The Fermi paradox explained at last


The Fermi paradox is a question: if other intelligent alien life is present in the universe, why aren’t they here?*

Even if we postulate large numbers of aliens with the technology to visit Earth, we can now explain why they aren’t saying hello. We’ve been broadcasting idiocy into space.

During a recent conference that focused on the possibilities and implications of long-term space flight, a German professor made an attempt at applying Christian theology to extraterrestrial aliens, leading him to ask the question “Did Jesus die for Klingons too?”

We’ve moved so far beyond speculating about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Now we’re wondering how many Jesii exist in the galaxy.

If other life forms exist in our universe, he said, we should try to understand why Jesus chose to save those from Earth over other civilized life forms from other planets.

Did God reserve his grace solely for Earthlings and abandon the rest of the intelligent creatures in the universe? If not, how did God deal with the sin problem on multiple planets?

One possibility he mentioned is that God-incarnate visited each of the civilized planets and saved each of the races that inhabited them separately.

In order for that to be possible, however, he says multiple incarnations of God would have to exist at the same time. Assuming each incarnation took about 30 years, and based on how long civilizations are expected to survive, he estimates that there would have to be approximately 250 incarnations of God present in the universe at any given time to cover the sins of each civilization.

So picture the poor bewildered aliens parked out there in the Oort cloud, proposing to send a diplomatic mission to Earth. They aren’t worried about us as a threat — star-faring civilizations aren’t going to be intimidated by a species that has barely been able to wobble a handful of missions to their moon, and is even rethinking their space program — but they are going to be considering the other implications of contact. “The humans…next thing you know, the Seventh Day Adventists will be knocking on our doors on Saturday mornings to hand out tracts; the Catholics will be building special schools and flooding our courts with Jesuits; and the Baptists will be telling us we can’t bezorp the paramales with our deedloids or we’ll burn in Hell. And their arguments will be so stupid. Scratch the contact mission, I don’t think we can handle the exasperation!”

And so the earth orbits alone around its star, abandoned and avoided by the more sensible species of the galaxy, like the creepy born-again Jesus-freak at school with the glassy eyes who you avoid having a conversation with because all he wants to talk about is the Bible. Damn you, religion! It’s your fault we can’t commune with the great minds of the galaxy!


*It’s not really a paradox. It’s an observation that can be explained by the idea that technological intelligence is very rare, and so widely dispersed that communication, let alone travel, between them is unlikely.

Comments

  1. NitricAcid says

    Just be glad they’re not here trying to convince us that the Mighty Zarglamma underwent cryptothenesis for our sins, and we must start tithing to the Great Grubblschick, immediately, and retroactively to Zeta 1.

  2. Alexis says

    I have wondered how alien life would view the first intelligible communications from Earth…”I Love Lucy”, “The Honeymooners”, “Milton Berle”, etc. Is this the best we could do?

  3. says

    Intelligent Design works perfectly well with that, too, because you could just design one Jeebus and mass produce them, possibly with nail holes conveniently placed in the hands and feet (OK, pedants, probably wrists instead of hands).

    After all, Jesus no doubt had as many of the marks of “design” as anyone else does (forget for now that it’s none), so it all comes out in the end.

    But then you always would have to ask if it’s just Chuck Testa instead of Jeebus.

    Glen Davidson

  4. Dianne says

    Alternate theory: Why should the aliens bother with a bunch of heathen that don’t worship the Winslow and are therefore beyond saving anyway? There’s no particular reason to believe that an alien species, even a more technically advanced one, would necessarily be saner or more sensible than we are.

  5. Gregory Greenwood says

    I fear that the first communication from intelligent aliens encountering Earth may translate as “Arrrghhh! Teh Stoopid! It burns!”

  6. Excentricat says

    Why is it assumed that all the alien races would need saving from sin anyway. Maybe they never ate the fruit. Maybe lack of sin saved so much time and resources that it’s the reason they’re more advanced then us. That would certainly be an argument against contacting us.

  7. Gregory says

    It seems to me that there is a huge, unwarranted assumption that intelligent beings on other worlds would have their own Jesus equivalent. What if, in the Garden of Xyk’roqq on Ceti Omicron 3, neither Tmlorist nor Bbbbbb ate the qprn? If there is no Fall, then there is no need for a savior, correct? What if God planted thousands of Gardens, and Earth is the only one that failed the test?

    Wouldn’t that be a pin to the ego.

  8. The Lorax says

    The question, “Why is there no intelligent life interested in us?” answers itself.

    Some day, maybe, when our species grows up, we’ll be welcomed among the stars.

  9. Dianne says

    Some day, maybe, when our species grows up, we’ll be welcomed among the stars.

    Keep dreaming! If the aliens are enough like humans for us to have anything to say to each other, their initial interest in Earth will probably be as new real estate. We’ll be the annoying natives that keep whining about having been here first and not appreciating the vast benefits that A&ebomifel! technology has brought us.

  10. says

    Why is it assumed that all the alien races would need saving from sin anyway. Maybe they never ate the fruit. Maybe lack of sin saved so much time and resources that it’s the reason they’re more advanced then us. That would certainly be an argument against contacting us.

    … or their whole fall/redemption thing runs on another cycle entirely, and many of them have already had their apocalypse…

    Fuck. I just started a whole new sect, didn’t I?

    (/Oh well. Followers, you may commence sending a tenth of your income to me, the chief prophet of ‘staggered xenoeschatology’, at the following address… Cashier’s cheques only, thanks…)

  11. Alex, Tyrant of Skepsis says

    I suspect that on Qo’nos, Jesus met the business end of a Bat’leth when he accidentally turned water into Romulan ale, and that was the end of that mission.

    Btw, apparently the PROFESSOR forgot that there was Kahless the Unforgettable.

  12. says

    I always presumed that the inherent ethical concerns with contacting a less advanced species (do you teach them, cure their diseases, etc etc can quickly lead to a quagmire of responsibility causing you to stick around for a long time) ensures that everyone tries to avoid it and just ignores any life signs they see.

  13. Rey Fox says

    Why should the aliens bother with a bunch of heathen that don’t worship the Winslow and are therefore beyond saving anyway?

    I know his performance in the 1982 AFC Divisional playoff game was impressive, but I just don’t think it was divine.

  14. Eric R says

    Pray that there’s intelligent life, somewhere out in space, cause there’s bugger all here down on earth.

    QFT

  15. Russell says

    Why should the Klingons come 4,000 light-years when the Bayreuth opera is sold out and all we’ve named after Kailas is one lousy mountain in Tibet ?

  16. Carlie says

    I have wondered how alien life would view the first intelligible communications from Earth…”I Love Lucy”, “The Honeymooners”, “Milton Berle”, etc. Is this the best we could do?

    Actually, I believe the first broadcast we sent out was Hitler.

    Therefore, we immediately Godwinned the universe.

  17. says

    well, if Harry Harrison’s The Streets Of Ashkelon is the alternative, I’d say they’re better off cordoning us off ’til we grow out of the god bullshit…

  18. amphiox says

    To paraphrase Calvin and Hobbes, perhaps the surest sign that there is intelligent life elsewhere out there is that none of it has ever tried to contact us.

  19. First Approximation says

    No Such Thing As Space Jesus

    Maybe God isn’t going into aliens, but is in facts an alien. Like the Vorlons from Babylon 5, who visited primitive cultures as religious figures to meddle around with them. (What? Makes about as much sense than the creator of the universe/son of the creator of the universe dying on a cross to appease himself.)

    Actually, I believe the first broadcast we sent out was Hitler.

    Therefore, we immediately Godwinned the universe.

    :D

    Btw, apparently the PROFESSOR forgot that there was Kahless the Unforgettable.

    Yeah, and he returned, although it wasn’t so armageddony as they say clone human Jesus’ return will be.

  20. says

    This may sound a little bit weird,
    but I hope someday it is clear.
    We’ll find evidence
    of intelligence
    ’cause there’s fuck all of it here.

    Saw a story about this on MSNBC a couple days ago. The religionists said that if there is intelligent life out there, they would believe in the same gods we have here. Which gods? All of ’em, of course. Gotta be inclusive.

  21. says

    We’ve been broadcasting radio and television for the last hundred years or so, which means that there’s an expanding sphere of inanity surrounding our solar system which is currently over two hundred light years in diameter. We can thus assume that any alien intelligence within a hundred light years or so has already been warned about us.

  22. Brain Hertz says

    They aren’t worried about us as a threat — star-faring civilizations aren’t going to be intimidated by a species that has barely been able to wobble a handful of missions to their moon, and is even rethinking their space program…

    Actually, from the point of view of aliens looking at the human species, our space program is running full speed ahead. Primarily in a large nation-state in Asia.

  23. Iain says

    Why is it assumed that all the alien races would need saving from sin anyway.

    That was my initial thought. If a theologian assumes that all races need to be “saved,” then apparently he or she considers that sin is universal rather than a fault of humanity. Apparently God’s creations are destined to fail.

  24. Lupe A says

    “I suggest a different, even darker solution to the Paradox. Basically, I think the aliens don’t blow themselves up; they just get addicted to computer games. They forget to send radio signals or colonize space because they’re too busy with runaway consumerism and virtual-reality narcissism. They don’t need Sentinels to enslave them in a Matrix; they do it to themselves, just as we are doing today.”

    http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/why_we_havent_met_any_aliens/

  25. MudPuddles says

    The Fermi paradox never made sense to me. The fact that any intelligent civilisation in a far flung part of the universe could ask the exact same question and therefore wonder do we exist, shows its a daft puzzle. There could potentiaslly be hundreds or thousands of Earth human-like civilisations (in terms of their technilogical development) in the universe right now, and it could be that none of us knows the other is there. The argument “if there was other intelligent life it would have found us by now” is nonsense.

  26. Valis says

    star-faring civilizations aren’t going to be intimidated by a species that has barely been able to wobble a handful of missions to their moon, and is even rethinking their space program

    This statement makes no sense. It’s only the Americans who are re-thinking their space program, not the vast, vast, vast majority (96%) of our species (who happen to NOT be American).

    Or are you trying to imply that only Americans are human?

  27. JJ says

    Well, what if other intelligent beings never did the whole ‘eat from the tree of knowledge’ and never had original sin? No need for jebus to save ’em.

  28. Tulse says

    “Excuse me — I’d just like to ask a question…What does God need with an incarnation?”

  29. Ichthyic says

    Now we’re wondering how many Jesii exist in the galaxy

    Lots.

    Master Yoda has trained hundreds of Jedi warriors to spread knowledge of the force throughout the galaxy and beyond.

    what?

  30. Stevarious says

    I rather think the answer to the paradox is this (paraphrased from Carl Sagan):

    Every intelligent species goes through the stage we are at now. We have the ability to completely destroy ourselves, and a prevalent wacky religious mindset required to want to completely destroy ourselves. The aliens are just waiting to see if we DO destroy ourselves, or if we actually grow up and become a rational species that’s worthy of joining the intergalactic community.

  31. uncle frogy says

    I was going to say that along with “I Love Lucy” and “Uncle Milty” we would also be sending out The house UN-American committee with its wonderful chairman but I forgot about Hitler. The point is the same though we have been broadcasting along with the ridicules sit-coms and sports a vast array of belligerent paranoid BS, A warning indeed!
    stay away from us man we are still bug f’n nuts!
    like the film I have seen from Gambia of the chimp running around bashing an empty 5gal oil can and hollering.

    uncle frogy

  32. P Smith says

    “Did feces christ die for klingons?”, that’s a good one.

    Regardless of whether life elsehwere is ever heard from or not, the religitards are going to claim “proof” of their idiotic position. If there isn’t life, then we’re “god’s special creation”. If there is other life, then “god is so powerful he can create other life”. It’s like nailing jelly to a cross.

    As for whether “god” had other science projects on other planets, Tatsuya Yashida said in his comic, Sinfest:

    http://www.sinfest.net/archive_page.php?comicID=215

    .

  33. Ichthyic says

    They’ll get here. And then, it’ll have to go…

    of course.

    Bypasses don’t build themselves you know.

  34. Chrisj says

    There are quite a few answers, of which the simplest is that (unless you assume faster-than-light transport) travelling through interstellar space is hard, and slow, and requires massive investment. So even if an alien species recognised our first ever broadcasts as communication, and makes a huge effort to conquergreet every new species they spot, we wouldn’t expect to see any visitors for hundreds of years.

  35. Dianne says

    If I could wish for one terribly improbable but not quite impossible thing to occur in my lifetime it would be for the Fermi paradox to be disproven and some aliens to show up. I don’t really care if they’re here to conquer or save humanity or just looking for tasty snacks. I just want to know how really alternate biochemistry works. Everything here is just…DNA. Well, apart from some RNA and the occasional reproducing protein. But it’s all hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen and carbon over and over again. Yawn.

  36. Marci Kiser says

    I’m pretty sure both Ray Bradbury and Philip Jose Farmer tackled this one, essentially turning Jesus into a traveling salesman who’s never able to finish his job, because new species keep popping into existence faster and at farther distances than he can get to them.

  37. NitricAcid says

    I approve of the good professor’s work. It’s not an original idea (it dates back to the time when people realized that Venus and Jupiter were planets like Earth, rather than wandering stars), but it’s a good thought experiment to remind people of how batshit crazy the whole redeeming-our-sins nonsense is.

    Doesn’t Mormonism revolve around the idea that Saviors are constantly born? God creates a world for humans to live on, they sin, a savior is born, crucified and resurrected, and then goes on to create a new world for the cycle to begin again. Some versions I’ve heard have every really good (male) Mormon eventually turning into a savior for some distant planet.

  38. JustaTech says

    I read a great short story once (sorry, don’t remember title or author) about the explorers from Earth who find a fried planet that once held a lovely, beautiful civilization that was wiped out in a supernova that just so happened to be the star of Bethlaham. They take it quite poorly, esp their chaplin.

    Therefore, space travel==bad for religions, so that’s why no one has come knocking yet.

  39. Zinc Avenger says

    No, no, no. There only appears to be ~250 Jeebii active at one time, but if you assume a perfectly spherical, frictionless Jeebus that can exceed the speed of light there can be only one.

    Therefore, God.

  40. Stevarious says

    Here’s what I want to know. What if we find a race of arsenic-based aliens? If humans started worshiping their arsenic Jeebus, would the Host become toxic?

  41. J_Alan says

    @NitricAcid

    From what I remember of my Mormon Theology they believe that Jesus died for everyone in the universe. The earth being especially selected of all worlds to have a savior born here.

    Should you be a good enough Mormon to become a God (Mormons believe that Jesus and God are completely separate individuals) in the afterlife, you would create your own universe, populate it with your own spirit-children and need to sleep with one of them, once they are born onto one of your planets, to create a demigod savior for your own universe.

    Makes perfect sense right?

  42. Stevarious says

    @J_Alan

    Aw, man, I’m sold on Mormonism! Mainstream Xtianity just wanted to sell me two mansions in the afterlife. Mormonism wants to give me a whole universe!

  43. =8)-DX says

    Maybe the Jeebus uses neutrino transportation to fulfill the sinning needs of all people’s at once?

  44. Tulse says

    Makes perfect sense right?

    No less so that any religious belief. After all, the Mormons don’t eat Jesus in a cracker.

  45. Outrage Zombie says

    I was raised Seventh-Day Adventist (back before I developed enough of a backbone backbone to tell my parents and church I was an atheist, and to screw off), and what we were taught was that of all the inhabited planets god created, only Earth had fucked up. Depending on who was teaching us that day, the story split between:
    – Earth exiled, and all aliens stay away for our own good, with just god’s invisible angels swarming everywhere to keep track of our various sins, to battle with satan’s own army of invisible angels, and to occasionally deliver a puppy or a cute kid from a catastrophic event that killed hundreds, unscathed, so the news could have a feel-good miracle story and people would be reassured that god cared about them.
    – Earth basically banished to another plane of existence, otherwise we’d be able to observe all the alien civilizations on Venus and Mars, and so on. Because god wouldn’t just create a planet and let it go to waste. Also invisible angel armies, dinosaurs are a complete fiction created by satanists, the pre-deluge Earth was protected by a solid shell of water up in the atmosphere; and god will send our 7th-grade teacher to hell for explaining the theory of evolution to us, instead of pretending, like a good little drone, that no such word even existed.

    Of course, depending on which brand of christianity a person practices, the entirety of what I was taught was a hell-worthy heresy. But yeah, the god-botherers have been coming up with “modern” explanations for things like aliens, other worlds, and the universal application of whatever the hell sin is supposed to be for awhile, and the outcome is always hilarious.

  46. Zinc Avenger says

    @ =8)-DX:

    The fifth (and unifying) force, Jeebusism, is capable of action at a distance not constrained by light-speed. It doesn’t interact with any of the other known forces or particles, with the sole exception of the sin particle (the damnon) which is found in nature in one of the seven cardinalities of damnons: Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. Jeebusism causes the damnon to spontaneously become a virtuon, with an accompanying release of energy in the form of grace radiation.

    Independent observers have noted the existence of sub-damnonic particles, but not fully cataloged them yet as they appear to multiply when observed. These include hypocrisy, dishonesty, self-righteousness, and prejudice. Some observers have noted that although the current theory suggests that under the influence of Jeebusism damnons and sub-damnons should be repelled, they are instead attracted and indeed somehow gain mass.

  47. raven says

    Some versions I’ve heard have every really good (male) Mormon eventually turning into a savior for some distant planet.

    Not some versions. THE TRUE VERSION.

    You are already in danger of losing your future godhood (if male, women are just nameless celestial babymakers).

    Male SuperMormons become gods and get their own planet. Which they populate by mating with their fleet of nameless goddess wives who give birth to spirit babies who cycle down to earth for some reason. That is what the polygamy is for. In other words, the new Mormon gods spend a lot of their time fucking. The goddesses spend a lot of time pregnant and giving birth to billions of spirit babies.

    You would never guess that Mormonism was invented by an overage adolescent male now, would you?

    The Mormon god isn’t much of a god. He was just a person once, just like we are who climbed the celestial Mormon ladder and got his own planet as a prize. There are an unknown but large number of other gods with their own planets. This is Mormon monotheism. Jesus is just a dead guy who got deputized. Satan is jesus’s brother. Which is no big deal, we are all jesus’s and satan’s brothers and sisters.

    It isn’t much like a lot of current xianity which is why they are often considered heretics.

    PS Just so you know, your heavenly god-father currently lives on planet Kolob.

  48. Outrage Zombie says

    Keep dreaming! If the aliens are enough like humans for us to have anything to say to each other, their initial interest in Earth will probably be as new real estate. We’ll be the annoying natives that keep whining about having been here first and not appreciating the vast benefits that A&ebomifel! technology has brought us.

    I’d be more worried about being screwed over and exploited in trade.
    If there are aliens out there that are enough like us to find out planet livable, and they have the technology to travel immense distances through space, and they know about Earth — and they either have an interest in visiting Earth that is great enough to justify the insane effort of traveling here, or their method of interstellar travel somehow allows them to travel unbelievable distances with ease and impossible speed– it seems we’d be of greater interest as trading partners, as material for whatever passes for entertainment back home, as a tourism spot, or as a new destination for the alien equivalent of anthropologists.
    There are tons of planets out there; if a civilization is advanced enough to travel between them easily, it seems reasonable to me to think that they’d be able to find whatever they’re looking for, materials or colonization-wise, on planets that aren’t already occupied. Planets with intelligent inhabitants would probably be more valuable because of what their unique civilization and ecosystem can produce.

    We’d be like a third world country, in other words. Come to Earth! See the freaky natives-so like us (but not, thank fDsogth!) Buy some Earth-trinkets! Tour shops where the Earth-people work at producing your new, extremely expensive and exclusive furniture set from exotic native materials for slave wages! Audition for the new slprtz-cast krwa: “This is my new domicile wherein some of my housemates are Earth people, and I’m trapped on Earth, and HOLY CRAP are things messed up because this is not my home planet!” (it sounds much better in the original language, trust me).

  49. Dianne says

    There are tons of planets out there; if a civilization is advanced enough to travel between them easily, it seems reasonable to me to think that they’d be able to find whatever they’re looking for, materials or colonization-wise, on planets that aren’t already occupied.

    Maybe. What if space travel is not easy, but is possible for a sufficiently advanced civilization, and conditions are so bad on the home planet that people are willing to go out in barely deep space worthy ships and head for possibly habitable planets just to get away? If they require earth-like conditions to live (approx same temp, oxygen atmosphere, lots of water, etc) and terraforming is harder than we think (i.e. is actually harder than deep space travel) then places like Earth which have close to the right conditions might be quite interesting as colonies. And not very interesting at all as trading partners.

    It really all comes down to what the species in question needs most: lebensraum, entertainment, cheap labor, etc. But I find pure disinterested philanthropy to be a highly unlikely motive for any hypothetical race.

  50. says

    There’s nothing original about this question at all. This sort of questionhave been discussed for centuries by various Christian theologians.

    Michael Crowe’s book “The Extraterrestrial Life Debate: 1750-1900” has a very good of the historical attitudes among scientists, philosophers and theologians in trying to deal with this sort of issue.

  51. says

    well, I went to Target because they were having a sale on lamps and I always thought a lot of lamps looked like aliens. Well, everybody else must have thought the same thing because the parking lot was packed and I almost got a space a couple of times but sombody always beat me to it so I went home. But, we could communicate with alien lamps. Plug them in and

  52. claimthehighground says

    IF there are other life forms out there, and IF they could find us in our remote backwater of the galaxy, and IF they gave a crap…why do we always anthropomorphize their intentions, capabilities, and interests? Hubris? Fear? Faith? Too much time on our hands?

  53. Chris says

    We’ve been broadcasting radio and television for the last hundred years or so, which means that there’s an expanding sphere of inanity surrounding our solar system which is currently over two hundred light years in diameter.

    Sadly, these broadcasts fall victim to signal/noise issues, and can’t be received as intelligible signals at stellar distances. At most, an alien listener might notice that the radio brightness of our star increased a bit in the last century or so, although I’ve read recently that even that might not be obvious at those distances.

  54. Lyra says

    I find it very interesting that he assumes aliens are subject to sin. This isn’t something that has to be true (as if any of it is true, pssh), and many theologians do not make this assumption.

  55. says

    Here’s what really happens when we first encounter aliens, and someone mentions Jesus:

    “Jesus! That flarganoker spend time here? You poor Earthers! His whole routine is to visit primitive planets, pretend to be a god or two, and watch the havoc that results from his ‘teachings.’ Seriously, our planet? He turned up about 4000 cycles ago, and his god routine ended up starting the worst religious war we had. Millions dead! Betcha he promoted that whole ‘Second Coming’ glagnackle too when he was here! If he does show up, shoot him. It won’t kill him, his species is incredibly hard to kill. But it will chase him away. Once the scam is revealed he goes for easier pickings.”

  56. Stevarious says

    Or howabout:
    “Jesus? Oh, yeah, great guy, we gave him a basket of chocolate covered fnargs and a backrub when he came the first time, so now he stops by every couple of weeks and blesses everybody with infinite health and wealth. Why, what did you guys give him?”

  57. Nemo says

    I once read an SF story about alien incarnations of Jesus: “The Gospel According to Gamaliel Crucis”. It featured Jesus as a kind of giant praying mantis.

    It’s a lot better than it sounds.

  58. NitricAcid says

    IF there are other life forms out there, and IF they could find us in our remote backwater of the galaxy, and IF they gave a crap…why do we always anthropomorphize their intentions, capabilities, and interests

    Because anthropomorphized intentions and interests make sense to us, while truly alien ones may be incomprehensible.

  59. Das Boese says

    Woah, that was supposed to be just a link. I guess whatever software FTB uses embeds video automatically, which is awesome, but needs a big fat warning.

    Putting it into a link (will hopefully work) in case PZ doesn’t like embedded video.
    Dawkins & Tyson on intelligent aliens

  60. Stardrake says

    Klingons don’t need Jeebus!

    Klingons have no devil.
    But they are familiar with the habits of ours.

    (“Day Of The Dove”, act 1)

  61. jaredlessl says

    The problem with citing distance as the solution to the Fermi paradox is that time is a distance as well, one that cuts both ways. The galaxy is 13 billion years old, and has been producing Sol-like stars for most of that time. I.e., there could have been intelligent, space-faring aliens when the sun and Earth were still just dust clouds.

    If interstellar space travel is at _all_ possible, and civilizations do not _uniformly_ do some kind of Singularity trick or otherwise lose interest in exploration and colonizing other stars, then some hypothetical race would be able to scout and colonize the entire galaxy in the twinkling of an eye, comparatively speaking. 30-40 million years, tops, to reach every star in the Milky Way.

    Humans have been running around for even less time, so it’s clearly not a desire to keep from interfering with us that keeps them hidden. People have suggested the “zoo preserve” explanation. Which requires us to believe that an alien race that is busy colonizing the galaxy is leaving alone a perfectly habitable solar system that, until quite recently, had no intelligent life on it, and has kept this self-imposed quarantine with 100% reliability for several million or billion years.

    Yes, space is big, and all the interesting stuff is far apart. But if aliens do exist, it’s actually overwhelmingly likely they’ve had a lot, a lot longer to work on the problem than we have.

  62. jaredlessl says

    TNG Devil’s Due says they have a Charon equivalent, Fek’lhr. And DS9’s You Are Cordially Invited says that Klingons are so awesome that deicide was their first act after their creation.

    Which, I gotta admit, is a much cooler mythology than “Oh lord, I am pathetic and wretched, pity me and listen to my incessant whining”.

  63. lofgren says

    As I understand it, there is really only a very narrow band of loose detectable radiation emanating from a planet during the earliest phases of its telecommunications/industrial revolutions. If you assume that any advanced civilization would improve its technology at roughly the rate that we have, the worst of the energy leakage would likely have been contained well before it became detectable to us. Even if we are lucky enough that one of these bands of loose radiation passes through us during the period that we are looking for it, it would likely be so decayed that it would be difficult to distinguish from background noise.

    Unless a civilization specifically targets our corner of the universe with some kind of signal, we would never know they are there.

  64. anchor says

    Trying to figure out why any aliens would ever want to be “parked out there in the Oort cloud”.

    http://www.astro.princeton.edu/universe/

    Are they maybe partial to nitrogen popsicles that have the subtle yet broadly distinctive isotopic flavor of our particular Solar System, or do they prefer to hang around (“park”) as far away as they possibly can from the target stars and their planetary systems they putatively strive to visit without actually being in interstellar space…or have I missed something?

    I mean, while we’re in a science fictiony mood, and accounting for potential super-advanced technological wherewithal, why wouldn’t they burst in on us from the Earth’s core, where they could hide out or surreptitiously monitor us far more effectively than they ever could from a seat in the Oort Cloud (drat those sensitive infrared space telescopes the primitives have a habit of launching), and where there is considerably better material accomodations, not to mention proximity?

  65. khms says


    Duplicate comment detected; it looks as though you’ve already said that!

    No shit, Sherlock! Now if this had actually gone somewhere (should have appeared between #51 and #52) … so let’s try again:

    -still no go. Maybe it chokes on the news: url?
    – no joy. Ok, eliminate
    all urls …

    As I understand it, the main argument that makes the Fermi paradox interesting goes approximately like this:

    We seem to be “fairly close” – maybe a few centuries – to being able to start (sub-light) missions to other stars. It doesn’t actually seem to need revolutionary new technology, just improving what we already have.

    Now, if we posit a model where we send out missions to our stellar neighbors, then spend a few centuries building up a tech base there, and repeat, how long until we reach the other side of the galaxy? That’s approximately 100 000 light years, so if we manage to crawl along at one light year every thousand years, we’d need 100 million years.

    That is approximately half the time our sun spends for one orbit of the galaxy.

    Remember the age of the earth is a number of billions of years. Suppose there’s some other world in this galaxy with a roughly similar history, a hundred million years more or less isn’t much of a difference. Assuming we have, for example, half a dozen “earths” in this galaxy, it seems that at least one of those should have had more than enough time to arrive here.

    So, why can’t we find any?

    There are, of course, a number of possible answers. Technological species might be incredibly rare, and the distance therefore much larger than suggested above – say, no more than one per galaxy. Or, we might actually be the first, thus we’ll arrive at their door step some future day, not they at ours. Stuff like that. (Those seem actually to be the best two.)

    There are also a large number of bad (as in exceedingly unlikely) answers, pretty much all of which go “suppose X goes wrong with this scenario” – they never get started, they go extinct by nuclear war, whatever – which are bad because they rely on every candidate falling in that specific trap, and not a single candidate escaping the problem.

    Oh, and just to point out the obvious: no, the argument does not assume faster-than-light travel. Or cultural continuity over large distances and times. Or that reaching the other side of the galaxy follows some plan. Or even everyone in a culture convinced that sending out such missions makes sense – could be a small, rich minority, for example.

    (For much more discussion of this topic, see any archives of rec.arts.sf.science, such as Google Groups (https://groups.google.com/group/rec.arts.sf.science/search?q=Fermi+paradox) … and prepare to spend a lot of time.)

  66. khms says

    Um. So WordPress chokes on https: written as <a>? I seem to recall using these before without problems … weird.

  67. MarkD555 says

    Considering our Sun is only a 2nd or 3rd generation star since the beginning of the universe, and 1st generation stars would have no elements heavier than iron (Super nova required to produce) ruling out life as we know it and for that matter most chemistry… we might be early starters. Scary thought.

  68. Birger Johansson says

    You have already mentioned “Jesus the traveling salesman” explanation (Ray Bradbury, Philip Jose Farmer) and Arthur C Clarke’s The Star.

    Stanislaw Lem’s last SF novel, “Fiasco” (1986) about First Contact addressed the religious paradoxes in detail (including species who *normally *reproduce through partogenesis, thus making the immaculate conception trivial).

  69. lofgren says

    Assuming we have, for example, half a dozen “earths” in this galaxy, it seems that at least one of those should have had more than enough time to arrive here.

    Well it seems like the obvious response would be that it seems like at least one of them would have had more than enough time to arrive somewhere, but why would we assume that one would be here, now (for a value of now that runs from the start of recorded history to the present)?

  70. jaredlessl says

    > more than enough time to arrive somewhere, but why would we assume that one would be here, now

    Because life tends to spread outward. Even assuming the most tepid, cautious, and conservative spread through the stars, a spacefaring race would eventually arrive _everywhere_, and would actually do so pretty quickly by evolutionary timescales. With maybe 10 billion years of galactic history to play with, the odds that _every_ other intelligent, spacefaring race evolved too recently (the past few million years) to spread to every last nook and cranny are pretty low.

    > 1st generation stars would have no elements heavier than iron (Super nova required to produce) ruling out life as we know it and for that matter most chemistry

    Except those Population III stars would all have been incredibly massive and thus have had short lifespans. They’d have been blasting heavy elements into the cosmos almost immediately. The next batch, Population II, are merely metal poor, not metal-nonexistent. And we don’t really know enough to say for sure that coreless planets couldn’t develop life.

  71. dartigen says

    We are all making the assumption that any alien life is intelligent enough to comprehend religion, much less have the technology to pick up our radio signals.
    Honestly? I’m expecting at best maybe the intelligence level of a cat or a dog, if that.

    And we’re assuming that they’re even looking for us, and that they know where to look. If you don’t know where to look first, your odds of finding what you’re looking for in an area as big as the universe are pretty much zero.

    If there are intelligent alien civilizations, they’re so far away we’ll never find them. Remember, it takes thousands of years for light to travel between galaxies, and shuttles travel a lot slower than the speed of light. It would be impossible – even with the use of a generation ship – to ever reach another galaxy. And while I am making a big assumption, I’d assume that again, the aliens are facing the same or similar limitations as us. (And we’re not lucky enough to have element zero or Stargates in the real world.)
    But considering how even humans can’t get along with other humans, that’s probably a good thing.

  72. lofgren says

    With maybe 10 billion years of galactic history to play with, the odds that _every_ other intelligent, spacefaring race evolved too recently (the past few million years) to spread to every last nook and cranny are pretty low.

    I find this simply unbelievable. Life congregates where life is viable. Most of space, for most of the existence of most species, would be extremely hostile to those life forms. With all of space to explore, why would they squat in places that are not attractive to them? We’re not talking about any possible species, we’re talking about technologically advanced species with space travel. We have only a single data point for technology based species, and zero data points for long-distance space-faring races. To propose that they MUST be in all places at all times is a gross abuse of statistics.

    It’s fair to say that this planet is teeming with mosquitoes. My town is teeming with mosquitoes. My yard is teeming with mosquitoes. My house has at least a few, even as I type. Yet there are no mosquitoes on my desk, right now. Statistically, there are more than enough mosquitoes to say that if they were spread out equally over the planet, there would probably be one right here right now. But for a number of very good reasons, there aren’t any. It’s the wrong time of day. It’s the wrong temperature. It’s late in the season, so their populations are depleted compared to their height in this area. The windows are closed so any new mosquitoes seeking to arrive would have to navigate a complicated route to get here. Even if they new the way, there are more abundant and available food sources, closer to the environment where they reproduce, and in an atmosphere so much more comfortable for them that it is almost certainly not worth it for them to come here. They are actually better off staying where they are, despite all of the competition with other mosquitoes, than they are traveling to my lonely corner of their galaxy.

    We know nothing about these putative races: what they need, what they want, how far they are willing to go to get it, what their technology requires, nothing. What could our particular solar system have that they could possibly want? If the answer is “As of the last time they passed us by, nothing,” then we shouldn’t assume that they are in any rush to come back. Like the mosquitoes, there may be millions of intelligent races squatting in a tiny backwater swamp of the universe, because once they got there it was far more advantageous for them to sit tight than for them come (back) poking around here.

  73. jaredlessl says

    > To propose that they MUST be in all places at all times is a gross abuse of statistics.

    Humans once numbered in the thousands, limited to a small area in and around western Asia. In the 70,000 years since the Toba catastrophe, we have expanded to the point where there are 7 billion of us, we occupy nearly every part of the land area, and even in those parts of the planet that we don’t live in, evidence of our existence is easy to find.

    Every species on Earth has followed this same pattern. If it is at all possible for it to expand into a new habitat, it will. To claim that every single alien intelligence is going to be the stay-at-home type when not one species we know of on Earth follows that rule is absurd. Forget the aliens “acting like us”, what about them “acting like the expansionist self-replicators commonly known as ‘life'”?

    What possible reason would aliens have for _not_ taking a permanent interest in the Solar System? It’s got plenty of asteroids and comets and rocky planets to mine, it’s got gas giants for fuel and volatiles, it’s got a nice, stable star, it’s got 3 planets in the Goldilocks zone. And yet there is not the slightest shred of evidence that anything else has ever been here. As we keep having to repeat, even a sedate pace of expansion with technology only slightly more advanced than today’s could see humans filling the entire galaxy in less than 100 million years.

  74. lofgren says

    we have expanded to the point where there are 7 billion of us, we occupy nearly every part of the land area,

    Keyword being “nearly.” And despite the fact that there are 7 billion of us, millions of us huddle together in extremely close proximity to each other. It’s entirely possible, despite all 7 billion of us, for many individual animals, maybe even entire species, to go their entire existence without encountering a human. This is not a paradox, it’s a result of how those animals behave and how we behave.

    and even in those parts of the planet that we don’t live in, evidence of our existence is easy to find.

    I suppose I could accept that given that you know what to look for, evidence of human habitation is easy to find. But I am not convinced that a new species of sapient merpeople who have never left the depths of ocean would “easily” detect our existence. Even the bits of plastic and old tires that sink to their sightless depths would seem to be just another part of their environment, unless they had some history recording a time when there were no bottles or shipwrecks on the ocean floor.

    What possible reason would aliens have for _not_ taking a permanent interest in the Solar System?

    The answer is that I don’t know and neither do you, and it’s dishonest to call it a paradox unless there is any reason to believe one way or the other. When it comes to parts of the galaxy that we have scoured with sufficient detail to determine that there is very likely no life there, we’re talking about staring intently at a few cubic feet of ocean and exclaiming that because there have been no humans there in the past half hour, we have a human paradox.

    As we keep having to repeat, even a sedate pace of expansion with technology only slightly more advanced than today’s could see humans filling the entire galaxy in less than 100 million years.

    But they won’t be standing shoulder to shoulder filling every square inch of it, not even every square inch of every planet habitable by humans. They will behave as humans do, and live in tight clusters that are heavily dependent on each other. And hopefully we as a species will have grown up enough by then that we won’t be leaving heaps of trash everywhere we go. If at all possible, I would very much like for us to be less detectable in places that we do not habit. Maybe the aliens are just very ecologically aware. It would hardly be surprising if the species that do manage to avoid catastrophic collapse do so by becoming extremely sensitive to the fragility of foreign ecosystems. Just because we’ve barely outgrown slash and burn expansionism doesn’t mean that every race out there spent a few million years in the same boat. For all we know it’s a requirement to develop stable long-term space exploration. Hell, the statement that humans will expand into the rest of the galaxy over the next 100 million years is itself conjecture. To repeat myself, data points on technological races: 1. Data points on long-term space-faring races: 0. That’s not enough evidence to even form a hypothesis, let alone posit a paradox.

  75. David Marjanović, OM says

    Fermi paradox? Rare Earth. There may be intelligent life out there, but not much.

    (I like how in Star Trek: Enterprise T’Pol says only one of every 43,000 planets harbors intelligent life.)

    I hold it with Neil Tyson:

    I agree that the difference in intelligence between chimps and us is actually rather small.

    … we might be early starters. Scary thought.

    Why scary?

  76. David Marjanović, OM says

    Every species on Earth has followed this same pattern. If it is at all possible for it to expand into a new habitat, it will. To claim that every single alien intelligence is going to be the stay-at-home type when not one species we know of on Earth follows that rule is absurd. Forget the aliens “acting like us”, what about them “acting like the expansionist self-replicators commonly known as ‘life’”?

    I can’t see why you think this is a valid analogy. For interstellar spreading, assuming warp is impossible*, which intelligence would decide that it’s worth the incredible effort? We aren’t talking about individuals walking on foot to the next patch of fertile soil without even knowing where they’re going.

    * Or impractical because it requires insane amounts of energy.

  77. inflection says

    My personal daydream on this one is that if religion is bothersome to aliens, they probably have thought-complexes that would be equally dangerous to us (as well as each other).

    So relations between the various species get handled covertly by communication between the local immunes — on Earth, that means the atheists. We’re the ones that recruit agents and handle communications with other civilizations.

  78. Stuart Bradley says

    “and is even rethinking their space program ”
    America is not the whole world.