Exact Number Of ET Civilizations Now Known

No study of the galaxy should neglect the question "How many advanced civilizations are there?" Fortunately, an astronomer in Scotland, Duncan Forgan, has worked out how the various theories about the origin of planets, the development of life and the growth of civilizations can be compared.

Abstract: The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) has been heavily influenced by solutions to the Drake Equation, which returns an integer value for the number of communicating civilisations resident in the Milky Way, and by the Fermi Paradox, glibly stated as: "If they are there, where are they?". Both rely on using average values of key parameters, such as the mean signal lifetime of a communicating civilisation. A more accurate answer must take into account the distribution of stellar, planetary and biological attributes in the galaxy, as well as the stochastic nature of evolution itself. This paper outlines a method of Monte Carlo realisation which does this, and hence allows an estimation of the distribution of key parameters in SETI, as well as allowing a quantification of their errors (and the level of ignorance therein). Furthermore, it provides a means for competing theories of life and intelligence to be compared quantitatively.

According to Forgan's paper, the number of advanced, intelligent civilizations in our galaxy is 361, 31,573 or 37,964.

I guess we can start constructing the Galactic Senate building now.


(The Galactic Sentate, addressed by Palpatine [Star Wars])

At this point, I'm reminded not of sf, but a quote from Mark Twain's Letters to the Earth:

Relics of this great artist's inspiration are exceedingly rare, and are valued at enormous sums; however, two shovels and a horseshoe made by him are on file at the British Museum, and no stranger should go away from London without seeing them. One of the shovels is undoubtedly genuine, but all authorities agree that the other one is spurious. It is not known which is the spurious one, and this is unfortunate, for nothing connected with this great man can be deemed of trifling importance.

As far as science-fictional predictions of the total number of civilizations are concerned, it varies. In his Foundation series, there is only one (ours) on 25 million worlds. In Star Wars, there are dozens of species (each with some sort of civilization); the government on Coruscant governs approximately one million worlds. How many civilizations are there in your (favorite) galaxy?

From A Numerical Testbed for Hypotheses of Extraterrestrial Life and Intelligence via /.; thanks to Moira for the tip.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 10/21/2008)

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