384: The Drake Equation
|The Drake Equation|
Title text: But seriously, there's loads of intelligent life. It's just not screaming constantly in all directions on the handful of frequencies we search.
For starters, the Drake equation is a model for estimating the number of communicating life forms in our galaxy.
Even if there are life on other planets, most life forms will not establish civilizations. However, if there are any communicating civilizations, their messages would have to travel for hundreds, thousands, or hundreds of thousands of years to reach us, and then our response would take an equivalent amount of time, leaving them waiting for a doubled time of years according to their distance in light years for a response.
That is the reason why Randall also added the factor for the "Amount of bullshit you're willing to buy from Frank Drake". All the factors are difficult to measure or estimate, no number is determined with sufficient accuracy, so the equation is a guideline for a thought experiment at best, and just "bullshit" at worst.
The title text makes fun of the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project, which searches for intelligent life on other planets by looking for radio communications, and the intelligence of their researchers. Nearly nothing, if not nothing, restricts potential extraterrestrial communications to the frequencies that SETI searches at any given moment. Even if another civilization communicated on one of SETI's search frequencies, they would most likely live extremely far away. Additionally, an extraterrestrial source that doesn't know we're here would have to send a constant and powerful signal in all directions for us to notice it.
The SETI project is searching at the 21 cm Hydrogen line, which, although considered a favorable frequency by potential extraterrestrial civilizations, is not used by humans. Therefore, a SETI-like organization would have a hard time finding earth.
The title text suggests Randall does not think Drake is a nutjob; he just has a more conservative expectation of discovering extraterrestrial life.
- The Drake Equation:
- N = R * fp ne fl fi fc L Bs
- N: Number of communicating civilizations in our galaxy
- ne: Number of life-supporting planets per solar system
- fi: Probability that life on a planet becomes intelligent
- Bs: Amount of bullshit you're willing to buy from Frank Drake
- Another comic, 718: The Flake Equation also parodies the same equation.