Suppose for a moment that life really is rare in the universe. That when we are able to investigate the nearby stars in detail, we not only discover no civilizations but few living things of any kind. If all the elements for producing life are there, is there some kind of filter that prevents it from proceeding into advanced and intelligent stages that use artifacts, write poetry and build von Neumann probes to explore the stars? Nick Bostrom discusses the question in an article in Technology Review, with implications for our understanding of the past and future of civilization…
Bostrom’s idea of a ‘Great Filter’ comes from Robin Hanson (George Mason University), and consists of the kind of transition that a civilization has to endure to emerge as a space-faring culture. The key question: Is the filter ahead of us or behind? If behind, wonderful — we have already passed the test and can look with some confidence to the future. Recent work, for example, indicates that human beings were reduced to a band of as little as 2000 individuals some 70,000 years ago, near extinction. Yet somehow migrations out of Africa began 60,000 years ago, and all the tools of civilization would emerge in their wake.
I was really taken aback when I read this piece from Bostrum. Of all the people who display paroxysms of anthropocentrism and ethnocentrism, he would be the last person I would expect to display such.
I read Paul Gilster’s blog every day for it’s no nonsense science and for the spirited, intelligent commenting that happens there. I think I live there as much as I live here! And I agree whole-heartedly with his commentary at the end.
To add to his commentary I would like to paraphrase a statement from Graham Hancock; ” To believe there is no other intelligent life in the Universe and there are no other great civilizations is be arrogant and stupid…”
Not an exact quote, but the idea is the same.