Yuri Milner’s Eureka Manifesto: the Drake Equation and the Great Filter in the Dance of Chance and Time

The Drake equation is a formula that suggests how scientists could calculate the number of alien civilisations in the Milky Way. Frank Drake unveiled the equation at the Green Bank Conference in 1961, which he organised with fellow astronomer Carl Sagan. The equation sparked ongoing discourse about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).

Science philanthropist Yuri Milner touches on the Drake equation in his book Eureka Manifesto: The Mission for Our Civilisation (2021). The book discusses humanity’s significance as an advanced civilisation — perhaps the only one of its kind in the Universe.

We Are the Universe Awakening

Eureka Manifesto makes a convincing argument for embracing a shared mission to explore and understand our Universe. While humans achieve remarkable things individually and in groups, we struggle to collaborate at a planet-wide level.

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Unlike technological progress, which has a clear trajectory, human progress is chaotic. However, a mission for our civilisation could help us work together for the good of our species.

Milner suggests that the unfolding of the Universal Story has sent us a mission to explore and understand everything around us. (The Universal Story is quite literally the story of the Universe, starting with its birth around 13.8 billion years ago.)

In the dance of chance and time, we evolved as sentient beings who can look out at the world and think. We represent the awakening of an otherwise unconscious Universe. Now, we have the opportunity to extend the Universal Story by discovering more. Along the way, we could advance our civilisation and spread out amongst the stars.

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Yuri Milner and Frank Drake

Eureka Manifesto opens with a note to the reader, in which Milner mentions the first SETI conference in 1961 where Drake unveiled his famous equation. Born that same year, Milner describes his lifelong fascination with the possibility of intelligent life beyond Earth.

Milner admired Drake greatly. In 2014, he and his wife Julia accompanied Drake to Puerto Rico to visit the Arecibo observatory. Drake had sent the first-ever radio greeting from Earth to the galaxy from the observatory in 1974. The visit inspired Milner to eventually write Eureka Manifesto.

So far, we haven’t received any replies to Drake’s transmission. There could be many reasons for this. We may not have looked hard enough yet: After all, the Universe is vast. Even if we are looking in the right places, perhaps aliens have developed methods of communication we can’t recognise or intercept.

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Or perhaps the silence means exactly what it suggests: There is no one out there. Some believe there may be a barrier, or Great Filter, that makes the long-term evolution and survival of life or civilisations highly unlikely.

The Great Filter

Milner says the possibility of a Great Filter is one of the strongest incentives to pursue the shared mission he proposes in Eureka Manifesto. Advancing science could help us better understand the Great Filter and avoid extinction (whether in the form of self-destruction or other existential threats).

Moreover, if we are alone in the cosmos, we have an immense responsibility to carry out the mission. If we were to disappear, the Universe would still exist, but there would be no one left to tell its story.

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Since, in this scenario, only one advanced civilisation has arisen since the Big Bang (ours), the chances of this occurring must be minuscule. Therefore, it could take many billions of years for another such civilisation to crystallise elsewhere and start telling the Universal Story once more.

Eureka Manifesto prompts us to reflect on our unique — and precarious — position in the Universe. Whether deciphering the mysteries of the cosmos or ensuring our continuity, embracing our mission could guide us towards a brighter future.

Read Yuri Milner’s Eureka Manifesto for free.

About Yuri Milner

Yuri Milner is a tech investor and billionaire who signed the Giving Pledge in 2012. His passion for science and belief in its power to help humanity thrive led him to found the Breakthrough Foundation. The organisation mainly sponsors science and tech-focused projects like the Breakthrough Prize, Breakthrough Initiatives, and Tech For Refugees.

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