Why are we alone? the Fermi Paradox

galaxy_we_are_hereI came across an interesting read  the other morning  on my Flipboard news stream.. From Gizmodo The Fermi Paradox: Where the Hell Are the Other Earths?  . Basically the Fermi Paradox in a nutshell says, in such a vast universe such as ours with so many potential stars and planets why haven’t we seen evidence of extraterrestrial life?  The article does an excellent job of quantifying the possibilities and proposing some explanations as to why we haven’t found anyone… yet..

You may be familiar with the Drake Equation, which is often used as the basis of this paradox. The equation uses a series of factors based on known (or presumed ) quantities of things in our universe to arrive at a number of intelligent extra terrestrial  civilizations.. Here’s the actual equation :

N = R_{\ast} \cdot f_p \cdot n_e \cdot f_{\ell} \cdot f_i \cdot f_c \cdot L
Using this equation or something similar leads us to the inevitable conclusion that our galaxy  (let alone the universe) should be teaming with life ( side note: PBS  Nova had an interesting episode on Alien Planets that explains how we’re getting better at finding extraterrestrial worlds.  and more importantly intelligent life, but where is everyone? Surely we should be able to see evidence of some life… 

exoplanets-alien-worlds- space com

from: Space.com types of Exo planets

I’ll summarise the main points of the article here, but I encourage you  to read it for yourself.

A key point is to focus on intelligent civilized life, as opposed to single cell life. In classifying civilizations, a common methodology is to use the Kardashev Scale which states, that there are three plus categories of civilizations based on energy consumption and resource control, we as current day earthlings are approaching Category one.   Based on this idea, the article breaks down the theories into these basic possibilities.

Possible causes of the “Why We’re Alone”

  • There are no higher civilizations out there, there is somehow some “Great filter” that limits the number of higher form civilizations. The idea of the “great filter” is further explained.


  • Perhaps we’re rare and its a genuine oddity that we,and in fact life on earth is a a very rare set of happy accidents and outcomes, that allowed us to arrive at our current state.


  • Perhaps we’re the first of the great civilizations, maybe because we’ve (as homo sapiens)  only been around 50,000 years and we are the first or many great civilizations


  • Perhaps the great filter is still ahead of us. Maybe many  great civilizations  once they have been around long enough somehow meet their demise either via self-inflicted means (war / technology gone awry/ resource scarcity) or by means of natural causes s (cosmic ray burst , black hole or other space weather).


  • Maybe intelligent life is out there and has visited us, but long before we took our first steps as humans ..maybe when they visited earth they were discovered a bunch of one celled organisms and left.


  • Maybe the idea of galactic exploration and or colonization is to primitive for an advanced species… perhaps they have mastered all they need and already know the universe is teaming (or not teaming) with life and don’t need to visit the rural neighborhood that is our Solar System.


  • Perhaps there’s a super-predator civilization (aka the Borg ) that “assimilates” or eradicates other intelligent civilizations once those civilizations get to a certain point in their development. This is why many well known scientists including Stephen Hawking, caution us in the use of active methods to announce our existence to the universe. Truth is we don’t know…


  • Our current day technology is too primitive to see / hear advanced civilizations. Perhaps communications by radio waves, is a primitive form of communications, maybe an advanced civilizations communicates via Quantum Entanglements or other exotic forms and we simply don’t have the technology to communicate this way.


  • The “Prime Directive” / “Zoo Hypothesis” that more advanced civilizations are observing but don’t feel compelled or interested to communicate with us.To put it in perspective..I’ll use the analogy of an ant farm/ hill. We may see all the ants busily moving about, but we generally have no interest in their affairs, we deem then simple creatures and have no desire to communicate or be involved in their world.. because we know they are too primitive to communicate with and their civilization is equally primitive (relative to us.. although in reality its a complex social network). Maybe humans are the ants of the universe to some super-advanced civilization?
  • We’re completely wrong or have a very humanly biased view  (simplistic) of reality. Perhaps our little homosapien brains and five sense, which are just now grasping the concepts of spacetime and quantum mechanics, maybe in the future we discover that we’re in a some sort of inter-dimensional plane (multi-verse theory) and that our view of reality is more of an illusion based on our senses than they way the universe REALLY works..

Its something to think about, are we alone? which leads us to inevitable question why are we (all) here? Even if we never find out if we’re alone I think It’s fascinating that we can conceive of the idea..

Consider the fact that we can ask the question and I would propose that many people would accept the idea that we’re not alone, not all that surprising..  this is one of those deep questions, that we may not have an answer to in our lifetimes, but is sure fun and interesting to speculate about..

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