Beemer (dr_tectonic) wrote,

Fermi's Inbox Paradox

melted_snowball posted about the Fermi paradox, which is the question: if there's intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, why hasn't anyone contacted us?

As a total side-note, I just finished re-reading -- somewhat randomly -- The Search For Signs of Intelligent Life In the Universe, the one-woman Lily Tomlin show by Jane Wagner, and I was actually thinking about posting about that today! It's a wonderful, wonderful play. I have it because it was one of the texts for a class I took at MIT on non-linear and interactive fiction, which ranks up there amongst my favorite college courses, actually. It's very funny, and it's about all these synchronicitous and random connections between people, and how we communicate and what it means for people to be in touch with one another. And that's sort of what lots of other people on LJ have been posting about lately (just have a look at my friends page), and kind of what LJ is about anyway, and I guess just... : hey, wow. Synchronicity. Cool.

Anyway, my theory: First, it needs to be noted that the universe is really big. Really, really big. No, bigger than that.

This next paragraph is techno-babble about how many civilizations might be out there. If your eyes glaze over, just skip over it.

There are about a hundred billion galaxies in the universe, at least. A typical galaxy like ours has about a hundred billion stars in it. That's a lot of stars. How many of them have habitable planets? Well, recently, astronomers have been finding lots and lots and lots of stars with planets around them. Okay, supra-jovian gas giants, but still, planets seem pretty common. Let's say one in ten stars has planets at all, and of those, one in ten has planets with the conditions that make life possible. (One in eight is the number we'd pick based on our own solar system.) Complexity theory seems (in my mind, anyway) to suggest that life is an expression of the natural behavior of many far-from-equilibrium systems, which is to start creating complex, ordered systems by locally exporting entropy. So given the right conditions, life should probably be pretty common. Personally, I think there's decent odds we'll find life of some sort elsewhere within our solar system -- life may we not be as common as dirt, it may be MORE common. So let's go with the same "relatively common" number we've been using and call it one in ten. So, that gives us a hundred million planets with life on them, just in our galaxy! How many of those will develop intelligent life that then develops a civilization capable of interacting with others across interstellard distances? That's a complete unknown. But if we plug in 1/10 and 1/10 again, because, hey, it's just a vague estimate, that leaves you with a million.

Think about that. A million separate, civilized, intelligent, alien races out there. In our galaxy alone! Never mind the hundred billion other galaxies! That, my friends, is a LOT of aliens.

Let's hypothesize that there's some way for them to communicate with one another without years of lag. Somebody will have invented something like the Internet. Think about the web. Think about all the useless, stupid, crap out there on the web. All the pages devoted to pictures of someone's car. Badly-spelled and incoherent posturing about whose choice of team sucks more. Nigerian spammers. Websites in orange text on a pink background with the blink tag and background music. Viruses in email attachments. Popup ads. Pages devoted to someone else's freaky sexual fetishes. (And other people's fetishes are always freaky.)

Now. Raise that to the power of a million.

With aliens.

That's right, the web to the power of a million with alien fetish porn and Aldebarian spammers trying to get you to call them long-distance with your planetary bank account information.

Is it any wonder that nobody's contacted us? Nobody wants MORE aliens joining the intergalactic community, there's too damn many already! Shut up! We don't want anymore newbies forwarding us the Nyiem'n-MrrQ*us Hundred-Credit Zoglut-Chip Cookie Recipe! The galactic community is full, go home!

That's why I think nobody's contacted us.

They're just too damn busy sorting through their email.
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