Before I talked about the Fermi Paradox. But the real fun comes in trying to answer Fermi’s question; where is everybody?
Hundreds, if not thousands of people have tried to do this and there are countless written sources, mostly websites but some cool books too. One of the best I’ve come across is a book by Stephen Webb called ‘Where is Everybody’. In it he details 50 explanations for the paradox, and I’ll borrow lots of them here.
You can categorize the different answers in lots of different ways, I group them into the boring ones, the lunatic ones, the cool answers and the, well frankly, faintly disturbing solutions…
In part 1 I’ll look at the boring and the lunatic solutions (don’t sweat, the boring ones aren’t that boring)
The boring solutions:
These are mostly along the lines of ‘we’re the only ones’ or ‘we’re the first’. They’re the kind of answers given by those safe people who have mortgages, eat balanced diets, have sensible exercise regimes and respectable jobs in accounting, and quite frankly are too busy to waste time on such ‘wacky’ ideas. Fools. Some people also have certain religious prejudices that make the idea of the only life existing on Earth more palatable. Mega-fools. The idea that life has only emerged on one planet amongst billions of stars and over billions of years is a little bit insane. It’s not a scientific argument I’m making, as we don’t have any scientific evidence of alien life, but for life to only exist on Earth sounds like a fantastic failure in imagination and probability. Maybe we are the first intelligent life to develop in the Milky Way, and maybe we’ll be the only one, but I find it unlikely, and extremely boring.
Another view could be that, whereas life is common throughout the Galaxy, intelligent life may be very rare. Unfortunately this sounds like quite a good solution. The evolutionary history of intelligent life on Earth seems extremely tenuous, despite popular belief; there is no evidence of an evolutionary drive towards conscious intelligence. What if that meteor hadn’t killed off the dinosaurs? Would conscious life exist on Earth today? Maybe not. I’ll quietly try and forget about this solution. I don’t like it for all its plausibility and boringness.
Other boring answers are that there are lots of alien civilizations, but they don’t want to visit or even communicate with us, they’d prefer to stay home with their awesome future-internet. Other, slightly-less boring solutions are that they are trying to communicate, but they haven’t found us yet or are communicating in a way we haven’t noticed yet, like sending us gravity waves or leaving messages in our DNA. All these ideas are plausible; they’re also all a bit dull.
The lunatic solutions:
One answer, popular amongst the insane, is that they’re already here and have been abducting and probing us for years, maybe even thousands of years. Some lunatics think they built the pyramids and Stonehenge, others think they control global business and the governments of the world as part of ‘The New World Order’.
The sane among us realize that this isn’t the case, that aliens are not abducting the drunk and bored; neither are they mutilating cows (image my shame if it really is aliens doing that). Why do I say this? Two reasons. Firstly, there’s no evidence, all those blurry photos and incoherent and inconsistent abduction stories do not constitute actual evidence of aliens, only evidence of self-delusion and personal issues. Second, it doesn’t really make sense, all the stories of implants and secret conspiracies sound fun, but in the end, quite mad. Also, the idea that aliens are responsible for the pyramids and other ancient wonders is frankly insulting to human ingenuity, and the idea that they are controlling us through governments and multinationals is equally mad. Have you seen politicians in action? They are the very embodiment of ineptitude (although David Cameron doesn’t actually look very human). As for the multinationals, I’ve worked in a few, and I can confirm that they are equally badly managed and most live in utter terror of their consumers, trying desperately to attract us to their shoddy wares. They are definitely not our masters.
Another lunatic solution is that God exists, and that he/she/it created us and only us, in fact the planets and the rest of the Universe probably orbit Earth, and are only pretty lights in the sky anyway, and that we are all beautiful unique snowflakes and God loves each of us. But why even dignify that solution? We all know that such tribal gods were created for the uninformed and simple; to try and explain the world around us, to try and give comfort and meaning to our lives, and to make us do what rich people want (think Pope).
Next post, the cool and faintly disturbing…