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The Other Side Of The Fermi Paradox

From: UFO UpDates - Toronto <ufoupdates.nul>
Date: Tue, 20 Feb 2007 07:37:11 -0500
Fwd Date: Tue, 20 Feb 2007 07:37:11 -0500
Subject: The Other Side Of The Fermi Paradox

Source: The Space Review - Rockville, Maryland, USA


Monday, February 19, 2007

The Other Side Of The Fermi Paradox
by Michael Huang

The Fermi paradox - the estimation that extraterrestrial
civilizations are common and would naturally expand into space,
contradicting the lack of evidence that they exist anywhere - is
the subject of fascinating speculation and guesswork. Every
possible fate of extraterrestrial intelligence is proposed and
explored. These thought experiments are not only interesting in
their own right, but may help evaluate the state of a more
terrestrial civilization. What will happen to humankind in the
future? By examining the possible futures of extraterrestrial
civilizations, we are simultaneously examining the possible
futures of our own civilization. Put in another way, if an alien
civilization somewhere had their own version of the Fermi
paradox, they would be speculating on our future in the same way
that we speculate on theirs.

Stephen Webb's book on the Fermi paradox, If the Universe Is
Teeming with Aliens... Where Is Everybody? Fifty Solutions to the
Fermi Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life, puts its
fifty solutions into three broad categories: "They Are Here",
extraterrestrials are in our vicinity, but hidden somehow; "They
Exist But Have Not Yet Communicated", they exist on a faraway
world and have not reached us yet; and "They Do Not Exist", they
have never existed in the first place, or they have existed but
have since gone extinct. Each of these categories has an
equivalent for future human civilization: "We Will Exist
Everywhere", we will spread out from Earth and colonize space;
"We Will Exist On Earth Only", we will remain on Earth and fail
to colonize space; "We Will Not Exist", we will go extinct.

Not every solution to the Fermi paradox is applicable to human
civilization. All those which state that extraterrestrial
intelligence does not exist in the first place are irrelevant
(unless you argue that there is no intelligent life on Earth!).
But many others are relevant and interesting predictions of the
future of humankind.

"Solution 10: They Have Not Had Time to Reach Us" becomes "We
Have Not Had Time to Reach Them", which is appropriate for human
civilization today, considering the short time that humans have
existed, and the even shorter time that humans have had
spaceflight. "Solution 14: They Stay at Home..." becomes "We
Stay at Home", arguing that we will stay on Earth due to apathy,
technology, economics or politics (e.g. Proxmire effect or Park
hypothesis. "Solution 15: ...and Surf the Net" deals with the
creation of virtual reality worlds so impressive that real world
challenges, such as space colonization, pale in comparison.
Games and virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft and Second
Life have already gained a reputation for being addictive and
all-consuming. Future generations of these immersive fantasy
worlds will compel more people to neglect the real world.

While staying on Earth is a mediocre future for humankind, of
course the worst possible future is extinction. Webb discusses
gamma ray bursts and asteroid collisions as natural extinction
events. A technological civilization is itself a risk, with its
nuclear and biological weapons. In addition, Webb describes the
exotic possibility of powerful, autonomous alien weapons
(Solution 22: Berserkers) that either deliberately or
inadvertently destroy all civilizations that they find.

There is a significant connection between the categories of "We
Will Exist On Earth Only" and "We Will Not Exist". Webb
explained the strong motive for all civilizations - both
extraterrestrial and human - to pursue colonization: "...in any
case it seems a wise idea for a species to expand into space to
guard against the possibility of planetary disaster". Remaining
on a single planet increases the risk of extinction, as Stephen
Hawking and many others have stated.

The Fermi paradox is based on the premise that it is natural,
logical and right for extraterrestrial civilizations to colonize
space. The other side of the Fermi paradox is that it is
natural, logical, and right for human civilization to colonize
space. Anti-human-spaceflight advocates tend to hold the
contradictory idea that colonization is alright for
extraterrestrials, but wrong and immoral for us. However,
colonizing and populating space is advantageous for every
civilization; whether it happens to be extraterrestrial or
terrestrial is beside the point.

Webb's 50th solution is the one that he believes is the most
likely. Unfortunately for extraterrestrial enthusiasts, the
solution is depressingly pessimistic: "...the only resolution of
the Fermi paradox that makes sense to me - is that we are
alone." Webb's preferred solution is highly controversial, but
it satisfies Ockham's razor; out of all the Fermi paradox
explanations, it is the simplest one. On the other hand, the
solution is only as good as the evidence it is based on. New
evidence could lead to a different solution to the paradox.

If extraterrestrial civilizations do not exist, it is even more
important for humans to survive and colonize space. If we do not
do it, then no one else will. If extraterrestrial civilizations
exist, the task will be shared. In any case, the ultimate goal
for all civilizations is to spread life throughout the galaxy,
to transform a largely dead galaxy into a living one.

Michael Huang's (fhprize.nul) previous articles for The
Space Review include "Humans for humans' sake", "The rights of
humans in space", and "Scientifically useless".

[Thanks to Greg Boone for the lead]

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