Some Fermi Paradox Answers: some cool, some lunatic, some faintly disturbing (part 2)

In a previous post (here) I talked about some of the boring and lunatic solutions to the Fermi Paradox, here are the rest, the cool and faintly disturbing solutions

The cool solutions:

One of the cool solutions is called the ‘zoo scenario’, the idea is that the really advanced alien civilizations recognize that intelligent life is rare and fragile and thus create safe areas in which less-advanced intelligent life can develop, the Earth could be one of these areas, we could be living in a protected wildlife reserve, deliberately isolated from all the other alien life out there. Maybe other life-baring planets are being protected from us. This is kind of the idea in the film 2010 (you know the 2001 sequel that you secretly preferred… because Roy Schneider was in it) in which intelligent aliens stop humans interfering with Europa. It’s a comforting solution, there is alien life, and if we’re really well behaved then eventually the benevolent super-intelligent aliens will let us join the party. We just need to make sure they never hear about Sarah Palin, if they do, we’re fucked.

Another cool idea is that alien life may be so different from us that we can’t see or communicate with it. Maybe the aliens live in black holes or in the centre of neutron stars, or are made of some kind of dark matter we can’t detect, or exist in different dimensions from us; we could be surrounded by alien life and have no idea. Our assumption that all life must be carbon based is sensible, but maybe a little narrow-minded, after all, life and the Universe continue to surprise and confound us, we certainly have a lot to learn, and who knows what forms life may take? The Galaxy maybe full of exotic life, we just haven’t noticed yet. Think about microorganisms, before the first microscopes were invented we had no idea we were surrounded by tiny life.

The faintly disturbing solutions:

One of the disturbing solutions is called the Planetarium Hypothesis and Stephen Baxter proposed it, Stephen Baxter is awesome by the way, Brian Cox awesome. It’s an expansion of the zoo scenario, basically super-intelligent aliens have created a fake world in which we’re living, maybe in reality our Galaxy is full of life, but we’re trapped in a simulation to keep us or others safe. I know what you’re thinking, the Matrix right? Yep, the Matrix, made by aliens. It sounds a bit far-fetched, but lots of people have independently thought of Matrix-style ideas, from Descartes to Buddhists, and its one of those ideas that quietly nags at the back of my mind. I probably sound slightly paranoid right now, but it would surely be very easy for an advanced civilization to create a Matrix-style simulation to trap us inside, and how would we know if they did. I probably still sound crazy, I’ll write a blog post about this sometime and explain in more detail, then you’ll see, you’ll all see!!!

Firmly in the disturbing category is the ‘predator hypothesis’. This explanation says that the Galaxy is full of life, but that everyone is staying quiet, as there is something really nasty out there that is trying to kill all life, maybe some kind of militaristic religious race on some kind of crusade or killer artificial intelligence trying to exterminate all organic life, a Mass Effect explanation. It explains the silence, and also suggests we should probably stop all that SETI business in case we alert the predator to our existence.

An expansion of the predator hypothesis is the ‘nano-bots turning everything to grey goo hypothesis’. Many theoreticians have stated that it would be far easier for an alien race to send out robots to colonize the galaxy rather than actual people/aliens. After all, robots don’t get easily bored, and don’t generally need to eat and drink, just the occasional bear and cigar. And why use big expensive robots, why not a swarm of self-replicating nana-bots that can scavenge material on their journeys to make copies of themselves, exponentially growing in numbers and quickly spreading throughout the galaxy. Great. But what if it goes slightly wrong? What is these self-replicating nano-bots don’t recognize alien life, what if they start assimilating everything? Trees, cats, dogs, people, politicians, sharks, everything. What if they spread exponentially through the galaxy eating all life, leaving nothing but grey goo? I forget why they actually leave grey goo; maybe they don’t need to leave that behind.  It’s in the disturbing category as I have it on good authority from a couple of nano-bot scientists that this would be relatively easy to do, even humans would be able to create something similar in the near future, even irrationally-angry cult-member humans who dislike the world.

Well that’s me done, probably too long for one blog post. I don’t suppose anyone will ever read this, maybe my Mum, out of a sense of duty. But if someone is reading this, let me know what you think is the solution to Fermi’s paradox?

19 Responses to “Some Fermi Paradox Answers: some cool, some lunatic, some faintly disturbing (part 2)”

  1. 1 KT April 8, 2011 at 7:11 am

    I am doing a presentation on The Zoo Scenario for my “Life in the Universe” class tomorrow. And your article helped quite a bit. So thanks. 😉

  2. 3 gerold firl April 12, 2011 at 10:46 pm

    SF author Vernor Vinge has proposed a more interesting hypothesis: the technological singularity (google it, it’s good.)

    The basic idea is that shortly after an intelligent race reaches the level of radio communication, it goes through an exponential technology increase triggered by the creation of AI. Afterwards the resulting entity transcends mundane reality, leaving for parts-unknown to pursue their transcendant agenda.

    It’s a very intrigueing possibility, and provides a neat answer to the Fermi Paradox.

    • 4 Dan G Swindles April 13, 2011 at 1:52 pm

      It is a cool idea

      I’m reading Ray Kurzweil’s ‘The Singularity is Near’ at the moment so it sounds pretty familiar

      It sounds like one of the more optimistic Fermi paradox solutions to me. Life is out there, but its extremely advanced and is operating on a whole new level

      I read about a much less optimistic version of the Singularity though, where artificial intelligence arises on Earth, destroys mankind and then sets off across the Galaxy to destroy all other intelligent life, which I guess would be a combination of the Singularity idea and the Predator hypothesis.

      Still, I’m looking forward to the Singularity, if, however and whenever it happens, I hope I’m still around!

      • 5 gerold firl April 13, 2011 at 8:40 pm

        The predator/berserker hypothesis is sort of the paranoid solution to the Fermi Paradox: we don’t see anyone around the neighborhood, because a pyscho killer snuffs them out as soon as they make an electromagnetic peep. That’s basically what was portrayed in the movie Independance Day, and it’s a logical extrapolation of human history.

        When h. erectus evolved, they wiped out the ancestral australopithicines. When cro magnon came to Europe, they wiped out the neandertals. It’s the typical evolutionary pattern of a higher-fitness species displacing a competitor.

        Neither Kurzweil nor Vinge give this scenario much credence, and their reasoning is sound. A transcendant AI is not in competition with mankind for anything. We just don’t have anything they want or need. Makes sense. Our little rock seems very precious to us. It’s the only home we have. It’s hard to imagine what possible value it could have to a transcendant intelligence, however, except perhaps as a novelty item.

        Kurzweil likes to say that most of the people currently living have a good chance to see the Singularity up close and personal. Would be interesting all right.

    • 6 smithtravisshane July 14, 2016 at 10:13 pm

      I don’t find this so neat a resolution of the FP.

      Even were ‘transcendence’ possible, the civilization that produced the intelligence that transcended would have been technological in character.

      If life and the development of intelligence are not so rare, we should see the remnants/ruins/reminders of these civilizations after their ‘transcendent singularity’.

      Of course life and intelligence might be very rare indeed, but in that case we’re back to the paradox of existence in a universe in which the mediocrity principle reigns. I mean, why are we so ‘lucky’ as to be here?

  3. 7 Marcoux August 12, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    The known universe is made of interstellar emptiness . What we call habitable worlds are habitable … for us .And they are a very small portion of the universe .
    For a highly evolved race , the interstellar world has to be the habitable place .
    It means that they cannot look like us , that we have to watch between the stars and planets not to the planets , to have a chance to see them .
    Other point : to move quickly , you have to be as small as possible because mass is the ennemy of velocity .
    These great intelligences could be very small .. in size .
    Finally , they may be as keen to communicate with us as we are with a anthill . No more , no less .

    • 8 Dan G Swindles August 13, 2011 at 12:11 pm

      Nice ideas, maybe life can be found in many different environments throughout the Universe, from Earth-like planets to the deep vacuum?

      For instance, a lot of the aliens in Stephen Baxter’s works aren’t derived from planets, but from things like fractures in space-time, quark plasmas, suns and black holes, so I agree, the possibilities for life are extremely wide. I guess a good analogy would be life in the deep oceans on Earth, we used to think life couldn’t exist at depths, but we’ve since found a rich ecosystem.

      And yes, I also agree, there is a high probability that hyper-intelligent life would probably see little value in communicating with humanity.

      Although maybe meaningful communication with exotic forms of alien life would be impossible anyway, we may be too different

    • 9 Y.Whateley December 15, 2015 at 10:26 pm

      …or, they may be as keen to communicate with us, as an anthill. After all, there is a certain degree of problem-solving brilliance and intelligence to an ant colony – they’re amazing creatures. They’ve got some astonishingly complicated methods of communicating with each other, too. They don’t seem to bother much with trying to communicate with us, however – humans seem to barely make an impression on them, aside from being a convenient source of food and shelter, and occasionally posing a force-of-nature-act-of-God style threat to the ant colony.

      A space-faring, hive-minded, alien civilization that communicates primarily by chemical means may perhaps spawn new ‘queens’ by spawning new colonies, cutting off communication with them as soon as they leave home to drift through space to their new homes, spending great epochs of time sealed in their canisters, silently hibernating and maintaining their traveling anthill. The whole idea of trying to communicate with each other at all after being ejected from the original colony, let alone communicate with each other (or, weirder still, outsiders) by radio or other light-based communication methods, must surely seem unutterably strange and abnormal to such a species. If they were to happen to arrive on Earth, they would primarily be interested in whether they can easily and safely colonize the planet… if so, why would it ever occur to them to try to communicate with the indigenous animals, including humans? They would expect to simply co-exist with us for as long as the resources are available, respond to intrusions, and eventually purge the competition. It might never occur to them that humans are individuals, and the whole idea of individuality might be only vaguely comprehensible, at best. If the Earth is not suitable for colonization, what use is there in trying to communicate with us in any way we’d understand? Humans might spend generations trying to decode a chemical stain left behind on the planet in their passing, never to realize that it says something like “we migrated here, we didn’t stay, dirt smells funny, star too dim, native organisms are distracting pests that shriek randomly in radio frequencies, we’re migrating in quieter direction X/Y/Z next”.

    • 10 smithtravisshane July 14, 2016 at 10:19 pm

      Swindles wrote it best: any organism capable of making its home in the void would be so vastly different to us we may not be able to talk with them in any meaningful way. Or may not be inclined to.

      Maybe exotic biochemistries are possible. But we’ve only got one strain of life we know can exist (the one that we know does), and if we’re going to look for aliens I think we should look for those not entirely dissimilar to ourselves.

  4. 11 gerold firl August 18, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    Humans are actually quite interested in communicating with anthills. E.O. Wilson got his start as an ant man. Of course, ants aren’t interested in communicating with us, but we would be very interested in conversations with ET’s.

    I haven’t read any Baxter, but it sounds good based on your description.

    I recently read Vinge’s Deepness upon the Sky, then re-read his Fire Upon the Deep; highly recommended for a plausible model of galactic interstellar culture.

    While transcendant intelligence would not have much use for warm planetary environments (space is better for deep thought) it seems quite possible that life has to originate on planetary surfaces. Afterwards it may migrate off-planet, but these warm wet environments make good incubators. (Wombs are good places to get your start, but you have to move out eventually!)

    • 12 Dan G Swindles August 19, 2011 at 2:53 pm

      Great comment. Its interesting to speculate on the extent to which an advanced alien race would wish to communicate with us and I guess a key issue is the prevalence of life throughout our Galaxy, I assume the rarer life is, particularly intelligent life, the more likely it is that other civilizations would wish to contact us. It’s true that we’ve shown interest in communicating with other species on our planet too, and nice example from EO Wilson, but I could also imagine alien life being so wildly different from us that communication would simply be impossible.

      I really need to read some Vinge, and I highly recommend Baxter.

      As far as we know, life is probably more common in warm planetary environments, but this is based on a sample of 1, and in Baxter’s Xelee universe this kind of life is by no means the most common, so who knows what the Universe could have in store for us

  5. 13 gerold firl August 21, 2011 at 9:33 am

    A more complex intelligence can always model a simpler one, enabling it to communicate with the simpler in terms it could understand. We might not be able to speak their language, but they could speak ours.

    Whether they would be interested in doing so is another question. One could imagine an intelligence so far beyond us that it could learn nothing by communicating with such simple creatures, but consider this: at a slightly lower level of complexity, a more advanced intelligence would learn something from contact with a totally different form of life. That is certainly the case for us: we would learn tremendously by communicating with an extraterrestrial life form, even if it was less intelligent than we are. The same would be true of some ET’s. They would be motivated to get the earthling perspective.

    • 14 Dan G Swindles August 23, 2011 at 5:40 pm

      I agree that we’d have a lot to learn from communicating with more advanced civilizations, not sure that I agree that a more advanced civilization would always be able to model a simpler one, there could be some pretty fundamental differences that make this difficult to do

      I think I’ll need to write a post about this

      Anyone know of any good articles on this?

      • 15 Y.Whateley December 17, 2015 at 8:05 pm

        Our “more advanced” civilization still struggles when it comes to figuring out what other terrestrial mammals are capable of saying to each other, and figuring out how to communicate intelligently to any degree with them. And in the scheme of things we’re not too different from whales, other primates, and other such “less advanced” species. Communicating with computers is a challenge, and we built our computers and know them better than anything. We can’t be certain we’re equipped to communicate with Neanderthals, if they were to suddenly re-appear today, and we’re pretty sure they’re close relatives.

        Imagine trying to communicate intelligently with something that isn’t a mammal, something that may not respond to visual and auditory cues, something that communicates in ways that were never developed on Earth, something that isn’t even made of the same materials we are. Something that never developed a mathematical language, because it handles such things after a fashion instinctively (the way army ants apparently can). Something that uses intelligence only to solve problems on an ad-hoc basis, and doesn’t use imagination as we understand it to get things done.

        Something tells me that communicating with an alien species may one of the most complicated challenges facing even the most advanced civilizations… perhaps normal intelligent species would find it easier to just avoid trying to communicate, and avoid other civilizations as too different to waste effort on sharing a universe with.

        The human race might be the weirdos of the universe who enjoy the challenges of reaching out to other worlds even if they’d rather be left alone, and we may be doomed to only get answers from the other schizophrenics on the universe’s city bus… we’ll all be happy to rave at each other when we finally meet someone willing to listen, while being doomed to barely comprehend anyone’s weird babble but our own.

  6. 16 Ray May 11, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    Hey I want to learn more about the predator hypothesis and everytime i search it on the internet it has nothing to do with this

  7. 18 Stephen Preston March 9, 2015 at 7:23 pm

    Entertaining read.

    My only criticism is that your “cool” and “faintly disturbing” solutions to Fermi’s paradox suffer from exactly the same drawback as the so-called “lunatic” solutions: a lack of evidence.

    Perhaps we should keep an open mind and not rule anything “in” or “out” until there is actual evidence one way or another. The “we are all in a simulation created by aliens” is not so different in implications to the “aliens are already here” hypothesis or even the “God” hypothesis.

    If we are ever to solve the Fermi paradox it is vital that we keep open minds. If we rule out any possible solution for “lack of evidence” then why not rule out them all? Whilst crazies are attracted to the “aliens have already visited us” hypothesis that does not necessary mean that a “weak” form of that hypothesis cannot be true. Can we say there is evidence that we have not ever been visited by an alien space probe or ship? Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. All hypotheses should remain “on the table” and no hypothesis should be ruled “lunatic” simply because certain lunatics have co-opted extreme versions of the hypothesis

  8. 19 Gerold Firl March 11, 2015 at 7:49 am

    “Solving the Fermi paradox” is real simple: we meet some aliens, no more paradox. Some have claimed we’re half way there already: aliens are monitoring us, but keeping it anonymous. They’ve met us, but we haven’t met them. It’s not an implausible suggestion. If they can travel interstellar distances they should be able to see without being seen. And the motivation is there too; this is such a pivotal juncture in human development, alien anthropologists might very well be interested in observing how our species “wakes up”. We’re transitioning from animal awareness to a more conscious level of cognition, with the potential of creating a transcendent AI in the near future. Might be interesting to watch.

    It has been suggested that aliens might need to keep a low profile at this level of development for a couple of reasons: to give us our own space to develop according to our own free will, or maybe to avoid pathological reactions from primitive cultures. One could imagine the Muslim world having a difficult time adjusting to ET’s. Maybe some primitive worlds have been majorly disrupted by premature contact.

    Here’s a thought: maybe the normal protocol for contact with awakening planets is to wait until right when they develop a transcendent AI. One can imagine it might be done to either protect the new-born planetary intelligence from self-harm, or even to prevent the growth of a malignant entity that could actually pose a threat to other ET’s. Seems plausible, but I haven’t heard that idea before.

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