Fermi's paradox


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Fermi's Paradox​
The galaxy contains roughly a hundred billion stars. If even a very small fraction of these have planets which develop technological civilizations, there must be a very large number of such civilizations. If any of these civilizations produce cultures which colonize over interstellar distances, even at a small fraction of the speed of light, the galaxy should have been completely colonized in no more than a few million years [1]. Since the galaxy is billions of years old, Earth should have been visited and colonized long ago. The absence of any evidence for such visits is the Fermi paradox.

"Where Is Everybody?": An Account of Fermi's Question - UFO Evidence

"Where Is Everybody?": An Account of Fermi's Question
-Eric M. Jones, Los Alamos National Laboratories

Summary: Fermi's Famous question, now central to debates about the prevalence of extraterrestrial civilizations, arose during a luncheon conversation with Emil Konopinski, Edward Teller, and Herbert York in the summer of 1950. Fermi's companions on that day have provided accounts of the incident.
Part of the current debate about the existence and prevalence of extraterrestrials concerns interstellar travel and settlement [1-3]. In 1975, Michael Hart argued that interstellar travel would be feasible for a technologically advanced civilization and that a migration would fill the Galaxy in a few million years [4]. Since that interval is short compared with the age of the Galaxy, he then concluded that the absence of settlers or evidence of their engineering projects in the Solar System meant that there are no extraterrestrials.

Newman, Sagan, and Shklovski [2,5] recall that a legend of science says that Enrico Fermi asked the question, "Where are they?" during a visit to Los Alamos during the Second World War or shortly thereafter. Fermi's question has been mentioned in several other recent publications, but historical basis for the attribution has not been established. Thanks to the excellent memory of Hans Mark, who had heard a retelling at Los Alamos in the early 1950s, we now know that Fermi did make the remark during a lunchtime conversation about 1950. His companions were Emil Konopinski, Edward Teller, and Herbert York. All three have provided accounts of the incident.

Teller remembers: "My recollection of the event involving Fermi . . . is clear, but only partial…."I remember having walked over with Fermi and others to the Fuller Lodge for lunch. While we walked over, there was a conversation which I believe to have been quite brief and superficial on a subject only vaguely connected with space travel. I have a vague recollection, which may not be accurate, that we talked about flying saucers and the obvious statement that the flying saucers are not real. I also remember that Fermi explicitly raised the question, and I think he directed it at me, 'Edward, what do you think? How probable is it that within the next ten years we shall have clear evidence of a material object moving faster than light?' I remember that my answer vas ' 1 o-6.. Fermi said, 'This is much too low. The probability is more like ten percent' (the well known figure for a Fermi miracle.) "

Teller continues: "The conversation, according to my memory, was only vaguely connected with astronautics partly on account of flying saucers might be due to extraterrestrial people (here I believe the remarks were purely negative), partly because exceeding light velocity would make interstellar travel one degree more real.

It was after we were at the luncheon table," Konopinski recalls, "that Fermi surprised us with the question 'but where is everybody?' It was his way of putting it that drew laughs from us ."

Teller remembers the question in much the same way. "The discussion had nothing to do with astronomy or with extraterrestrial beings. I think it was some down-to-earth topic. Then, in the middle of this conversation, Fermi came out with the quite unexpected question 'Where is everybody?' . . . The result of his question was general laughter because of the strange fact that in spite of Fermi's question coming from the clear blue, everybody around the table seemed to understand at once that he was talking about extraterrestrial life.

"I do not believe that much came of this conversation, except perhaps a statement that the distances to the next location of living beings may be very great and that, indeed, as far as our galaxy is concerned, we are living somewhere in the sticks, far removed from the metropolitan area of the galactic center."

York believes that Fermi was somewhat more expansive and "followed up with a series of calculations on the probability of earthlike planets, the probability of life given an earth, the probability of humans given life, the likely rise and duration of high technology, and so on. He concluded on the basis of such calculations that we ought to have been visited long ago and many times over. As I recall, he went on to conclude that the reason we hadn't been visited might be that interstellar flight is impossible, or, if it is possible, always judged to be not worth the effort, or technological civilization doesn't last long enough for it to happen." York confessed to being hazy about these last remarks.

Emphasis mine, -jt3

The question I have is “what if *we* are the decendents of “aliens?” Would we recognize “them” in our midst? Would we recognize “them” within “us?”
Looking at the DNA alone it would seem we are not. Off the top of my head I believe the statistic is that nothing alive from the simplest bacteria to a blue whale shares less than around 20% of the same DNA. If we came from elsewhere it was one mega Noahs Ark and an astounding piece of terraforming.

I think life is very common. Simple, hardy lifeforms that cling on despite the harshness of conditions in most systems. But 4 1/2 billion years of the kind of stability that Earth has enjoyed is probably so rare that it only arises once or twice per galaxy. So many fortuitous coincidences make life as we know it here possible. Stellar mass, stellar stability, galactic stability, galactic position of the sun, system mass and composition, (rich in water and iron, spacing of planets ideal), chance collision that created the moon and kept it in orbit at the distance it is at, low rate of cometary bombardment, powerful electromagnetic field. All those and more had to exist even before we start looking at the genesis and evolution of life. Now if you look at that statistically the odds against it are far greater than you ever winning the lottery, so in my estimation it is rare. But did life arise long long ago, long before the supposed Big Bang, and send out its spores to colonise where they could? Possibly.
Bacteria can and do survive launch and re-entry in the cracks between the heat shield tiles on the space shuttle and we know they can remain dormant almost indefinitely awaiting the right conditions for them to multiply. I dont think that is chance, but an evolutionary strategy.

Maybe other civilizations found out that once they reached that technical level required to traverse the Galaxies, they were no longer interested? Maybe something even more devastatingly entertaining than television, sex, and the internet combined gets invented by advanced races? Perfected narcotics are likely to be invented by us long before either time travel or a practical spaceship -- in which case why would anyone still be interested in space-travel at all? You've got to factor in, too, that not all races would be as peace-loving as ours; so possibly a lot potential races would destroy themselves with nukes or some other weapons before they even got off their planets. Heck, I'd rather watch Star Trek in my living room than travel 100 light years in a cryo-unit.
The Fermi Plague

Stanley Cramer offered one answer to Fermi's question in his editorial in the October 1998 edition of Analog, written a year and a half before September 11. Mr. Cramer referred to this answer as the Fermi Plague. To quote selectively from this editorial:
I think I know the answer. I hope I’m wrong, because what I’m suggesting is scary. But it’s uncomfortably plausible….
The question is the one commonly known as “the Fermi paradox" and summed up in three words: “Where are they?” Many lines of scientific research suggest that the evolution of life is a natural and common outgrowth of stellar and planetary evolution, and that interstellar communication and travel should be feasible (though not easy). Playing with reasonable guesses for the relevant numbers makes it seem highly likely that we should by now have had some contact with, or at least clear evidence of, at least one other technological civilization from somewhere other than Earth. There is no generally accepted evidence that we have. So where are they?
A great many explanations have been advanced for our lack of evidence of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations…. Maybe life, for some reason, is harder to originate than we think. Maybe species that could be spacefaring decide not to, for one reason or another. Or maybe interstellar empires avoid contact with us because they fear us or don’t want to interfere with our development.
And so on.
The trouble with virtually all the proposed solutions, according to many people who’ve thought about the problem, is that while each of them can explain why we haven’t heard from some civilizations, it seems unlikely that any of them would apply to every place with the potential for producing a spacefaring civilization….
Is there some one thing that might be so likely to happen eventually to any technologically advanced civilization that it would account for “The Great Silence”? I may have thought of one, after a series of articles back in February [of 1998] about an anthrax terrorism scare. [Remember this was written before 9/11.] …. No, I’m not going to suggest that every civilization gets decimated by anthrax….
Cramer goes on to say that anthrax is only one thing that we know of with the properties that make it suitable as a weapon of mass destruction, to use the buzz word of the current administration.
[For] the first time in history, its relatively easy for a single individual to unleash a major epidemic. A small conspiracy, involving a mere handful of individuals, could unleash a really major epidemic.
…. Natural plagues develop slowly enough, and usually locally enough that some individuals will usually survive and develop resistance to them. A population may be decimated, but enough will remain to let it recover.
Unnatural plagues may be another matter entirely. A combination of technologies, including biological culturing, weapon-building, and rapid global transportation, can make it possible for a very few individual (or even one) to do things that really could wipe out whole populations, possibly even on a planetary scale.
It would not be a sane thing to do, of course, but that does not mean that nobody would ever do it…. If even one [deeply disturbed individual] decides to take everybody else with him, and knows how, that’s all it takes.
And if populations reach into the billions, the chance of one such individual sooner or later arising in any given civilization is disturbingly high. If that happens fast enough, the average life of a technological civilization may be too short for there to be much chance of two of them occurring close enough together in space and time to make contact. Each one may last only as long as it takes to produce one lunatic with too much power at his fingertips.
Any civilization that wants to avoid becoming one of the casualties will have to find an effective answer to the question: How do you prevent any individual from acquiring or abusing that much power?
Cramer goes on to speculate on the unreliability of answers to this question that rely on preventing Pandora from getting to the box. He concludes
The only really long-term solution, it might seem, is one that many people would reject as an impossible dream. We need to become a world of people who all have the intelligence, mutual concern, restraint, and decency to live together without killing each other, even if we have the means to do so. So I pose the challenge to everyone out there…: How can we make that happen? How can we preserve for everyone as much freedom as possible to build a good life as he or she conceives it, without putting all of us at the mercy of any deranged or evil entity who gets too much power in his hands? ….
Not easy questions, any of them. But they’re questions to which we the best answers we can find.
And we need them now.
What do you think? Is Cramer exaggerating the situation to sell magazines? Or do the natural evolutionary paths of civilization create stresses that almost inevitably lead to its demise?

This much I believe:
  1. The stresses of this particular civilization have alienated large numbers of people across the globe.
  2. The technological and biological means of destruction on a catastrophic scale are increasingly available to the alienated.
  3. That alienation has lead to acts of terrorism with disturbingly increasing frequency and severity and technological sophistication.
  4. The use of force to quell uprisings and acts of terrorism seems to increase elsewhere or elsewhen the intensity of anger and alienation, and consequently the probability of new acts of terror.
  5. On the other hand, ignoring acts of terror tends to encourage its use when the alienated population does not have the traditional military strength to engage in “honorable” war.
Where are they? They killed themselves.
Whats fun with the Fermi Paradox is to realize that
A) we are mid-young in our position in the universe
B) our planet has suffered major setbacks in the evolution of life. It has basically started over at least twice

Now comes the atheists paradox to the Intelligent Design theory (at least one of them). This is why I hate it when someone paints the opposite of Evolution as Creationism (limiting ID to religious versions).

If intelligent life elsewhere could have far preceeded the existence of intelligent life on Earth, then why would it not be feasable to examine the possibility of an external hand in our making? It could at least solve the mammalian gap.

Gandalf Parker
Join the Evolution! : Odd Thotz : CafePress.com
I have not studied game theory, however if the assumptions of the Fermi paradox are serious and true then there is almost certainly an impassable barrier preventing us from any space colonization ever. We have already 'Observed' it by means of Fermi's paradox, and we have only to discover more about what it is.
I have not studied game theory, however if the assumptions of the Fermi paradox are serious and true then there is almost certainly an impassable barrier preventing us from any space colonization ever. We have already 'Observed' it by means of Fermi's paradox, and we have only to discover more about what it is.

Sage words indeed!!

A common misconception is that radio waves of the frequencies we have commonly used travel well in space. They dont. There may be a very few civilisations in our galaxy that we just might with great luck detect from the short period they use "noisy" radio frequencies. Its sort of like looking for the needle in a haystack in a field of a billion haystacks tho. And that needle only exists for a tiny period.
A common misconception is that radio waves of the frequencies we have commonly used travel well in space. They dont. There may be a very few civilisations in our galaxy that we just might with great luck detect from the short period they use "noisy" radio frequencies. Its sort of like looking for the needle in a haystack in a field of a billion haystacks tho. And that needle only exists for a tiny period.

Radio frequencies don't carry information well over light-distances? Cool, however its possible that information could be sent by some other means. They're already doing experiments with entangled quantum particles and electrons to 'Teleport' bits of information. I read it on BBC News. In the lab photo from the article it looked like they were using a green laser for the experiment - not that it matters. I only mentioned that it was green because Seattlegal once posted that green light is in the range 520-570nm (which is I think 52-57Å), and its one of those Hitchiker's Guide type coincidences that she should mention it just days before you posted about poor radio frequency performance! In essence, its as if Douglass Adams knew this would happen and is right here with us arguing against Fermi's Paradox! His book covers tend to have a lot of green in them, by-the-way. So what are we going to believe: Fermi's Paradox :(, or the Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy :)? You know what I think.
Radio frequencies don't carry information well over light-distances?

Not most of what we transmit. There are some signals on tight bands that do travel a long way, (which would be most unlikely to be found unless you were fine tuned to them). But by far the greatest proportion becomes scrambled noise as soon as it hits the interstellar cosmic winds that lay beyond the Heliopause. See diagram courtesy of Wikipedia.

If other civilisations have colonised more than their parent solar system then I would guess they would be using some kind of quantum entanglement for their communications. We are already using such technology. The Singapore stock exchange is linked to several financial institutions in Singapore using such technology and the EU has committed 20m euros to a feasibility study for doing the same in a Europe wide network. But if other civilisations are using this we are not going to find it. It has been developed here because there is no more secure way of communication. Interception causes the destruction of any information. So perhaps Fermis Paradox is actually more than a little naive. It assumes that other civilisations use communications that are probably about as crude and primitive as smoke signals seem to us now. Our airwaves could be buzzing with the chatter of interstellar chinwaggers and we could never hear them, and never will hear them.



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