Class Warfare Blog

September 24, 2019

The Fermi Paradox and Other Aspects of Wishful Thinking About Aliens

Filed under: Reason,Science,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 12:17 pm
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Famous physicist Enrico Fermi once uttered something along the lines of “Well, then, where are they?” in a discussion of the possibilities of there being alien life. Fermi’s exact quote is uncertain, but the gist of it is plain. Since there are so many other places in the universe in which life could develop, why haven’t we been visited by aliens at this point?

Let’s look at this because there is so much bullstuff circulating.

Let’s consider time first. A recent Netflix documentary discussing this topic pointed out that the universe was 14-15 billion years old and the Earth was about a third of that old, 4.543 billion years old. So, there has been plenty of time for aliens to have visited us. WTF? No!

If aliens had visited us 2 billion years ago, how would we have any record of that? Maybe if an enduring alien spacecraft had crashed here and avoided being subducted below ground, there might be such evidence, but that is a rather far fetched scenario. We need to be reasonable and consider that Homo sapiens have been around for probably less than 300,000 years. Any prior visitation would not be noted in any way. We also have had a written language for less than 10,000 years, so any prior visitation could only have been recorded in the form of petroglyphs or cave paintings, and there are some rather bizarre figures that could represent such visitants, but I don’t see any consensus in the scientific community as to whether these are factual representations or imaginative ones.

And, it has only been in the last couple of centuries that we have had the means of recording images of such visitants and the images we have suggesting that possibility are of relatively low quality. Recently, some higher quality recordings have led to the possibility that we have, indeed been visited, but that enquiry is still going on.

So, when it comes to time . . . we have been in a position to document such a visitation for a few hundred years out of the 15 billion years of the universe’s existence, a very tiny (tiny!) fraction of the time involved. So, the time factor is quite disfavorable to the argument that we should have seen something by now.

Also, as a factor of time, have you seen the tiny blue dot illustration? Here it is.

The tiny blue dot represents how far radio waves (and TV, etc.) could have traveled since their invention here. Aliens traversing this blue zone would be able to pick up those signs of intelligent life. Again, this is about 200 years in time, 200 light-years in space. Look at how small that zone is compared to the volume of the entire galaxy. Prior to that time or outside of that space, those aliens would be looking for “signs” of life as we are doing now: indications of water in its liquid form and things like carbon dioxide or methane in planetary atmospheres. These searches may turn up “signs” but no conclusive proof of intelligent life.

Now let’s talk space. Clearly any aliens in other galaxies are just too far away to consider making a trip here. Our closest neighboring galaxy is the Andromeda galaxy which is 2.537 million light years away. If these aliens could travel at the speed of light, they would be entertaining a trip of two and a half million years . . . one way! If they could do 1000 times the speed of light, they would still be looking at a 2500 year journey . . . one way. So, intergalactic aliens should be considered to be completely isolated by time and space (unless wormholes of some other similar phenomena are proven to exist).

So, how about aliens inside our own galaxy? With hundreds of billions of stars and trillions of planets in our galaxy, surely . . . surely what exactly? Our galaxy, the Milky Way galaxy, is 105,700 light years wide. Traveling at the speed of light, currently thought to be impossible, would require 100,000+ years to go from one edge to the opposite edge, but let’s assume that “our aliens” are not that far away, that they are at least on our side of the galaxy, so their trip would be less, less than 50,000 years at the speed of light. Let’s be honest. If the trip takes more than a decade or so, what benefit would there be in making it? Trade is out of the question as the distances are too far. Trading technology with a less advanced species, again hardly worth the trip. So the only motivation would be a voyage of exploration, or maybe a desperate attempt to find a new place to live. Excluding the latter, because it would be problematic in the extreme (I would venture that those aliens no one wants to meet), let’s consider a voyage of exploration/discovery.

It doesn’t seem plausible that on such a voyage there would be just one stop, here. If I were planning such a voyage, there would be many stops, amplifying my chances of encountering something new. This would go a long way towards justifying the cost of such a voyage. Even if profit or money were not involved (say our aliens are a hive mind, to which such things would be incomprehensible) the amount of effort to be put into the creation of such a ship only to send it off on an “iffy” mission, possibly to be never seen again is an additional barrier to such a voyage. Think back on how many billions of U.S. dollars were expended sending astronauts to the moon, just 250,000 miles away. Imagine what would happen if President Trump were to announce an ambitious new project to explore some of the rest of the galaxy. The projected budgets surely would go into the trillions of dollars and the howls of fiscal irresponsibility would be heard on the moon.

So, the answers to the Fermi paradox seem rather straightforward.

  1. They came but were too early to see anything promising.
  2. They came and met some sapient Earthlings, but those Earthlings had no way of leaving an enduring, credible record of their visit.
  3. They came but we do not count the reports of their visits as being credible “alien encounters.”
  4. They are coming but haven’t gotten here yet.
  5. They looked for places to go, but outside of the tiny blue dot, there were only vague signs of life, certainly none of intelligent life, so we were just one of myriad possible sites to check out and they chose other places to visit.
  6. They considered coming but nixed the idea as there was no “upside” in the form of trade or technology transfers to warrant the trip.
  7. They have taken such voyages but we are too far away to travel here or to even communicate via EMR signaling.
  8. We were so far beneath them that visiting us would be the equivalent of us trying to communicate with a slime mold.
  9. They were planning such a voyage but the early cost overruns were too scary and they backed out of the project. (They are more advanced than us, remember.)
  10. They were on their way but had an accident and had to limp home.
  11. And, of course, the old tried and true opinion of many theists: “They don’t exist; we are alone in the universe, because . . . we . . . are . . . special!”

Of course, there is also the “Ancient Aliens theorists” conjecture that they came a long time ago and jiggered with our DNA to help create another sentient species in the galaxy. Would you want to meet such a species, one that would take such liberties with lower life forms, to whom we would surely still be a lower life form?

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