I’ve been thinking about the Fermi Paradox lately. Here’s the short version, if you didn’t click the link to do the background reading:
- The Sun is a young star. There are billions of stars in the galaxy that are billions of years older;
- Some of these stars likely have Earth-like planets which, if the Earth is typical, may develop intelligent life;
- Presumably some of these civilizations will develop interstellar travel, a technology Earth is investigating even now;
- At any practical pace of interstellar travel, the galaxy can be completely colonized in a few tens of millions of years. (Source)
According to this line of thinking, the Earth should have already been colonized, or at least visited. But no convincing evidence of this exists. Furthermore, no confirmed signs of intelligence elsewhere have been spotted, either in our galaxy or the more than 80 billion other galaxies of the observable universe. Hence Fermi’s question, “Where is everybody?
There are a lot of possible answers to this question, some of which are more compelling to me than others. One possibility is that there’s nobody else out there, but that seems unlikely. Current evidence suggests that planets like our own are not rare; odds are good there are enough candidates out there for life.
Although it’s not the most logically compelling argument, I admit to liking the idea that we will be the first ones to the stars and that we’ll be the first to visit other worlds and other species. We haven’t heard from aliens because we’ll be the first to discover them.
A lot of speculation has been made about ancient astronauts visiting our world and guiding our technological development, but I’ve always found this idea somewhat disappointing; it strikes me as something of an insult to suggest that we couldn’t have figured out any of this shit without help from a higher power.
My admittedly flimsy justification for believing that humans might be the first intelligent species to arise in our galaxy comes from the apparent frequency of extinction events; we’ve had more than our fair share and if they’re common enough, they could explain why the clock has been reset on intelligence enough times such that nobody has beat us to the punch. Of course, that line of thinking falls into the same trap as all speculation of this sort does; we cannot assume that the conditions we experienced in our planetary history are common. We need a larger sample size before we can draw any kind of inference.
Anyway, it’s an interest thing to kick around for a while if you don’t have anything more pressing on your mind and you’re able to assess the question of “where are the aliens” in a reasonable, non-conspiratorial manner. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts; I’d love to have a discussion about this.