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The Solution to Fermi's Paradox
Alex Steffen, 9 May 06

One of the biggest questions about humanity's place in the universe is "are we alone?" And if we're not alone, how come no one calls? That is, how come we haven't heard from an alien civilization yet? That question, known as Fermi's paradox, has plagued big-thinkers for decades. But Geoffrey Miller thinks he knows the answer:they're too busy playing videogames.

It looks, then, as if we can answer Fermi in two ways. Perhaps our current science over-estimates the likelihood of extra-terrestrial intelligence evolving. Or, perhaps evolved technical intelligence has some deep tendency to be self-limiting, even self-exterminating. After Hiroshima, some suggested that any aliens bright enough to make colonizing space ships would be bright enough to make thermonuclear bombs, and would use them on each other sooner or later. Maybe extra-terrestrial intelligence always blows itself up. Indeed, Fermi's Paradox became, for a while, a cautionary tale about Cold War geopolitics.

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.

It's a great if curmudgeonly read, with some deep implications regarding the task of building a bright green future, including this gem of a thought -- "Fitness-faking technology tends to evolve much faster than our psychological resistance to it." (If that doesn't make sense to you, read the piece.)

(via Saheli)

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Comments

I pondered this and came up with a very simple reason why no one calls.

Remember first of all the only wau we would hear it is if it were both powerful enough for us to hear and directed at us or omnidirectional.

The fundamental problem then is if anyone is high tech enough to come here we cant hear them unless they want us to.

AND unless they are very nearby anyopne of our tech level or lower cant hear us and we cant hear them.

In short people are greatly overestimating how far alien signals will trvel and we can hear them. We dont transmit alot of multi gigawatt signals after all and even that will get mighty weak after even a few dozen light years...

So how likely is it to pick up DIRECTED low power signels beamed at a planet elsewhere?

MOST space based signels will be DIRECTED to reduce power needs and boost signal.. so wxactly what signels are we expecting to listen in on? Tv? Radio? We are already going to satalite radio and sat tv is taking over. It wont be long before the entire planet goes signal dead as far as far off listening is concerned.

In short the entire ky could be full of life and we wouldnt know it.

ALSO a side bit thats even more important.

An advanced race likely has concured aging... Now what is 100 years to a being that lives 100000? For all we know some geek scientist in a space ship right now is playing a 300 year long game of space empires 30030 and will only go look at the instruments in 2074 after he wins. Or he could have reported us already as being smarter then rocks and its waiting publication in a mag tghat publishes every 500 years...

And then again would anyone care that we exist? Or would it just be a small blip on the late night news.. in other news a probe in sector 5957 discovered semi intelligent life. First indications are its very ugly short lived and bites. Now onto sports!


Posted by: wintermane on 9 May 06

Philosopher Nick Bostrom of the Oxford Future of Humanity institute (http://www.nickbostrom.com/) believes there is a change we are already living in a computer simulation created by an ancestor race that likes to play. Considering the fact that we are already building computer simulations, online worlds like Secondlife, it might not be such a strange idea that we are living in a Matrix ourselves and that we may we day become an ancestor race ourselves. That we are alone in the universe could be because the creator, the 'God' of the simulation we call reality has simply chosen to run this simulation without any other alien races. Perhaps because this time he was simply bored simulating universes with galactic battles between alien races. Only God knows.


Posted by: Mark van Doorn on 10 May 06

Assuming this is not a simulation, I would bet the reason we have not heard from extraterrestrial intelligences is because they don't exist at our level long enough to be interested in contacting us.

Consider the human race...if we manage to avoid destroying ourselves, where do you think we will be (technologically speaking) in one hundred thousand years? Again, assuming we continue to experience an exponential curve for technological advances, in one hundred thousand years we will be so far advanced from where we are now that it is unimaginable. In one hundred thousand years, future humanity is not going to be interested in communicating with present day humanity, just as today we are not interested in trying to communicate with slime mold. At best, future humanity will observe without interfering (or maybe even covertly control). At worst, future humanity may not even consider life at our present level to be intelligent. In one hundred thousand years, we may not even be life as we define it today.

The point is, the chances of two civilizations being at relatively the same developmental stage we find ourselves right now at the same time, and be physically close enough in this mind bogglingly huge universe to find each other, are so slim as to be effectively nill. The speed of development of our one example of intelligent life (us) shows this to be the case.

If this is a simulation, then never mind.


Posted by: David on 10 May 06

There is of course the other option. They already passed by and concidered us too boring to stay around and watch.


Posted by: wintermane on 10 May 06

i am reading since years the messages at

http://www.paoweb.com

and

believe that there are many sorts of intelligent extraterristic beings in our sphere active

it may have to do how we as humanity in general would welcome the open first contact

and if we would be councious enough to neither fight them nor celebrate them as gods

if we could see them as galactic fellow beings who would like to help us use our full potential

in such a way, we do not owe them anything and we not have to feel guilt because they might show us technologies which we would have found alone perhaps only within the next fifty years

( altough ... there are technologies here since years and decades which were and still are partly surpressed because of money-concerned interests )

mmmh... me, i would like to welcome our fellow galactic brothers/sisters and get rid of our self limiting structures and shook of the suffering causing power hirarchy

freedom trough partnership

freedom trough mindfull environmental friendly technology

freedom trough creative, self-centered behaviour


Posted by: andreas buechel on 11 May 06

Sorry, I don't buy Geoff's argument.

He's positing a similarity between human and extraterrestrial cultures that may not exist. These creatures may be highly intelligent, they may have advanced technology but yet they may be motivated by desires incomprehensible to us.

This tendency towards couch potatos, bread and circuses and lotus blossom eating might be a uniquely human foible. It would be a mistake to extrapolate cosmic tendencies from one data point--humanity.

I also think it's dangerous how quickly he dismisses the potential for violent destruction now that the end of the Cold War has lessened tensions somewhat. Who can say for certain there won't be a nuclear war in the future by new rival powers--never mind the potential for nanoweapons?

The SETI is a dismal science because it lacks any observational or experimental data. The theories run rampant without any way for us check them against the facts.

I say it's still too premature to explain why there is a silence. The universe is enormous. The time scales are staggering. It's still entirely possible that we haven't been searching long enough yet. We are looking at ancient light. It's entirely possible that the current state of universe is highly artificial, with stars and galaxies lined up like street grids, and we don't know it yet because the light is old. 40 years is nothing.


Posted by: Pace Arko on 11 May 06

It does not seem likely for beings to contact us in our own language. Since the EMF spectrum is rather big. The language they have, if they do have a language that is, would most likely not even be similar at all to our own. The language could even be static to our own view. The only way of contact, would be physical and direct viewing of some entity. That is if we don't mistake them for something else like a rock.


Posted by: James Orman on 15 May 06



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