Subject:      Re: Fermi Paradox -- yes, again!
From:         bill@osisoft.com (Bill Vaughan)
Date:         1996/10/12
Message-Id:   <53msku$81k@ultra.exodus.net>
References:   <53isp1$acs@reader1.reader.news.ozemail.net> <53jrh7$qka@ultra.exodus.net> <suk-1110960051090001@cola40.scsn.net>
Organization: exodus communications, inc.
Newsgroups:   rec.arts.sf.science

suk@pobox.com (Peter Kwangjun Suk) wrote: >In article <53jrh7$qka@ultra.exodus.net>, bill@osisoft.com (Bill Vaughan) wrote: >> How could there be only one starfaring civilization per galaxy? Either >> star travel is possible, or it is not. If it is possible, everyone >> will do it; if it is not possible, no one will do it. There is no >> middle ground. >And you call yourself an sf-author? Well yeh, I do -- I don't think I have to believe in the feasibility of interstellar travel to be one, any more than a fantasy author has to believe in fairies. > What are the chances of more than one starfaring civilization existing at one time? Zero, I suspect -- in fact I suspect the chance of having only one is also zero. > Think through the implications. (Read up on precisely what the Fermi Paradox is.) Honest, I wouldn't be discussing it if I didn't know what it was. My point again is that everyone is worried about one or more factors in the Drake equation being wrong -- when in fact it looks like the Drake equation is pretty close to right, to the extent that we can test it, and to Fermi numbers. In other words there ought to be an awful lot of life out there, and unless intelligence is some kind of fluke, there ought to be an awful lot of intelligent life. The Fermi paradox: if they are there, why aren't they here? And what I am suggesting as a possible answer: they would be here if it were possible. So it must not be possible. QED. Now that doesn't mean we can't speculate about intelligent life in the universe; I'm sure it's out there, probably millions of species in our own galaxy alone. And it doesn't mean we can't communicate with them -- that is indeed just an engineering problem, though a difficult one. Assuming that they are there, which I don't doubt. It seems to me there are only a few answers to the Fermi Paradox that make sense: 1) they are here already (UFOs or some such). And either no one has found out about it because they are so good at keeping secrets, or else the Powers That Be are hiding the facts from us because they are so good at preventing leaks. Clearly not the US government at any rate. 2) they are out there, but can't get here, presumably due to the difficulty of interstellar travel. 3) they aren't actually out there at all, because we are unique in the universe. It is not necessary to believe in special creation to buy this one, but it sure helps. 4) the nearest intelligent life form is so far away that they could not reach us in the lifetime of the universe. Or at least since the universe became hospitable to life, which is presumably a very long time indeed. If (as suggested by Chris Lawson amongst others) intelligent life is so sparse as to occur no more than once per galaxy, this might be the case. Yet the difference between this idea and (3) is vanishingly small. Or maybe we could somehow combine this idea with (2) as follows: 5) there are very very few intelligent species, and interstellar travel is very very expensive. Thus no species manages to travel far enough to meet another because bankruptcy intervenes. But like (3) and (4), this idea falls flat on its butt if intelligence is not sparse. So what it comes down to is this: either intelligent life is frequent or it is sparse. If it is frequent, then interstellar travel is impossible (for non-UFO fans). If it is sparse then the Drake equation is majorly flawed. Everybody else is attacking the Drake equation, so I thought I would go after the other side. I don't mean to gore anyone's pet ox.