Guest article by Andrew Fain.
Enrico Fermi was a theoretical and experimental physicist known for his work on the first nuclear reactor, contributions to quantum theory, particle physics and statistical mechanics. He won the nobel prize in 1938 and was widely known as the father of the atomic bomb along with Robert Oppenheimer.
- Enrico Fermi
One day over lunch, discussing the possibility of extraterrestrial life with Edward Teller, he jotted down some calculations on a napkin and came up with a theory known as Fermi’s Paradox. It states that since there are probably lots of habitable planets orbiting stars that are cosiderably older than our sun, intelligent extraterrestrial civilizations would likely be millions of years more advanced than us. Fermi theorizes than even at sub light speed one or more of these civilizations would have had ample time to colonize the galaxy by now and we would have seen evidence of their presence.
But we haven’t, so according to Fermi, they don’t exist.
People, however, have been seeing weird stuff in the skies for a long time now. And many believe that UFO’s could be the missing link in Fermi’s Paradox. There was recently even a five day symposium on the subject in Washington. It was chaired by six former congressman who were paid 20,000 each to listen to the stories of many experts and witnesses who laid out their cases linking UFOs to extraterrestrials. In the end, the conclusions drawn were inconclusive at best. After many years of reports and thousands of witnesses , including two presidents, there has never been a shred of proof of UFO’s having a cosmic origin. Funding for SETI would long ago have gone through the roof if there was. Even those scientists who believe in life elsewhere aren’t buying it. Logic dictates that if aliens were coming here they would have already said hello or have the technology to remain anonymous and render their craft invisible to human eyes. As far as the Roswell crowd goes, I highly doubt we would be spending billions trying to locate tiny microbes on Mars if we already had someone from out there, down here. The UFO movement has become more of a cult based phenomenon and lucrative industry than anything grounded in scientific fact.
But the story does not end there.
Fermi’s Paradox has for years been a fallback position for those scientists who believe the only advanced intelligent life in the cosmos is us. The holy grail for alien skeptics if you will.
But was he right?
Fermi was a very smart guy. There is no doubt about that. Only someone like him could instantly calculate that advanced alien civilizations, millions of years old, would be able to colonize most of the galaxy by now, and I believe him. But when he concludes they don’t exist because we haven’t seen evidence of them, I have a bit of a problem with his logic. If an extraterrestrial civilization had colonized a large part of the galaxy, would we, as Fermi suggests be aware of it? I highly doubt it. Any advanced civilization had probably long ago stopped using radio as a means of communication and current telescopes would not be advanced enough to pick up evidence of their comings and goings. We could be receiving evidence of their transmissions right now and probably wouldn’t recognize them for what they were. There could even be a galactic convention going on out there and we probably wouldn’t know about it.
Arthur C. Clarke compares it to jungle savages listening for the beat of tom toms while the ether around them contains more words per second then they could utter in a lifetime.
Its likely that extraterrestrials have colonized a large part of the galaxy. And someday we will uncover proof of this. But that day is in the future.
Evidence could come in the form of something hypothetically known as a Bracewell Probe that may have been be lurking for ages in the far reaches of our solar system, fully automated, highly intelligent and ready to make contact at any moment. Or as depicted in the movie 2001, a device could have been on the moon for eons, watching, waiting and ready to send out a signal when discovered. There could even be a complex system of tiny monitoring devices based on molecular nanotechnology here on earth, observing us even now.
Science fiction has become science reality.
Taking it a step further, we may eventually discover a string of satellites known in theory as a Dyson Sphere constructed around a distant sun to harness the majority of that star’s energy output for whatever their needs might be. It may also be possible for an advanced alien race to create a black hole as an energy source or even waste disposal. We might see it for what it is, if its size were less than 3.5 solar masses which is the minimal for those produced naturally.
Even stranger still, Some scientists think that there might be messages encoded in our DNA. Mathematical constructs that cannot be explained by Darwin’s theory of evolution. A kind of genetic WOW signal that suggests we may be products of alien engineering.
The difference between us and just one highly advanced alien civilization could be so enormous, it might be like comparing the intellect of Albert Einstein to an ant. Many scientists believe the gap to be even far greater than that. An end result that at first glance may appear to look more like Fermi’s conclusion than anything else. Beings sophisticated enough to colonize the galaxy that are too difficult for us to even recognize as a life form.
SETI’s 60 year search for narrow band repeating radio beacons at certain frequencies is admirable but probably been destined for failure from the beginning. When you are contemplating something truly alien and and advanced enough to traverse the galaxy, you must stop thinking of concepts in human terms and realize communicating with them may be comparable to attempting conversation with a blade of grass. They may have become something more machine like than anything else, using forms of communication we can only dream of. Or perhaps even a society so technically proficient , they ‘ve morphed into beings that have retreated into their own internet like existence. There are even theories that some of the oldest alien lifeforms in the galaxy could become so highly evolved, they might have the ability to transform themselves into something resembling waves of energy, no longer needing spacecraft to traverse the vast distances between the stars.
So, as far as Fermi goes on this subject, I think he’s one for two.
They are out there somewhere. Of that I have no doubt. If they don’t find us first, we must eventually move out to the stars to try and locate them. The reasons are these. First, think of the answers to long sought after questions that will finally come our way. Second, making contact will remind us that our world is inhabited by people who despite their differences are all the same and perhaps hate, prejudice, and warfare will become a thing of the past. And third, if we can behave, we will become part of something greater and far more important than we could have ever imagined.
Members of the galactic society.
The last is not. If we don’t learn to get along with each other, and soon, before we ever find aliens, one of Fermi’s other ideas might just ultimately turn out to be our undoing. And then, all that we have achieved through the ages will be lost forever as the human race is erased in the searing heat of nuclear conflagration.
Let’s not let that happen.