Talk:Great Filter

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This page was the subject of a VfD debate on April 16, 2005. The decision was to merge and redirect to/with Fermi Paradox. See Wikipedia:Votes for deletion/The Great Filter for discussion. Mackensen (talk) 05:18, 30 Apr 2005 (UTC)

new merge proposal[edit]

I am suggesting this page be merged with Rare Earth hypothesis J8079s (talk) 22:35, 21 April 2009 (UTC)

This idea is based on a false assumption[edit]

This page should not be in Wikipedia. Taking a fact that "We have not yet observed evidence of intelligent extraterrestrial life, though we have observed a great number of stars" and concluding that there must be as 'Great Filter' is nonsense. The fact that we have studied a star doesnt mean the we have 'observed' it to the degree necesarry to determine if it harbours a civilisation or not. Speculation based on that original false assumption should not be in Wikipedia. WalrusLike (talk) —Preceding undated comment added 02:24, 23 August 2009 (UTC).

You really have to understand how much our understanding about this topic has changed in just the last two decades. This kind of topic is a relic from a time when even bringing up the subject of inhabited exoplanets would label you as a crank. We are now on the cusp of answering this question, and quite possibly a paradigm shift. The people talking about the "Great Filter" and "Rare Earth" represent the older generation of scientists. Remember, there was a time where if you even discussed plate tectonics you were labeled as a crank, and that was only up until the 1950s. Are we alone? Stay tuned; We're about to find out. Viriditas (talk) 08:19, 23 January 2010 (UTC)
Sure, the idea may be wrong. But Wikipedia articles are about "ideas that have been seriously considered", which can be verified, and not ideas that are "correct", since that's often a matter of debate. See, for example, Lamarckism or N ray. So maybe in 50 years folks will think of this as a quaint and antiquated notion, but they should still be able to look it up and see what folks thought at the time. LouScheffer (talk) 12:07, 23 January 2010 (UTC)
I have added a fact tag for the current wording in the lead sentence. Please support it directly with a good source. The notion that there has been "considerable effort" is not supported by any known source. There has actually been very little effort and almost no money spent on the idea. In fact, it would cost somewhere around 5 billion just to look for signs of life on Earth-like planets. There's lots of work to do, and claiming that "considerable effort" has been made already is not only wrong, it's ridiculous. Viriditas (talk) 12:47, 23 January 2010 (UTC)
The SETI page, which I linked to, had 10s of searches performed by many different teams. More broadly, all of astronomy constitutes a search for anything that does not have a explanation without invoking intelligence. Many people would consider even the SETI effort (hundreds of person years and tens of millions of dollars) as considerable, and astronomy certainly is. LouScheffer (talk) 19:06, 23 January 2010 (UTC)
The material you keep adding into this article has nothing to do with the Great Filter argument, and remains unsourced after multiple requests for references and a small rewrite. I really don't understand why you are continuing to add this material after I have requested sources which you have failed to provide. The material you have added is also incorrect as we have not even begun to find Earth-like planets. The argument has to do with the fact that we don't see the Solar System or nearby systems colonized, not that we have been observing for years. Please make a note of this and either find sources to support your addition, or I will remove it again. Viriditas (talk) 23:21, 23 January 2010 (UTC)
I've removed the following highlighted material:

The Great Filter is an implication of the failure to find any extraterrestrial civilizations in the observable universe, despite hundreds of years of increasingly sophisticated astronomy and dedicated searches for extraterrestrial intelligence.

There is no "despite" here, and there has not been "hundreds of years" of astronomical observation or greatly funded searches for ET intelligence that amount to anything more than picking up a pile of sand on a large beach and letting it sift through your hands. Please provide sources if you would like to keep adding this statement. I have not found a Great Filter argument that states this, as it is false. Viriditas (talk) 02:09, 24 January 2010 (UTC)
Let's look at statements in the "Great Filter" article itself:
"Finally, we expect advanced life to substantially disturb the places it colonizes. Whenever natural systems are not ideally structured to support colonists, we expect changes to be made. And unless ideal structures always either closely mimic natural appearances or are effectively invisible, we expect advanced life to make visible changes."
And how would we see these changes? By conventional astronomy...
"For example, it only takes a small amount of nuclear waste dropped into to visibly change its spectra [Whitmire & Wright 80.] And a civilization might convert enough of a star's asteroids into orbiting solar-energy collectors to collect a substantial fraction of this star's output, thereby substantially changing the star's spectral, temporal, and spatial appearances. Even more advanced colonists may disassemble stars [Criswell 85] or enclose them in Dyson spheres well within a million years of arrival. Galaxies may even be restructured wholesale [Dyson 66]."
"If such advanced life had substantially colonized our planet, we would know it by now. We would also know it if they had restructured most of our solar system's asteroid belt (though much smaller colonies could be hard to detect [Papagiannis 78]).:
And how would we know this? Conventional astronomy
"And they certainly haven't disassembled Jupiter or our sun."
Conventional astronomy
"We should even know it if they had aggressively colonized most of the nearby stars, but left us as a "nature preserve"."
Conventional astronomy
"Our planet and solar system, however, don't look substantially colonized by advanced competitive life from the stars, and neither does anything else we see."
Conventional astronomy
"To the contrary, we have had great success at explaining the behavior of our planet and solar system, nearby stars, our galaxy, and even other galaxies, via simple "dead" physical processes, rather than the complex purposeful processes of advanced life."
Conventional astronomy
"Given how similar our galaxy looks to nearby galaxies, it would even be hard to see how our whole galaxy could be a "nature preserve" among substantially-restructured galaxies."
And yet again
"These considerations strongly suggest that no civilization in our past universe has reached such an "explosive" point, to become the source of a light speed expansion of thorough colonization."
These are ALL based on conventional astronomy, except for the one mention that Earth does not appear to have been colonized.
In short, this is *Directly* supported by the referenced article. LouScheffer (talk) 15:59, 24 January 2010 (UTC)
LouScheffer, I asked you for citations. You didn't provide them and I removed the material. Is there a reason you keep adding unsourced content to this article? We don't write articles based on original research. There has not been "hundreds of years of increasingly sophisticated astronomy and dedicated searches for extraterrestrial intelligence" and the fact that you keep adding this false statement to this article is very disturbing. I am removing it once again. Please do not continue to add unsourced original research. You need to find sources for your claims. The Great Filter argument has nothing to do with what you claim, and there is no source on the planet that will support your claim. Please find a reliable sources about the Great Filter that directly and unambiguously supports this material. That's how we write articles here. What we don't do, is continue to add the same disputed, unsourced material after repeated requests for sources. You need to stop doing that. For the last time, the material you keep adding is disputed. Please find sources that support it and the Great Filter, in relation to each other. And just to remind you once again about the problem with your writing, there has not been "hundreds of years" of "sophisticated astronomy and dedicated searches for extraterrestrial intelligence". SETI has operated for less than 50 years and has searched only about 1000 out of 200-400 billion stars, and this search has occurred on a regular basis only very recently. The Allen Telescope Array is not even fully operational yet, but when it is the search will expand from 1000 stars to hundreds of thousands. In other words, the real search hasn't even begun yet, and we have only just started to use new technology to search, locate, and hopefully identify habitable worlds around other stars. Claiming that this has all been done before as you have, is not true. Viriditas (talk) 23:57, 24 January 2010 (UTC)
You have asked for sources - I quoted the original document on the Great filter, and show how it applies. The *original source* talks directly of comparing galaxies, and how they look "natural". Please show for each of the statements above how they could be interpreted contrary to the statements added? Also, the increasingly sophisticated is clear as well. Even a caveman could have told if the sun had been dis-assembled. The Greeks had the technology to notice Jupiter. Comparing galaxies is a mostly 20th century pastime. LouScheffer (talk) 01:32, 25 January 2010 (UTC)
The source you quoted, Hanson 1998, did not say "despite hundreds of years of increasingly sophisticated astronomy and dedicated searches for extraterrestrial intelligence", and that statement is neither relevant nor correct. Hanson does say, "No alien civilizations have substantially colonized our solar system or systems nearby. Thus among the billion trillion stars in our past universe, none has reached the level of technology and growth that we may soon reach. This one data point implies that a Great Filter stands between ordinary dead matter and advanced exploding lasting life. And the big question is: How far along this filter are we?" Is that clear? What is the reason you keep adding your OR to the article and what source supports it directly? I realize that some sources might make some related claims, such as Bostrom and others, but you would not then be describing Hanson's hypothesis. Please stick to the Great Filter, and find sources that discuss it, otherwise, attribute the descriptions of other writers in the appropriate place. Viriditas (talk) 02:01, 25 January 2010 (UTC)

(deindent) The source is Nick Bostrom: "How do I arrive at this conclusion? I begin by reflecting on a well‐known fact. UFO‐spotters, Raelian cultists, and self‐certified alien abductees notwithstanding, humans have, to date, seen no sign of any extraterrestrial intelligent civilization. We have not received any visitors from space, nor have our radio telescopes detected any signals transmitted by any extraterrestrial civilization. The Search for Extra‐Terrestrial Intelligent Life (SETI) has been going for nearly fifty years, employing increasingly powerful telescopes and data mining techniques, and has so far consistently 1 corroborated the null hypothesis. As best we have been able to determine, the night sky is empty and silent—the question “Where are they?” thus being at least as pertinent today as it was when Enrico Fermi first posed it during a lunch discussion with some of his physicist colleagues back in 1950. Here is another fact: There are on the order of 100 billion stars in our galaxy alone, and the observable universe contains on the order of 100 billion galaxies. In the last couple of decades, we have learnt that many of these stars have planets circling around them. By now, several hundred exoplanets we have discovered. Most of these are gigantic, but this is due to a selection effect: It is very difficult to detect smaller exoplanets with current observation methods. (In most cases, the planets cannot be directly observed. Their existence is inferred from their gravitational influence on their parent sun, which wobbles slightly when pulled towards a large orbiting planet; or alternatively by a slight fluctuation in their sun’s perceived luminosity which occurs when it is partially eclipsed by the exoplanet.) We have every reason to believe that the observable universe contains vast numbers of solar systems, including many that have planets that are Earth‐like at least in the sense of having a mass and temperature similar to those of our own orb. We also know that many of these solar systems are much older than ours. From these two facts it follows that there exists a “Great Filter”.1"--Michael C. Price talk 07:05, 25 January 2010 (UTC)

Bostrom is the source for what here? Can you please be specific? What does "these two facts" refer to here? Viriditas (talk) 07:18, 25 January 2010 (UTC)
Read the source for context. --Michael C. Price talk 07:20, 25 January 2010 (UTC)
I read and understood it before your comment. I am asking you what you think these two facts refer to, because there appears to be some confusion. So please, tell me, in your own words, what you think these two things are. Viriditas (talk) 07:31, 25 January 2010 (UTC)
1) Failure of SETI. 2) We are young. Universe is old.--Michael C. Price talk 09:05, 25 January 2010 (UTC)
No, 1 represents the Fermi paradox, which could arguably include the Great Silence (alleged failure of SETI; it is false to claim SETI has failed) but does not actually point to it and it alone; there are many different factors (see the Fermi paradox article). This is what I mean when I write "the failure to find any extraterrestrial civilizations". The second part, "in the observable universe", refers to Bostrom's 2, but does not explicitly state we are young and the universe is old, as this is assumed in 1, not by Bostrom, but by the FP. Viriditas (talk) 10:57, 25 January 2010 (UTC)

Despite centuries of astronomical observation[edit]

(de-indent) "To the contrary" = despite, and you would be hard pressed to find a better explanation of the goals of astronomy than "explaining the behavior of our planet and solar system, nearby stars, our galaxy, and even other galaxies". The main observations on which this idea is based are from astronomy. The reader deserves a link to the methods that were used to get the information on which the hypothesis is based. It's also very relevant (for a negative observation) to say how long and how hard people have looked to find the supposedly missing item. Hence the centuries and the link to History of astronomy. LouScheffer (talk) 13:06, 25 January 2010 (UTC)

I have asked you several times to stop adding original research to this article and to produce a source for the claim that "We have not yet observed evidence of intelligent extraterrestrial life, despite centuries of astronomical observations" that is directly related to the Great Filter hypothesis. Is there a reason you cannot do this? Hanson does not say this. What he does say is a restatement of the Fermi paradox which is not dependent on claiming that we have not observed evidence of intelligent ET life "despite centuries of astronomical observations" because it is irrelevant. The point is that they would have already colonized this Solar System based on the assumptions in the FP, so there is no need to even say such a thing. Is there a reason you keep adding it to this article, and is there a reason you cannot provide a source connecting it to the GF? Clearly, they are not here and why they are not here has nothing to do with "centuries of astronomical observations". Do you get it? If you assume that interstellar travel between star systems is possible, then the Solar System should already have been colonized in the past. It hasn't and it isn't. We don't need "centuries of astronomical observations" to come to this conclusion, but other arguments do come into play (for example, have we found artifacts, life on other planets within the Solar System, SETI, etc.) Your insistence on adding this material is irrelevant and focuses on one small part of the problem, and is not covered by the sources on the Great Filter. We already have our working assumptions from the FP and don't require your superfluous, unsourced statement. The conclusion that they aren't here and aren't in our Solar System does not require "centuries of astronomical observation". Is this making sense? Viriditas (talk) 13:39, 25 January 2010 (UTC)
I do not believe this is original research. From the Wikipedia page on the subject,

Carefully summarizing or rephrasing a source without changing its meaning or implication does not violate this policy: this is good editing. Best practice is to write Wikipedia articles by researching the most reliable sources on the topic and summarizing what they say in your own words, with each statement in the article attributable to a source that makes this statement explicitly.

The Fermi paradox has (at least) two versions - they have not colonized the Earth (no astronomy needed), and "we see no evidence of their existence" (this is where the centuries of astronomy come in). The sentence I have quoted (and summarized) is about the astronomical part, and I believe it is a careful summary of that point, without changing the meaning. The history of astronomy is very relevant to this argument, since the strength of a negative observation depends entirely on how hard people have tried.
I am happy to add in the other argument as well, also supported by a quote from the original. LouScheffer (talk) 13:44, 25 January 2010 (UTC)
You might want to look at the definition of the word paraphrase because you aren't doing it. You are interpreting, which is an altogether different process. And your interpretation is adding extraneous material to Hanson's hypothesis - material that is already covered by the FP and is not dependent on any astronomical observation. Please understand, the FP was nothing more than a back-of-the-envelope calculation (that was probably done in Fermi's head), a thought experiment that never relied on astronomical observation or required it. The fact that aliens aren't walking around the Earth and traveling to Alpha Centauri for lunch, is more than enough evidence. The implications of the FP, namely the proposed filter, is the topic of this article. We aren't concerned with any astronomical observations. Viriditas (talk) 13:53, 25 January 2010 (UTC)
Rubbish, the GF depends on astronomical observations that we live in an apparently dead universe. Cf Hanson/Bostrom comments about the "dead physics" of stellar and galactic evolution. --Michael C. Price talk 16:55, 25 January 2010 (UTC)
Rubbish right back at you. The GF depends on no such thing. It merely describes one implication of the FP, which fully covers this topic. Bostrom's comments on astronomical observations are a description of one aspect of the FP, not the GF. I thought this was very clear in his essay as he ends the paragraph in question with a reference to the FP. Perhaps you missed it. In any case, the statement "we have seen no evidence elsewhere in the universe either, despite centuries of astronomical observations" is not part of the GF and is not sourced to Hanson. The length of time we have spent observing the universe is irrelvant to the GF and was added by LouScheffer without any GF-related source. As far as I can tell, this addition alludes to a brief comment about the GF made by science fiction writer Damien Broderick in the speculative book, The Spike (2002), not Hanson. We need to stick to what Hanson says, and what he says has nothing to do with "centuries of astronomical observations". Viriditas (talk) 09:26, 26 January 2010 (UTC)
Rubbish. Observation of the dead universe requires observation. That includes astronomical observation. Why does Hanson mention the "behavior of ... other galaxies" if it is irrelevant? --Michael C. Price talk 10:30, 26 January 2010 (UTC)
Please stop removing my request for sources. Hanson's comments about the GF have nothing to do with "centuries of astronomical observations". His comments are in reference to the FP and the zoo hypothesis, not GF:

Our planet and solar system, however, don't look substantially colonized by advanced competitive life from the stars, and neither does anything else we see. To the contrary, we have had great success at explaining the behavior of our planet and solar system, nearby stars, our galaxy, and even other galaxies, via simple "dead" physical processes, rather than the complex purposeful processes of advanced life. Given how similar our galaxy looks to nearby galaxies, it would even be hard to see how our whole galaxy could be a "nature preserve" among substantially-restructured galaxies.

There is nothing that says "despite centuries of astronomical observations" nor anything about the history of astronomy, so the link makes no sense. Hanson's statement has to do with FP and the zoo hypothesis, not the GF. There is nothing in Hanson's unpublished essay that supports the inclusion of the statement "despite centuries of astronomical observations" and I don't understand why it keeps getting added. I am tagging the section as original research since you keep removing the fact tag. Viriditas (talk) 10:51, 26 January 2010 (UTC)
You seem to have trouble seeing the wood for the trees. Your logic and argument is flawed. You repeatedly claim that the quote has "nothing" to do with the GF but admit it is about the GS/FP. Well, the GF is an implication of the GS/FP (or the implausibility of the zoo hypothesis, for that matter), so therefore it does has relevance. That really should be the end of the matter. And you didn't answer my question, Why does Hanson mention the "behavior of ... other galaxies" if it is irrelevant? The answer is simple, he mentions it because it is relevant to the GF. --Michael C. Price talk 11:12, 26 January 2010 (UTC)
Asking for sources has nothing to do with logic and argument; It's how we write articles. There is no reliable source about the Great Filter that says or implies anything having to do with "despite centuries of astronomical observations". That is something LouScheffer admittedly invented. Hanson doesn't talk about it, and as far as I can tell, it has no meaning. What does the length of time regarding astronomical observation have to do with the GF? Nothing. Why is it in this article? Why does it continue to get added after I have repeatedly asked for sources? The argument concerning the Fermi paradox has to do with the length of time older civilizations would have had to colonize our Solar System (and the rest of the galaxy) It has nothing to do with the length of time we have been observing the sky. And, I most certainly did answer your question and I'll answer it again since you missed it the first time: Hanson's comments are in reference to the FP and the zoo hypothesis, not the GF. It has nothing to do with "centuries of astronomical observation" nor is there any implication. We do not interpret what we think an author means. We quote and paraphrase explicitly. Please stop adding "despite centuries of astronomical observations" since it is not in the original source. Please use the original source on the subject of the GF to make whatever point you are trying to make. That's how we write articles. Viriditas (talk) 11:37, 26 January 2010 (UTC)
Your edit summary claim that such explanations are "advancing a position" is ridiculous. I note you are now claiming that "rephrasing" has to be "explicit"; that is a (another) contradiction in terms. Since you seem not willing to understand the utility and necessity of explanations I have nothing more to say. You are editing against the consensus and I have no doubt your material will be reverted. --Michael C. Price talk 11:42, 26 January 2010 (UTC)
Consensus doesn't override our core content policies. Please do not continue to remove maintenance tags when the problem has been repeatedly described on the talk page. The resolution to this issue is very simple. Please use whatever reliable sources you have at your disposal about the Great Filter to rewrite the disputed material in question. What we do not do is interpret primary sources - and that is what you and Lou are doing. We have a rule against that type of editing, which is why we try and rely on secondary sources instead. Is this making sense? Please also refrain from threatening to edit war and work towards resolution. To summarize: Hanson's essay is a primary source for this topic. We do not interpret primary sources. We use secondary sources whenever possible to avoid editorial bias and interpretation. If there is anything in Hanson's essay that represents the disputed material, then cite it directly. That is one resolution to the problem. If you can't do that, then the material doesn't belong. Viriditas (talk) 11:48, 26 January 2010 (UTC)
I am only going to say this once more because my patience with you is exhausted. Explanations do not "advance a position", which is the acid test of synthesis and OR. "Centuries of astronomical observations" is merely an explanation of how we gathered some of the evidence that we live in a dead universe. In no way is it a conclusion of any sort whatsoever, so it cannot be advancing a position the author did not intend, because it isn't advancing any position. Read the nutshell part of WP:OR. --Michael C. Price talk 11:56, 26 January 2010 (UTC)
I have challenged your "explanation" and I do not find it relevant to this topic in any way. You claimed that it was supported by Hanson. Further examination shows that it is not. You and Lou are advancing a position not found in the sources about the Great Filter, namely that Hanson says "Furthermore, we have seen no evidence elsewhere in the universe either, despite centuries of astronomical observations." Hanson does not say this nor is it relevant to the topic of the Great Filter. The length of time spent on astronomical observation has not changed the Fermi paradox or its implications. That's essentially original research. Please cite sources directly about the Great Filter to make your point. Please do not continue to interpret primary sources or frame your interpretations as "explanations" of the source material which upon analysis cannot be found. Very simple and easy to solve: Rewrite the disputed material, sticking closely to your chosen sources on the subject. Can you do that? Hanson is talking about the FP and the zoo hypothesis, so we should be talking about the same thing, not about the history of astronomical observation. This is very clear. Viriditas (talk) 12:06, 26 January 2010 (UTC)

Disputed text[edit]

We have not yet observed evidence of intelligent extraterrestrial life. As Hanson notes, "If such advanced life had substantially colonized our planet, we would know it by now."[2] Furthermore, we have seen no evidence elsewhere in the universe either, despite centuries of astronomical observations. Hanson states:[2]

This doesn't make any sense. The first sentence already implies the second, so why is it stated twice? And the note isn't Hanson, but a restatement of the FP by Hanson. And what does the length of time spent making astronomical observations have to do with this subject? This needs to be rewritten to stick to the topic of the Great Filter using only reliable sources. Viriditas (talk) 11:12, 26 January 2010 (UTC)
The first sentence only implies the second if you make a lot of implicit assumptions that need spelling out in the article. That called "explanation" and is not OR. --Michael C. Price talk 11:15, 26 January 2010 (UTC)
It makes no sense whatsoever to say the same thing twice, nor to mention something completely out of left field like "despite centuries of astronomical observations". What source about the GF says this explicitly? None. Why is it in the article? What does it have to do with the Great Filter? Nothing whatsoever. Viriditas (talk) 11:19, 26 January 2010 (UTC)
Q Why is it in the article? A: it's an explanation. --Michael C. Price talk 11:24, 26 January 2010 (UTC)
It's not an explanation of the Great Filter. In fact, it has nothing to do with the Great Filter. What is it explaining? The content, "despite centuries of astronomical observations" has nothing to do with this subject. What is it explaining? As far as I can tell, it's a misreading of the Fermi paradox. Aliens have had centuries to colonize the galaxy and the Solar System. Since they aren't here, and we don't find their artifacts, their colonies, or their broadcasts, then where are they? This has nothing to do with the length of time we have been observing the skies. So, what is it explaining and why does it keep getting added to an article about the Great Filter? And, what source is being used to support it? Viriditas (talk) 11:27, 26 January 2010 (UTC)
What is it explaining? It's explaining how we know we live in a dead universe. Of course there is other evidence (which Hanson also mentions), but you seem obsessively focused on one to the exclusion of all else. --Michael C. Price talk 11:34, 26 January 2010 (UTC)
Then please either quote Hanson (or another author) directly or paraphrase unambiguously from the source to make your point. This is very simple. What we do not do, is interpret as you and Lou are doing. That's OR. What we write has to be unambiguous and easy to find in the original source. Please fix the problem I have described or I will remove it again. If the material cannot be found in the original source, explanation or not, it doesn't belong here. Everything we write must be attributable to a reliable source. We do not write ambiguous interpretations. Please rewrite it so that it conforms with the source and is reflected in that source without any interpretation. A direct quote from Hanson's essay, or preferably, commentary about the GF from another reliable source, would solve the problem. Please solve the problem. Viriditas (talk) 11:51, 26 January 2010 (UTC)
This is the last comment by me as well. How can you interpret the statement "Our planet and solar system, however, don't look substantially colonized by advanced competitive life from the stars, and neither does anything else we see." and "To the contrary, we have had great success at explaining the behavior of our planet and solar system, nearby stars, our galaxy, and even other galaxies, via simple "dead" physical processes, rather than the complex purposeful processes of advanced life." without invoking astronomy? Where do you think Hanson got this idea from, if not astronomy? If you cannot answer this, then astronomy must stay in, for that is a signficant line of evidence in the argument, and the reader deserves to know where the evidence came from. LouScheffer (talk) 13:06, 26 January 2010 (UTC)
It isn't any more significant than saying what all the other reliable sources have said. I've posted Ćirković below for you to read and compare. It boils down to "that would have been detected with our current instrumentation" not "despite centuries of astronomical observation". Two different statements entirely, and I plan on using the reliably sourced version from this or another secondary source, not your own interpretation of a primary source which cannot be traced to the original topic and which is totally irrelevant. It does not matter how long we have been observing the universe. The FP still holds. And again, we do not make assumptions about sources, about what the author thinks or doesn't think, or try to interpret primary source material. We go directly from the secondary sources whenever possible, and if we must use primary material like Hanson's essay, we quote and paraphrase it closely and accurately. If you can't do that, you have no business using it as a source. Viriditas (talk) 13:11, 26 January 2010 (UTC)
I also dispute this text. "'We' have not yet observed evidence of intelligent extraterrestrial life". Who is 'we' in this context? I think the list of people who think otherwise in this context is growing in numbers. And what is meant by "observe"? I have watched hundreds of YouTube videos filming UFOs, is this not 'observation' of evidence? Regardless of authenticity or conspiracy theories, the mere fact that there are thousands of UFO sightings, abductions, implants, and so on, makes this statement disputable, and therefore should be removed. And what is meant by 'evidence'? Some researchers will point to historic locations as evidences, such as the pyramids, pumapunku, the nazca mountains, etc. So, once again, I dispute this.Zero.vishnu (talk) 23:47, 25 May 2012 (UTC)

Relevance of SETI etc[edit]

Hanson's opening sentences: "Fermi, Dyson, Hart, Tipler, and others [Finney & Jones, Dyson 66, Hart 75, Tipler 80] have highlighted the relevance to SETI (the search for extraterrestrial intelligence) of the "The Great Silence" [Brin 83] (also known as the Fermi paradox), the fact that extraterrestrials haven't substantially colonized Earth yet. What has not yet been sufficiently highlighted or adequately analyzed, however, is the relevance of this fact for much bigger choices we now make. --Michael C. Price talk 12:30, 26 January 2010 (UTC)

Have looked at how this is treated in the sources listed in the further reading section? The chapter by Ćirković captures the essence of the topic, and I'm comfortable with it since he apparently worked closely with Hanson on the publication. Viriditas (talk) 12:37, 26 January 2010 (UTC)

Despite centuries of astronomical observations, including SETI, we have not observed any evidence of intelligent extraterrestrial life. The universe, apart from the Earth, seems "dead"; Hanson states:[2]

Again with this? There has not been centuries of SETI observation, so the implication is false no matter how you word it. And nothing here is contingent on "despite centuries" of observation. It's irrelevant and is starting to look like a pet theory. Please don't continue to interpret the primary source. Please use the secondary sources (Ćirković etc.) to talk about the essay if you cannot quote it accurately. Viriditas (talk) 12:46, 26 January 2010 (UTC)
Look up "include" in your dictionary. --Michael C. Price talk 12:49, 26 January 2010 (UTC)
Look up "accuracy" and "clarity". We do not make or write ambiguous statements that can be taken to mean something that they do not. Please write with the reader in mind. You know, the person reading Wikipedia? We are not writing for ourselves. For your own personal reference, please read Ćirković on this subject, as the author nails down FP and shows how the implication of the Great Filter follows from it in clear, concise language. Notice how there is no ambiguity. Please also note, there is no appeal to the length of time it takes to observe something astronomically or "despite" it, because it is totally and completely irrelevant:

Fermi's paradox (also known as the 'Great Silence' problem) consists in the tension between (1) naturalistic origin of life and intelligence, as well as astrophysical sizes and ages of our Galaxy and (2) the absence of extraterrestrials in the Solar System, or any other traces of extraterrestrial intelligent activities in the universe. In particular, the lack of macro-engineering (or astroengineering) activities observable from interstellar distances tells us that it is not the case that life evolves on a significant fraction of Earth-like planets and proceeds to develop advanced technology, using it to colonize the universe or perform astroengineering feats in ways that would have been detected with our current instrumentation. The characteristic time for colonization of the Galaxy, according to Fermi's argument, is 106-108 years, making the fact that the Solar System is not colonized hard to explain, if not for the absence of extraterrestrial cultures. There must be (at least) one Great Filter - an evolutionary step that is extremely improbable - somewhere on the line between Earth-like planet and colonizing-in-detectable-ways civilization (Hanson, 1999).[1]

Is this making sense? There's no "despite centuries of astronomical observation" because we are talking about FP and the GF, not about how long people have been observing the universe. Viriditas (talk) 12:56, 26 January 2010 (UTC)
No, makes no sense, but I can't be bothered to waste time arguing with someone who denies the relevance of something which is (1) obviously relevant (2) sourced and (3) misunderstands WP:OR. --Michael C. Price talk 13:10, 26 January 2010 (UTC)
I understand that you are interpreting a primary source to say something it does not. And I have just provided a reliable secondary source (always preferred over interpreting a primary) that clearly and explicitly states "in ways that would have been detected with our current instrumentation". It does not say "despite centuries of astronomical observation". I hope that makes sense to you now. Viriditas (talk) 13:12, 26 January 2010 (UTC)

Status of the Great Filter hypothesis[edit]

Social scientist Robin Hanson has said that this has been in preprint since 1998. Has it ever been published? Viriditas (talk) 00:19, 25 January 2010 (UTC)

First draft was written in 1996, it seems. Is it fair to call this an unpublished hypothesis? Viriditas (talk) 07:34, 25 January 2010 (UTC)
Essay appears to be offline but available on the Internet Archive. Is there a working link for it besides cache copies? Viriditas (talk) 11:07, 26 January 2010 (UTC)
The link in reference 2 works fine for me; that's where I got the quotes. LouScheffer (talk) 12:59, 26 January 2010 (UTC)
Could you post the link here so there is no confusion? Thanks. Viriditas (talk) 13:04, 26 January 2010 (UTC)


  • Checklinks: Great Filter: HTTP 110
    • So Lou, are you still going to tell me that the link works fine for you, or will you admit that you've been going off of your browser cache? Is there another answer? Viriditas (talk) 13:16, 26 January 2010 (UTC)
      • Reference 2 points to this web page, which works fine. Reference 3 points to this .pdf file, which also works well. I just reloaded them this very minute, bypassing my browser cache, and they are both OK. What do you get when you try to load them? LouScheffer (talk) 20:27, 26 January 2010 (UTC)
    • The ref links have always worked for me.--Michael C. Price talk 20:52, 26 January 2010 (UTC)
      • Responding to both Michael and Lou: Using Checklinks on the toolserver shows that there is a problem with the link. At night (HST) I get "Error 110: Connection timed out retrieving" and during the day (HST) I get a connection (200) with the message "Excessed redirect limit". This means I have independently verified that the link is far from stable and an archveurl needs to be added. I'll get to it tonight. Viriditas (talk) 04:02, 27 January 2010 (UTC)

Self-replicating spacecraft[edit]

With technology, such as self-replicating spacecraft, these niches would include neigbouring star systems

Michael C. Price just added a huge swath of information not found in Hanson's essay. Where does Hanson discuss Von Neumann probes? He doesn't, but Bostrom does. The problem is that Michael C. Price quotes Bostrom and then pretends in the next sentence that he has cited Hanson by writing, "Yet, as Hanson notes, 'If such advanced life had substantially colonized our planet, we would know it by now.'" Here again, we see two sources used to say something that they don't. Hanson isn't talking about Von Neumann probes in his essay. In the section cited, he's talking about megascale engineering. Again, Michael C. Price is mixing and matching sources to say what he wants them to say, rather than what they actually say. Could Micheal C. Price be so kind as to actually cite the correct theories (FP not GP) and authors (Bostrom not Hanson) when adding material? Thanks. Viriditas (talk) 13:52, 26 January 2010 (UTC)
Add the Bostrom source, if you're so concerned, and stop wasting our time here.--Michael C. Price talk 17:25, 26 January 2010 (UTC)
The talk page is used to improve the article, not to waste time. If you feel your time is being wasted here, go use it somewhere else. Viriditas (talk) 03:55, 27 January 2010 (UTC)
Does it have to be spelt out? Why didn't you add the Bostrom cite yourself, rather than come here and complain it wasn't there, wasting much more time? --Michael C. Price talk 09:40, 27 January 2010 (UTC)
Because the entire section requires extensive rewriting. Viriditas (talk) 23:43, 27 January 2010 (UTC)

Peer reviewer[edit]

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"Social scientist" NPOV?[edit]

I removed "social scientist" since I think it is selective quoting of the facts, intended to promote a particular point of view, namely that the hypothesis should be taken less seriously because it was proposed by someone from the "soft" sciences.

From his own CV Hanson is a professor of economics. And if you call someone by what they publish most, and what their money-earning job is, he's clearly an economist. His published papers would support a description as a futurist, thought that's quite broad, and there are a number of other fields with smaller number of papers - history of science, physics, etc. His degrees are in physics, philosophy of science, and political science.

Since most economists are not referred to as "social scientists", it is not clear to me what help this is to the reader, and will in fact muddy the water. LouScheffer (talk) 11:31, 27 January 2010 (UTC)

Futurist would be a good description. --Michael C. Price talk 11:36, 27 January 2010 (UTC)
Agreed - this describes the appropriate degree of uncertainty, variety of backgrounds required, etc. The link to the page helps - I didn't know of the article. LouScheffer (talk) 12:18, 27 January 2010 (UTC)
There is nothing "POV" about calling Hanson an American social scientist. That's exactly what he is, and it's how he describes himself and it is how the sources describe him, and that's how we describe people in an encyclopedia. For example, if we were talking about Paul Erdős, we would refer to him as a Hungarian mathematician. Or if we were referring to Jacob Eichholtz, we would call him an American painter. There is not a single thing POV about calling Hanson an American social scientist as it describes who he is in the appropriate encyclopedia style. Ironically, it is POV to continue to remove this factual information for the purposes LouScheffer states. There is nothing wrong with either being an American or a social scientist, and Lou brings his own POV to the table here. It was not intended to promote any POV but to reflect the sources on the matter. Lou, can show any evidence that calling Hanson an American social scientist is intended to promote a POV, or is it your POV alone? Hanson is an associate professor of economics at George Mason University. Economics is defined as the social science that studies the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. Could you show me where the POV is here, Lou, because it seems to be coming from you. At the end of the day, we should not only refer to people as they are described by secondary sources, but make an attempt to look at what the biographical subject often calls themselves. Let's look at what the subject, Robin Hanson, says about his profession:

I'm a social scientist with a high estimate of the power of social science (especially economics and sociobiology) to trace the outlines of a wide variety of social behavior. I even use social science to estimate our distant descendants’ future, and the astronomical signatures that aliens might leave.[2]

It's time to back away from this one, Lou. Hanson not only calls himself a social scientist, but is proud of his accomplishments. You are welcome to feel differently, but we do not edit Wikipedia based on our personal views or convictions. Viriditas (talk) 00:05, 28 January 2010 (UTC)
What is the relevance of calling him "American"? Should we also say "caucasian"?--Michael C. Price talk 02:35, 28 January 2010 (UTC)
It is basic, encyclopedic style to refer to the nationality of a proponent as a standard demographic classification. Viriditas (talk) 04:23, 28 January 2010 (UTC)
I have absolutely no problem with him being a social scientist, or calling him such - but on the Robin Hanson page, not here. The example you gave is very relevant - on the Paul Erdős page, he is indeed described as a Hungarian mathematician in the very first sentence. On the pages with his conjectures - Cameron–Erdős conjecture, Erdős–Burr conjecture, Erdős–Faber–Lovász conjecture, Erdős–Graham conjecture, Erdős–Gyárfás conjecture, Erdős–Heilbronn conjecture, Erdős–Mollin–Walsh conjecture, Erdős–Mordell inequality, Erdős–Straus conjecture, Erdős conjecture on arithmetic progressions, Erdős–Woods conjecture, Erdős–Szekeres conjecture - he is not described as Hungarian, or even in general as a mathematician. That's because his background is not relevant to the conjecture. This is exactly the same here.
As another example, the Fermi paradox page does not mention that Fermi was Italian, and tells nothing whatsoever about Hart. I had absolutely no idea what Hart's occupation was until I just looked it up. LouScheffer (talk) 03:09, 28 January 2010 (UTC)
Sorry, but that's flat out wrong on all points. First, Hanson's background as a social scientist is directly relevant to the Great Filter, and he discusses it in the quote I provided.[3] It's also true that as a social scientist, he is calling for the modification and revision of all sciences based on his Great Filter essay, so his status as a social scientist is directly relevant to this topic. I'm not sure why you believe Hanson's background as a social scientist isn't important here, but you're misinformed. It is exactly who he is and it is how he describes himself. Robin Hanson does not refer to himself as a futurist, does he? Second, WP:OTHERSTUFFEXISTS, and I would like to point out that the examples you give above are extremely poor, and represent the work of several editors, all of whom were SPA's focused on creating mathematics stubs. Stub creation is hardly representative of what we are trying to create here. Enrico Fermi is an Italian-born American physicist, and that's quite a mouthful. The fact is, he and many other scientists are referred to by their nationality in the majority of articles so either you haven't looked carefully or you aren't aware of how we use the term. For example, Articles that refer to Fermi as an "Italian physicist" or "Italian-American physicist" or "Italian-born American physicist" include Enrico Fermi High School, Enrico Fermi Nuclear Generating Station, Robert R. Wilson, Chicago Pile-1, Metallurgical Laboratory, History of nuclear weapons, Fermi resonance, Fermi (length), History of the Teller–Ulam design, Fermi coordinates, 8103 Fermi, Public schools in Enfield, Connecticut, Ottorino Respighi, SETI, and the Whole Earth Blazar Telescope. The fact also remains that the Fermi paradox article has quite a number of flaws, and is quite likely that the person who helped write it simply omitted the term, "Italian-born American physicist", not because it wasn't appropriate, but because they didn't understand the encyclopedic style. I find most of that article to be in very poor shape. Demographic classifications are redundant pointers for the reader so that they can understand the proponent of an idea without having to flip back and forth between biography and concept articles. They are best practice and serve to provide information in a quick and easy to understand manner. General encyclopedias use them extensively, as do news articles. Our job here is to provide as much information to the reader in one location with the smallest number of words, but with a high information content. Brief demographic classifications are used for this purpose and they are standard practice on the encyclopedia. We never assume that the reader is aware of who and what a person is, so we always give as much information as we can without overwhelming the topic. As a result, every article can stand alone, and the reader is not required to go anywhere else to get it. So let's recap:
  1. The term "social scientist" is not POV as you claim, nor is it used to promote a point of view, but is actually a term used by the subject, Robin Hanson, to describe himself.[4] Futhermore, Hanson received a Ph.D. in social science from Caltech in 1997. He did not receive a Ph.D. in economics.
  2. Hanson's essay on the "Great Filter" discusses the future of human society by examining the implications of the Fermi paradox and explaining the "Great Silence". By proposing the Great Filter as one answer to the problem, Hanson calls for the modification and revision of social theories because "many physical scientists focus on explaining the filter via the area they seem to think we understand the least: social science." In other words, Hanson's status as a social scientist is directly relevant to the topic and forms the fundamental basis for its recommendations and conclusions: Is the human future one full of optimism and growth, or pessimism and decline? And, what can we do about it?
  3. The term "futurist" is not used by Hanson or any other source to describe him.
  4. People are often classified by their nationalities in encyclopedias, and this is generally considered good biographical style. Whenever possible, we provide as much information to the reader about a subject so that an article can stand alone without the reader having to navigate away from the page. This is best practice.
So that about covers it. Viriditas (talk) 04:52, 28 January 2010 (UTC)
Since there is no dispute that he is a futurist, and that this is informative, that just about covers it as well. We only resort to sources when the facts are disputed or irrelevant.--Michael C. Price talk 10:13, 28 January 2010 (UTC)
I've challenged the assertion and I've requested a source. Please provide one. We "resort to sources" for everything we write on Wikipedia. I've previously explained this to you, but for some reason you still aren't getting it. Everything I've ever written on Wikipedia has been supported by a source, and everything in this article must be supported by a source. This is very easy to understand and it's how we write articles. Viriditas (talk) 12:13, 28 January 2010 (UTC)
Yes, very easy to understand but false. Have a look at the OR talk page.--Michael C. Price talk 12:15, 28 January 2010 (UTC)
There is nothing false. I have specifically asked for a reference for the claim that Robin Hanson is a futurist, and I have provided a citation that shows he is considered a social scientist. Is there a reason you are removing sourced material and adding unsourced material, and then removing citation requests? Please do not remove requests for citation and add the references that are requested. Viriditas (talk) 12:22, 28 January 2010 (UTC)
Did you look at the OR talk page? --Michael C. Price talk 12:25, 28 January 2010 (UTC)
I am familiar with most policies and guidelines. I don't believe I am discussing OR here. I am discussing proper sourcing, which is required for all good articles and above. Since I am working on improving and expanding this article, everything I add, modify, change, and write must be sourced. That Robin Hanson is an American social scientist is easily sourced. Could you please provide a good reliable source that describes him as a futurist? That's how we write articles. Thanks. Viriditas (talk) 12:28, 28 January 2010 (UTC)
That's a "No", I take it. --Michael C. Price talk 12:50, 28 January 2010 (UTC)
I know the OR page very well, Michael. What does it have to do with writing a well-sourced article, especially when we are dealing with a BLP? It is most important that all information about BLP's have citations. Surely you know this? Viriditas (talk) 12:58, 28 January 2010 (UTC)
This may help you, Michael. Viriditas (talk) 12:48, 28 January 2010 (UTC)
I'll let you add the citation. --Michael C. Price talk 12:50, 28 January 2010 (UTC)
Are you here to help write the article? Find a good source and add it yourself. I'm still looking. Viriditas (talk) 12:58, 28 January 2010 (UTC)
In this interview, Hanson describes his work as a social scientist that uses economics for long-range forecasting. However, most sources simply describe him as "an associate professor of economics at George Mason University" so that would be the easiest thing to source after noting he's a social scientist. Hanson also seems to make the argument (as far as I can tell) that all economists are futurists. Viriditas (talk) 13:04, 28 January 2010 (UTC)
After reviewing the reliable sources at this link, virtually none (excepting think tanks and blogs) refer to Hanson as a futurist, while the vast majority refer to him simply as an economist. I have therefore changed the current information to "American economist". Viriditas (talk) 13:20, 28 January 2010 (UTC)

I have to say that Viriditas seems to be almost entirely lacking in common sense which - believe it or not - is a policy. Being American is not relevant to this article, whereas being a futurist is relevant. Writing for wikipedia is not about mindlessly trawling through sources, counting them up; it is about applying common sense and thinking about what information is relevant to which article.--Michael C. Price talk 13:47, 28 January 2010 (UTC)

That Hanson is American is relevant to an encyclopedia, and we often refer to people by their nationality and profession as an aid to the reader. After all, that's what we do here, we write for readers. Have you ever read an encyclopedia article? Are you familiar with news or journalism style? Nationality and profession are often mentioned together so we know where the person is from and what they do. Wikipedia is not written from an American perspective. This is an international project, and it it is not assumed that Hanson is American. We make these things explicit. Hanson is not described as a futurist in any reliable source. Most sources describe him as an economist, and he's on record calling himself a social scientist and an economist. He's written and commented on physics, economics, medicine, SETI, simulated reality, and future studies. He's primarily a social scientist working in economics. Does he call himself a futurist or do any good reliable sources call him a futurist? Viriditas (talk) 13:58, 28 January 2010 (UTC)
Nowhere have you addressed the relevance issue. RH's nationality is not relevant to this article. And you have already answered you last question in the affirmative. Again you are editting against the consensus. --Michael C. Price talk 15:40, 28 January 2010 (UTC)
Nationalities are relevant to biographies, and in good encyclopedia style, we refer to nationalities and professions whenever we attribute ideas and concepts that belong to proponents. This is so as to give the reader enough information about the person so that the article stands alone and doesn't necessitate another click or visit to another article to find out more. I've addressed this issue several times in the above discussion, so you are repeating things that have already been discussed. If it isn't making sense to you, feel free to ask more questions. I've given many examples above showing how they are used and why the examples offered by Lou aren't an accurate representation of the issue. Demographic classification is relevant to any person we discuss, and it's good encyclopedia style to inform the reader. After all, that's who our audience is here. Viriditas (talk) 02:26, 29 January 2010 (UTC)
You are correct that Hanson's nationality is biographical info that belongs in an Encyclopedia - but it belongs on his page. It has zero relevence to the Great Filter. And as WP:TOPIC says:

The most readable articles contain no irrelevant (nor only loosely relevant) information. While writing an article, you might find yourself digressing into a side subject. If you find yourself wandering off-topic, consider placing the additional information into a different article, where it will fit more closely with the topic. If you provide a link to the other article, readers who are interested in the side topic have the option of digging into it, but readers who are not interested will not be distracted by it. Due to the way in which Wikipedia has grown, many articles contain such redundant texts. Please be bold in deleting them.

On the other hand, there is no question that he is a futurist. Not only do lots of folks consider him a futurist, anyone can easily verify this to their own satisfaction by perusing his publications. Furthermore, this is relevant to the article - the very first paragraph talks about implications for the future of humanity. LouScheffer (talk) 04:17, 29 January 2010 (UTC)
Per Wikipedia:Biographies of living persons, please provide a reliable source showing that he is referred to by most sources as a "futurist". If most folks consider him a futurist, surely you should be able to find several good sources that say this. I've previously posted links to a collection of sources about Hanson. None of them refer to him as a futurist. As for your misreading of WP:TOPIC and how we treat people we are writing about, referring to them by their nationality and profession is encyclopedic style. If you like, we can comb through the featured articles together and see how it is done. I would be happy to show you. Viriditas (talk) 04:21, 29 January 2010 (UTC)
I see you removed "American" from "American astronomer Seth Shostak". The demographic classification is standard encyclopedic attribution style whenever we refer to proponents, theorists, or people who have contributed to a particular idea. This is to help the reader understand who we are talking about in one article, without requiring the reader to visit another page. It is entirely relevant to the person. When the reader sees "Seth Shostak" they want to know who he is. This is why we specify a nationality and his career. Please take a moment to open and read any reliable encyclopedia so that you can see how it works for yourself. You may also wish to review our featured articles. Viriditas (talk) 09:46, 29 January 2010 (UTC)
I 'm guessing you won't like this answer, but I think even the scientist's name should be relegated to a footnote, and require an active effort to click through, at least for science articles where the truth is not yet known (like this this one, for example). The problem is that readers can (and do) make unconscious judgments based on the proposer of an idea, rather than the idea's merits. This is an exactly why we need blind review in science - studies have shown, for example, that the exact same article has a ten times better chance of acceptance in a journal if submitted by a well known professor, as opposed to an unknown grad student. There are certainly times when relying on the reputation of the author makes sense - books and movies, arguments too detailed or technical for you to follow easily, where a decision must be made quickly, and so on. However, none of these apply here. So the best (and I think only) way to get a truly neutral point of view is to remove the names before presenting the ideas. This is well known to be best practice in science, and I think we should follow it here.
I understand that some readers will want this information, but it's easily available with a click if it's in the footnote. And like a movie spoiler, even mentioning the name in the text has already done the damage - since you can't explicitly forget. However, in the case the proposers are sufficiently obscure to the general public that leaving their names in the article seems OK. LouScheffer (talk) 12:29, 29 January 2010 (UTC)
Please don't guess about what I like or don't like; You may be surprised. I understand where you are coming from and I admire your unique POV, and it may have merit outside the history of science. However, my admiration aside, that is not encyclopedic style, nor is it how we write articles on Wikipedia. If you want to raise your idea in a more appropriate forum, that's one thing. In the past, I have proposed similar ideas along what you are saying - but offline, arguing that Wikipedia should have different "views" or layouts that can be customized depending on the reader. However, that is another discussion. I would like to get back to the topic of this thread. It is important to describe Hanson as a social scientist. To understand why, I am going to quote American scientist and historian of science Steven J. Dick on the first Green Bank meeting:

A notable lacuna at the conference, perhaps reflecting the "two cultures" problem, was the absence of any social scientists to discuss the evolution of civilizations and their longevity, two crucial factors in the Drake Equation.[5]


By the early 1970s, then, there were many calls for further study but no consensus among the few groups that had discussed, all under NASA sponsorship and on a very small scale, the potential impact of contact. Nor, Beck aside, was there any inclination among social scientists or philosophers to address the problem of the implications of extraterrestrial life independently and no answer to the call for more study during the 1970s.[6]

So the importance of a social scientist like Hanson here cannot be overemphasized. To remind you, Hanson himself is proud of his contribution to a field that lacks input into "two crucial factors in the Drake Equation". Again, Hanson writes:

I'm a social scientist with a high estimate of the power of social science (especially economics and sociobiology) to trace the outlines of a wide variety of social behavior. I even use social science to estimate our distant descendants’ future, and the astronomical signatures that aliens might leave.

So, we see then, from a historical POV, why it is important to describe Hanson as a social scientist in this field. Viriditas (talk) 13:01, 29 January 2010 (UTC)

I think there is merit to placing Hanson's name in the ref only and not in the main text at all; this is done elsewhere in wikipedia. Not everywhere of course, but where names are mentioned it often looks unencyclopaedic. (And this is not a "unique POV", BTW.) After all the article is about the great filter, not Hanson or Bostrom. But if we do mention names than we can certainly describe them as futurists, since that summarises their relevant work / roles / research interests / papers in a single word. --Michael C. Price talk 13:49, 4 February 2010 (UTC)

There is no such precedent on Wikipedia, nor is that encyclopedia style. Please take a moment to open an actual encyclopedia and read it. Choose a link and post it here. What we do here is attribute theories to their proponents, just like all professional encyclopedias. Viriditas (talk) 03:06, 5 February 2010 (UTC)

BTW, what source mentions the "great filter" and describes Robin Hanson as a "social scientist"? I can find such sources that call him an economist, polymath and SF author. Not a social scientist, though. --Michael C. Price talk 22:54, 9 February 2010 (UTC)

Removing original research[edit]

There are several editors here who do not seem familiar with the original research policy regarding the use of primary sources like Hanson's essay on the Great Filter. Here is some important information from WP:PRIMARY, which is part of the OR policy:

Reliable primary sources may be used in Wikipedia, but only with care, because it is easy to misuse them. Any interpretation of primary source material requires a reliable secondary source for that interpretation. A primary source can be used only to make descriptive statements that can be verified by any educated person without specialist knowledge. For example, an article about a novel may cite passages to describe the plot, but any interpretation needs a secondary source. Do not make analytic, synthetic, interpretive, explanatory, or evaluative claims about material found in a primary source.

Currently, the article says, "Furthermore, we have found no intelligent extraterrestrial life elsewhere despite centuries of astronomical observations..." In defense of this material, LouScheffer offered an interpretation of Hanson's essay, a primary source.[7] Per the OR policy cited above, interpretation of primary sources require secondary sources. In defense of the same unsourced material that remains unconnected with Hanson's essay, Michael C. Price argued that it was an explanation of a primary source, which he claims is allowed in the OR policy.[8] In fact, as can be seen from the above, it is not allowed: do not make analytic, synthetic, interpretive, explanatory, or evaluative claims about material found in a primary source. This is very clear and does not require any more debate. Viriditas (talk) 04:32, 29 January 2010 (UTC)

We won't debate it then. But note the quoted policy passage is internallly inconsistent.--Michael C. Price talk 08:01, 29 January 2010 (UTC)
Please take your concerns to Wikipedia talk:No original research. I may even consider joining you there. However, in article space, we follow the policies and guidelines. Viriditas (talk) 09:32, 29 January 2010 (UTC)
Including "A primary source can be used only to make descriptive statements that can be verified by any educated person without specialist knowledge." which "futurist" clearly passes. --Michael C. Price talk 19:01, 29 January 2010 (UTC)
No, we don't interpret primary sources to make claims about BLP's without secondary sources. Please read and understand the policy. Viriditas (talk) 02:28, 30 January 2010 (UTC)
Can't you understand the quoted sentence? --Michael C. Price talk 07:22, 30 January 2010 (UTC)
I understand the policy and I follow it. I do not, however, understand what you are trying to say. Viriditas (talk) 10:04, 30 January 2010 (UTC)
"A primary source can be used only to make descriptive statements that can be verified by any educated person without specialist knowledge." allows "futurist". --Michael C. Price talk 06:05, 31 January 2010 (UTC)
Michael, you are mixing at least two separate arguments together. BLP issues and interpretations of primary sources are certainly connected and related, but they are treated separately when we are dealing with non-biographical subjects. Hanson is a BLP, and we require reliable secondary sources to make any claims about him. You cannot interpret primary sources in regards to BLP's. If this isn't making sense, please feel free to address it on the appropriate forum. The point is that everything in a Wikipedia article should be easily sourced, and this isn't. It is especially important to find good sources about a BLP, which you have not. Please do so. Viriditas (talk) 00:33, 1 February 2010 (UTC)
This article is not a biography. --Michael C. Price talk 06:48, 1 February 2010 (UTC)
Michael, please read and understand WP:BLP it applies to all articles that include content about living persons. Furthermore, your edit summaries justifying your inclusion of this unsourced information appeal to an essay, WP:COMMON. Essays do not trump policies. Please take your concerns to the appropriate noticeboard. Viriditas (talk) 08:41, 1 February 2010 (UTC)
WP:IAR. --Michael C. Price talk 11:30, 2 February 2010 (UTC)
WP:BLP. Viriditas (talk) 23:11, 2 February 2010 (UTC)
IAR = ignore all rules. That includes BLP. --Michael C. Price talk 09:09, 3 February 2010 (UTC)
Sorry, but that's not what IAR means. Please educate yourself by reading Wikipedia:Understanding IAR and Wikipedia:What "Ignore all rules" means. IAR does not mean what you think it means. Viriditas (talk) 09:17, 3 February 2010 (UTC)
Read it. Note "Don't follow written instructions mindlessly, but rather, consider how the encyclopedia is improved or damaged by each edit." So tell me how WP is damaged by "futurist"? --Michael C. Price talk 09:33, 3 February 2010 (UTC)
Michael, you didn't read it. IAR does not mean ignoring rules you already know and that are important for the project, such as rules like BLP. Please pay special attention to What Ignore all rules does not mean. IAR means not letting rules interfere with your work, especially when you aren't aware of them. It certainly is not a blank check for ignoring BLP. Again, if you want to call Robin Hanson a futurist, please produce reliable secondary sources that call him a futurist. Also, is there a reason Robin Hanson does not refer to himself as a futurist, but as a social scientist and economist? Is it at all possible that Hanson does not like the term? Perhaps this is why you should stick to BLP. Viriditas (talk) 09:44, 3 February 2010 (UTC)
Answer the question. --Michael C. Price talk 09:49, 3 February 2010 (UTC)
Read BLP. What makes you think Hanson wants to be called a futurist? Does he call himself one? Do reliable secondary sources call him a futurist? Answer those questions, please. We don't use blogs or poorly sourced websites when we refer to BLP's. Viriditas (talk) 09:51, 3 February 2010 (UTC)
Still no answer, eh? --Michael C. Price talk 09:59, 3 February 2010 (UTC)
Michael, since you are making a claim about a BLP, you have the burden of proof. If Hanson is considered a futurist, why aren't there any secondary sources calling him as such, and why doesn't Hanson refer to himself as a futurist? Viriditas (talk) 10:01, 3 February 2010 (UTC)
There are 2ndary sources. Keep up man.--Michael C. Price talk 10:02, 3 February 2010 (UTC)
I have not found any reliable secondary sources. Please produce them. Blogs and Cato advertisements don't meet the RS requirements. Is there a reason Hanson does not refer to himself as a futurist? Viriditas (talk) 10:11, 3 February 2010 (UTC)
Still no answer on the damage to WP, BTW? --Michael C. Price talk 10:24, 3 February 2010 (UTC)
Michael, you have the burden of proof. What reliable sources refer to Hanson as a futurist? Viriditas (talk) 10:32, 3 February 2010 (UTC)
(De-indent)People are defined by their actions. You are an author, even if you never called yourself that. Nixon was a criminal, even though he claimed "I am not a crook". Hanson writes about the (far) future in a scholarly way. That makes him a futurist. You could say "Robin Hanson, a man who has written many scholarly papers about the future of humanity, has proposed..." and back this up with a list of scholarly papers about the future of humanity. The first three I see in his CV are "The Hanson-Hughes Debate on "The Crack of a Future Dawn", with James Hughes, Journal of Evolution and Technology 16(1):99-126, June 2007", "Catastrophe, Social Collapse, and Human Extinction, Global Catastrophic Risks, pp. 363-377, ed. Martin Rees, Nick Bostrom, and Milan Cirkovic, Oxford University Press, July 17, 2008." and Economics of Brain Emulations, Unnatrual Selection - The Challenges of Engineering Tomorrow's People, pp.150-158, ed. Peter Healey and Steve Rayner, EarthScan, London, December, 2008. LouScheffer (talk) 12:51, 3 February 2010 (UTC)
No, I'm sorry, but per WP:V and WP:BLP people on Wikipedia are defined by WP:RS. Editors do not get to describe, interpret, or explain sources. Viriditas (talk) 12:56, 3 February 2010 (UTC)
I've issued Viriditas with a 3RR warning. Also note that Robin Hanson is an associate of Oxford's Future of Humanity Institute. --Michael C. Price talk 13:07, 3 February 2010 (UTC)
And I've reverted the unsourced BLP claims again. Consensus does not override standard policies regarding the sourcing of claims made about BLP's. And, we see that reliable sources like the New York Times (2007) in a discussion of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford, refer to its director as a philosopher and Hanson as an economist.[9] At no time do any reliable sources call Hanson a "futurist". According to Hanson, there are at least 242 press or media articles that have mentioned him.[10] No reliable sources appear to call him a futurist. Viriditas (talk) 13:15, 3 February 2010 (UTC)

This issue seems covered by the rephrasing clause of WP:OR. The guy is listed as a research associate at the Future of Humanity Institute. By definition that makes him a futurist. For a source we just cite the institute's website. --Michael C. Price talk 17:53, 3 February 2010 (UTC)

No, we do not explain, interpret, or describe primary sources. We must have RS to be able to verify everything on Wikipedia. Hanson is not referred to as a futurist, nor does he refer to himself in that way. Please find RS to support your claim, or drop it. Viriditas (talk) 08:30, 4 February 2010 (UTC)]

As noted above, an ugly alternative is "Robin Hanson, who has written many scholarly articles about the future of technology and humanity, has ...". But this is *exactly* what a futurist is. This is not interpretation, but use of a definition to help the reader. LouScheffer (talk) 01:00, 4 February 2010 (UTC)

That's not an alternative that we are interested in here, because we are not required to explain who Hanson is in this article. We are only required to briefly refer to his nationality and career, based on whatever RS most describe him as in the most relevant sources. For some reason, they do not describe him as a futurist, nor does he describe himself as such, so I can't figure out why you and Michael are using that term here. Viriditas (talk) 08:30, 4 February 2010 (UTC)
Viriditas, you're not listening. Futurist is an explanation and rephrasing. We are not "required" to describe his nationality here, since it is irrelevant. I guess you don't feel the need to listen, since you got the article locked in your favour after violating 3rr. Says a lot about you. --Michael C. Price talk 08:36, 4 February 2010 (UTC)
I do not think you are listening. "Futurist" is not an explanation and rephrasing of anything, and WP:NOR specifically prohibits the explanation, interpretation, and description of primary sources. You need secondary sources to do this. Please find them. You've got less than 300 sources about Hanson. If you can't find one reliable source that describes him as a futurist, that tells you that something is wrong. All of our articles are based on sources, not on your personal interpretation of the sources. My only interest here is to expand and source the article. For some reason that I cannot understand, your only interest here is to add original research. Please stop what you are doing and help me improve this article. To do this, we need good sources. Viriditas (talk) 08:42, 4 February 2010 (UTC)
Summarising and rephrasing are specifically permitted - nay encouraged by WP:OR. You just don't get it, do you? --Michael C. Price talk 08:47, 4 February 2010 (UTC)
Michael, you are the one who doesn't get it. You cannot interpret primary sources without secondary sources supporting your interpretation. It is your interpretation that Hanson is considered a futurist. All of the RS call him an economist and a professor of economics. There is nothing in the WP:NOR policy that supports describing a BLP without reliable secondary sources that support it. Until you find sources to support your claims, there is nothing to discuss. We have RS describing Hanson as a social scientist, an economist, and a professor of economics. We do not have RS describing him as a futurist. If it was important or relevant to describe Hanson as such here, you would be able to easily find sources for your description. You can't, so it isn't. We do not write articles based on your interpretations. You have not summarized or rephrased anything allowable by policy. Again, my only interest here is to expand and improve the article based on RS. What is your interest here? Viriditas (talk) 08:53, 4 February 2010 (UTC)
It is pointless continuing this with someone who continually insists that "there is nothing to discuss". You simply don't listen to anything and make factual errors about policy. You ignore questions as it suits you (e.g. "damage to WP", "summarising" etc) and just recycle the same questions to avoid uncomfortable answers. The relevance of futurism to an article about the possibility of the extinction of the whole of humanity is obvious, as are RH's credientials as a futurist. --Michael C. Price talk 09:08, 4 February 2010 (UTC)
Michael, we write articles based on good sources. If you can't accept that one fact, there is nothing I can say to change your mind. There is no indication that the Great Filter is in our future, as it could very well be in our past. Hanson appeals to his work as a social scientist when dealing with this topic, not as a "futurist". If you have sources calling Hanson a futurist in regards to this topic, I will be happy to look at them. Viriditas (talk) 09:14, 4 February 2010 (UTC)
Once again you just recycled without listening - except for the claim that the Great Filter has nothing to do with the future - which is absurd, and RH specifically said it has implications for our future. --Michael C. Price talk 09:18, 4 February 2010 (UTC)
Michael, I have listened, and I understand where you are coming from. You think that sources aren't required to write Wikipedia articles. I understand your position, but I disagree with it. Hanson approaches the topic of the Great Filter as a social scientist, and he says that the Great Filter exists either in our past or our future. Viriditas (talk) 09:20, 4 February 2010 (UTC)
No you have listened; you do not understand my position w.r.t. sources, but it would be pointless to explain this again. Also note that your "argument" above does not show the irrelevance of futurism to the article. --Michael C. Price talk 09:28, 4 February 2010 (UTC)
Yes, I have listened, and I understand your position with regard to sources. The burden of proof rests on the editor adding content. If you want to add "futurist" to a description of Hanson here, please explain why and show me which sources you are using. Describing Hanson as an economist and/or professor of economics is all we need to do, according to the sources that we do have. If you feel otherwise, you will show me the sources supporting your proposal. Viriditas (talk) 09:58, 4 February 2010 (UTC)
  1. I note you have quietly dropped your irrelevance claim. Smart move.
  2. You know my sources, and you know how we are allowed to summarise primary sources provided we don't draw on specialist knoweldge. Do you dispute that Hanson's role at Oxford merits the description of futurist? --Michael C. Price talk 10:11, 4 February 2010 (UTC)
What is the connection between Hanson's work at Oxford and the Great Filter? Why are you adding the word "futurist" to this article without sources backing it up? Viriditas (talk) 10:18, 4 February 2010 (UTC)
Just answer the question. Yes or no? --Michael C. Price talk 10:33, 4 February 2010 (UTC)
Michael, in order to answer any questions, I need to see your sources. The Oxford source says nothing about the Great Filter and nothing about Hanson's work as a futurist. Can you please tell me which source you are using that directly calls Hanson a futurist? We cannot interpret sources when we are dealing with BLP's. Viriditas (talk) 10:39, 4 February 2010 (UTC)
I'm not talking about the GF here. Just answer the question: Do you dispute that Hanson's role at Oxford's Future of Humanity Institute merits the description of futurist? --Michael C. Price talk 10:52, 4 February 2010 (UTC)
Michael, I don't know anything about Hanson's role at Oxford, nor am I aware that the people who work there are called futurists. For example, writer John Tierney wrote about the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford in a 2007 article in the New York Times.[11] The director of the institute is referred to as a "philosopher" and Hanson is called an "economist". This article aside, it is my understanding that the institute seeks out and attracts people from different fields. They aren't called futurists but rather, they are described by their expertise. Of course, if you can find more sources on this subject, that would be great. Specifically, sources about Hanson, referring to him as a futurist. Could you also explain why you think it is important to call Hanson a futurist when he is widely known and referred to as an economist, a professor of economics, and a social scientist? Viriditas (talk) 11:01, 4 February 2010 (UTC)
Again: I am not asking other people, I am asking you how it can be summarised. And look at his papers, as Lou has. Again, yes or no? --Michael C. Price talk 11:10, 4 February 2010 (UTC)
How can what be summarized, Michael? I cannot read your mind. Viriditas (talk) 11:13, 4 February 2010 (UTC)
You don't have to. Look at the word "again" and scroll up.--Michael C. Price talk 11:18, 4 February 2010 (UTC)
Michael, you need to be clear. I'm not going to try and figure out what you are saying. Look, I've asked you for sources supporting your claims, not interpretations. If you want to call Hanson a futurist, find the sources and explain why it is important to do so. My goal is simply to expand this article with good sources. Is there a reason you are focusing on something that detracts from that goal? Because I'm really not interested in discussing unsourced interpretations with you. If good sources call Hanson a futurist, and it is relevant to this article, then we add it. There's nothing else to discuss. Please try to focus your energy and time in more constructive ways. Viriditas (talk) 11:25, 4 February 2010 (UTC)

Viriditas, you've avoided answering numerous times, so I give up. You have a talent for evading direct answers that make you uncomfortable. Well done. I've been around long enough to know that we're never going to get a direct answer from you. Perphaps you're just demented about me, who knows? Try answering Lou's first question below, if you find it easier dealing with him. --Michael C. Price talk 13:55, 4 February 2010 (UTC)

Viriditas, would you object to "Robin Hanson, who has written many peer-reviewed articles[][][][] about the far future of technology[][][] and of humanity[][][], has proposed...."? This is both extremely well sourced, and at least as relevent as "economist" and "American", since GF is about the far future of humanity with a strong technology component. It also indicates he has considered this general field in a professional capacity (not all economists have done this, nor all Americans). The peer review shows other folks think he's not completely crazy. If you are OK with this, would you not agree that "futurist" *summarizes* someone who thinks and writes professionally about the future of humanity, and would be a shorter and clearer way of saying the same thing? LouScheffer (talk) 12:57, 4 February 2010 (UTC) You can also see this from another direction. If you don't think "futurist" is correct, how might you (or a reader) think of futurist in a way that excludes Robin Hanson? LouScheffer (talk) 12:57, 4 February 2010 (UTC)

We go with what the sources say, Lou. I understand that you and Michael come from an older generation that still sees the world through the eyes of The Two Cultures. However, Hanson has a solid background in physics and he's proud that he uses social science to address this problem. He does not call himself a futurist, which is why no RS uses the term. Viriditas (talk) 02:48, 5 February 2010 (UTC)
So you are explicitly OK with the wording above? LouScheffer (talk) 02:58, 5 February 2010 (UTC)
I have agreed to nothing. Why would you even choose to use the wording above? What sources are you using in relation to the Great Filter? Remember, we use sources about the topic. Why are you opposed to calling Hanson a social scientist and/or economist? You are opposed because you personally believe this reflects poorly on the subject. I'm sorry, but that's your own personal opinion, and we don't edit articles based on that criteria. Hanson is proud of using social science to address this topic and it is highly relevant. Viriditas (talk) 03:08, 5 February 2010 (UTC)
I agree that what I think is not very relevant. What is relevant, however, is what the reader (who most likely has never seen any of this before) will think. It is well known that "social science" is regarded, rightly or wrongly, as a "soft science" that is not very rigorous (See Hard and soft science). And when they read "economist", most folks think of economic policy, financial statement analysis, econometrics, and so on, even though ideas from economics can be used in a much wider arena. In particular relevance to the GF, neither of these occupations have a reputation for thinking rigorously about long range technological prospects or the future of humanity. On the other hand, futurist describes exactly this, and fits perfectly. Robin Hanson himself thinks he is a futurist, in addition to his description of himself as an economist or social scientist - the terms are not exclusive. Here, for example, is a quote where he complains the media pays more attention to *other* futurists rather than to him: "I’m not so much against the main claims of these groups as I am against their concept of themselves as the main folks who care about the future. These just won’t be the central issues when the future arrives. Yet when the media reports on the future, reporters pretty much only ever quote these sort of futurists, who have hijacked the future to support their side of certain current disputes." Likewise in Alas Amateur Futurism he complains about amateur futurism, as opposed to the professional kind he espouses.
Now if you don't like the word futurist, you can replace it by its definition and say, for example, that Robin Hanson is an economist and social scientist who has written many peer-reviewed articles about the future of technology and mankind itself. Every part of this statement is well supported. Or you can leave all this out, and social science and economics as well. But leaving social science and economics in, without adding futurist or the equivalent to show serious and sustained thought on the topic of mankind's future, will give the wrong impression to many if not most readers. LouScheffer (talk) 05:33, 5 February 2010 (UTC)
What I like or don't like has nothing to do with this discussion. I've just gone through dozens of reliable sources about Hanson on his work (linked on his website). None of the RS call him a futurist. And, Hanson does not call himself a futurist. Is there a reason you and Lou are calling a BLP something he does not call himself and something that no RS call him? Viriditas (talk) 10:41, 5 February 2010 (UTC)
Here's a podcast where you can hear Robin Hanson speak in his own words, and say (start about 54:20 into the podcast, to hear the moderator as Robin to speak):

So the actual futurist, most business futurists, are focused on a relatively short time scale, about 3-10 years, or not much longer than that. So clearly most demand for futurism, that’s sort of practical, is in that time scale. But I’m most interested in the longer time scale, that you know after 20-100 years or something, and out there most of the people who do that kind of futurism, are basically entertainers, unfortunately. [...] and that’s basically how futurism fails, is that we don’t combine expert (something) from multiple fields.

In particular, the last sentence states he practices futurism (he uses the word "we"). And to avoid any possible loopholes, the first two sentences show that he believes futurism is performed by futurists. LouScheffer (talk) 14:36, 5 February 2010 (UTC)
I'm sorry, but that podcast calls him an economist, not a futurist, unlike their guest Brian Wang.[12] Please try to stick closely to what the sources say, and not what you want them to say. Hanson actually argues against being called a futurist, and argues that his social science POV is far more relevant. This could not be more clear. The podcast hosts call him an economist, the website calls him an economist, and Hanson defends the role of the social scientist. Meanwhile, Hanson shares the podcast with guest Brian Wang who is called a futurist. What part of this isn't making sense? We do not interpret primary sources for exactly this reason. Here, we have Hanson being called an economist on the website and on the podcast, and yet you claim he is being called a futurist. That's why we have WP:PSTS. Please provide a reliable secondary source that supports your POV about Hanson. Viriditas (talk) 02:45, 6 February 2010 (UTC)
But why "we"? --Michael C. Price talk 04:02, 6 February 2010 (UTC)
Given that at least once Robin Hanson has referred to himself as a futurist, at this point any claim he is not a futurist would need an extremely solid reliable source, strong enough to contradict a living person's statement about his own designation. LouScheffer (talk) 04:41, 6 February 2010 (UTC)
Not true. Hanson does not refer to himself as a futurist, nor does he sign on to any "ism" per his home page. Viriditas (talk) 23:16, 8 February 2010 (UTC)

I've requested comments at Wikipedia:No original research/Noticeboard#Great Filter. LouScheffer (talk) 06:35, 5 February 2010 (UTC)


I have protected this article from editing to prevent an ongoing edit war. Please work this out here, and request unprotection at Wikipedia:Requests for page protection if there is agreement before the article is automatically unprotected in one week. Possible places to ask for outside input include: Wikipedia:Biographies of living persons/Noticeboard, Wikipedia:Reliable sources/Noticeboard, or a relevant WikiProject. - 2/0 (cont.) 14:28, 3 February 2010 (UTC)


The whole section seems to be a counterargument against the FP, not the GF. --Michael C. Price talk 08:04, 29 January 2010 (UTC)

I disagree. Can you be specific so that I can address your concerns? Viriditas (talk) 09:32, 29 January 2010 (UTC)
I disagree, too. There are a whole class of "solutions" to the Fermi paradox that support the Great Filter, or at least do not contradict it - good planets are rare, it's hard for life to arise, life seldom becomes complex, complex life seldom becomes intelligent, intelligent life always self-destructs, and so on. But there are lots of FP solutions that contradict the GF, that argue that *both* life is common and our future is not bleak. These are the scenarios that should be called out in the counterarguments section. LouScheffer (talk) 13:20, 29 January 2010 (UTC)

New additions to counterargument section[edit]

There are many alternative scenarios that might allow intelligent life to evolve many times, without either catastrophic self-destruction or glaringly visible evidence. These scenerios are explored in detail in the section of the Fermi paradox argument "They do exist, but we see no evidence". Arguments include that it is too expensive to spread physically throughout the galaxy, they tend to experience a technological singularity, Earth is purposely isolated, it is dangerous to communicate and hence civilizations actively hide, and many others.

Please remember to avoid self-references. The duplicate arguments can be merged inline as links to Shostak's comments. Viriditas (talk) 09:36, 29 January 2010 (UTC)

Archaea is prokaryotic[edit]

Please correct the 4th item in "Hanson's list"! Prokaryotes are no longer a monophyletic group (or taxon) but they still consist of bacteria and archaea. -- (talk) 19:10, 2 January 2012 (UTC)

Thank you for your suggestion. When you believe an article needs improvement, please feel free to make those changes. Wikipedia is a wiki, so anyone can edit almost any article by simply following the edit this page link at the top.
The Wikipedia community encourages you to be bold in updating pages. Don't worry too much about making honest mistakes—they're likely to be found and corrected quickly. If you're not sure how editing works, check out how to edit a page, or use the sandbox to try out your editing skills. New contributors are always welcome. You don't even need to log in (although there are many reasons why you might want to). Viriditas (talk) 01:07, 3 January 2012 (UTC)

High probability of self-destruction[edit]

Based on the available evidence at this time, the probability of self-destruction is higher than any other variable. It seems unlikely that humanity, in their present physical form of naked, tree-dwelling primates, will ever reach the stars. Based on current trends, planetary extinction is the likeliest outcome, which explains the great silence. The dinosaurs had plenty of time to develop technology and leave the planet but did not or could not. There is no good reason to think our future will be any different. I know of at least two alternate outcomes to this likely scenario, but they would involve purposefully and deliberately changing the structure of human societies to ensure survival, which given the current climate seems even less likely. On the other hand, it may be possible for isolated communities to escape the confines of their home planets and to survive in isolated niches, but the technological and psychological barriers are so great as to make this option almost impossible. Viriditas (talk) 10:11, 31 May 2012 (UTC)

Are we the only intelligent species on Earth?[edit]

Doesn't this depend how we define and measure intelligence?

The citation which is supposed to prove the claim only refers to the lack of any intelligent alien species colonizing Earth. It doesn't show that there aren't other intelligent earth-native species. It is unclear whether, for example, some dolphin species have language. It is clear that several other species, including our closest great ape relatives, use tools. (talk) 21:19, 13 January 2013 (UTC)

Yes, and this question has been subject to some controversy because if we decide as a species that we are part of nature (not estranged and at war with it) then we must cast aside all of our other assumptions which underlie our society and civilization. So, you see, there are vested interests at work holding tightly to the notion that we are the only intelligent species, because if they let go of it for just a moment, the whole house of cards comes tumbling down. Viriditas (talk) 22:51, 13 January 2013 (UTC)
Indeed, isn't there such a thing as a terrestrial bias, where we expect ET life to follow the terrestrial (terrestocentric?) models of life and intelligence. The result may be (and probably includes) casting away positive evidence that doesn't fit mainstream expectations. Kortoso (talk) 19:07, 5 August 2013 (UTC)
Yes, that's generally referred to as "Earth chauvinism", and it is inherently a type of speciesism with a bit of sampling bias thrown in for good measure. When I went to college, you weren't even allowed to talk about exoplanets or they would take you away. Marcy persisted and asked NASA for several thousand dollars to buy some computer equipment and even they refused. The subject of non-human intelligence is experiencing the same paradigm blindness. Viriditas (talk) 21:19, 5 August 2013 (UTC)

Absence of evidence is evidence of absence, proof[edit]

Assume absence of evidence is no evidence of absence. Then our posterior on observing no aliens equals our prior,


By Bayes, P(L|¬O)/P(L) = P(¬O|L)/P(¬O)

P(L|¬O) = P(L) => P(¬O|L)/P(¬O) = 1 => P(¬O|L) = P(¬O)


Given P(¬O)=P(¬O|L), can we show also P(O|L)=P(O)? Yes:

P(¬O|L)=P(¬O ∩ L)/P(L)=P(¬O)

P( O|L)=P( O ∩ L)/P(L)

P((O ∩ L) ∪ (¬O ∩ L)) = P(O ∩ L) + P(¬O ∩ L) - P(¬O ∩ O ∩ L)

P((O ∩ L) ∪ (¬O ∩ L)) = P(L)


(O ∩ L) ∪ (¬O ∩ L) = (O ∩ L ∪ ¬O) ∩ (O ∩ L ∪ L) distribute

= ((O ∪ ¬O) ∩ (L ∪ ¬O)) ∩ (O ∩ L ∪ L) distribute

= (L ∪ ¬O) ∩ (O ∩ L ∪ L) simplify

= (L ∪ ¬O) ∩ L absorption

= (L ∩ L) ∪ (¬O ∩ L) distribute

= L ∪ (L ∩ ¬O)

= L absorption


P(L) = P(O ∩ L) + P(¬O ∩ L) since P(O ∩ L) and P(¬O ∩ L) are exclusive

P(O ∩ L) = P(L)-P(¬O ∩ L) = P(L)-P(¬O)P(L) = P(L) (1-P(¬O)) = P(L) P(O)

P( O|L) = P(O)

so P(observ|life) = P(observ)

Consequentially (see above) P(life|observ)=P(life). So our observation, if it takes place, cannot be evidence _for_ life either, since our posterior p of life under observation equals the prior. Ergo it's not evidence, contradiction, qed. In general, if seeing something is probabilistic evidence for X, then not seeing it has to be evidence against X, or you run into this contradiction. Note: there's probably a simpler way to show this. Feel free to edit. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:14, 23 July 2013 (UTC)

Life vs intelligent life[edit]

The article says "With no evidence of intelligent life other than ourselves [...]"

So evidence of unintelligent life has been found, or what? Am I missing something? I believe nothing has been found. Are bacteria intelligent life? — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 01:20, 10 January 2014 (UTC)

The full argument is as follows: "With no evidence of intelligent life other than ourselves, it appears that the process of starting with a star and ending with "advanced explosive lasting life" must be unlikely." I'm not sure what part you are having trouble understanding. The argument does not imply that bacteria are intelligent, it implies that we are intelligent (which is debatable considering we can barely travel throughout our own solar system) and it implies that because aliens do not appear to be here (fermi paradox, again debatable, see zoo hypothesis, etc.) it is unlikely for intelligent life to arise. The argument itself is only a thought experiment, as there are many variables it does not take into account. However, it is a helpful heuristic for thinking about the fermi paradox, but it is not the only one, and it has many limitations. Personally, I think it is completely wrong in many different ways, but some experts find it helpful to use in related discussions to flesh out aspects of the problem. Viriditas (talk) 03:50, 10 January 2014 (UTC)