Italian-American physicist Enrico Fermi quipped, “Where is everybody?” over lunch with colleagues in 1950. Now, everybody knows about this initially casual question as the Fermi Paradox. Why haven’t we been visited by extraterrestrials, given the universe is vastly older than our solar system? While our solar system is 4.5 billion years old, the universe is around 13.8 billion. Surely, civilizations out there would have plenty of time to colonize other worlds like ours?
Of course, the desire to colonize other worlds may be a case of projection, thinking these unknown species are like Elon Musk headed for the barren Red Planet as Earth’s climate falls into crisis.
When Fermi passed away in 1954, his paradox was taken up by others, like Michael Hart, a white nationalist and separatist and astrophysicist.
“We observe that no intelligent beings from outer space are now present on Earth,” Hart wrote in a Royal Astronomical Society paper titled “An explanation for the absence of extraterrestrials on Earth” in 1975.
Hart concluded the prospects for intelligent civilizations in our galaxy were very low. Ours was the only planet with civilizations because, as far as he knew, there were no signs of ETs, who would have surely become space colonists.
“If… there were intelligent beings elsewhere in our Galaxy, then they would eventually have achieved space travel and would have explored and colonized the Galaxy, as we have explored and colonized the Earth. However, (Fact A), they are not here; therefore, they do not exist,” Hart wrote.
The Fermi Paradox in a New Era
Or course so much has changed since then. The James Webb Telescope is searching exoplanets like WASP-39b for game-changing data and for atmospheres that could harbor life. Meanwhile, planets in our solar system may be harboring life, as has been suggested by signs from Venus. There may still be some form of life on Mars or a moon of Jupiter or Saturn.
Since the New York Times reported on the Pentagon’s UFO Programs in 2017, attitudes about the likelihood of extraterrestrial life have changed. Most Americans think ETs exist, while half believe Earth has been visited. And, who’s to say with 100% certainty that contact hasn’t happened to a select few or maybe even covered up?
In this new climate, scientists are returning to the Fermi Paradox with a new attitude. Maybe, we just aren’t as skilled in getting attention as we tend to think, a humbling thought but also entirely reasonable given the state of affairs on Earth in late 2022.
A New Take on the Fermi Paradox
A new preprint paper, not yet peer-reviewed in the arXiv database, posits that the solution to the Fermi Paradox is “there’s no intelligent life here.” It’s a bit amusing and humbling and does seem to ring true, doesn’t it?
“We are a baby culture intelligence in terms of space culture,” said Amri Wandel.
According to this view by Amri Wandel, an astrophysicist at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, our civilization is still relatively primitive. We haven’t yet reached a mature “Contact Era,” defined in the abstract as “the time (since the onset of radio transmissions) at which the contact probability becomes of order unity.”
As possibly scarce extraterrestrial civilizations look for technosignatures on Earth, like radio broadcasts, they would not necessarily notice us, not yet. We’re still in our infancy, having only begun such radio broadcasts in the 30s. We may need a few thousand years to reach the time when ETs would definitely notice us in the vastness of space and send alien probes to investigate. That is, unless these ETs are more common than we realize.
“…the Contact Era is shown to be of the order of a few hundred to a few thousand years and may be applied not only to physical probes but also to transmissions (i.e., SETI). Consequently, it is shown that civilizations are unlikely to be able to inter-communicate unless their communicative lifetime is at least a few thousand years,” the paper states.
In short, we’re wide-eyed toddlers looking at the night sky and thinking we’re very smart. But give it some time, and we could get there unless, of course, we wipe ourselves out. That brings us to the Great Filter.
Amri Wandel discusses the search for ET intelligence, a Singularity, and the Fermi Paradox, and UAPs with Tim Ventura below:
The Great Filter
Another answer to the Fermi Paradox is the Great Filter, first proposed in the 1990s by economist Robin Hanson from George Mason University. Recently, NASA scientists revisited what Metro called a “bleak theory” in a report, “Avoiding the ‘Great Filter.'”
In this view, there are no ET tourists because they destroy themselves once they reach an advanced stage like the Contact Era. Does this seem a bit like projection, too?
“Humanity seems to have a bright future, i.e., a non-trivial chance of expanding to fill the universe with lasting life. But the fact that space near us seems dead now tells us that any given piece of dead matter faces an astronomically low chance of begatting such a future. There thus exists a great filter between death and expanding lasting life, and humanity faces the ominous question: how far along this filter are we?” Hanson wrote.
To Hanson, finding evidence of ETs would not be good news:
“…we should seek evidence of extraterrestrials, such as via signals, fossils, or astronomy. But contrary to common expectations, evidence of extraterrestrials is likely bad (though valuable) news. The easier it was for life to evolve to our stage, the bleaker our future chances probably are.”
That brings us to another bleak theory about a Great Filter that may have already happened on Earth.
More on the Great Filter by Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell:
Could it be that civilization on Earth has already experienced a kind of Great Filter? That’s what the Netflix docuseries “Ancient Apocalypse” explores with host Graham Hancock. The premise is that there may have been a more advanced civilization here before a sort of Great Filter called the Younger Dryas 12,000 years ago.
The show has sparked controversy among mainstream archaeologists while exploring the idea that we may need to revisit and adjust human civilization’s timelines. Could it be that once, our species was closer to reaching the Contact Era than we know? Or, could it be that we had already made contact with higher beings and have amnesia about our origins?
If even exploring such ideas is threatening for so many, then maybe it’s more evidence for Amri Wandel’s solution to the Fermi Paradox. Maybe we do need more time to mature beyond our sometimes entrenched ideologies (and colonialist tendencies) before we’re ready to meet the neighbors.
Ancient Apocalypse trailer via Netflix: