I get questioned a lot on whether or not I believe the stuff I write in my weekly wonders. Mostly, I just like writing controversial or thought provoking stuff. But primarily, I research it cause it inspires my own stories.
But, one thing I don’t mind admitting, is that I am 100% certain we are not alone.
You can’t tell me in that infinite void we call the universe, no one else climbed out of the primordial slime. No chance. I mean, does anyone actually believe that any more?!
But then, if there’s life out there… where the hell is it?
And that’s the question Fermi tries to answer with his paradox.
The Fermi paradox, according to Wiki, tries to solve the contradiction between the fact that space is infinite, and therefore the likelihood of there being life out there, is high. Yet, there is a lack of evidence for higher civilisations, (or at least a lack of accepted evidence).
Fermi asked just that.
If space is infinite, then the probability of other life is high, so why have we not encountered any other life forms?
To be fair, it’s a good question. He continues to add that our sun is average, in an average galaxy, that even at the slow pace of interstellar travel, our galaxy could be crossed in less than a million years. If it can be crossed in less than a million years, and the universe is over 13 BILLION years old, someone must have been able to cover the distance by now.
Fermi also reasoned that every star system ought to have been colonised and under the command of a species within 10 million years (SETI)…this is where he starts to lose me, didn’t it take at least 4 million years for us to crawl out of the primordial sludge, stop scratching our arses and start using our frontal cortexes?
Now, this is complicated, so I found a youtube video that explains it very simply, in just 6 minutes, watch it.
To summarise the video, it explains that there are three stages to life:
Type 1 – a civilisation that can use all resources on its planet
Type 2 – a civilisation that can use all the resources of its home star
Type 3 – a civilisation that can use all the resources of its entire galaxy (this would be god like to us)
It also highlights the concept of filters – a kind of barrier that life faces whilst trying to survive which is extremely hard to over come. The reasoning for it – the fact that we haven’t seen any other life, therefore, there must be something ‘a filter’ preventing us from surviving or travelling or…. etc etc.
It then gives three reasons why we may not have seen life so far:
1. Maybe these filters exist and we have passed them, if so maybe we are the first civilisation to exist, the rest are behind us and trying to pass the filters.
2. Maybe we are behind other civilisations and the filters are ahead of us and we don’t know yet if we will survive them, or worse, we reach a filter that no life has yet been able to pass.
3. Maybe there is a type 3 civilisation out there that is watching us ready to extinguish us when we reach a certain level, or maybe they will welcome us. Or maybe, we are going to be that type 3 civilisation.
If you check out the Wiki page, there are a dozen or more reasons why we haven’t found life: we’re not listening correctly, we haven’t existed long enough, its too resource expensive to travel through space, extinction by natural disasters, everyone is listening instead of transmitting, Earth is purposely isolated – kept in a cage like a zoo, they are here, and we don’t know or worse, they are here and we do know but society doesn’t.
The problem with this paradox, is that either way, we’re fucked. If we DO discover life out there, then it means the filters we have passed are easier to pass than those we have coming. Meaning, whatever filter is next, or the one after that, will likely kill us.
Here’s another article with 11 weird answers to the fermi paradox.
What does this mean for writing? Well it’s a wicked cool hypothesis to base a sci-fi or fantasy story on. Right now, I have all kinds of ideas churning round my head. Here’s some questions that are giving me story ideas:
- What does (or could) a filter look like?
- What happens when we get there? Could I set a story right at the point civilisation reaches a filter?
- How do we fight it or battle past it?
- Do we survive? What happens if we DO survive? What would life look like?
- What if we met other species battling the same filter? What if they were the filter?
Finally, there is a TEDx talk from Rob Hanson that discusses this:
Did this spark inspiration for you? What do you think of the Fermi Paradox? Do you think there’s life out there? Let me know in the comments below.
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