The Alternative Fermi Paradox

The Fermi Paradox has been greatly discussed lately in scientific circles. With the discovery of five planets by the Kepler satellite/telescope (these were a calibration test) and James Cameron’s new film ‘Avatar’, interest in space is starting to come back into the public consciousness (for how long?).

Briefly, the Fermi Paradox is that if intelligence has arisen in the Galaxy previously hundreds of millions of years ago, where are they?

Surely if there are civilizations millions of years old, wouldn’t they have spread through the Galaxy and colonized the Earth/Solar System?

Let me state first that the Fermi Parodox was just a lunch-time thought experiment lark proposed by physicist Enrico Fermi back in 1952, he wasn’t really ready to bring it into serious discussion. He really didn’t care either way. Number two fallacy about the Fermi Paradox is that it is heavily anthropocentric culturally. How do we suppose that any alien culture/civilization would follow our pattern? Could we recognise an alien civilization if we stumbled across one? What would be the hallmarks, on and on, etc?

So, we shouldn’t imprint what aliens would do, even though we only have one sample size to compare against. Us.

One thing we’re finding out about the Galaxy, planets are fairly common. Just about every star we’ve studied there are planets orbiting them. Albeit most of them are super-Jupiters, but that’s because they’re big enough to be discovered using our primitive methods. As our methods improve, chances are excellent we’ll find an Earth-like planet or exo-moon orbiting a gas giant.

That doesn’t mean we’ll find intelligence right after that, oh no. But chances are in our favor of eventually running across a race of beings who happen to think just like us. At least one. Living or long dead.

And we better hope they’re long dead.

Because in the scheme of things, the Law of the Jungle applies to the wider Universe too.

And if a race knows there’s a potential competitor spreading out from their cradle, it might behoove the civilization to strangle the infant in its crib:

The game plan is, in its simplest terms, the relativistic inverse to the golden rule: “Do unto the other fellow as he would do unto you and do it first.”…

When we put our heads together and tried to list everything we could say with certainty about other civilizations, without having actually met them, all that we knew boiled down to three simple laws of alien behavior:

If an alien species has to choose between them and us, they won’t choose us. It is difficult to imagine a contrary case; species don’t survive by being self-sacrificing.

No species makes it to the top by being passive. The species in charge of any given planet will be highly intelligent, alert, aggressive, and ruthless when necessary.


Your thinking still seems a bit narrow. Consider several broadening ideas:

  • Sure, relativistic bombs are powerful because the antagonist has already invested huge energies in them that can be released quickly, and they’re hard to hit. But they are costly investments and necessarily reduce other activities the species could explore. For example:
  • Dispersal of the species into many small, hard-to-see targets, such as asteroids, buried civilizations, cometary nuclei, various space habitats. These are hard to wipe out.
  • But wait — while relativistic bombs are readily visible to us in foresight, they hardly represent the end point in foreseeable technology. What will humans of, say, two centuries hence think of as the “obvious” lethal effect? Five centuries? A hundred? Personally I’d pick some rampaging self-reproducing thingy (mechanical or organic), then sneak it into all the biospheres I wanted to destroy. My point here is that no particular physical effect — with its pluses, minuses, and trade-offs — is likely to dominate the thinking of the galaxy.
  • So what might really aged civilizations do? Disperse, of course, and also not attack new arrivals in the galaxy, for fear that they might not get them all. Why? Because revenge is probably selected for in surviving species, and anybody truly looking out for long-term interests will not want to leave a youthful species with a grudge, sneaking around behind its back…

You’re propably considering this rather harsh, but think about how Nature works on this planet.

The Survival of the Fittest.

Why wouldn’t this apply to the larger Universe in which we live as well?

Interstellar kinetic weapons? Exploding stars? Mysterious x-rays emminating from supposedly stable stars?

What about gamma-ray bursts? Are they a natural occurance, or funeral pyres of nascent civilizations?

Is the reason SETI radio telescopes aren’t detecting signals from other cultures is that they’ve been wiped out by an ancient super-civilization concerned about competitors?

Something to think about and something astronomers and astrophysicists should consider when conducting their search for exo-Earths.

So You Have Fermi Paradox’s Solution?


8 responses

  1. I have a sneaking suspicion it could be even worse.
    Our physical dimension is only one of many. Lots of religious disciplines have this vibration as only a kindergarten to learn and then to progress to higher vibrational realms. So civilizations that we might have wanted to meet and greet are long out of here. Unfortunately the only ones left would be the worst of them all, energy or blood sucking reptilian types who make a good living sticking around down below, meaning here. Yikes.

    1. Good point Nolo. The Hindus have taught this for hundreds of centuries. We should very well be wary of running across the worse of the worse in this plane of existence!

  2. Possibly, dad2059, you have put a interesting point here, might gamma ray burst be an intelligent encoded signal from nascent civilization. Pulsar owns a high probability to being of this scenario. This topic need a whole post. I’ve replied to your comment regarding your kinetic energy weapon arguments.

    1. I don’t think a gamma-ray burst would be a signal, too destructive.

      But pulsar signals have been theorized to be intelligent communication.

  3. “Briefly, the Fermi Paradox is that if intelligence has arisen in the Galaxy previously hundreds of millions of years ago, where are they?”

    They’re hiding… from us. Think about it. Would you like your trailer-trash relatives contacting you? And, from the theist viewpoint, (yeah, you KNEW it was coming!) the only race contaminated by sin would naturally be given the cold shoulder until the ‘virus’ was eliminated. Like plague victims in the 17th Century…

    The scenario presented by your first commenter would be valid enough, if, indeed, we are here by purely evolutionary chance. At the same time, seeing as how we would neither have been designed or planned, what’s so special about us? Or them? We’d have a universe of happenstance and purposelessness, with no concept of evil or good. In fact, most of us would probably be better off dead, given that we’re only an accident with no future beyond a measly 80-or-so years being taxed and regulated, then expiring!

    Being the ‘top dogs’ in the universe, too, would get tiring, after awhile. Always waiting for the inevitable ‘young gun’ to come into town, looking to make a rep for himself. I dunno about you, but, I wouldn’t like to be looking over my shoulder all of the time.

    I think the greatest tragedy there is would be to be born with no purpose, and there is no purpose to a universe that simply ‘happened’. I believe that there are other civilizations out there, ALL benevolent. I also think space is big enough that there doesn’t need to be any underlying “dimensions” to it, either.

    Summing up, WE are the only ones with problems, and our confinement or isolation from the rest of the universal community is mostly for their benefit. You don’t let plague victims loose in public, it’s counterproductive to a continued existence. Much like man’s expulsion from Eden, it’s a matter of containment until the problem is fixed.

    1. That would suck being here with evil reptilian creatures, which we might be.

      That begs the question whether we should be sending signals out telling potential enemies “we’re here!”

      I think there’s beings more evil than we are out there.

  4. Guess I missed the attribution for the 3 laws of alien behavior. Beside being unprofessional, it’s a disservice to your readers who might enjoy the book from which it came.

  5. That’s why I provided a link to click onto if you wanted more info! 😉

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