Living in a galaxy with billions of stars and planets, we must have met with “the others” by now. For better or worse, this hasn’t happened till date. This fact raises a simple question in each of our minds, “Where is everybody?”
It has been 13.9 Billion years since the birth of the universe and only 200,000 years since we evolved from apes. Sooner or later, our relatively young civilization will be capable of interplanetary travel. If such a relatively primitive and young civilization such as ours is able to reach out, there must definitely be other life forms among the infinite stars, trying to reach out to us. The fact that there are more number of stars in the observable universe than the number of grains of sand on Earth reinforces the possibility of the existence of other life forms in the universe. Yet, we have no substantial evidence of the existence of intelligent life elsewhere. So, "Where is everybody?”
The above question was asked by Enrico Fermi, one of the finest physicists on Earth. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics for building the world’s first Nuclear Reactor. Yet, he is better known as the person who framed the question, “Where is everybody?”, during a casual conversation on Extraterrestrials (E.T.s) with his colleagues.
On contemplation, Fermi reasoned that our inability to contact E.T.s is attributed to our underdeveloped interstellar flight capabilities. Despite this reasoning, over the years many scientists have argued and proposed solutions to this famous question.
THE FERMI PARADOX:
Merriam-Webster defines the word ‘paradox’ as – a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true. There are a set of connected arguments which lead to the Fermi Paradox (a.k.a. “The Great Silence”). They are:
In our galaxy there are billions of stars much older than our very own Sun (yes, Sun is relatively younger in the universal timescale).
There are billions of planets among the stars present in our universe.
There exists a very high probability that these planets may support life which may be intelligent.
This intelligent life or civilization may develop the means for Interstellar travel.
If any such intelligent civilization existed, it would have surely made an attempt to colonize the nearby star systems or explore them. Therefore, a few exploration probes or space junk from this advanced space faring civilization must be floating away in space. If not for the remnants from the technology of these civilizations, we should at least be able to detect their signals or communicate with them.
So there exists a pretty decent probability that the Galaxy (or at least a part of it) is teeming with spaceships (a statement that cannot be proved) but there are none (a statement which is true and is an observed conclusion in real life). This leads to the Fermi Paradox. Though Mr. Fermi didn’t propose this paradox (he had an explanation which said that “the others” didn’t have ample technology to come and meet us), it was named after him. The name was given by another physicist, David G. Stephenson, discussing the possible explanations for this Paradox in his paper.
Though some say this isn’t technically a paradox, it has led to wide discussions and aided research on the Extraterrestrials.
SOME HYPOTHETICAL SOLUTIONS FOR THE FERMI PARADOX:
Many explanations and hypotheses have been proposed by numerous scientists and people. Some intriguing ones are summarized below:
“Others” haven’t developed the tech to cross galaxies:
The other dwellers in the universe, similar to ourselves, have not yet developed powerful spaceships, which can traverse the length and breadth of galaxies.
They don’t care about us:
Or simply put, the “others” are far too technologically advanced to even acknowledge our presence in this universe. For an analogy consider this, when we cut down forests, we don’t care about the biosphere (ants, squirrels, exotic trees species etc.) whose survival depends on those trees. So, the E.T.s may not consider ‘us’ as a civilization worth visiting.
We are in a secluded spot in our galaxy:
The universe is unimaginably large and massive. It’s huge, gigantic and adding any number of adjectives wouldn’t suffice to describe its complexity and sheer vastness. We might be located in a “secluded spot” and this might be the reason hindering our contact with any other life form. Life might only exist in small pockets which remain hidden from other such pockets. This might also explain why we aren’t receiving any response from the radio signals we are sending into deep space.
We are the first advanced civilization:
Another possible explanation is that we might be the very first civilization to even think about the “others”. All other life forms might be in their primitive stages of development. So it will take aeons for them to start sending messages, and by the time that happens, the survival of our own civilization is improbable.
The ‘Simulation’ argument which questions our very existence has been in hype ever since the Wachowskis directed the ‘Matrix Trilogy’. According to this argument we are all a computer simulation and the original program for our simulation wasn’t designed to include aliens. Believers of this argument reason that our successors are running a simulation of their ancestors (us) and we are a result of that. Many people approve this argument. Elon Musk’s statement, “The strongest argument for us probably being in a simulation I think is the following, 40 years ago we had Pong – two rectangles and a dot. That’s where we were. Now 40 years later we have photorealistic, 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously and it’s getting better every year. And soon we’ll have virtual reality, we’ll have augmented reality. If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will become indistinguishable from reality, just indistinguishable.”, which also seems possible and makes many great minds of today wonder if we really are a simulation.
The ‘Great Filters’ concept is one of the most plausible solutions to the ‘Fermi Paradox’. Life, right from its inception, must pass through many steps to evolve to the next stage. The diverse life forms we observe today all evolved from a single celled organism. It took millions of years for these single celled organisms to develop into the flora and fauna we see today. So, all life forms in any place must pass through a series of tests put up by nature to survive. The single celled organisms must become multicellular, these multicellular organisms have to progress to form organs, and finally they have to become sentient beings with brains. This whole process is tenacious, as Darwin rightly said, ‘Only the fittest survive’. So, the reason that we haven’t observed any aliens is that they might have been erased from existence by the ‘Great Filter’.
We humans have come to this level, passing through these filters (such as epidemics, wars,etc.) and we must continue to evade these filters to ensure the survival of humanity. Right now, some scientists consider ‘Climate Change’ to be an upcoming Great Filter.
It’s not a mere coincidence that life probably exists only on Earth. It is our innate nature to ask questions and find answers, and we all have the same questions Edmund Kirsch had in Dan Brown’s novel, “Origin”;
"Where did we come from?"
"Where are we going?"
Right now, numerous scientists are working together to find E.T.s and communicate with them. The SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), is an amalgam of scientists, engineers, experts and is the top gun in the field. Scientists from NASA predict that intelligent alien life will be found within the next 20 years.
If we are the first species to make contact with life forms in other planets, we can help them advance their technology. If they find us first, they might help us progress by sharing their knowledge and by helping us solve our scientific problems. There is also the possibility that they could try to colonize us. The future is a puzzle yet to be deciphered, and all we can do is sit back and enjoy the ride.
Watch these 2 videos about Fermi Paradox from the YouTube channel ‘Kurzgesagt’
- The Fermi Paradox — Where Are All The Aliens? (1/2)
- The Fermi Paradox II — Solutions and Ideas – Where Are All The Aliens?
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Featured Image Courtesy: Hello Games