Before my vacation last week, I endured some type of writer’s block that started around the end of Spring Training. It feels like it’s subsiding now, but in the interim I decided a good way to force my way through it would be to produce more regular post types here. In the past I’ve generally been wary of getting too locked into any format or schedule for a variety of reasons. But I generally enjoy discussing good Wikipedia finds, so I decided that Wikipedia Wednesday had a nice ring to it and I should start making “From the Wikipedia” posts weekly on hump day. Only then yesterday came and I didn’t get to it.
None of that much matters to you, but if you stumble upon a funny or interesting or bizarre Wikipedia page, please send it my way. It doesn’t need to be as exhaustive as this one.
From the Wikipedia: The Fermi Paradox.
The Fermi Paradox refers to the apparent contradiction between the high probability of other intelligent life in the universe and our wholesale lack of evidence of that intelligent life. It is named for the great physicist Enrico Fermi, who interrupted an otherwise pleasant 1950 lunch conversation with some of his physicist buddies by blurting, “Where is everybody?”
Fermi was awesome at math, so scientists took him more seriously than they did the stoned guys who had been asking the same question since the earliest documented evidence of dorm-room couches. The Wikipedia offers thousands of words’ worth of possible explanations for why we have not seen any evidence of intelligent extraterrestrial life. Some of them make a lot of sense, some of them suck.
The Fermi Paradox hinges on the fact that our sun is one of about 200-400 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy and (by recent estimates) 300 sextillion stars in the known universe. 300,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. So the Rare Earth hypothesis, which suggests that no other intelligent life has developed anywhere in the universe, doesn’t seem to hold up. Certainly the series of longshots that ended in the existence of ABC’s Wipeout were unlikely, but since we know for sure they happened this one time, it seems like they have to be better than one in 300 sextillion. I’ve mentioned this before: This just can’t be the best the universe has to offer and it’s selfish of us to think so. Probably somewhere else, very far away, some other form of being is watching its kind get hit in the junk with stuff on some way, way more awesome type of TV.
Other bad explanations for the Fermi Paradox include the zoo hypothesis and the planetarium hypothesis. The former posits that there are many types of super-intelligent extraterrestrial beings and they’ve all agreed to avoid human civilization until we reach a certain point in our development. It’s basically from Star Trek, and it’s stupid. C’mon. Extraterrestrial civilizations are going to be that advanced and organized without enough curiosity to at least give us a flyby? They’ve mastered interstellar travel and interspecies communication and every single alien is on board with not messing with Earth? I don’t buy it.
The planetarium hypothesis says that the perceived universe is a simulated reality created for us by other beings that appears to be empty of other life by design. Or what if, like, our whole universe is just one cell in an inconceivably large being in a much bigger universe, and that whole universe is itself just one cell in an even larger being in a larger universe, and what if our cells have little universes inside them too? The planetarium hypothesis, again, seems way too self-important. Also, if someone wanted to set it up to look like we were alone, why would they bother creating 300 sextillion other stars?
There are a bunch of really good explanations for the Fermi Paradox too. Most of them boil down to this: We’re almost infinitesimally small in this universe and we’ve existed in it for an almost infinitesimally short time. Also, in terms of interstellar transport and communication, we suck. And we are our only current concept of an intelligent civilization, so all our presumptions about intelligent civilizations are based on a sample of one.
Say some alien spaceship did manage to fly to Earth? What are the chances it would have happened in the course of recorded human history? The Big Bang happened about 13.75 billion years ago, the planet formed about 4.54 billion years ago and human civilization is about 10,000 years old. Dinosaurs dominated earth for 135 million years! It’s way more likely that if aliens ever landed here — multiple times even — all they saw were dinosaurs, and they were all, “oh holy s—, dude, run! They’ve got dinosaurs!”
People say if there were other civilizations out there, we should be able to pick up their radio transmissions, detect their industrial pollution, or observe the light they produce because those are things we do. But maybe they don’t transmit radio waves because they’re advanced enough to know most of what’s on the radio sucks. And maybe they’re past pollution or their version of pollution doesn’t resemble anything we understand, and maybe they don’t even see or exist in the spectrum of visual light. Bro. Bro.
No disrespect to Fermi, but to me it seems pretty silly to wonder why we haven’t observed intelligent life with our pathetic human eyes and technology in the puny amount of time we’ve actually been looking. We fancy ourselves intelligent, and we’ve made it to the moon. The moon. The next closest galaxy is 2.5 million light years away, whereas the moon is .0000000406 light years away. If the Andromeda Galaxy is Florida and we’re walking there, we haven’t even leaned forward yet.
“we should be able to pick up their radio transmissions, detect their industrial pollution, or observe the light they produce because those are things we do”
The other problem with these is that we actually cannot do those things yet.