Do you believe there is intelligent life out there?

Following on from yesterday’s post and inspired by this tweet

I thought I’d try a quick poll on what people think about the existent of intelligent life “out there”. In my experience, and in contrast to the tweet, most astronomers are actually quite open-minded about the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence. My own view is that while it is entirely possible that there is intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe, scientific belief* should be based on evidence and we simply don’t have any evidence to support the idea. I would therefore say that I don’t “believe” but am agnostic. Sometimes “I don’t know” is the only rational answer.

You might ask me as a cosmologist whether I believe in the Big Bang theory. My answer would be “yes” because I think the evidence supports this description of the Universe. If evidence came along to change my opinion I might believe in it less or not at all. I might also change my mind if a different model came along that fits the observations better.

*In a Bayesian sense I would interpret “refusing to believe” as meaning setting a prior probability of zero, so that no amount of evidence would produce a non-zero posterior probability.

Anyway, setting aside the issue of whether there is even any evidence of intelligent life on Earth here is a poll:

9 Responses to “Do you believe there is intelligent life out there?”

  1. Maybe the bigger question is whether there is intelligent life down here. šŸ˜

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

  3. My major issue is that if there is (technological) intelligent life currently anywhere in the Galaxy, why are they not here? The old Fermi paradox. I haven’t heard a convincing argument against it.

    • telescoper Says:

      Perhaps they’ve seen us and not unreasonably have decided to avoid making contact.

      • As part of my ‘science of science-fiction’ talk on aliens (available at no cost to interested parties), I note the (apparently) ongoing discussions between SETI and active SETI proponents – the former wanting to search for signals/evidence, the latter wanting to actively send signals and ‘alert’ aliens to our existence. Some are against the latter, arguing that any contact could go badly for us.

        Certainly on Earth when a more technologically advanced civilisation has met one less advanced, it hasn’t gone too well for the latter. Perhaps everyone is searching for signals but no-one is sending?

      • The idea that merely by choosing not to intentionally send signals we could somehow hide our existence from an advanced civilization is absurd.

    • There is a huge literature on the Fermi paradox. I think the easiest answer is a question: why should they be here?

      • That begs the question. The Fermi theorem applies to any other civilization within travel distance, and you need an explanation that applies to any such civilization, not just to one. The most direct explanation is that there is no such civilization and there has never been one. The main free parameter is the allowable travel distance

      • But that assumes that such a civilization would want to be here.

        Bonus points for knowing how to properly use the expression to beg the question. šŸ™‚

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