Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Fermi Paradox

Hi everyone, and thanks for stopping by! My name is Stephen Tremp and I blog over at Breakthrough Blogs, mainly on science, science fiction, writing, promoting, and miscellaneous stuff. In keeping with my current mini-series theme of Aliens, I'd like to re-post an article from last year by Rusty Webb as he discusses a most fascinating subject: The Fermi Paradox. Take it away Rusty ...

To understand the context a bit better we need to think back to when European explorers started exploring the Pacific Ocean in earnest, a most curious thing met them at almost every stop they made: People.

Where did they come from?

People spilled out of Southeast Asia thousands of years ago. They spread across the great ocean on little more than rafts, hopping from island to island, most likely facing starvation and death from exposure as they drifted off into the great unknown to see what was out there. Within a relatively short period of time they’d covered the Pacific Ocean from New Zealand to Easter Island to Hawaii. Hundreds of islands, all full of people.

If we look at into the night sky and think of each star as an island in the pacific the question arises, if we go and explore, will we once again discover that someone has been there before us? Hopping from planet to planet like the Polynesians did here on earth so long ago?

We should. Well, we should if life is out there. In fact, they shouldn’t just be out there – they should be here.

And if we, people that is, decided to head for the stars now, or even if we waited a century to two to get the engineering issues that make space travel difficult sorted out – we could cover every habitable nook and cranny of our galaxy – a hundred billion stars – in as little as a few million years. A blink of an eye when compared to the age of the galaxy itself. It doesn’t require made up technologies and lightspeed vessels. We know how to do this.

So then, if there are aliens out there, anywhere in our hundred billion stars in the night sky – or have been at any time in the past 10 billion years – and even one race, one species of aliens, burst out from their home and into the starry night, then everywhere we look in the heavens should be the home of an interstellar civilization. If more than one civilization arose and did the same, then space would be very crowded.

So where is everyone?
Enrico Fermi thought the very same thing, and most stories say he blurted out the question while having lunch with colleagues. They should be out there, they should be here.

But they’re not, at least not in a way we can recognize.

There’s no shortage of possible answers. Many books have graced the shelves of our local libraries and bookstores on the topic. But no one knows.

So I ask you. Where is everyone?

You can visit Rusty at his blog The Blutonian Death Egg.

As always, thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoyed Rusty’s post. I sure did. And I invite you to stop by my Website at Breakthrough Blogs for my Aliens series. We’ll cover many topics beyond little green men. See you there!


A Daft Scots Lass said...

On my way.

Li said...

Maybe they're avoiding us! (How embarrassing). :-) I'll go check out the Death Egg Blog and see if the answer is there...


I'll be going over later.


PR said...

I have a few aliens in my non-existent attic. That's a very good question though. I think they are out there, and like us they may be searching, just not in the right places :)

Karen Baldwin said...

I think it naive to think we're the ONLY ones in the universe. Where is everyone else? Dunno. Maybe in a different realm or dimension.

Jo said...

What a fascinating concept, I had never heard it before. Maybe we are the ones who are destined to create the Fermi Paradox in space.

Tina said...

I've always been fascinated by this topic. I think they're out there, but they're waiting for us to catch up to their technology. Watch Firefly, Dr. Who, and for laughs, nerds, and little green men, Paul.
Tina @ Life is Good
Post A-Z Road trip!

Anonymous said...

It think it is interesting how we carry our "them and us" mentality right off this planet and apply it to worlds beyond. black and white, red and brown, catholic and protestant, human and alien.....shouldn't it just be "life"? Where is the life? It IS right here.
Who's to say that some of the life forms on this planet didn't arrive in the form of seeds and cells on a rogue asteroid that crashed into earth?
Oh well..I'm coffee yet.

Anonymous said...

Thanks everyone for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed the post. Maybe they're on their way right now. We could be their next stop.

Pat Carroll Marcantel said...

Ah, Others. Where art thous? We're waiting, we're listening, we're looking. Oh, in case you're planning a nighttime visit which will include waking me up, I need my rest. Go and visit Hollywood. That bunch will give you a "run for your money."

Arlee Bird said...

They're here. If they are smart enough to get here, they are smart enough to keep quiet until they're ready to take over. Stealth is the most effective weapon of an invading force.

An A to Z Co-Host
Tossing It Out

Michael said...

That's the real question, where are they?

A littttttttle bit off topic but I always hate how in movies where aliens invade us, they act like we would stand a chance. I mean if the aliens had the technology to travel 1000's of light-years (which is an INSANE task) do they really think we would stand a chance with our weapons?

I would like to think we have enough time to explore all the galaxies and find out an answer but I don't know if we can realistically. The universe is just too insanely massive, even beyond description.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Maybe they're on lunch break?

Jo said...

Cheer me up do, Lee.

Anonymous said...

Pat, great comment! Thanks.

Arlee, I agree. We always see the big mother ship in movies. But I think they would send a biological agent to thin the population before showing themselves.

Matt, not only that, it keeps expanding at ludicrous speed.

Alex, if so, they must be union aliens.

Rob Z Tobor said...

Any life form clever enough to travel those distances in space is clever enough to make one hell of a bomb.

So we should be looking for the remains of aliens

Lynn Proctor said...

see that's what i said, just what lee said--they could be here and we don't know it :)

Briane said...

I'm going to break this into two parts because I'm limited to 4,096 characters per comment:

Part One:

As usual, Rusty, your intellect leaves my head spinning. As does the spider on your blog post today. But more your intellect.

I admire your knowing and thinking about this stuff. I do not admire Fermi the same way because he's wrong.

Or at least not demonstrably right, which is the same thing, in science.

What about this? Right off the top of my head as I eat the "Reese's Peanut Butter Cup" that is in my lunch today rather than yogurt which tells me that Sweetie is now classifying foods the way I taught her and I'm "eating healthy" only in my mind:

(still with me?)

Conditions, we know, must be pretty optimal for the development of life.

Conditions, we suspect, were not very optimal for much of the time in the universe.

Humans arose on our planet 2,700,000 years ago (acccording to Paul Simon's song "Old" which I take as scientifically valid because it mentioned rocket ships).

If we postulate (If I, as a trial lawyer whose scientific education ended in 10th grade with Mr Gill making him dissect frogs and subsequently being parodied in a skit in Spanish class, postulate) that the universe wasn't in a state for LIFE to form until 2,700,000 years ago, then we could assume --

-- dark matter is an assumption, so suck it, scientists --

we could assume that if life exists elsewhere in the Universe, it, too, began about 2,700,000 years ago in a form that we would call "sapient," or "human-equivalent."

So while we were learning to be upright apes 2,700,000 years ago, somewhere on Zarmina's World, superintelligent shades of blue were learning to be upright superintelligent shades of blue.

2,700,000 years later, we've figured out how to hurl pieces of metal into space for short periods of time.

That's as far as we've gotten.

In 2,700,000 years.

Why would other lifeforms have arisen before we did? Was there something about the universe, millions of years ago, that made it LIKELY that life could form somewhere? It was clearly not capable of forming on OUR planet until then.

Why would other lifeforms have evolved FASTER than us? They have the same physical laws as we do. Is there something about Zarmina's World or some other planet that makes it MORE likely that people will get better, sooner, at hurling metal objects into space?

In short: There may be an infinite number of planets out there, each of which has an intelligent dominant species that is currently celebrating a private company having successfully hurled a metal box into orbit, and each of which has a smug, overthinking scientist named Fermi (or Superintelligent Shade Of Fermi) who for some reason thinks that the cosmic forces which combined to form US, and our metal-hurling ways, for some reason worked FASTER on all the other planets in the universe.

Laws of nature aren't laws of man. They don't operate differently based on where you're located.

So where are the others? They're all sitting on their world asking the same question.

Briane said...

Part two:

The difference in the Pacific Islanders and the Europeans who found them was that while all the humans found the technology about the same time -- "Hey! Wood floats! Let's sail around!" -- differences in geography led to earlier exploration. If you live on a tiny island in the middle of the ocean, it's pretty hard for you to believe that your island is IT and you'll drop off the ocean if you sail more than a few yards out.

That's pretty harder to believe if you know there's, like, forty islands around you, so you go exploring for more and you find them because they're NOT THAT FAR AWAY, relatively speaking.

On the other hand, Europeans, who'd learned wood floats, used it to sail only around where they knew and they never sailed anywhere else because their world -- a big land mass surrounded by water-- led them to misunderstand the nature of the universe.

Comparatively, if there is a world out there where they have a habitable moon and a bunch of habitable planets no farther than, say, Mars, that system has probably already colonized all those worlds and is the "Pacific Islander" Fermi envisioned.

Let's remember: those Pacific Islanders didn't discover EUROPE, did they? They weren't longboating it across the Atlantic, so when you ask "Where are they?" you might as well ask "Why the heck did they wait until we found them?"

Let's also remember that Native Americans were here when "we" got here because they WALKED. If a planet had formed within walking distance of Earth in the past and life grew there, we'd have found it here, too.

In short: Fermi compared apples to oranges, and then made a bunch of assumptions that ran COMPLETELY CONTRARY to everything he could observe.

He could OBSERVE that it took 2,700,000 years for life to reach the point where it could launch things into near space, but he ASSUMED that those same processes worked faster -- much much much faster-- somewhere else.

This is how we got dark matter.



They oughtta rename "Fermilab" to "Pagellab."

I will probably expand on this at some point on my own blog, but that's my off-the-cuff, got-to-get-back to work thoughts.

PT Dilloway said...

@Pagel: I think part of the assumption that there should be more advanced lifeforms is that the Earth is positioned sort of out in the sticks of the Milky Way galaxy, so other planets might have formed, cooled, etc. earlier.

Plus in our development you had that asteroid or whatever killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. If that hadn't happened we might have superintelligent lizards flying through space to find other superintelligent lizards right now.

But I can't really disagree with you since your argument is pretty much what one character makes in my book "Where You Belong" on why he thinks UFOs aren't real.

Jo said...

This has stimulated some interesting conversation hasn't it? I like the thought of intelligent dinosaurs. It is a valid point.

Anonymous said...

Thanks again everyone for stopping by. Never a dull moment with this topic. I expect much of the same with the Gap Theory mini-series that's on the horizon.

Briane said...


If Earth is further out, it cooled faster, so we're in the vanguard of intelligent life, not trailing it.

I'm not sure that dinosaurs would've evolved brains. Evolution occurs more or less randomly, based on combinations of DNA that produce beneficial new traits that take advantage of some niche in the ecosystem. Where ecosystems rarely change (like in the desert) some species have done away with sexual reproduction and its evolutionary benefits altogether.

The point being: Dinosaurs were at the top of their game and had tiny brains. I suppose over the next 2,700,000 years, genetic lotteries could have produced smarter and smarter dinosaurs that would be more productive, but what's the incentive to use a tool when you're a T.Rex? We used tools because we couldn't do very much without them.

Jo said...

Seems like you've thought about this a lot Briane. You have several blogs, which one includes this kind of thinking?

Arlee Bird said...

Stephen- Looking forward to the series on the Gap Theory. This should be very interesting. I've not heard too much expounded up this topic, but it is a very logical theory that would answer a lot of questions posed by anti-creationists.

An A to Z Co-Host
Tossing It Out

klahanie said...

They are amongst us in a different reality, a different dimension. It is a question of interacting with the other dimensions to find this reality which to some, may be unreality.
That's right, I have no idea what I'm talking about.
Oh and Steve, thanks for becoming my friend on 'Farcebook' everyone's favourite social 'notworking' site :)
Happy writing,

Anonymous said...

Ah, we have additional dimensions brought into the equation. Very good. Perhaps an advanced intelligent species has found a way to move in and out of dimensions beyond our perceived three-spatial dimensional world.

Anonymous said...

Ah, we have additional dimensions brought into the equation. Very good. Perhaps an advanced intelligent species has found a way to move in and out of dimensions beyond our perceived three-spatial dimensional world.

AbeOrigine said...

The polynesians are descended from Native Americans and the Pacific was populated from the opposite direction stated in some of these inane comments.

In addition it only takes 700 million years for hominids to evolve which they have done three times in the Earth's life cycle.

I have explained how we got here but am fed up of repeating myself so you will just have to work it out for yourselves.

I knew we shouldn't have giveb monkeys larger brains but oh no, God said it will be fine....women!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Lee, Steve and Rusty - great post - and just so logical .. because as you say the way we spread, or evolved in the first place.

I like Gary's idea of dimensions - synchronicity is all we're looking for - then the world will certainly be crowded ...

Very interesting - this is going to be a great theme .. cheers Hilary

Tina said...

I think they're out there, and that maybe they're avoiding us because we've done a terrible job taking care of our planet and its people. "Skip Earth, they're rude." I've always been fascinated by this topic and will head over to the Death Egg. Meanwhile folks, see Paul. If you like laughs, nerds, and aliens.
Tina @ Life is Good
Post A-Z Road trip!