Fermi “Paradox”

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The Fermi paradox? Easy! What’s the big deal?

My overconfidence must mean that I don’t know anything about the Fermi Paradox. Did I mention that I’m totally unqualified to write about this topic?

Cosmic Babies

The first behaviorally modern humans emerged around 50 000 BCE. The first farmers were doing their farming thing around 10 000 – 8 000 BCE. This gave rise to the first civilizations. At 500 BCE agriculture was widespread, but not yet in Australia.

This may sound like a lot of years, but really, on a cosmic scale, it’s not. It covers 5% of the last million years of Earth history only. Less than half a millennium ago, humanity had no notion of heliocentricity. Then there was lots of science, and subsequently technology, and now we have some tools to observe the cosmos. And what turns out? We can’t find aliens!

So then humans thought: “universe big, aliens must be plenty, we haven’t seen them, paradox!” Instead of listing all proposed solutions and discussing them, I’ll propose my own (undoubtedly ignorant) solution. I’ll leave it to the reader to judge if it has any merit.

  1. There are aliens.¹ There are billions upon billions upon billions of alien species. Every—or nearly every—non-tiny galaxy contains life in every corner and creek. Not only that, they all host intelligent life, some far more technologically advanced than humans. There is even life between galaxies, on a couple of rogue planets.
  2. The Earth has been—and probably is—completely uninteresting for alien life. It’s just one among millions of habitable exoplanets & moons in Laniakea, not to mention in the Milky Way. Furthermore, for the vast, vast majority of the time, Earth did not contain as technologically advanced life as it does now. Even then, we are cosmological babies. Humanity came out of Earth’s womb in 1961. And to give a false analogy, who’d like to try to have an intelligent conversation with someone else’s baby? Babies are ugly, immature, often dirty, and make noise (like most humans). And we assumed there is awareness of Earth & its inhabitants in the first place.
  3. Even though aliens are everywhere, distances are large in the Milky Way. You don’t just cruise around a bit. There must be a pretty damn good reason to travel between solar systems. Oh, and most aliens are probably bacteria-like. There must have been enough evolution to allow building spacecraft for an alien species to start intragalactic travel. Also, would we really notice a supergalactic alien species even if it existed? Would it even make sense for intelligent life to aspire for galactic dominance?
  4. What about the evidence? We don’t have the right tools to collect such evidence! Maybe with more technology. The belief that there aren’t aliens seems irrational to me. Lack of evidence for aliens is not evidence for lack of aliens.

Why? Why so many billions of conjectured alien species?

For better or worse, I adhere to the Principle of Anti-Exceptionalism: a leaf on a tree is likely to be similar to other leaves on that tree. The tree is a metaphor for the larger causal structure that generates and supports a smaller substructure. For example, the Earth leaf supports life. Why wouldn’t other Earth-like planets? Or: if I adhere to the anti-exceptionalism principle, chances are others do too.

There it is!

My not-so-nuanced take on the Fermi paradox.


EDIT: It seems like the Fermi Paradox is a myth. It has to do less with Mr. Fermi, and more with Mr. Hart and Mr. Tipler. There’s this Scientific American post that explains it.

Notes

¹ Here I should probably mention the difference between knowing something and believing there are rational grounds for believing something. While I do not know if there are aliens, I do think that there are rational grounds for believing that there are aliens.

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