“They could be staring us in the face and we just don’t recognize them. The problem is that we’re looking for something very much like us, assuming that they at least have something like the same mathematics and technology.”
An alien might have four limbs, just like we humans. Or it might sport 17 tentacles, depending on evolutionary pressures. We can observe, quantify and describe such things. But how can we truly gauge the workings of an alien mind?
A new paper, publishing in Acta Astronautica in February, and reported in NASA’s Astrobiology offers a preliminary exercise meant to get us to think outside our own box in assessing alien intellect. The exercise is called COMPLEX, which stands for “COmplexity of Markers for Profiling Life in EXobiology.” The project compares various non-human intelligences—including animals, microbes and machines—to each other (rather than humans) and across several categories of behavior and mental capability.
“The goal of COMPLEX would be to prepare ourselves for assessing other species if we find life in space,” said Denise Herzing, the study’s author and a biologist at Florida Atlantic University.
The research could be critical to astrobiology, which relies heavily on understanding Earthlings to gauge what’s possible on other planets. Across the dizzying array of Earth’s biota, “intelligence” is an awfully tricky thing to pin down. Historically, we’ve often defined intelligence in other beings based on how much it resembles our own. We collect sound patterns from whales that could qualify as language, seize upon rudimentary tool use by crows, and admire the social complexity of elephant societies.
Viewing these non-human intelligences through a human lens, however, might be shortchanging these creatures’ intellectual abilities. Furthermore, when applied to non-Earthly life forms, our bias towards human intelligence’s characteristics might really miss the mark.
Herzing’s background has well-prepared her for such an astrobiological undertaking. She is the research director and founder of the Wild Dolphin Project, an organization that has studied a dolphin pod for nearly three decades to learn about the animals’ behaviors, social structure and more. Many scientists consider dolphins (technically, porpoises; “dolphin” is a common name given to the animal) among the most intelligent creatures on Earth, perhaps on par with non-human primates.
Denise Herzing of the Wild Dolphin Project at work, studying communication within the same dolphin pod, a project she has maintained for almost 30 years. Credit: Wild Dolphin Project
For the most part, the study of dolphin intelligence has hewed closely to the standard methods we’ve used to evaluate other species’ smarts. We have focused on physical traits, such as brain size relative to body mass. We have also put species through their paces doing the sorts of things we consider hallmarks of our own superior brainpower, like puzzle-solving and understanding gestural or acoustic language.
“We have primarily used two methods for looking at intelligence,” said Herzing. “The first is a physical assessment about the infrastructure of the organism—big brains, complex neural systems, et cetera. The second is a cognitive assessment usually requiring experiments and tests, designed by humans and based on what we believe to be ‘higher’ skills.”
A third measure of intelligence, that of complex signaling and communication, has recently gained ground. Thanks to breakthroughs with pattern recognition by computers along with other software, we now have the tools to gather and parse the data necessary for assessing this dimension. An example is comparing long segments of dolphin vocalization to listen for repeated elements and apparent syntactical arrangements amidst the clicks, whistles and squeaks.
Through these investigations, we have discovered profound examples of human-like intelligence in non-humans, knocking us off our lofty pedestals, to some extent.
“Humans have had to give up some of what we thought was ‘unique’ to us, as animals started showing their true abilities,” said Herzing.
As usefully humbling as these revelations are we have still largely failed to judge animal intelligence on its own terms, so to speak.
“Of course, every species is intelligent in the sense that they survive in their environment,” said Herzing. “But other species might have types of intelligence based on their structure and physical environments that rival human intelligence in complexity, although not be exactly like ours. For example, creatures without complex hands probably would not build things in the same way humans do.”
Inarguably, our ability to repurpose the physical world’s contents, from the quarried stone of the pyramids to the machine-fashioned silicon in our computers, is an astounding display of wherewithal not possessed by any other Earth-dwelling organism. But the engineering marvels of a termite mound—internal temperature control, ventilation, cultivated fungal gardens—should not be sneezed at, either. As individuals, termites are not very smart or capable. But as a collective “hive mind,” the creatures accomplish incredible feats.
“I think someday we may be able to just see ourselves as one of many species who has evolved a few specialties, like vocal language and manipulation of things, instead of looking at ourselves as the only species that are smart, because we think having language is smart,” said Herzing.
To give appropriate consideration to other aspects of intelligence, Herzing developed COMPLEX. She recruited a small number of scientists, from astrobiologists to a computer scientist, to weigh in on five dimensions of intelligence across several distinctly non-human entities.
The COMPLEX dimensions are: “encephalization quotient” (neural complexity assessment), “communication signals” (complexity of signal coding), “individual complexity” (the presence of personalities, essentially), “social complexity” (whether living as a group or solitarily) and “interspecies interaction” (the character of external relationships). Each of these categories was broken down into further, more defined attributes. To cite one example from each, respectively: neural specializations, natural repertoire, role flexibility, alliances/cooperation, and cross-species altruism.
If some of the preceding terms and ideas do not ring bells when one thinks of indicators of intelligence, that’s the point.
“Since most criteria for human intelligence emphasizes language, cognition and numerical competence, other dimensions of information processing were used to scale organisms in this exercise,” Herzing wrote in her paper.
Experts assessed five sources of conceivable intelligence for the study, drawn from categories created by the University of Emory’s Lori Marino and York University‘s Kathyrn Denning for the SETI Institute‘s “Intelligence in Astrobiology” project. The specific assessed examples were dolphins, octopuses, bees, microbes and machines. Each of these entities, in different ways, successfully copes and exploits its environment for survival (or as might be said for the machine, to function as programmed). Instances of attributes include the complex communications in dolphins, the associative learning in octopuses, the “waggle dancing” bees use to tell their fellows the location of food, the group-beneficial behavior within microbial colonies, and machines’ computational power.
Overall, with the scores in, the COMPLEX exercise showed how the five non-human intelligences stacked up against each other. Each demonstrated areas of high and low potential, with some interesting similarities and dissimilarities coming to light. Both bees and machines scored highly in the communication signal and social complexity categories. Dolphins, octopuses and machine all racked up big encephalization (neural complexity) points. Microbes—easily mistaken by us humans for lacking social abilities—scored relatively high in the interspecies interaction category.
The results suggest ways we could try to define (and re-define) the elusive concept of intelligence in beings unlike ourselves.
“COMPLEX was a beginning exercise to see how we might begin to compare types of intelligence without depending on human-only characteristics,” said Herzing.
A natural extension of these preliminary findings is to create further criteria and plug in other intelligences.
“It would be great to have hundreds of species measured by the experts and compared,” said Herzing. “The five examples chosen were just five of many possible intelligences.”
Future versions of COMPLEX could also seek to address oversimplifications of painting a type of creature with too broad a brush. For example, “microbes” is an umbrella term for plankton (plants and animals), fungi, bacteria, Archae and more, covering a continuum of behavior and activity. Thus, all microbes would not rate the same. Herzing said it is one of the goals of COMPLEX to tease out such divisions.
A challenge with COMPLEX, as well as any attempt to assess intelligence in others, is dealing with our own inherent biases. How can we not judge something by human standards, looking through human eyes and calculating with a human brain?
“One of the interesting findings of the exercise was how difficult it was for the experts to think about comparing mammal brains to insect bodies,” said Herzing. “Can you compare the function of these structures and how they contribute to intelligence, without letting our human bias get in the way?”
The machines example is a particularly tough one—after all, they are by us, for us.
“Because computers and artificial intelligence are human-made, how do you score their abilities?” asked Herzing. (Notably, a number of astrobiologists think that technologically advanced spacefaring aliens might well be “post-biological,” which is to say robotic.)
A final issue with the COMPLEX approach is that it requires input from experts on the relevant species or intelligent entity. Assessing well-studied, non-human intelligences here on Earth could open up new conceptual windows. But it might not automatically lend itself to cracking the code of potential alien intelligences, especially ones just “glimpsed” by our robotic probes or eventual interplanetary and interstellar astronauts.
“The challenge with COMPLEX is that we need the data to make the assessments, so it assumes a certain amount of scientific study,” said Herzing. “That will be difficult on other planets if we need to do quick assessments, but I think we might eventually put our computers to the task of quickly recognizing patterns if needed.”
Every little bit of insight could prove helpful in getting us ready—and willing—to consider the scope of alien intelligences similar to or radically dissimilar from our own. After all, we struggle to grasp just what intelligence is, even when it’s right under our noses.
“We haven’t done a very good job recognizing other intelligent life, and other human and nonhuman cultures on our own planet,” said Herzing. “If we challenge ourselves with questions and thoughts outside our comfort zone, I think we could some day step beyond our human biases and gain at least a peek around the corner.”
The “alien-like” image at the top of the page shows a small planktonic jellyfish with bright green-fluorescent tentacles. The red fluorescence in the middle of the jellyfish comes from chlorophyll in the ingested algae. Image courtesy of Mikhail Matz, Islands in the Stream 2002, NOAA-OER.
The Daily Galaxy via AStrobio.net
Aliens blamed for spate of cow mutilations in Argentina after ‘strange lights’ seen in sky
© Express, UK
Local farmers in Santa Fe, north-eastern Argentina, have seen seven cows killed and mutilated with some believing extraterrestrials are killing the bovine animals.
Witnesses claim the cows look as if they were attacked with lasers, while strange markings were also found on their tongues and genitals.
Farmers in the region are blaming aliens or the mythical chupacabra – a myth from South America which supposedly feeds on animals’ blood.
Norberto Bieri, owner of one of the seven cows, told local media: “They did not have tongues or flesh around the jaw, but they did not take any animals away or remove their bones.
“It seems as though the clean incisions were done with a laser as there is no trace of a knife being used. The cows did not have signs of blood and nothing had appeared to eat them.
“Some people say chupacabra or aliens did it. Others believe it was rodents.
“The truth is, the cows are dead and there are no answers as to why.”
Mr Bieri added that there had been other recent cases of mutilated animals.
Samples were sent to the lab to be analysed and results indicated the cattle had not been shot or poisoned, adding more mystery to the case.
However, experts offered their, more logical, opinion.
A rat-like animal called hocicudo is endemic to South America and some believe they are responsible.
The day that the Aliens attacked Tuscany, in Italy
During the autumn of 1954 throughout western Europe several surprising events occurred of encounters with strange flying objects (UFOs) and encounters with extraterrestrial beings, according to the sources of the testimonies and victims that relate their experiences, most were peasants and villagers. Let’s talk about a case that happened in a small town in Tuscany, Italy.
Rosa Lotti Dainelli was a forty-year-old peasant, mother of four children, owner of a farm called “La Collina” in the locality Cennina7 (a small town near Biicine, in the province of Arezzo, Italy).
Monday, November 1, 1954. That morning Rosa was going to go as usual to the church in her town where she used to go, that day she had got up very early at half past six in the morning as the feast of all was celebrated Saints and had several important things to do. Rosa that day decided to release a new dress that she had kept for the occasion and some new shoes.
He left his house with a large bouquet of flowers that he had taken the day before with the intention of going to church after going to the cemetery to visit his deceased relatives as usual on that day. He took a small path that would take her first to the place where he was going. Halfway through he realized that there was a lot of humidity at night because of the abundant morning dew, he stopped to take off his shoes so they would not get wet holding them with his left hand since in the other hand he was carrying the bouquet of flowers and he continued the path barefoot on the path.
Rosa went somewhat distracted looking at the flowers she was carrying and went through a small forest, when she suddenly stopped and was surprised to see a strange device parked on the ground by the side of the road.
Rosa for a few seconds remained motionless and not knowing how to act but minutes later decided to continue moving slowly down the path of the forest. The farmer, without being able to look away from the apparatus, was curiously observing this strange object as she continued to walk, an object which has the shape of two cones, was of a brilliant brown metallic color with golden reflections.
Afraid of this, she decided to approach very slowly to observe more details of that machine. Approached about 5 meters away from the device, Rosa from there could already appreciate the dimensions of that object, which had a height of more than 2.5 meters by almost 2 meters in diameter and a little further down there was a small door which was totally open.
Curiosity overcame him at that moment, making him approach the opening, where he could see two small armchairs facing what looked like a very illuminated board. A kind of broad band surrounded the junction of the cones and above this band were observed several small windows similar to blinking lights similar to “portholes”. Suddenly Rosa heard a noise among the branches and in the distance, a few meters away, she saw two little beings appear among the bushes, which caused the woman to be petrified by such an apparition.
They were beings that seemed very smiling, gesticulating, without giving any sign of being a threat to her. In fact it seemed as if they were trying to make themselves understood and wanted to start a conversation with her, they had small and very dark eyes (according to Rosa), they were short (they would not be more than one meter tall), they looked very Similar to humans, their faces were almost perfect, although their trail was rather aged by the wrinkled skin.
The beings wore a bluish-gray one-piece suit with a cape on their backs and over their heads they wore a kind of helmet. They approached her slowly with a funny and friendly face speaking loud and sharp in a strange language. Rosa at that moment remained motionless, so the beings took the opportunity to jump on him and snatch the bouquet and his shoes. At that moment, Rosa proved that despite the size, these beings had great strength.
She tried to recover her belongings, but the one who was closest to her insisted on taking everything she had in her hands. Then Rosa already panicked for fear of being harmed and ran to the trees, hiding as she could in the forest.
When he left, he saw how these creatures stayed in custody and with great curiosity inspected the bouquet of flowers, took some objects that had been left on the ground and then approached the ship, deposited everything inside and then returned to the place and began to search the surroundings are supposed to be looking for Rosa who already died of fear, continued crawling among the grass and thus managed to get away more than 50 m. Once refugee, from that place he observed how those beings, climbed the small ship minutes later and closed the door of the ship. Soon after, with a great sonic vibration and releasing a lot of smoke and flames, that device began to rise and in an instant disappeared into the sky ..
Life on Enceladus? complex organic molecules on Saturn’s satellite?
From stories about the inhabitants of the Moon to the costly research programs set up by space agencies, identifying the presence of life on another heavenly body seems to be an endless concern for mankind. As the margins of the known Universe are still moving away from the Earth, the possibility of discovering living beings on another planet is increasing even though we have no certainty, but only hope and probability.
For the moment, we are grateful for these probabilities, awaiting the day that it will undoubtedly confirm that we and our planet do not represent the only life-assembling complex of this huge universe.
But to host life, a heavenly body must give it certain conditions. (Here, it seems that we still need to expand our ideas a little, because we tend to believe that any living thing on another planet must be made up just like the living things on Earth, not necessarily like them, but be the same at the molecular level.
If one of the great scientific discoveries of recent years – bacteria capable of using arsenic instead of phosphorus – is confirmed – that means that our perspective on what is living must change. And then, it is possible that some planets with attributes that today seem inappropriate to become more interesting in the future in the light of our changed concepts.)
But, by the way, all people, at all times, think about the ideas of their time, so let us also thank ourselves to the contemporary ideas regarding what life means and the conditions that a planet must fulfill for that the miracle of life should appear there and perpetuate.
Extraterrestrial life could develop into Enceladus’s hidden oceans
The first observations of Saturn’s satellite were made in 2005 when hydrothermal jets were detected for the first time. Now, there may be the answer that raises the chances of alien life.
“From where Enceladus has the energy to support the phenomenon has always been a mystery to us,”said astrobiologist Gael Choblet of Nantes University in France.
“I have now considered with greater detail how the structure and composition of the solid core can play a key role in generating the necessary energy,”he added.
It is estimated that the ice thickness is 25 kilometers, but only one kilometer around the southern polar region, where these hydrothermal phenomena occur.
The small pieces of minerals detected in jets suggest that salts and silica dust are formed by the interaction of water that can reach up to 90 degrees Celsius with the rocks of the Enceladus satellite. For this interaction to take place, there must be space in the core for water to coexist, so the core must be porous.
“Whatever the mineralogical composition of the core, it must contain water,” Choblet explained, “maybe 20-30% water.”
In the new simulations, the team found that the tides generated by the orbit around Saturn can heat the water inside Enceladus due to the frictional force produced as the liquid circulates through rock fragments.
When the water rises in temperature (reaching up to 90 degrees in the orange sections in the image below), it rises through the porous core through the ocean to the surface in the form of jets.
Previous studies state that this heat would have been from radioactive material, but if that was the case, the process would have provided the heat needed to emerge the jets for several million years, so somehow the radioactive material would have appeared recently on Enceladus.
The new theory offers a more plausible explanation, with a phenomenon that takes place over a longer period.
What’s most interesting is that the warm water, the long time and the chemical composition found on Enceladus are key elements in the emergence of life.
Thus, this study can be the basis for the search for extraterrestrial life.
Scientists have found evidence of complex organic molecules on Saturn’s satellite
Using mass spectrometry data collected by NASA’s Cassini probe, scientists have found that large organic carbon molecules are ejected through the cracks on the frozen surface of Enceladus, one of the many natural satellites of the giant gas giant, Saturn.
Researchers at the Southwest Research Institute, who discovered the presence of these molecules, believe that the chemical reactions between the solid core of the satellite and the warm water in the ocean under ice are responsible for these complex compounds, Phys.
“ONCE AGAIN, WE ARE AMAZED BY ENCELADUS. PREVIOUSLY, WE IDENTIFIED ONLY THE SIMPLEST ORGANIC MOLECULES CONTAINING A FEW CARBON ATOMS, BUT EVEN THOSE WERE VERY INTERESTING, “SAID CHRISTOPHER GLEIN, A SCHOLAR AND CO-AUTHOR OF THE WORK RECENTLY PUBLISHED IN NATURE.
“NOW WE HAVE FOUND ORGANIC MOLECULES WITH MASSES OF OVER 200 ATOMIC MASS UNITS. THESE ARE TEN TIMES HEAVIER THAN METHANE. WITH COMPLEX MOLECULES EMANATING FROM THE LIQUID WATER OF THE OCEAN, THIS SATELLITE IS THE ONLY BODY BESIDES THE EARTH THAT SIMULTANEOUSLY MEETS ALL THE NECESSITIES OF LIFE AS WE KNOW IT. ”
“EVEN AFTER ITS END, CASSINI CONTINUES TO TEACH US ABOUT ENCELADUS’S POTENTIAL IN ASTROBIOLOGY,” GLEIN ADDED.
During the flight, near Enceladus, on October 28, 2015, with the help of the INMS (Neutral Mass Spectrometer) instrument, molecular hydrogen could be detected when the ship passed through a jet.
Previous studies have already shown that the satellite has an ocean under the ice layer and above the solid core. The molecular hydrogen jet is probably formed by the geochemical reactions between water and rocks in hydrothermal environments.
“HYDROGEN PROVIDES A SOURCE OF CHEMICAL ENERGY THAT SUPPORTS MICROBES LIVING IN THE EARTH’S OCEANS NEAR HYDROTHERMAL SPRINGS,” SAID HUNTER WAITE, THE SCIENTIST WHO HEADS THE TEAM AT INMS AND CO-AUTHOR OF THE NEW STUDY. “ONCE YOU HAVE IDENTIFIED A POTENTIAL SOURCE OF FOOD FOR MICROBES, THE NEXT QUESTION IS ABOUT THE NATURE OF COMPLEX ORGANIC COMPOUNDS IN THE OCEAN. THIS WORK IS THE FIRST STEP IN THAT UNDERSTANDING OF THE COMPLEXITY OF ORGANIC CHEMISTRY BEYOND OUR EXPECTATIONS. ”
“ALSO, THE FINDINGS IN THIS STUDY HAVE IMPORTANT SIGNIFICANCE FOR EXPLORATIONS OF THE NEXT GENERATION,” GLEIN ADDED. “A FUTURE SHIP CAN FLY THROUGH THE JET TO ANALYZE THESE COMPLEX ORGANIC MOLECULES USING A HIGH-RESOLUTION MASS SPECTROMETER TO HELP US DETERMINE EXACTLY HOW TO FORM THEM.”
Year after year, benefiting from advances in exploration technology, astronomers discover more planets that seem to be “good for life.” Let us understand: we do not necessarily speak of “good for us”, that is, good to live on, but some that offer similar conditions – identical – to those on Earth, conditions that could allow them to live there beings, adapted to those conditions.
And on Earth there are many places where people do not live, but they live enough life forms, some with a very original metabolism. And some creatures on the Earth can withstand almost unimaginable harsh conditions.
If experts will persuade those who decide the money destination to provide funds for the preparation of such a mission, Enceladus could become the next star on alien life searches.
He deserves it, say “his admirers”, because he has a lot to offer – he has qualities that can feed hope much more than the planet Mars, the one that “consumes” currently the funds for the research of the profile.
Well, what can I say? Let’s be healthy to take the time when the world explodes the news that the space mission to Enceladus has found signs of biological activity there, undeniable evidence that there is what we have been looking for decades – life-forms living on another heavenly body from our solar system.
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