Note for context: this article was originally posted to an apolitical, science-based publication and is reproduced here, unaltered from the original text
We’re watching the solution to Fermi’s Paradox unfold in real time
Before I begin, I wish to state up front that this post contains no political content and does not take sides in any particular conflict. Political motivations or outcomes not withstanding, I am a sentient being who knows and feels pain. I feel the pain and empathize with those who are suffering oppression or death at the hands of an oppressor or a political entity who possesses greater power and uses that power for self-interest against a weaker population.
There are at least 3 major conflicts ongoing now that could potentially lead to nuclear profligation hence, I write about Enrico Fermi’s paradox. Then there’s the very real threat of an uncontrolled or unregulated AI that should be considered when discussing Fermi’s Paradox – but that’s a different discussion.
Frank Drake and His Equation
The Drake Equation was cooked up by astronomer Frank Drake in 1961 to serve as the agenda for the first meeting on the topic of SETI. In 1960, Drake had conducted a pioneering search for extraterrestrial signals – a several-week long effort he named Project Ozma. Somewhat unexpectedly, this modest experiment attracted a great deal of attention, and Drake was encouraged by J.P.T. Pearman, a staff officer at the National Academy of Sciences, to organize an informal gathering of accomplished researchers and engineers to discuss the prospects for finding a signal. Was listening for radio signals a worthy endeavor or not?
Depending on what values are input to the Drake Equation, different values emerge as a solution to how many technically advanced civilizations exist in the galaxy at any given time.
Inputting conservative values results in values between 1 and 32 technically advanced civilizations. Likewise, higher input values yield higher results. Frank Drake himself set the value at 10,000 with data at the time. Now, after multiple missions such as Spitzer, Kepler, Kepler2 and TESS, emerging studies from these missions and now JWST, the results could dramatically change and be refined.
We know, for sure, there is at least 1 “Technically Advanced” Civilization, but then we presuppose our civilization would be considered “Technically Advanced” by an actual technically advanced, star-faring civilization. If we could look into the future just 100 years hence, our world, if it still exists in its current form, would be unrecognizable with technologies that are not even imagined today. One century doesn’t sound like much -but is an eternity, given today’s almost exponential increase in technical ability.
Enrico Fermi and His Paradox
In the summer of 1950, the great Italian-American physicist Enrico Fermi wondered out loud, “where is everybody?” As the story goes, he posed this question regarding the existence of, or more specifically, the lack of any evidence for, extra terrestrial visitors while having lunch with fellow physicists Edward Teller, Herbert York, and Emil Konopinski. The men were discussing recent UFO reports and the possibility of faster-than-light travel. The conversation moved on to other topics, until Fermi blurted out, “But where is everybody?”
Given that the galaxy is teeming with 100s of billions of stars, the majority with planetary systems capable of supporting life, it is reasonable to ask where is the evidence of ET’s existence or that they were here.
The “Paradox” has to be considered within a broad scope of possibilities:
- Is it assumed that a technically advanced civilization, even ours 100 years hence, is capable of interstellar travel. We may be forever constrained by Special Relativity’s universal speed limit. These are the outcomes:
- A multi-generational starship traveling at high sub-light speeds that would take 10s, 100s or thousands of years to travel to even the closest stars.
- Exotic “Warp Drives”, while not violating General Relativity per se, pose serious technical challenges that seem insurmountable, even for a civilization like ours 1,000 years hence. Have the “aliens” figured out warp drives? If so, why would they bother with us? What could we possibly offer them? This may be an answer to the paradox. We have nothing that they need or want and thus, no ET arrival and no evidence.
- Given the restrictions of Special Relativity, the assumption that a “Technically Advanced” civilization becomes a star-faring civilization at some point is false. This may never happen – at all, for any civilization, and we would thus, never find any physical evidence of ET because it (the evidence) doesn’t exist.
- Non-technical possibilities.
- A “Technically Advanced” civilization’s technical capabilities outpace any moral or ethical constraints, and they ultimately annihilate themselves, much like what we’re witnessing here, right now, in real time. This technically advanced civilization, having made amazing technical strides, perhaps even attaining sustained nuclear fusion, never grew up. We can see who the actors are, in spite of the false claims, propaganda, stories and lies, we can see who the malign actors are. Those clamoring for more war, those who believe might makes right, those who steal land simply because they can or have the military might to do so, those who commit a genocide in the name of “progress”, these are the malevolent actors in any “technically advanced” civilization that are its ultimate downfall. This “civilization” either completely annihilates itself or, as Albert Einstein said, “will fight the next war with sticks and stones”. We should pause at this point and consider the poignant words of the late, great Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” within this context. This outcome is the motivation for this post and is reflected in the title.
- Anecdotal Evidence.
- Enrico Fermi was astute enough to know that there are other forms of evidence. This anecdotal evidence is the result of ET having been here or that they’re “out there” among the stars. Have we found any evidence that ET has been here? No. In spite of all the fanciful documentaries and films to the contrary, there is no hard evidence that aliens have ever been here or are here now.
- Laudable programs such as SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) look for electromagnetic evidence of ET’s presence among the stars. This would be in the form of radio communication broadcasts, perhaps at “universally recognized” frequencies, such as the 21 cm line of hydrogen (1,428.6 Mhz). We look for patterns in the received signals, or more colloquially, “Techno Signatures”. With the exception of the famous “Wow Signal” in 1977, there has been no evidence that there is some grand galactic civilization communicating among the stars. We also need to remember, radio communications travel at the speed of light. There’s that universal speed limit again! Any “conversation” could take decades or centuries for stars that are separated by 10s or 100s of light years. The practicality of such a method then becomes questionable.
Theater in the Congress
The government recently put on quite the spectacle in the people’s congress with the testimony of “Expert Witnesses”, ostensibly giving credence to UAPs (Unidentified Ariel Phenomenon), the new name they’ve invented to replace the old one we all know as UFOs. The government would have us believe that they have “hard evidence” of ET, complete with the dead bodies and dilapidated craft.
The existence of life elsewhere in the universe is plausible. Statistically, it is eminently logical to conclude this given the number of stars in our galaxy alone. Does that translate in to they (the “aliens”) are or have been here? No.
Why not? I watched this testimony and was not at all convinced or impressed, regardless of military credentials. Military rank does not automatically confer “expert” status to any witness.
Any alien civilization who overcame the extreme challenges to travel between the stars and arrive here would need nothing from us. It would be akin to us looking to the ants beneath our feet or to a wild baboon for help or to have a conversation with. Just like the ants or the baboon, we would need nothing from them, so too, the aliens would need nothing from us.
Hostilities from “ET”
Hostilities would only arise from extraterrestrial visitors if they needed something from us, such as natural resources – and we would be powerless to stop them. We should resist the temptation to project our notions of ethics or morality onto any ET.
Most likely, they would be driven by need and any subjective notions of morality or ethics would be foreign to them. They would take what they need, and we would be powerless to stop them. Just look at all the wars and colonial conquests over the past 1,000 years alone. They came, they stole and they conquered without a second thought to the lives and destiny of their hosts. Who ever tells the story of the vanquished? Who ever tells of their suffering and death? No one – history and the stories of glory and conquest are always told by the victor. This would most likely be the outcome between us and ET.
The video that was presented during the testimony, purported to be a “UAP”, was a fake or an artifact of the video equipment – there was no object in flight alongside or shadowing the fighter aircraft. It was an artifact of the video – it was not an actual object at all.
There are no aliens here now, not now, not ever. When or if they ever show up – everyone will know and the government will be powerless to hide their presence.
And then there is the matter of Enrico Fermi and his Paradox. As described above, he mused out loud, given the statistical probability that there could be other civilizations scattered among the stars, where is the evidence that they exist or have been here? To date, there is no evidence and no answer to his question.
We may be confronted with the sobering reality that we are really alone in the universe, or civilizations like ours ultimately self-destruct. Just look now(!) and at all the wars fought throughout our short history, fought with what amounts to sticks and stones.
When we start launching nuclear weapons at each other, we will have committed suicide and Enrico Fermi’s paradox will have been answered.
And the answer will be: no civilization matures to the point where they don’t self-destruct and become a star-faring civilization.