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Are UFO Aliens from Proxima Centauri?

Recently I received an email from former NASA scientist Henry Harris, who figures in my book "Captured By Aliens." Harris continues to speculate on the possibility that Earth has been, or is being, visited by entities from another planet. He's still plunging into that twilight terrain where science meets the paranormal, the supernatural, and the utterly daffy. People who visit this blog or have read my book know that I am a cranky and dyspeptic skeptic on all matters space-alien-related, but I thought I'd share Henry's latest intriguing idea:

"Recently a gravity lens experiment detected a planet around a red dwarf. The significance of this discovery is enormous.  Because of the difficulty of finding precisely the right geometry for gravity lensing, the discovery of even one planet around a red dwarf implies that planets around this type of star must be very common.  This is important because red dwarfs are the most common type of star -- they compose 80 percent of the total stars in the Milky Way -- and they are extremely long lived.  They are currently as old as the universe and have only lived a tiny fraction of their ultimate lifetime.

"If we are looking for civilizations, and not just life, the facts above would indicate that by far the most probable place to look would be a planet around a red dwarf since they provide the most time for a civilization to arise.  What would creatures from a planet circling a red dwarf look like?

"Most scientists would agree that a common characteristic of planets around red dwarf would be lower mass. The cloud that collapsed to create the star would not have as much mass left over to create planets. Therefore we could reasonably conclude that, on average, intelligent creatures living on such plants would have smaller limbs in proportion to the size of their heads than we do. The spectrum of a red dwarf does not provide as much illumination so the eyes would be proportionally larger to take in more light. Also, our skin has pigmentation to protect us from harmful IR radiation. A red dwarf does not have this component, so their skin would have a grayish look to us.

"So there you have it. We should be looking for smallish creatures with frail bodies, large heads, grayish skin and large eyes. An argument against this might be the enormous distances involved. The nearest star, Proxima Centauri, is 4.3 light years away. However, I led a JPL/NASA interstellar propulsion program that proved that flight to the nearby stars in feasible given our present state of technology development, although it would be very expensive. A civilization on a planet around a red dwarf could be millions of years ahead of us in technical development.

"Unfortunately, we have to call in Fermi's Paradox here. Given these statistics it would seem probable that we should have been visited many times by creatures with these characteristics. Since, officially at least, nobody's seen creatures like these, this analysis is undoubtedly false.

"By the way, Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf."

To sum up: He's suggesting, in his sly way, that the alleged UFO-critters known in paranormal circles as the "Grays" may come from the nearest star.

Seems to me that we've got some wild speculation here, but I'm not up on the latest thoughts about extraterrestrial anatomy, and so I called in the cavalry: James Oberg, a former NASA engineer who has written widely on the American and Russian space programs and who keeps track of UFO claims. He quickly produced a rebuttal to Harris:

"Actually, this is 'classic' exobiology of the 18th century, as reputable astronomers who had begun measuring the real physical conditions on other worlds also speculated on how those different conditions would alter the forms of life that could occur there.

"But in the centuries since then, this pastime has become regarded as 'cute' and juvenile, especially -- as in this case -- where the red dwarf planet suggestion runs counter to two fatal flaws: to be close enough to be warm enough, the planet would become tidally locked, creating extreme climate stresses.

"Second, the known evolution of luminosity of red dwarfs makes the 'habitable zone' (the 'goldilocks zone', not too hot and not too cold) shift in distance from the star so much that no world in any circular orbit remains inside it 'long enough' for life to evolve as it did on Earth over a few billion years.

"But intellectually, the speculation is legit, if out-dated."

You can find more of Oberg's thoughts on "space folklore" on his website.

[Late yesterday I talked to Seth Shostak, of the SETI Institute, who had some thoughts about red dwarf stars as a possible habitat for the emergence of intelligent life. Shostak doesn't believe in the Grays or any other such UFO critters, but he does think we should keep an open mind about red dwarfs. He says by email:

"It's true that red dwarf stars have not been favorites of the SETI community. The trouble is that these dusky runts are so dim that most of their encircling planets would make meat lockers seem balmy. Only worlds that happened to orbit very close to a red dwarf would have temperatures high enough to keep any oceans from freezing hard as granite. Alas, the inexorable workings of gravity would ensure that these close-in planets would soon be in "synchronous rotation" about their sun, with one hemisphere perpetually facing the star and the other, turned to space, in endless darkness (much as the Moon is in synchronous rotation about the Earth). The somber consequence would be boiling temperatures on one side and, on the reverse, conditions so frigid that the atmosphere would actually freeze out and pile up on the landscape in white heaps. Not a very enticing place for ET to call home.

"However, recent research by British scientists Manoj Joshi and Martin Heath has shown that this lugubrious picture is too pessimistic. If the planet has an atmosphere, then winds would kick up to move a lot of the heat from the sun-facing side to the dark side, keeping the atmosphere from freezing out, and producing a "belt" of mild climate halfway between the sun and the shade. There's certainly the possibility that life -- maybe even intelligent life -- could develop in this temperate region.

"So maybe we should be aiming our SETI telescopes at red dwarfs, searching for signals that would betray clever inhabitants. After all, these small stars can shine for ten times as long as the Sun, so they may be home to the oldest, most accomplished galactic societies. In addition, nine out of ten stars in the universe are red dwarfs: they're everywhere, and they're plentiful. It's not an unreasonable hypothesis, therefore, that the bulk of the worlds with life orbit a dim bulb of a star... a red dwarf."

For more, check out Shostak's radio show.]

By Joel Achenbach  |  May 17, 2006; 2:03 PM ET
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Next: Authors Galore: Michael Pollan, Chris Rose et al


>If you spend the money that building a wall would cost on more enforcement of employers or at the border

What they should do is hire the undocumented workers to build the wall. That way they wouldn't have to go so far.

Now how we keep the Proxima Centurion aliens out is beyond me. I just hope they're not good IT workers.

Posted by: Error Flynn | May 17, 2006 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Joel has been looking over my shoulder. That is exactly the chapter I am reading now. If the general arc of the book is to introduce bigger and bigger nutjobs in each chapter, I'm not sure I'll make it to the end before I throw it across the room screaming at the idiocy.

If there were a way to travel between stars, someone would have done so. The only scenario that makes sense in that case is the one used by David Brin in his Uplift series ("Startide Rising", et al) where there is a Pan Galactic Government enforcing quarantine of unfit planets.

I use this test: Would we be able to find what we are looking for as proof if we were on the other end of the telescope looking at us? If we were on Proxima Centuri or Beetlejuice or where ever, would we be picking up I Love Lucy shows from that end? Someday we may have telescopes or instruments strong enough to see features on other planets or listen to their Buster Brown radio shows.

Until then we are just sitting in the dark thinking wishfully.

Posted by: yellojkt | May 17, 2006 3:04 PM | Report abuse

I hereby invoke the Posted After Next Kit Announcement Rule and rejoin the fruitless immigration debate in progress with my personal anectdote on the futilty of securing borders.

Error Flynn is onto something.

Who would build this wall? Anyone who has been on a construction site lately knows that the foreman is the worker with the best English, not the best skills.

I lived on Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines when The Powers That Be decided to improve security by replacing the chainlink fence around the housing area with a concrete block wall. The wall was built with local labor and enough blocks were "lost" in the jungle just past the wall that every night the intruders could build themselves a stepping stair on the other side to get to the top of the wall easier.

The wall also prevented anyone from the base side from seeing what was going on on the other side. Final result: a net decrease in security.

Posted by: yellojkt | May 17, 2006 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Wait a minute, wait a minute, why do aliens have to have heads?

Or limbs? Lifeforms contending with extreme weather tend to be simple, hibernate or sporulate easily. There's no need to even think the lifeforms came out from under any oceans, anyway.

And lifeforms living under CONSTANT conditions of low luminosity often are blind, rather than large-eyed.

So I promote the idea the "Grays" are simply animated corpse suits motored by intelligent slime mold trying to deal with a freakishly bright, heavy world.

Hey, if it worked in "Men in Black..."

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 17, 2006 3:19 PM | Report abuse

BTW, check the old kit for links to Newbury medal winners, as well.

Let's focus on the aliens that make up our "next generation."

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 17, 2006 3:20 PM | Report abuse

I hope I get to see a "Gray" soon. I would love to learn their languge. There has to be someone else out there, of course. I hope they think we're worth visiting.

Since all I know about extraterrestrial beings I learned from Douglas Adams, I hope we don't get demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass.

Posted by: a bea c | May 17, 2006 3:22 PM | Report abuse

language. sorry.

Posted by: a bea c | May 17, 2006 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Permission granted, yellowjkt. I am reminded of several things re: immigration; namely the Know Nothings, "No Irish (or dogs) Need Apply , and notatably, the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Who said, "Give me your weary...?"

NIMBY has a long and perverse history

Posted by: maggieo'd | May 17, 2006 3:24 PM | Report abuse

I say we send elements of the National Guard to Proxima Centauri to make sure those Centurions stay on their side of the galaxy, dammit.

Posted by: Lou (Curmudgeon) Dobbs | May 17, 2006 3:25 PM | Report abuse

yellojkt, in '67-'68 I worked for the air force as a civilian in Hawaii and the master sargents I worked with, that were previously stationed at Clark, told me the reason the chain link fence was replaced with block was because large portions of the chain link fence would "disappear" at night along with such sundry things like fire trucks.

Posted by: bh | May 17, 2006 3:25 PM | Report abuse

Well, if E.T. has no head or limbs, maybe he has no language either. OK, I revise my statement. I would love to learn to communicate telepathically.

Posted by: a bea c | May 17, 2006 3:25 PM | Report abuse

>We should be looking for smallish creatures with frail bodies, large heads, grayish skin and large eyes

Wait a minute...looking around...

Maybe they ARE good IT workers!

Posted by: Error Flynn | May 17, 2006 3:26 PM | Report abuse

BTW, Joel, I put in a plug on the Len Downie chat for you to get a raise. (He didn't say yes--but then again, he didn't say no, either. Lemme know if it comes through--you'll owe me a brewski.)

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 17, 2006 3:31 PM | Report abuse

Nice segue from illegal aliens to illogical aliens.

Posted by: kindathinker | May 17, 2006 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Yellowjkt says: "If there were a way to travel between stars, someone would have done so." Not so fast, consider that on Proxima Centauri, gas costs $4,500,000,000,000,000 per gallon. The Centaurians may not have filled their change jar yet, that's all.

I have a proposal for the illegal Mexican immigrant problem: Build the biggest G*ddam Water Park in the World right on the border. Staff it with Mexicans. Put in shopping malls and hotels.

Posted by: CowTown | May 17, 2006 3:35 PM | Report abuse

I read an editorial in my hometown newspaper a while ago that blamed the immigration issue on marketing and cable TV. The argument was creative, at least.

Supposedly, Colombian people were happy to live in Colombia. Making a dollar a day was fine because they didn't know there was anything better to buy. But with cable television came advertisements for Barbie and candy bars, and parents left their farms to go find city jobs so they could afford to buy all that junk for their children. When they got to the city, they saw more advertisements, and wanted more stuff, and so they decided to board a plane to Mexico, find a smuggler, and voila!

Never mind that parents were actually driven off their lands by Marxist guerillas planting land mines among the crops.

Posted by: a bea c | May 17, 2006 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Now, those Grays are what I call an Intelligent Design!

As long as the desired result fits the facts...oh, wait.

If they're here, I doubt Earth wold really be desireable real estate to them, resulting in fatal sunburns, colds and stuff.

This, of course, explains all those crashed space ships, the movies and TV shows about Autopsies, etc.

ET, phone home quick!
The TV camera crew's on it's way over with a sawzall, a Dremel, a Swiss Army knife and a spork!


Posted by: bc | May 17, 2006 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Ah, yellojkt, "Startide Rising", that was one good book.

To try to tie a bunch of things together, I'm thinking of the "Alien Nation" movie and TV series (besides cracking myself up when I saw Mandy Patnikin in the Alien makeup and blurted out "Hello, my name is Indigo Montoya! You killed my father, prepare to die! Now, offer me money!" Other theatergoers were not amused.).

Still, AN offered some interesting perspectives on race and immigration, anyway.


Posted by: bc | May 17, 2006 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Jupiter is way, way outside our star's Habitable Zone, yet one of its satellites may have the Solar System's largest supply of liquid water by volume. We have learned over the past 20 years that we shouldn't be quite so skeptical about places where you might find something living. A satellite of a giant planet could have its temperature raised substantially by tidal heating and maybe even get some reflected sunlight from the primary body, if the satellite's orbit is small.

Posted by: ScienceTim | May 17, 2006 3:52 PM | Report abuse

Joel, I'll have one of those DysPepsis, if they're cold.


Posted by: bc | May 17, 2006 3:52 PM | Report abuse

Proxima Centauri.

I have a question. Is this going to be another bug hunt?

Posted by: SonofCarl | May 17, 2006 3:59 PM | Report abuse

a bea c, planting land mines amongst the crops might help in keeping the Grays out.

Aside from a liberal application of "Just For Men", I mean.

They keep leaving those circles when they fill up on corn (obviously, they're switching over to E85/Ethanol).

(Keith Hernandez does "Just For Men" ads; coincidence? Obviously not.)


Posted by: bc | May 17, 2006 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Senate just voted to build a fence, something like 350 miles long. And to erect barriers along 500 miles to stop cars.


Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 17, 2006 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Well, thus far SETI has found no evidence of anything resembling sentient transmissions from beyond the Oort Cloud. Granted, they've only scanned about 5% of the sky area, but that should still add up to billions of possible planets. Of course, if the Prime Directive is in fact in place, maybe we're being shielded from any hint of extra-terrestial life, and it's only when we can get our own alien issues resolved that they'll let us in on the secret.

Posted by: ebtnut | May 17, 2006 4:06 PM | Report abuse

I saw that, Mudge; the raising of the Adobe Curtain has begun.

I wonder where they'll put Checkpoint Carlos?


Posted by: bc | May 17, 2006 4:09 PM | Report abuse

by my 3:25, I didn't mean to disparage any particular people. It's like when the flowers bloom, certain insects and hummingbirds come for the easy pickings. BTW, we now have two hummingbirds coming every few minutes to our feeder (must be a couple nests nearby). We also have a pair of robins, a couple pair of goldfinch, Oregon juncos, black-headed grosbeaks, lots of towees, eight pair of califorina quail and on the day after turkey hunting season ended, the turkey that has adopted us reappeared. I'm just saying it's animal (plant) nature to flow from where things aren't so good to where it is better. We worked in Mexico City for a couple of years in '85-'86 and the estimates were people from the country were flowing into the Federal District at over 2000 per day because that's where the federal money was dispensed. Same thing when I was in Shangahi a few years ago. It's the nature for intellingent things to flow from where there is less to where there is more. Maybe that's why we haven't seen little grey people here. it's better over there.

Posted by: bh | May 17, 2006 4:11 PM | Report abuse

I predict that the day the extraterrestrials land, our Mexican brothers and sisters are suddenly going to seem much less alien to us.

Paradigm shift!

Posted by: kbertocci | May 17, 2006 4:15 PM | Report abuse

>Senate just voted to build a fence, something like 350 miles long

Maybe they'll put a highway on it and add it into the NASCAR schedule.

Posted by: Error Flynn | May 17, 2006 4:16 PM | Report abuse

Growing up I was always intrigued by the possibility of extraterrestrial life. I never saw a reason for them not to be here. As I matured and learned more I became skeptical. Sure, the infinite nature of the universe leads to statistical probablities of life but how would they get here? Why would they even want to come here? The limits of physics just seemed too big to overcome. But now we have string theory and the evolution of the multiverse. They may be wrong (and probably are) but it is an evolution of thought. Further maturing and further learning has now led me to the conclusion that we know very little about the universe and that which we do know is probably wrong. Putting restraints on what extraterrestrial civilizations can and cannot do seems rather silly if we can't even detect their presence (or lack thereof). Of course some people would say the same thing about God.

Posted by: grimmace | May 17, 2006 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Last month Donna Shirley, formerly of NASA and (more recently) the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle, put an interesting spin on the whole "alien" question. In addition to little grey men or women (why bow to the pressure to be gender-neutral)Donna pointed out several other options. For instance, she suggested that global warming may well release "critters" from the permafrost, etc., not seen since (a) the dawn of time, (b) they froze, or (c) they were dropped from above. Critters might also include new viruses and other bugs (a different kind of bug hunt). With advances in medical technology including limb, joint and organ replacements, it is only a matter of time before we render ourselves alien. I kind of like the critter idea.

I've never understood the common thread in so many theories (stories) that aliens have to resemble us in any way. They're often portrayed as more moral or less so, more cruel or more virtuous, and pretty much always smarter. Then there's that whole limb & eye thing. Just another form of anthropormorphism? Of course, this makes for a better story and more interesting plot (and Donna has plenty to say on how sci-fi literature can both mirror and change the world), but I don't find it convincing at the level of argument.

On the other hand, my son figures sure, there are aliens, why not? And of course they'll be like us since he still mistakenly believes the universe revolves around him. I try to discourage this notion, both on the personal level and as a big-picture thing.

Posted by: ivansmom | May 17, 2006 4:19 PM | Report abuse

We have a Milky Way in our vending machine that is as old as the universe.

And any sane person knows that an alien from a red-dwarf system would look just like Alf.

Posted by: TBG | May 17, 2006 4:24 PM | Report abuse

The way my head works, this is on topic. Sort of. In my teens I had a golden opportunity to join my best friend Olga's family who every summer loaded themselves into their big truck with wooden slat sides and migrated from San Antonio to California to live in camps and pick fruit. There was a lot of money to be made that way Olga's father said. Everyone worked, men, women, children. I had watched Olga's mother making tortillas the old way, patting them back and forth in her hands. Her tamales were sheer ambrosia. Olga and I would help feed the men and boys and keep the camp clean. In the evenings, Olga said, they would sit around the campfire and sing. When picking season was over they returned so the kids could go to school. It sounded like loads of fun and I wanted desperately to go. Mother, wisely I later understood, wanted me to go for a deeper humanitarian reason. Dad threw a hissy-fit and said no. I never quite forgave him for that.

Posted by: Nani | May 17, 2006 4:27 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of Red Dwarf:

"I am Holly, the ship's computer, with an IQ of 6000, the same IQ as 6000 PE teachers."

"This man is not guilty of manslaughter. He's only guilty of being Arnold J. Rimmer. That is his crime. It is also his punishment."

"Love is what seperates us from animals "
"No, Lister. What seperates us from animals is that we don't use our tongues to clean our own genitals."

Smeg off.

Posted by: yellojkt | May 17, 2006 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Ivansmom notes "'critters' from the permafrost, etc., not seen since (a) the dawn of time, (b) they froze, or (c) they were dropped from above."

This is the background story of The Thing, by the way. The remake with Kurt Russell is probably one of the top 10 SciFi movies IMHO.

Posted by: SonofCarl | May 17, 2006 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Aliens look like humans because that keeps the costume and special effects budget reasonable.

Posted by: yellojkt | May 17, 2006 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Oh My God....

I'm speechless.

Can I just sign him up for my class and give him an "F" straight away, for "A poorly designed argument that demonstrates an utter lack of even the most basic principles of biologic evolution."?

I have to throw a jab at Oberg, too. "But intellectually, the speculation is legit, if out-dated." Maybe true for the speculation on the exsistence of life around red dwarves, but certainly not for the nature of that life--unless you go back more than 150 years, before natural selection was proposed.

The most "realistic" TV/movie alien ever remains, sadly, the Horta from the original Star Trek.

Guess I'm not totally speechless.

Posted by: Dooley | May 17, 2006 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Shows you how many movies I see.
I told you they were good stories!

Posted by: ivansmom | May 17, 2006 4:40 PM | Report abuse

>Speaking of Red Dwarf:

I have this sudden craving for a chicken vindaloo and several beers.

Posted by: Error Flynn | May 17, 2006 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Dooley, do you teach exobiology? Yes, unfortunately the Horta represents a pinnacle.
Although there was that "light-emitting crystal creature living in sand" remake of "The demon in the Dark" (horta episode) in ST:NG only less pizza-like.

There was also the dimly seen, unknown insectile? beings that refused to talk to humans very much and wanted to exterminate the whole human colony if they didn't relocate from the planet allocated to them. Unfortunately the plot focused on the colonists, and it could have been better (although "send in the clones" is a good line).

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 17, 2006 4:49 PM | Report abuse

Error: Shall we partake at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe?

Posted by: ebtnut | May 17, 2006 4:52 PM | Report abuse

hey, error - my head is not THAT big! sheesh, just cuz i'm good at IT and a little grey tinged...

Posted by: mo | May 17, 2006 4:54 PM | Report abuse

mo... I think it's that frail body of yours that gives you away.


Posted by: TBG | May 17, 2006 4:57 PM | Report abuse

I'm not comfortable calling them red dwarf star stsyems. I think they should be red little star systems. Or perhaps Red Hertzsprung-Russell-challeneged systems.

And since all this news about Proxima Centauri came out, the Dow dropped a whopping 231 points today. I don't think Wall Street likes Grays.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 17, 2006 4:59 PM | Report abuse

tbg - frail... i am too frail! *blows raspberry* nah, i'm the antithesis of frail...

lindaloo - maybe it's a GOOD thing you didn't see da vinci code at cannes - according to

"At Cannes, one scene during the film, meant to be serious, elicited prolonged laughter from the audience, and when the credits rolled, there was no applause, only a few catcalls and hisses. Things were no better Stateside, where the film screened for critics in New York."

Posted by: mo | May 17, 2006 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Mo, thats sounds ominous. Maybe I will continue my unbroken string of karmic events, that if the critics pan it, I will enjoy it. I have fairly high hopes for this because of the quality of people involved. Makes me wonder if the hype from the book is going to deflate the movie no matter how good the movie is as a stand alone?

Posted by: dr | May 17, 2006 5:13 PM | Report abuse

The Cannes crowd probably is having the same reaction we have around here when a movie or TV show depicts a car passing some landmark and a moment later it passes a landmark that it would have reached earlier, or maybe is located a hundred miles away. It matters to the locals, but means nothing to the rest of the audience. Limitations on where one may film, and what one has to leave out of the background, can make that kind of thing happen all the time. I seem to recall that the DVD extras for the 3rd Indiana Jones movie mentions that you can just barely see some TV antennas and maybe a modern passenger jet over the rooftops of 1930's Venice in one shot. I can see how avoiding that kind of thing, and limiting the budget for location shooting, can really crimp your ability to realistically depict a place.

Posted by: Tim | May 17, 2006 5:25 PM | Report abuse

Curmudgeon, maybe the government has been affected by its natural element, Governmentium, which is of course inert. Though perhaps this particular reaction is ert.
You have heard of governmentium, Yes?

Posted by: dr | May 17, 2006 5:31 PM | Report abuse

>Error: Shall we partake at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe?

Well, slide me a Pan Galactic GargleBlaster, but I'm not sure I can go for a talking steak. I loved the line about the green salad who might have a different idea of being eaten!

No mo, take no umbrage - I'm talking about my local folks, although I'm sure they've infiltrated elsewhere.

Posted by: Error Flynn | May 17, 2006 5:33 PM | Report abuse

A major research institution (MRI) has recently announced the discovery of the heaviest chemical element yet known to science. The new element has been tentatively named Governmentium. Governmentium has 1 neutron, 12 assistant neutrons, 75 deputy neutrons, and 224 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312. These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons. Since governmentium has no electrons, it is inert. However, it can be detected as it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A minute amount of governmentium causes one reaction to take over four days to complete when it would normally take less than a second. Governmentium has a normal half-life of three years; it does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places. In fact, governmentium's mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization will cause some morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes.

This characteristic of moron-promotion leads some scientists to speculate that governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a certain quantity in concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as Critical Morass.

This explains the fence.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 17, 2006 5:35 PM | Report abuse

dr - i'm also gonna see the movie no matter what the critics say (like i really CARE what a critic says!)

tim - you could be right but the cannes audience would be filled with industry people so i don't think they are that concerned with the locale - that being said, the second die hard bugged me to no end cuz it was sposed to be filmed in dc and was sooooo wrong about landmarks, etc.

i think the hype has a LOT to do with it... that, and the religious fanatics who want to have it banned, etc

Posted by: mo | May 17, 2006 5:38 PM | Report abuse

Anyone remember the Kliban cartoon showing creatures emerging from a flying saucer, carrying rakes and pushing wheelbarrows? It was captioned: "Illegal aliens from outer space."

Just thought it was kind of topical. Please continue.

Posted by: CowTown | May 17, 2006 5:43 PM | Report abuse

Wilbrod, I don't teach exobiology (but I stayed at a Holiday Inn once...)

The underlying premise of evolutionary studies is that if organisms are similar, then they're related.

We have 2 arms, 2 legs, and a head because, like all other tetrapods (land-living vertebrates), our ancestors were lobe-finned fishes. If our ancestors had been the closely related ray-finned fishes (or any other group of organisms), we would look totally different.

Why should an alien look even vaguely like us? For example, if it's adapted for the red-dwarf low light levels, why not look like and owl (equally unlikely)? Or generate its own light source to see by?

If it's so hard to see, why rely on vision at all? Why not echolocate? Or how about "seeing" through smell, or detecting electrical conductivity, or gravity variations, or something I'm not imaginative enough to think of?

Why have legs to get around? How about a radially-symmetric organism in the shape of a disk or a ball that rolls around? Or a giant, spring-coiled flagellum that allow you to bounce around like you're on a pogo stick?

By the way, was the "unknown insectoid" in a ST:TNG episode? I don't remember that one--thought I'd seen them all. Of course, they say memory is the first thing to go.

Posted by: Dooley | May 17, 2006 5:45 PM | Report abuse

re: 5:35 post Brilliant!

Posted by: dmd | May 17, 2006 5:51 PM | Report abuse

The 5:35 was me. I am sure most of you saw it, but it fits the fence.

Cannes does not know what it lost by not having Loomis there. I was watching the ads for the movie the other day, and thought of her quest. Linda, I sure wish it would have been. Tonite, just to refresh my memory, and for something to do this evening, I am getting the tall boy now sqatting in my home to make himself useful and get down The Da Vinci Code from the high shelf where it lives.

Posted by: dr | May 17, 2006 5:54 PM | Report abuse

Just to be perfectly clear, search for Governmentium. I did not come up with it, I am just passing silliness along.

Curmudgeon on the often spoken of failure to launch syndrome, FYI, after you do get them launched, beware of the repatriation syndrome. They can return, repatriate almost unawares, and swamp a home faster than Scrooge McDuck can count money.

Posted by: dr | May 17, 2006 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Silliness is a good thing to share. Also wanted to mention dr that I also agree with your about W.O. Mitchell, a good storyteller both written and verbal.

Posted by: dmd | May 17, 2006 6:04 PM | Report abuse

Has anybody calculated the odds of life evolving on a planet around a red dwarf? That is, is the planetary environment around such a star even potentially hospitable? Would there even be time for life to evolve?
I am out of my league here.

Being a signals kind of guy, though, the greatest indictment to me about intelligent life outside the earth is the paucity of signals. It shouldn't be this hard to see at least something.

Posted by: RD Padouk | May 17, 2006 6:37 PM | Report abuse

Into the depths of an almost quiet boodle, I will commit to paper the travails of my day.

Its 3 weeks since I had snow in my yard, and for the last 2 days its been very near 30 degrees CELSIUS. This would not normally bother me except our building is having its tar and gravel roof redone, and all the air conditioning units have been turned off. Its hot and sticky and the air is very very thick with the pithy stench of stinky feet. Right outside the back door is the tar thingy. Just inside of the back door sits me. I know that for many on the boodle, its not the temperature that kills you, its the humidity, but 3 weeks ago, I had SNOW.

I also just want to say that it is 4:30 and not a soul is here but for me. Since our office works till 5:00, I am taking umbrage.

So if any of my boodling today has appeared out of sorts, I hope you will forgive me.


For my penance, I will have a cold one on the front porch.

Posted by: dr | May 17, 2006 6:42 PM | Report abuse

Yes, just was wondering about that "class" remark, Dooley.

Heck, why not have vision in the radio-dark red vision range? There's always chemical communication too.

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 17, 2006 6:46 PM | Report abuse

dr, can't stand the smell of roofing tar, I feel for you. I will trade you our miny monsoons for your 30 degree weather.

Posted by: dmd | May 17, 2006 6:51 PM | Report abuse

Yes please. Send moonsoon weather here. I could use some flooding right about now. Ok maybe not the flooding and all, but how about the excess.

I've always wondered if the a million human beings just standing there blowing air into the sky while facing the same direction would be enough to change the weather pattern in a micro climate.

Veering sharply back on topic, I am kind of feeling like a grey alien right now. Tick, tick, tick.

Posted by: dr | May 17, 2006 6:56 PM | Report abuse

RD, personally I think the weak point in the Drake equation is the number of planets that develop "intelligent" life. I know the theory goes that even if there's only a one in a gazillion chance, there's more than a gazillion gazillion chances, but there are one heck of a lot of variables even on top of that.

dr, hot enough for ya? It had to be said. Cheer hard tonight, BTW. BTBTW, is umbrage effective on non-boodlers?

For ease of reference for non-metric types, 30 is about 92 degrees Fahrenheit.

Posted by: SonofCarl | May 17, 2006 7:07 PM | Report abuse

SoC, dr please send the heat this way, once again we are facing a long weekend of rain and 15 temps.

Posted by: dmd | May 17, 2006 7:15 PM | Report abuse

It shall be as you command, SofC.

I am still not so certain we should be using ourselves as the basis of our understanding of intelligent life. I think we'd find more if we looked for accidental life. RD, accidental life probably is using different signals. Look outside the box.

Posted by: dr | May 17, 2006 7:21 PM | Report abuse

dr - I agree to an extent. But physics is physics. Even if there are mysterious zeta waves, somebody should be kicking out good old fashioned electromagnetics, if only as a preliminary step.

Posted by: RD Padouk | May 17, 2006 7:25 PM | Report abuse

Course that's just a technological civilization. If we just want to find "life" then all bets are off.

Posted by: RD Padouk | May 17, 2006 7:27 PM | Report abuse

Didn't see all of the comments in the previous boodle but, if you want to find a nice way to marry reading and net-surfing, try You may enjoy it.

Now to catch up on today's kit.

Posted by: Boodling From Bangkok | May 17, 2006 7:28 PM | Report abuse

dr says: "...the air is very very thick with the pithy stench of stinky feet."

You must live with teenagers.

Posted by: TBG | May 17, 2006 7:39 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, was 5:35 you? I second dmd's opinion.

Posted by: Slyness | May 17, 2006 8:02 PM | Report abuse

Slyness.. I thought 5:35 was Mudge, too, but it was something dr found on the 'net.

Posted by: TBG | May 17, 2006 8:05 PM | Report abuse

Why do I have this strange premonition that we'll soon be informed, likely by the National Enquirer, that we're being protected from the Proximal Centaurians by a stalwart band of purple-haired women and brave men with stilted speech who reside on the dark side of the Moon, all of whom report to a markedly unathletic near-albino?



Posted by: Scottynuke | May 17, 2006 8:23 PM | Report abuse

>somebody should be kicking out good old fashioned electromagnetics

RD, yeah you'd think so wouldn't you? One thing I wonder about is as we're going to fiber for so much, eventually our RF and EM output would dry up, everything being carried once again by wire.

It would eventually get dark, except for anyone we were explicitly sending to. Still, with all the crazy stuff floating around out there it might be exceedingly difficult to resolve anything even if they are broadcasting.

We need to find the equivalent of an alien "I Love Lucy".

Posted by: Error Flynn | May 17, 2006 8:38 PM | Report abuse

Nope, 5:35 was dr's. I was on the bus right then.

Re: the repatriation syndrome dr mentioned: yeah, the first two we did launch came back and had to be re-launched all over again.

When No. 1 was about two years away from high school graduation, all she talked about was caint wait till she turns 18 and can move out, yadda yadda. So the big day came, she graduated and turned 18, and my wife bought her a suitcase to pack. No. 1 and her two best girlfriends all got an apartment and did the young gal-about-town thing. Of course, what they all discovered that when you have an apartmernt, you have to cook for yourself, shop for yourself, do your own laundry, and a thousand other hard facts of life that seemed to have escaped her attention up until then. And my wife and I just laughed and laughed. No. 1 dropped in here about two or three times a week to do laundry, cage a free meal, avail herself of supplies such as toilet paper, Cheerios, etc., if she was out and between paychecks. We joked that we saw her more during that year than we did when she was actually living at home (because like most teens, when she was living at home she was never there).

After a year, one of the girls got engaged and moved out of the apartment when the one-year lease was up. No. 1 and her other friend couldn't afford the apartment by themselves and didn't want to get a new roommate. So No. 1 asked to move back home. Problem was her friend (who we'd known for years and always considered to be unofficial daughter No. 2) had a bad situation at her home, and basically had nowhere to go. As it happened, we had a spare bedroom, and No. 1 asked if her friend could stay with us. So, the end result was we'd launched one and got two back. What's wrong with this picture?

By this time, we had adopted two girls (separately) from Korea, and so I found myself living with no less than FIVE women: one wife, three daughters, and an unofficial daughter. Talk about an estrogen-saturated environment. (Joel is almost there himself, so he knows what I'm talking about.) Fortunately, my wife and I were pretty much used to it. You know how there's always one house that everyone seems to gather at? Well, that was always our house--always one or more kids over for a slumber party, or six or eight or ten out on the lawn playing whiffleball or football. I'd come home from work and never know how many were staying for dinner; when it was "just us," it was almost lonely and deserted; I'd wonder, "Where the hell is everybody?"

Before long No. 1 as well as her friend both had boyfriends, so they were always coming over as well, and the joint seemed to be bursting at the seams.

I suppose we should be flattered: everybody seemed to like it here.

Wouldn't have traded any of that chazzerai for anything in the world, of course.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 17, 2006 8:46 PM | Report abuse

>A team of European astronomers said today that they had found one of the closest analogues yet to our solar system: three planets and an asteroid belt circling a pale Sunlike star about 42 light-years away in the constellation Puppis.

42. Think about it.

Posted by: Error Flynn | May 17, 2006 9:03 PM | Report abuse

Error, after the last couple of days' boodles, I'm not sure I can handle space aliens called Poopies.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 17, 2006 9:07 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, you are one lucky guy to have the young people around.

We had a similar situation with older daughter's best friend. The summer the two of them graduated from high school, her father lost his job and got another one in the mountains and her mother and stepfather moved to the beach. She had a job here and no place to go, so I took her in. She was in and out with the rest of them throughout their college years. Now she's teaching second grade here in Charlotte and the only one close by. Her mother's day card to me read: Now that we're grown up, you don't have to worry any more, Mom, they never found out that I was your favorite child!

Posted by: Slyness | May 17, 2006 9:08 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, I was thinking of Puppies.

I know a few people who would love to go to a planet of puppies!

Posted by: Error Flynn | May 17, 2006 9:21 PM | Report abuse

Dooley writes at 5:45:
The underlying premise of evolutionary studies is that if organisms are similar, then they're related.

Dooley, Nick Wade at the NYT is hot on the genetics reporting trail again...writing about the possibility that we my have evolved from a line of human-chimp hybrids.

The split between the human and chimpanzee lineages, a pivotal event in human evolution, may have occurred millions of years later than fossil bones suggest, and the break may not have been as clean as humans might like.

A new comparison of the human and chimp genomes suggests that after the two lineages separated, they may have begun interbreeding.

The analysis, by David Reich, Nick Patterson and colleagues at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass., sets up a serious conflict between the date of the split as indicated by fossil skulls, about 7 million years ago, and the much younger date implied by genetic analysis, as late as 5.4 million years ago.

Posted by: Loomis | May 17, 2006 9:54 PM | Report abuse

RIP to Lew Anderson, the last (of three) actors to play Clarabell on Howdy Doody.

70 percent of you are asking, who the hell is Clarabell? I'm too verklempt to respond.

Honk, honk, dude.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 17, 2006 10:22 PM | Report abuse

Interesting story, Mudge. Sounds like your home is full of noise and love or love and noise.

What if those from another planet or world in space look exactly like us? Is it possible? Most aliens in the movie look like some weird version of a human being, but can they look exactly as we do? And I know this is kinda like "Men in Black" but I really would like to know.

Getting ready for bed, so sleepy, and a little tired. Hope everyone gets some rest, and have a good night's sleep.

Slyness, I know the situation in your city was not good with the school board there, has that issue been resolved? I know CMS hired a new person, are there any changes as far as you can see? It sounded like a real mess.

Posted by: Cassandra S | May 17, 2006 10:23 PM | Report abuse

Slyness, what a nice Mother's Day card, and what a super young woman you added to your family!

Posted by: nellie | May 17, 2006 10:36 PM | Report abuse

Loomis, I called that!

It's nice to see somebody actually bothered to look at the data for hominiod-chimp hybridization.

I was just going by the fact the human chromosome number has significantly changed, and that we seem to lack innate language structure, so I hypothesized hybridization was the cause.

I doubt there was direct hybridization between knucklewalkers and bipeds, although you'd be surprised at what Nature does.

Pilot whales and bottlenoses can produce fertile hybrids, despite the fact pilot whales are much bigger and look different. They are closely related.

(Google wholphin)

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 17, 2006 10:51 PM | Report abuse

>A new comparison of the human and chimp genomes suggests that after the two lineages separated, they may have begun interbreeding.

Big jump from the royal ancestors, eh?

Posted by: Error Flynn | May 17, 2006 11:24 PM | Report abuse

SCC: False killer whales, not pilot whales.

I'm a bum.

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 17, 2006 11:24 PM | Report abuse

Maybe the Monkey King of China and Hanuman in the Ranayama were based on fact ;).

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 17, 2006 11:25 PM | Report abuse

Wilbrod, are pilot whales related to pilot lights?

I've got a couple of those in captivity.

Posted by: Error Flynn | May 17, 2006 11:50 PM | Report abuse

Interesting comment about the Red Dwarves and Grays, however, ET's are not restricted by distance and ordinary rocket propulsion. If they are able to get here they must have "metric engineering" of the actual fabric of space-time, i.e. control of the geometrodynamic field using the dark energy that is 73% of the universe, but concentrating it on the small scale of the ship as in the Alcubierre geodesic warp drive. I discuss details of this in my book "Super Cosmos" and on discussion forum of

Posted by: Jack Sarfatti, PhD physics | May 18, 2006 12:03 AM | Report abuse

Lindaloo (Happy Birthday, by the way), I saw the NYT article on hybrid human ancestors--the Nature paper isn't out yet.

It's an interesting idea--not as outrageous as it sounds. As Wilbrod says, dolphins hybridize regularly, both in captivity and in the wild. I admit, I'll be dubious if the only evidence for hybridization is molecular divergence rates, but my guess is that they have other evidence as well.

Hybridization could work because the differences between humans and chimpanzees are actually very slight, especially the genetic differences. Most (but not all) of our differences are a result of differences in develpoment rates.

To answer your question, Cassandra, I don't think that aliens could look even remotely like us--they wouldn't even be vertebrates. If they looked like us, it would indicate that they had the same ancestors.

That's actually been a theme in a lot of science fiction. In "Inherit the Stars" by James Hogan, the plot was scientists facing the issue of how to explain aliens that looked exactly like humans.

Even Star Trek, trapped by their history of humanoid aliens, tried to explain it away in a TNG episode. As I recall, they suggested that the Star Trek species (including humans) had all developed from initial "genetic seeds" spread throughout the galaxy by another species billions of years ago. It wouldn't work, but they did make the attempt.

Posted by: Dooley | May 18, 2006 12:31 AM | Report abuse

Which is the more threatening proposition:
A. We are alone in the universe.

B. We are not alone in the universe.

It's impossible for me to look at a Hubble 'deep field' image, peppered as it is with countless galaxies, and believe 'A'.
But, so far, we have NO credible proof for 'B'.

I tend to believe 'B', because accepting 'A' is just too chilling--but, it IS possible.

Posted by: cody mccall | May 18, 2006 2:25 AM | Report abuse

Wow. A posting from Jack Sarfatti, PhD Physics. I really used to groove on your stuff back in the good old usenet days, before I had to get a real job and a real life. Nice to see you're still way out there, Jack.

Posted by: decauchon | May 18, 2006 2:52 AM | Report abuse


30C = 86F

Posted by: ot | May 18, 2006 3:10 AM | Report abuse

I do not fear aliens because I think we are the aliens who colonized planet earth in a succession of waves through time, a long long time ago. We were looking for a hospitable planet for sure and life has to be eternal. Anyway, if I have understood Genesis, there can only be men (and women), animals, and all creatures created by God wherever they are or were in this universe.

Posted by: Spinette | May 18, 2006 3:18 AM | Report abuse

Another possible explanation for alien body types: Perhaps spending a huge amount of time in space travel would also help to shape a being where a large head is accompanied by frail bodies, grayish skin and large eyes.

Posted by: TLopez | May 18, 2006 3:45 AM | Report abuse

The word on the da Vinci Code seems to be "underwhelming." One person reported that it was worse than the book. I guess I will have to take the copy I bought a year or so ago from the bottom of the pile of *books to read* and read it. I couldn't get through the first chapter, earlier, but maybe I should find out what people are talking about. It might have been more interesting if they put aliens (from outerspace) in it.

I often speculate if there really is life out there in space as I look up into the night sky in the vast Midwest. I've always considered the stars in the constellations friendly -- in Orion, Ursa Minor and Major, Drago, etc. I wonder if all those aliens are checking out our phone calls, too.


Posted by: boondocklurker | May 18, 2006 4:41 AM | Report abuse

Human-Chimp hybridization? Was Bonzo a female?

Ronald Reagan + Bonzo = George W. Bush ????

Stayed tune for more developments into the secret origins of our President! Take solace in the fact that male hybrids ARE sterile! More investigations needed into the secret liasons of the First Lady...

(Come on - I can't be the only one who thought this as they read the NYT article LOL)

Posted by: Don | May 18, 2006 5:29 AM | Report abuse

... where a large head is accompanied by frail bodies, grayish skin and large eyes.

Folks, these aliens progressed further than our own stage... they must because I don't think you can get here form another planet on an ox cart. Their transportation methods have evolved beyond our own and these physical features are totally due to long interstellar trips eating the same food that we now must buy on our airline transportation carriers.

Somewhere approaching the dark side of our own moon, there probably are two grey beings openning their little boxes of surprises with one saying to the other ... "hey, #%T*Y, do you have any clue what this is?"

Posted by: Wholphin Michael | May 18, 2006 6:32 AM | Report abuse

...proxima that
would beings from there be called proximans
or proxi centaurians or centaurs?
...were they to travel here would they be
on a specimen gathering expedition or more
like that italian who got the spanish court
to take a percentage on speculation of any
...our own planetary history points to the
outcome of being "discovered" by "superior"
beings as being a dicey experience... for the great wall on the southern
border with mexico that has the sound of
election year pandering to it...
...if it is illegal to come across the
border and stay indefinitely without the
paperwork in order that should be the
issue...speeding above the speed limit is
not legal because it is not legal...not
because you can do it and if not caught
doing so is acceptable...
...somehow the logic line for immigration
has to be held tight to what is legal and
what is not...everytime i renew passport
visas or pass thru customs and immigration
procedures i am playing not do
so invites some nasty consequences quickly
...having friends from the middle east who
worked thru the american immigration maze
to become americans i know firsthand that
this should not be nearly so fuzzy an
issue as it has become... documentation and process protects
all who wish to live in the usa...the mess
that has evolved for undocumented persons
from south of the border is due to breaking
laws and not playing by the rules... labor demand is the magnet that
has created this mess and the employers
who have gamed the system should suffer
first and most...financially and socially
...6,0000 ng troops and shiny new fences
are political sops to the american citizens
raging over this...election year ploys for
a deep seated and tragic dereliction of
rulemaking,rule following and enforcement
of the law towards the smugglers,employers
and labor brokers who profit from illegal
border crossing and illegal immigration
of desperate people...

Posted by: an american in siam... | May 18, 2006 7:29 AM | Report abuse

Cassandra, yeah, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School system just hired a new superintendent, a guy from California. He's got some challenges ahead of him.

I'm not sure the schools are in such a mess as is portrayed in the media. Could they be improved? Of course. But there are lots of good teachers and principals out there and lots of learning going on.

I have to admit my bias. I was a senior the first year of forced busing for desegregation, and, while it was a lost year academically, I know it was the right thing to do. I was against the suit to overturn the program because it has had the impact of resegregating the schools. But those who want a good education can get one of the best available in public schools anywhere.

I wish the new superintendent the best and hope he will have a positive impact. Meeting the needs of 110,000 kids isn't easy, but I've seen the effort that's being put forth to try, and I have to give them credit for it.

Posted by: slyness | May 18, 2006 7:32 AM | Report abuse

There is a decent possibility that visiters from Proxima Centauri will be water soluble. I would expect that they will just dissolve in the RioGrande River long before they reach any new fences or our National Guard.

We WILL NOT become a nation of aliens.

Posted by: dolphin michael | May 18, 2006 7:44 AM | Report abuse

slyness and Cassandra, my children were in elementary school when the busing was first implemented. After Mr. Nani and I refused to sign a petition against desegration and busing circulated by my neighbors, they were ostracized from play with the neighborhood children. It was hard to see my son and daughter taunted and rejected but we explained that African American children had been rejected all their lives and that someone had to take a stand.

I've always wondered if aliens watched us as we watch worker ants coming and going in and out of our hills.

Posted by: Nani | May 18, 2006 8:01 AM | Report abuse

I am a big fan of SETI, because the potential payoff is so huge, given the small investment. Besides, it keeps all those personal computers busy and out of mischief. However, the fact that we have yet to see anything makes me very pessimistic.

Although dr correctly points out that occupants of other worlds might think in wildly different ways, I assert that exploiting Maxwell's Equations is as unavoidable as arithmetic. In addition to communication signals, nearly every electronic device known kicks out Radio Frequency Interference, much of which escapes the planet. There should be some big sloppy signals out there.

True, as Error Flynn suggests, one could assume that all extra-terrestrial civilizations are so advanced that they use something like fiber-optic via wormholes, but this would require us to be the only slow kid in the class. And if you are willing to believe that, then it is just a logical bit shift to believe that we are actually the only kid in the class. That is, seeing no signals, to me, doesn't suggest that everybody else is using sneaky COVCOM. It suggests they aren't there at all.

Although this implies that we are like, really really special, in violation of the Copernican Principle, this is what the evidence suggests to me. I think SonOf Carl makes a good point that the famous Drake Equation probably has a lot of missing terms.

It would truly shock me if there is no other life of out there, but it would not shock me if there are no other technologically advanced civilizations with which we can communicate in any meaningful way.

I assert we really may be alone. And even if we are not, I suggest it is not a bad philosophy upon which to base a civilization. If we be "it," perhaps we should be a tad bit more careful.

Posted by: RD Padouk | May 18, 2006 8:19 AM | Report abuse

Hey, we made the homepage right off the bat this morning!

*smoothing hair and straightening tie*


Posted by: Scottynuke | May 18, 2006 8:24 AM | Report abuse

We're huge on the home page!!! I think the Schemer liked this item. He's probably a True Believer. He vacations at Area 51.

If you can stand it, I've added a little material this morning to the kit, from Seth Shostak, the SETI researcher.

Posted by: Achenbach | May 18, 2006 8:34 AM | Report abuse

I can't believe they put Will ahead of us on the home page, though.

Posted by: Scottynuke | May 18, 2006 8:40 AM | Report abuse

Geez, all these names I used to know so well popping up here; Shostak, Oberg, SETI.

While there are good reasons to believe that any intelligent ETs might choose to communciate via radio waves, the electromagnetic spectrum is pretty wide...


Posted by: bc | May 18, 2006 8:42 AM | Report abuse

All speculation about visitors to our planet from beyond the solar system suffer from the same burden: Vistors to earth would either stumble on us (extremely improbable, given the vastness of space), or choose Earth as a destination because they have detected signs of intelligent life here. Evidence of our presence here is confined to a distance of about 75 light years, i.e. the furthest reach of our earliest radio transmission. Allowing for the time to arrive here after choosing Earth as destination means that only travellers from a distance of, say, 25 light years, could have reached us.

Imagine that we are microbes on a grain of sand, one of billions on a vast beach stretching from Portland, ME, to Miami, FL. Most grains are barren of life. Evidence of our presence would be confined to the grains in a teaspoon of sand on this beach. To suppose that two grains are host to life in that same teaspoon is to assuage our despair over our the vastness of the universe by indulging romantic sentiment over what such creatures would look like.

Posted by: CharlieBlues | May 18, 2006 8:44 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, friends. Joel, I see you're right up there with the big boys. Good for you. The subject is interesting, although for me, some of it is out of my reach. The thought that there is life somewhere out there is intriguing. I've always thought, what if they look like us, and act like us, as posted in my comment. For me that would be really scary, and especially if they were much more advanced than us. I don't think I would want to meet a me from outer space. Hope your day is good, Joel yours is already, and that you know that God loves you more than you can imagine through Him that died for all, Christ Jesus.

Slyness, I'm sure there are good teachers and educators in the system, and I can understand that it is a difficult situation. I hope the new person can keep peace as well as good standards.

Nani, I was the last class in a segregated school, and I graduated in 1968. It took Southerners a long time, (and some are still fighting) to even fathom the idea of Black and White children going to school together. I did not have to endure that bus scenario, but I can tell you it was not good, and there are still problems today, but not as many. My first encounter of going to school with those that didn't look like me was during my return trip while raising my children. It was daunting for me, and highly stressful. I was extremely uncomfortable. Why? I can't really answer, I guess just something new that I had never done before. And having seen so much hate on television during the Civil Rights Movement, I didn't trust my environment. It got better. I adjusted, and got to even enjoy some of the experience.

Posted by: Cassandra S | May 18, 2006 8:53 AM | Report abuse

Maybe aliens "see" in the UHF frequency and we are blinding them with our bad reruns and they are coming around to teach us some manners. Mainly to watch where you are pointing your antennae. Some sort of Pan-Galactic protocol against blinding other planets with indiscriminate electromagnetic radiation prevents us for hearing any signal not intended for us.

I finally finished the short story collection I was plugging awhile ago by Geoffrey A. Landis, "Impact Paramater". One of the stories posits that interstellar travel is only possible once the end of wormhole is towed into place. The arrival of said wormhole with its gravitaional lensing causes some panic.

Since no one would tow a wormhole to anywhere it wasn't needed, and it may take a long time to find us. We just need to wait and be patient.

Posted by: yellojkt | May 18, 2006 8:55 AM | Report abuse

SCC: It's hard to believe I actually previewed my last post so I will deny it and let my many typos stand uncorrected except that the name of the book is "Impact Parameter" by Geoffrey A. Landis. He deserves that much.

Posted by: yellojkt | May 18, 2006 9:00 AM | Report abuse

In apology to Geoffrey A. Landis, I will plug his website:

He has links plugging his appearance on a Discovery Channel show called "Alien Engineering" where he and other scientists speculate on what type of technology other species would have or need. I may have to set my VCR.

Posted by: yellojkt | May 18, 2006 9:06 AM | Report abuse

"Also, our skin has pigmentation to protect us from harmful IR radiation. A red dwarf does not have this component, so their skin would have a grayish look to us."

UV, not IR.

Posted by: TexLex | May 18, 2006 9:15 AM | Report abuse

Longtime Boodlers will may remember that there is an interdimensional wormhole to Calabi-Yau space in my Laundry Chute.

I'm working on a blog item to expand on that, as this Kit and Boodle has caused me to reattempt negotiations with the aliens.

Well, that and the Laundry Basket of Proof is overflowing...


Posted by: bc | May 18, 2006 9:23 AM | Report abuse

I am puzzled by the fact that at least 95% of the aliens that I have seen, speak English.

And, if they are so technically superior, why do they always have to probe us with a plain old garden variety stick?

Posted by: Dolphin Michael | May 18, 2006 9:35 AM | Report abuse

Sorry, this actually pertains to a previous entry, specifically Curmudgeon's diabetes advice. The A1c test is NOT a screening test for diabetes. It is used to monitor long-term blood sugar control in an already diagnosed diabetic. It has no value at all in making the diagnosis unless it's high. If your value is 6.5, don't get screened. You have diabetes. If it's 4.7? Maybe you do, maybe you don't. The proper screening test is a fasting blood glucose. Any number above 125 is diagnostic of diabetes. 110-125 suggests that there is a strong likelihood of developing diabetes. Do not submit to a glucose tolerance test. Any doctor that suggests this test hasn't read a medical journal in a decade. Sorry about the tangent, but I can't let misinformation of that degree go unchallenged.

Posted by: doc box | May 18, 2006 9:39 AM | Report abuse

The headline for this Kit of Joel's on the home page reads "UFOs and Extraterrestrial Anatomy."

If we are talking about the hybridization of chimps and homo sapiens in the same breath, shouldn't we be talking about these little grays' sexual organs? If they exist, they need the means for propagation, right? How proxima are their centauri? Do they engage in "horizontal pairing?" Period of gestation? If they are an advanced species *w*, would they have advanced sexuality? Is there a Dr. Alfred Charles Kinsey among them?

Thanks for the post, Wilbrod, on the wholphins. *Very funny*, *Wholpin* Michael. Dooley, informative as always. Will you update us, if necessary, when you get your copy of Nature?

Posted by: Loomis | May 18, 2006 9:47 AM | Report abuse


I hear that however they procreate - it involves probing drunken rednecks out in the woods. =D

Posted by: Don | May 18, 2006 9:52 AM | Report abuse

Cassandra, your reflections on school integration brought back floods of memories. I grew up in Hawaii and attended a very good school there. My father came to DC for one year when I was an 8th grader and I found myself in a public school here that was just integrated. Talk about confusion and anxiety from all parties.

I played basketball and also was earning straight A's. (after the PhD's in the school figured out that I shouldn't be assigned to remedial courses just because I was from Hawaii.)

My pigeon English drove people nuts. Once, I thoughtlessly answered a teacher in Hawaiian. Talk about a puzzled look!

You are right though, then tension was great and I felt that I might have been the only guy in school who didn't get beaten up or bothered.

Posted by: Dolphin Michael | May 18, 2006 9:56 AM | Report abuse

DM, at least you weren't responding in Dolphin. THAT would have gotten you lots of remedial classes.


Posted by: Scottynuke | May 18, 2006 9:59 AM | Report abuse

My big snort from the movie "ET" (and I was 15 when the movie came out) was when all the scientists are operating on ET and one of the techs runs in and yells "It has DNA!"

Like we would know how to recognize alien DNA and our specific version of passing on genetic information is the only way to do it. I still cringe everytime I see tht scene.

Posted by: yellojkt | May 18, 2006 9:59 AM | Report abuse


I am proud to say that it was in Virginia that I learned to speak French with a Southern accent.

Posted by: Dolphin Michael | May 18, 2006 10:03 AM | Report abuse


What, Hawaiian ISN'T Dolphin shifted to human frequencies?

DM, I'd like to see more hawaiian dancing around here--it makes me hallucinate I can hear and understand hawaiian songs. Any chance you're hot stuff in a muumuu?

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 18, 2006 10:08 AM | Report abuse

OK, pay attention here, doc box. I never said the A1c was a proper screening tool for diabetes. But you DIRECTLY contradicted yourself when you wrote: "It has no value at all in making the diagnosis unless it's high." Think about that statement for a minute, will ya?

Which of course is pretty much what I said and implied: you can get a quick half-assed estimate for $20 from a pharmacy over-the-counter test, and if it's high, go see a doctor.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 18, 2006 10:11 AM | Report abuse

On immigration--what americaninsiam said.

I've always been a big supporter of SETI, even though I doubt there will be positive results for a long time, if ever. But I could be wrong, and just because there are no results so far doesn't mean there won't be--if I take only one steroid shot and don't immediately look like Barry Bonds, it doesn't mean I should give up on them :)

One reason I don't think SETI is likely to produce results is that there's a bias that assumes that if life evolves, intelligent life will eventually result. Based on Earth, I don't think this assumption is valid. It looks like life will form very easily, but intelligent life almost never develops. It only happened on Earth once in 4.6 billion years. (OK, let me throw in a disclaimer. Dolphins, elephants, chimps, etc. seem to be very intelligent, and it's debatable how intelligent we are. But we use complex technology, which is all SETI addresses, and is how I'm using intelligence here.) Intelligence is subject to selective pressures like any other feature, and almost all organisms get along with any great amounts of it.

So I suspect the universe is filled with life, but not with radio stations.

Posted by: Dooley | May 18, 2006 10:13 AM | Report abuse

yellojkt-- they couldn't recognize *alien* DNA when ET was made, but it's certainly possible nowaday.

In addition to the 4 bases in DNA, there are plenty of artifical bases and base analogs that usually show up in humans only when we've been rinse-dried after being in a radiation/chemo bath and are headed to become X-men.

Also, we have sequenced a few genomes from most branches of life by now, so we could amplify DNA by PCR, sequence the DNA and then check for homology and contamination.

"Dang, we keep getting hits for cacao and little boy germs in this DNA."

But yeah, that line is this side of corny. DNA! Does that mean he is a designer gene alien?

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 18, 2006 10:15 AM | Report abuse

Dooley, you're probably right.

Still, I'm holding out hope for supersize flatulent alien whales that emit radio on a massive scale.

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 18, 2006 10:17 AM | Report abuse


I listen to the music everyday. Amazingly, ipod playing IZ Kamakawiwo'oli playing Henehene kou 'aka right now... I recommend it. He sings in both languages on the Facing Future album.

Isreal probably held the distinction of outweighing his instrument my more pounds than any other musician.

Alse as a kane who chases after wahinis, I do better without the mu'u mu'u.

Posted by: Nai'a Michael | May 18, 2006 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Mudge, are you suggesting that it is a cheap(er) indicator test? I guess the doc was trying to be clear because he doesn't want people to think that it provides any conclusive proof that they do not have diabetes--which is a fair concern. BUT, that wasn't what you were saying.

Posted by: Wholphin Michael | May 18, 2006 10:30 AM | Report abuse

There are going to be some hula halau performing at the National Museum of the American Indian some time in the next month or two or three. I don't have the date handy. There also is a local act, the Hula Monsters, that started out as accompaniment for their kids' halau in the DC area.

I think that Shostak is still too pessimistic, even when he is being optimistic. The last 30 years or so have provided convincing evidence that our parochial ideas about "what is good for life" are just too limited. We have found bacteria in super-heated geyser water. Large invertebrates living around deep-ocean volcanic vents. Active bacteria in the ice just above buried Antarctic lakes (they have chosen not to drill into the lakes and risk polluting them). Bacteria living half-a-mile underground.

There is no solid idea on the conditions under which life formed -- with or without light? Photosynthetic or chemoautotrophic (I think that is the correct Big Word)? In a warm and placid puddle or a churning mix-master? In the sea, or in clay? ? ? ? ?

On the other hand -- it's fair to limit ourselves to looking for "life as we know it." Resources are not infinite for this kind of thing, that's for sure. Given finite resources, you have to make choices, and it makes more sense to look for life that fits a pattern that we know works, rather than speculating about all the possible avenues towards life that we know practically nothing about. As it is, we don't know much about what it really means for life to be "life as we know it." Dooley has given a pretty good idea of the range of possibilities, and those are all carbon-based, water-soluble, life forms like us. I recall reading that there are something like 23 distinct metabolic energy sources used by terrestrial bacteria -- life as we know it -- whereas animals and photosynthetic plants use just one -- we consume sugars for energy. Heck, there even are several different forms of photosynthetic chemistry. Many bacteria use rhodopsin, similar to the violet-sensing component of our eyes, rather than the brand of chlorophyll that is familiar to us. A rhodopsin world would be a lush and vibrant purple, not green. Green plants on Earth photosynthesize from visible light and reflect near-IR light. A red dwarf doesn't produce much light at all; what it does produce is, duh, red. Photosynthesis probably would use near-IR light instead of rejecting it -- if photosynthesis occurs.

Posted by: ScienceTim | May 18, 2006 10:30 AM | Report abuse

I'm of the opinion that using RADIO to detect intelligent civs is a bit dumb. Statistically if there are other life forms that are intelligent they are either a) WAY behind us on the evolutionary scale or B) WAY ahead us. If it's A...then the means to transmit signals is beyond them. If it's B Chances are they dumped communication using the electromagnetic spectrum a LONG time ago for something faster using gravity waves or quantum entanglement...something more exotic that we are just glimpsing.

What we are looking for is an intelligent civilization who is at the same technological level as us AND are transmitting signals at the same frequencies that we are listening to.

They are probably out there, but may be WAY far away (like in another galaxy).

Of course absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. But just because I can't PROVE flying pink elephants exist does not mean that they do.

Bottom line, you can say absolutely NOTHING about that which we have no information. Thus far we know only about life derived from earth. To say that any life anywhere else is like it is on Earth is speculation.....problem's the only life we know.

Posted by: Danathar | May 18, 2006 10:34 AM | Report abuse

We need to be careful about calling attention to ourselves with these SETI efforts. Sure, they might just come to visit at first, but then some would overstay, taxing our healthcare and school systems and leading to endless seminars on multiculturalism. Perhaps they'd be good for business for tanning-parlor operators and Wal-Mart. Is that enough though? What are their values? They might not even be Christian.

Posted by: kindathinker | May 18, 2006 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Despite the instabilities and the hedged bets against life evolving around red dwarves, there is still some logic to looking for intelligent life around them.

You see, even though the conditions for life might not be native, the fact that they do last as long as they do makes them prime real estate for a species concerned about its long term survival.

If your race lives long enough, they may finally get tired of bouncing from star system to star system ahead of the quite narrow window of habitability (relatively speaking) that F and G stars are known for (example, this planet's only got another half billion years before it gets a little uncomfortably warm for life as we know it), and will seek something a little more stable to retire too when their level of technology is such that they no longer need to find a perfectly matched planet to settle.

Of course, it will be just our luck that these geriatric societies will be just as crotchety as those found in retirement communities on Earth. :|

Posted by: James Buchanan | May 18, 2006 10:38 AM | Report abuse

Aren't only 10% of the Grays listening to Howard Stern on sattelite radio?

As far as finding ET's DNA, I so do *not* want to know about how the CSI people found it. Still, I'm curious as to what wavelength light they used to shine on that blue dress...I just don't want to know how it got there.

Whatever you do, don't ask about that gift box of Saurian brandy-dipped cigars from the Andorian Ambassador.


Posted by: bc | May 18, 2006 10:41 AM | Report abuse

SCC: "satellite".

Bah, can't believe I misspelled that. After all, I actually owned one.


Posted by: bc | May 18, 2006 10:44 AM | Report abuse

bc, I think they used black light (UV) to check out the dress.

DNA= skin cells, plunge in a cocktail comprised of enzymes, some from eggs to lyse the cells, centrifuge the cell junk out, purify DNA, dry, mix with dye and inject in a gel for electrophoresis...

Wait, that's when you have a gallon of bacteria to puree. And they have machines that do the gel thing automatically now. I feel like a dino.

I'm not sure where PCR comes in this picture, but PCR would amplify DNA, presumably using a bath of nucleic acid bits. (muttering to myself that I need to get back in the lab sometime).

Maybe just doing a spectrogram would be easier-- just look for the absorption line that shows DNA. It has DNA!

Once they have alien genes identified, they can make gene chips for alien DNA.

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 18, 2006 10:52 AM | Report abuse

The Drake equation is conceptually fine, but our sample source is way too small to infer any statistical probabilities. We know that the odds of a planet being able to sustain life like ours is in the 9% to 11% range depending on what you call a planet, but the margin of error and confidence level of even that number is absurd.

Dooley's point is fantastic. The odds of any individual species using radio waves is about 1 in 1.5 million, and that's not counting all the extinct species. Same statistical caveats apply.

And ScienceTim and Wibrod, I'm suggesting that it's unlikely that an alien species would even develop something akin to DNA as a chemical genetic code replicator. DNA is not a necessary or sufficient condition for developing electromagnetic emitting technology.

The Landis short story collection which I have no royalty stake in has a story about large whale-like creatures living on Uranus (insert Beavis and Butthead snicker here). The story did not involve flatuance of any known variety.

Other factors such as percentage of solar systems that have planets, etc. are just useless because our sample size is 1 or close to it. Until we can identify Class M planets from a distance and rule out the systems that DON'T have them we can't even laughably assign a value.

Posted by: yellojkt | May 18, 2006 10:55 AM | Report abuse

Wouldn't it be more beneficial and practical to build a wall and employ the military to keep out drug smugglers and then develop programs for immigrants to enter the country legally (and safely!) mo hearts ellipses, I heart parenthesisesses.

Posted by: Nani | May 18, 2006 11:06 AM | Report abuse

I hope any ETs out there are smart enough not to come here, since we would undoubtedly kill them immediately. I guess they could try to pull off a _Childhood's End_ Overlord-world-domination sort of stunt and give us time to get used to them, but why bother?

Posted by: Pixel | May 18, 2006 11:07 AM | Report abuse

The AchenHOG filter ate a brilliantly informative reply on outer space biochemistry.

In sum, precursors or the actual nucleic acids, cAMP, and amino acids, sugar, clay, and water have all been found, along with PAHs, and other simple biomolecules out there in outer space.

Heck, it sounds like an ingredient list for twinkies.

Also, there's the fact that 30 tons of organic matter arrives from outer space daily. That's a lot of garbage for non-organic aliens to deal with.

I look forward to learning more about the Deep Impact probe data.

Just saying if those biomolecules form in outer space AND on our world, there's a good chance they form on other planets too.

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 18, 2006 11:23 AM | Report abuse

One point on the whole English-speaking alien phenomenon. First of all, the context is normally sci-fi, so not having a distraction of a language barrier eases the story-line along.

Second, given the time and space involved even after any signal was picked up, I don't have any difficulty with the English-speaking factor at all (leaving aside the issue of whether every alien would appear human with a few extra bumps). Recognizing the bias of using us as the example, if an Alien I Love Lucy was picked up, by the time an attempt to make a response signal was made (let alone received), we would presumably have a LOT of information. If we were actually going to go through the trouble of sending people there, you have to think that we would have studied their language and culture a LOT. On Earth there have been many occasions in which researchers know more about the language or culture than the locals (on some levels at least). I'm of the understanding that the Maya pictograph language was lost to the surviving Maya, for example.

I appreciate that in science fiction even the aliens that are encountered for the first time speak English; for that circumstance see my first reply.

Posted by: SonofCarl | May 18, 2006 11:26 AM | Report abuse

If a superior being was ever discovered, I'm sure it would have at least 6 fingers on each hand, giving it a slight advantage over humans, who have only 5 fingers to play the electric guitar, or, well, 4 fingers and a opposable thumb.

Posted by: Pat | May 18, 2006 11:38 AM | Report abuse

SonofCarl, the best written exception to the "fluent English" rule is "A Martian Odyssey" in which the funny martian picks up words a lot faster than the terran does... and uses a few words to communicate complex concepts.

It's been my spiritual guide in teaching dogs language. I just taught my dog color, and what the sky is, and next I'll be teaching him what day and night is, and working up on time verbs.

I taught him the word "know" by creating a situation where he didn't know where to find an item he was asked to find, but I DID know.

I think sci-fi authors rob the stories of a joy of discovery by having the aliens speak in immaculate translated English. It's intellectually lazy ;), but not everybody is a James Joyce.

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 18, 2006 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Pat, true superiority would be having an extra pair of hands sprouting from the head so they can eat while typing.

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 18, 2006 11:40 AM | Report abuse

By the way. I just wanted to protest in the strongest possible terms the assertion that the United States Government keeps Alien Artifacts at Site 51. This is a preposterous notion. It's way too hot there.

Posted by: RD Padouk | May 18, 2006 11:44 AM | Report abuse

More from me, before I get back to proposal-writing:

The odds of detecting intelligent life are not good, which doesn't mean we shouldn't try. It just means it will take a while.

It took 4.6 billion years from planet-formation until us. However, that may not be a fair estimation of the time for us to evolve. From eukaryotic life to us took a mere ~2 billion years, and we can't know if it really had to take all that time, from the first fossils at about 3.7 billion years ago, for eukaryotes to evolve. Eukaryotic life isn't a necessity, but giant unicellular organisms seem unlikely to develop radio, so you need something that can form multicellular organisms. On an even shorter timescale, it was only about 500 million years from the first multicellular fossils until us. So, I propose we use a timescale of 1 billion years from planet-formation to intelligent life as a reasonably optimistic estimate.

You also could argue that the dinosaurs had a fair chance to develop intelligence and technology, but they just didn't go that way. Big deal, it only saves you 100 million years off the time scale, so I'll give you 900 million years from planet formation to radio.

SETI only works on radio, due to limitations of technology. Optical SETI (with lasers) is being considered, but it's not really figured out yet. Let's stick with radio.

We spent a long time developing radio systems of greater and greater power, but the past several decades we have been working on reducing our power output and making our systems more efficient. We use shaped beams instead of dipole antennas for long-distance communications. We use digital encoding rather than FM or AM in order to make the signal noise-insensitive and to lower the power requirements further. Everything we used to transmit wirelessly, we now are putting on cables; everything that used to be on cables, we now are making wireless, but with very low power, using multiple stations to make up for short range. So, we can figure that there will be maybe 100 years of detectable incidental radio transmissions. We can use ourselves as a model, because our activities have been driven by physics.

Even if we assume that EVERY star has planets; that EVERY star has a planet that develops life; that EVERY planet with life develops intelligence; that EVERY form of intelligent life develops radio communitcations; then we find that the chance of detecting radio emissions from that life within the 100 year window of detectable incidental radio emission is only something like 100/900 million = 10 to the minus seven. Only one star in 10 million is likely to be transmitting, with incredibly optimistic assumptions, and not even considering whether the star is in range for the signal strength to be detectable. It's easy to make the problem orders of magnitude worse, if you assume that only 5% of stars have planets, that it takes 4-5 billion years for life to evolve, etc. That gets us down to 1 in a billion.

BUT: there are roughly 300 billion stars in our galaxy, and a bunch more in the Magellanic clouds and the other one (or two) dwarf elliptical galaxies orbiting the Milky Way. So the odds are good that somebody is out there, but very far away -- hundreds of thousands of years away at the speed of light.

BUT: the Milky Way is about 9 billion years old. The first couple billion years were preparatory -- not enough heavy elements to make planets until after several supernovae. Still, it's been about 2 billion years since the first planets would have had the chance to reach our stage of evolution and technology, using ourselves as the only model that we have. Even with really hostile assumptions about probability, short of assuming the answer we want, the odds are good that a few intelligent civilizations evolved in that time. Odds are, they are millions to hundreds of millions of years ahead of us technologically. Either no intelligent civilization EVER wants to explore, or they are exploring the galaxy in a way that is not apparent to us.

(Deleted long-winded discussion of why we don't see them. Whole books haev been written about this, few of them good.)

Posted by: ScienceTim | May 18, 2006 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Wilbrod, points to you for bringing up Stanley Weinbaum.

"We arrr vrreends! Vrrroooom!"
Watch out for Tweel and that nasty steam powered pistol.

My question about the wavelength of light used to spot alien DNA was a joke. How do we know that alien DNA remnants would be visible with UV? Maybe IR? Maybe it glows (to our eyes) in plain old yellow light. Who knows?


Posted by: bc | May 18, 2006 11:49 AM | Report abuse

I periodically do depositions with the necessity of a translator. It slows everything down dramatically. Interestingly (okay, maybe not), I recently had one where the other party was hearing impaired AND (with some difficulty) a non-English speaker. Fortunately, the party had learned some English for ASL purposes. We only had to involve the other-language translator on a couple of points.

Speaking of intellectually lazy, I finished Da Vinci Code last night. Short review: I think the critics from all angles are being a bit hard on a book that doesn't really have that many pretensions.

Posted by: SonofCarl | May 18, 2006 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Joel's book goes into some detail on the question of life and/or intelligence on other planets. The problem seems to have two basic branches. First, the Copernican theory (we're not so special, and life itself seems extremely varied, so it probably exists all over the place) postulates that life is common, and lots of scientists would love to find life on another planet. However, the probability is it may just be algae or toadstools or something pretty simple. That in itself would prove a major point--life can exist in lots of places. The fear is, it would take a heck of a lot of money, technology and effort just find out there's chickweed growing on Planet X-34. Kinda disappointing, in fact. So the second branch hopes there's not only life on Planet X-34, but lots of it, a lot of it in higher forms, especially including intelligence of some sort.

While it's true intelligent aliens almost certainly will not look like us, if they exist at all it is reasonable to postulate certain things about them:
 Their planet needs a certain amount of gravity, and therefore they themselves must be able to function in a gravitational environment. It is further reasonable to assume that to have a complicated anatomy and intelligence, a certain mass is required, and this mass must be able to withstand gravity and be able to move and work in it. What that range of gravitational field might be I have no idea, but it seems reasonable it isn't likely to be too different from ours. A lot of all this speculation is "Goldilocks-and-the-Three-Bears"-driven: not to hot, not too cold, just right, etc.
 If (or because) they have gravity, they probably need some sort of skeletal structure, so they can "stand" upright and move around with a certain amount of ease (they can't be "blobs" or gaseous, flatulence notwithstanding). The skeleton might be an exoskeleton rather than an internal one, but there's got to be something there to provide a framework and to allow mechanical functioning.
 If they are intelligent, and if they have space travel (the premise of all this) or if they can "hear" our radio waves, then it follows that they must have some sort of advanced musculature and skeleton that produce something akin to arms and fingers; otherwise you can't built things or otherwise manipulate your environment. No tentacles, antennae/feelers, talons, claws, etc. Whatever they've got, it should be able to use a Phillips-head screwdriver.
 They need some sort of vision device (i.e., eyes). A minimum of two, which are interrelated (to produce binocular vision), would seem to be a minimum requirement. It seems reasonable that whatever frequency band that vision uses, it would be pretty broad. Eyes (or other vision devices) seem to work best when they are mounted high on the body, and have a wide range of motion (i.e., the "head" or whatever they are attached to, is up top and can turn quickly).
 By definition, if they have intelligence, there is some sort of brain-like organ. It seems reasonable to assume this organ must have a certain physical size and mass, and that it is likely to be somewhat fragile. Therefore it probably needs some sort of physical protection and shielding (meaning it is located inside some sort of shell, like a skull or exoskeleton).
 It is reasonable to assume that on their planet, to have developed enough to be "intelligent," there have to be lots of them. That means they must be able to procreate fairly easily and quickly, and they need some sort of cooperative societal function. Among other things, this requires that they be able to communicate with each other at some advanced level. It is further likely that their communication operates at a variety of levels (not just sound/speech, but sight/vision, etc., which is to say just as sophisticated and complicated as ours is). In short, they need to have an advanced societal structure as well.
 While there's always been some talk about how their biology could be silicon-based rather than water/carbon-based, it is reasonable to assume the easier and more reactive chemistry system is more likely. So a water/carbon/hydrocarbon chemistry (like ours) is most likely. And they most likely need to operate in an "air" environment rather than a liquid environment. And if their society is going to advance technologically, it seems they are going to need heat ("fire") to refine metals and build things. So they needs some sort of atmosphere that supports controlled combustion. So they are almost certainly air-breathers of some sort, so they have something like lungs, and all that implies.
 It is likely that, like us, they have to "eat" something to produce energy, and that like every other advanced living thing, they start small and "grow." This requires some sort of processing system.
 They need mobility, and probably fairly quick/agile mobility (they can't lumber around, or crawl, or ooze, or whatever). So they need something rather like legs. The likelihood is that to keep things efficient the number of "arms" and "legs" is probably pretty small (just like on earth; there are no "higher" animals with lots of appendages, and this is probably for a good reason).
 If their planet is conducive to all the above, it is almost certain that planet has LOTS of life forms on it, not just our aliens. So among other things, our aliens have to be durable enough to not only survive competition with those other life forms, they need to be able to prevail over them and control them to a large extent.

So if there in fact is something out there that is at least as minimally intelligent as we are, we're pretty much stuck with a creature that, functionally at least, "looks" pretty much like we do: skeletal or exoskeletal structure, excellent mobility, something with arms and legs, something with eyes mounted high on the body, a reproductive system, a large, protected cavity somewhere housing a brain, air-breathing (not necessarily our "air," but a gas combination of some sort), advanced societal (and cooperative) structure, wide range of communication modes, etc.

In short, they won't look like us--but probably pretty darn close. (Probably a little closer to bc or scottynuke than the rest of us, is my guess.)

That said, I think the chances of us finding them or them finding us are just about zero out to a couple dozen decimal places.

(None of the above is my thinking, just what I've cobbled together from Joel's book and other sources.)

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 18, 2006 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Dolphie... one of my HS French teachers in Fairfax had a very strong southern accent. It was hilarious. I can't possibly convey it here in writing.

Posted by: TBG | May 18, 2006 12:04 PM | Report abuse

My reply to Curmudgeon's long post on the skeletal structure of intelligent organisms:


Posted by: ScienceTim | May 18, 2006 12:04 PM | Report abuse

"Klaatu barada nikto"

"Nanoo nanoo"

Wilbrod, I taught my cat Panda how to bite easier when playing by first spontaneously shrieking in pain and then saying "easy, easy". It works. He still plays rough, but when he gets that look in his eye that signals a big chomp is imminent, I just say "easy" and he just nibbles.

Posted by: Nani | May 18, 2006 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Oh, that's your answer for everything.

Posted by: SonofCarl | May 18, 2006 12:07 PM | Report abuse

BOOO: my 12:07 referred to SciTim.

Although "easy, easy" is a good answer for everything.

Posted by: SonofCarl | May 18, 2006 12:11 PM | Report abuse

Yes, but are these aliens of yours good eatin'?

Posted by: Huntsman | May 18, 2006 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Hey, it's a good answer. It applies to so many things.

"What do Red Wing fans take to games?" Octopus.

"What do Italian restaurants fry and sell at outrageous prices?" Octopus.

"What animal was her last blind date like?" Octopus.

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 18, 2006 12:14 PM | Report abuse

I DID fail to mention they probably taste like chicken.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 18, 2006 12:18 PM | Report abuse

>slow kid in the class. And if you are willing to believe that, then it is just a logical bit shift to believe that we are actually the only kid in the class.

RD, good point, with that many systems out there surely we wouldn't be the only ones to use RF. Also well-taken that anyone onthe other side of the universe, or even 100 light years away still won't have seen our early broadcasts yet.

If we are the only ones, we really ought to start being nicer to each other. It also gives more weight to the "every sperm is sacred" position. :-)

Speaking of which, the History Channel had an interesting show on the Knights Templar yesterday, anyone in Da Vinci mode might want to catch it.

Posted by: Error Flynn | May 18, 2006 12:19 PM | Report abuse

A while ago somebody named Don posted. Is that you, Don from I-270? If so, how are ya, guy? Lotta people here worried about ya.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 18, 2006 12:20 PM | Report abuse

I do NOT taste like chicken!

And I doubt bc does, either.


Posted by: Scottynuke | May 18, 2006 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Wilbrod, thanks for another blind joke. By the way, my wife says that I taste like.. umm, nevermind.

Posted by: Pat | May 18, 2006 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Is it just me, or am I being too persnickety today? There's a teaser on the WaPo home page that says "Farmers markets are a growing trend across nation." And I'm thinking, no, a hundred years ago there used to be one in every town, burg, village, major crossroads, and a couple hundred in every city large than Floyd's Knob, Pennsyltucky. In New Jersey, there used to be about every 300 yards (all selling the world's finest beefsteak tomaters, I might add).

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 18, 2006 12:33 PM | Report abuse

TBG, I tried to think how I could do it, but I used to speak with her accent and it would indeed make me laugh at myself. (You know I have a habit of doing that and rarely tell myself that it isn't funny).

Of course, my father who was a strict educator w/ 128 advanced degrees didn't think that there was anything funny about it. I would suggest that they spoke that way in Nice or Marseilles.

TGB, I right now am chuckling at the mere word Bonjour. I am SIMPLE.

BTW, if an alien had 6 fingers, he/she/it should really focus on the Lute, an instrument designed for aliens.

Posted by: Dolphie Michael | May 18, 2006 12:34 PM | Report abuse

EF, I think about every second program on the channels I watch has some Da Vinci Code angle, which is why I felt compelled to read the darn thing.

Which goes to show that Christians shouldn't be too concerned about bad press from the book and movie. Any bad press is offset by the fact that so much interest has been generated. It's not exactly common for Constantine's conversion and the Council of Nicea to be discussed over dinner.

Posted by: SonofCarl | May 18, 2006 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Well, hell, there goes my recipes for scottynuke au vin and bc kiev.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 18, 2006 12:35 PM | Report abuse

>It's not exactly common for Constantine's conversion and the Council of Nicea to be discussed over dinner.

Ain't THAT the truth. I'm for anything that gets people to learn a little more of their actual history.

Speaking of which, when I read this headline: "DNA study: Human-chimp split was messy" all I could think of was of course, every try to get your albums back from a chimp?

Posted by: Error Flynn | May 18, 2006 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Apparently, at least one of the factors in the Drake Equation is a lot smaller than SETI enthusiasts are willing accept.

o Hanson, Robert. "The Great Filter: Are We Almost Past It?" 15 Sept. 1998. George Mason University. 7 Dec. 2005 《》.

... but it's simpler than that, isn't it? I mean, on Earth, the evolution of intelligence has only ever been observed in predator/prey ecology and appears to arise in only the predator. Prey species defeat predators with population strategies like synchronized calving, which they evidently find evolutionarily easier than beating predators at being smart. Alternately, you could say the Intelligent Designer seems to favor prey species because he populates the world with them. In terms of population, intelligence isn't all it's cracked up to be.

I'm sorry to have to bring this up, but ET is likely not going to be good for mankind. In fact, he is more than likely to be a predator. He may be the real explanation of "Fermi's Paradox:" that galactic civilization succumbs to parasitism. Yes, of course, Earthlings do taste like chicken. Why wouldn't they?

Posted by: Entenpfuhl | May 18, 2006 12:39 PM | Report abuse

So, Entenpfuhl, what are you really trying to say??? Put away the Reese's?

Posted by: Dolphin Michael | May 18, 2006 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Ding! Ding! Ding! It's Flog the Blog time!
Q: Why do apes have real big fingers?
A: Because they have real big nostrils.

Posted by: Pat | May 18, 2006 12:43 PM | Report abuse

May I call your attention to George Will's column on "values voters" today? It's one of those rare columns where he actually makes a lot of sense. He does that, about once a fiscal quarter. Today's that day.

Key graf: "It [calling Conservatives "value voters"]also is arrogant on the part of social conservatives and insulting to everyone else because it implies that only social conservatives vote to advance their values and everyone else votes to . . . well, it is unclear what they supposedly think they are doing with their ballots."

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 18, 2006 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Whatever you cook, mudge, I think there will be ham involved.

Posted by: Dolphin Michel | May 18, 2006 12:44 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: Dolphin Michael | May 18, 2006 12:44 PM | Report abuse

The much more obvious answer to Fermi's paradox is that the terrorists blew them up. Aggression is part of evolution, and, at a certain point, any highly evolved and intelligent society will reach the point where the whole thing can be destroyed by a few sullen stinkers.

(To pull a MikeKoshi, I make this case on my blog,, with more details)

Posted by: George Borrow | May 18, 2006 12:53 PM | Report abuse

Mudge: read headline thus: "Yuppies suddenly discover centuries old method of sale of produce"

EF: ha!!

Entenpfuhl: Which is why we cannot allow a Fermi's Paradoxical Gap!

Posted by: SonofCarl | May 18, 2006 12:53 PM | Report abuse

The much more obvious answer to Fermi's paradox is that the terrorists blew them up. Aggression is part of evolution, and, at a certain point, any highly evolved and intelligent society will reach the point where the whole thing can be destroyed by a few sullen stinkers.

(To pull a MikeKoshi, I make this case on my blog,, with more details)

Posted by: George Borrow | May 18, 2006 12:54 PM | Report abuse

I think Will at least, at his heart, is a classic conservative. He probably is having a harder and harder time of it trying to make reasonable arguments to support his fellow nominal conservatives.

This administration and those who make the most noise on the right are like a sailboat slowly drifting away from the dock because of loose mooring lines. Will has had a harder time recently making that straddling move to the boat.

I am sure that, from his own personal vantage point, Will gets help from people of all stripes and he, being very observant, will note that they may be both left and right of the political spectrum. He is just that type of guy to be honorable to step up to the plate and hit that little peach of a concept out of the park.

I will be writing a thank you note ASAP.

Posted by: Dolphin Michael | May 18, 2006 12:55 PM | Report abuse

In Joel's honor, I must also call your attention to this story and it's great second graf:

The Alligator Is Not a Man-Eater -- Unless, of Course, It's Feeling Hungry

By Ken Ringle
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, May 18, 2006; Page C01

Nature, it should be pointed out, always bats last. This is true even in Florida, where, as novelist Carl Hiaasen makes clear, life is more than a little surreal, and where three people were recently attacked and killed by alligators in less than a week. Previously, 17 people had died from alligator attacks in Florida since 1948. There is no record in the United States of three fatal alligator attacks in one year, much less in one week in one state.

So something clearly is going on in Florida. Yesterday, as if to emphasize Hiaasen's point, an alligator walked through the doggy door of a woman's house in Bradenton and went for her golden retriever. The woman grabbed a shotgun and blazed away. The alligator escaped with a flesh wound. The neighbors heard shots and called police, who promptly cited the woman for hunting without a license.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 18, 2006 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Sonof... THAT, was good! 3 achenpoints. swish, Please provide fist pump.

Posted by: Dolphin Michael | May 18, 2006 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Life, as we know it is dependant on carbon and other heavier elements... those elements that are generated from nova and super nova events (and lots of them). So the red dwarf theory doesn't hold water (no pun intended). Life, as we know it is also dependant on organic compounds (methane, etc.) that are generated in the same kind of explosions. When the red dwarf solar systems congealed, they lacked these things. Life could have traveled there but life could not originate there.

Posted by: astronerd | May 18, 2006 1:05 PM | Report abuse

But if the meat locker planet were covered in with watery oceans beneath the frozen ice-crust, then the creatures who lived there wouldn't be so delicate because they would have to withstand the additional pressures. A short-limbed octopus-like creature from a watery a red dwarf (or a local moon of Jupiter or Saturn) seems reasonable, if any of this speculation is reasonable. Which, come to think of it, is exactly what H. G. Wells's Martians looked like, complete with the big eyes. Hmmm....

Posted by: Sage Thrasher | May 18, 2006 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Another headline on the Opinion page, quite appropriate for the current boodle direction:

"Rove, Leaving a Sour Taste"

Posted by: SonofCarl | May 18, 2006 1:09 PM | Report abuse

So Mudge, we won't be done in by 'gators, but by laws? Makes sense to me.

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 18, 2006 1:11 PM | Report abuse

SoC, does the article also say Rove's hard to scrub out of the china afterwards?

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 18, 2006 1:12 PM | Report abuse

I see we've lost our headline to Froomkin. Oh well, nothing is forever. I do wish though that when they targeted Mars for the two rovers that they had selected those areas that seem to change color over time with the seasons. There might still be some kind of slime mold there than can withstand the Martian weather. The science they are doing is great, but maybe just a little more???

Posted by: ebtnut | May 18, 2006 1:16 PM | Report abuse

ET says: Ah yes, Karl Rove. I served him up with a nice Andorian merlot to dilute the sour taste.

Posted by: SonofCarl | May 18, 2006 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Don't aliens slaughter cattle?

Posted by: Dolphin Michael | May 18, 2006 1:26 PM | Report abuse

"A short-limbed octopus-like creature from a watery a red dwarf"

Sage Thrasher, but what if as someone pointed out previously, they are water soluable??

I think this adequately explains the missing sock theory of aliens. Socks that go missing in the wash must be slouable aliens. We have been invaded by the sock people.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 18, 2006 1:27 PM | Report abuse

If children taste like chicken why did New Guinea cannibals refer to people as "Long Pork"?
I would dicourage Curmdgoen from further speculation on alien digestive tracts.

Posted by: Boko999 | May 18, 2006 1:28 PM | Report abuse

George Barrow,

Welcome and thank you for giving us at least one working link to your blog. It's a very erudite work for someone dead at least 125 years. As for placing the link, no apologies necessary. If blogplugging weren't allowed, I wouldn't come by as often as I do.

Your site would be a good place for anyone interested in the connection between Sarbanes-Oxley and the coming apocalypse. My blog on the other hand, is for anybody that want to know what a toilet that washes your heinie looks like.

Carry on.

Posted by: yellojkt | May 18, 2006 1:33 PM | Report abuse

What if the aliens are actually minerals. They start glowing and things happen. BUT, wouldn't we all be shocked if they were humanoids who wore togas... It could be that they have been scanning our old TV shows to see what form they should take that we would both be acceptable to us and functional.

I go with the glowing rock.

Posted by: Dolphin Michael | May 18, 2006 1:33 PM | Report abuse

I agree with some of the points Mudge brought up, but not all of them (I don't know how to make Mudge's cool giant bullet points):

"they probably need some sort of skeletal structure"
---not necessarily--land snails don't have one. I can imagine a series of fluid sacks with natural pumps providing support only when needed. Although I do like bags of intelligent flatulance (similar to the way Mrs. D. often describes me...)

"musculature and skeleton that produce something akin to arms and fingers"
---as ScienceTim pointed out, the octopus, which can manipulate many human tools with tentacles. Elephants do surprisingly well with their trunks. If we use the fluid pump system I mentioned earlier, you could even modify your appendage into the shape you need at that moment.

"They need some sort of vision device (i.e., eyes). A minimum of two, which are interrelated (to produce binocular vision), would seem to be a minimum requirement. It seems reasonable that whatever frequency band that vision uses, it would be pretty broad. Eyes (or other vision devices) seem to work best when they are mounted high on the body, and have a wide range of motion (i.e., the "head" or whatever they are attached to, is up top and can turn quickly)"
---first, I'm not convinced you need to be able to see in the electromagnetic spectrum at all. Our frequency range is extremely narrow, and our inability to see radio waves doesn't prevent us from using them. On earth, most organisms have eyes mounted on the front of the body. Wide range of motion--most things just increase their field of vision by eye placement (herbivores), or adding eyes (spiders). Binocular vision is important for determining relative distance, but there are other ways to do that (combined vision/echolocation, like bats and dolphins).

"there is some sort of brain-like organ"
---I'm more willing to concede this one, although colonial "super-organisms" with emergent properties are not out of the question.

"Therefore it probably needs some sort of physical protection and shielding (meaning it is located inside some sort of shell, like a skull or exoskeleton"
---I can imagine a decentralized structure, in which each component "cell" contributes a small part of every function. In this case there might not be many organs at all, in our sense of the word.

"That means they must be able to procreate fairly easily and quickly, and they need some sort of cooperative societal function. Among other things, this requires that they be able to communicate with each other at some advanced level."
---I'll buy this, with the exception "super-organism" concept in which the idea of individuality might be meaningless.

"it is reasonable to assume the easier and more reactive chemistry system is more likely" (based on carbon/water)
---much as I like the Horta, I agree.

"And they most likely need to operate in an "air" environment rather than a liquid environment."

"And if their society is going to advance technologically, it seems they are going to need heat ("fire") to refine metals and build things."
---Maybe. But most marine organisms can extract minerals directly from seawater and redeposit them in new patterns. An organism living in a metal-rich ocean might be able to precipitate metals directly--maybe living in air and using fire has slowed us down.

"It is likely that, like us, they have to "eat" something to produce energy, and that like every other advanced living thing, they start small and "grow." This requires some sort of processing system."
--Agreed. By some definitions, this is what "life" is.

"They need mobility, and probably fairly quick/agile mobility (they can't lumber around, or crawl, or ooze, or whatever)."
---Again, why? Why can't a moderately mobile organism develop the required technological level (I'm thinking of my own sloth here...)

"The likelihood is that to keep things efficient the number of "arms" and "legs" is probably pretty small (just like on earth; there are no "higher" animals with lots of appendages, and this is probably for a good reason)."
---I'm glad "higher" is in quotes. Insects (90% of all Earth organisms) are small because of structural limitations in the particular breathing style the use. We (vertebrates) don't have that limitation, so we can get bigger. Why only 4 legs? Because, purely by chance, we are descended from a fish ancestor with only 4 appendages. If a different group, then a different number of appendages (plus earlier comments about the actual need for fixed-morphology appendages).

"So among other things, our aliens have to be durable enough to not only survive competition with those other life forms, they need to be able to prevail over them and control them to a large extent. "
---I agree.

On Entenpfuhl's point, that predators are the only ones to evolve intelligence, we're omnivores (technically, even though I never eat a vege if I can avoid it). We evolved from herbivores or omnivores, so that pattern doesn't follow for us. If we (very broadly) extend "intelligence" to include other mammal groups:


Prey capture is one thing that might select for intelligence, but so might prey avoidance, injury avoidance, or other things.

Although the ones descended from predators might be the ones with the impetus to come looking for us!

Posted by: Dooley | May 18, 2006 1:40 PM | Report abuse

High pressure within a watery world is not an issue for organism-construction. There are organisms that live in our deep oceans that are, basically, a big net made of mucus. As delicate as could be. Pressure is only a problem if you are so foolish as to try to seal the interior of the organism from the exterior. A change in pressure can then make the organism pop or squish, dependeing on which way the pressure changed. If the organism can freely exchange fluids with its environment, however, then it can go up or down, changing its pressure, just fine.

Posted by: ScienceTim | May 18, 2006 1:40 PM | Report abuse

I think 'mudge is coming from a very anthropic view point. One of the great parts of David Brin's Uplift saga is they way he tried to great some truly novel but workable aliens. My favorite was a group of symbiotic toruses kind of like a childs stacking toy that communicated by emitted gasous scents. See, I knew we would work flatulence in here eventually.

Posted by: yellojkt | May 18, 2006 1:48 PM | Report abuse

> We cannot allow a Fermi's Paradoxical Gap!

SonofCarl, we must program a compyuterrr to seek out planetary civilizations, which are hiding. We have much to offer them! It is imperative that we discover them before predatory civilizations do.

Posted by: Entenpfuhl | May 18, 2006 1:52 PM | Report abuse

On the missing socks--

I remember reading a short story by Avram Davidson, in which all the random paper clips that show up from nowhere were larval aliens (mimicking paper clips), that then metamorphosed into all the extra wire coat hangers that seem to appear from nowhere, that then metamorphosed into all the ownerless bicycles the police always find.

The species must not be doing well--I can never find a paper clip when I need it. Unless they've evolved into spring clips...

Posted by: Dooley | May 18, 2006 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Is it time for Mrs Draamer's afternoon drool?

Posted by: Countess Smegma | May 18, 2006 2:02 PM | Report abuse

And yet another argument against there actually being intelligent life on THIS planet...

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) - In another in a series of notable pronouncements, religious broadcaster Pat Robertson says God told him storms and possibly a tsunami will hit America's coastline this year.
Robertson has made the predictions at least four times in the past two weeks on his news-and-talk television show "The 700 Club" on the Christian Broadcasting Network, which he founded.


Posted by: Scottynuke | May 18, 2006 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Dooley, that story is called "Or All the Sea With Oysters." A classic.

Somebody up above mentioned that the problem with life around a red dwarf star is that they're old, and therefore predate the appearance of many heavy elements. I think that's a good point, but not a nail in the coffin. Planets orbiting red dwarfs do exist, so we might as well look at them. Also, surely not every red dwarf is as old as the galaxy -- surely some formed later. I don't know what the formation rate might be, however.

Posted by: ScienceTim | May 18, 2006 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Laughing here, Boko.

Some of you folks are missing the point: the question wasn't about building an intelligent alien; it was about building an intelligent alien that could build a radio receiver and/or a rocket ship. None of your objections meet that requirement. I immediately grant the possibility of an intelligent octopus in a watery environment, but I DON'T grant the possibility that it can find, distinguish, dig up, refine and make metals like steel and glass and transistors, etc., most especially in a non-oxygen atmosphere where there's no fire or other extreme but controllable heat source. Among other things, I think this requires a structure strong enough to do some significant lifting, etc., and I don't think a muscle system absent bones/cartilege can do that.

As smart as an octopus might be or might become, it cannot manipulate its environment enough to build the simplest tool out of a clamshell, let alone monitor our "I Love Lucy" space transmission.

The question about such an alien isn't just about anatomy and biology; it is also about the ability to manipulate technology, which answers to the laws of physics, not nature. I doubt there's a planet where transistors, wiring and aluminum girders exist naturally on the sea floor.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 18, 2006 2:10 PM | Report abuse

700 Club comment-- God must be the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They forecast a heavy hurricane year for 2006.

Of course storms will hit our coastline. As for tsunami, I guess the storm surge that hit N.O. counts as one.

'Tis a year when the hurly-burly is not done, the battle is neither lost or won, and no unsurper listens to ungodly prophecies to his downfall.

Hurly-burly is a good word. It always makes me think of burly dudes in kilts practicing saber throwing in a storm.

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 18, 2006 2:11 PM | Report abuse

And regarding alien eating habits, beside mutilating cows, I can't figure out why they eat corn in circles.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 18, 2006 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Surely you mean caber-throwing, Wilbrod. Although saber-throwing definitely would have an element of excitement to it.

Posted by: Tim | May 18, 2006 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, then I guess I shouldn't ask about Nazca? I would be interested in everyone's theories! Probably, Achenbach has already interviewed an older Inca and knows the answer.

Posted by: Dolphin Michael | May 18, 2006 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Throwing saber-toothed tigers would be even more burly, not to mention exciting.

Posted by: Scottynuke | May 18, 2006 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Saber-toothed tiger tossing is all about the release point. It ain't going very far if the damn thing doesn't release its hold on you.

The best release point would be ... NOW!!!!

Posted by: Dolphin Michael | May 18, 2006 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Tim, caber-throwing indeed would be exciting--but it's pretty darned difficult. I highly recommend caper-throwing instead. It's cheaper, too, and you can get a whole jar of 'em in a good supermarket, (just try going into Safeway looking for a good caber some time). Also, you can flick then with just your thumb and index finger--can't do that with a caber, either.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 18, 2006 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Have you ever sat on a caber?

It really hurts me bad, Mr. Curmud.

Posted by: Mrs. Smegma | May 18, 2006 2:32 PM | Report abuse

"random paper clips that show up from nowhere were larval aliens (mimicking paper clips), that then metamorphosed into all the extra wire coat hangers that seem to appear from nowhere"

Its so much worse than I thought. These things are happening at my house. What if bc's interdimensional wormhole to Calabi-Yau space is extending promiscuously, and has now found a link to my laundry room. Dang and just when I was caught up too.

Posted by: dr | May 18, 2006 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and capers have a very calming effect on Bengal tigers and similar large feral cats. Hence the derivation of caper-soothed tigers.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 18, 2006 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Have you ever sat on a wire coat hanger, and then rotated, Mr. C?

Posted by: Countess Smegma | May 18, 2006 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Alumnium exists naturally in sand on earth.

Mudge, you're overlooking that sentient beings could evolve the ability to receive and transmit radio waves naturally.

Heck, you can produce radio waves by rubbing a nickel against a 9-volt battery, and we humans actually do bioaccumulate heavy metals for more than carrying oxygen.

Birds and other animals use ferromagnetism to locate magnetic north.

In fact, our own brains use "synapses" for electrons to jump across. Plants exploit visible light radiation to trigger chemical syntheses, and so do we when we see.

Even DNA can act as an wire for electron transfer.

Right now litz wire is popular for radio-- it consists of many tiny wires woven together, increasing the surface area of the conductor and reducing power losses. That's something that would be a natural fit for organically grown radio sensors.

Litz wire are made of copper, but I believe that DNA or other long organic fibers can also conduct like wires, just not as efficiently. And of course, the ability to adjust antenna length would make their radio communication superior to our technology.

Rain absorbs and scatter radio waves, so this communication would be limited on rainy days. Fresh water will propagate radio waves, but salt water will not.(Lower frequencies work best for fish telemetry)

Maybe this method of communication would be best suited to a world of methane with scarce or entirely frozen water. In that case, water droplets could be used as important biosensors to absorb radio waves or scatter them.

Or not, I never was much good at materials science. But the point, it doesn't have to be a few pounds of pure material/metal to work as a radio receiver/transmitter. It could be a few grams or less.

If we see octopodes rub nickels against electric eels to transmit in radio, we'll know we're onto something big.

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 18, 2006 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Have you ever sat on a caber?

It really hurts me bad, Mr. Curmud.

Posted by: Mrs. Smegma | May 18, 2006 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Even bigger than sabertooth throwing Wholpins in kilts, that is.

Posted by: wilbrod | May 18, 2006 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Not to mention that would be a truly alien electric radio-guitar.

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 18, 2006 2:38 PM | Report abuse

>The question about such an alien isn't just about anatomy and biology; it is also about the ability to manipulate technology, which answers to the laws of physics, not nature.

What if their nature allows them to manipulate gravity directly, and they're comfortable in the conditions of deep space? Or just drag their atmosphere along for the ride?

Posted by: Error Flynn | May 18, 2006 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Like Terry Pratchett's equation that information equals knowledge equals power equals energy equals mass c2?

"A library is just a genteel black hole that knows how to read."

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 18, 2006 2:44 PM | Report abuse

No, no, no, and no. Never sat on a coathanger; never sat on a caber; granted that an alien must receive radio waves but it wouldn't do any good for purposes of the discussion if it couldn't process those waves in a meaningful manner and compare what it "sees" to some sort of kindred reality, i.e., that the transmission is communicating meaningful information about something; and no, you can't postulate gravity-less aliens. (Anyway, gravity-less aliens make the problems worse, not better. We can only hypothesize within the realm of known conditions. They'll need gravity, and they'll need oxygen so they can have combustion.)

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 18, 2006 2:51 PM | Report abuse

To use our technology, you might have to look like us, but I don't think that's the only feasible radio-producing technology. In other words, what Wilbrod said.

On Pat Robertson--"possibly a tsunami"? Does that mean that God's not sure? Whos' running this show?

Posted by: Dooley | May 18, 2006 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Maybe God plays Charades with Pat Robertson when he talks to Pat, or Pat Robertson's going deaf.

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 18, 2006 3:01 PM | Report abuse

>We can only hypothesize within the realm of known conditions. They'll need gravity, and they'll need oxygen so they can have combustion.

Time to re-watch "Forbidden Planet".

Leslie Nielson: "Intelligence without instrumentality?"

Posted by: Error Flynn | May 18, 2006 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Well, I posted an update on my experiences with the Aliens in my Laundry Chute.

Read it and weep.


Posted by: bc | May 18, 2006 3:03 PM | Report abuse

What's to understand? We're playing heavy metal radio-music out here and they'll come banging at our door to yell at us to turn it down, their civilization needs their sleep.

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 18, 2006 3:05 PM | Report abuse

What's to understand? We're playing heavy metal radio-music out here and they'll come banging at our door to yell at us to turn it down, their civilization needs their sleep.

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 18, 2006 3:05 PM | Report abuse

I think Wilbrod's right: Robertson's hearing is going. God didn't say "tsunami," He said "sushimi." He's a big fan of sushi, apparently.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 18, 2006 3:06 PM | Report abuse

>Well, I posted an update on my experiences with the Aliens in my Laundry Chute.

bc, kudos!

Posted by: Error Flynn | May 18, 2006 3:11 PM | Report abuse

bc, loved the references to "Thunderdome" and "2001."

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 18, 2006 3:13 PM | Report abuse

I've spent the day trying to dig out from under a ton of governmentum only to find out as I reach the surface that Pat Robertson is now a weatherman. Oh, boy!

I know there is more funny stuff in here today, but I can't see until I get my glasses fixed.

Posted by: a bea c | May 18, 2006 3:14 PM | Report abuse

Of course God loves sushi. That's why He gave the Reverend Moon a vertically integrated monopoly. All God gave Robertson was a low budget cable network.

Posted by: yellojkt | May 18, 2006 3:18 PM | Report abuse

I hate to start a schism on divine prophecy, but could the Lord have said "Pastrami" or "Salami?" Or even "Yanomani?" (a Brazilian rainforest people)?

The Yanomani are coming! The Yanomani are coming with salami!

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 18, 2006 3:21 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, folks. There's another Classical reference in there, perhaps more forgotten than most.


Posted by: bc | May 18, 2006 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Pastrami? Then He is the God of the Old Testament, after all!!! Awright! (With spicy mustard and a nice pickle,perhaps?)

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 18, 2006 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Q: If God were an alien colony of particles that feed on human thought and emotions, who would freak out more: believers or non-believers?

It would certainly explain why He doesn't just do a little world-wide sky-writing and settle the thing once and for all.

Posted by: Error Flynn | May 18, 2006 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: Anonymous | May 18, 2006 3:42 PM | Report abuse

bc, great post. The other classical reference must be "Dave's not here".

Posted by: SonofCarl | May 18, 2006 3:47 PM | Report abuse

Well, that all Depends, doesn't it.

BTW, I forgot mine.

Where are my olde friends here? They are gonezo?

Posted by: Countess Smegma | May 18, 2006 3:55 PM | Report abuse

That's it, SoC.


Posted by: bc | May 18, 2006 4:00 PM | Report abuse

I did it. I ventured into a blog other than Joel's. But it's all Mudge and Error Flynn's fault. They tempted me into bc's territory where I found a twilightzony tale of a sock-eating laundry chute that swallowed a man alive. And it made me LOL! I've laughed out loud here plenty of times, but never in cyberspeak. Then, bc's tale made me wonder about my own closet. It's cram-packed with clothes, but strangely, I've nothing to wear! I've cleaned it out, taken the items that were worthy enough to give charity, filled it with new clothes, and yet, I've nothing to wear!

Posted by: Nani | May 18, 2006 4:05 PM | Report abuse


Maybe the aliens are nudists?

Posted by: Error Flynn | May 18, 2006 4:08 PM | Report abuse

So Nani, are you boodling naked again?

Posted by: Pat | May 18, 2006 4:08 PM | Report abuse

As I understand it, if the aliens didn't eat that apple, they are Boodling naked.

Posted by: Pat | May 18, 2006 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Where are the men that I used to sport with?

What has become of my beautiful town?

Wolf my own friend, even you don't know me.

This must be the end, my house is tumbled down.

David Bromberg

Posted by: Error Flynn | May 18, 2006 4:13 PM | Report abuse

That's what I get for "trying" to be funny. Neat poem Error. Sad, but neat.

Posted by: Nani | May 18, 2006 4:16 PM | Report abuse

I'm very glad you liked it, Nani.

I think you're on to something. Unfortunately I think you're describing the set-up for the TV show "What Not to Wear".

On a side note, I did Boodle a few times last summer on the C-Y Aliens in My Laundry Chute (I think one was in Joel's Kit about Tom Cruise dodging questions ETs, a sideways reference to Scientology).


Posted by: bc | May 18, 2006 4:19 PM | Report abuse

I'm not familiar that Bromberg, Error, but it makes me think of Rip Van Winkle.


Posted by: bc | May 18, 2006 4:21 PM | Report abuse

I found it very funny, Nani. But then my wife has the same affliction. Talbots and Eddie Bauer go into the closet, but never come out.

Posted by: yellojkt | May 18, 2006 4:22 PM | Report abuse

The thought of a 69-year old gma boodling naket is enough to make me quite sick.

Surely, you jest.

Posted by: Cored Again | May 18, 2006 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Nani, that's a stanza from "Kaatskill Serenade" by David Bromberg from "David Bromberg (How Late'll Ya Play 'til? )" album.

It's his rendering of the Rip Van Winkle story. It's way sadder to hear the whole thing. Wish I had my iPod with me.

Back to aliens, in 1975 I started working in a steak house after school. One autumn night a sort of tweedy guy comes in and after awhile starts acting kind of strange, "air putting" and bothering the other customers a bit. My friend Tony asked him "Hey buddy, where are you from?"

His reply: "I dropped out of the Bermuda Triangle into Philadelphia in 1972, and I've been wandering around every since."

We looked at each other and thought: "Hmmm, how would we know if he was telling the truth"? He wandered out and we never saw him again.

Posted by: Error Flynn | May 18, 2006 4:26 PM | Report abuse

bc - Just read the latest post on your blog. One comment: Hahahahahahahahaha!

That was great. Thank you.

Posted by: CowTown | May 18, 2006 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Nani, I've led so many maidens astray.

bc, the wormhole in my laundry basket seems to terminate in my son's room. At least that's where I find my socks from time to time. The wormhole that mysteriously gobbles up my wife's shampoo and various lotions, emollients and tubes of whatever that fruity-smelling stuff is seems to lead to my daughter's cavern. Somehow I'm pretty sure aliens aren't involved, because we had these two naturalized at the immigration office in Baltimore.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 18, 2006 4:44 PM | Report abuse

Nani, you had me laughing, but then I've been giggling everytime I came here today.

bc, par excellence. Permanently anchored, eh. Well, I shall continue to search for theories, but I strongly suggest you check your closets for multiplying wire coat hangers.

Posted by: dr | May 18, 2006 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Don't you love that word "naturalized"? Such as bizarre turn of phrase.

The other one is "landed immigrant". I'm not sure if the imagery from the phrase is supposed to invoke a Norman lord or a Cuban on a raft.

Posted by: SonofCarl | May 18, 2006 4:50 PM | Report abuse

unlanded immigrant would be the cuban on the raft.

Posted by: dmd | May 18, 2006 4:52 PM | Report abuse

Hilarious, bc!

I wonder what would happen if you did a load of laundry composed of only the leftover socks. Would they come out unscathed? Or would half of them be devoured?

Posted by: Dooley | May 18, 2006 4:54 PM | Report abuse

The accurate term should be "nationalized immigrant", don't ya think?

"Nation" and "nature" looks alike in ASL, but I wonder WHY an ASL-speaker would have spread the term for "naturalized" instead of "nationalized".

But then, the football huddle and baseball signals were invented by deaf people, so who knows?

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 18, 2006 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Dooley, they'd wind up in my son's room. Bank on it.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 18, 2006 4:56 PM | Report abuse

One of my boys and a friend, both aged 17, came home late one fall evening and they were upset and disturbed, and really, really scared. They told me that they had seen a brilliant light hovering right above them on the road, and it was beginning to follow them, till they changed directions, and took off like a bat out of hell.

The local late news had already been on and there had been a major accient about 4 miles from our place. The Air Ambulance was called out. I tried to explain that the hovering light was the helicopter, and that had they turned down the music, they probably would have heard the blades. I'm not entirely sure they believe me to this day.

Posted by: dr | May 18, 2006 4:57 PM | Report abuse

Dooley, if bc ran that experiment, the socks would mysteriously transform into colors, styles and sizes unknown to the feet of anybody in that household. I would not recommend it if you don't want the screaming heebie jeebies.

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 18, 2006 4:57 PM | Report abuse

My comment on George Will and "values".

Will states: "The phrase "values voters," which has become ubiquitous, subtracts from social comity by suggesting that one group has cornered the market on moral seriousness."

I understand the critique, and agree that there is no monopoly on values, but think the criticism misses the mark.

Many (probably most) voters probably have a bundle of issues that they care deeply about, and identify with a certain party on the basis of a perceived convergence between that party's policies and their take on the bundle of issues.

Quite a few, however, have an issue that trumps all or nearly all others when it comes time to (1) get off the couch and actually vote and (2) vote for a certain party. Such voters are often called "single issue voters".

My take on this particular group, then, is that "values voters" is not an inaccurate label. It also does not negate that other voters have "values", it just is a shorthand term for the single issue driving some voters. It also happens to be how that group would define itself, which is a nicer way of putting their motivations than some might. Similarly, or some might say conversely, if the courts go the direction desired by some, "choice voters" will be a phrase that will be heard in the future.

Posted by: SonofCarl | May 18, 2006 5:21 PM | Report abuse

bc - can you explain the phenomenon that i have encountered several times - i get socks that aren't MINE in my laundry - of course it's only a single sock but i know i never owned it! (and i live alone!) maybe said wormhole ends in my laundry? if so, i shall return all your socks forthwith!

Posted by: mo | May 18, 2006 5:22 PM | Report abuse

oh, and Dave as well - i was wondering who the guy in my livingroom was who had his stockinged feet up on the coffee table eating all the chips and salsa!

Posted by: mo | May 18, 2006 5:24 PM | Report abuse

So, if Mudge is right, then I can basically use his son's room as a personal landfill for the mountains of socks currently cluttering my bedroom.

But if Wilbrod is right, I could be unleashing an alien invasion of nefarious, neon-colored, possibly radioactive socks (oh my Lord, they might even be Republicans--the horror!). Of course, in the event of an alien invasion, there's only one recourse--build a three-layer chain link fence around my laundry room, and give my neighbors shotguns to carry on rotating patrols of my house until the National Guard can be recalled from Iraq.

As attractive as the free landfill is, I can't risk it.

Posted by: Dooley | May 18, 2006 5:31 PM | Report abuse

Dooley, I was actually visualizing men's sock sizes in frilly neon pink and white swirl patterns...

And maybe purple basketball pattern socks in capuchin monkey size (and shapes).

As well as socks that seem to be made up of multicolored lint. And the mysterious dark man's sock that could only fit Andre the Giant.

But maybe these are the norm in your house.

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 18, 2006 5:57 PM | Report abuse

Mo, if you use a laundry room, the dryers suck up socks and cough them up later in future laundries. Always check the rims you can't see, I've pulled out some stuck socks.

But I still stick by the "lone washed socks mutate" theory.

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 18, 2006 6:00 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of Aliens among us (okay, a few thousand years ago)... Hobbits continue to be bones of contention.

Maybe they were grey? I am totally in the hobbit camp, and want to see a full photo spread of all the found bones. Animals are brighter than people think, so I'm totally OK with hobbits learning to make stone tools, it's a question of relevance to survival.
Chimps have huge teeth, live in forests, and don't need very many tools, but they will make stick tools to catch termites. Baboons tame dogs. Praire dogs have complex speech, and monkeys show signs of having call sentences.

Heck, even bees dance to find flowers and cockroaches run direct democracies without wars.

We're just jealous we have to wear clothes when every other species doesn't.

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 18, 2006 6:10 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of Aliens among us (okay, a few thousand years ago)... Hobbits continue to be bones of contention.

Maybe they were grey? I am totally in the hobbit camp, and want to see a full photo spread of all the found bones. Animals are brighter than people think, so I'm totally OK with hobbits learning to make stone tools, it's a question of relevance to survival.
Chimps have huge teeth, live in forests, and don't need very many tools, but they will make stick tools to catch termites. Baboons tame dogs. Praire dogs have complex speech, and monkeys show signs of having call sentences.

Heck, even bees dance to find flowers and cockroaches run direct democracies without wars.

We're just jealous we have to wear clothes when every other species doesn't.

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 18, 2006 6:10 PM | Report abuse

Wilbrod, thanks for posting Guy's story on the Hobbits.

If I had had time, I would have kitted that (the press release moved a few days ago) and found some way to elegantly and seamlessly include the human-chimp mating story from this morning.

The Sagan rule, of course, is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I think claiming that there's a new species of human that lived contemporaneously with modern humans in Indonesia just 18,000 years ago (or whatever the time frame was) is the kind of assertion that should invite great skepticism and fact-checking and alternative hypotheses. Sounds to me like Martin has come up with a plausible explanation that doesn't require a different species. Science marches on. Skeptics rule.

Posted by: Achenbach | May 18, 2006 6:22 PM | Report abuse

Wilbrod, let me suggest that clothing is a matter of comfort in the winter, as opposed to modesty. No need for jealousy. I'd never make it through without wool, that's for sure.

Posted by: Slyness | May 18, 2006 6:28 PM | Report abuse

I admit I haven't been following the scientific literature on the hobbits--just the media reports. However, almost all pathologies that in any way affect the skeleton, affect the bones in obvious ways---paleopathology is a thriving field.

In general I don't find the hobbits to be at all surprising--given the prevalance of dwarfism in island ecosystems, it's surprising that there aren't more of them. And I understand that there are multiple specimens, and postcranial differences that bolster the separate species case.

Where I agree with Joel is in the associated tools. I personally have no problem with small-brained mammals making relatively sophisticated tools (see Wilbrod's comments). I understand that there is some question as to whether the bones and the tools are contemporaneous. That case is more difficult for the hobbit supporters to make. But if the hobbits didn't make the tools, that doesn't in any way negate the case that the hobbits could be a separate dwarf species.

Posted by: Dooley | May 18, 2006 6:58 PM | Report abuse

Yes, of course. But to me it raises the question I've thought about time to time about how far back our storytelling tradition really reaches back. We tend to believe our collective traditions ends around 7,000 years ago.

Yet the tale of Atlantis, if you believe Graham Haycock, is a collective memory of the ice age. He's not an anthropologist, but the weight of evidence he has gathered (including ice age sea level estimates vs flood myths) makes me think we should not dismiss the idea out of hand.

Likewise, the fact that we have oral traditions in so many cultures about para-humans (see Yeti, trolls, dwarfs, abdominable snowmen, elves, faires, Ebu gogo, Glosskap), with the lack of COMTEMPORARY evidence for any para-human species other than chimps and gorillas which are confined to a small section of Africa and which were unknown to Western civilization until the 1600's.

I remember reading an essay by Isaac Asimov where he pointed out the legend of Ragnorak (world ending in ice) closely resembled an ice age, but then dismissed that thought out of hand because there's no way humans could remember that far back.

I think that insults oral tradition somewhat.

While the grapevine effect tends to contribute to corruption of information, if you have an entire population aware of the story, then transmitting it to their grandkids, then the story tends to be pretty much strongly reinforced, and so on. If it's stored in meter and verse, all the stronger in transmission.

The Ramayana was once estimated to date only to 1500 BCE. But the proof is more for 7800 BCE. It is written in Sanskrit and was transmitted orally for quite a while, in verse. The Askara (syllabry) has extensive phonetic notations and rules of pronuncation which helps conserve the sound of the language.
Some priestly castes in India still speak Sanskrit as their first language.
-- 10,000 years after the Ramayana was written.

So the people have a legend of the Ebu Gogo which would have gone extinct maybe 8,000 years ago, and there are actual bones.

I don't think the claim is that extraordinary. What is extraordinary is that a volcanic eruption was able to preserve the bones.

Bones often are poorly preserved unless there are volcanic eruptions or peat bogs or other conditions favoring rapid burial, or the bodies are freeze-dried where predators can't snack on them. Bones can dissolve fairly quickly in acidic soils.

Skepticism should allow for careful assessment of the evidence, not inhibit gathering of evidence.

Skeptics are very apt to say "you can't do this and that," without any actual evidence to back their assertions up.

I say the weight of evidence is in favor of Homo florenesis being a new species aka the Ebu Gogo. It's up to the skeptics to disprove that.

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 18, 2006 7:42 PM | Report abuse

Wilbrod - Although skeptics can easily morph into smug close-minded magical fairy killers, I also think that the burden of proof for the separate species theory is on those who propose, not those who oppose. He who asserts, it has been said, must prove.

Posted by: RD Padouk | May 18, 2006 7:53 PM | Report abuse

mo, if you've got a lot of spare monosocks around, why not do a home movie remake of Ben Hur with sock puppets for

I'm thinking about a version of The Ten Commandments, myself.


Posted by: bc | May 18, 2006 8:09 PM | Report abuse

I haven't read the book - would a monosock puppet production of The DaVinci Code work?

Posted by: Slyness | May 18, 2006 8:15 PM | Report abuse

Sure it would work Slyness. It would actually increase the depth of the characters.

Posted by: Shrieking Denizen | May 18, 2006 8:25 PM | Report abuse

There is another explanation for odd socks. Anyone with kids ever watch the Arthur (PBS Kids)episode with Greenspan as a guest? Pal, Arthur's dog, takes random socks pilfered from the laundry to a "sock exchange" where dogs meet and trade one color for another. Some socks are more valuable because they have special designs on them, or are a special color, etc. Very cute. Greenspan did a great job of explaining the whole thing in kid terms.

Ebu Gogo. Add that to my list of googleable stuff. Thanks for the cool post, wilbrod.

Posted by: a bea c | May 18, 2006 8:27 PM | Report abuse

Yes, slyness, but you'd only need a couple of socks.

Those old Cecil B. DeMille movies need a *lot* of socks.


Posted by: bc | May 18, 2006 8:27 PM | Report abuse

From Gugliotta's "Hobbit" piece: "... seeking to explain how a 30-year-old female with a grapefruit-sized brain could have appeared 18,000 years ago on the Indonesian island of Flores."

Ah, but I *can* explain one I met 25 years ago at a bar in College Park, MD.


Posted by: bc | May 18, 2006 8:37 PM | Report abuse

Achenhog ate my lovely post explaining the features of the homo floresinseis skull and why it is definitely not human, but rather homoniod, as primitive as homo erectus or before.

I have handled human and animal skulls. I have a book open right now to show me the diversity of dog skulls just to help me define what features cannot be explained away by variation.

Photos 1 and 2 in this link:

really do explain it to anybody who can read skulls. I am no foresnic anthropologist, but I can easily point out the fact that the fossae (holes in the cheekbones) differ dramatically between the two skulls. The fossae are where jaw muscles attach to the cheekbones.

The hobbit has deeper fossae and its face is NOT correspondingly narrower in relation to its shrunken length. The jaw in particular is not reduced enough, the teeth are heavier and the nose is flatter, as indicated by a lower-set nose cavity and no flaring of the bone above the cavity.

Photo 2 does not show a human skull in similar configuration to compare, but the hobbit jawbone lacks "corners", unlike a human skull.

The eye orbit have very prominent bone, which COULD be explained by dwarfism, but the overall heavy bone actually argues against it being derived from a human ancestor.

Simply, based on dog skulls as an example, a mutation causing a reduction in size would produce delicate and light bone and a finer jaw and delicate cheekbones

This skull does not. It shows clear selection for a heavy jaw in spite of its smaller size. The cheekbones are flat, actually almost "post human" in its evolution from chimp or homo erectus, but still different.

A retired doctor agrees with me that the front teeth look very suited for grinding and gnawing vegetables, seeds, and fruit rather than a more omnivorous diet. There is no indication that this skull has noticeable canines.

Unlike modern human skulls, this skull does have 3 molars-- the wisdom teeth are in with room to spare.

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 18, 2006 9:07 PM | Report abuse

Cast of characters for the Da Vinci code in Super SockAnimation.
-One creepy white sock, that turns out to be kind-of-ok
- One sexy French fishnet stocking that we will call Bas Résille, (without any basic French language mistake, unlike the original novel. BTW, if you sell 30 million+ hardcovers, would it be too much to spend $500 for a French editor to root out the junk out of the paperback or should you reproduce all errors, bad grammar and vocabulary for the sake of having the complete text of the hardcover ?)
- an aging and greying American sock with lots of energy left but that has definitively started to unravel.
- an old argyle sock with a bad smell, nasty disposition and a british accent
- an old bleu-blanc-rouge sock with a bad smell, nasty disposition and french accent
- a silk sockette from a Cardinal.
- assorted socks for the supporting characters.

Posted by: Shrieking Denizen | May 18, 2006 9:30 PM | Report abuse


Better images are available at:

Posted by: Dooley | May 18, 2006 10:51 PM | Report abuse

With a disclaimer that I haven't read the original Homo floresiensis description, nor have I seen the specimen, it's risky to make interpretations from photos, and I don't work on primates:

At least two unique, defining characters (apomorphies) of Homo sapiens appear to be lacking in H. floresiensis--a prominent chin, and a reduced brow ridge. If I'm interpreting these characters correctly from the photos, those are sufficient to exclude this specimen from H. sapiens, unless it can be shown that these features occur in microcephalics (or that they are within the normal range of variation for H. sapiens).

Wilbrod, I can't see the sockets for the incisors in these views--it's possible that the first preserved tooth is the canine rather than a premolar, giving a tooth count in this individual of I2 C1 P2 M2, with M3 unerupted--this is the typical tooth count for an adolescent hominid. I'm sure the original description will say.

Again, the morphology doesn't confirm or deny the origin of the associated tools. It's possible that H. floresiensis is a real species, but that it didn't make the tools. Since I haven't read the article (and I'm not an archaeologist), I don't know how reliable the association of the tools is.

Posted by: Dooley | May 18, 2006 11:14 PM | Report abuse

re: Googling Ebu Gogo

Do you reckon Pete Seeger got there first?

"They run across the field. People yelled, 'Don't go near him! He'll eat you alive!' There was Abiyoyo. He had long fingernails 'cause he never cut 'em. Slobbery teeth, 'cause he didn't brush 'em. Stinking feet, 'cause he didn't wash 'em."

o Seeger, Pete. "Abiyoyo." 1963. Lyrics Connection. 18 May 2006 <>.

Posted by: Entenpfuhl | May 18, 2006 11:55 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, doesn't change my assessment although I like seeing the placement of the hole for spinal cord. The occipital bun does not exist. The small forehead might help counterbalance the skull given the rest of the face, but I'm not sure it's enough for good running biomechanics.

The spinal cord hole doesn't fit human or neanderthal. It's more anterior than Homo erectus, but not as anterior as Homo Heidelbergenus and later humans.

Chimpanzees have the spinal hole nearly at the back (like dogs etc) reflecting their quadrepedal locomotion. We humans have our skull balanced on top of our spines. Big difference, and the hominids as they evolve in bipedalism and brain size have distinct changes in this hole location.

Neanderthals and some humans (in lesser degree) have occipital buns (extra bumps at the rear) to counterbalance the face. As humans' faces shrunk, most humans never really needed the bun that Neanderthals had.

You'd have to do careful biomechanic modelling to be sure, but I would suspect that this slight posterior misplacement of the spinal cord hole would mean the owner of the skull was not as deft at running smoothly on two legs as humans are..

I sure would like to see if microcephalic human skills have similar posterior positioning of the spinal cord. I would be surprised.

I did internet searches of microcephalic skulls. They all show characteristic premature fusion of the skull bones and or other distortions of the skulls. Most look nothing like Homo florenesis, but rather like skulls arrested in HUMAN development (large braincase, small faces like children, etc.) and all have noticeably human nose bridges, philtrums, jaw and cheekbone features to me.

This is a good comment on the microcephaly hypothesis not yet being rejectible.

However, I disagree based on some salient features OTHER than skull and cranium size that the microcephalic hypothesis has to explain away.

"diversity of morphological variation" is all very well but I actually know something about genetics of bone growth disorders, and I recently read about morphological variation in dog skulls. They too follow rules of variation.

Ahem. I will say firmly, you don't get to this kind of morphological change from a human face with 1 mutation, AND dwarfism without evidence of any other kind of gross disease. There was natural selection for this.

The anatomical evidence suggests Flores guy might have evolved from late Homo Erectus or Homo heidelbergensis.

But enough fuming on people who seize on ONE trait (small brain) and decide to make it the whole case. Microcephaly is very rare, and when combined with dwarfism does tend to spare intelligence.

However there is dwarfism and dwarfism. The plain fact is-- Very few humans are dwarfed to 3 feet. Those who do, tend to look like small children.

Even "pygmies" average 3 feet 11 to 4 feet 5 or so-- that's the height of a 8 year old. 3 feet is more the height of a 4 year old, and midgets that are this small or smaller are pretty rare.

25% of Hypopituitaric dwarfs (tend to be proportional dwarfs)-- are microcephalic, but they normally are close to pygymy height, not hobbit height!

Futhermore, they tend to look like 8 year olds, not paleothetic pre-humans.

As a "under the wire" dwarf, I am actually rather offended by this idea that dwarfism explains all the features of H. Florenesis.

A 3 feet "hobbit" is to a pygmy as a pygmy is to a 6 foot tall european.

One wonders if the people trying to revive the microcephaly hypothesis as viable are in fact acquainted with any dwarfs, microcephalics, or have the background or understanding of the genetics of dwarfism at all. I suspect not.

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 19, 2006 12:20 AM | Report abuse

Why don't we ask Snow white? we could do a monosock production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and use all those different colors of lone socks one finds in the dryer. After analyzing the poison apple we could determine if the sleeping potion in it was related to anything that put Sleeping Beauty and Rip Van Winkle to sleep. Then after administering the potion to all the aliens, we could live happily ever after. A true fairy tale - as some of these theories sound to me. (Take no offense wilbrod, Dooley, et al - just trying to interject a little humor.)

Loved your lone sock story, bc. Your friend may be found wandering on another planet looking for a one-footed ET.

Happy Science Friday!


Posted by: boondocklurker | May 19, 2006 2:57 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, friends. Will wonders never cease. This kit starts off talking about aliens, and ends up talking about socks? At least no one mentioned poop. Well, I have now. I do hope your day is good, and that you remember that God loves you more than you can imagine through Him that died for all, Christ Jesus.

Couldn't sleep, so I'm up, and dealing with heartburn big time. Made meatloaf last night, and it came back to haunt me in a bad way. It was good, but I am so paying for it now and last night. I wonder if aliens suffer from human ailments. Probably not, they're way too superior to be bothered with our crummy shortcomings. I don't understand what all the noise is about concerning the DaVinci code. I haven't read the book. Somehow I can't bring myself to read it. Can't get my head out of those garden books. Will somone explain to me why the controversy over this movie. I probably should read the book, I know I won't see the movie. Theatres are not handicap friendly for hearing impaired folks, at least not here. The last movie I saw at a theatre was Mel Gibson's Passions, and it had subtitles.

Posted by: Cassandra S | May 19, 2006 4:04 AM | Report abuse

Joel, I know the Post has to do advertisements, but the Victoria's Secret ad is wasted on me. It takes up my whole computer, and I can't get it to go away! They probably don't make my size!

Posted by: Cassandra S | May 19, 2006 4:09 AM | Report abuse

We transmutated from fractal dimension 4.5796**0.29 thru the receptor fields induced in the brains of the most intelligent of your species. Matter transmission thru inter-dimensional space is impossible, but thought projection is not.

We came to your world slowly, as vague ideas in the minds of your greatest scientists and engineers. James Watt, Thomas Edison, Marconi, Einstein, and others. Only they could withstand the stress of the inter-dimensional wave transfer. More and more of your people were taken over by the desire to produce the precision machinery, electricity, broadcasting and atomic energy we needed to complete our control. We created your military-industrial complex. We launched your space race, and invaded your domestic and international business community. We know your habits, your needs and desires. All commerce passes through us.

You do not need to submit. You already have.

Posted by: node 9 | May 19, 2006 4:15 AM | Report abuse

Good morning! It's Friday and I forgot what I was suppose to worry about today. With all good intention, I went outside for excersize to jump on the trampoline and discovered that it was raining. I clearly remember from the video not to use the trampoline in the rain, so for once, I made a good example of myself, turned around and went back inside. You're not going to believe what I witnessed. I found the leather couch trying to sneak back from the laundry room to find its place in front of the TV. The evidence was unmistakable. There was a trail of socks, all different, leading all the way to the open dryer door. Bad couch! I would think it would be satisfied enough with a steady diet of all the Happy Meal toys, batteries, and electronic gizmos I feed it.

Posted by: Pat | May 19, 2006 5:28 AM | Report abuse

Personally, I'm quite interested in Dooley & Wilbrod's discussion.

I know next to nothing about physiology or paleontology, so I'm learning here.

As far as the chimp/protohuman interbreeding, well, I've been called a poo-flinger before, and now I know that those namecallers may be more than more than 99 and 44/100ths correct.


Posted by: bc | May 19, 2006 7:24 AM | Report abuse

Cassandra, the Victoria Secret ad annoys me too. Nope, I can't wear their stuff either! Do you think Hal the Schemer will notice?

Pat, you made me laugh!

Here's what I love about Achenblog: the juxtaposition of excellent, expert commentary on the important scientific topics of our time with complete silliness!

Posted by: Anonymous | May 19, 2006 7:26 AM | Report abuse

Hal, hey HAL!!!

You need to feed the copy editors a little better...

PANORAMA: Ariel View of the Bridge
(from the home page)


Posted by: Scottynuke | May 19, 2006 7:39 AM | Report abuse

Scottynuke, it passes spellcheck, what's your problem?


Posted by: slyness | May 19, 2006 8:07 AM | Report abuse

Ariel view... isn't that just the view from the water? A mermaid's view?

Posted by: TBG | May 19, 2006 8:17 AM | Report abuse

That would be fine if they'd made Ariel possessive, TBG...


Posted by: Scottynuke | May 19, 2006 8:26 AM | Report abuse

Hey.. does anyone know what's going on either today or this weekend on The Mall? There's a stage being set up and rows and rows (and rows) of chairs.

Posted by: TBG | May 19, 2006 8:28 AM | Report abuse

I think it's the National Book Fest

Posted by: newkid | May 19, 2006 8:30 AM | Report abuse

Wrong, maybe Book Expo

Posted by: newkid | May 19, 2006 8:43 AM | Report abuse

Good morning all. Cassandra, since you asked about the DaVinci Code, you should read Eugene Robinson's column today, "From Hollywood, a Prayer in 'Code'". I haven't read the book either and most likely won't see the film. Oh, and a home remedy for heartburn is a teaspoon of baking soda in a cup of water. Works for me.

Posted by: Nani | May 19, 2006 9:07 AM | Report abuse

node 9, I'm not at all impressed by the people you've chosen to run the White House, and you folks sure blew the Katrina cleanup. For an advanced species of intergalactic alien, you dudes gotta clean up your act, or go back thru the receptor fields to 4.5796**0.29. (Take your time; after November a lot of you will be gone anyway.)

Turn off the light when you leave, and tell Cheney to leave the shotgun unloaded.


Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 19, 2006 9:21 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: SpaceCow | May 19, 2006 9:44 AM | Report abuse

Mudge, perhaps their goals are not the same as ours.

Posted by: Error Flynn | May 19, 2006 9:44 AM | Report abuse

Wilbrod, what do you make of this paragraph, late in Gugliotta's article yesterday about the Indonesian skeletons? What do these other bones--other than the cranium, tell us?

Rick Potts, head of the Smithsonian Institution's Human Origins Program and an early skeptic, said even newer research, not formally reported, showed in late 2004 that the Hobbit's leg bone, foot and shoulder joint were "quite different from modern humans."

I met with Dr. Kalter yesterday, the hematologist with a very soft-spoken manner and a shuffling gait, whose German ancestors came to Texas in the late 1800s. We reviewed the results of every blood test, and everything was normal with the exception of one anomaly that was beyond the bounds of expected parameters--high blood calcium, about which I have known since the early 1980s and which is part and parcel of my rare genetic disorder. Kalter ordered three additional blood tests, two that have to do with prothrombin levels and one with homocystine levels. He said that he has seen cases in the past of retina occlusions with no underlying factors that can be defined or named. Chalk it up to "an unknown mystery of the universe," although I am still quite bothered by the loss of vision in my left eye.

My hubby has taken the day off. We will see the first showing of "The Da Vinci Code" at 11:30 a.m. at our nearby theater. The *full* Ian McKellen quote from the "Today" show that I mentioned in passing on May 17 is in Eugene Robinson's piece today--about the Bible (New Testament) needing a disclaimer. SonofCarl, you are a man after my own heart by mentioning the Council of Nicea and Constantine's confession. This week, I am working my way through Baigent's "Jesus Papers."

We had an absolutely gratuitous and disgusting article about how theaters are not churches in our paper's entertainment section today by our own local film critic Larry Ratliffe. The pastor of our local Concordia Lutheran Church is doing his own little footstomp (I've met him and consider him a blowhard), and San Antonio's Archbishop Gomez, formerly of Opus Dei, has taken to the local airwaves to protest Ron Howard's film, and sadly, he speaks far less than convincingly because his English is so poor.

On to a nice morning walk in the park with the pooch!

Posted by: Loomis | May 19, 2006 9:45 AM | Report abuse

You may be right, Error. I hadn't considered that. If you are right, it's darned diabolical of them.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 19, 2006 9:56 AM | Report abuse

where is everyone?

Posted by: mo | May 19, 2006 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Looking for socks, of course!


Posted by: Scottynuke | May 19, 2006 10:42 AM | Report abuse

I guess this means I have to blog again.

Posted by: Achenbach | May 19, 2006 10:51 AM | Report abuse

I was wondering if Mudge called a union meeting and I didn't get the message. My guess is (1) everyone is so worked up over the premiere of the Da Vinci Code; (2) getting a good seat early for the hockey game tonight; or (3) busily preparing to celebrate Queen Victoria's birthday in their own way (and getting their summer whites in order, of course).

WP Da Vinci Code review: "wrath of Cannes" - ha!

On socks, for my part, I have no tolerance for deserters. If one doesn't show up for roll call, the other is discarded as an example pour les autres.

Posted by: SonofCarl | May 19, 2006 10:52 AM | Report abuse

We'll do books again.

Posted by: Achenbach | May 19, 2006 10:53 AM | Report abuse

I don't know about y'all, but I'm busy securing my black socks in case KAAAGPACH comes around.

Posted by: Error Flynn | May 19, 2006 10:54 AM | Report abuse

SoC, I like your socks rule but whenever I throw away the single it always seems I find the other one.

Posted by: dmd | May 19, 2006 10:55 AM | Report abuse

Loomis, what I take from that paragraph is an amusing juxtaposition of "Potts" and "head". And "Hobbits" and "Smithsonian", for that matter.

KAAAGPACH, I think we have some misunderstandings re. your requested tributes of "Holy Socks". Exactly how long is a month on Zoltar? And with 7 moons, aren't the women there, well, you know, um, kinda, er, *complicated*?

By the way, Mudge, I do not taste like chicken either.
I had a nice blackened Mahi Mahi for lunch.


Posted by: bc | May 19, 2006 10:57 AM | Report abuse

I'm here--no, no union meeting, mo. I was actually doing some work, though.

Worried about Don from I-270, who we haven't heard from since his operation, and also Dreamer/Tom fan, who dodged (I hope) the largest thyphoon ever to hit China a day or two ago. It was heading for Hong Kong, but then veered off a bit and went up the coast, last I heard.

Books good, Joel--do books. Me like books.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 19, 2006 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Hey, I've been *tryin*' to keep the party movin', Joel.


Posted by: bc | May 19, 2006 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Seems the aliens also use Craigslist:

Posted by: TBG | May 19, 2006 11:00 AM | Report abuse

dmd, good point on the socks. It's like capital punishment though. A few socks thrown out here and there is a small price to pay for order in the sock drawer.

I thought that Don from I-270 dropped in a few days ago and said it went well? I might be imagining it, it being so close to Victoria Day and all. Someone handy with TBG's search tip might be able to find it.

Posted by: SonofCarl | May 19, 2006 11:04 AM | Report abuse

Difference is in the eye of the beholder.

The earliest neanderthal skeleton example turned out to have rickets (which would have been apparent to a careful medical eye thinking that way), which made for a long spate of illustrations showing shuffling, bent-over neanderthals when they actually were as upright as any human.

Rick Potts, head of the Smithsonian Institution's Human Origins Program should know about human skeletons, though.

One thing I notice about L1 (the most complete skeleton) is that it looks old and asymmetrical-- either due to the pressure of burial, or this was an older hobbit that died after some asymmetrical wear and tear. I don't know enough to be sure.

However given the placement of the spinal cord hole, this suggests the hobbit was just slightly too off balance to be as biped as we are.

I would not be surprised to see that the body is correspondingly different. Humans have a S-curve for bipedalism, evolved along with thge gait.

One of our ancestor actually had a better back, with one or two fused bones shortening and strengthening the back.
Chimps and gorillas have a more straight back. (Hmm, proof right there of hybridization-- all humans have lousy backs? ;) )

So the spine may or may not be illuminating. Chimpanzees have knees that are more "to the side"-- you have to examine a chimp and a human knee to really see what the joints are like.

Briefly, chimps have to be able to rotate their knees sideways as their feet grasp branches... if we did that, we'd risk tearing our ACLs.

Feet could be illuminating-- are they flat? Is the big toe the longest toe in the foot? Is there evidence of an arch? Is there a well-developed anklebone?

There was one very early bipedal ape (not a human ancestor) that had effectively flat feet-- no arches whatsover, toes splayed all over. The ape would have been slow enough a chimp could overtake him.

Our human ancestors were on the way to a more modern foot, though. H. habilis had heavy lower leg, showing walking on two feet was not perfected, and the anklebone was not yet human.

Since this hobbit looks a bit more evolved than H. erectus, we'd hope to see a mix of modern and ancient features, same as in H. erectus.

I found a little more detail, and they're claiming the body structure is almost the same as Lucy, the austropithecine, with overly long arms which is somewhat extraordinary.

The hobbit skull differs so much from an austropithecine. (Narrow, heavy face, more anterior placement of the spinal cord bone), that I'd expect a more human look. Also, there is no fossil evidence of austropithecines outside Africa.

However, Lucy and her ilk were adapted to living both on the ground with climbing forays when necessary, which would be an useful adaption for a minature Homo species in Indonesia as well. It may be that as they evolved for smaller size they also evolved slightly longer arms for their height.

Some people have suggested this may have evolved from a H. erectus ancestor called H. georgicus (found in Soviet Georgia). You'll hear the austropithecine-homo split.

Basically, the human line strts with homo habilis, which could qualify as a austropithecine like Lucy, but is considered to be a human ancestor, thus gets the name of "Homo." I think the skull looks "Homo" rather than austropithecine pre-Homo Habilis.

And I think that's all I have to say on this subject. The more hobbits get analyzed, the more weirder they become from a "human" viewpoint.

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 19, 2006 11:04 AM | Report abuse

Put a sock in it, bc. (Gnyuck, gnyuck, gnyuck, or however one spells that kind of laugh.)

Posted by: Curmudgeon | May 19, 2006 11:05 AM | Report abuse

Don from I-270 said that he would be out of commission for about 6 weeks, IIRC, so it will be a while before we should heighten our worry levels.

Posted by: ScienceTim | May 19, 2006 11:06 AM | Report abuse

SoC unfortunately I don't believe in capital punishment so my sock drawer is always suffering from overcrowding of rebel socks.

You are really hyped for May 2-4!! (Victoria Day indeed).

Posted by: dmd | May 19, 2006 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Wilbrod: "Briefly, chimps have to be able to rotate their knees sideways as their feet grasp branches... if we did that, we'd risk tearing our ACLs."

Thus conclusively proving that Keith Richards does NOT descend from the hybrid line.

Posted by: SonofCarl | May 19, 2006 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Wilbrod, I agree with much of what you're saying, and I also believe that H. floresiensis is probably a good species.

I wouldn't put too much faith in interpreting small differences in the shape and position of the spinal cord opening (the foramen magnum). In all the groups of mammals I've worked on (lot of them), foramen magnum shape shows a huge amount of individual variation. The exact position in humans is also variable. In humans, as you indicate, the foramen magnum is positions in such a way as to allow the skull to remain balanced on top of the vertebral column. As the skull and the brain grow, individual variations in brain proportions can result in center-of-gravity shifts that will result in ontogenetic changes in the shape and position of the foramen magnum. So the differences in the foramen magnum indicate that the LD1 brain is different, but not WHY it's different (different species or microcephaly). I definitely wouldn't try to give any functional significance to the feature.

Microcephaly seems to produce a great variety of shapes (heterogeneous morphology)--I expect this is because it is a pathology, not normal growth. Again, pathologies tend to express themselves in multiple ways, and I've not heard of any other features indicating the presence of a pathology in LD1.

I still think the jaw and brow ridge are the strongest features indicating that microcephaly is not a good explanation. As John Hawks mentioned on his website, a small-bodied population would essentially clinch the case (although I thought there were already multiple specimens).

As I see it, the real issue with H. floresiensis that the microcephalic camp have, is that they don't think the stone tools could have been produced by such a small-brained animal. But apparently some microcephalics have normal brain functions. For the microcephalic skulls that show similarities to LD1, I wonder how intelligent those individuals were?

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that those individuals that resemble LD1 were high-functioning. I'm not suggesting that LD1 is microcephalic; rather, I wonder if it shows similar brain structure to high-functioning microcephalics in parallel? So you can have near-normal human brain function in a tiny brain, IF the correct areas are developed. In H. floresiensis, this was the normal condition. In modern microcephalics, it occurs on occasion, just because microcephalic morphology is all over the place.

Of course, this idea falls apart if the LD1-like microcephalics were not high-functioning.

Posted by: Dooley | May 19, 2006 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Yes, please, let's do books again. This blog/boodle made me realize that I've missed much good reading by sticking almost exclusively to fiction. Could probably count the non-fiction books I've read on my fingers and toes. The most recent was True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty, fascinating! So if anyone has suggestions on another book debunking a long believed myth, I'd be very interested. (But not Da Vinci Code). I love animals and enjoyed Konrad Lorenz' On Aggression. Studs Turkel's Working was interesting. Read something by Carlos Castenada (sp), but can't remember anything about it.

Posted by: Nani | May 19, 2006 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Happy Birthday Joey Ramone, RIP!

Posted by: Anonymous | May 19, 2006 11:34 AM | Report abuse

New Kit! And Nonfiction is great.

I would recommend "The Botany of Desire" for any avid gardeners, and actually anybody who likes a bit of easy history or science.

I would suggest Temple Grandin's books on animals-- she has some very interesting insights/research on animal behavior which overturns some precious Skinnerian theories.

And definitely "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond, and "The Beak of the Finch". Both won pultizers and both are extremely cool pieces of science writing. (Don't watch the PBS series Guns, Germs, and Steel-- read the book. Much better.)

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 19, 2006 11:37 AM | Report abuse

You're right the foramen magnum is variable from species to species-- juvenile chimpanzees have a skull (and a formen magnum) surprisingly similar to adolescent humans.

But then again, their skulls look more childlike overall than the hobbits do.

You are correct pathologies are all over the map, but this skull resembles a small homo erectus more than anything else. The argument that homo erectus miniaturization and skull shrinkage seems unlikely--

well there's the rule the skull size increases by 1/7 as the whole body increases, just to control the body. Likewise, shrinking a larger population without attendant pressures would also lead to some shrinkage of brains.

This is why many "midgets" qualify as microcephalic even though they are high-functioning. In all cases, their brains are actually larger in relation to their bodies than the larger specimens.

I saw one dwarf dancer in India that was 2 feet or so. His head was nearly as large as his torso, but certainly microcephalic by normal-bodied standards.

I knew a college student that was skinny and looked nearly 6 feet. I never could figure out if his head just looked small on his body or it'd qualify as true microcephalic. His face was not disfigured.
I suspect he would count as microcephalic, his head looked smaller than my head, and my head ain't big.

Yes, I agree with you that the arachic features are the best support for the distinctiveness of hobbits, Dooley.

Posted by: Wilbrod | May 19, 2006 11:48 AM | Report abuse

There are a number of significant scientific errors in the article.

(1) It is true that red dwarf stars are extremely long-lived; however this does not mean that a red dwarf star is necessarily old. All it means is that once born, such a star will live for tens or more of billions of years. You cannot tell from the fact that a star is a red dwarf that it is very old; many of them are much younger than the Milky Way galaxy (which in turn is significantly younger than "the universe"; no stars in the universe are as old as "the universe".).

(2) A substantial fraction of the planets that have been found are "hot Jupiters", very large planets in an orbit that is close to a red dwarf star. The reason for this is that these are the kinds of planets that are easiest to detect using the most often-used radial velocity methods. The statement that planets around red dwarf stars will necessarily be small and of low mass is observationally wrong.

These facts undermine the conclusions at the end of the article. There is no reason to suppose that if there are planets around Proxima Centauri (quite possible) that they are necessarily very small; or that their inhabitants (if any) are necessarily very small and have a jump start on us in terms of the age of their civilization.

Bill Jefferys
Harlan J. Smith Centennial Professor of Astronomy (Emeritus)
The University of Texas at Austin

Posted by: Bill Jefferys | May 20, 2006 9:01 AM | Report abuse

Re: Red dwarves and tidally locked planets orbiting within the habitable zone.

That would not be true if the orbiting planet was a binary such as Pluto and Charon or the moon and the earth. A binary planet would have some rotation.

Of course that ignores the fact that Red dwarves are usually not very stable and that their luminosity changes wildly, so I suppose we'll just have to keep reading out favourite fiction.

Posted by: Theo | May 24, 2006 5:34 PM | Report abuse

Intelligent life on other planets does, in fact, exist.

It is indisputable because you cannot prove that life does not exist on other planets. Plain and simple.

What people have a problem with is that they then have to decide, absent any physical evidence to tell them outright, whether this life is better or worse, politically, intellectually, developmentally, etc, than us. That's a hard thing for people that hold onto the modern intellectual paradigm that they are the top of the food chain and superior in all ways. There could actually be civilizations, albeit distant and unlikely to ever converge or even make contact, that may be smarter, better evolved or doing things better than we are. It's tough. If we're not the best, than we're just nothing, right?

But even if you just consider the statistical probability, every point of light in the sky (and the billions we don't see) could have dozens of planets orbiting it. You can't deny that there is some form of civilization out there. Regardless of our ability to ever contact these civilizations, due to time and space, they exist or have existed or will exist. And we may never meet these civilizations, but that does not mean they don't or never have or never will have existed. We don't even know how many civilized, intelligent life forms have developed societies on this planet, for god's sake. There may have been dozens of different civilized life forms on this planet before us that even archeologists can't uncover due to geoformation that occurs throughout a planet's lifespan. There may be no traces of a civilization that developed even further than us over 50 million years ago, or 100 million years ago, you know?

Again, don't forget, humans are egocentric. They view the world and the universe only based on the experiences they've had and the events and circumstances they've encountered. Their understanding of cosmic realities is limited by their inability to think outside the group.

I think a scientist has actually produced a mathematical equation depicting the probability of an "advanced" (meaning technological) society existing outside the milky way at something like 1 in 1,000,000. Thus, with something like 1 billion to the power of 1 billion to the power of 1 billion stars, to the billionth power, in the universe (which each have an unkown number of planets orbiting them), it seems hard to imagine we're alone. There must be at least two or three other advanced civilizations within a few million light years of earth.

Then we can throw in the concept of multiple universes, or multiple realities, get into that quantum physics realm, and how do we even know that all those other planets we see in the telescopes aren't just other "realities", parallel representations of our own understanding of "the world" or the "universe"?

There's just too many unknowns to ever say there isn't an "alien" intelligence out there. Sorry, there are alien intelligences. They just most likely have no impact or effect on our world. But they exist.

Posted by: Gerry Attrick | May 28, 2006 1:57 AM | Report abuse

At this very moment, there are people on some unknown (to us) planet, posting discusions on a blog on their planet, that postulates that we don't exist, or that other civilizations in the universe do not exist.

I sure hope that doesn't cause us to cease to exist. If there's another intelligent life form out there, and they don't believe We exist, I sure hope it doesn't affect the fact that we, do, in fact, EXIST.

Damn, people, get off the ego trips. He's right. You need to open your minds, even though fear causes you to close your minds.

Wake up. It's all possible. You are only narrowing your own reality. Hopefully, your existence will not be affected by the beliefs of those life forms that you don't believe exist. If they start believing you don't exist, and we get into this whole "who exists" battle, then who wins and who loses?????

Posted by: baffled | May 28, 2006 2:23 AM | Report abuse

I don't believe you people exist.

Sorry, but you don't exist in my mind. You will all begin to vanish, shortly, because if I don't believe you exist, and out-of-sight-out-of-mind being a predominant human reality, you will all cease to exist as I continue to believe that you do not exist.

Sorry, I couldn't reconcile humans as being an entity, so I chose to just assume you do not exist. Therefore, you do not exist. I know it sucks, but since you don't exist, how can you complain anyway?

Posted by: Magador, from Argon | May 28, 2006 3:11 AM | Report abuse

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