July 28, 2010

668 words 4 mins read

Fermi's Paradox “solved” by killing civilizations?

Yesterday, I saw an article, titled The Fermi Paradox, Phase Changes and Intergalactic Colonisation, come across the wire that was about the (You guessed it) Fermi Paradox. For those that don’t know, the Fermi Paradox (originally asked by Enrico Fermi in 1950) is the question that if Extraterrestrial life should be so common, why don’t we see more evidence of it. So either intelligent life isn’t common or something is happening to it. The article “answering” the paradox basically says that civilizations will collapse and die after a time. So not only would we need to be near by one of these ET civilizations, we’d need to catch them at just the right time. This “answer” is crap.

I’m sorry for being so blunt on a topic that I’m obviously not an expert on, but where’s the support? With the exception of civilizations on Earth, we’ve got nothing to backup the idea that civilizations will eventually collapse and die off. Sure, civilizations here on Earth have collapsed, but they always get replaced with something else. The “answer” basically states that the entire species will die/kill itself off, always. Sure, we had a Nuclear Cold War which could have just as easily become hot (followed by some intense cold). We would have nuked ourselves out of existence, so I’m not disagreeing that it isn’t possible… but every single galactic civilization, every single time? Complete crap.

Simply by reading science fiction and having a semi-active imagination, you can come up with a dozen more likely explanations as to why we can’t hear an alien civilization. Now I’m not saying any of these explain why we can’t hear any ETs, but they do explain at least some.

If you take a look at Jack McDevitt’s Academy Series, basically he states that there is a giant death cloud roaming about, looking for “non-natural” architecture and destroying it. Fairly odd, but is actually a better answer to Fermi’s Paradox than the “answer” in the aforementioned article. Why? Because it doesn’t presume that every civilization will behave like humans and try to annihilate themselves… or simply somehow fall apart.

Another source you can look at for answers is Star Trek. They run around using “Subspace” communications. They are a highly advanced civilization that spans a fair portion of the Milky Way (NOTE: not even remotely close to the entire thing), and all of their communications is done with “not-radio”. They could be warping right past us, and we’d never know they were there. In fact, the idea of a Prime Directive and non-interference provides them with a reason to go out of their way to avoid giving themselves away to us.

One of my other favorites is a series of books by Ian Douglas. In the Heritage/Legacy/Inheritance trilogies, we follow a group of Space Marines over the course of thousands of years, who answer this paradox. For me the answer is actually twofold. Douglas’ primary answer is that there is a group of xenophobic robot aliens running about, starting a war/destroying any semi-advanced civilization they hear from. Also, down the line they create QED (Quantum Entanglement Devices) based communications. Instant, across the universe, untappable, communication. Again, not radio. How are we (real humans, in 2010) supposed to pick up Quantum Entanglement (which is a real Quantum Mechanics concept) based communication, which in theory only exists at 2 points of the entire universe? We can’t.

My thought to the Fermi Paradox is that either we are early on evolutionary scale (after all, who’s to say that life isn’t common, it is simply that we came first), or possibly that using radio as a form of communication is rare. Maybe in some arcs of the galaxy there is too much interference from celestial bodies (pulsars, stars, novas, etc) to actually use radio? There are a lot of possible answers to the Fermi Paradox, and sadly it seems that only SciFi writers try to keep their answers remotely in the realm of “Plausible”, unlike Bezsudnov and Snarskii.