2015 May

The Fermi Paradox

By | Ramblings | One Comment

This is an interesting visualization of the Fermi Paradox:

For those who don’t want to sit through a video, I’ll sum it up.

The Fermi Paradox is the notion that there are potentially billions, if not trillions of planets in our galaxy alone capable of supporting life. If even only .1% of those develop advanced civilizations, we should surely have met them by now because an advanced species would inevitably seek to colonize the entire galaxy. If that’s the case, where are they?

The video gives a few possible explanations:

1) Advanced civilizations form much less frequently than we think they would, and maybe we’re it for our galaxy, or they formed so long ago that they’re extinct by now.

2) There are “great filters,” which prevent a civilization becoming too advanced, such as advanced technology almost always causing the destruction of the entire civilization (like a nuclear war).

3) Perhaps the early galaxy was too harsh to develop life, and we are actually one of the first civilizations to develop.

4) We are alone.

I notice it doesn’t mention at least a few other possibilities:

1) Advanced civilizations are so advanced, we can’t recognize them as life. They’ve evolved beyond anything we’d recognize. They’re invisible, they’re hyperintelligent shades of blue, they’re energy-absorbing nanobots that resist detection.

2) They indeed came here to Earth, but in our distant past, where they may have been perceived as gods or not at all.

3) They are here, but are avoiding our detection so as to not interfere with us (See: Star Trek Prime Directive.)

4) They are here, right now, and the claims of Contactees are real.

To the Contactees, and to many UFO believers around the world, there is no Fermi Paradox. The aliens are already here.

I understand why the video and various papers and articles on this subject would ignore the possibilities I listed above. As Carl Sagan said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. Anecdotal accounts of contact with alien beings are simply not evidence enough to be recognized scientifically.

But until recently, evidence for ball lightning was only anecdotal. The same for the phenomenon of earthquake lights. Things that can only be validated through observation are the hardest things to prove, especially when those observations are few and far between, and rarely by people qualified to scientifically examine them. Which is to say nothing for the lack of will to make those observations in the first place.

The same could be said for UFOs and Contactee claims. And also for ghosts, elves, poltergeists and angels. Or anything even slightly on the wacky side, as it were. There is absolutely a need for certain standards of evidence.

I would argue that there need to be standards of imagination, as well. Lines of thought that are grounded in things “as we know them,” as if human development is static and unmoving have a tendency to be wrong quite often. That video, for example, says that traveling to other galaxies is impossible, and will be forever, because they’re so far away and moving away from us so quickly, that no matter what kind of technology we develop, we can never reach them.

Years ago, some scientists felt the sound barrier could not be broken. Or that it was impossible for a rocket to go fast enough to break Earth’s gravity to reach orbit. This kind of thinking is linear, focusing only on our current state of knowledge, and fails to take into account future potential. Twenty years ago, it was a virtually impossible task to work with DNA. Now, you can create your own genes for relatively cheap. The future has a way of making the impossible mundane.

As such, I don’t think it’s fair to say things like traveling to other galaxies will be impossible for us “forever”, or to suggest that there are only those few possible solutions to the Fermi Paradox that they listed. It seems to me that there are an almost unlimited number of possible solutions, and while not all of them are scientifically “plausible,” they deserve some level of recognition.

Here are some more:

5) What if the aliens, not being colonially minded like humanity, never left their homeworld?

6) What if the aliens, not being violent like much of humanity, they realized that the Earth was inhabited and moved on without stopping?

7) What if they came here and established a colony, and we are the colony?

That last one is exactly the scenario that many Contactees like George Van Tassel claimed to have been told by his space contacts. Definitely an extraordinary claim, for which there is no concrete evidence. But it is a possibility. The Fermi Paradox is a thought experiment, a creative writing exercise, not a solid scientific hypothesis (Nor does it claim to be, though it is often presented as such.) The unknown variables are just too unknown to make any useful conjectures. Perhaps in the future, when we’ve traveled the stars a bit more (or, you know, at all) we’ll be qualified to make some better guesses.