthropohotogenic scientists, and so there are certain points of which he may be unaware.

(1) Space colonization not only is possible, but Venus is occupied by bathing beauties who need Earthmen to fend off the vicious space-dinosaurs, and Mars is occupied by Amazonian nudists who lounge about the dead sea bottoms and in the jeweled, deserted, antique cities, yearning for Earthman love. For some reason, these advanced alien societies all prefer to use swords rather than firearms;
(2) Not only is their life on other planets, and Earthlike life, and mammalian life, but the females look exactly as voluptuously mammalian as our most beautiful actresses and models, if not more so. Calling these beautiful women unintelligent is very rude!
(3) Well, I agree that female logic is sometimes hard to follow, but I would not call their intelligence ‘debatable.’ After all, it takes some skill to clean and cook a space-dinosaur into a hearty steak dinner after an Earthman has bested the monster naked armed only with a trusty space-sword!
(4) Faster than light travel is not only possible, it is necessary, since otherwise space princesses from Spica, or the other stars in the constellation Virgo, cannot be visited, much less rescued, in a human lifespan;
(5) Since all space princesses appear to be between ages 16 and 21 (Earth-years), and since the only form of death allowed on Mars is to plunge into the cold waters of the polar river Iss, the longevity or immortality they possess is fairly well established scientifically. And why would they not share this secret with an earthly rescuer who has just saved them from a space-dinosaur?
(6) Without psionics, there is no way to speak and understand the space princess when you first meet her. Learning a new space-language without psionic aid involves many long and boring sessions with philologists and translators and grammarians, which is all hogwash and humbug. Space Princesses can read minds just enough so that you can talk to them. That is settled.
(7) Time travel cannot be impossible, if an Earthman has visited Mars or another world in the far past, when it was still habitable, and met a space princess there (see the example of Shizala of Vashtu, above.)
(8) To assume any space princess rules a city-state or planet less happy and joy-filled and perfect than, say, Oz under the reign of Ozma, is to insult their abilities as rulers and sovereigns. Utopia is therefore not only not unlikely, it must be inevitable, provided only we stick to adorable feminine monarchic forms of government.

But the unrealistic nature of mundane or “It Ain’t Gunna Happen” science fiction is not my point, nor is it Curmudgeon’s main point. We both agree fiction is fiction, and fact is fact. It is where one is mistaken for the other that we both agree the danger (or at least the amusement at the expense of others) rests.

He holds that science fiction is the closest thing the modern world has to pagan myths, and that like pagan myths, they excite the imagination away from the mundane world and toward the spiritual, but (in this case) not in a good way.

For example, there are many people who believe the flying saucers and big-eyed aliens made up, invented, and contrived from the imaginations of people like me, science fiction writers, are actually real. Among the science fiction community, these people who think our play-pretend is real, technically known as “nutbags”, are people we would like to buy our books, but only because our mercenary impulses outweigh our human sympathy.

But all that to one side: Curmudgeon says that like the pagan poets of old, who made stuff up about the frivolous gods of Olympus, we science fiction writers have made up idle tales that have a particular grip on the imaginations of agnostics and atheists who, because they are human and cannot help it, have a longing for the spiritual reality beyond the grim walls of the mundane world they think of as real life: and this makes the agnostic gullible in certain areas.

Believing in UFO people from Alpha Draconis, or motherships hiding in the tail of the Hale-Bopp Comet, is merely an extreme example of gullibility. There are science fiction inspired beliefs which have actually no scintilla of scientific evidence behind them which the spiritually hungry agnostic takes from science fiction and thinks is literal fact: the most obvious of which is a belief in life on other planets.

I have never met an agnostic who did not believe in life on other planets. Yet there is not an iota of evidence to support such a belief.

Curmudgeon holds that the ideas about the existence of extraterrestrial life, especially superior intelligent life, the optimism of futuristic utopias, medical advances leading to expanded lifespans, augmented intelligences, or even immortality are ersatz stand-ins or “NutraSweet” for the unity of nature remembered from Eden, where Adam and Eve could talk with fuzzy animals with the acumen of Doctor Dolittle or a Disney Princesses; for the communion with other created intelligences such as angels; for the paradise and glorified bodies of the true immortality promised the faithful in the New Jerusalem.

His main complaint (aside from “get off my yard!”) is that the youths think the ideas are not science fiction but science fact, and in them they place their hope and around them fabricate their abortive secular eschatology.

As I said above, I am not of this school. I personally have received telepathic visions from Carson Napier of Venus, or ‘Amtor’ as its natives call it, not to mention having sensed the astral form of Lord Chong of Phaolon, a city beneath of sun called the Green Star, and also I have listened with awe to the tapes Geoffrey Dean brought back from Africa, containing the narrative of Dray Prescot of Antares. More I dare not say, lest a skeptical world scoff!

It is enough for now to state that I do not, and in good conscience can not hold with the opinions of my friend Curmudgeon.

Despite our clear differences of opinion and approach on this topic, my friend Curmudgeon is always tickled when some additional advance of the scientific field shows that the daydreams of the secular eschatologists to be so much balloon-oil and opium-smoke.

Hence it is with pleasure that he sees article like the following. Allow me to post a link, quote a quote, and tell you what is wrong with the world: I am, after all, blogging.

http://www.space.com/12421-alien-life-rare-universe-extraterrestrials-seti.html

Scientists engaged in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) work under the assumption that there is, in fact, intelligent life out there to be found. A new analysis may crush their optimism.

To calculate the likelihood that they’ll make radio contact with extraterrestrials, SETI scientists use what’s known as the Drake Equation. Formulated in the 1960s by Frank Drake of the SETI Institute in California, it approximates the number of radio-transmitting civilizations in our galaxy at any one time by multiplying a string of factors: the number of stars, the fraction that have planets, the fraction of those that are habitable, the probability of life arising on such planets, its likelihood of becoming intelligent and so on.

The values of almost all these factors are highly speculative.

That last sentence is a masterpiece of understatement. Later, the article says:

In the equation, the probability of life arising on suitably habitable planets (ones with water, rocky surfaces and atmospheres) is almost always taken to be 100 percent.

But in a new paper published on arXiv.org, astrophysicist David Spiegel at Princeton University and physicist Edwin Turner at the University of Tokyo argue that this thinking is dead wrong. Using a statistical method called Bayesian reasoning, they argue that the life here on Earth could be common, or it could be extremely rare — there’s no reason to prefer one conclusion over the other….

My curmudgeonly friend Homer Snodgrass writes:

I feel affirmed in my okayness. Won’t stop the human imagination from populating the star with Barsoomians and Klingons, thank God. But still, my curmudgeonly heart always thrills just a little bit when material secular eschatology receive a knee to the groin from the sciences.

My comment:

Of course, being in contact, due to my communion with beautiful half-clad Space Princesses named Allura, Amora, Pulchritudia and Vesseril the Beautiful, but also with certain semi-nude but entirely gorgeous Empresses and Duchesses and Countesses from the star Alpha Virginis called Spica (which is Latin for ‘The Spicy Star’), who have names like Sensua, Volupta, Nubilia, Erato and Adora, I am aware of certain sad facts my friend Homer is not. To him I wrote in sorrow:

Unfortunately, the Green Lady of Perelendra and the sorns of Malacandra were planning on coming to Earth to visit Jerusalem, since Earth is the most famous planet in the Milky Way, having been only one of three where there was a confirmed incarnation, and notorious for being the only one so depraved that the Creator was killed here. (The aliens are believe it was a quick and painless death, so, um, if they show up, don’t tell anyone and hide your crucifixes.)

In any case, as I say, the various non-secular aliens while approaching this world, eager to contact us and learn the secrets of salvation, have used their Vulcan mild melds to probe the world-spirit, and picked up your negative thought vibrations about how it pleases you that we are all alone in the universe, and so, putting away the fabulous gifts of eatable gold and liquid life-essence and the leaves of the trees that heal nations, they have landed on the dark side of the moon, and entered a thousand year hibernation, to try to make First Contact again sometime around 3012 AD.

This is by no means their first visit. These aliens were first met by Saint Brendon of Ireland in 1012, who thought they were elves and mermaids. Being rational creatures, they were converted to the Roman Catholic faith, and with the priests Brendon duly anointed, they spread the One True Faith to the various nearby stars and star clusters, preaching the gospel to all creatures, spreading the faith beyond the Centaurus Arm and Sagittarius as far as the Lesser and Greater Clouds of Magellan.

Had they landed, their first message (once the scientists are done playing John Williams music at them), would be to mock the atheists and tell them they are primitive and utterly stupid:

“People of Earth, we, the advanced supercivilizations of space, in our state of superior cosmic evolution, long ago left behind such foolish and primitive superstitions as disbelief in the Creator.

“Are you nuts, Earthfools? Can you not see the intelligent order and beauty in the cosmos? Does anyone aside from an intellectual devoted to agnosticism think nature naturally can produce design, efficiency, beauty and elegance?

“Are there not ghosts on your world as there are on all planets? Then where do ghost stories come from? Who would invent such jazz if it were not real?

“Ho ho! Only very backward and silly planets, people who pick their nose and lick the boogers, have such odd and unscientific thought-forms as atheism and agnosticism.

“Like the Boy Scouts, we do not allow any atheists into the Galactic Confederation of Way Cool Futuristic Worlds. Nor do we permit no-fault divorce, gay marriage, or priestesses in orders, child-murder, or the use of contraception, except in the case of your Captain Kirk, who otherwise would spread venereal space-disease.

“Your world my meet with your Planetary Confessor, and do whatever world-wide century-long Penance he assigns before you can enter the Cosmic Communion! We do not accept planets not in a state of grace!”

(What? You think all the space aliens are going to have the same world view as Gene Roddenberry? C’mon.)

“The other requirement for elevation to Cosmic Oneness with the Galactic Union is that you must give up on vegetarianism. Not even naturally herbivorous species put up with such nonsense: and the people from the star Vega, the Vegans, are annoyed at being mistaken for Vegans. So get your act together, Earthlings! Snap out of it! Repent! The Kingdom of Heaven has Landed!”

Yes, I am afraid that is what would have happened had not cosmic killjoys broadcast such negative thought waves telling the crowded universe (chock full of Eldil) to go away and leave us alone.

It would have been great fun, and you ruined it for all of us!

Thanks a lot, Curmudgeon Guy!

You may ask, but what about the bad news for SETI efforts? What do I think of the article?

Honestly, I don’t think much of it.

The writer of the article is being much to deferential and kind to the SETI scientists allegedly using the Drake ‘equation’ for anything but a good laugh. The equation is of course nothing of the kind. It is a laundry list, woefully incomplete, of some of the things Drake idly daydreamed may or may not be necessary for intelligent extraterrestrial civilizations interested in mutual contract to exist.

HERE are the factors in the Drake (ahem) Equation:

R = the average rate of star formation per year in our galaxy
f-p = the fraction of those stars that have planets
n-e = the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
f-ℓ = the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop life at some point
f-i = the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop intelligent life
f-c = the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
L = the length of time for which such civilizations release detectable signals into space.

Anyone can make a laundry list of any kind to suit himself.

In fact, let me add additional factors:

n-g = the number of congregations of life forms whose society or civilization requires a form of legal organization we would recognize as a government.
f-m = the fraction of the above governments that are hereditary or constitutional monarchies.
f-spncss = the fraction of the above monarchs who, due to a recognizably bisexual biology, can and have brought forth daughters.
f-yowsababe! = the fraction of the above daughters who are above average in intelligence, courage and physical good looks by Eurocentric terrestrial standards of beauty, nubile and of mating age, who are either nudists or scantily clad.

We can call this the Space Princess Equation, which defines how likely we are to find an attractive yet nubile Space Princess.

What makes my equation any less scientific than Drake’s?

Drake reasons for his Drake Equation that since life emerges by chance, and since the same fundamental laws apply to the entire universe, and because those laws engendered the genesis of life on Earth, they must readily spawn life elsewhere, too.

If earth-life arose by chance, then when those same factors wherever they are present by chance again must lead to the same result, right?

Fine! I reason for my Space Princess Equation that since life, including really attractive nubile and fertile young mammalian upright bipeds who look like film starlets and happen to be the daughters of monarchs, emerges by chance, and since the same fundamental laws apply to the entire universe, and because those laws engendered the genesis of life on Earth, they must readily spawn life elsewhere, too.

If earth-princesses arose by chance, then those same factors wherever they are present by chance again must lead to the same result, namely really attractive nubile and fertile young mammalian upright bipeds who look like film starlets and happen to be the daughters of monarchs.

Is there anything wrong with my logic that is also not equally wrong with Drake’s logic?

All I did was take his factor of earthly-type life and add several more specific factors of earthly-type life. The same conditions must lead to the same results, right? We do have attractive female members of royal families here on Earth, such as Grace Kelly of Monaco, or Rania of Jordan, do we not? So if the number of inhabited worlds among the countless galaxies of the cosmos is large enough, the chances of finding a space princess among them are good!

Yes, of course this logic is bogus.

Since we have only one data point to work with, to wit, Earth, and no example of any life of any kind whatever, not even microscopic, existing in any extra-terrestrial environment or ever having had done, we have exactly no evidence, none, nada, zip, zero, goose egg, on which to base a speculative percentage for any of the factors in the laundry list. Any one of them could be anything from impossible to inevitable, unique to ubiquitous.

As a thought experiment, factor Earth out of the equation, and then run the numbers for how many planets brought forth life, and how often life somehow becomes intelligent and how often that life develops radio technology, how often they broadcast intelligent signals. The number will be zero. No known world has life, intelligent life, technological civilization, or radio-technological civilization. Hence the rate cannot be known nor guessed, can it?

I have not read their paper, but I will go out on a limb and venture to say that David Spiegel and Edwin Turner have wasted their time proving by means of complex Bayesian reasoning what common sense could tell you instantly: when you have not run one hundred trials of the test, you cannot establish the percentage (that is, per centum, for each one hundred) of the trial outcome. Your ability to establish a reliable percentage is less if you have only fifty trials, and it hovers right around the zero mark when you have only one. A line of any angle and a curve of any shape can be drawn through a single point placed on a Cartesian graph.

Do you think I am being too harsh? Consider this: the number of civilizations on our own planet, Earth, which took the time and trouble and effort to contact the New World and establish colonies, as best we can tell, is two: Leif Ericson found Greenland, and Columbus found the Carib Islands. As it turns out, both these men believed in Doomsday. The Pagan thought the world would end in Ragnarok, the Christian in Armageddon.

Therefore, if I were to establish an ‘equation’ just like the Drake Equation for describing Intercontinental First Contact rather than Interstellar, my equation must list ‘Belief in Doomsday’ as one of the factors, and it must be pegged at nearly one hundred percent. For, lo and behold, the next five explorers to set foot on the New World were all Christian, ergo all satisfied the Doomsday factor! My equation is perfect! That is real science for you!

No, to be a real equation, you have to do more than scribble meaningless numbers on a napkin. You have to establish an invariant relation (an equality (hence the name ‘equation’)) between two factors in a function, and, in order to be science, that function has to describe or model the way some real physical thing in the real world really behaves, like a falling rock or the pattern of grown of leaves on a stem. Something you can count.

Am I being too harsh? As of the time of this writing, we have discovered nine planets in the solar system, including our own (I am counting Pluto. Don’t annoy me, or I will count Eris as well) and 563 exosolar planets, for a grand total of lots. Right now, the factor in the Drake Equation which counts the ratio of inhabited to uninhabited planets stands at over 500 to 1.

Do you want to throw in various moons? As a member of the Space Princess movement, I must point out that one of our unwilling members, Lin Carter, assures us that Darloona of Shondakar exists on Callisto, a moon of Jupiter, which is inhabited. Edgar Rice Burroughs assures us that Nah-ee-lah is from the buried lunar city called Laythe and daughter of it’s Jemadar or sovereign. (Unlike that pettifogger HG Wells, who said the moon was peopled by socialist bugs ruled by a Grand Lunar rather than by attractive young and nubile royalty. Hmph!) Less reputable scientists speculate that liquid water may exist on Io, and other conditions favorable for life.

So, throwing those numbers into the mix, we have add another 160 or so bodies in this solar system, and the factor stands at upwards of 700 to 1.

This is not to mention forms of life that can exist in deep space far from any planetary body, evolved in ways unimagined by rules of biochemistry unexamined, such as the Black Cloud of Hoyle or the Silkie of van Vogt, or the various energy beings, Organians and Mentrones and Q, cluttering up the Star Trek universe.

Well, does that tell us that life is relatively rare? We have over 700 instances and only one winner.

Now, you might object that Drake is only concerned with Sol-like stars and Earthlike planets in Earthlike orbits. But this makes the number factor more absurdly meaningless. We have one example of one Earthlike world circling a Sol-like star, and that is Tellus, here, us, Earth, and the instances of it having brought forth life is one-for-one, or one hundred percent.

Well, does this tell us that life (if we restrict it to Earthlike life) is relatively frequent? We have earthlife on Earth: statistically speaking, we are batting a thousand!

No, Virginia, it tells us exactly nothing.

So far as we presently know, each one of these 700 or so bodies could have some form of life on it, that we merely have not yet detected. Could there truly be no silicon-based viral microbes buried underground in an ice cave on the Moon?

On the other hand, each one of the these moons and planets, and every other moon and planet in the Milky Way and in the Local Group, and in the Virgo Cluster, could be as empty of life as the core of the sun. We not only might be the first world were life developed, might be the only one where it ever will.

On the gripping hand, the core of the sun might not only be filled with life, it might be the only place favorable for the most common form of life in the universe, beings who exist in the very high energy states needed to continue their life processes indefinitely. They have not made contact with us because the idea that life can exist in non-luminous non-plasma matter, in solid form, is inconceivable to them, as it is so remarkably unlikely.

The scenario of being the only planet-bound form of material life in a galaxy crammed with life forms burning at the nuclear hearts of stars seems ridiculous, does it not? Of course it is ridiculous. It violates everything we know about how molecular biology works here on Earth, in the environments, at the temperatures and pressures and conditions we know. But my point is that what we know is one and only one case. I submit that our case is also ridiculous, unlikely, impossible and wondrous, and the only reason we believe it is because we ourselves are alive and we live here.

You don’t know the odds. You don’t even really know the factors that factor into the odds.

And, if it were not for a pseudo-religious article of faith prevalent among secularists, you do not know if life existing on a planet is a matter of odds.

Because it is a matter of odds if and only if life arose here due to a toss of the dice, a random combination of blind factors that created life here, not deliberately, but by happenstance.

You can say that you hold this article of faith if you wish, that life emerges from non-life by a non-supernatural blind and inevitable process. Fine. The Norse thought life emerged from a cosmic cow licking ice from a primordial abyss. What? Are you going to ask where the cow came from? Don’t do that, or I will ask you how life “emerges” from non-life, and on what repeatable and non-speculative evidence your article of faith that it is possible at all is based. The Norse were at least canny enough to posit the cow. You posit that it happened by itself, without even a cow to give your myth likelihood.

Do you object that I call it a myth? It is a myth. It is not science, it is not even scientific to believe in spontaneous creation of life from non life. Science is based on rational deduction from observations and predictions to confirm the deductions. Here, no observer saw or ever has seen life emerge from non life. It cannot even be done deliberately, much less blindly by an natural process. If it were a natural process, we would see it going on around us at all times.

Men these day snicker at Aristotle for believing life was spontaneously created in offal and rags. He at least had seen bugs come out from dungheaps. Our entire secular myth is based on an idea with even less scientific proof than Aristotle’s, that living things do not emerge spontaneously, but the origin of all living things does emerge spontaneously. Aristotle was consistent enough to think that if spontaneous generation were possible, it would be happening all the time. The modern secularists tell us it happened once and once only.

So, do you think the creation of life on Earth happening one time by the hand of a supernatural agency, a god or a demiurge, is a miracle and therefore science rules it out a priori as impossible? But real scientists do not make a priori statements about events in the material world: only members of the science-worshiping cult do that. And I suggest that their cult belief is incoherent: I submit that to believe in that the creation of life on Earth happening one time by a natural agency is more of a miracle, because it postulates an unique miracle without someone to perform the miracle. Which is more miraculous, a miracle performed by a miracle worker, or a miracle that arises from no cause for no reason and then vanishes again?

Now you may ask, do I believe in life on other worlds?

Believe! Would that I did not! It is not for no reason that I became a member of the Space Princess school of writing science fiction.

It is because of various events, difficult for the uninitiated to imagine, that I was asked to ally myself to a most exclusive gentleman’s club in Salem Center, Westchester County, New York. The peculiar, nay, bizarre prerequisite for membership in the club having been established by its eccentric founder, Captain John Carter of Virginia, is that the man must have experienced a confirmed encounter with worlds beyond our own: an event less rare than the narrow-souled skeptic might credit!

My own encounter, much as I wish it had been merely a dream, was with Vesseril the Beautiful who dwells in the haunted planet Alph beneath the azure light of giant Spica, my fair one, alas! whom I am fated never again to behold!

How lovely she was when last we danced in Vanvalar, the City of Singing Crystal, beneath the nine mystic moons that shine on the Luminous Sea of Thassa! How strange to see Forest of Rebirth, gorgeous with many-colored orchids seeping opiate perfumes, rising in an hour above it own ashes, but then to be struck, burning, beneath the unsteady, weird, blue giant sun of Alpha Virginis!

Treacherous and inconstant star! Were it not for the advanced science the Spicans inherited from their ancestors, the perturbations of that eerie azure Cepheid Variable would long ago have obliterated the life from the twenty inhabited worlds and eighty-one inhabited moons of that system!

I vow revenge upon the Lord of Ghosts, dread and dreaded Xoran Xor, who robbed Vesseril of her memories and imprisoned her in the Onyx Tower of Oblivion, trapped in the high, walled garden of many drug-bearing fountains and rills and hallucinogenic herbs and alluring poppies, all within the shadow of the mystic Amnesia Gong! Yet lightyears and aeons and many cycles of reincarnation part me from my beloved … Yet that is a tale of adventure and tragedy for another time.

So, yes, well do I know, and to my sorrow, that there is earthlike life elsewhere, as wondrous and fair as any vista of beauty seen here on this globe: but this knowledge is not for mortal men, not at our current stage of cosmic evolution.

On the other hand, Drake and those who use his so-called equation do not know. They are not even really making a guess. If you have a yearning for unearthly and transmundane things, writing down that yearning in the form of an incomplete list of variables not one of whose values you know or can estimate does not make it science. I do not mock it, but I do not call it science: It is still just a yearning.

 

19 Comments

  1. Comment by John C Wright:

    Let me add a postscript:
    My idea of the Drake Equation runs this way:
    * N = The number of communicative civilizations
    * R* = The rate of formation of suitable stars (stars such as our Sun)
    * fp = The fraction of those stars with planets. (Current evidence indicates that planetary systems may be common for stars like the Sun.)
    * ne = The number of Earth-like worlds per planetary system
    * fl = The fraction of those Earth-like planets where life actually develops
    * fi = The fraction of life sites where intelligence develops
    * fc = The fraction of communicative planets (those on which electromagnetic communications technology develops)
    * L = The “lifetime” of communicating civilizations BEFORE THEY INVENT ROBOHARLOT HOLOP0RN!
    Because the L factor cuts off as soon as the holodecks are up and running. Seriously. One the Marylin Monrobot is lose, the population no longer reproduces. It is what happened to the barren moon called Sulva, which we call Luna.

  2. Comment by joetexx:

    Leif Ericson was a Christian, and the motive for the trip to Vinland  may have been to spread the faith.

    He converted his mother, Thjodhild, and this remarkable lady bullied Leif’s pagan Dad, Eric the Red, into building her the first church in Greenland.

    I like Wright’s equation, and it’s about time for a Julie Newmar pic.

  3. Comment by Mrmandias:

    The Drake Equation isn’t as useless as all that. The Modern Myth of Scientific Progress predicts that most of the factors in the Drake Equation should be high. But if they were high, they would lead to a high predicted value for intelligent species we were aware of. But we aren’t aware of any other intelligent species.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      If you mean the Drake Equation is useful for proving that Saganism and Science-worship has nothing to do with real science, I agree.

      • Comment by Mrmandias:

        I do mean that. But you seem to think the proof is (1) the Drake equation is ridiculous and (2) its a product of Sagan-Scientistics. I disagree with both assertions.

        The Drake equation casts doubt on what you are pleased to call Saganism because its a solid expression of the factors that you’d use to calculate the number of intelligent communicating civilized species, and if you plug in the Sagan estimates for those factors, you get a value for intelligent communicating civilized species much higher than the value we are aware of (1).

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          One cannot do a statistical analysis when your sample size is one, and you do not know, and have no way of knowing, what is a constant and what is a variable.

          Example: Some scientists speculate that the presence of a large moon producing tides is a necessary component for producing earthlike life. The Drake equation does not mention this factor. Nor is our theory of planetary formation sufficient to give us any figures on how often such double planets as the earth-moon system arises. To answer the question, we would have to know how planets are formed, and to know how often large tidal bodies arise, and we would have to see at least one hundred cases in order to be able to generalize over a larger range of cases. You cannot get a real “per cent” unless you have a “cent” at least one hundred cases to examine. We have one.

          This is merely one objection. We do not know which of the factors on the laundry list of Drake’s list are significant, which are insignificant, or in what proportions. Hence it is meaningless to speak of an equation (which is a proportion of one to one) when referring to list of unknown factors, which may be either redundant or incomplete, whose proportions to each other are unknown, and who final factor is unknown.

          If we knew for certain that there were, say, 4000 planets with civilized life on them in the Galaxy, we would know one side of the equation, and could make some educated guesses about the factors on the other side, assuming of course that we knew or could make an educated guess about the number of stars bearing worlds, the number of earthlike worlds, the number of life bearing worlds, the number of intelligence-bearing lives, the number of civilization-creating intelligences, et cetera. But since we know NONE of these things, we cannot make an educated guess about them, nor can we equate them to a known number.

          Do you really think science, real science, consists of this claptrap and arglebargle?

          Suppose Newton had operated this way: “Well, I propose that for any moving object, there is a something or other that is exactly equal to something to do with how the planets orbit through space, and I assume that the color, size, and texture of the planet, as well as its mass and the day of the week, either has something to do it, or not. I can express this in terms of an equation: S (for something or other) = P (planetary orbit), C (color), S (size) T (texture) M (mass) times D (day of the week).”

          We would still be calculating epicycles.

  4. Comment by Joseph M (was Ishmael Alighieri):

    I must add the Lex Luther Theorem, as we discussed before: It is inevitable that a super rich homicidal maniac super genius will arise within and exterminate any intelligent species pretty damn quick. Voila! Fermi’s Paradox solved!

    some of them will even be space Princesses!

  5. Ping from The Space Princess Equation! « Yard Sale of the Mind:

    [...] I readily admit the inexorable fell logic of John C Wright’s  Space Princess Corollary to the Drake Equation, I feel sadly compelled to exhume and add the even more scientific Lex Luther [...]

  6. Comment by Gian:

    “Aristotle was consistent enough to think that if spontaneous generation were possible, it would be happening all the time. The modern secularists tell us it happened once and once only.”

    The modern view is not unreasonable.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      The modern view is not unreasonable.

      Yes, it is. The modern view both holds that science and science alone, the empirical study of repeatable hence non-unique phenomena, is the source of certain knowledge. The modern view also holds it to be certain knowledge that life arose from non-life by a natural and purposeless mechanical act, but this act has neither been observed, nor reproduced, nor did it ever occur more than once in nature, hence it is not repeatable, it is unique, and no empirical evidence is at hand. Those two conceits are in direct logical contradiction to each other. Logical contradiction is unreasonable.

      A reasonable person must EITHER say that the only source of knowledge is empiricism, and admit that there is no evidence whatsoever that life did or can emerge from nonlife by a natural process; OR can say that life arose from nonlife as a matter of metaphysical principle which rejects all supernaturalism, and admit that at least some knowledge is non-empirical; but he cannot say both.

      This concept is a difficult and subtle one, so do not be offended if I ask whether you understand me?

      • Comment by ProtegeAA:

        Whoa, the empiricism criticism is new to me, and awesome. As a HAM and radio technician, I think it is foolish to think we can pick up radio waves that radiate outwards over light years. The signal fades over distance as it grows, and there is a lot of cosmic background noise from what I understand. Do they really think they can pick up an alien radio station from many light years away when I can’t even get cell phone service a few miles away from a tower?

  7. Comment by joetexx:

    I used to watch Teen Titans with my nephew’s kids while they were getting ready for school.

    Every time Starfire said “let’s go to the mall of shopping!” I cracked up.

    Why doesn’t Lianna of Fomalhaut ever get her due as a Space Princess?

    “Star Kings” was my bible fora year or two as an early teen, and I still can’t believe it was never made into a film…

    I used to fall asleep hoping I’d wake up as Zarth Arn of the Mid Galactic Empire – and oh the havoc I’d wreak with the unthinkable Disruptor!

  8. Comment by Gian:

    “science and science alone, the empirical study of repeatable hence non-unique phenomena,”

    Science aims at understanding as Stephen M Barr notes, in Student’s Guide to Natural Sciences. There is no requirement of ‘repeatability’–origin of universe has been perfectly respectable field of physics for a century.

    Biologists have advanced arguments as to why life could evolve only once. I do not claim that they are right; only that their position is not unreasonable (within their naturalistic rubric).

    Basically, a self-replicating molecule is expected to takeover the entire ecosystem of available resources along with its necessarily imperfect replications that fuel natural selection and further evolution. This leaves no resources for any independent emergence of a second self-replicating molecule.

  9. Comment by The Deuce:

    Hey John, I’ve been enjoying this little series on the Drake “equation”. I’ll just respond to the whole series here

    This is by no means their first visit. These aliens were first met by Saint Brendon of Ireland in 1012, who thought they were elves and mermaids. Being rational creatures, they were converted to the Roman Catholic faith, and with the priests Brendon duly anointed, they spread the One True Faith to the various nearby stars and star clusters

    Nice little shout out to my other favorite Catholic-sci-fi-author-blogger you did there there :-)

    The crucial difference is one of epistemology. If life arises from nonlife due to a blind mechanical process, then by knowing and counting the number of random factors, and by knowing and counting the number of times they happen to align to produce the result in question, then and only then does it make sense to speak of the topic probabilistically.

    And that’s where the Drake equation falls apart completely. The very premise, that life arises from nonlife due to a blind mechanical process, is wrong, and we can know that with very nearly the certainty of logic.

    We’ve already seen, in a number of posts and comments, the incoherence of saying that human thought reduces to blind and/or mechanical processes. As we’ve seen, that position logically entails that the laws of logic themselves are subjective and relative, and so are not laws at all, and hence all arguments for that position are incoherent, since they rely on (mis-)use of logic. And hence, we know with the certainty of logic itself that the human intellect cannot be explained by or reduced to mechanical processes. Hence, it cannot have been caused by blind mechanical processes, and so we can say with the certainty of logic itself that *human* life does not arise from non-life due to blind mechanical processes.

    Now, perhaps someone could argue that the human body arose by blind mechanical processes, and then God inserted an immaterial, rational soul at the end, but they couldn’t do it with a straight face. Certainly, rocks, plants, and amoebas could not be given immaterial, rational souls, or if they somehow could, they certainly couldn’t manifest their rationality. Clearly, the human body was meant to be endowed with a rational soul in the first place, which implies that the human body also is not the result of a blind mechanical process, with nearly the same certainty that the human intellect wasn’t.

    Then we come to non-human life. As you said, “Either life arose FOR A PURPOSE, this is, in order to serve the final cause of the creator of life, or life arose NOT FOR A PURPOSE, this is, not in order to serve any final cause.” Now, since we can establish with the certainty of logic that the human intellect came about not by blind and/or mechanical process, but for a purpose, and with nearly the same certainty that the human body likewise came about for a purpose, then assuming that evolution is true and that the human body was brought into existence via non-human lifeforms, the only reasonable conclusion to draw is that life arose for a purpose in the first place.

    This is further and independently established by the ancient observation that living things appear to have functions/purposes and to act on their own behalf for the purpose and goal of preserving themselves (much as we know ourselves to do), that hearts are for beating, wings for flying, etc – and hence that living things are more than the sum of their parts and do not reduce to the blind and mechanistic. Furthermore, this purposefulness is the very thing of interest that the discipline of biology seeks to understand, and which some branches of biology seek to explain (or explain away). And yet, all attempts to reduce that purpose to the blind and/or mechanistic (to make it amenable to the quantitative categories of modern science) end up defining it away and dismissing it all as an illusion that we merely project onto life, which (if anti-teleological scientists were consistent on this point) would render the whole of biology the study of something that doesn’t even exist, and would mean that there was nothing for those blind and mechanistic explanations to explain in the first place. Thus such explanations inherently contradict themselves. Furthermore, they plunge the whole realm of biological study into the realm of constructivist, subjectivist, relativist insanity, and much like the attempt to reduce the human mind to mechanism, end as a radical skepticism of anyone’s ability to think rationally or to discover anything like objective truth about reality by use of observation and logic.

    And so that’s where the Drake “equation”, even were it a real equation with quantitatively meaningful terms, falls flat. The unspoken first requirement, that life arises from non-life by blind mechanism, has a probability of 0. And regardless of what gets added to the laundry list, 0 multiplied by anything remains just that.

  10. Comment by Mary:

    How lovely she was when last we danced in Vanvalar, the City of Singing Crystal, beneath the nine mystic moon that shine on the Luminous Sea of Thassa! How strange to see Forest of Rebirth, gorgeous with many-colored orchids seeping opiate perfumes, rising in an hour above it own ashes, but then to be struck, burning, beneath the unsteady, weird, blue giant sun of Alpha Virginis!

    Treacherous and inconstant star! Were it not for the advanced science the Spicans inherited from their ancestors, the perturbations of that eerie azure Cepheid Variable would long ago have obliterated the life from the twenty inhabited worlds and eighty-one inhabited moons of that system!

    And now I’ve got an idea for a setting under a blue giant — even a setting close to the star, so that it looms enormous overhead, though the bigger the star the smaller it will appear in the sky for the same amount of incident sunlight.

    And one character in it.

    With no plot attached. grumpf

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      When cannot think of a plot, steal one. 1. The girl is kidnapped and needs to be rescued 2. the girl and the guy want to marry, but their families will not let them 3. the girl and the guy are in love, but he is leaving for another star, not to return until generations in her time frame have passed — can she persuade him to jump ship or can he persuade her to stow away 4. Her father killed his father and stole the Peacock Throne, and his followers insist she be sacrificed to the Snake God to secure his legal claim to kingship 5. She is dressed as a boy and hiding in the forest, and he, not knowing it is she, asks her help to court the maiden.

      And so on. Plots are not the hard part. Execution is the hard part.

      • Comment by Mary:

        Ah, but part of execution is working the original plot snippet into the setting so integrally that it seems it can not be worried free and used elsewhere.

        A couple of other characters have shown up — bringing people to this planet because its immense richness, where they think the information will be. What the twosome want is not exactly a refuge, since they are living long before the trouble actually arise. . . all of which can make use of its immense energy richness.

  11. Ping from I love it when John C. Wright really gets going!:

    [...] I love it when John C. Wright really gets going!July 5, 2012 By Mark Shea Leave a CommentHere he is, responding to somebody who certainly isn’t me or anything so don’t even guess that it [...]

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