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Fermi Paradox

Fermi Paradox

If our Solar System and planet Earth are typical of the universe, then considering how many galaxies and how many stars there are, the place should be teeming with intelligent life. (see the link to the Drake Equation below that discusses this) The Fermi Paradox is that in spite of this logical reasoning that there should be abundant life, we have not directly confirmed this through any form of observation.

For the sake of discussion, ruling out the possibility that there is no other life in the universe besides ourselves, there are many possible reasons why there might be abundant life and we have not detected it:

  • Time
    • Slow communications – light speed communications technology (anything electromagnetic based, like radio or TV signals) can take millions of years to reach another civilization that is far away.
    • Civilization life span – if the average lifetime of a civilization is small on the scale of time in the universe (anything under a million years is very small) the chances of two civilizations existing at the same time is small. Note that human civilization could easily be considered to be less than ten thousand years old.
    • Technology life span – regardless of the lifetime of the civilization, if the lifetime of compatible technology is small on the scale of time in the universe, the chances of two civilizations being able to communicate using the same technology is small. This does not preclude an advanced civilization being able to use older technology, but does explain the silence. Note that human technology capable of interstellar communication is less than 100 years old. We don’t yet know where our technology will go in the next 100 years, but it may advance beyond slow communications forms like EM radiation (radio and TV). This might mean that the time window to detect most civilizations going through the EM era of technology is very small on the scale of time overall. End result = a more advanced technology might easily locate us, but we are unlikely to be able to detect them.
  • Ethics
    • Non-interference rule – like in Star Trek, where the Federation preferred to not interfere with developing civilizations but allow them to develop on their own. In popular science fiction, the motivation is usually a kind of respect for natural development and evolution.
    • Differences – a strong difference in ethical considerations between one civilization and another might dictate one remaining at a silent distance. The most obvious example is an extremely non-violent ethical framework rejecting one that allows violence, but there could possibly be other differences that might preclude contact.
    • An ethical test – it is possible that using a combination of factors discussed above, that an advanced civilization decides to avoid contact until a developing civilization has passed the threshold of an ethical test. An example might be nuclear technology. If we destroy ourselves using our nukes, we fail the test. When it becomes obvious we are mature enough to handle advanced technology sanely, we pass and the advanced civilization feels okay about contacting us. The future “technology tests” of bio-genetics and nanotechnology are likely to be more difficult to pass than nuclear technology.

Drake Equation
Ethical Advisors
Beyond Turing

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