Excellent Argument Against Meeting Alien Lifeforms: The Metal Dilemma

16. February, 2012

Some metals are more rare than others; earth’s computer industry is lethally dependent in the so-called rare earth elements. They are rare because of how they are created: When a star dies violently. Each atom of gold, silver or copper was once created in an exploding star because the normal fusion process can only produce elements up to iron (fusing iron with anything else needs energy while fusing, say, hydrogen with itself produces a lot of energy). To see for yourself what is missing, check the elements beyond iron (Fe 26) in the periodic table.

In fact there are areas in the galaxy where metal is more rare on earth because there haven’t been many super novae around there: Maybe the stars are still too young, maybe they are too small to go nova. This is what you can find near the rim of the galaxy. Most metal can be found near the core of the galaxy where there are many massive, tightly packed stars. The problem here is that life is a tad difficult near the core because of the heavy radiation.

So there has to be a sweet spot between: Just enough metal but not too much radiation. This is where we life.

Does that mean life near the rim is impossible? No. Most elements to sustain life (carbon and oxygen, most prominently) are available everywhere in the galaxy (this is easy to prove by looking at the spectral lines of the stars in question). So there is life not no (or not much) metal there.

Now imagine a life without copper. No wires. No telephone. No computers. Maybe they could build wires with aluminium but for computers, you need semiconductors. For these, you need silicon (which they have) but also elements to “taint” the pure silicon – the rare earth elements. Germanium. Gallium. Arsenic. All beyond iron in the list of chemical elements. They could use silicon carbide but the material has a lot of problems.

Without all the elements beyond iron, it’s probably hard to build a complex civilization. Radio telescopes. Space ships.

They might exist but they probably can’t leave their planet. Or receive any of our signals.

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3. May, 2010

Recently, Stephen Hawking warned: Don’t talk to aliens. His argument: Aliens could be dangerous for us, either because they are like us (just think how the Native Americans were treated to get an idea) or because the very contact with an advanced culture will ruin us (think of the Australian Aborigines) or because they could simply wipe us out since we could become a threat or simply because they like our planet more than us. Let’s have a closer look at these arguments.

Which is more simple: To build artificial mini-planets (only a few kilometers across) which orbit around a star in the habitable zone or send an arch over thousands of light years to another system? A system which has a different star with a different light spectrum. Could we live under a class A star without adjusting our bodies? Anyone know that? Would we still be human, if we did? My conclusion: If aliens make the trip, it’s not for site development or the beaches. If they can build an ark, they can much more easily build their own fancy planets in a place that is much more like home.

Resources maybe? There is no indication that our star system is especially rich in terms of resources. The sad fact is that we can’t reach most of the resources; we can’t mine the Moon, Mars, the asteroid belt, Jupiter (for gases) or the Oort cloud. We can’t even harvest more than an insignificant amount of the energy the Sun sends into space. If we could mine those resources and we really needed more, why fly thousands of light years when you have hundreds of uninhabitable star systems that are much closer? Why mine resources which are potentially defended when you can have billions times that in places where no one will bother you? Do you really think the rare unobtanium from Pandora exists only in that single place? And if they came here, why bother with Earth when you have so much more resources in places that are easier to reach?

Life tends to spread. I find it hard to believe that aliens would all evolve in a single place without spreading. If they spread, they will know about the devastating effect of the contact of two cultures at a different level. Maybe they would ignore it but what for? Even evil people act for a reason. A single madman won’t be able to build an ark. A society of madmen would do even worse and all the rest will be stopped by their bureaucracy.

America wasn’t conquered for fun, they did it for space (as in area to build a house on and the freedom to think and talk). If you don’t need more room and you can simply retreat to your own private mini-planet, why conquer space? Why invest a thousand years on something that you already have for free?

Slave labor? My guess is that evolved aliens will pay to work because all work will be done by machines. Today, robots aren’t cheap enough (in terms of money, time to train them or energy they consume) for widespread usage. But they will become smaller, cheaper and learn to train themselves. They will need maintenance but won’t go on strike because we will program them this way; there is just no reason to make a screw driver smarter than it being able to lock on the screw head and recognize the strength of the nut so it won’t break anything.

So in the end, I agree with the old joke:

Q: Why were we never visited by aliens?

A: Because they are intelligent.

If that were not the case, they wouldn’t get here (= too dump to build ark). And there simply is no reason to get here because there is nothing here for them. All the people hoping for alien visits expect that they will solve our problems. What smart person would want to visit a place like that? Maybe a parent. Or a friend.

My conclusion is that alien life out there is probably actively ignoring us. If they are technologically advanced, there is no reason to believe we can hide from them. And if they are advanced, I can’t find a reason to fear them either. Can you?