September 15, 2020

The Fermi Paradox and You

This from Andrei Piriutko:

What has been humanity’s greatest achievement?


The World is Doing Better than Ever; Here's Why You Never Hear About It

When you boil it all down, survival is, and will continue to be, the most important thing ever achieved by humanity.

All our other big achievements have merely been in pursuit of survival. Farming led to fewer people dying of starvation. Medicine means fewer people die of disease. Diplomacy means fewer people die in wars.

All these achievements lead back to survival.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the way in which you survive is also incredibly important. But in order to lead a life you enjoy, and pursue meaningful endeavours, you need to be alive in the first place.

Without survival, we have nothing. Which is why I find the Fermi paradox so fascinating.

If you’re not aware of the Fermi paradox, here’s a short explainer courtesy of Wikipedia:

(But be warned, you may never think about your life in quite the same way again after you learn about it.)

There is no reliable evidence aliens have visited Earth and we have observed no intelligent extraterrestria l life with current technology nor has SETI found any transmissions from other civilizations. The Universe, apart from the Earth, seems "dead”; Hanson states:

Our planet and solar system, however, don’t look substantially colonized by advanced competitive life from the stars, and neither does anything else we see. To the contrary, we have had great success at explaining the behavior of our planet and solar system, nearby stars, our galaxy, and even other galaxies, via simple "dead” physical processes, rather than the complex purposeful processes of advanced life.

Life is expected to expand to fill all available niches. With technology such as self-replicatin g spacecraft, these niches would include neighboring star systems and even, on longer time scales which are still small compared to the age of the universe, other galaxies. Hanson notes, "If such advanced life had substantially colonized our planet, we would know it by now.”
The fascinating part, for me, is when you start to think about why the universe seems "dead”. And in particular, I’m drawn to an explanation known as the "Great Filter”.

Have we already survived the great filter, or will it turn out to be our one true test?

If there really are no aliens, this then means there must be a point in the development of life that is very, very difficult to get through.

This event is known as the Great Filter.

The idea of the Great Filter was hypothesised by physicist Robert Hanson, who has become since become famous for it.

Hanson describes nine stages a lifeform must go through before it can expand out into the universe.

1) The right star system (including organics and potentially habitable planets)
2) Reproductive molecules (eg, RNA)
3) Simple (prokaryotic) single-cell life
4) Complex (eukaryotic) single-cell life
5) Sexual reproduction
6) Multi-cell life
7) Tool-using animals with big brains
8 )Where we are now.
9) Colonisation explosion.

A word from Tim:

And bear in mind nine out of every ten stars are red dwarves. Red Dwarf suns are the oldest in the universe as they burn low and slow. But they generally don't put out much energy, and a planet warm enough for life would likely be so close as to be airless thanks to the solar wind. Also, most red stars are flare suns, and being close would fry any life not in the oceans Sea life is unlikely to develop a technologically advanced civilization as they would not have fire or electricity or the things we have. So it may be alien life is just at the level as are we. Bear in mind the universe is HUUUGGGEE. If you use a basketball to represent the Earth's sun you would put Neptune about nine feet away (using a one to one ratio based on the size of a basketball) but you would put a second basketball to represent Alpha Centauri A where? If you had the first ball in Boston you would place the second ball in Omaha, Nebraska. Yeah; it's THAT far! Nobody is going jaunting around the universe like in Star Trek. IF there would be any interstellar travel at all (and it might be impossible given the amount of debris and dust in space) it would be a civilization-wide effort and undertaken for a serious reason (like your star is going nova.) BUT that doesn't mean we wouldn't see evidence of them; radio transmissions, for instance. On Earth we put out as much radio chatter as a small star; that would stick out like a sore thumb to aliens. So if they are out there they are a long way away.

And as Andrei observes, most life on Earth is extinct. That is the natural order of life; it rises, flourishes, then dies off. We think our intelligence will spare us that, but why should we? Other great creatures came and probably thought likewise (if they thought at all) because of whatever attribute they had. They are all gone.

And the greater our power the more likely we are to kill ourselves off with it. Diseases killed a lot of people over time, but now we are using Crispr technology to make new ones. Real smart. Ditto nuclear bombs. And we have no idea where computer technology will lead; we might find a way to make ourselves extinct with it. (Anybody remember the Fred Saberhagen's stories about Berserkers?)

Every day you get out of bed is a victory.

Posted by: Timothy Birdnow at 10:17 AM | No Comments | Add Comment
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