N equals L
Last weekend, I participated in the “Future of Intelligence in the Cosmos” workshop at NASA Ames. In an age of ultra-specialized conferences, the focus for this one bucked the trend by pulling back for the really big picture:
The Future of Intelligence in the Cosmos” is an interdisciplinary two-day workshop that seeks to elucidate potential scenarios for the evolution of intelligent civilizations in our galaxy and thus, perhaps, to find a resolution for this seeming paradox. The probability that intelligent civilizations exist has been succinctly stated by the Drake Equation. While the first few terms in the equation, such as the number of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, the fraction of stars that have planets, and the number of planets in the habitable zone, are becoming better known, the last three terms that depict the fraction of planets that evolve intelligent life, the fraction that communicate, and the fraction of the lifetime of the Milky Way Galaxy over which they communicate, are not well known. It is these last three terms in the Drake Equation that are the focus of the workshop.
In most venues, extrasolar planets veer toward the esoteric. At this workshop, however, the galactic planetary census was perhaps the most nuts-and-bolts topic on the agenda. We know that planet formation is common in the galaxy, and its increasingly clear that the “great silence” isn’t stemming from a lack of Earth-mass worlds.
Here’s a link to a .pdf document containing the slides from my talk.
In an upcoming post, I’ll try to pull together a synopsis of what emerged from the conference. Perhaps the most startling moment for me came in Paul Davies‘ talk, when he described the extent to which the simulation argument has been developed.
When I was in graduate school, Frank Drake was a faculty member in our Department. I noticed right away that the license plate on his car read “neqlsl”. I always read this as “n equals one”, until I finally asked him which term was responsible for thwarting all the alien civilizations.
“It’s not N equals one,” he said, “it’s N equals L”.