|Thoughts about the Fermi Paradox, and perspective
||[Aug. 11th, 2002|05:54 pm]
You may, or may not, have heard of an idea call the "Fermi Paradox". It is sometimes taken as a suggestion that civilizations are extremely rare, or possibly unique. I say "sometimes", because it bothers me on a fundamental level to use it as such.|
The argument goes like this. Assume "human like" civilizations are not too uncommon. Given how old the universe is, and how far human civlization has come in such a miniscule portion of the age of the universe, there must be many, many civilizations advanced far beyond ours. Take *ANY* assumptions about how quickly (or, if you will, 'slowly') they spread to other star systems. They should be spread out so incredibly far that it seems nearly impossible that we haven't seen more evidence of them.
I may not have this entirely right, and if so, it's probably my own fault. As I said, I don't like it because it misses the obvious.
"Assuming our postulates about the ability to travel between star systems, and the willingness to do so, are correct".
Maybe travelling between star systems is, essentially, an impossibility. Sure, there are some fine ideas about how it could be accomplished, but we'll only know it can be done once it is. What if the essential limit on speeds is simply too low a fraction of the speed of light to matter?
If you assume a .1c speed limit, sure, you can reach a nearby star system in "only" 40 years... that's nothing compared to the age of the universe, or even the age of the earth. But it's huge compared to the lifespan of a human. The youngest person we can imagine sending into such a condition would be old enough to be in danger of losing physical and/or mental ability rapidly. Plus, for all the research that's done on psychological fitness for sub duty, I bet they still have troubles with cabin fever, and with a sub, you're maybe weeks from port, not years.
What if there is no suspended animation, no computers that can flawlessly keep the ship running, no rugged pioneers willing to have their children pilot the ship home, because they'll be dead of old age?
However, just to be fair, let me point out that the Fermi Paradox isn't meant to be a logical paradox... few, if any, people consider it 'proof' that we're alone in the universe. Most of what I've heard of it is a really big puzzle, which is how I take it.
I suppose in some ways, it has to be a really big puzzle, and almost a paradox... because if we thought of it as a "paradox", the natural thing to do would be to stop thinking of interstellar travel, and maybe even toss aside SETI.
I think it's also interesting why I was thinking about this today. I had a vague memory that popped into my head, that I now think was related to Fermi's Paradox.
I remembered, as a child, reading an article (really a very short blurb) about a suggestion that every civilization would get to a certain point, then develop nuclear weapons, and then annihilate themselves.
This is such a vague reference, and such a long time ago, that I could never find out what it was, at this point, but it suddenly struck me that this was probably meant as an explanation of the Fermi Paradox.
But that's not the thing that was really interesting. What was really interesting was the realization that there were generations of people born thinking almost casually that, sooner or later, a full scale nuclear war was nearly inevitable. Someone could speak about a hypothesis that every civilization blows itself up after so many years, and a newspaper would report it, as if it were possible.
Today, if you suggested such a thing, I think the disbelief would be so solid that it wouldn't even be reported, unless it warranted a mention in "news of the weird", or somesuch.
This was another one of those times when I was just amazed at the changes in the world, and the changes in perspectives, and all occurring in a relatively short-ish lifetime. (Hey, 35 years isn't a big deal.)
Then I started thinking about a nice wrap-up line to use here, and decided that it was time to try to understand objects in VB once again. (Side note: the more I study objects in VB, the more I like Java and C++.)