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Saturday 14 January 2017

Where Are All The Aliens?

So we've all seen or read at least one thing involving aliens, right?

For some of us that will be any of the incarnations of War Of The Worlds; for others, hokey B-movies and old Godzilla flicks; for others still, Stargate SG-1 and Farscape; follow that with the plethora of novels and graphic novels that feature extraterrestrial life, and hollywood sci fi blockbusters in the vein of Independence Day. Let alone Star Wars, Star Trek and their ilk.

Science fiction featuring aliens is pretty popular. It's everywhere. It has been popular for a while now, which has of course led to some actual science devoted toward the existence - or lack thereof - of extraterrestrials.

Enrico Fermi and Michael H. Hart formalised, between them, an argument indicating how unlikely it is that aliens could exist and that we have seen no identifiable evidence relating to them. It's called the Fermi Paradox.

It states this: with the galaxy being so big (at least 200 million stars, maybe twice that), the chance of there being other Earth-like planets is relatively high. Following this, the chance of life developing on those planets is greater than zero. And if we could develop space travel, then so could they; and if they developed before us - likely, because our sun is actually a relatively young star - then they would have had the time to travel and explore.

So why haven't we seen any evidence of their existence? Nothing left behind by them that we can identify. Nothing to show. Not even a footprint or a chunk of material - not that we've been able to recognise, anyway.

There's a lot of answers that have been conceived over the years. Some of these are more likely than others, in my eyes. The Rare Earth Hypothesis, for example, holds little water with me - the hypothesis that the Earth becoming what it became was a lot less likely than evidence has previously suggested. An answer I like is that, honestly, the galaxy - and the universe - are really REALLY BIG. Like so big that coming up with an adequate example of how big it is, is actually difficult. We've only just - in the grand scheme of things - started blurting out radio into space, and you know how long that is going to take to get from where we are to the galactic centre?

Almost 27,000 years. That means that the earliest that the Nuremberg Rally broadcast could be in the middle of the galaxy would be the year 28,930. To reach the far side of the galaxy we are more looking at 75,000 years, give or take. That's quite a lot.

Something that Enrico Fermi never saw - he died in 1954 - could be the actual explanation, however; and it is, perhaps, the one that my mind is settled on as an explanation even if it hurts my heart.

The Fermi Paradox works on several assumptions, many of which have had holes poked in them over the years. One of them is that aliens would use technology or have biology even remotely similar to our own. That could cause its own problems in terms of detection.

Instead, let us take an example from our own selves, and discuss how Fermi missed a cultural factor: social influences curtailing continued expansion and exploration over space.

Apathy. Lack of political will. Lack of engagement with science and its exploration. Planetary introversion. The resources needed for exploration and space transit under the control of entities that would rather use them for other purposes, including but not limited to personal profit.

Fermi never got to see us walk on the moon - though Carl Sagan and Frank Drake, two believers in extraterrestrial life, did. I never got to see it when it happened, but of course, ever since I have been enchanted with the idea. I find it hard to believe that there are those that aren't. They're out there, though. People who just don't care, when it is announced that private corporation X or Y intends on landing on Mars, or when we get pictures of the kind of asteroids that land on aforementioned red planet every day, or when we find radio signals coming from bits of the galaxy that we've never had them from before.

But that is kind of where we are, right now; and with several of the governments around the world taking a distinctly anti-scientific bent with much of their funding and ideas,'s not a good sign.

Maybe this is just a step toward one of the other potential answers to the Fermi Paradox - which is that every intelligent life eventually destroys itself, and does so before it can proliferate beyond its home system.

Who knows.

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