Home Page Science Frontiers

No. 88: Jul-Aug 1993

Issue Contents

Other pages

Other Interesting Sites












Humans have many ways to predict the future: animal entrails, Tarot cards, and the Copernican Principle. The Copernican Principle, in particular, leads to all sorts of profound prophecies.

The Copernican Primciple states that the earth does not occupy a special place in the cosmos. To this we add Darwinism, which asserts that, in the realm of biology, human origin is not special either; i.e., we enjoy no special place among life forms. Building upon these two general "beliefs," J.R. Gott, III, proceeds to estimate the longevities of various observables, such as the lifetime of a particular species. What follows is a long, highly technical computation of various probabilities, such as the evolution of intelligent life in the universe. All this (and there is a lot of it) leads to the following:

"Making only the assumption that you are a random intelligent observer, limits for the total longevity of our species of 0.2 million to 8 million years can be derived at the 95% confidence level. Further consideration indicates that we are unlikely to colonize the Galaxy, and that we are likely to have a higher population than the median for intelligent species."

Why won't we colonize the Galaxy? Not because we are not able to, Gott says, but because "living things do not usually live up to their maximum potential."

Also of interest here is Gott's assessment of SETI (our Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). Will our big radio telescopes pick up intelligent murmurings arriving from outer space? Gott's calculations are very pessimistic here:

"Thus, we do not expect to see a Dyson sphere civilization within our Galaxy, or a Karadashev type III civilization within the current observable horizon."

(Gott, J. Richard, III; "Implications of the Copernican Principle for Our Future Prospects." Nature, 363:315, 1993.)

*A line from Stephen Spender's poem: From All These Events, from the Slump, from the War, from the Boom.

Comment. But perhaps the Copernican Principle, Darwinism, or some other of Gott's assumptions are in error.

From Science Frontiers #88, JUL-AUG 1993. 1993-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987