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Fermi Paradox Predicting Humankind's Future?

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 7 years ago | from the magic-eight-ball dept.

Space 854

An anonymous reader writes "The Fermi paradox says that if extraterrestrial civilizations exist, at least one of them should have colonized the entire galaxy by now. But since there is no evidence of this, humankind must be the only intelligent life in the galaxy. The Space Review has an article on how the Fermi paradox can be applied to human civilization. It says that, like the extraterrestrials, humans have three choices: colonize the galaxy, remain on Earth, or become extinct."

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854 comments

Star Trek linked to pedophilia? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18068068)

This has very little to do with the article, but the L.A. Times recently published an article regarding the Toronto Sex Crimes Unit [torontopolice.on.ca] that focused on their fight against child pornography ("Sifting Clues to an Unsmiling Girl" [pqarchiver.com] ). They are the law enforcement organization that photoshopped the victims out of child porn photos in order to get the public's assistance in identifying the backgrounds (it worked). In any case, the article had this amazing claim:

On one wall is a "Star Trek" poster with investigators' faces substituted for the Starship Enterprise crew. But even that alludes to a dark fact of their work: All but one of the offenders they have arrested in the last four years was a hard-core Trekkie.

Wow. All but one in four years. Seemed rather unlikely to me.

So, I called the Child Exploitation Section of the Toronto Sex Crimes Unit and spoke to Det. Ian Lamond, who was familiar with the Times article. He claims they were misquoted, or if that figure was given it was done so jokingly. Of course, even if the figure was given jokingly, shouldn't the Times reporter have clarified something that seems rather odd? Shouldn't her editors have questioned her sources?

Nevertheless, Det. Lamond does confirm that a majority of those arrested show "at least a passing interest in Star Trek, if not a strong interest." They've arrested well over one hundred people over the past four years and they can gauge this interest in Star Trek by the arrestees' "paraphenalia, books, videotapes and DVDs."

Det. Constable Warren Bulmer slips on a Klingon sash and shield they confiscated in a recent raid. "It has something to do with a fantasy world where mutants and monsters have power and where the usual rules don't apply," Bulmer reflects. "But beyond that, I can't really explain it."

I asked Det. Lamond if this wasn't simply a general interest in science fiction and fantasy, such as Star Wars or Harry Potter or similar. Paraphrasing his answer, he said, while there was sometimes other science fiction and fantasy paraphenalia, Star Trek was the most consistent and when he referred to a majority of the arrestees being Star Trek fans, it was Star Trek-specific.

Re:Star Trek linked to pedophilia? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18068158)

This has very little to do with the article, but the L.A. Times recently published an article regarding the Toronto Sex Crimes Unit that focused on their fight against child pornography ("Sifting Clues to an Unsmiling Girl"). They are the law enforcement organization that photoshopped the victims out of child porn photos in order to get the public's assistance in identifying the backgrounds (it worked). In any case, the article had this amazing claim:

        All but one of the offenders they have arrested in the last four years was a hard-core pizza-eater.

Wow. All but one in four years. Seemed rather unlikely to me.

So, I called the Child Exploitation Section of the Toronto Sex Crimes Unit and spoke to Det. Ian Lamond, who was familiar with the Times article. He claims they were misquoted, or if that figure was given it was done so jokingly. Of course, even if the figure was given jokingly, shouldn't the Times reporter have clarified something that seems rather odd? Shouldn't her editors have questioned her sources?

Nevertheless, Det. Lamond does confirm that a majority of those arrested show "at least a passing interest in pizza, if not a strong interest." They've arrested well over one hundred people over the past four years and they can gauge this interest in pizza by the arrestees' "cupboards, coupons, and pizza flyers."

        Det. Constable Warren Bulmer eats a slice of pizza they confiscated in a recent raid. "It has something to do with a fantasy world where food tastes really cheesy," Bulmer reflects. "But beyond that, I can't really explain it."

I asked Det. Lamond if this wasn't simply a general interest in food, such as spinach or asparagus or similar. Paraphrasing his answer, he said, while there was sometimes other food, pizza was the most consistent and when he referred to a majority of the arrestees being pizza fans, it was pizza-specific.

Re:Star Trek linked to pedophilia? (-1, Offtopic)

ravenshrike (808508) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068162)

It has something to do with a fantasy world where mutants and monsters have power and where the usual rules don't apply
Then where are all the D&D geeks?

More likely (4, Interesting)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068106)

The speed of light is a real and unbreakable rule as a result nothing more than 4 or 5 light years away is reachable.

Sure- you *might* be able to theoretically build a ship that could go further but all politics is local. Look at our politics- could we gather the will to build a 10 trillion dollar multi-generation star ship?

I think civ's do okay, never get off the planet the started on, and eventually die out from lack of resources, some kind of self destruction, or being wiped out by an external event.

Re:More likely (4, Interesting)

peragrin (659227) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068184)

While the speed of light may be constant it doesn't mean there aren't other ways around the problem.

Let's figure out how first.

Besides why would an alien race need the whole galaxy? A small section would do. Even so they could have died out millions of years ago. Or we could be the first advanced race and as we reach out amoung the stars we shall find other less advanced races.

Re:More likely (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18068236)

we could be the first advanced race and as we reach out amoung the stars we shall find other less advanced races.
... Lord help them

Re:More likely (4, Insightful)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068362)

Well, it's a population pressure thing. If there is no limit to your expansion, you'll expand to your limit.

Not that I don't think Fermi is full of it. All the "There can be no intelligent life if they haven't already a) been found by us or b) taken over the galaxy, theories are pretty foolish. There could be intelligent life inside 10 light years from us, and we wouldn't know it now; hell, we could be living on a planet seeded with life by an advanced society and we wouldn't know it...Maybe the dinosaurs were killed off by an automated terraformer. =P

Basic probability also suggests that it is extremely unlikely that we are an isolated occurrence...You'd have to buy into Creationism to think that such as we could never have happened anywhere else.

Re:More likely (4, Insightful)

Cerberus7 (66071) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068466)

Extremely unlikely also means it's possible. We might very well be the first intelligent life to emerge in this galaxy. We might be the first in the universe. Extremely unlikely doesn't mean impossible. If we are, God help the younger species; the humans are coming.

Re:More likely (2, Insightful)

Pxtl (151020) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068470)

They've had 10 billion years to visit us. The magnitude of that amount of time is staggering. Consider how far we've come in the last few hundred years. Consider how far along we'll be in a thousand years. Now consider that the universe is a million times older than that.

Even if it takes a thousand years to build a ship to colonize our nearest star, hypothetical aliens may have had enough time to do that enough times to colonize the whole galaxy.

That's the Fermi paradox. If space travel is possible, then the time and scale of the universe is so huge that it would have been done millions of times by now. Hence, space travel is impossible or no aliens exist but us.

Example: say Fnord. If you were the only person in the universe, then you would be the first person to ever say Fnord. However, there are billions of people on earth, and billions more have come and gone. So Fnord has been said many, many, many times. If "Fnord" could spread like a disease, then by now everyone would say "Fnord"... I think I just screwed up my analogy.

Re:More likely (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18068510)

The book Rare Earth by Ward and Brownlee provides an interesting exploration of the idea that intelligent life here on earth is the result of a long and improbable string of happy accidents - in other words we are alone. It wasn't a totally convincing read, but entertaining all the same.

Re:More likely (1)

Citizen of Earth (569446) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068370)

Besides why would an alien race need the whole galaxy? A small section would do.

There's no limit on the population of a race other than its essential resources. No "small section" will ever suffice.

Or we could be the first advanced race and as we reach out amoung the stars we shall find other less advanced races.

Any race with the power to reach its frontiers also has the power to destroy itself. If we ever colonize the galaxy, we will probably find the artifacts of all these previous races.

Re:More likely (1)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068448)

Given unlimited resources, growth is exponential. It is very easy for humans to ramp up to 10 offspring for 2 parents. So every 20 years, the population is (roughly) 8x larger.

Even at the current trivial rates of population growth, the weight of humans would equal the earth in 500 years (so the rate must drop to zero at some point). Exponential growth would fill the universe with a mass of human flesh given a chance.

Re:More likely (5, Funny)

SirWhoopass (108232) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068526)

It is very easy for humans to ramp up to 10 offspring for 2 parents.
You must not have children of your own.

Re:More likely (2, Interesting)

TomHandy (578620) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068208)

Yeah, I think this is where I'm starting to come down on this question. I didn't realize there was a "Fermi paradox" that described this, but I used to also make a similar assumption in regards to UFOs.... that surely there would be a few intelligent species out there that would visit us).

But it seems like it is a very real possibility that the kind of spacetravel required to visit other species might just be impossible. I don't think one could take it as proof that other intelligent life doesn't exist just because they haven't managed to conquer the galaxy.

Re:More likely (4, Interesting)

AJWM (19027) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068274)

The speed of light is a real and unbreakable rule as a result nothing more than 4 or 5 light years away is reachable.

The Fermi Paradox assumes the light-speed limit.

There are an awful lot of hidden assumptions in your bald statement that the speed of light automatically limits travel to a range of 4 or 5 ly. Why not 3, or 6, or 10? It doesn't take much to allow for hops from one star to the next, and if you've got the tech to build starships, you've got the tech to colonize a star system that doesn't have Earthlike planets. (Ie space colonies, not terraforming - although the latter may also be possible.)

I think civ's do okay, never get off the planet the started on, and eventually die out from lack of resources,

Quite likely a civilization that never gets off its home planet will eventually run out of resources. But there are resources aplenty for those that take that first step. That's why people talk about He3 mining, solar powersats, mining asteroids, etc. Remember O'Neill's question: "Is the surface of a planet the right place for an expanding industrial civilization?" The answer is "no".

Re:More likely (2, Insightful)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068380)

Oh for the love of god this is slashdot- nitpicking on casually slung out ideas is really stupid and pointless.

If you want to discuss and explore my assertion then hit the meat of my point-

Regardless of how advanced ANY civilization gets, it will be limited by POLITICS and the SPEED of LIGHT from ever colonizing outside it's native star system.

I picked 4 or 5 LY because we have exactly one star system in that range and last I heard, it is probably not habitable.

I was attacking two underlying assumption:
That all cultures will be prevented by politics from doing really big projects.
That it is absolutely impossible to break the speed of light (despite a lot of wishful thinking).

Re:More likely (4, Funny)

squiggleslash (241428) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068392)

The Fermi Paradox assumes the light-speed limit.

If it does, I can't see how it'd ever be right, given the fact the universe is still expanding. No civilization can ever populate the entire universe with slower than light travel.

There are an awful lot of hidden assumptions in your bald statement that the speed of light automatically limits travel to a range of 4 or 5 ly.

Could be that more than 4-5 light years makes travel a little... hairy. I mean, people start to ...wig-out at those kinds of distances. There's a lot of distance to cover, with a lot of dangerous particles flying in the same space, so it's safe to say the further you go the more... close shaves you'll have!

Har har har I kill myself.

Re:More likely (4, Interesting)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068416)

The problem is, expansion is driven by population pressure. The kind of space travel you're theorizing wouldn't do a damn thing to relieve local population pressure, so it would be more of a sort of species level masturbation, to send out ships to make colonies that are so far away that you'd never be able to engage in any sort of trade or cultural exchange.

Re:More likely (5, Informative)

aditi (707829) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068484)

"The speed of light is a real and unbreakable rule as a result nothing more than 4 or 5 light years away is reachable."

An insertion here about relativity: if the ship were traveling fast enough, you mightn't need several generations just for 4-5 years. Because of relativistic time dilation, the astronauts in the spaceship would feel considerably less time elapse, while the journey would seem to take decades to everyone on earth. The question then becomes whether people would be willing to spend trillions of dollars on something only their children and grandchildren would see.

Remain for how long? (1)

Pharmboy (216950) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068108)

Remaining on Earth is the same as becoming extinct, the sun won't last forever. The choices should be: colonize or die, and never quit colonizing.

Re:Remain for how long? (4, Interesting)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068146)

The universe wont last forever either.

Re:Remain for how long? (1)

delymyth (17681) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068386)

As far as I remember, the universe *could* last forever...
It's kind of another paradox, but it seems it won't collapse....

Re:Remain for how long? (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068438)

If you believe string theory ( or similar wave type theory ) then in time the vibrations will die out, and *poof* there goes the universe as we define it.

Re:Remain for how long? (1)

silentounce (1004459) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068486)

The universe wont last forever either.


Please present the proof to back up that statement.

Re:Remain for how long? (1)

Noryungi (70322) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068156)

Remaining on Earth is the same as becoming extinct, the sun won't last forever. The choices should be: colonize or die, and never quit colonizing.


If I remember well, the Sun won't go bust for another couple of billion years. So, if that's the only problem we are facing, we still have a little while to go...

Re:Remain for how long? (1)

sloepoke51 (657405) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068258)

So, based upon the fact that speed of light is the maximum, then multi-generational ships are heading our way. Time to get those space based weapons on line.

Re:Remain for how long? (1)

FromellaSlob (813394) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068434)

Even with the light-speed limit, we wouldn't necessarily need multi-generational ships. If we build a ship that can approach the speed of light, the passage of time on board would be different. A few "years" onboard could be the equivalent of centuries or millenia on Earth.

A very very very long time (1)

Excelcia (906188) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068394)

The sun is about 4.5 billion years old, and has a lifespan as a main sequence star of about 10 billion years. I hardly think that this paper, no matter how eloquent, is going to affect the course of humanity's decisions in the next few billion years.

OMFG - WE'VE ONLY GOT 5.5 BILLION YEARS LEFT! COLONIZE NOW OR DIE!

Two choices (1)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068110)

colonize the galaxy, remain on Earth, or become extinct
Keeping all our eggs at the bottom at this gravity well has the long-term result of making the last two options be equivalent.

Only two choices. (4, Interesting)

AJWM (19027) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068114)

"Remain on Earth" and "become extinct" are not distinct choices. As Heinlein and numerous others have put it, the Earth is too small and fragile a basket for humanity to keep all its eggs in.

It's not so much a matter of "if" but of "when". Ask the dinosaurs.

Re:Only two choices. (1)

catbutt (469582) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068218)

The dinosaurs didn't have technology. Most likely, an asteroid the size of the one that killed the dinosaurs won't hit us for a million years or more. Now extrapolate human technology forward 1 million years. That's a short time in geological time, but a REALLY LONG time in technology.

You really think we won't be able to do anything about it?

Re:Only two choices. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18068222)

The dinosaurs? That evolved into modern birds?


The dinosaurs seem to demonstrate the opposite: that life can survive a series of extinction events while keeping genetic lines fairly intact.

Re:Only two choices. (3, Interesting)

flyingsquid (813711) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068334)

The dinosaur argument doesn't hold water. Turtles, salamanders, crocodiles and pike all survived the extinction, and none of them had, to my knowledge, any kind of a space program. What killed the dinosaurs was that they had high food requirements- being large and warm blooded- didn't have the ability to store food, and then the ecosystem collapsed. We, on the other hand, do have the ability to anticipate asteroid impacts and store food.


The best way to survive a Chicxulub-style impact is the Dr. Strangelove model. Get an underground complex to ride out the initial fallout of red-hot debris, have a nuclear reactor for power, some parkas for ventures outside into the cold, food to survive for 10-100 years, a force to defend it from looters, and store up the machinery needed to start reestablishing an industrial civilization when things have recovered. It wouldn't even have to be a terribly large population, since you could have a bank full of ten thousand frozen embryos to maintain adequate genetic diversity.

Concievably there are threats where a space program is the logical answer- say, the sun goes supernova- but an asteroid impact just isn't one of them.

3 Choices? (1)

Jhon (241832) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068120)

It says that, like the extraterrestrials, humans have three choices: colonize the galaxy, remain on Earth, or become extinct."
I don't know, but choices 2 and three sound very similar...

Re:3 Choices? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18068172)

And even if they were not, aren't there only three choices - with or without paradox?

Its like saying that, after a century long research, scientists have found out that if there is a naked beautiful woman in front of a man, they either will have sex, or wont.

Re:3 Choices? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18068264)

> Its like saying that, after a century long research, scientists have found out that if there is a naked beautiful woman in front of a man, they either will have sex, or wont.

Either they will have sex, or she'll have sex with someone else.

Only two choices: (1)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068128)

It says that, like the extraterrestrials, humans have three choices: colonize the galaxy, remain on Earth, or become extinct.



I think that boils down to two choices:



Colonize the galaxy, or remain on Earth and become extinct.



Of course, at the end of the Universe we'll still become extinct, unless we manage to figure out how to survive it. We still got a few billion years, though.

Obligatory (1, Funny)

Praseodymn (195411) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068132)

I, for one, welcome our new paradoxical overlords.

Fermi paradox (2, Insightful)

HTH NE1 (675604) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068150)

If spacefaring civilizations exist, they should have colonized the galaxy by now.

Earth is a spacefaring civilization.

Earth hasn't colonized the galaxy by now.

Ergo, Earth doesn't exist.

So say we all.

Re:Fermi paradox (2, Funny)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068166)

Earth hasn't colonized the galaxy by now. Ergo, Earth doesn't exist.

Excellent. That means I don't have to sweat the deadline on that network redesign thing I've been fighting with. Thanks!

Re:Fermi paradox (1)

Doc Hoss (1062428) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068266)

I agree with this parent post. It's pretty silly to assume that "if spacefaring civilizations exist, they should have colonized the ENTIRE galaxy by now." What about evolution time? Time to develop technology? Time to establish colonies? etc etc etc...

If another civilization was even dramatically ahead of ours with regards to technology, they could have started, what, 10,000 years ago? 20? Think that's enough time to colonize THE ENTIRE GALAXY??? Come on...

Re:Fermi paradox (3, Insightful)

mcvos (645701) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068542)

I agree with this parent post. It's pretty silly to assume that "if spacefaring civilizations exist, they should have colonized the ENTIRE galaxy by now." What about evolution time? Time to develop technology? Time to establish colonies? etc etc etc...

If another civilization was even dramatically ahead of ours with regards to technology, they could have started, what, 10,000 years ago? 20? Think that's enough time to colonize THE ENTIRE GALAXY??? Come on...

Think 20 million years. Or 200. Or billions, even. 10,000 years is not being dramatically ahead, that's being barely older than we are.

Consider the enormous timescale of evolution. Earth has existed for about 4.6 billion years. Compared to that, a few million years is nothing. What if the meteor that killed the dinosaurs had arrived a few million years earlier? Or later? Why did evolution take a billion years to get cells past the prokariotic stage? Could that have happened a few million years faster? Or is that step so unlikely that most planets never make it?

Furthermore, consider the age of the universe. The universe is about 3 times as old as the earth. Why couldn't an earth-like planet have appeared 5 or 6 billion years ago? There are good reasons why such a planet can't have appeared 14 billion years ago, but what about 7? That'd give any civilisation arrising on that planet an immediate 2 billion year headstart on us.

Is that enough to conquer the galaxy? If it isn't, nothing is.

Re:Fermi paradox (1)

multisync (218450) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068276)

Ergo, Earth doesn't exist.


You are right on. The summary completely contradicts itself (I know, big surprise):

"The Fermi paradox says that if extraterrestrial civilizations exist, at least one of them should have colonized the entire galaxy by now.


Then:

like the extraterrestrials, humans have three choices: colonize the galaxy, remain on Earth, or become extinct


Leaving aside the fact everybody choices two and three are the same, isn't it possible that space-faring civilizations have simply not reached us yet? The galaxy is a big place, and we don't know when the E.T.s became space-faring civilizations.

Guess I better read the article before I rant any more about this.

Re:Fermi paradox (1)

LordSnooty (853791) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068496)

If we all started at the same point 15 billion years ago then I don't see why automatically another civilisation will be ahead of us. Maybe Earth was the first planet upon which amino acids combined in a particular way. Not to say that it didn't happen on other planets, but maybe they're a bit behind us.

Re:Fermi paradox (2, Funny)

Chacham (981) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068344)

If spacefaring civilizations exist, they should have colonized the galaxy by now.

Earth is a spacefaring civilization.

Earth hasn't colonized the galaxy by now.

Ergo, Earth doesn't exist.

So say we all.


If a decent slashdot comment exists, it would generate a decent response.

Your comment [slashdot.org] was a decent slashdot comment.

Your comment has not generated a decent response.

Ergo, your comment doesn't exist.

The real choices: (1)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068168)

1. Never leave Earth and become extinct very soon. 2. Never leave the solar system and become extinct somewhat later. 3. Never leave the galaxy and become extinct quite a bit later. 4. Never leave the universe and be the last to become extinct.

Re:The real choices: (2, Funny)

HTH NE1 (675604) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068268)

You forgot choice zero:

0. Blow up the Earth and become extinct right now.

Re:The real choices: (1)

i_should_be_working (720372) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068456)

-1. Build time machine, go back in time and step on whatever goo we evolved from.

Re:The real choices: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18068404)

5. Leave the universe. Just because science doesn't know how doesn't mean it's impossible.

Oh sure (1)

no-body (127863) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068178)

humankind must be the only intelligent life in the galaxy


and the earth is flat...

Hmm (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068186)

Colonizing anywhere other than earth is such an expensive endevour, that I suspect natural human pervisity will lead us to some 4th solution.

Re:Hmm (1)

nacturation (646836) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068298)

Colonizing anywhere other than earth is such an expensive endevour, that I suspect natural human pervisity will lead us to some 4th solution.
Maybe this natural human attribute to which you refer will lead us to a definition of pervisity [google.com] .
 

Re:Hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18068352)

4th solution: advance nanotechnology to the point where self-aware, self-replicating machines can extract and store the sum total of human knowledge, then kill us all, then go out and colonize the galaxy themselves.

It *is* a sort of immortality after all.

Re:Hmm (1)

LighterShadeOfBlack (1011407) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068522)

Colonizing anywhere other than earth is such an expensive endevour, that I suspect natural human pervisity will lead us to some 4th solution.
- Don't worry. The article makes note of WoW.

to be honest (1)

operato (782224) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068198)

to be quite honest, we're too small minded to colonise the galaxy. we use our resources to make trivial things that amuse us for a short period of time (ipod, iphone, etc) rather than doing useful things (cure diseases, etc). we need to cast ourselves together and towards a goal of the improvement of humankind, live together yaddy yadda, and so on and so forth. we're going to go extinct and this is me being optimistic!

NOT being honest! (4, Interesting)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068406)

we're too small minded to colonise the galaxy

We weren't too small minded to risk lives hiking over mountain ranges or floating in very-likely-to-sink boats across open ocean to other continents, remember? Primitive Asians floating across the Pacific to populate South America or hoofing it in across the northern straights were taking on something at least as dicey as we currently see activities in space. Villages wiped each other out, disease killed off whole tribes - all of the stuff that people say would keep us from colonizing elsewhere. Sure, some of those efforts would fail - just as they have for tens of thousands of years. But some will succeed, too.

we use our resources to make trivial things that amuse us for a short period of time (ipod, iphone, etc)

That's because we evolved from, and still are short-lived primates. Our brains were wired to deal with much more short-term issues. Planning through the coming weather change is about as far as we ever needed to go, mentally. Only some people have the wiring to do big picture stuff... and guess what: they tend to get jobs doing big picture stuff. As for trivial things like iPods: you'd rather have a society with somewhat better antibiotics, but completely absent all of the things that make life a pleasure? The iPod is just a newer take on cave painting and tribal dancing. The fact that we evolved into creatures that put handprints on walls and invent group songs to sing doesn't mean we can't also do things like invent solar cells, fly transplant organs through the air to another city where they're needed, or manage to live past 25. Being productive, inventive, and joyous are not mutually exclusive - they're interdependent.

rather than doing useful things (cure diseases, etc).

I'm sorry to hear that you died of Polio. Or was it Smallpox? Or maybe spoiled food because we haven't invented refridgeration yet. Anyway, sorry you died.

Re:to be honest (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18068442)

That's right, there are companies making money developing things like ipods, etc, but no effort into curing disease. Then why is smallpox extinct? and how come we don't have polio epidemics every couple of years like happened when my father was a child?

The fermi paradox is wrong (3, Interesting)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068212)

Any intelligence advanced enough to reach Earth from another star system (or dimension?) would easily be able to disguise their presence so we couldn't see them but they could still study us. Just because aliens might exist doesn't mean they'd want to interact with us - thats taking a very human centred view of their motives. For all we know they could view us as barely above pond life in the scale of celestial intelligences and so interaction with us for them would be like us trying to have an interesting and meaningful conversation with an insect - a waste of time and effort.

Re: The fermi paradox is wrong (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068350)

> Any intelligence advanced enough to reach Earth from another star system (or dimension?) would easily be able to disguise their presence so we couldn't see them but they could still study us.

Yeah, I like the claim that the US government is giving the Aliens permission to abduct us for anal probings in exchange for military secrets. Like Aliens of the type imagined would need the government's permission.

Re:The fermi paradox is wrong (2, Funny)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068458)

Someone watched way too many X-Files episodes I think. The Truth Is Out There, Trust No One, Deny Everything and I Want to Believe are really great slogans, but they don't make it the case that aliens even bothered to leave their solar systems and go somewhere to give some strange creatures across the galaxy some anal probing. Of-course if anything did move us towards colonization of the Galaxy, Hot Alien Porn would be the most likely reason to do it.

This paradox is full of holes... (1)

Valdez (125966) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068216)

I can't accept the thinking that a sufficiently advanced race would feel it was neccessary to go out and conquer the galaxy, which pretty much blows this theory out of the water.


There's a reason they were able to advance that far in the first place, and I doubt it was Probe Spamming or Galactic Domination.

Re: This paradox is full of holes... (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068308)

> I can't accept the thinking that a sufficiently advanced race would feel it was neccessary to go out and conquer the galaxy, which pretty much blows this theory out of the water.

Also, it requires generation after generation of colonists to devote their lives to the furtherance of the Master Plan, rather than, say, trying to make their own lives more comfortable.

How long do idealistic agendas that require self-sacrifice last among our species? How long do colonies faithfully serve the motherland before deciding to revolt and set their own agenda?

Re:This paradox is full of holes... (1)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068440)

I can't accept the thinking that a sufficiently advanced race would feel it was neccessary to go out and conquer the galaxy, which pretty much blows this theory out of the water.

In Poul Anderson's future history starting with Harvest of Stars [amazon.com] , the machine intelligences that arise on Earth after a first wave of settlers has departed to Alpha Centuri send a message to the colony claiming that they now find pure mathematics more interesting than space exploration. Of course, Anderson sees this as "navel-gazing" and celebrates the irrational curiosity of human beings and drive to see what's out there.

If there are other conscious civilizations out there, ignoring the possibility that they just haven't gotten around to colonizing yet, one might venture that perhaps they too have delved into abstract thought in lieu of expansion.

Re:This paradox is full of holes... (0, Troll)

radtea (464814) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068498)

I can't accept the thinking that a sufficiently advanced race would feel it was neccessary to go out and conquer the galaxy, which pretty much blows this theory out of the water.

Let's see how that argument works at home:

"I can't accept the thinking that a sufficiently advanced country would feel it was necessary to invade other nations on the basis of unverified intelligence that included trivially false claims about the possible uses of aluminium tubes and equally false claims about attempts to acquire yellowcake in Niger."

Nope, not so good.

I don't know precisely what your idea of "advanced" entails, but human history shows that that the most "advanced" culture is the one that goes out and tramples all over the world. The Greeks did it. The Romans did it. The Arabs did it. The Spanish did it. The English did it. It is what every "advanced" culture does: expand to the limits of possibility, which allows them to maximize their share of the Earth's resources. It is not clear why a spacefaring culture should be any different.

Re:This paradox is full of holes... (1)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068532)

Colonization != Conquest

Considering that our population keeps expanding, the pressure to find "more space" somewhere is going to be rather pressing in a few hundred years. Either by that point we'll have figured out a better way to get energy from our existing resources, and we'll have energy to burn on space exploration, or we won't have, and space exploration will be a lost cause.

If it's the former, then there is no reason that we wouldn't expand at least to the limits of our solar system (e.g a Dyson Sphere or some similar energy system), or beyond, because once we get to the point where moving to the edge of the solar system is no big deal, then the extra hop to the next system won't seem that bad either.

I'd never have figured that out (1)

exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068228)

> colonize the galaxy, remain on Earth, or become extinct Profound stuff. I've also heard it said that if P is a proposition then either P is true or P is false. But I've never been one to make such sweeping claims myself.

Duh! (1)

Robber Baron (112304) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068234)

It says that...humans have three choices: colonize the galaxy, remain on Earth, or become extinct."

Well duh! You figure that out all by your self, "Einstein"?
That's like saying I have a choice between staying alive or killing myself.
Or better yet it's like this screen capture [onepeople.org] from CNN.

All too often we get mesmerized by human "thinkers" without realising that once you cut through all the high-falutin rhetoric, they're just talking shit.

Re:Duh! (1)

HTH NE1 (675604) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068354)

Or better yet it's like this screen capture [onepeople.org] from CNN.

At least that means we don't need to look for Osama bin Laden in Schroedinger's Cat Box.

Re:Duh! (1)

LordEd (840443) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068408)

Osama is both dead and alive until somebody sees him. If the US gets him and places him in a box, I think we all know what his state will be.

I challenge NASA ... (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068250)

... to set up a colony alpha Centauri and bring the colonists back to earthy before this decade is out.

NASA Called... (1)

LordEd (840443) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068436)

For some reason, they don't take orders from somebody on Slashdot with a 900k+ user ID.

All Three Choices == Extinct (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18068254)

Homo sapiens have only been around for 200,000 years.
Homo erectus is already extinct, as is every near precursor.

Homo sapiens will be extinct no matter what we do

I saw that Home Erectus (1)

StressGuy (472374) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068534)

Well, part of it anyway. At first I thought it was one of those "Discovery Channel" specials

boy....I could not have been more wrong....all I'm going to say is, it's really important to filter your cable channels these days....

Time is vast. (1)

redelm (54142) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068260)

Why do focus on interstellar distances when _time_ is at least as vast a barrier? Billions of years to dis-coordinate development.

No species lasts forever. They usually overspecialize into extinction.

The paradox with the paradox (4, Interesting)

twifosp (532320) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068280)

The math used in the paradox is flawed. It only contains a linear probability using only one variable: quantity. Wikipedia states that there are an estimated 250 billion visible stars in the milky way and 70 sextillion in the visible universe. What it does not take into consideration is time. For every lightyear of distance a potential life carrying solar system away from Earth is, a year is subtracted from the amount of time it took that potential system to reach space maturity.

In other words, it has taken primates some-odd half a million years to evolve into humans capable of inventing devices that can decipher energy waves from space. It has taken the Earth some 200 million years (from early life to humans) to evolve life on this scale. Assuming other planets have roughly the same time scale, we can only assume those planets inside a 200 (give or take a 100) million lightyear radius contains no life.

The paradox with the paradox is as follows: Earth contains intelligent life. Earth has not colonized the galaxy. Earth's evidence in space only reaches back into the 1930s when the very first signals were sent into space.

"The Great Filter - Are We Almost Past It?" (5, Interesting)

Jerf (17166) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068286)

For what I consider a much better treatment of this topic, see: The Great Filter - Are We Almost Past It? [gmu.edu]

This stuff is a big deal, and the Great Filter paper actually manages to draw some useful concrete conclusions from the question, or at least useful concrete questions.

Also related, albeit a little more tangentially, is "Are You Living In A Computer Simulation? [simulation-argument.com] ". "We're in a simulation and there are no extraterrestrials in the simulation" must be considered one of the leading possible answers. (I'm not advocating it either way, I don't have an answer. Nor do I consider this post anywhere near a complete list, just some relevant pointers.)

maybe there are/were 100,000s alien civs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18068290)

But they all came up with their own version of the Fermi Paradox, talked about it and decided that there wasn't anything out in space worth colonizing.

Define "By Now" (1)

sottitron (923868) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068292)

What if other beings are on a similar technological timeline as ours? How could we have colonized the galaxy since our space exploration has begun? Seems kind of idiotic as to be used as proof that we are the only beings in the universe... This kind of reminds me of a manager who thinks a perfect computer system is easy to develop and doubts you when you tell her/him that it will take actual time to design/implement/test/deploy/maintain...

Sigh.. (2, Funny)

kraemate (1065878) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068296)

Well, what's the use of wondering about so far into the future? I feel too depressed reading about it. Oh no, i'd rather be upset when they say that all crytography algorithms will be cracked within 10 million years, and someone will crack my password and start posting with my uber-low slashdot UID (remember folks, we are talking about ~1000000 AD here).

Intelligence is Improbable (3, Insightful)

radtea (464814) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068302)

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.

Fermi's Paradox isn't really a paradox, it's a question: "Where are they?" One possible answer is, "They don't exist." It seems probable that as we explore the galaxy we will find life everywhere, and intelligence nowhere.

The evidence for this is very strong. For one, there is the fact that we see no evidence for them at all. For two, life on Earth shows us that the kind of intelligence that builds spacecraft is extremely unlikely to evolve.

Evolution routinely produces some complicated solutions to common problems over and over again. The eye has (probably) evolved many, many times. Wings have certainly done so, as have fins. Everything we know about natural history on Earth tells us that evolution by variation and natural selection will produce the same solution to the same problem with very high reliability. This is even true of things like extra vertebra in the necks of some Central American lizard: there are a couple of species that have this feature, and previously they were thought to have a recent common ancestor. Gene sequencing shows this is not the case--it is merely a result of common evolutionary pressures on similar forms having similar results.

Human intelligence, on the other hand, seems to be something of an evolutionary fluke. Our ancestors were a marginal species of mediocre tool users for hundreds of thousands of years before we suddenly started on our current course about fifty thousand years ago, with the Upper Paleolithic Revolution. If intelligence was even just ten times harder to evolve than eyes and wings, it would have occurred more than once in the entire history of the Earth.

Until someone comes up with a compelling account as to why human-style (i.e. machine-building, empire-building, world-colonizing) intelligence should be anything other than incredibly rare, there really isn't any other reasonable answer to Fermi's Question.

Re:Intelligence is Improbable (1)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068410)

The evidence for this is very strong. For one, there is the fact that we see no evidence for them at all.

Maybe they've got rules against littering.

For two, life on Earth shows us that the kind of intelligence that builds spacecraft is extremely unlikely to evolve.

So far, we've got one confirmed planet with life on it, and one confirmed planet whose inhabitants have the technical skills to build spacecraft (note that I'm not implying intelligence here). Looking at Earth doesn't tell us a lot about the probabilities.

Our ancestors were a marginal species of mediocre tool users for hundreds of thousands of years before we suddenly started on our current course about fifty thousand years ago, with the Upper Paleolithic Revolution.

That is a very short timespan, and at some point our capabilities start growing pretty much exponentially, which indicates some sort of positive feedback mechanism. Positive feedback mechnisms amplify even the smallest input signals pretty much infinitely.

If intelligence was even just ten times harder to evolve than eyes and wings, it would have occurred more than once in the entire history of the Earth.

We're only halfway through the history of the Earth, though.

More too it than intellect (2, Interesting)

gentimjs (930934) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068488)

I'd wager that one more informed than I could argue that some elephants have higher intelligence potential than some humans. Whales too, perhaps? The issue is, thier physical form doesnt allow them to -DO- anything WITH that intelligence ... we got lucky with our opposable thumbs ....

only 3 choices? Nah (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068324)

humans have three choices: colonize the galaxy, remain on Earth, or become extinct. - I disagree. There are many many more choices than that. For example a more attainable goal maybe to colonize you entire solar system without ever leaving it for the lack of sufficient energy sources to sustain a thousand year inter-solar space travel. Another possibility is to build a ringworld or a Dyson Sphere of some sort. This obviously does not fall into either of the formerly presented categories. It maybe also possible to actually not leave the Earth, but travel on it towards other solar systems (far fetched, but probably not impossible given enough time,) however travelling on a planet without a companian star would require the people to dig into the planet I suppose and never go outside into the frozen atmosphere.

It may not be feasible and/or necessary to travel outside of your solar system to preserve the species, there is plenty of space here, around our sun.

Of-course our sun will go Nova in about 5 billion years and will turn into a white dwarf, which will radiate heat and light for another trillion years probably. There is no reason to leave this solar system, we can just move away from the sun before it goes Nova and then move back closer to it.

Re:only 3 choices? Nah (1)

AP2k (991160) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068424)

Which would certainly be nice if we would have the technology to move a planet. What if Venus or Mercury would still be too hot to live on? At the point at which this occurs, we should have the technology to make artificial planets anyway. Maybe even artificial suns?

No matter where we go... (1)

greg_barton (5551) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068326)

...we'll still be human. The problem isn't where we are, it's what we are. Don't change that and there's always the possibility we'll amuse ourselves to death. [wikipedia.org]

Fermi Paradox is dumb anyway (1)

Sciros (986030) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068358)

All it boils down to is "either we have overestimated how many advanced civilizations ought to exist out there, or we are rubbish at looking for them." Hmmm well I'm a frickin genius so I'll tackle this one no prob: looking for something that is single-digit lightyears away at best (forget about the 'at worst' because we'll be kinda burned away by then by the sun and all) means you have a LOT of time-lag between any sort of response, even if you do get it, and that's assuming you sent it in the right direction to begin with. So, yes we are rubbish at looking for them, and we can't help it because light speed is the best we can do and the sky is big. Given we don't know how to efficiently locate other civilizations, there's no way to tell whether we're off on how many ought to exist. So the paradox is crap. As far as saying how advanced they ought to be, that's just childish speculation. Colonizing a galaxy would require something that goes well beyond our current grasp of physics given the resources and time scale involved. Sure, it does seem like we have a long way to go in terms of our understanding of the universe, but to say that with enough of an understanding we'll be all over the galaxy is REALLY optimistic.

What a load of crap (1)

mintsauce4096 (732936) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068372)


"The Fermi paradox says that if extraterrestrial civilizations exist, at least one of them should have colonized the entire galaxy by now"

Why can't there be loads of civilizations in similar states to our own, why *MUST* they be so advance that they would be capable of colonising the entire galaxy by now. Even if a civilization was more advance than us who is to say that they are capable of interstella travel. Dosn't this assume some kind of startrek technology is possible? What if its not. So a civilization builds an ark or two to escape a dieing solarsystem and moves to another, thats not talking over the entire galaxy is it?

If life is anything like our own, any sufficiently advanced civilization will have had plenty of chances to nuke themseves before they even got past their local moon.

There are so many things wrong with that logic!

Will colonize Milky Way in 2010 (0, Flamebait)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068384)

Steve Balmer has announced that space exploration will be included as a feature in the next version of the Windows operating system. As a first step, MS will rename Internet Explorer, Universe Explorer.

Some slashdotters decried the move and speculated that Venture capital for the firms currently engaged in space exploration will dry up immediately. European Union created a standard Open Protocol for Space Exploration. Microsoft submitted a competing standard as the standard. Its spokesman said "There should be lots of competing standards. More the merrier."

Meanwhile one lone guy who wrote a "In Soviet Russia the Space explores you" got modded down as "so last century".

Isn't Fermi's Paradox obsolete? (1)

PFI_Optix (936301) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068418)

Wasn't it recently published that it could take billions of years to effectively colonize the galaxy?

A challenge to the Fermi Paradox... (1)

StressGuy (472374) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068452)


a) We exist

b) We are a civilization

c) We have not colonized the universe

d) If a), b), and c) are true for one civilization, it might be true for any number of civilizations

Therefore, it just may be that, the galaxy is so overwhelmingly large that the time for any one civilization to expand enought to encounter another distinct civilization is arbitrarily long.

Then again the SA article was full of fluff so perhaps I missed an important detail?

Typical humans (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18068462)

I find it arrogant to think that any technologically advanced civilization MUST colonize the galaxy. What? Do they have nothing but greedy capitalists running their space colonization program?

It would be that of typical human behavior to colonize the entire galaxy if we had the technological means. I suppose, and hope, that those that can, do and show the proper restraint when it comes to space inhabitation and colonization. I also hope that they steer clear of those lesser civilizations who have yet to overcome their own distinct social problems.

***WARNING***
The Interjection of Extra-Terrestrial Life, and sufficiently advanced technologies onto the present-day societies, and population of Earth is a very, very BAD IDEA!!!!!!!!!!

/have blanket. willing to travel

What about all that stuff at AREA 51? (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068468)

or the Stargate at NORAD

How long ago... (1)

BronsCon (927697) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068478)

Faraday discovered electromagnetic induction 176 years ago, the first radio was patented by William Henry Ward only 135 years ago. (cite: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_radio [wikipedia.org] )

If other intelligent life is out there and looking for us, from between 135 and 176 light years away, they're just now finding us, or are just about to. If they're closer, perhaps they haven't developed the same level of technology we have (or hadn't by the time we did), thus why we haven't found them, either. Or maybe they're just not looking.

If they're more than 176 light years away from us and developed at about the same rate we did, we couldn't possibly have found them yet, signals from their transmissions haven't reached us; likewise for them finding us.

Remember, it's only the general idea they they are more advanced than us, if they exist; it's not a fact. They could be just as advanced as we are or they could be far less advanced than us.

Alternate solution to Fermi's Paradox (1)

trelayne (930715) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068492)

The alternate solution is published in the British Journal of Interplanetary Science and states that the galaxy sure may be teeming with life and that "they" may already be in the neighbourhood. Check it out here: http://www.ufoskeptic.org/JBIS.pdf [ufoskeptic.org]

Fermi Fermi Fermi (1)

Chapter80 (926879) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068500)

"The Fermi paradox says that if extraterrestrial civilizations exist, at least one of them should have colonized the entire galaxy by now."

Our view from Earth is that we can see one planet in the galaxy that can support life as we know it - Earth - and it has life on it.

So from our perspective, it sure looks like it's been colonized. And therefore it's not unreasonable to assume that extraterrestrial civilizations exist.

Earth: Galactic backwater (1)

Lije Baley (88936) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068508)

Many humans would say we have colonized the entire Earth, and yet there are many critters in many crevices who don't know we exist.

Doomsday argument (1)

SiliconEntity (448450) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068514)

The doomsday argument says that if we are going to eventually spread out and colonize the universe, future human population will be enormously larger than today, perhaps billions or trillions of times larger. In that case the chance that we as random humans would find ourselves existing today at such an infinitesimally early stage of human progress is virtually nil. Whereas if this is as big as human population will get, and we don't live too much longer, it makes perfect sense for us to be alive today. Given the evidence, then, we can reject the colonize-the-universe scenario with long odds.

Projection of human patterns on alien speices? (1)

KokorHekkus (986906) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068528)

The Fermi paradox says that if extraterrestrial civilizations exist, at least one of them should have colonized the entire galaxy by now. But since there is no evidence of this, humankind must be the only intelligent life in the galaxy....
Or could it simply be that they are suffienctly different from us that their motivations doesn't make them contact us. Maybe they just got up from their planet because they had to survive and not because some more deeper drive to explore anything and everything. Another possibility is that they avoid being noticed by other, say lesser, species because of practical reasons ("boy are these natives starting to get restless and don't have anything to offer") or philosophical reasons ("let's not mess them up"). And if one species has colonized most of the galaxy and there is a multitude of intelligent life around then why should we be the first one they meet? In that case we are most probably a long way down the line to get contacted if they even if they should want to.

DUH! (1)

Excelcia (906188) | more than 7 years ago | (#18068544)

It says that, like the extraterrestrials, humans have three choices: colonize the galaxy, remain on Earth, or become extinct.
Yes, I needed this article to tell me that humanity can survive here, survive somewhere else, or die. I can now die in peace knowing that someone figuret this out - knowing that the path that humanity might take over the next 5.5 billion years have been recorded by this article. Perhaps I should go into writing - maybe I can make money and get slashdotted by writing these fine articles:
  • War and Peace - an article which will come to the conclusion that there will either be a world war in the next ten years, or there won't be
  • Free Radicals - an article that will point out that radical fundamentalism over the next severl decades will either calm down or flare up more
  • Suffusion - An article that re-delves into the cold fusion debate and ends up pointing out that the idea may or may not have merit

Pulitzer here I come!
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