Put simply, the Fermi paradox states that if alien civilisations exist, then at least one of them would have already made contact with us – but as they haven’t, we have to ask ourselves: where are they?
The trouble is, this is a deeply flawed argument.
How long have we had radio? A hundred years? As I write this, I’m looking at a picture of Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 1672, a dusty whorl of several hundred billion stars lying more than 60 million light years away.
If a single civilisation arose in NCG 1672 and saw fit to send (for whatever reason) a radio signal in our direction, would we have equipment sensitive enough to receive it? And even if we did, 60 million light years is a long way. In order for us to receive it now, in the relatively short period of time since we discovered radio, they would have had to broadcast it at around the time the dinosaurs were dying off on Earth.
But what if they evolved some time in the last 50 million years? Or in the last 2 million years? We’d never know.
After all, how long have we been around, as a species? 100,000 years? What if they discovered radio a thousand years ago? Perhaps we’ll find out… in 60 million years’ time.
One of the arguments put forward by proponents of the paradox is that by this time, a species should have arisen with the capability to colonise the entire galaxy, and so their absence is a great mystery. However, I can’t help thinking that this argument assumes too much. Firstly, why would a species want to colonise the whole galaxy? It seems a peculiar, manifest destiny kind of an assumption. There are other ways to control your population and energy needs than to simply spread across the sky like a virus. Secondly, it assumes that kind of civilisation should have arisen in our galaxy. With 100 billion other galaxies to choose from, this seems rather a blinkered assumption, unless advanced technological civilisations are so common that every single one of those 100 billion galaxies has one. If not, the odds of finding ourselves in the same galaxy as a species old and advanced enough to colonise it must be at least several billion to one. I’m not disputing that they might be out there, just that the chances of finding them on our galactic doorstep seem remote, to say the least.
So, fuck the Fermi paradox. The answer to the question Where are they? is simply: A really, really long way away.
Given the vastness of the cosmos and the distances involved, expecting alien signals to have arrived in the eye-blink since we invented radio seems ludicrous and self-important.
We may have to resign ourselves to the possibility that although there may be a million super-civilisations currently operating in the galaxies we see though our telescopes, we’ll never know.
Even if, for some unfathomable reason, they decided to send a signal our way, the human race would probably be long extinct by the time it arrived.Tags: Aliens • Fermi Paradox • Space