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June 12, 2017



I think this treats Drake's equation (perhaps distinct from how SETI and the like discuss it) a bit poorly - Drake did distinguish between f(i) and f(c), between intelligence, and the ability to communicate that intelligence across interstellar spaces. It's true that he defines intelligence as a necessary stage in communication, which both treats intelligence as a prelimary stage in some eventual cosmic civilisation and assumes that only intelligence can create communication, but dolphins, squid, fungal colonies, etc, all can be intelligent (f(i)) without being part of that segment that communicate that intelligence (f(c)).


Really interesting post. I'm sympathetic to the general thesis. But I wonder whether you underestimate humans' "truly species-specific advantages." To push back on the following:

"First, it is not at all clear that tool-use, or a fortiori complex-tool-use, pertains to my own species essence in a significantly different way than it pertains to a chimpanzee’s species essence. If a chimpanzee and I were stranded on a desert island with only our wits to help us survive, I would not myself be able to build any tools, from available raw materials, that would be significantly more sophisticated than what the chimpanzee would come up with. I would however continue to use other truly species-specific advantages, such as bipedalism, to the best of my ability, towards my own survival."

1. You, and not the chimp, would be able to remember what your primitive tool was good for the first time around, and expand its function on repeated uses.

2. And you, better than the chimp, could make "psychological tools" (marks, notations) thus "externalizing" your memory. An arrow on a tree pointing to water can go a long way for you and mean nothing to the chimp.

These two (cognitive) advantages seem species-specific in a manner more relevant to your relative survival than bipedalism and other physiological species-specific traits.


Some of this ground was covered by Sagan and Shklovsky in their 1966 book Intelligent Life in the Universe. They speculated on the the difficulties of determining the intelligence of a dolphin. But ultimately they fell into their own trap by deciding that the "intelligence" that we will find will have been traveling toward us for much longer than will have existed our capabilities of detection.


So today, are we looking at interaction and instinct, in an infinite Universe, as appearing at the same time-now...


A very informed article this is.

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