With interests in science and nature, the author explores topics from a unique and sometimes controversial perspective.
The Fermi Paradox
Where is everybody? This is the question physicist Enrico Fermi put to his colleagues in 1950 while pondering the existence of extraterrestrial life. Essentially he asked: If it is true that there is an extreme likelihood of alien civilizations existing in our galaxy, why does it appear we are alone? This is known as the Fermi Paradox.
Most astronomers agree that there are around 100 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, maybe more. Some of those stars have planets around them, and some do not. Even if only a tiny fraction of those stars are orbited by habitable worlds that makes for an incredible possibility of life in our galaxy.
Keep in mind, that a “habitable world” doesn’t have to be just like ours. Even here on Earth life can spring up in the most bizarre places. Alien life could exist in an almost infinite variety. And the universe is so old that surely many of them are far more advanced than we are.
In fact, the Drake Equation tells us alien life isn't just possible, it's probable.
So, where the heck are they?
Fermi wondered about these things all those decades ago, even before the Drake Equation. We continue to wonder today. The Fermi Paradox is obviously a theoretical question, as there is no way we can prove or know the intentions of beings we have never encountered. But, like Fermi, we can theorize.
Here are a few possible explanations for why we've not encountered alien life, so far.
1. The Universe Is Too Big
Space is huge. Really huge. A trip to Mars would take us many months with our current technology, and reaching Proxima Centauri, the next nearest star system, would take us thousands of years. Even our oldest radio signals have only reached about 90 light-years into space.
So, for right now anyway, we’re depending on any alien civilizations we might encounter to be technologically far superior to us. It also may be possible there are civilizations out there that are aware of us because of our radio signals, but there’s nothing they can do to make contact back.
Their superior technology and intelligence may not be enough to bridge the gap between them and us. We like to think that really smart aliens might be able to overcome all the things that we see as limiting factors to interstellar travel, like that darn speed of light thing, but maybe there is simply no way around that cosmic speed limit.
Maybe there are no wormholes, and warping space is impossible. If the very laws of nature are against them, it doesn't matter how advanced alien civilization may be, they could simply be too far away to ever notice us.
2. The Extraterrestrials Have Destroyed Themselves
In many ways, our own culture has been on the brink of annihilating ourselves since the advent of atomic weapons. Aside from that, we are slowly polluting our planet and using up its resources. Who is to say alien life would be any wiser than we are?
Even a culture that existed for a million years would be a blip in the timeline of the universe itself. Numerous cultures capable of making contact with us may have sprung up and extinguished themselves before we ever knew they were there.
Looking at it this way, not only would alien cultures have to be technologically advanced. They would have to be running along the same timeline as we are, accounting for the time it takes their signals to travel through space of course as well.
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Or, they need to be wired differently, because without fail we see here on Earth that dominant species tend to overwhelm their environment. We're trying to fight against it, to care for our planet, but this desire seems to directly contradict our other needs such as progress and advancement
Perhaps it's simply an inconvenient cosmic truth that advanced civilizations outpace the planets they inhabit. Maybe once they reach a certain tipping point they begin to crumble.
3. Alien Societies Are Too Advanced
Why should an advanced alien civilization capable of identifying other life forms at such great distances bother with a culture that doesn’t even care about sending a manned flight to their next closest planet? To an alien race, we would hardly seem like a worthy ally, and even though we think we are mighty important there are surely more interesting creatures to study in the universe.
If we’re really serious about making contact with alien races perhaps we need to step up our own space program and show we’re eager to be part of the club.
Even then, the kids that drive the high-powered racing motorcycles don't hang around with the kids driving the Big Wheels. Why should an alien civilization pay any attention to us? They could be zipping through our solar system undetected and we'd never know it, at least not until they want us to.
So if this is the case, what do we need to do if we want to make alien contact? The fact may be that an alien race advanced enough for interstellar travel is probably advanced enough to know we are here already. We may just need to wait for them to decide it's time to talk.
4. Earth Is Unique
Though it seems statistically improbable, is it possible that intelligent life is a fluke, and we are truly alone? Maybe, although there is mounting but somewhat controversial evidence in recent years that at least microbial life exists on other planets, and is even capable of surviving in space. Even if life is really, really rare, given the size of the universe it stands to reason that if it can happen here it has probably happened somewhere else too.
But maybe, just maybe, we're the apex of advanced life in all the cosmos. If so, there might be beings on other planets looking up at the stars and wondering if people like us really exist, and when we might be coming to visit them.
The bad news for them is, that we won't be coming any time soon. Our space program has a long, long way to go before we're able to consider travel outside of our solar system.
However, astronomers are getting better and better at locating planets outside of our solar system, and can even determine if a planet might be Earth-like. But even if we spot a planet we're pretty sure could support life like us, it will be a very long time until we can do anything about it.
5. Maybe the Aliens Are Already Here
An extraterrestrial civilization capable of traveling such great distances would obviously be far superior to us. Perhaps they have been visiting our world for decades, centuries, or even since ancient times.
Perhaps the history of UFO sightings, so easily dismissed, is the evidence we have been looking for the whole time, right here under our noses. This is only partially satisfying to most researchers. Even if they are here, they still haven’t made contact and embraced our people. Why not?
One reason could be that they are attempting to study us. They may wish to be as secretive as possible, so as not to upset our natural habits and behaviors. Like when humans disguise themselves behind a blind to better study a wild animal, perhaps aliens prefer to remain hidden and are only seen under rare conditions. This is a reasonable theory, even if it does bruise our egos a bit.
Some conspiracy theorists believe the governments of the world are currently in contact with aliens, a fact they are hiding from their citizens. While there is no doubt that the UFO phenomenon is widespread, it seems unlikely that countries that don't agree on much else would be in cahoots when it came to hiding this secret.
A Few More Theories on Fermi's Paradox
Fermi Paradox Solutions
In the end, there is no real answer to the Fermi Paradox, only more questions. Why? Why not? Where? Perhaps hundreds of years from now we will look back at the time before we began our relationship with the intergalactic community as the dark ages of humanity before we saw the universe in a broader sense. Before we were enlightened by alien cultures. But for now, we’re stuck with what we have, which is a little blue planet all alone in a massive galaxy, within an even more massive universe.
References and Further Reading
- What is the Fermi Paradox?, livescience.com
- How many stars are in the Milky Way? space.com
- Proxima Centauri, closest star to our sun, earthsky.com
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
cryptid (author) from USA on July 02, 2013:
Thank for some great food for thought, Burnell Andrews!
Burnell Andrews from LaBelle, Florida on July 01, 2013:
I like your description, it outlies some of the basics. Consider first we know nothing about probability of life either way. Next we know nothing about probability of intelligence in that life either way either. We have one planet as a sample, and on that planet we don't have a good idea for the probability of intelligence or life on this planet, something like 99% of all species have not been surveyed. If we are to use a record based on what we know, then 2 out of all the species that have ever existed developed intelligence (2 depending on if you count Neanderthal as a separate species). 2 after 4.5 billion years. Is it reasonable to use that as definition, no because we don't have enough information to make a good judgment either way. So to the question is it out there, best answer is we don't know.
We could be exception, we could not, humanoids might exist everywhere, but then they might not, but as to why you gave good descriptions for why civilizations if they evolve might not have arrived. If you like this stuff, anybody look up the Drake equation, its really rather neat.
But thanks for posting author, neat read.
PISUPATI SRINIVAS BHATT from HYDERABAD on November 05, 2012:
Similar forms are a certain uncertainty! The planets are in the magnitude of
cryptid (author) from USA on November 05, 2012:
Maybe. LOL! Some people think that the same conditions that made life possible on Earth, if present on another planet, would mean that alien life would take similar forms to what we see here on our planet. I think that's reasonable, but who knows!
PISUPATI SRINIVAS BHATT from HYDERABAD on November 05, 2012:
If life is there, what are the probable shapes? Does it look like hollywood aliens?
cryptid (author) from USA on November 05, 2012:
Thanks psbhatt. I did get a chance to read your hub and I found it very enlightening. Good stuff!
PISUPATI SRINIVAS BHATT from HYDERABAD on November 04, 2012:
My reactions to 5 explanations: 1 possible 2 possible 3 possible 4 probable 5 possible ! Article well prepared with a balanced view!
You may read mine: why aliens did not contact us and can find some more assumptions! Please give your opinion!
cryptid (author) from USA on June 05, 2012:
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 05, 2012:
I really enjoyed your hub and it gave us much food for thought. I found it to be very interesting and it is surely a much debated question. Congrats on your Hubnugget nomination.
cryptid (author) from USA on June 03, 2012:
Thanks Green Lotus! I appreciate your kind remarks and I'm glad you enjoyed the Hub!
Hillary from Atlanta, GA on June 03, 2012:
I love your Hub cryptid! Welcome to HP and congratulations on you Hubnugget nomination. Not only is this a sophisticated presentation of some popular theories, you know how to take on those "challenging" comments :)
cryptid (author) from USA on June 01, 2012:
Thanks ripplemaker! It's an honor just to be nominated. But I still really hope people vote for my Hub! :-)
Michelle Simtoco from Cebu, Philippines on June 01, 2012:
Anything is possible. I wonder how they really look like! :)
Congratulations on your Hubnuggets nomination! Bring this wide eyed wonder for the world and beyond to the Hubnuggets! This way please https://discover.hubpages.com/literature/I-Left-My...
cryptid (author) from USA on May 25, 2012:
Phil: That reminds me of a Star Trek voyager episode where a culture dissolved because everyone was playing games. You make a good point!
Phil Riddel from Scotland on May 24, 2012:
A fascinating subject and a very interesting hub.
Here's another possibility: all cultures eventually suffer death by television. Shortly after its invention, TV infects every home, reducing the residents to mindless vegetables. Curiosity evaporates, brains atrophy and soon the entire species has lost all interest in the outside world. As ecological disaster/economic collapse/the killer asteroid approaches everyone is too busy watching the extraterrestrial equivalent of The X Factor to bother doing anything about it. I'm only half joking...
cryptid (author) from USA on May 23, 2012:
Dr. Billy: Good point! I guess we're just optimists!
Dr Billy Kidd from Sydney, Australia on May 22, 2012:
Why do people focus on intelligent life. I've never seen any here! Is it supposed to be out there and come and save us?
cryptid (author) from USA on May 22, 2012:
Thanks for the insights everyone! So many varied opinions on this topic.
Brad Masters from Southern California on May 22, 2012:
The real answer is what difference would it make?
If they don't exist - were done
If they do exist but are too far away from us -- were done
If they are here already, or they were here and gone now == then there is no pending invasion. If they cased the Earth, they know we have nothing to offer them.
Haunted Places from Virginia on May 22, 2012:
Great read. I think all 4 apply (sorry #4 to me is possible but very remote) They came, gave a few boosts here and there, some stayed and some come and check on progress. We are not evolved enough to be anything but a "side show" right now.
cryptid (author) from USA on May 22, 2012:
LOL! I know what you mean vinayak! Thanks!
vinayak1000 from Minneapolis on May 22, 2012:
I wish I had the internet as a teenager because there are just so many things that ran through my head that I wish I could have Googled and this was one of them..
cryptid (author) from USA on May 21, 2012:
Mark: That's pretty awesome!
Insane Mundane: I think I get your meaning, and I agree it's a mistake to assume we are capable of figuring it all out, but sometimes it's the wonder of things beyond our understanding that leads to the greatest discoveries. Even though we may not find them until they want us to, I think we have to keep looking and pondering.
Insane Mundane from Earth on May 21, 2012:
Listing 5 explanations through a primitive perspective about advanced extraterrestrial life is like an adult from the future explaining the inner-workings of the Internet to a child listening to a radio during the 1950s.
Outside of the asinine #4 reason (I know, you had to include it), the other four can all still apply, along with a few others, like we are just as much alien as they are, carbon-based life is not the only life possible, etc., etc., and any other science fiction dream turned into reality that you want to add to the galactic cookbook of universal recipes... :)
markbennis on May 21, 2012:
They are here and have always been here and I have seen one personally walk by me on the street in Hayes.