The Space Princess Equation Revisited

This material is taken from several prior columns, combined here into one, for the sake of ease of reading. Enjoy. 

HERE are the factors in the so-called Drake Equation, which proports to prove it is statistically improbable for aliens worlds not to be teaming with life:

N = R × f-p × n-e × f-ℓ × f-i × f-c × L .

R = the average rate of star formation per year in our galaxy
f-p = the fraction of those stars that have planets
n-e = the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
f-ℓ = the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop life at some point
f-i = the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop intelligent life
f-c = the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
L = the length of time for which such civilizations release detectable signals into space.

And the result, N = is the number of currently active, communicative civilizations in our galaxy.

Unless N = nonsense number.

Study this list with care, and you will see that the Drake ‘equation’ is not good for anything but a good laugh.

The equation is of course nothing of the kind.

It is a laundry list, woefully incomplete, of some of the things Drake idly daydreamed may or may not be necessary for intelligent extraterrestrial civilizations able to release detectable signs in space to exist.

Anyone can make a laundry list of any kind to suit himself.

In fact, let me add additional factors:

n-g = the number of congregations of life forms whose society or civilization requires a form of legal organization we would recognize as a government.
f-m = the fraction of the above governments that are hereditary monarchies.
f-spncss = the fraction of the above monarchs who, due to a recognizably bisexual biology, can and have brought forth daughters.
f-yowsababe! = the fraction of the above daughters who are above average in intelligence, courage and physical good looks by Eurocentric terrestrial standards of beauty, nubile and of mating age, who are either nudists or scantily clad.

We can call this the Space Princess Equation, which defines how likely we are to find an attractive yet nubile Space Princess in space.

Princess Aura, Demurely Dressed

The result:

N = R × f-p × n-e × f-ℓ × f-i × f-c × L x n-g x f-m x f-spncss x f-yowsababe!

Where N equals the number a callipygous, voluptuous, pulchritudinous and half-clad space princess who will be kidnapped, or married against her will, or fall in love with the earth-hero, because that is a 100% certainty, and ergo equals the number of space princesses per se.

What makes the Space Princess Equation equation any less scientific than Drake’s?

Drake reasons for his Drake Equation that since life emerges by chance, and since the same fundamental laws apply to the entire universe, and because those laws engendered the genesis of life on Earth, they must readily spawn life elsewhere, too.

If earth-life arose by chance, then when those same factors wherever they are present by chance again must lead to the same result, right?

Irulan, Princess of the Opening Voice Over

Fine! I reason for my Space Princess Equation that since life, including really attractive nubile and fertile young mammalian upright bipeds who look like film starlets and happen to be the daughters of monarchs, emerges by chance, and since the same fundamental laws apply to the entire universe, and because those laws engendered the genesis of life on Earth, they must readily spawn life elsewhere, too.

Princess Ardala and her Space Cleavage

If earth-princesses arose by chance, then those same factors wherever they are present by chance again must lead to the same result, namely really attractive nubile and fertile young mammalian upright bipeds who look like film starlets and happen to be the daughters of monarchs.

Is there anything wrong with my logic that is also not equally wrong with Drake’s logic?

All I did was take his factor of earthly-type life and add several more specific factors of earthly-type life. The same conditions must lead to the same results, right? We do have attractive female members of royal families here on Earth, such as Grace Kelly of Monaco, or Rania of Jordan, do we not? So if the number of inhabited worlds among the countless galaxies of the cosmos is large enough, the chances of finding a space princess among them are good!

Princess Starfire in her Formal Battle-Lingerie

Yes, of course this logic is bogus.

Since we have only one data point to work with, to wit, Earth, and no example of any life of any kind whatever, not even microscopic, existing in any extra-terrestrial environment or ever having had done, we have exactly no evidence, none, nada, zip, zilch, zero, goose egg, on which to base a speculative percentage for any of the factors in the laundry list. Any one of them could be anything from impossible to inevitable, unique to ubiquitous.

As a thought experiment, factor Earth out of the equation, and then run the numbers for how many planets brought forth life, and how often life somehow becomes intelligent and how often that life develops radio technology, how often they broadcast intelligent signals. The number will be zero. No known world has life, intelligent life, technological civilization, or radio-technological civilization. Hence the rate cannot be known nor guessed, can it?

When you have not run one hundred trials of the test, you cannot establish the percentage (that is, per centum, for each one hundred) of the trial outcome. Your ability to establish a reliable percentage is less if you have only fifty trials, and it hovers right around the zero mark when you have only one. A line of any angle and a curve of any shape can be drawn through a single point placed on a Cartesian graph.

Do you think I am being too harsh?

Consider this: the number of civilizations on our own planet, Earth, which took the time and trouble and effort to contact the New World and establish colonies, as best we can tell, is two: Leif Ericson found Greenland, and Columbus found the Carib Islands. As it turns out, both these men believed in Christ.

Therefore, if I were to establish an ‘equation’ just like the Drake Equation for describing Intercontinental First Contact rather than Interstellar, my equation must list ‘Belief in Christ’ as one of the factors, and it must be pegged at nearly one hundred percent. For, lo and behold, the next five explorers to set foot on the New World were all Christian, ergo all satisfied the Christ factor! My equation is perfect! That is real science for you!

No, to be a real equation, you have to do more than scribble meaningless numbers on a napkin. You have to establish an invariant relation (an equality (hence the name ‘equation‘)) between two factors in a function, and, in order to be science, that function has to describe or model the way some real physical thing in the real world really behaves, like a falling rock or the pattern of grown of leaves on a stem. Something you can count.

And, to be an equation requires more than this.

In physics, we observe that certain proportions exist between things we call constants. For example, when observing the flight of a musket ball, we note that it forms a parabola, that is, the forward motion is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to the powder charge and the drop is PROPORTIONAL IN THE SQUARE to the distance thrown.

This can be expressed by the same equation used to graph a parabola.

Again, the angle of the shot defines the distance to the spot where the ball falls, such that a 45 degree angle casts the ball the farthest length for a given charge of powder and mass of shot. This also I can express as a proportion or an equation relating the angle to the point at which the parabola crosses the origin.

When the proportion is expressed in terms of a unity, that is, all the terms are defined in relation to one term, this is called an equation.

By definition, where there is no proportion, there is no way to express all the terms in relation to one term. When that happens, we do not have a poorly formulated equation, we have something that is no equation at all.

It is in no wise a matter of formal syntax, for, if it were,  “too many cooks spoil the broth” would become an equation if expressed in the science-y looking terms “x = nb where x is the number of cooks, n the chance of spoiling and b is the spoilage factor of the broth” whereas the inverse square ratio is not an equation if written in text not using an equals sign, such as “a cube of twice the height fills eight times the volume.”

To be an equation, the terms must be measurable values. How do we measure how alive a thing is, or how civilized? How do we measure detectability — for surely different civilizations, if they existed, might produce different activities visible to different observers looking for different things, some for radio waves, other for psychic waves?

What the Drake Equation does is list things that are not defined, and which, at our present state of knowledge, are unknowns, and invents a term which has no meaning other than the sum of all the undefined unknowns.

While it is written in the form of an equation, is not an equation, because it does not express a proportion between the factors given.

Again, contemplate the statement “kinetic energy equals one half times mass times velocity squared”. This is another way of saying that the kinetic energy is directly proportional to the mass and proportional in a geometric ratio to the velocity. All the terms, energy, mass, velocity, refer to real entities that can be measured. The statement is an equation.

By contrast, the statement, “haste makes waste” is not an equation, even if you express it syntactically in the form of an equation “Waste increases as a direct proportion of hastiness.”

Because, unlike velocity, which is a precisely defined concept, “hastiness” is not precisely defined. It is not reduced to a measurement. There is no number put on it. Likewise with the term “waste.”

Where the relationship is between factors with no proportion to each other, such as the relationship between how often I get a haircut and how often I get a date, there is no proportion that can be expressed.

Or, rather, to be specific, if I get a haircut on Monday and a date on Friday, the ratio of haircuts to dates is one to one, and it does not tell me whether I would have gotten this date anyway even with longer hair, nor does it tell me whether getting a second haircut on Tuesday would have gotten me a second date for Saturday.

I realize this is hard for modern scientific thinkers to grasp, but merely counting numbers is not science: to be an equation, there would have to be first, a relationship between haircuts and dates, and, second, the relationship would have to be invariant.

Suppose again I plot on a graph the number of haircuts in a sample population against the number of dates, and I get a cluster of dots and I draw a line that goes through most of them, and I express that line in terms of rise over run.

This is not an equation, because there is no relation being alleged, or, rather, since sometimes having a nice haircut might indeed make a good first impression on a prospective date, the relation is not an invariant one. You cannot equate the two the way you can equate the ratio of force to mass.

Look at the factors in the Drake Equation. Since none of them are known by modern science, it is easy to overlook the fact that only two of the factors can be reduced to a number, and be counted: the number of stars bearing planets, and the number of planets bearing life. Even here the case is ambiguous: the case of Pluto casts doubt on what bodies are planets rather than planetoids, and the case of viruses and growing crystals casts doubt in the definition of what is or is not life.

The other factors cannot be reduced to a number.

“Civilization” is a term like “haste” — it is not something defined in terms a physicist can measure. How many “civilization” exist on Earth now? Do we count Chinese culture and Christendom as one civilization because they have trade and commerce? You can put a number to it, but that number will not be expressing a fact, it will be a judgment call.

Judgment calls can be true or false, but they are not physics.

And, finally, an equation like force is mass times acceleration is DISPROVABLE. I can myself measure whether it is true or false. Indeed, the at relativistic velocities the equation is false, or, rather, the equation is inadequate because other factors which are insignificant at Newtonian velocities become significant.

Force is mass times acceleration is a definite statement of defined terms. Me saying “the harder I throw the baseball, the harder it hits” is a true statement, but it is not disprovable, because I am making no statement about what ‘harder’ means and what the ratio or relationship is between throwing and hitting.

How would one go about disproving the Drake Equation? I suggest that an “equation” which runs “unknown fudge factor one time unknown fudge factor two times unknown fudge factor three equals unknown fudge result” cannot be disproven because it is not saying anything that can be proved.

The Drake Equation is poetry, not physics.

It is a statement that since there are a whole lots of lots of stars, there must be space people out there in space, and the more stars there are, the harder it is to believe that there are no space people.

That is an emotional sentiment.

It is not science, it is not physics, it is not a disprovable statement, it does not measure anything, it establishes no proportion between factors, hence it is not an equation at all.

To be sure, if you want to use the word “equation” to mean that any sentence with an equals sign in it is an equation, why, by that logic, the God Equation read “God = Love” and the Haircut Equation reads “Haircut = Hot Date” and the Haste Equation reads “Haste = Waste” and the Not Equation reads “Drake = Not an Equation.”

You will, however, be using the word in a misleading way, if you attempt, as Drake did, to steal the prestige of science and apply it to what is basically a statement about an imponderable.

Am I being too harsh?

As of the time of this writing, we have discovered nine planets in the solar system, including our own (I am counting Pluto. Don’t annoy me, or I will count Eris as well) and 563 exosolar planets, for a grand total of lots. Right now, the factor in the Drake Equation which counts the ratio of inhabited to uninhabited planets stands at over 500 to 1.

Do you want to throw in various moons? As a member of the Space Princess movement, I must point out that our founder, Edgar Rice Burroughs assures us that Nah-ee-lah is from the buried lunar city called Laythe and is the daughter of it’s Jemadar or sovereign. (Unlike that pettifogger HG Wells, who said the moon was peopled by socialist bugs ruled by a Grand Lunar rather than by attractive young and nubile royalty. Hmph!)

Nah-ee-lah the Moon Maid, shown here mooning us

Likewise, one of our unwilling members, Lin Carter, assures us that Darloona of Shondakar exists on Callisto, a moon of Jupiter, which is inhabited.

Callisto is inhabited by a smoking hot bikini-clad royal redhead

Less reputable scientists speculate that liquid water may exist on Io, and other conditions favorable for life.

We are hoping it is scantily-clad nubile princess life, but it might just be man-eating moss or something.

Is That the Real Princess Leia? Or a buxom royal impostor? 

So, throwing those numbers into the mix, we have add another 160 or so bodies in this solar system, and the factor stands at upwards of 700 to 1.

This is not to mention forms of life that can exist in deep space far from any planetary body, evolved in ways unimagined by rules of biochemistry unexamined, such as the Black Cloud of Hoyle or the Silkie of van Vogt, or the various energy beings, Organians and Metrons and Q, cluttering up the Star Trek universe.

Well, does that tell us that life is relatively rare? We have over 700 instances and only one winner.

(NOTE: since the time of the original writing, the number of known exoplanets has increased by a factor of ten, meaning the ratio is, at the time of this note, closer to 7000 to one. Still only one winner.)

Now, you might object that Drake is only concerned with Sol-like stars and Earthlike planets in Earthlike orbits. But this makes the number factor more absurdly meaningless. We have one example of one Earthlike world in an Earthlike orbit circling a Sol-like star, and that is Tellus, here, us, Earth, and the instances of it having brought forth life is one-for-one, or one hundred percent.

Well, does this tell us that life (if we restrict it to Earthlike life) is relatively frequent? We have earthlife on Earth: statistically speaking, we are batting a thousand!

No, Virginia, it tells us exactly nothing.

So far as we presently know, each one of these 700 or so bodies could have some form of life on it, that we merely have not yet detected. Could there truly be no silicon-based viral microbes buried underground in an ice cave on the Moon?

On the other hand, each one of the these moons and planets, and every other moon and planet in the Milky Way and in the Local Group, and in the Virgo Cluster, could be as empty of life as the core of the sun. We not only might be the first world were life developed, might be the only one where it ever will.

On the gripping hand, the core of the sun might not only be filled with life, it might be the only place favorable for the most common form of life in the universe, beings who exist in the very high energy states needed to continue their life processes indefinitely. They have not made contact with us because the idea that life can exist in non-luminous non-plasma matter, in solid form, is inconceivable to them, as it is so remarkably unlikely.

The scenario of being the only planet-bound form of material life in a galaxy crammed with life forms burning at the nuclear hearts of stars seems ridiculous, does it not? Of course it is ridiculous. It violates everything we know about how molecular biology works here on Earth, in the environments, at the temperatures and pressures and conditions we know.

But my point is that what we know is one and only one case. I submit that our case is also ridiculous, unlikely, impossible and wondrous, and the only reason we believe it is because we ourselves are alive and we live here.

You don’t know the odds. You don’t even really know the factors that factor into the odds.

And, if it were not for a pseudo-religious article of faith prevalent among secularists, you do not know if life existing on a planet is a matter of odds.

Because it is a matter of odds if and only if life arose here due to a toss of the dice, a random combination of blind factors that created life here, not deliberately, but by happenstance.

You can say that you hold this article of faith if you wish, that life emerges from non-life by a non-supernatural blind and inevitable process.

Fine. The Norse thought life emerged from a cosmic cow licking ice from a primordial abyss.

What? Are you going to ask where the cow came from? Don’t do that, or I will ask you how life “emerges” from non-life, and on what repeatable and non-speculative evidence your article of faith that it is possible at all is based.

The Norse were at least canny enough to posit the cow. You posit that it happened by itself, without even a cow to give your myth likelihood.

Do you object that I call it a myth?

It is a myth. It is not science, it is not even scientific to believe in spontaneous creation of life from non life. Science is based on rational deduction from observations and predictions to confirm the deductions. Here, no observer saw or ever has seen life emerge from non life. It cannot even be done deliberately in a lab, under controlled and favorable conditions, much less blindly by an natural process under uncontrolled conditions.

If it were a natural process, we would see it going on around us at all times. We see nothing. Nada, zip, zilch, zero, goose egg. No observed instances of it happening.

Men these day snicker at Aristotle for believing life was spontaneously created in offal and dung. He at least had seen bugs come out from dungheaps.

Our entire secular myth is based on an idea with even less scientific proof than Aristotle’s: namely, that living things do not emerge spontaneously, but the origin of all living things does emerge spontaneously.

Aristotle was consistent enough to think that if spontaneous generation were possible, it would be happening all the time. The modern secularists tell us it happened once and once only.

So, do you think the creation of life on Earth happening one time by the hand of a supernatural agency, a god or a demiurge, is a miracle and therefore science rules it out a priori as impossible?

But real scientists do not make a priori statements about events in the material world: only members of the science-worshiping cult do that.

And I suggest that their cult belief is incoherent: I submit that to believe in that the creation of life on Earth happening one time by a natural agency is more of a miracle, because it postulates an unique miracle without someone or something to perform the miracle.

Which is more miraculous, a miracle performed by a miracle worker, or a miracle that arises from no cause for no reason and then vanishes again?

Now you may ask, do I believe in life on other worlds?

Believe! Would that I did not! It is not for no reason that I became a member of the Space Princess school of writing science fiction.

John Carter, Founding Member of the Unearthly Sojourners’ Club

It is because of various events, difficult for the uninitiated to imagine, that I was asked to ally myself to a most exclusive gentleman’s club in Salem Center, Westchester County, New York, called the Unearthly Sojourners’ Club.

The peculiar, nay, bizarre prerequisite for membership in the club having been established by its eccentric founder, Captain John Carter of Virginia, is that the man must have experienced a confirmed advent to a world beyond our own, where reciprocal romantic relation with a nubile breathtakingly beautiful nudist or immodestly-clad nonhuman royal daughter prone to abduction takes place: an event less rare than the narrow-souled skeptic might credit!

Members also include Dray Prescot, Carson Napier, Ulysses Paxton, Esau Cairn, Michael Kane, Jonathan Dark, Adam Thane, Harry Thorne, Robert Grandon, Jason Croft and Julian 5th, for whom the illusion of time gives way.

My own encounter, much as I wish it had been merely a dream, was with Vesseril the Beautiful who dwells in the haunted planet Alph beneath the azure light of giant Spica, my fair one, alas! whom I am fated never again to behold!

How lovely she was when last we danced in Vanvalar, the City of Singing Crystal, beneath the nine mystic moons that shine on the Luminous Sea of Thassa! How strange to see Forest of Rebirth, gorgeous with many-colored orchids seeping opiate perfumes, rising in an hour above it own ashes, but then to be struck, burning, beneath the unsteady, weird, blue giant sun of Alpha Virginis!

Treacherous and inconstant star! Were it not for the advanced science the Spicans inherited from their ancestors, the perturbations of that eerie azure Cepheid Variable would long ago have obliterated the life from the twenty inhabited worlds and eighty-one inhabited moons of that system!

I vow revenge upon the Lord of Ghosts, dread and dreaded Xoran Xor, who robbed Vesseril of her memories and imprisoned her in the Onyx Tower of Oblivion, trapped in the high, walled garden of many drug-bearing fountains and rills and hallucinogenic herbs and alluring poppies, all within the shadow of the mystic Amnesia Gong! Yet lightyears and aeons and many cycles of reincarnation part me from my beloved … Yet that is a tale of adventure and tragedy for another time.

So, yes, well do I know, and to my sorrow, that there is earthlike life elsewhere, as wondrous and fair as any vista of beauty seen here on this globe: but this knowledge is not for mortal men, not at our current stage of cosmic evolution.

On the other hand, Drake and those who use his so-called equation do not know. They are not even really making a guess.

If you have a yearning for unearthly and transmundane things, writing down that yearning in the form of an incomplete list of variables not one of whose values you know or can estimate does not make it science.

I do not mock it, but I do not call it science: It is still just a yearning.

Duare of Venus! One of the many oft-kidnapped princess of space!