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Can we find the probability of extraterrestrial life? A new paper suggests some odds. The experiment uses a Bayesian analysis to rerun Earth’s development and estimate likelihoods. What resulted is about a half and half split between intelligent life and no intelligent life.
An astronomer says he’s identified the odds of intelligent life existing elsewhere in the universe based on an analysis of both the likelihood of life developing quickly within a planet’s life cycle and the likelihood the life will be intelligent.
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David Kipping leads, yes, the Cool Worlds Laboratory at Columbia University. In an explainer video (below), he describes some background for the question of intelligent life in the universe and concludes, “I’ve never been much for faith—I want an answer.”
Kipping mentions the changing trends over centuries of human imagination: Basically, as soon as people realized what they saw in the sky included other planets, they began to wonder if other planets had intelligent life. An underdeveloped instrument caused astronomers to see “manmade” canals on the surface of Mars during the 1800s.
So what’s an evidence-based researcher to do in the face of centuries of speculation and inadequate information? Turn to Bayesian analysis, a way of using what we do know to extrapolate what we don’t. And to do that, Kipping put Earth’s long history on a replay loop. (Here’s Kipping’s full, very formula-heavy study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.)
Proponents of extraterrestrial life often fall back to the idea that the universe is so big that life simply must exist somewhere. The odds of no other life anywhere at any point seem, well, astronomically long. But that simple analysis leaves out what we
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