10 Unsettling Solutions to the Fermi Paradox

An exploration of ten of the most unsettling solutions to the Fermi Paradox, or the question of are we alone and if not, where are they?

https://www.patreon.com/johnmichaelgodier

Papers:

“The Sustainability Solution to the Fermi Paradox”, Haqq-Misra and Baum, 2009

https://arxiv.org/abs/0906.0568

Music:

Cylinder Eight by Chris Zabriskie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)
Source: http://chriszabriskie.com/cylinders/
Artist: http://chriszabriskie.com/

Cylinder Five by Chris Zabriskie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)
Source: http://chriszabriskie.com/cylinders/
Artist: http://chriszabriskie.com/

Cylinder Seven by Chris Zabriskie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)
Source: http://chriszabriskie.com/cylinders/
Artist: http://chriszabriskie.com/

ROBOT GENERATED TEXT:
the great elephant in the room in regards to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence is that we haven’t conclusively seen it yet everywhere we look in the cosmos we see objects that appear natural and normal such as stars and nebulas that give us no reason to think that any of it is under the influence of an alien civilization in other words you could say that this galaxy seems to consist of nothing but free real-estate that as far as we can tell no one has colonized or done anything with yet the galaxy is well old enough to have been colonized many times over the Fermi paradox addresses this conundrum by asking where are the aliens there are many possible solutions to the Fermi paradox and some are fairly benign but others are not so nice so here are 10 of the most unsettling solutions to the Fermi paradox number 10 the end result of existence is technological isolation within philosophy there is an old concept called the brain and of that that is to say that if you were a brain isolated in a jar being fed sensory information through wires you would never know that you’re perceived world wasn’t reality that concept is taking on a new dimension as virtual old reality technology improves and there may come a time where virtual reality is absolutely indistinguishable from actual reality this is a problem for a civilization because virtual reality can be tailored to be anything you want it to be including paradise which is not so much the case for actual reality you could even live in the fictional world of your choice fighting dragons are exploring the universe and meeting virtual aliens but without the limitations of the speed of light even other people can be emulated perfectly in theory in short you could achieve the perfection of existence and virtual reality if that’s the case why bother to pay any attention to actual reality at all or might you forget that reality exists questions of whether the human species will choose to explore this route beside aliens might just do it is it possible that the reason we don’t see evidence of far-flung alien civilizations is because their own technology gives them a better alternative to actual reality and they simply never leave their home planet for lack of any reason to number nine humans won the lottery for now this solution is usually termed neo catastrophism and is based on the idea that the reason we see no evidence of alien civilizations is that they almost always get reset by nature before they have time to become an advanced spacefaring race there are any number of ways this might happen ranging from getting hit by an asteroid to all life in a world getting fried by a gamma ray burst in our case we’ve simply been lucky though even this planet has had a number of catastrophes of its own such as the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs that had it been just a bit worse might have destroyed all complex life on this planet at the same time however that particular mass extinction opened the way for the Dominion of mammals and eventually the advent of humanity so there is that but as lotteries show there are far more losers than winners and that may also be the case for the galaxy it remains to be seen however if we have indeed won the lottery or are we simply waiting for our own extinction at the hands of nature itself but in the end this solution might have an interesting effect over time it’s been suggested that stellar evolution will reduce the occurrence of gamma-ray bursts and it may be that natural catastrophes in general become rarer as time passes if so this may eventually lead to an explosion of complex life in the galaxy and we happen to exist either too early or just at the beginning of that phase number eight aliens are simply too violent for long-term survival this one fits under a series of great filter solutions to the Fermi paradox they hypothesized that some sort of brick wall exists somewhere along the line that stops civilizations from rising past a certain level in this case it’s a filter that may be present in our own civilization it’s the possibility of destroying ourselves as humans we have a pretty spotty history as far as warfare and violence is concerned we are both capable of restraint and a reason ability and absolute horrors and we do possess the means in which to annihilate our own civilization to our credit we haven’t yet done that but stop for a moment and think about what that might mean for alien civilizations violence is not unique to our species if you’ve ever seen a polar bear kill and eat something you’ve seen violence at its highest expression but that’s nature the polar bear has to eat and it evolved to eat other animals and it will aggressively do so whenever needed there’s no reason to think that this works any differently in the universe at large complex life should it exist most probably eight other life to get where it is we can at least a good portion of us control our aggressiveness the reason yet we still spend massive amounts of money on defense still we can reason our way out of starting a war or we can do the opposite imagine though if we were just a little bit more aggressive and for strong instincts for that like the polar bear the result of that would not be pretty and we probably would not have much of a civilization as a result as such it may be more common for alien species to be more aggressive than we are say the conditions of their world are such that it’s harder to eat might they then evolve even more aggressive tendencies don’t you need at least some aggressiveness to spread out and head into the universe in the first place are any aliens we are likely to encounter going to be extremely aggressive we shall see but other implications of this solution to the Fermi paradox is that alien civilizations are more interested in warring with themselves than they are an exploring space and eventually they almost invariably destroy themselves hopefully we prove better than that number seven the universe is artificial this gets into simulation theory and the idea that we ourselves might already be living in a kind of universal virtual reality though it’s certainly far from a utopia if so and it is a simulation The Associated Fermi paradox solution is that we are the only sentient artificial intelligences in the matrix on purpose and no other planets anywhere in the universe are inhabited but that creates a huge question if that’s the case why then is the universe so ridiculously huge in comparison to our little corner of it there are billions and billions of other galaxies in even parts of this universe so distant that we can’t even observe them what would be the point of making the simulated environments so big that most of it will never be explored by us that question remains open number six aliens are everywhere and invisible a big problem with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence is that we have to make a lot of assumptions we primarily at least right now practice SETI by listening for radio signals but we have no idea if aliens use radio signals so we simply assume they do we must base those kinds of assumptions on the only example of a civilization we have our own but in the end we have no idea how aliens would communicate and our own history with radio does not really support the idea that an alien civilization assuming they are like us would use radio for contact most of our day-to-day radio signals are not detectable at a distance what little would be detectable such as various many signals the Arecibo signal radar doesn’t repeat in the way that we expect an alien beacon to repeat in short our civilization would be very difficult for aliens to see and even then not much more than a hundred light years out so why would other civilizations be any different and of course it’s also possible that a highly advanced civilization may use methods of communication that we simply haven’t thought of they could be all around us chatting away and we won’t know it until we ourselves discover that method only to find a vibrant galactic dialogue going on imagine if they’re talking about us number five intelligent life in the universe is exceedingly rare Arthur Clarke once said that two possibilities exist we are either alone in the universe or we are not both are equally terrifying working on that theme what happens if intelligent life is rare enough that it happens only once every few galaxies there are reasons to suspect that this may be the case look at earth what factors had to come together to produce us we have a planet of such a size to hold this atmosphere we have life that evolved in a certain direction in order to oxygenate the atmosphere we have plate tectonics and the carbon cycle we have the moon we have liquid water we have Jupiter and many other factors that all had to come together just so to keep our planet right for us to arise and build a civilization does that make Earth extremely rare our planets almost exactly the same as far as Earth’s conditions the only ones capable of spawning a civilization we don’t know but back to Arthur Clarke how frightening is it that the universe might be so vast that while it might have hundreds of civilizations in it the numbers are still in favor of that but they are so far from each other that they may never be able to communicate or if they do it won’t happen for billions of years or say it never happens an existence in this universe is confined to only your own species because of the vast distances between civilizations and the question of whether we are alone is kept open forever due to the expanding scale of our lonely universe but never fear there’s also reason to think that planets can exist that are better than earth for developing intelligent life and if you haven’t any aliens in your galaxy you can always make your own if we do indeed colonize the Milky Way which I’m hopeful we do we can actually do it in geologically short timescales millions of years rather than billions and if we do that those colonies of humans will eventually become so different from us that they might as well be aliens number four the zoo hypothesis this solution is very simple aliens exist and know we’re here but intentionally hide their presence from us they might do this for several reasons one is that they’re simply waiting for the right time in our development to reveal themselves preferring instead to simply study us and learn all they can before making contact but just as easily they could fear us and are maintaining the element of surprise until one day they destroy us out of nowhere or otherwise maintain our level of interstellar travel at zero one particularly spooky scenario with this one is that all species in the galaxy might be held hostage in this way by a smug overlord species that perhaps was the first to arise in the Milky Way what would add insult to injury is if that overlord were a machine civilization keeping the biologicals in check number three time when thinking about alien civilizations we often fall into a trap we think in terms of distance and how far away such a civilization would be but there is also another dimension here that could separate civilizations enough to make them rare time there is no guarantee that you will exist at the same time as another civilization in your galaxy especially if technological civilizations only lasts an average of a few million years even worse if it’s only thousands of years or the Milky Way is well old enough to have one supported civilizations that simply aren’t here anymore we likewise may well survive for millions of years as a civilization but go extinct at some point in the far future but then another species might arise in Milky Way and take our place perhaps they might even find artifacts of us so the solution here is simply that civilizations are rare but not that rare in geologic timescales so a galaxy like the Milky Way might have hosted throughout its lifetime hundreds of civilizations but they just rarely coexist in which case the galaxy may be full of artifacts for us to find what happens if we find whatever artifact that caused a civilizations extinction number two the sustainability solution this is a relative newcomer to solutions to the Fermi paradox but one that holds serious implications for our own civilization indeed for the entire galaxy because it may be the reason that we do not see evidence of alien civilizations having colonized the galaxy is because to do so may mean the inevitable collapse of your own civilization in a paper by Jacob hack misra and Seth bomb link in the description below they challenge commonly held assumptions that civilizations colonizing the galaxy would do so exponentially and this is based on human expansion on our own planet the problem is we don’t always do this sustainably and that’s led to multiple times in the past where human populations and civilizations collapsed this could mean that we could collapse even before we colonize our own solar system we likewise could collapse even after we have if we don’t manage our resources properly this could extend further out into the galaxy and might mean that civilizations that don’t manage their resources carefully and expand exponentially tend to collapse and those that are slower and more deliberate may not have had time to colonize much of the galaxy at all the remaining question here is what choices will we make oddly given the distances to the nearest stars much less the distant ones and the apparent lack of any way to achieve faster-than-light travel we may end up moving very slowly regardless and thus the solution to the Fermi paradox is that fast expansion is hard no matter what and other civilizations have tended to keep their scope small at least for number one maybe the Fermi paradox was never a paradox at all the basic thinking behind the Fermi paradox implies that the numbers at least superficially are such that we really should be seeing evidence of alien civilizations everywhere we look this thinking is further bolstered by ideas like the Von Neumanns self-replicating probe where you can literally fill the galaxy with probes and only a few million years stationing one or more in every star system without ever exceeding the speed of light why hasn’t anyone done that the last possibility is that nothing says they haven’t if there was a von Neumann probe or many such probes stationed in this star system unless they were blasting out evidence of their existence we wouldn’t see them say they were dormant only collecting data at intervals that could last millions of years say they were extinct or simply waiting to be found by a spacefaring us unless such a thing made itself known and assuming it’s not the size of an asteroid randomly finding one in our solar system would be so far beyond a needle in a haystack that if they are discrete it could be centuries before we run across the first one even if hundreds of them from many different civilizations are out there floating in the vastness of the solar system in short maybe there never was a paradox we just don’t know what to look for or how to look for it yet but once we do we may well find it and maybe it will be far closer than we ever bargained for since we first started asking the question are we alone thanks for listening I am science fiction author and futurist John Michael Gautier be sure to check out my books at your favorite online book retailer and subscribe to my channel for regular in depth explorations into the interesting weird and unknown aspects of this amazing universe in which we live you

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