… THE COMPANY THAT NEVER CAME ….
This might not be my best post. But what’s the point of HAVING a blog if you can’t rant about intelligent life in the universe. No need to indulge me. If it’s boring, you can tune out. It’s OK.
After we got ourselves into orbit and had had a look around, we realized that any intelligent civilizations in our solar system must be very shy. If they’re here, they’re hidden in planetary cores and have pulled the antennas in after them. So, pragmatists that we are, we turned the search for company outward and started a systematic radio search (called SETI) of other solar systems . This has continued for decades and has been completely fruitless; it is, frankly, discouraging.
Some time ago, Enrico Fermi asked a question. Pointing to the large number of solar systems much older than our own where civilizations should be much more advanced than ours, he asked why we haven’t had a single contact. After all, they’ve had time to send radio signals over galactic distances or to even travel great distances themselves. So why no aliens? Could it be that we are truly alone?
The more we study our plight here on earth, the more we understand how lucky we have been. The parade of life-snuffers is amazing. Rocks and ice (asteroids and comets) rain down. Some of this debris is larger than a mountain and would explode with enough energy to cleans all surface life. We are quite sure this has happened before. Add gamma rays, volcanic eruptions, tidal waves, planetary wobble, and other threats that are much too numerous to list, and “miracle” isn’t too strong a word to describe the fact that we’ve had a more-or-less continuous civilization hereto. Is this the hand of God? Or luck? If it’s luck, it could run out any time.
So, generalizing from our own planet (always iffy), though there’s reasonable evidence that life can get started spontaneously and with some ease there’s also good evidence that evolution is frequently “reset” by unwelcome events. Could be lots of bugs out there in the universe. Not so many smarties.
Unless such luck is widespread in the universe, our rivals may not have made it past the last surface cleansing blast. It may be rarer than we ever imagined to survive till you figure out rockets.
Still. As we look for planets, we’re finding out they’re SO very common that at least a few of them should have some lucky survivors like us. So what’s the deal then? Where’re or buddies? Here are some thoughts on this matter that could explain “Fermi’s Paradox”:
1. We want to know if we’re alone. It’s an obsession with us. Alone, alone, alone. Where IS everybody???? But maybe other civilizations don’t think about it this way? Maybe a “normal” civilization doesn’t FEEL so lonely. Although we romanticize the concrete benefits of contacting another civilization, imagining that they will teach us about perpetual life and the meaning of existence, our first encounter’ll probably be a big fat disappointment. Could be another government boondoggle. And..
2. we might actually regret the contact. We ( again, romanticizing), think that they, being old and wise, are probably gentle and loving. But they might want to eat us. Or, at least, steal our food. Perhaps a “normal” civilization is more cautious about putting its address out all over the galactic Internet the way we do; they may not fall all over themselves to answer our signals.
3. Here’s a good one. Our progress toward becoming a technical civilization, capable of communicating with others, seems tied to our mastery of science. We tend to assume that other smarties would share this cultural feature. But science seems to have been “discovered” just once on our planet. It was “lost” for many (dark) generations and then, eventually, rediscovered (as opposed to reinvented). Is science really inevitable? Maybe smart civilizations focus on art, poetry, or philosophy. THAT’LL cut down the competition for rocket fuel. Technical civilizations may be very, very rare.
4. Maybe space travel between stars isn’t realistic – even for advanced civilizations. While there’s a common perception (Star Trek, Asimov, etc) that you need some kinda “warp drive” to scoot around the universe at great speeds, this is really a misunderstanding of Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity. As a matter of fact, you CAN keep your foot on the throttle all right, going faster and faster, and faster. While it would look to an observer on the planet from which you departed as though you can’t quite reach light speed, you could, in fact, reach speeds that would propel you across galaxies. Just don’t plan on going back . The clock on your planet of departure will have raced into the future while you’re gone and all your contemporaries will pass away before you finish breakfast. THAT’S the impact of “The Special Theory”.
So why not then? If they’re willing to cut the ties with their home planets, why wouldn’t they have shown up here?
Some reasons. 1) I don’t know what THEIR politicians are like, but imagine getting ours to fund a big, expensive expedition that has ABSOLUTELY no payback for the home planet because we vanish and are never heard from again. They pay, we play. I don’t THINK so. 2) I said relativity wouldn’t prevent the trip. I didn’t say there are no obstacles. As a matter of fact, once you boost up your speed relative to the debris you are passing by, you are in terrible danger. The collision energy is a square of the collision speed. We don’t see too many objects going by us at faster than about 100,000 mph. I wonder why? Could it be that very fast objects, inevitably, hit SOME li’l fragment of rock and get blowed up? That would be my guess. Add to this, gamma radiation and God knows what else, and intergallatic travel may be more romance than realism – even for very advanced civilizations.
As far as communications go, maybe, once again, advanced civilizations don’t see much POINT in “communications” that take hundreds or thousands of years. Could you blame them? The more I think about it, our own desperation for confirmation that we’re not alone, may very well not be common. If it isn’t, don’t look for “them” to be appropriating large funds for “radio beacons”.
There’s also the “zoo” theory – that they want to protect us from ourselves till we’re “ready”. But the zoo theory implies coordinated behavior and shared goals by beings thousands of light years away from one another – tough to believe in this. Much easier to believe, however, is the self-preservation theory. Assuming that most beings got that way by some form of natural selection, they, like us, may have some degree of surviving predatory behavior. A wise civilization might be more intent on HIDING it’s presence than advertising it.