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Comment of the Day: On Fermi's Paradox

"Humans May be One of the Early Advanced Species in Our Universe" -- Dimitar Sasselov of Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics



Intelligent life may be in it's "very young" stage in the observable Universe. Its 200 billion galaxies show a clear potential to continue on as we see them today for hundreds of billions of years, if not much longer. Because planets and life are so young in our Universe, says Harvard's Dimitar Sasselov, perhaps "the human species are not late comers to the party. We may be among the early ones."

That may explain why we see no evidence of "them" and may go a long way to explaining the famous Fermi Paradox, which asks if there's advanced intelligent life in the Universe, where are they? Why haven't we discovered any evidence of their existence?

The story of the Universe according to Sasselov in is new study, The Life of Super-Earths, looks like this: generations of stars made enough iron and oxygen, silicon and carbon, and all the other elements from the original hydrogen and helium about 13 billion years ago to be able to form the Earth we live on and the planets the Kepler Mission is discovering today.

Stable environments in galaxies that were enriched enough to have planets only became available some nine billion years ago and rocky Earth-like planets and larger super-Earths, only some 7 to 8 billion years ago. And Life had to wait until that time if not later to begin its emergence throughout the Universe. Between 7 and 9 billion years ago, enough heavy elements were available for the complex chemistry needed for life to emerge were in place along with the terrestrial planets with stable environments necessary for chemical concentration.

Enrico Fermi argued that given the old age of the Universe and given the large number of stars and planetary systems and the incredibly short timescale it took humans to develop technology that other origins of life and civilizations in the Milky Way could have had a significant head start and should be significantly more advanced than we are.

Sasselov concludes that the statistical argument for Fermi's Paradox "holds true only if the timescale for the emergence of life is much shorter than the age of the universe, but not so if the two are comparable." The future for life in the Universe looks excellent, says Sasselov.

Planets may be just a tiny fraction of the Universe because of their small size, but there are so many of them that the probability of life grows exponentially. The Universe is passing through the stelliferous era --its peak of star formation--but appears to be still peaking in its formation of planets. There are more stars in the Universe than there are grains of sand on Earth and there are an equal number of planets.

There are 200 billion stars in the Milky Way and 90% are small enough and old enough to have planets in orbit. And only 10% of these stars were formed with enough heavy elements to have Earth-like planets with 2% of these --or 100 million super-Earths and Earths-- will orbit within their star's habitable zone.

Sasselov's argument in The Life of Super-Earths is compelling. One has to wonder, however, that if another planet out there in the Milky Way (and billions of galaxies beyond) is only a billion years older than Earth, how much more advanced and detectable would their technology be? As Arthur C. Clarke famously wrote, any advanced alien technology would be indistinguishable from magic.

The Daily Galaxy via The Life of the Super-Earths, Dimitar Sasselov (2012)



well, that seems pretty arrogant. Humans are good at destroying things. no god involved

It's an interesting idea that I had not fully contemplated. Perhaps we are one of the first or more advanced species to have evolved in the Cosmos. All jokes aside about how pathetic we are, that's a pretty amazing thing to go over in your mind.

Jumped joseph, that Bommarito advertisement is the most obnoxious invasion of a web page I've seen in some time.

While I love bringing new ideas to the table, I have to say that I don't see a paradox as Fermi does, but an arrogant assumption by Fermi and those who endure his paradox. Even if you wish to dismiss the possible interpretations of some human artifacts as laying claim to previous encounters with extraterrestrial intelligence there is no paradox, for our inability to be aware of non-human intelligence (likely greater than our own) has far more possible causes than merely there is no ETI within our sight.

I contend that a billion years is a long time. My thesis states that all life-forms which can develop intelligence are evolution-based by definition. The prime directive of every evolution-based life form must be to reproduce without regard to the welfare of the civilization (Dawkins). Any developing intelligence which manages to arrive at type 0 will simultaneously (<500 years) deplete the natural resources of it's planet and go extinct. (1) there are therefore no type 1 civilizations; (2) we cannot become a type 1 civilization."

We actually are among the latest, not earliest in terms of planet inhabiting intelligent species. But in terms of intelligent life in general - it is far older than this universe.

Why is it that the number of mass extinction events that inevitably must have affected the evolutionary process is almost never mentioned in articles such as this (articles which speak of the possible universal population of intelligent life)? What course would life on this planet have taken if merely one of the at least five mass extinction events that have happened in the last 540 million years had not occurred? Or if one more had occurred? Would a different form of intelligent life have evolved? Would our evolutionary course have been affected in a way as to leave us non-existent? What about mass extinction events on other planets? Is that taken into account? I understand that the variables are nearly incalculable, but I believe it must be taken into consideration. Chances seem to me that if it has happened here five times, it has probably happened on any other possible life supporting planet.

they forgot to take in consideration the evolution speed, if on our planet it took 3 billions years from single cells organism to our level of intelligence, this timeline only apply of our evolutionary growth based on out DNA mutations and environment, and it could take a different path for the dinosaurs evolution if they wouldn't be wiped out and if a smart dinosaur would emerged he will have a millions years ahead of us and that make a huge technological difference, but as noticed can be other types of self replicating DNA with perhaps with arsenic or even metallic as a recent article shows, those might evolve into intelligence might faster and 1 billion year ahead of us would be enough to reach type 3 civilization

So a type 3 civilization would be one which has mastered orthography and punctuation?

I also believe Fermi's paradox to be an arrogant assumption. Say "intelligent" life is rare enough that it only occurs once or twice per galaxy. Sure that makes the universe potentialy teeming with intelligent life.... But that also means that the nearest intelligent life would be millions of light years away... or if in our own galaxy, say the other side of the galaxy, 100,000 light years away.

Even if they could travel at the speed of light(which would be far more advanced that us), or send out strong enough communications as to not deteriorate into what might just look like space noise, it would take 100,000 to millions of years to reach us here.

The chances of our petty century(or a little better) of being able to even detect radio signals, matching up with their breif radio history ( if ours can be used as a model ), is even far less than the possiblity of intelligent life evolving in the first place!

So to say we should have detected other intelligent life by now is absurd.

If this premise is true, then most worlds which support life would not have intelligent life, removing some critical ethical issues. I read this as all the more reason to push towards eventually colonizing other planetary systems. There may not be intelligent life anywhere near us in the galaxy now, but our neighborhood may be rich with them in a couple of hundred thousand years through colonization and speciation.

I believe the Fermi paradox is not true: we are surrounded by higher evolved life forms that we cannot detect and some forms that we can see or feel. Supernova cycles apparently occur at 4-5 billion year cycles and completely sterilize whole sectors of galaxy-wide space thus restarting the clock for cell and bio-information (DNA) development on billions of planets, as well as birthing new planets. After this phase, and within those grand supernova cycles there are 20-200 million year ‘fine tuning” traumas such as comets, meteors, mega-volcanoes and planetoids that bring new species into dominance each of which is given the chance to evolve into higher civilizations (technology wise) capable of space travel, then going virtual (losing physical forms) and perhaps “bugging out” to avoid the next supernova wave. Thus every planet has 20-200 chances to evolve a life form capable of the ultimate survival strategy before the next supernova. This picture describes whole galaxies, with billions of planets, as renewable mega-machines continuously at work churning out potential life forms like sperm organs attempting to achieve the ultimate connection and reproduce. Human civilization as a whole, with quantum memory and processing conceived of and in practice (at least for DARPA), is about 25 years from going virtual (i.e. having immortality) and taking the ultimate survival strategy - ‘bug out” to an interstellar nomadic existence! Once we start our new phase of virtual existence and travel the universe without regard to running out of gas or food, what will be our relationship to other life we come across? Would we care to interrelate with them, except to research and note them as “watchers”? Humans are certainly within a century of that phase, and maybe we will survive that long. Meanwhile, here on the ranch, I believe we are surrounded by sentient “life” or “awareness” we can not see except as they decide when and how to manifest. And then there are a few “camel-riding” physical nomads or autonomous robot explorers that visit occasionally.

The problem with this these (that humans maybe an early bird in the universe) is that it fails to really understand that when life can it exist, it exist rapidly and in great profusion.

Using our only existence proof, Earth, as an example, we see that once life begins, it proceeds rapidly. A billion years is nothing. The entire history of life on this Earth is about 600 million years. In that time life has risen and fallen many times. Our own species is less that 250 thousand years old.

Given that, I suspect that life on other worlds would exist in great profusion as well.

It wouldn't take a billion years. Even if there was life on other worlds that was only a few hundred thousand years older than us ( a fraction of a cosmic blink) we should see evidence of their work.

Even the most conservative diffusion models predict that there is more than enough time for life to permeate the observed Universe.

So, the question still stands: Where are they?


If there is an advanced civilization out there, then chances are very high that it has become a machine-AI-based civilization.

(Chances are the original biological founders of that civilization have merged and become absorbed by their machines/AI.)

Thus, they may already be well aware of our existence, and may even be monitoring us closely, simply waiting for us to take the next evolutionary step, and develop advanced AI/machine simulated life... at which point they will make contact with our machines.

(They may not have much interest in our current primitive state.)

I completely disagree with the idea that mans is one of the early intelligent civilizations to come forward in this universe. I believe that the Angelic Human Race was created over 556 millions years ago as a "rescue" species for a Galaxy in very deep trouble. We were one of the only species capable of evolving right out of our time matrix (one of many many 15 dimensional time systems in the multi-verse). The universe was already teeming with life even before the Humans "came in the seen". Many indigenous peoples believe we came from the Pleiadian star system and they would be right. The Cosmos is so much bigger that what most people can even dream of.

My native elder says that the Cherokee believe that we came from Pleiades and that we were created in the 5th dimension. What do you think the "fall of Man" was all about. but the fall from the 5th to the 3rd dimension. (very very simple explanation). We were created on Tara (think Alcyone in Pleiades start system). We were a "sacred" species in that with our 12 strand DNA package, other alien species who had damaged their own DNA package (possibly to 9 10 or even 11.5 DNA spectrum could go as far in their planets could take them then do a "tour of biospiritial enhancement on Tara to acquire the remaining DNA codes to continue their evolution out of the time matrix. And yet you must think even far bigger than this to begin to understand mans next step in evolution.

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