# Drake = Not an Equation

Revisiting this dead horse to whip it a few more time might clarify a question of terminology. I apologize for imposing on the patience of my readers.

Doc Rampage asks:

“When you say that the Drake equation is not really an equation I presume you mean to say something similar to “it is nonsense and it does not express a proposition”.”

I am saying something very specific, not merely ‘it is nonsense’. I am not concerned with whether it expresses a *proposition*, I am concerned with whether it expresses an *equation*.

Let me try again: 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. The color of the musket ball does not change the equation. It is an irrelevant factor. 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 cross 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 ickyness factor of the broth” whereas the inverse square ratio is not an equation if written in text not using an equals sign “a cube of twice the height fills eight times the volume.”

What the Drake Equation does is list things that are not defined (how do we measure how alive a thing is, or how civilized?) and which at our present state of knowledge is an unknown 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 has 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 have 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 (the number of stars bearing planets, and the number of planets bearing life) can be reduced to a number, and be counted.

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.

And, having nothing to do with the previous conversation, here is another picture of Catwoman: