The “Fermi Paradox” is fascinating

The Fermi Paradox asks the question, “if we humans aren’t unique as an intelligent beings, then why haven’t we seen them or heard from them?”

This is an issue I’ve pondered for most of my life. I started wondering about it long before I knew that Enrico Fermi had written about it and before I knew enough to understand just how serious the issue is.

The heart of the problem is that if intelligence isn’t unique to us, then the conditions that would both allow for it and foster it should have started several billion years ago. Over the course of that time, in just our galaxy, there should have been many advanced races of intelligent beings. Given millions of years to work with, it’s a pretty reasonable expectation that at least one of them should have gone ‘walkabout’ as my Australian friends would say. If suitable planets are as common as it now appears, then they should have set up shop on several or even many of them. A decent fraction of the entire galaxy could, theoretically, be colonized in a fraction of a billion years. And yet, there’s no evidence of that at all. Radio silence, no visitors and no signs they are there or ever have been other intelligent beings.

The possibilities for why we don’t see them are nearly limitless and it’s been the subject of a number of stories and novels over the years. A few of them include:

  • they’re hiding and not wanting to be detected
  • they’re actively working to keep us from detecting them
  • there are no other technological civilizations out there making radio transmissions or such
  • we’re just looking in all the wrong places and in the wrong ways
  • civilizations we would recognize don’t last long, they die out or evolve quickly past what we can detect

And there are a lot more. Frankly, this is one I don’t have any strong convictions about. To me, the most likely possibility is a combination of the above added to the simple fact that we might be staring right at the evidence and not recognizing it.

I hope humans can survive long enough and become clever enough to really explore the question inside the Fermi Paradox. The fact is that the answer will be important but the process of looking for it is the really vital part–or if we don’t maybe that’s the answer: no one ever even tries. I hope not and think not. And there’s another possibility that’s really cool and really mind-boggling:

We are the first.

After all, some species has to be the first to have the thought processes to think up the question, plus possess the physical capability and technological potential to do something about it. In that case, it would be a shame if we squander those advantages before really trying to answer the Fermi Paradox.

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About Dick Knisely

Science-guy, engineer, father, grandfather, husband -- yeah, I'm all of those things. I author this blog to share things I care about and you might care about, too. I hope you do and that you'll join in to share things you care about.
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3 Responses to The “Fermi Paradox” is fascinating

  1. emulenews says:

    Carlos Cotta, Álvaro Morales, “A Computational Analysis of Galactic Exploration with Space Probes: Implications for the Fermi Paradox,” Journal of the British Interplanetary Society 62:82-88, 2009, ArXiv preprint, 2 Jul 2009: http://arxiv.org/abs/0907.0345, may be of your interest.

  2. Pingback: Where are the aliens? Fermi Paradox update | Thinking about thinking

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